The following just might be a reading according to the Prophet Otis the Iceman. . .
I’m sure by now that most of you have heard of the remarkable discovery made in 1991, high in the Alps between Austria and Italy, of the Iceman. Ötzi, the Iceman, is the oldest, fully preserved, human being ever encountered. He lived between 3350 and 3105, but he was stopped on his lonely journey by the frozen, glacier ice in which he was found.
For some reason, I can’t help thinking that this five-millennium-year-old time traveler is more of a messenger than a museum piece. Could Iceman be a kind of prophetic servant coming to us with his teachings and his warnings? After all, the Biblical prophets often ventured into the lonely and deserted lands bearing their messages.
Maybe it’s because we’re heading fast into fall… when churches begin to move forward on their journey again… when rectors return from one kind of journey, so they can begin another.
Maybe it’s because in this week’s Gospel we read of Jesus’ foretelling of his journey to Calvary and what he has to say about our sojourn…and how, like the disciples, we must follow with crosses in hand. Maybe all of that contributes to why I think this creature of God, this Iceman, has something to tell us this week.
One thing I’m sure he wants to say to us is, Above all… have vision!
While most of us have trouble finding the motivation to move from the couch to the kitchen…from our beds to our workplaces… something caused Iceman to leave his little village and to travel into the unknown…into the bitter cold.
What dream was it that moved him to the mountain top?
What could he see that his fellow villagers were unable to see?
I’m reminded of Helen Keller’s famous quote: The saddest thing in the world is people who can see…but have no vision.
I sometimes think that we Christians are too easily satisfied. We are afraid to step off the boat in faith to try something new, and so the word, tradition, becomes a substitute for safe keeping. In our congregations, how many things have we done that were visionary… really daring?
As one pastor suggests, every church should attempt something so great for God that it is doomed to failure unless God be in it.
We should be encouraging the Christian visionaries among us to share their ideas. Part of being a Christian visionary means being a traditionalist who is not afraid of innovation.
Iceman was dressed according to his traditions in heavy fur garments and protective skin-covered boots, but he also carried a Swiss army knife and a Coleman stove…. well, they were actually a metal-bladed hatchet, flint knife and a fire-making kit… but for his day, these were innovations.
It’s important for all Christians to realize there is a grand difference between tradition and traditionalism. I truly believe that sometimes the cross that Jesus asks us to carry on the journey might be the cross of letting go… whatever that may mean for each of us.
There are a sufficient number of faithful in the Church who know the facts of old knowledge. There are far too few Christians, however, who are mobilized to think the unthinkable…to imagine the impossible… to dare the untried.
Iceman had in his leather quiver twelve, half-made arrows and an unfinished bow. In another pouch he had pitch, so the weapons could be improvised upon and repaired as he traveled. Even on this gruesome and frozen journey, there was flexibility in his posture toward the future.
We followers of Jesus cannot afford to wait decades before putting new innovations to work for his kingdom. You’ve probably heard of the Serenity Prayer which says, Lord, help me to accept what I can’t change… Well, one, bright Christian wrote a new twist on that prayer… Lord, if I’m not home accepting what I can’t change…then I’m probably out changing what I can’t accept.
We need to get caught up in the vision of Christ … we each need to make it our vision, but this is not the only thing that Iceman has to say to us, I believe there is another important message he carries…
For all of Iceman’s ability to visualize, to mobilize, to be innovative, there is one, inescapable and tragic reality… he died.
He didn’t return to the land of his ancestors as Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Moses did after their wilderness sojourns. Iceman died on the journey.
However, there is one, missing ingredient that our ancient prophet has returned to tell us about. What is this final ingredient?
Don’t laugh too hard, but I think it’s evangelism.
When asked how Iceman died, one female scientist responded, jokingly, Well, he was a man, and since he was a man, he probably got lost and was too proud to ask for directions, and so rather than admit he made a wrong turn, he preferred to sit down with his pride on that glacier and die.
Although not the correct answer, she makes a very good point:
Iceman died with his vision because he forgot to evangelize his mission.
He set out on a SOLO journey. He didn’t need anyone. His lone, ranger spirit told him he could do it all. He may have very well been history’s first rugged individualist.
He lacked the communal spirituality that every Christian disciple must have:
that profound sense that says, I can’t be me without you.
The truth is: if you go off by yourself, you get lost. There’s part of your answer the next time one of your non-church-going friends ask you why you need to go to church instead of just worshipping God on a hillside or in a meadow.
Just answer them, Because I can’t be me without them.
I’d like to conclude this meditation with this true story…
Several years ago, at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. When the gun fired, they hardly started in a dash, but they were off with a genuine desire to run the race. All took off that is except for one, a boy, who because of his disability, stumbled on the asphalt, took a tumble, and began to cry.
The other eight participants heard his cry; they slowed down and paused. Then all eight of them turned around and went back. One girl with Down’s Syndrome bent down and kissed the fallen boy and said, This will make it better. Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for ten minutes.
I guess what matters most of all in this life is not winning for yourself. What matters most is helping others to win…even if it means slowing yourself down and changing your course.
Therefore, I thank the Lord for bringing forth a prophet from a glacier, Iceman.
Thank you, Lord for once again reminding us to see the vision… to seek the vision… but most of all to share the vision.