When I was a teenager, my mum used to have my brother and I attend a church with the name Aladura - Church of the Lord. It was founded by a Nigerian pastor and was about seven miles from our home. We had to trek on foot to this church every Wednesday that we were home on recess from boarding school. In order to ensure that we actually went to church, she will ask us to return home with holy water from church. Failure to go to church or bring holy water from church meant going to sleep on an empty stomach - no church, no food. For that reason, we went to Church of the Lord every Wednesday.
The sort of strange thing that happened at the church during the course of the service was that every worshipper would go and kneel before this pastor, who would share some insight about the future with you. It was as if he had a crystal ball in which he looked to narrate the future. A few months ago, I asked my brother if he remembers any of the "prophecies" that the pastor shared. He didn’t remember any, nor do I. But I do recall is that many of his foretellings were about good things that would happen, and the path that we needed to take in order to be successful. In essence, we had to be good boys.
Every now and then I drive by offices of psychic readers. I have never been to one, and I don’t think I ever will. But I do wonder what they tell their clients; most specifically, I wonder if they tell their clients that things will simply fall on their laps by doing nothing or whether they have to do something about the future that they desire for themselves. I get the sense that whatever future psychic reader may reveal to you may require you to do something, to act on something.
This reminds me of a story:
A young boy went to a soothsayer to inquire about his future. The soothsayer drew two circles - one in white and the other in black. He then put a millipede in between the circles, saying, "If the millipede crawls into the white circle, your future will be bright and very great, but if it crawls into the black circle, then you are finished and doomed! No future at all!"
As soon as the millipede was dropped in between the circles, it began crawling towards the white circle.
The boy was super-excited.
But suddenly, as it got to the edge of the circle, it turned back and began crawling away from the white circle towards the black one.
The boy watched in dismay as the millipede progressively moved away from his desire towards his doom.
However, just before it got to the edge of the black circle, the boy reached out, picked the millipede, and quickly but carefully dropped it into the white circle.
The soothsayer was shocked! He had never seen anyone intervene in his own matter that way and so he asked the boy why he did what he had done.
The boy simply smiled and replied, "I cannot sit and watch that "crawlie" determine and direct my destiny towards gloom and doom whilst I can still intervene to change its course. My destiny is in my hands." The boy then got up and left.
Today is the feast of Epiphany. This is the feast that celebrates the revealing of Jesus Christ to the world. And throughout this season, we will read stories about God’s sharing of Christ with the world. Today also marks the one-year anniversary of the storming of the United States Capitol by our citizen friends, colleagues, brothers, sisters, and loved ones.
If Epiphany is about the revelation of Christ, then what the storming of the Capitol revealed is the huge chasm of trust among ourselves and the institutions that have painstakingly been built over many, many years. Institutions that we have relied on to provide the kind of security and certainty that we all need to go about our business. Institutions that guarantee our freedoms and ensure the peaceful transfer of power. Institutions that make for a beautiful country - even though we are not perfect.
I believe Paul when he says that we have been blessed: “Praise be to the God of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.” Blessing means the good that one person receives from the overwhelming kindness of another person. That has been my understanding and appreciation of America - the belief in legacy, of bequeathing to the next generation, something of great value. That out of the pure kindness of the heart, the next generation will live and do much better than the present and previous generations.
One important lesson from last year’s assault on the Capitol is that we cannot take our democracy for granted if we want our country to endure and if we want our children and grandchildren to live and flourish in a peaceful country. If we want our children and grandchildren to do much better than we have, then we cannot allow the millipede to determine what our future should look like.
One thing I know is that a peaceful and flourishing America didn’t just drop from the skies - its future wasn’t determined by a millipede. Americans didn’t achieve all of this overnight or have it handed to us on a silver platter. People - our forbearers - worked for it. And in order for us to keep it, nurture it, and grow it, we also have to work for it by being advocates of peace, advocates of tolerance, advocates of compassion, advocates of unity, advocates of healing, advocates of justice, advocates of respect, advocates of reconciliation, advocates of mending and above all, advocates of love.
For we are all too gifted to just accept a future that's determined by a millipede.
I wish you the blessings of a Happy New Year!