June 18, 2007
How to Use a Sundial
by Pastor George Van Alstine
Philips Brooks, Bostonâs most popular preacher in the 1880s and the author of âO 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 tribeâs 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: âThese 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 weâll build a shed to keep people from stealing the valuable metal.â?
OK, so maybe Brooksâ story showed some prejudice from the colonial era in which he lived. His spiritual point is still quite striking, though. He compares the sundial âmuseumâ? 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: âOur 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 âout of the closetâ? of our churches, so that he can display to the people around us what time it is:
âHereâs 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. Itâs time to wake up!â?
(Romans 13:11-12, paraphrased)