Summary: America is a land swept by the winds of change. Are they destructive? Yes, if we invest in religion without integrity and if we accept leaders committed to materialism. But refreshing winds are possible as we the church are in touch with the Spirit.
In the hills of eastern Kentucky, not far from where we once lived, there is a hidden-away estate called Windswept. If you crawl up the winding grade of US 421 to the wide place in the road called Morrill, off to your left there is a driveway that leads to a lovely stone house. Windswept was owned by a music professor at Berea College; she operated it not just as her residence, but also as a site for music workshops. I probably never would have known about the place, much less gone there, had it not been for my musician brother, who regularly attended Windswept workshops.
I loved to go to Windswept, just to take in the view; the house is perched on a ledge overlooking a broad valley with dramatic vistas. Green hills – Kentuckians called them “knobs”; a winding stream; rocks everywhere. And up on that ledge the winds blew vigorously – sometimes refreshing us from the summer heat, but sometimes sending torrents of water down the hillside. Sometimes refreshing winds, sometimes destructive winds, at Windswept. In fact, I learned that the beauty of that valley was something of an illusion; in that valley the green hills were dying from acid rain, the people were strangling without work, and the roads were so poor that the school bus only managed to arrive a couple of times a week. I learned that the winds of Windswept can be destructive and deadly as well as refreshing and pleasant.
On this Independence Day in America strong winds are blowing. Winds of change, winds of stormy controversy, winds brought by new ideas and by people who differ from the America of my childhood. America is a windswept land, where we can no longer assume that nearly everybody is alike. I have a book of biographies of prominent Kentuckians of another generation; in it there is a page on my great-grandmother, Sallie DeHaven Sterett Moorman. The book says, “Mrs. Moorman, being from western Kentucky, is OF COURSE a Baptist and a Democrat”. Once there was a time when you could say “of course” about us But the winds of change have blown, and now even in western Kentucky they have Muslim mosques and they vote Republican! America is a windswept land, affected by the winds of change. Are these winds destructive or are they refreshing?
“Windswept” is the way the prophet Hosea described Israel in the 8th Century before Christ. Changes were coming to the nation. Five kings in twenty-five years. Tiglath-Pileser, the Assyrian general, breathing at the gates of Samaria. Hosea was worried; Hosea cried out about Israel’s precarious perch on the ledge. “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” This is no refreshing wind that Hosea names; this is the storm wind that destroys. Like those hurricanes that hammered Florida last year, the winds that Hosea saw sweeping over Israel would uproot everything.
But Hosea believed that winds destroyed because the people had stirred them up. “They sow the wind, they reap the whirlwind.” Hosea believed that Israel would become a nation swept into the garbage heap of history for two reasons. Look with me at the text:
First, Hosea saw that Israel had sown the wind that swept away because they had turned to religion without a commitment to integrity. The people had chosen to think that God would protect them if they ascribed to the right creeds and preached the right principles, but there was no commitment to integrity to accompany all that prattling.
“They have broken my covenant, and transgressed my law. Israel cries to me, ‘My God, we – Israel – know you!’ Israel has spurned the good; the enemy shall pursue him.”
Friends, religion is the easiest thing in the world to promote, if all you do is promote religiosity and do not demand integrity. The woods are full of churches and temples, windy places most of them, where sermons are preached and liturgies performed and songs sung and people announce to the Lord, “My God, we know you!”. But if lives are not changed, if behavior is not affected, then I tell you, it is all sowing a wind which will lead to a whirlwind. The winds of change sweep us to destruction if we invest in religion devoid of moral integrity.
Does it strike you as odd that in our neighboring county, where there are 800 churches, megachurches on nearly every corner, gathering thousands of worshipers every week, yet the murder rate has escalated to incredible levels? One of my parishioners from Takoma Park is Assistant Chief of Prince George’s County Police; I saw his picture in the paper the other day, and, although his face was partially obscured, I thought I could see a tear running down his cheek. So intolerable has the situation become that now – at last – there is a coalition of churches trying to find solutions to the issue. Well, I do not know what all the solutions are, nor can I pretend that we are really any better off in our county, but I am confident that a part of the issue is that we have settled for mere religiosity. We have settled for worship that is more noise than substance, for preaching that is more rhetoric than reality, and for turning a blind eye when our brothers and sisters fail to live out the way of Christ.