Sermon 6-12-2016; ‘Planting for the Future’ [Friends Education Fund Sunday]
Ecclesiastes 11 – all
Mary Oliver, The Summer Day https://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/133.html
Pastor Ruthie Tippin; First Friends Meeting Indianapolis
Cast your bread upon the waters… you know how you go to the park with your children and grandchildren and you bring dry bread. You toss it out on the pond—the duck pond, where all the ducks have been sitting, waiting anxiously for a person to come by. And they want something to eat! Cast your bread upon the waters!
The wisdom writer is sharing with us all – young and old – a beautiful poem about the precious value of life. How do we see our lives? And how should we live our lives? Generously. Unselfishly. Joyfully! Rather than eating the bread of life – share it! Instead of consuming all that you have available to you – give it away! Find six, seven, eight different ways to give of yourself! You never know when your generosity will be returned to you.
And remember… you’re not in control – and you don’t really want to be! Clouds will roll in, trees will fall, children are formed in the womb… you and I cannot explain it. It’s not our work to do, but God’s work. But we do have a part to play…
If we spend all our time watching the wind, we’ll never sow seed. If we spend all our time staring at the sky, we’ll never harvest any crops. Get to it! Wake up to your work, and wait to see what will come of it. What God will make of it. Plant now for the future. That’s what John Williams did.
Washington County, Indiana was founded two hundred years ago. Quakers arrived in 1808 and founded Blue River Friends Meeting. Others had been pouring in – part of the territorial expansion of the time. We are not certain how many people of color arrived in the county, but we know that many came and lived in at least half of the townships there. Among them was John Williams. John was a freed slave who lived on a tract of one hundred sixty acres that he purchased from John Reyman, Sr.. Mr. Reyman held a mortgage on the farm for a time but John paid it off rapidly. He cleared fields, built a cabin and raised sufficient grain to fatten many hogs and cattle each year until the time of his death. By any standard of the day – John Williams became wealthy.
Perhaps it was his wealth. Perhaps it was the color of his skin. Perhaps it was the war. No one knows for sure, but it’s likely that all these things put John’s life at risk. Early on a December morning in 1864, his lifeless body was found in his dooryard in Washington County, Indiana. A light snow covered the ground, and it appeared that someone had come and roused him from sleep in the middle of the night, causing him to fear for his life. He ran outside in his nightclothes, and soon fell to the ground, mortally wounded by a gunshot. He was murdered, and no one was ever convicted of the crime. The Civil War would end six months later in May, 1865.
John spent his life. He literally spent his life, using it each day as an investment in what he could not see. Imagine living as a freed slave in Southern Indiana during the Civil War, and living generously, building a life of meaning and purpose in his community.
‘Ask not ('tis forbidden knowledge), what our destined term of years,
Mine and yours; nor scan the tables of your Babylonish seers.
Better far to bear the future, my Leuconoe, like the past,
Whether Jove has many winters yet to give, or this our last;
This, that makes the Tyrrhene billows spend their strength against the shore.
Strain your wine and prove your wisdom; life is short; should hope be more?
In the moment of our talking, envious time has ebb'd away.
Seize the day; trust tomorrow e'en as little as you may.’ [Horace; Odes]
The wisdom writer of Ecclesiastes wasn’t the only one to wonder about the quality and purpose of a life well lived. The Roman poet Horace had the same concern. Carpe Diem! Seize the day! No one knows what length of years they’ve been given, or the number of days they’ll live…
John Williams certainly didn’t. What many didn’t know was that John had written a will, with the help of his Quaker friend, Mr. Lindley, who agreed to serve as the executor and trustee of John’s estate… at the time of his death it was worth $6000.00. Today, that would be nearly $150,000.00. John Williams directed his monies to be used for the education of young black children. Soon after his death, in 1870, the Home for Friendless Colored Children was opened in Indianapolis by Quakers at 319 West 21st Street at the crossroad with Senate Street. ‘When it opened, it was the only orphanage in the state of Indiana to care for African American children. At the end of the home’s first year, it had housed 18 children. By 1922, it had sheltered more than 3000. Although most of the children came from the Indianapolis area, the orphanage accepted children from all over Indiana. In 1922, the management of the orphanage changed hands.’ The closing balance became the basis of the Friends Educational Fund – a scholarship fund for black college students – administered by First Friends Meeting. Today, we will honor those recipients of the Scholarships for 2016.
John could have eaten his bread. He could have worried about his farm – his hogs, his cattle to the point of anxiety. John could have wasted his life. Instead, he invested it. He planted his heart in his friends, his church, his community, his future – not knowing what that would be. He cast his bread upon the waters. And, as a result, literally thousands of orphans and scholars have received bread.
The poet, Mary Oliver, challenges each of us: ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ Horace, and the Wisdom Teacher of Ecclesiastes, teach us to take hold of it. To live it fully. Generously. Lovingly. And live it – now.
‘O youth, enjoy yourself while you are young! Let your heart lead you to enjoyment in the days of your youth. Follow the desires of your heart and the glances of your eyes – but know well that God will call you to account for all such things – and banish care from your mind, and pluck sorrow out of your flesh! For youth and black hair are fleeting!’ [Ecclesiastes 11:9-10; Jewish Study Bible]
Enjoy your life! God wants – even hopes – that you will. The Jewish Study Bible teaches that God will hold us to account for joy, for fullness, for meaning – God will want to hear your stories of a life well lived. Get out and enjoy a generous, loving, devoted, meaningful life. Discover those things that matter to you, and plant them in the lives and hearts of those you care most about. Seize this day – for tomorrow.