Signs tell us where we are, where we're going


I’ve been thinking about signs a lot in the past weeks.

All summer long we have been seeing signs that tell us progress is here and the pot holes are going away. I’ll leave any thoughts about those between you and those you have brunch with today. For me an annual sign of the time of the year is when I see them trim the arborvitae hedge along Tietan Street at the fair grounds and start watering the RV parking area.

As I write this folks are starting to camp out, and by the time this column appears in the newspaper, there will be one installment of the rodeo left. Certainly all these preparations were signs it was time for the Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days.

On a personal note, I have had the honor of walking with family and friends through some difficult deaths in the past week or so. Some were slow in coming, and others were sudden and shocking. Yet in each of them there were some signs that the passage from life to eternal life was about to take place.

The Gospel of John is unique among the gospels with how it uses the word “signs.” Often after a miracle or poignant teaching, John says, “Jesus did this as a sign to show who he was.” If you are interested in the theological meaning of this I recommend John Locke (yes the same man who so greatly influenced democratic thought in the pre-Revolutionary War Colonial period) in his book, “The Reasonableness of Christianity.”

Another writer has said this, which I like: a sign is something that participates in the reality to which it points. The Walla Walla progress signs are part of a multiyear effort to improve Walla Walla streets and help the public be informed and weather the inconveniences. The trimming of shrubs and watering of grass are part of the fair itself, in that without preparation, it would not take place. And the signs of life’s end are part of the journey, which Hospice has helped so many to understand. They are signs, but they also participate in the reality itself.

As a Protestant in the reformed tradition, I am confident that we are saved by grace. Our salvation is the free gift of God. This has sometimes led to a misunderstanding about the goodness of demonstrating and making visible the works and will of God in the world. James is a helpful reminder to us when he writes in his epistle, “show me your works and I will see your faith.” What he is saying is that what is visible illustrates the invisible. The desire to live a godly life illustrates the salvation which has been given, and as such it participates in its truth.

A cross worn by a Christian for others to see does not save him or her, but it does participate in the reality of that person’s salvation as a sign he or she relies upon Jesus Christ’s work on the cross. A follower of Jesus who foregoes a significant promotion to keep his/her family a priority gives a sign of what is important in life. A young person who says “no” to drugs or alcohol is giving a sign as to what is important in life.

We give signs to the world around us all the time; signs of our priorities, thoughts, likes and dislikes.

To what reality are our signs pointing and participating in?

The Rev. Albert Gillin is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church. Contact him at 509-525-1093 or by email at Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by email at


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