January 16, 2007

A Goat at Peace
by Pastor George Van Alstine

In our current sermon series on peace, we’ve pointed out that the crucial starting point of true and lasting peace is an individual’s coming to peace with God. According to the Apostle Paul, when a person acknowledges sin and separation from God, God embraces that person through the mediation of Jesus Christ, and a profound peace is established at the core of the person’s being.

Paul describes the concentric circles of renewal a person experiences once this peace with God is established: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.â€? (Romans 5:1-4)

This explains why even extreme suffering can lead to an anticipation of positive change. Paul says that because of “this grace in which we standâ€? we can “boast in our sufferings.â€? Even the evil things that attack us inevitably result in our improvement in character and hope.

In his sermon last Sunday at the “Martin Luther King Celebration,â€? Pastor John B. Bledsoe told this old story from the rural south. A farmer was getting on in years, and he could no longer care for crops or animals. All that was left of his once-productive farm was one goat. He decided to get rid of the goat.

The farmer couldn’t bring himself to shoot the goat, let alone slit its throat. So he decided to dig a hole and bury it. He dug about fifteen feet deep, having to use a ladder toward the end of his digging. Then he pulled up the ladder and pushed the goat into the hole. It was so far down that, with his failing vision, he couldn’t even see the goat.

Then he started shoveling dirt into the hole. He shoveled and he shoveled. Each load seemed heavier, as he gradually threw back all the dirt he had dug out.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the hole, the goat handled each shovelful as it came. The dirt landed on its back, and he shook it off. This dirt became part of the floor of the hole he was standing in. If the whole load of dirt had come at once, the goat would have been buried. But one shovelful at a time was no challenge—just a little wiggle and the dirt was part of the floor.

And of course, the floor kept getting higher and higher, until finally the goat could just step right out of the hole and into the next chapter of his life. The farmer’s last shovelful leveled the hole, but the goat was across the way, calmly nibbling on grass.

Pastor Bledsoe compared the goat to the many little people who had to endure the suffering of segregation in our society. Throughout the time of the non-violent Civil Rights Movement, traditional forces kept shoveling dirt, and Dr. King and those following him kept shrugging it off and standing a little higher. Finally, they were able to step out into equality of opportunity.

The same story can help you appreciate that, now that you are at peace with God, no negative forces, experiences or people can shovel anything on you that you can’t shrug off. And the wonderful truth is that each time you shake off a trouble or trial, you stand a little higher.