Brown into Green
I want you to meditate, just for a few moments, on the fact that in a sandbox in the Middle East, sixty miles wide and three-hundred and fifty miles long, we have got: the Old Testament! The Mishnah! The Talmud! The New Testament! The early Church Fathers! The Qur’an! The traditions of Islam! An absolutely stunning fact that the great religious literature of the monotheistic religions of the Western world all came out of the proximity of 300 miles. Why, if you were to ask the Chamber of Commerce of Sandbox ‘A’ to name their favorite sons and daughters, they could go on all day: Jesus, Mohammed, Peter, Paul, Abraham, Rachel, Sarah, Ruth, Naomi...how many do you want? I could go on endlessly. But you see, I’m not just indulging in poetry. I’m wanting to say to you, there is a reason why, where a country that’s ninety-percent desert, there’s some kind of chance of ‘religion’ taking place! I could say where there is ninety-five percent desert that there are fleas! And fleas have a lot to do with the history of Biblical religion. If you don’t think so, it’s a sure sign you haven’t had them! But if you ever have? But it’s deeper then that isn’t it? May I put it in a simple way that I think may be a little bit like Greek to you, but thoroughly Biblical? And that is when you have been treading sand all day you know when you come to an Oasis! Can you hear me? Biblical people are a people who knew the difference between brown and green! I’ll go you one further! Biblical people are people who believed you could turn brown into green!
Wow! Do you know how honored I am to stand in front of the pastors of a hundred and fifty thousand people? Because they believe that you guys and gals can turn brown into green. That’s why they call you! Paul Tillich said the Western world has been haunted by three great problems. In the ancient world it was the fear of death. That’s brown. In the Medieval world it was the terror about guilt. That’s brown. In the modern world, it’s a sense of loneliness and estrangement. That’s brown. Can you turn the fear of death into Easter faith? That’s green! Am I making any sense? Can you turn guilt into, “We are a forgiven people!”? Can you turn loneliness into, “Hi sister, could we walk together for a few minutes?”
I tell you I do theology in a very simple way. I’m so glad that Judaism has never produced a great systematic theologian. They left that for the Christians! Interpreters of the word! Yes! Like Maimonides! Dogmatic theologians? Perish the thought! For the mind of men and women can not span the mind of God! And while a little philosophical theology won’t necessarily do you any harm, be careful lest it become an idol because then it will.
Can you turn brown into green? Oh! I must behave, but this is so important! Oh! Come on! Do you? Thank you for wearing green this morning Ma’am! I need help! When you start wearing the liturgical colors of the Church, what’s the color that prevails longest in the liturgical life of the Church? Of course, it is green! Green is the color of Judaism. Green is the color of Islam! Green is the color of Christianity! We only put royal purple on in Lent and then pretty soon blue during Advent (if Rome has it’s way!). In order to herald the coming of the green! I do believe it!
And if I sound a little silly, I’d bet you’d like it if there was somebody around when you are in a brown place, who believed you could turn brown into green. Don’t mention the Biblical heroes to me unless in the next breath you mention the third-party under God who helped them become heroes. Well, this is the way I do theology -- because it’s relational and not propositional.
Harrell F. Beck May 13, 1986 [Preaching Conference, Arrowhead Springs] Recorded by Lyman Bruce Ellis