Godly values: Qualities that transcend time
(Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of the Peter Cartwright Memorial Sermon delivered by the Rev. Dr. John Sims on Oct. 11, 2015, at the Peter Cartwright UMC in Pleasant Plains. The scriptural text is John 2:18-22.)
By Rev. Dr. John Sims
Retired IGRC clergy
The title of my sermon this morning, Godly Values, is misleading. When I sent this title and Scripture to the pastor here at Peter Cartwright UMC, my thought was to focus upon the values Peter Cartwright lifted up during his life and ministry. However, in the last few months, this word “values” has been used by so many different persons, institutions, and political parties in so many different ways that I’m not sure what the word means now. As I’m living in the southern part of Illinois during retirement, we hear many TV ads featuring Kentucky politicians and their constant overuse of the phrase “Kentucky values”. (I have NO idea what that means!)
If I had it to do over, I would change the title to more accurately reflect what this day is about. We’re not here to recall values. We’re here to remember a real person. Frankly, we’re not even here to remember Peter Cartwright, BUT THE ONE PETER CARTWRIGHT PREACHED AND LIVED FOR AND WORSHIPPED – Jesus Christ. We’ve gathered here this morning to remember how Peter Cartwright made Christ real; for his contemporaries and for us today.
Certainly, we can and should remember Cartwright’s contributions: as an evangelist, church leader, founder of institutions of higher learning, and disciple of His Savior and Lord. We could go on and on about this man’s contributions.
But the fundamental question is “Why”? Why would we want to recap his honors, awards, and achievements? I suspect that, if he were here, he would tell us to DO what he did – preach Christ. So, this day is not really about Peter Cartwright, but about how the man mad the Presence of Christ REAL. Jesus was the Savior in whom he trusted; even after his little daughter was tragically killed by a falling tree. Jesus was the Lord whom he followed in word and deed the whole of his life.
To better understand this individual, one can look to the Scripture text this morning. It is the story of Jesus, speaking to the religious leaders of His day, about the Temple in Jerusalem. The religious leaders demand of Jesus ad “sign”; a manifestation of His claim to be from God. They are, in effect, asking for a miracle that will MAKE them believe in Jesus. Notice how the leaders are focused on the literalness of Jesus’ words. They think Jesus is speaking literally about tearing down their Temple stone by stone and 3 days later He will build it back. WE know Jesus was speaking about His passion, death, and Resurrection.
The word “temple” is the key to this text. The building was the center of Jewish worship yet Jesus is declaring HE is the center of worship and the manifestation of God.
What this means for us is that we don’t need a physical building to believe in and know our God. We don’t even need a Memorial Service either. What we NEED is the daily Presence of the Lord in our lives; to guide us in making Christ real. What we need aren’t certain religious practices or regulations about Jesus. We need Jesus Himself.
Jesus isn’t telling us to find one certain place to worship God. Likewise, we’re not declaring Pleasant Plains Illinois the “Mecca of Methodist worship”. Christ is asking us to focus upon Him and, through Him, find a deeper trust and union with God.
Peter Cartwright would ask us to be “difference-makers” with our lives. We make a difference for Him by our words and action done for His sake. Mark Hall wrote the lyrics for the song If We Are the Body of Christ” which say:
But if we are the body,
- Why aren’t His arms reaching?
- Why aren’t His hands healing?
- Why aren’t His words teaching?
Places and GPS coordinates are not what’s important today. The witness and mission of the Peter Cartwright UMC IS important just as the remembrance of Peter Cartwright is important. But neither is the main reason for us being here today.
This man knew the “holy of holies” (if you want) is in the hearts of those who know Jesus Christ. That’s why you and I have to decide what WE will do and believe today. In the 2013 movie, “Winter’s Tale”, the suggestion is made that “the struggle between good and evil isn’t waged with great armies. It is fought in the heart; one person at a time.”
I believe this is what Peter Cartwright would want us to remember today. Each of us is free to choose to believe. Each of us gets that choice. Our belief in Christ is more that a “value”. Belief in Christ is the way to life and life eternal. AMEN.
(The Rev. Dr. John Sims is a retired IGRC Clergy member and a former chair of the Conference Commission on Archives and History.)