“What Can I Do?”


Mediation for November 16, 2014, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Judges 4: 1 – 7; 1 Thessalonians 5: 1 – 11; Matthew 25: 14 – 30

I started this, then hit a “road block”, then got started again. I don’t know how good this one is.

A colleague and friend, in preparing her sermon for today, asked a very simple question, “What would you do if you only had one talent?”

Had a chance to think about what you were asking and came up with my own question, “What can I do?”

Do we do as the one individual in today’s Gospel reading did, take it and hide it away? Or is there some way that we can do something with what we have?

When I looked at the Old Testament reading for today, I saw that Deborah made one choice. Her single talent was to make the right choices; that’s why she was a judge.

Paul’s words to the Thessalonians speak of not knowing when Christ was coming back and that we probably shouldn’t be preoccupied with that notion but focus on what it is that we can do right now.

Each person has at least one talent; sometimes they know what it is, often times they do not know. But there are others whose primary talent is finding others. And that means that there isn’t a problem that cannot be solved.

But it also means that there comes a moment when our preconceived notions about time and space have to be cast aside. If we live in the present world, we will see things in only one sense. What was that George Bernard Shaw quote that Robert Kennedy so often used when he campaigned for President in 1968, “You see things; and say ‘why?’ But I dream of things that never were and say ‘why not?’”

That is where we are. We as a people are faced with many challenges and sometimes we think that we are unable to do anything. But we have been given the opportunity through Christ to see new ways to solve those problems. It changes the question from “what can I do?” to “when do we start?”

My Grandfather’s Diary entry for this day, 11 November 1918


DrTony:

As noted, this is something I have posted before. Not too many people are going to pay attention to the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month today and that’s a shame. As George Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (“Reason in Common Sense”, p. 284, volume 1 of The Life of Reason) When you see how the victors treated the losers at Versailles, you begin to understand why there was a second world war (when the first was supposed to be the war to end all wars) and why we have the conflicts in the Middle East even today.

Originally posted on Thoughts From The Heart On The Left:

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“Guy Fawkes Day”


This is a combination of things that I posted on my Facebook page this morning.

There is a certain irony in this day being the day after the 2014 election. It happens to be the anniversary of Richard Nixon’s election at President in 1968. And it is also Guy Fawkes Day! Any English historians wish to comment on that? :)

Okay, we woke up to the same world this morning as before. The Sun is coming up in the east (we need only worry if it comes up in the west but that means you did something really awful or interesting the night before).

Unfortunately, the rules for politics remain the same as well. That means that seniority rules and all the newcomers to political organizations will have to wait their turn. Or they will cause such a problem that it will make people even more disgusted with the system. The end result will be more and more people turning away, leaving the system to those on the extreme who will change the world to fit their view.

Some may say that it is too late, that the world is on a path of destruction. But I don’t think so. First, we have been saying that for how many years now and it hasn’t happened. Second, all change comes from the bottom, not the top. Those who think that they can change the world from the top will quickly find that it doesn’t happen that way. True change comes from those individuals who work local, with their friends, their neighbors, and the people they meet on the street. True change comes when you educate people, not when you tell people what to do or think.

We need a political system but we are reminded that politics is derived (I think) from the same root that gives us people (something Pete Seeger once said). So, the questions becomes, what are you going to do today that will make the world better tomorrow?

One final thought, I am sure that there were some in Israel two thousand years ago who complained about the system and that fact that the political/religious structure ignored them and blocked them out. But there was someone from Nazareth (and we all know that nothing good comes from Nazareth) who showed that there was a way to the truth and to the life. The political/religious establishment sought to silence Him but they failed and the world became a better place.

Change comes when you meet and work with all the people. The groundwork has been laid; now all we have to do is build on it.

Peace this day and Peace tomorrow.

“Thoughts On A Sunday Morning”


Some quick thoughts on this Sunday morning, 2 November 2014.

First, please remember that Tuesday, November 4th, is Election Day. There is no more important election than this one but that statement is true for every election. When you forget to vote, two things happen: 1) You lose the right to complain about how things are taking place and 2) You allow someone else to tell you how to think and talk.

Right now, my fear is that too many people no longer trust the political system and will not vote. This will give those who seek to manipulate the system for their own benefit more leeway to do just that. And it is becoming more and more evident that certain groups do not want people to vote because they fear the expression of the free voice. These special interest groups want to turn the clock back, not one hour, but 200 years, to a time when only certain individuals could vote.

I happened to watch a program on the democracy that was created in Athens some 2000+ years ago. Granted, the power to vote and govern was limited but if you were in that group that had the power you were expected to vote and take part in the governmental process. What we have done over these past 2000 years has redefined who is a part of that process. And this has caused those who considered themselves “elite” to seek changes that save their position at our expenses. Democracy was never meant to be that way and the only way that it will revert to a select group of individuals controlling our lives is if we let them. So in the end, participate in what I have always called the single greatest act of political protest known to mankind, VOTE!

I hope you remembered to “fall back” this morning. What I needed to do was remember which clocks I needed to set manually (five of them) and which did so automatically. Now, if I could get the coffee maker to put in the coffee and add the water automatically, I would be set.

I normally don’t do this but in your prayers this morning, left up the United Methodist Church. There are those who would sacrifice the denomination for the law and who place the value of the law over the value of a human soul. I don’t see this as a conservative/liberal/progressive issue but as one that falls within the meaning of the Gospel. But I do think that those who espouse the viewpoint that the law supersedes grace are locked into a mind-set that is out-dated and incomplete.

Also, as we approach Thanksgiving and Christmas, pray for the families of this country. As the gap between rich and poor increases and many of the rich seem bent on keeping it all for themselves, we need to remember that many individuals and families do not have the resources to survive. The Gospel message, for me anyway, has always been about helping individuals meet their needs, be it housing, medical care, or food. As we begin looking to the ends of the next two months, pray that all will find the resources needed and that all will give so that all receive.

And finally, a quick thanks to those who have visited this blog over the past three months. There has been a gradual increase in readership and it suggests that the projected group of the blog is on track.

“Staring Across The Abyss”


Mediation for November 2, 2014, the 21st Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

All Saints Sunday

Joshua 3: 7 – 17, 1 Thessalonians 2: 9 – 13, Matthew 23: 1 – 12

I have chosen to use the regular lectionary readings for this Sunday rather than the lectionary readings for All Saints Day. In looking back at my records, I don’t think that I have ever used the lectionary readings set aside for All Saints Day; in fact, in all the years that I have been preparing messages or writing for a blog, there have been only two occasions where November 1st was a Sunday and one of those Sundays I wasn’t writing or preaching. Maybe that is just as well, especially this year, as I don’t do well with Revelations or apocalyptic writings.

Second comment – this is not going to be a complete meditation, or at least as I begin it, it is not going to be complete. There are things going on which make the writing of anything after my opening thoughts pretty hard to complete. But if you find my opening thoughts helpful, go ahead and finish it out.

Last week, Moses got to see the Promised Land but he wasn’t going to be able to enter it. And I will be honest, for many years, I thought that his not getting to the Promised Land was his penalty for picking the men who first explored the land. Of course, as I reviewed the Old Testament reading, I was reminded that it was Moses’ own errors that prevented him from entering the Promised Land and not what others have done.

But in today’s Old Testament reading, the Israelites are once again standing on the edge of the River Jordan, staring at the Promised Land on the other side. It has been one generation since they stood in perhaps the same spot, one generation in time since some of the fore-fathers had lied about what was over the next horizon, one generation in which those who could not trust in God died off. Now, the next generation stood on the river’s bank, ready to cross over.

What must they have thought? Surely there were some in their group who remembered what had happened those years before and what had caused them to add years to the wandering. Was it going to happen again? Perhaps there was some unwillingness to take the step, wade in the water, get their feet muddy, and move on to the object and goal that for many was the goal of their lifetime.

Now, when I began thinking about this piece, I thought about standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and looking across to the other side and perhaps leaning over and peering down into the depths of that vast split in the Earth. I have never been to this interesting place though I have probably flown over it once or twice in my life. My only connection to the Grand Canyon is a book by Colin Fletcher, The Man Who Walked Through Time, in which he chronicled his two-month journey from one end of the canyon to the other. For those with a geological bent, walking down from the canyon rim to the bottom of the canyon along the Colorado River was also a journey back in time.

I suppose that if I were to ever go to the Grand Canyon, I would want to brush up on my geology and especially a discussion of the measurement of time in geological terms. For, as we stare in awe as what God has done, there will be some trying to tell us that it was all done at once during the Great Flood or something to that effect and that it wasn’t done over a period of thousands and thousands of years.

But that is a thought for another time. Right now, I stare across the abyss that separates me from something that I can’t quite grasp. Maybe it is a struggle with faith; maybe it is an uncertainty about how faith is formed and shaped. I know that you cannot put your faith on a pedestal, to be stared at and admired. Faith has to be a part of you.

There are certain things that I do when I struggle with my writing. If it has to do with Scripture, especially in the New Testament, I get up from my desk and find my Cotton Patch Gospel; reading the words of the New Testament as if they were written by someone I knew growing up always seems to help.

If I am in that part of the writing where I am trying to put things in place, I pick up Faith In A Secular Age by Colin Williams. This was given to me by Marvin Fortel in the spring of 1969 when I was trying to figure out how faith fits into my life. I don’t think that there are too many pages in this book that are still held together as I have put it to pretty good use.

And then there is A Guide To Prayer. I have two copies of this book, one given when I began my “career” as a lay speaker and which shows the signs of age of twenty-three years of use. The second copy was given as a combination Christmas present and going away gift from the first group of pastors that I worked with. In one sense, it marks one step in this journey that I have been on so many years.

And from that book I found two thoughts. Henri J. M. Nouwen wrote,

Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. Solitude begins with a time and a place for God and Him alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that he is actively present in our lives – healing, teaching, and guiding – we need to set aside a time and space to give Him our undivided attention. (from Making All Things New by Henri J. M. Nouwen)

I could not help, when reading that paragraph, think that perhaps the image that I have of the Grand Canyon as a great abyss separating me from something was not that but a reminder of what God can do and how He wants me to better understand how things work.

Nouwen also wrote,

The spiritual life is not a life before, after, or beyond our everyday existence. No, the spiritual life can only be real when it is lived in the midst of the pains and joys of here and now.

He concluded this by noting that,

Our first task is to dispel the vague, murky feelings of discontent and to look critically at how we are living our lives.

I think this may be what Paul was alluding to in his words to the Thessalonians.

So here we are. Somehow I have been able to put together a piece that meets the general goals of every piece I write (to at least link the three lectionary readings in some manner, shape or form). And I also have a conclusion, which I didn’t think I was going to get when I started.

There are times in our lives when we stand at an abyss, a wide spot that we seemingly can’t cross. And yet, as we look at what seems to be nothing, it gives us the opportunity to see and feel and sense the presence of God. Yes, we are scared; after all, it is a long way across and a long way down (and the old Gospel hymn reminds us that waters of the River Jordan are chilly and cold).

And it is totally possible that we may feel comfortable on this side but we know that the answers we seek lie on the other and the only way that we will get those answers is to get to the other side.

And the only way that we are going to get to the other side is through trusting in God, to lead the life that He would have us to lead. As long as we fear that abyss, we will find ourselves separated from God but as soon as we trust in Him, things are going to get better.

And pretty soon, we will no longer stare across the abyss but find a way to cross over to the other side.

“How Do You Reach Your Goals?”


Mediation for October 26, 2014, the 20th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Deuteronomy 34: 1 – 12; 1 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 8; Matthew 22: 34 – 46

The problem with following the lectionary is that sometimes you don’t know the “whole” story. Of course, that implies that 1) you only follow the lectionary on Sundays and don’t do any reading during the week or 2) you have never studied the Bible.

There is something in my mind’s files that says that there is a lectionary reading for each day of the week to fill in the gaps between the readings on Sundays. And I know that there are parallel readings that are often covered in Sunday School so that the stories that we remember growing up are taught (since many of the Old Testament stories seem to be missing in the Sunday lectionary readings). And I would hope that there are supplemental or additional readings during the week, especially in the New Testament so that we get to cover the writings of Jude (which never show on Sunday).

But if you have never studied the Bible or done any regular reading, then the line in Deuteronomy where God tells Moses that he can look at the Promised Land but that he will never enter it has to be quite a shock. Especially when a few lines later, it is noted that there were no prophets like Moses in Israel after his death.

What was it that prevented Moses from entering the Promised Land? What had he done that was so wrong that he could see the object of the Exodus but would never be allowed to reach? Let’s put it this way. My guess is that the answer is not what you think it is.

Earlier in the Exodus, the people wanted water to drink and Moses provided it. But he did not provide in the manner that God had prescribed and what he, along with his brother Aaron did, was sufficient for God to be really, really angry. So while Moses did the right thing in providing a fresh water supply for the people, he did not do in the manner that reflected God’s work in the process.

The Pharisees come to Jesus and seek to trap him, trying to find some way that they can show the people that Jesus is not who He says He is but some charlatan out to deceive the people and gain all the power for Himself. Of course, we all know by now that the Pharisees and others in the religious/political power structure of the time are more interested in keeping the power for themselves (or at least we should know that by now).

So when Jesus is asked what is the most important commandment, Jesus says to love your God with all your heart and mind and spirit. This question from the Pharisees, like all the other questions they have been asking, always seeks to determine the priorities in life one has. Where are your priorities? How will you reach the goals you have in life?

Some years ago, when I was working on my Masters degree at the University of Missouri, an assignment required that I review a book. The book that I picked dealt with a topic related to statistical quality control. Now, it was a short book so it was easy to read (or I thought it was easy to read) and I thought that it covered the topic pretty well. Now, on the day that I was to give the review in class, I happened to be at one of the local low-cost mega-stores that had sales in aisles for a few moments. As it happened, the book that I was reviewing was being sold at a ridiculously low price. So my review that night was that it was a good book and covered the topic pretty well but it was on sale at that store for $2.00 which should give you some idea of its value. The professor leading this course agreed with my review and noted that he knew the author and that the author had written the book as part of the tenure process. The value of the book wasn’t in what I got out of it but what the writer got.

Are we doing what we do because we get something out of it or are we doing it because it furthers the work of God’s Kingdom? Now, this isn’t one of those things where we succeed and we proudly announce to all that it was for God’s Glory. I think that is a round-about way of saying that we are doing whatever it is we are doing for ourselves.

Paul warns the Thessalonians about doing something that has mixed motives or hidden agendas. Perhaps it is the Methodist in me but we don’t do something because of what we might get out of it but because it is what we are supposed to be doing. Do we shop at a Christian store because it is a Christian store or because it is a good store to buy what we need?

We are reminded that when John Wesley first began what came to be known as the Methodist Revival, he did it in a legal and mechanical way, a way with absolutely no feeling. And at the beginning, it was an abysmal failure. Now, when you look at what he and the other early Methodists were doing, one might get the idea that it should have worked. But it was being done for the individual and not for God, nor was God anywhere in the process.

But when the Holy Spirit became a part of the process, in that night that we have come to called Aldersgate, things changed.

Where are you in this process? Is what you do for you or for God? Are you doing what God wants you to do or are you trying to do what you think God wants? This is perhaps the hardest question one has to answer because we are so tempted to do something our way and then say that it was for God.

How do you reach your goals? Do you start with God? Do you consider God in the process? Now is the time to make a decision, not unlike the one John Wesley made many years ago, to trust in God and allow the Holy Spirit to guide and direct the process.

Now is the time to decide how you will reach your goals.