June 18, 2007

How to Use a Sundial
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Philips Brooks, Boston’s most popular preacher in the 1880s and the author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,â€? told this story.

Early European explorers, trying to gain the confidence of an African tribal chief, gave him an elaborate sundial. The chief valued the gift so much that it became the tribe’s most prized possession. The elders built a house around it to give proper honor to the sundial. Of course, the house had a roof!

Brooks certainly made up this story, since the uncivilized Africans are presented as too ignorant to understand how a sundial works. The African version of the story probably would make the Europeans out to be the ignoramuses: “These foolish white men brought a fancy gadget to tell the hour. We can do that by watching where the sun strikes the big pointed mountain. They wasted all this precious metal for nothing. But we’ll build a shed to keep people from stealing the valuable metal.â€?

OK, so maybe Brooks’ story showed some prejudice from the colonial era in which he lived. His spiritual point is still quite striking, though. He compares the sundial “museumâ€? built by the tribal people, with the way we tend to confine our worship of God to impressive church buildings. In our attempt to show honor to him, we are really restricting his usefulness in our lives. Brooks ends by saying: “Our relationship with God cannot be limited to church. It is good for daily use or no good at all.â€?

We Christians need to bring the God we worship “out of the closetâ€? of our churches, so that he can display to the people around us what time it is:
“Here’s what time is: it is now the moment for you to wake up from sleep. For your salvation is near, the night is far gone, the day is at hand. It’s time to wake up!â€?
(Romans 13:11-12, paraphrased)