A Point of Reference

As I have told folks on numerous occasions, each and every week I get tons of emails, news clippings and stories sent automatically to my inbox.   The flood of emails that I get from week to week, cover a wide range of subjects from faith to football, Theology to Thai food.   It’s a constant flood of often useless information traveling from my inbox, to my brain and finally to my recycle bin.

Have you ever seen the show hoarders?    If you haven’t you must check it out.    It tells of a horrible mental challenge that many of our neighbors have, which leads them to a point of being unable to throw anything away.    The show will break your heart and the same time it makes you shake your head.  Sometimes the filth and the debris takes entire crews of dozens of people, and the threat of condemning the home, to bring to manageable levels.

Without any intention of downplaying the severity of this particular struggle, and without any intention of poking fun at it, when it comes to the trivial flow of useless information into my world, I am like the hoarder you see on that show.  I cannot delete anything.   Thankfully the piles of information are all stored electronically.  Otherwise, I would be that person whose very life is threatened by mounds of boxes and newspapers.  (If you have seen my home, and know of Stacey’s desire to keep everything in its place, and the house in an eternal state of order, not only would I be that proverbial hoarder, but she would have left me a long time ago.)   I imagine that electronic hoarding is the hoarding disorder for the obsessive compulsive/control freak.   For purposes of this message I have calculated my current file of saved emails in that hoard and as of this week it appears to be pushing a staggering 13 Gigabytes.

Truth be told, it isn’t just reckless obsession that drives this need to save everything.  Every now and then one of the many emails gets me thinking, or open’s an eye.   When I read it, an eyebrow gets cocked or there is a spark that gets set off in me.   Sometimes I go and I search for more information or detail in hopes of maybe turning things into a sermon, blog posting, or children’s message.    Sometimes it’s simply that weird combination of ADD and Obsessive compulsiveness that has me on day long treks researching the interesting or peculiar. A large number of my sermons often result from these Lewis and Clark like expeditions through cyberspace.   So, in the end…   this obsession may just be a colossal act of faith.

Today’s message is a message that got sparked from something that was briefly mentioned in an email that came across my world this past week.   In that email, a UMC Pastor named King Duncan mentioned a small metallic disk, sitting in the middle of a desolate field somewhere in Kansas. 

I have since learned that this disk, sitting unnoticed by you or I is probably one of the most important pieces of metal on the planet.    That piece of metal, whose existence you probably never heard of before this moment, is critical to our functioning as a society, as an economy, as a country, and as a civilization.    Without a doubt it is just that important.   That little metal circle, represents something called NAD 27, or the North American Datum of 1927,

As I researched this disk further, I discovered that National Geodetic Survey has published this statement on the NAD 27:

NAD 27, as it is called “is “The horizontal control datum for the United States that was defined by location and azimuth on the Clarke spheroid of 1866, with origin at (the survey station) Meades Ranch. The geoidal height at Meades Ranch assumed to be zero. and were derived from the through a readjustment of the triangulation of the entire network in which Laplace azimuths were introduced, and the Bowie method was used.”

 Despite sounding super official and intelligent, that explanation might as well have been written in Swahili, as it makes absolutely no sense to me.     It certainly doesn’t express why this little brass circle, not much larger than the circumference of a softball, is so critically important to each of us.   I started to think that I had stumbled on a true mystery.  Maybe I have even stumbled on a great conspiracy.

We have all heard of Martians being housed at Area 51, maybe this disc is equally as important.    Maybe it marks the spot of the hidden treasure of the world, or some secret repository of all the CIA secrets of the last hundred years.   Maybe if we understand this disc, we understand the whole JFK assassination, The Amelia Earhart mystery, and even the true whereabouts of Elvis Presley.     Maybe it’s just that important!

 Despite my dream of becoming this generation’s Indiana Jones, the mystery proved to be something less sinister, but still interesting and compelling.    That small disc, sits in  north central Kansas on the private, and unused field of a farmer.   That disc also marks the exact location where the thirty-ninth parallel, crosses the ninety-eighth parallel.  That little disc is the reference point of every single calculation on Latitude and longitude in this country.    Every single GPS calibrate mark or movement is based off of the exact location of that disc.

When your Tom-Tom tells you to make the turn onto Elm Street in 100 yards, you can thank that disc.    When a plane flies overhead without colliding with another, thank that disc.  When you call 911 and the ambulance knows where to go, thank that disc. When someone asks you where you live, and you say Chesterfield, Keene, Brattleboro, or Denver for that matter… you do so because of that disc.  Every street map, state line, or county border owes its existence to that little brass disc, sitting in the middle of a field in Kansas.

Consider this; I heard last week on NPR that the Tappan Zee Bridge that spans the Hudson River is falling into disrepair.   The story caught my attention because every few months my family and I cross that bridge on our way to Stacey’s brother’s home in New Jersey.   What is unique and sticks with people about this bridge is its length.    Due to some state laws that the original bridge designers circumvented, the bridge crosses one of the widest points of the Hudson River.     From bank to bank the bridge spans three and a half miles.

After additional research, I found that starting within the next ten years, the state of New York is hoping to rebuild this bridge at a cost of close to $10billion dollars (by some estimates, not NPRs).   Their plan is huge.   According to the report, they have some serious challenges to overcome.  The river floor is mucky and muddy, not at all good when it comes to a sturdy foundation for a bridge.   The bridge gets a massive amount of travel each and every day, and somehow they need to figure out how to reroute all this travel.   Lastly, and probably most critical is the fact that if the bridge is to be replaced by a newer better designed one, than there needs to be two crews and that start at either side of the river, and meet in the middle.

In the original email where I learned about this disc, there was a story about a bridge built 80 years ago, that when they got to that middle point, where 14 feet off the mark of each other.      It turns out that both crews had different calculations as to where they were in relationship to that little brass disc in Kansas.   

Now, pushing a century later, the location of that disc, and each side’s position in relationship to it will more than likely be determined by complex computers and satellites floating in outer space somewhere.   In the end, however, that position will be considered and known before the first brick is laid or car detoured.  Knowing that location of that disc is the step one in a $10billion construction process.   Without it, there is no step two.

To finally make my point, NAD 27 is a universal reference point for construction workers, engineers, and so forth.     According to that email, bad things happen when we don’t know our exact location, or when using King Duncan’s words, we practice location by approximation.    It can be costly and dangerous.   Things fall apart.

It can be said that when we look around and see a world that is broken and screwed up, it’s because we have lost sense of where our reference point is.    It seems like everything that was once a point of order is now rapidly starting to shake.    We can’t trust our government, our economy, or our jobs.    We certainly can’t trust our pensions or our 401Ks.    We can’t wake up and expect our houses to be worth what they were when we went to bed.

We see families failing around us.   We see children being lost to a crazy desire to grow up too fast.   We see friends turn to the material things to fill the gaps and to ease the fear.  We can’t control things and we are afraid, and for some reason we think the best thing we can do is to stock pile the gadgets and the toys in hopes that these things will make us feel better.   Maybe they will make us feel powerful.   Maybe they will make us feel strong.   In truth, we have lost our point of reference, individually and collectively.

In Matthew 16, Jesus poises a pair of very simple questions to Peter.   First Jesus asks Peter who the world thinks he is.    A prophet, John the Baptist, or Elijah are some of Peter’s responses.   Immediately thereafter, Jesus asks him a direct question. He asks him “Who do you say I am?” 

Peter’s reply was unquestionable and adamant; “You are the messiah, son of the living God”.    Peter’s testimony was open and shut.  In the moment that follows, and as a result of Peter’s adamant declaration, Jesus puts on Peter’s shoulders incredible glory.   “You are a Rock Peter,” Jesus says, “Upon you, I will build my church and not even the gates of hell will overcome it.”   

These are powerful words that were given to Peter.   Sometimes I shudder to think of the level of responsibility that was given to Peter in the moment.    I wonder how I would have reacted if Jesus appeared to me in this moment, and said those same words to me.

The truth is that he is.    Amidst all the craziness of a world trying to move around without a frame of reference, or a world trying to determine their location by approximation, Jesus is asking you the same question.       Jesus is standing right here and right now, and asking the same question that he asked Peter.   Jesus is asking each of us;  “Who do you think he is?”

Who do you think he is?

When you ask that question, you will get your frame of reference.  You will get your point of measurement.   You can decide for yourself that Jesus was just a good teacher teaching good things.    Perhaps he was a prophet.   Perhaps he was a great philosopher, a sage, or a teacher.    Maybe he was indeed the son of God.   The truth is, that each of us has to answer that question, and how we answer that determines what comes next.  

Are you willing to sacrifice everything for the person you believe this 1st century Palestine man to be?  Are you willing, because of this man, to very loudly stand up and tell the world that what they think is right isn’t?  Are you, because of this man, able to say that they way you live your life, the way you travel your day to day, and the way you spend your money will be different?  The way you answer that question is of critical importance, and you will indeed have to answer it for yourself.

I know that each of us cares for that little church on the hilltop, called Asbury, and we care, we hope, and we dream that someday the rest of our neighbors, the rest of our community, and the rest of the world, will embrace what we have come to embrace through this place and places like it.  We all know that through God’s grace and efforts this church will rise or fall. We are his hands and feet to this community.  

Yet, we need to realize that in order for that to happen, in order for the church to be built upon our backs, we need to answer the very same question.  It was a question for Peter, Paul, and all the apostles before they traveled the world.   It was a question for Martin Luther and a question for John Wesley.    It was a question for Jonathan Daniels, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr, Billy Graham, Bill and Gloria Gather, Mother Theresa, and Joe and Mary Smith of East Somewhere, USA.   

It is also a question for you and I. I, like Peter, have made my answer known.   Today, I remind you that he awaits your answer too.

Who do you say this Jesus, is?  

Rev. King Duncan Sermon, Dated 2002
The Tappan Zee Bridge in the Wrong Place, NPR Original Broadcast (http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/08/19/139749870/a-big-bridge-in-the-wrong-place)
NAD 27 Scientific Detail (National Geodetic Survey) http://www.towermaps.com/nad.htm
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