Understanding Advent in the 21st Century

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You are invited to join us during the four Sundays in October (October 5, 12, 19, and 26), from 5 to 7 pm, in the tradition of the early United Methodist Church, at the home of Tony Mitchell and Ann Walker for a four week Bible study to prepare for Advent.

Amidst the trials and tribulations of the world today, let us read the Scriptures for each week of Advent and consider the following questions:

  1. Why do we celebrate Advent?
  2. What is the meaning of Advent?
  3. How do we prepare for the coming of Christ in the 21st Century?
  4. What will our response be?

You are welcome to come for one, two, three, or all four sessions. Please let Ann and me know that you are coming.

“A World Wide Systems Failure”


Have you noticed how administrators and those in power are saying “the system failed” more and more these day? When did we get to the point where we relied solely on systems to solve our problems? Are there no humans involved anymore?

For those old enough to remember, it was a systems failure that was the premise in the book and movie “Fail Safe”. We are on the verge of several world-wide problems. I think it is time that we no longer rely on our systems but on our own abilities to interact with people to solve problems. It is going to be rough I know, if for no other reason than we have forgotten how to do it. But maybe if we focus on being people again, we can solve some problems for once.

It should be noted that I am the son of a systems engineer and perhaps my view of what is happening is a little prejudiced by that background.

“What Do You Want? What Will You Get?”


Meditation for 28 September 2014, the 16th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Exodus 17: 1 – 17, Philippians 2: 1 – 13, Matthew 21: 23 – 32

Somewhere in my academic files is a paper entitled “Whadja Get?” It is, I believe, the first draft of a paper that was to be submitted for publication. I base this on the fact that the author’s name is not on it nor is there any reference to what journal the author was submitting. I suppose that, on that basis, I could publish it and claim it as my own and take the heat if it is in fact published elsewhere. But that is 1) the subject of another piece and 2) not the reason I mention it at this time.

The purpose of this particular paper was to discuss, in the early/mid 1980s, the idea of grades in a classroom. We were then and are now dominated by a “bottom-line” mentality, especially in the area of education. The grade you receive in any course is supposed to represent some measure of what you know about that subject but often times is more reflective of your standing in the class.

When I was teaching college, I found myself spending the first day or two outlining how one achieved success in my classroom. I was and still and am convinced that much of that fell on deaf ears, because most of the students were only interested in what was the fastest and easiest way to get an “A” in the course. And many of those students did not like my rule for extra credit: Extra credit was possible, provided all the other work had been completed.

Now, I will be honest. I grew up in a competitive environment and, while not explicitly stated, being “number 1” was always the goal. But I also learned that the deck was often stacked against those, such as I, who were newcomers to the system. And many times, it wasn’t what you did but who you were and where you came from that counted more.

Fortunately for me, there were individuals in my life who made sure that our competition was fun and we did things right. I will always remember one particular contest that had several parts, most of which we could do by ourselves. There was one requirement, though; you had to do have a partner so there were no questions. I had a friend who wanted to win this particular competition and he asked me to be his partner. The outcome was that my friend won the particular competition and I finished in the top five. Now, I suppose that if I wanted to, I could have finished higher with a little more effort but to finish 5th without trying and, in the process, helping someone else was a pretty good outcome.

I wonder sometimes if we are so focused on the outcome that we fail to consider what we are doing. Throughout the Exodus, the Israelites constantly questioned the purpose of their trip, never considering what they were getting as a result. In the Old Testament passage for today, it was about the quantity of fresh water that was available. For some of the Israelites, being in slavery in Egypt was more preferable to searching for water in the desert.

In the Gospel reading for today, the people are more concerned with the trappings of power than they are with the validity of the message those with the trappings give. And yet, in today’s society, an easy life, bound by slavery to ritual and trappings, is a preferred life to one that is free but requires work.

I think about what Paul wrote to the Philippians about how they should be living their lives. I think, though I am not a scholar on the topic, that one of Paul’s common themes was the relationship of Christ in our lives. He writes to the Philippians about Christ taking on the status of a slave and, through that process, achieving a greater status.

And notice what else Paul wrote; by living a life with Christ, we gain an energy that will enable and sustain in all that what we do.

I can think of many verses in the Bible in both the Old and New Testament that speak of victory. But it is not a victory that comes from being alone at the finish line but the victory that comes when others celebrate in the same victory.

I have no doubt what people want and there are many times that I want many of the same things. But what will you get if all you seek are those things that have no meaning tomorrow?

What are your priorities? In seeking that which you treasure, will you lose what is more valuable?

“Finding My Faith (and keeping Mariano’s)


This is the message that Wanda Kosinski presented at the Goshen (NY) United Methodist Church on September 14, 2014 (14th Sunday after Pentecost (A)). Sunday services are at 10:30 am and you are invited to attend.

Please join with me in prayer … Dear God, may the words I prepared to share with everyone here this morning be found pleasing to you. And if it is a different message you wish your people to hear from the one that I plan to deliver then I would ask the Holy Spirit to help me find the words that you wish to be shared with those gathered here this morning.

Good morning! Some of you may already know that back in June I was supposed to deliver a sermon but then a case of laryngitis made that impossible. I do appreciate Cheryl filling in so wonderfully for me that day.

And here today, I’m given another opportunity but the words I prepared previously did not seem to quite convey the message for today so while I plan to share with you a portion of that other sermon – my inspiration for today’s message came from a different source.

I spent a good deal of this past summer on a personal spiritual journey of sorts. I decided to do this because I came to realize that more and more I was feeling sort of distant or lost (for lack of a better word) from God and especially the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. So, I decided that with Sunday school ending it was a good time for me to take a time out and re-evaluate my faith and my beliefs and try to re-energize or what I like to refer to as finding my faith focus.

I spent a lot of time reading the Bible and other Christian books and in silent prayer. I also took the opportunity to attend Sunday worship in a few places other than a Methodist church. And on several Sundays, I skipped attending a formal worship service altogether and simply took a long walk outdoors in nature to serve as my worship time for the day.

On more than one occasion I’ve found it challenging to find a topic for a message or sermon from the lectionary readings for a particular Sunday. And I know that when that happens it is perfectly fine to use another source for inspiration.

But finally after reading and re-reading the lectionary verses for this Sunday, the first few lines of this morning’s reading from Romans became a starting point for preparing today’s message. Initially, I used the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible for reading this verse:

Welcome those who are weak in faith, (my first faith encounter) but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.”

I then decided to use the Bible Gateway web site to do a bit of research and look up the same verse but using 3 other Bible translations and this is what I found:

First, from the Easy-to-Read Version of the Bible:

Be willing to accept those who still have doubts about what believers can do. And don’t argue with them about their different ideas.”

Second, from the Living Bible:

Give a warm welcome to any [person] who wants to join you, even though [that person’s] faith is weak. Don’t criticize her for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong.

And third, from the Common English Bible:

Welcome the person who is weak in faith – but not in order to argue about differences of opinion.

After the opening sentence or two of the verse from Romans, each of the Bible versions proceeds with an example of the difference in how some people eat meat and others only eat vegetables. Of course, this is just one of many differences among people.

On a whim, I attempted to correlate the food eating difference to the difference in levels of faith at different times in one’s life and how circumstances and events might effect and change one’s level of faith.

Perhaps when faith is high – meats are on the menu and when faith take a dip, then only veggies are in order. Of course, I don’t mean for this correlation to be taken seriously and hope the Bible scholars in the house won’t call me on this (smile).

With that thought, I was reminded of an interview that I’d heard on National Public Radio while driving home from work one day a few months ago – what I’ll refer to here as my second faith encounter. Mariano Rivera was being interviewed by Robert Siegel on the program All Things Considered about the book he wrote entitled “The Closer.”

As I’m sure many of you already know Mariano Rivera was the famous closer with the NY Yankees until his recent retirement. What not everyone might know is that Rivera is a devout Christian and a very religious person. At one point, he was asked about something he wrote in his book concerning the hand of God being in everyday life, even in baseball.

Rivera answered: Well, it’s my belief. You know, it’s all about faith, not only in baseball, but just normal life. My faith in the Lord is everything.

He went on to explain how his faith made it possible for him to walk out of circumstances like losing Game 7 of the World Series. If he wasn’t able to win the game that day it was alright because he had given it everything that he had. But he wasn’t going to second-guess his faith or ability due to the loss.

Rivera suggested that we need to shine in the middle of adversity. He said, “You still have to point to the sky and say, you know what, Lord? Thank you for this moment, because you permitted it.”

My third and final faith encounter happened quite unexpectedly and it was, I believe, the thing that renewed or reconnected me to a closer feeling to God and my faith.

It happened last month when I was at the hospital in Toms River NJ visiting my Mother. On my 2nd day there, I arrived at the hospital quite early in the morning – about an hour before visiting hours started. When I entered my Mother’s room she was sleeping so I sat down and started to pray.

A few minutes later a Catholic priest appeared at the door. He was doing his daily visitation rounds. I told him that I was here from New York to see my Mother.

He then asked me if I’d like to share communion with him. Now I know that the Methodist communion table is open to all but I also know that this is not the case in the Catholic Church concerning the sacrament of Communion. So, I explained to him that although my Mom was Catholic and I had been raised in the Catholic faith that I was now a Methodist and about 5 years ago had taken a reaffirmation of faith and joined the Methodist Church.

We talked for a few minutes about my involvement in teaching Sunday school and my service as a lay servant in my church. He then again asked me if I’d like to share communion with him and that the only requirement, as far as he was concerned, was a belief in God which I clearly had.

So, he gave me communion and we prayed together (my Mom was sleeping through this) and this exchange was so comforting and healing to me. I thought it was so cool that he could set aside whatever differences about communion might exist because the moment asked only to do what Jesus would do.

To me, this final faith encounter was comforting and healing for sure, but it also reaffirmed my belief that there is so much more all people and all religions share than the minor differences.

And most important, it left me feeling, once again, connected to God. Amen.

“The Value Of Your Ministry”


Meditation for 21 September 2014, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Exodus 16: 2 – 16, Philippians 1: 21 – 30, Matthew 20: 1 – 16

Sometimes we need to see the Scriptures in a totally new manner, or at least not view them in the way we have perhaps always done it. That, I hope, is the case with this particular post.

As you can see from the title, this has to do with the ministry of the church. When we think of a particular church’s ministry, it is often in terms of the congregation and the needs of the congregation first. The needs of the community in which the church resides are, perhaps, often overlooked, or thought to be the same as the congregation’s needs and wants.

Sometimes, this will work; often times I don’t think it does. My first impression of Rick Warren and his “Purpose Driven Church” model was that the church administration assessed the needs and interests of the congregation and got those people with common needs and interests together and called that a ministry. Now, if your church has the numbers to do this, it might work.

But, and I made this point when it was first presented to me, if your church is anything like the ones that I have worked with in the past, the numbers aren’t there and they never will be.

This has nothing to do with the perceived state of the church today. Some churches are in places where the population as a whole is not changing and is probably going down. Churches in such areas as these have to, by necessity, operate with an entirely different model. And churches such as these need our support more than we perhaps realize, simply so that the people in those congregations don’t think that they are being forgotten.

But there are churches in areas where the numbers speak of growth and promise, yet the ministries of those churches are adapted to the congregation and not the community. These are the churches in trouble. And that is an area that we really need to look at. A church whose ministries are inward and have turned a blind eye to the community outside the walls of the sanctuary is a dying church.

But I am looking at something else at this time. Much of our publication discussion of the ministry of the church has been of two types, one informal and one, naturally, formal. The informal ministry emphasizes our willingness or unwillingness to let the Spirit rule the Law. For some, the Law is everything and, thus, that which is against the Law cannot be allowed.

But there are those (and for the sake of clarity, I believe I am in that group) who feel that the Spirit supersedes the Law and we must often do that which is in conflict with the Law. I fear that this informal ministry will, in the next couple of years, be formalized and become part of the corporate ministry of the church and the denomination.

The formal ministry of the church, at the local, denominational, and general levels, is that by which the church is identified. As part of the corporate structure, the formal ministry is the current measure of the vitality of the church. This is what the church says it is going to do. But there is another view of the ministry, not the corporate view but the individual view.

And I think that we need to see the ministry of the church more from the individual view than from the corporate view. This view starts by asking each member, “What are your ministries? What do you do, individually, that shows others who Christ is and brings them to a point where they can accept Christ?” If your life has been given to Christ, then all ministries are of the same value and that value is, perhaps, priceless (yes, I know, it is part of a 21st century cliché but it fits the Gospel reading).

But if you are like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, angry that God has taken you away from the security of your slavery in Egypt, what value do you place on your ministry? What if you are one of the workers who has put in the long hours and ended up wit the same pay as those who worked less? What value do you place on your ministry? If you feel that your efforts deserve greater rewards, then perhaps your ministry really has no value.

The problem today is not necessarily our corporate ministries but rather the value that we place on them. Many corporate ministries today focus on the needs of the congregation rather than the needs of the community. And individually, we are more interested in what we get out of the ministry than what others might.

As I read the passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians for this Sunday, I could not help but think about all the time and effort that he, Paul, put into his work. And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that he was getting frustrated with the work (and at least one suggestion that the “thorn in his side” was a wife wondering when he was going to get a “real” job).

And maybe Paul did have the right to complain. How many times did he have to leave a town because he angered the power structure? Did the results that he achieved justify the time and effort he put in? Keep in mind that most of the time, the letters that he was dictating and mailing to the churches dealt with problems that had arose in the church. Is what Paul gained truly measurable by the bottom line demanded in the corporate and self-centered individual ministries of today?

What is the value of your ministry? Are you expecting more than what you put in? Or will your efforts offer someone new a hope or opportunity that they might not have received otherwise?

The hardest thing we have to do is finding out what our ministry is. Figuring out how to accomplish it becomes pretty easy. We start by committing our lives and our souls to Christ and then we work to help others do the same. The value of our ministry will perhaps never be known, except to those who are touched.

“The State Of Our Memory”


I recall reading somewhere a long time ago that memory was a three-fold process:

1) You remember something.

2) You remember the source of the information.

3) You remember how you did it.

Now, it seems to me that we are doing more of the first than we are the other two. In fact, we have practically forgotten that there are references that enable us to find out more than we can ever know.

So why is it that we spend so much time on the first and less time on the others? Could it be that it is easier to teach that way and easier to determine if we are doing a “good” job?

“Who Are You Following?”


Meditation for 14 September 2014, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Exodus 14: 19 – 31, Romans 14: 1 – 12, Matthew 18: 21 – 35

There are certain things that I believe. Obviously, I believe that Jesus Christ is my Savior. And in that regard, I hope that my life, my words, my thoughts, my deeds, and my actions reflect that belief.

What is important to understand is that I came to this decision on my own. There were countless individuals (pastors, Sunday School teachers, and others) who introduced Jesus Christ to me but the decision to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior was mine and mine alone. It was not, as some think it should have been, in the manner of Saul walking on the road to Damascus but more in the manner of the quiet assurance that John Wesley felt that evening in the Aldersgate Chapel.

So in answer to the question posed as the title of this piece, I am following Jesus Christ. And perhaps that is where it gets tricky. You see, the decision to follow Jesus Christ is what some would call a high reward/high risk challenge. The reward is obvious but some may wonder if the reward is worth the risk. You have to be prepared to help others make the same decision that you have made.

I do not believe that my decision gives me the right to tell someone else what to do. It does mean that the life I live must reflect that decision. I cannot simply say that Christ is my Savior and then lead a life where that seemingly applies only on Sunday mornings. If I do not lead a life with Christ all the time, 24/7 as it were, then it was a limited decision.

And while I can make the argument that following Christ is a better path, I cannot do it with threats and intimidation. And I am sorry if this offends some people, that is what many evangelists do today; they threaten and intimidate people, not provide proof that the path one walks with Christ is the better path.

Evangelism today has become, if you will, an embarrassment to the faith. Meant to bring people to Christ, it is, in reality, driving them away. Evangelists today either pervert the Good News for their own benefit (financial or otherwise) or create a scenario that suggests the outcome of life is fixed and the winners are already predetermined. I said it last week, when you create a world based only on one’s own views of the world and law, be it faith-based or otherwise, you create a quasi-moralistic society, not God’s Kingdom (adapted from “Taking Time To Do It Right”).

And while the style of worship is important, that is not evangelism! Borrowing an old line from “American Bandstand”, if it moves your soul, then that what is important. But what may work for one does not work for others. A preacher in casual clothes is great but then again so is a preacher in a nice robe. (Of course, the preacher who spends several thousand dollars on one suite is missing the point here.) Focusing on the style is called marketing and that is not what it is about.

Evangelism is about declaring the good news about what God is doing in the world today. Evangelism should challenge individuals to yield to Jesus, to let Jesus into their lives, and to allow the power of the Holy Spirit transform them into new creations. But it is more than that.

It involves proclaiming what God is doing in society right now to bring justice, liberation, and economic well-being for the oppressed. It means to call people to participate (nasty word there, don’t you think) in the revolutionary transformation of the world. Evangelism is what Jesus said it was: broadcasting the good news that the Kingdom of God is breaking loose in human history, that a new social order is being created, and that we are all invited to share in what is happening. God is changing the world that is into the world that should be and we are invited to live this good news by breaking down the barriers of racism, sexism, and social class.

Evangelism requires that we declare the Gospel not just by word but also by deed and we show God’s presence in this world by working to eliminate poverty, present unjust discrimination and stand against political tyranny. Evangelism call us to create a church through which God’s will is done, here on earth, as it is in Heaven. (borrowed and adapted from Tony Campolo’s foreword to Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel: Luke and Acts).

Now, when I think about that discussion of evangelism, I can’t help but think that we aren’t even close to meeting it. It seems to me in so many ways that we are doing just the opposite and then turning around and saying that we are doing in the name of Christ. There was a time a few years back when I thought we were headed in the right direction but somewhere along the line we got sidetracked and perhaps even lost.

I don’t think there is a person on this earth who does not understand that following Christ is a difficult task. For some, the difficulty is so great that they don’t even bother doing it. This has been clear from the beginning when the writers of the Gospels noted how the people who followed Christ got fewer and fewer as the understanding of the message became clearer and clearer. Others have changed the Gospel to make it easier to follow.

I cannot help but think that too many people follow someone because the ideas that person has seem so simple and easy to understand. And while we would like things to be easy, that is not always the case. Peter was looking for a simple and easy way to forgive someone and Jesus offers something a little more complicated.

And what Jesus offers runs counter to what we feel. In a society that demands retribution, Jesus suggests forgiveness. And not just a quick forgiveness but a rather lengthy and extensive forgiveness. Consistently throughout the Gospels, Jesus offers solutions that run counter to what we want to do. As Jesus pointed out in the Gospel lesson for today, we are quite willing to seek mercy for ourselves while denying mercy for others. And in the end, we will find out that approach will not work and our decision to follow is often impeded because such a decision takes us down a path we do not want to walk.

So we look for information and guidance but, in the end, we must make the decision. It is a decision made in the mind and with the heart; it is a decision not just for today but for one’s life.

In the New Testament lesson for today, Paul wrote to the Romans about cultivating new relationships. For me, Paul said that all were invited to the table and we were not the ones to decide if any particular person could or could not come to the table.

And I know that I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to such decisions as that. On more than one occasion, there has been someone whom I may not have invited to the communion rail because of what they had said or done regarding the church. But I was always reminded that it was not my decision about who could and who could not come to the table.

The challenge that we face today is two-fold. We have to rely on others for our knowledge but we are the ones who must make the decision about who to follow. As the Israelites began their journey, they were guided by the Pillar of Fire and a Cloud.

Even if they did not know where they were going, the Israelites understood who they were following and what that decision meant. True, even when they did get to the Promised Land, they did not understand it, just as those who followed Christ for three years did not completely understand at first what was happening that weekend in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago. But 1) God never left them and 2) they stayed with the decision.

So, shall you follow Christ, knowing that, while the destination is know, the path we must walk to get there is not an easy one? It is not the only option one has in today’s world. But I do believe that it is the only one in which the outcome is certain and by your thoughts, words, deeds, and actions have a chance to make that outcome possible here on earth as it is in Heaven.

“Taking Time To Do It Right”


A quick note – this replaces an earlier announcement.

I am at Grace United Methodist Church in Slate Hill, NY this Sunday, September 7, 2014. The Scriptures for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A) are Exodus 12: 1 – 14, Romans 13: 8 – 14, and Matthew 18: 15 – 20. The service is at 10 am and you are invited to attend.

A quick reminder – don’t forget the pre-Advent Bible Study that we are having at our house on the four Sundays in October; see “Understanding Advent In The 21st Century” or the invitation on Facebook for further information.

I had a thought in place when I began this piece that lead me to entitle it “Taking Time”. But as I looked at things, the title expanded to “Taking Time To Do It Right”, in part because that was more to the point I wish to make. And if you are going to take the time to do things right, one ought to do things right, right?

As one who consciously follows the lectionary reading, it is correct and proper to follow the readings from Genesis with readings from Exodus. But, in one sense, it isn’t logical to include a passage describing the preparation for Passover in readings for September.

With the calendar that was used at the time of the writing of Exodus, the first month of the new year was in April, which explains why it is celebrated then. So why read about the preparation for Passover in September?

Under the present Jewish calendar, the first month of the New Year is September, which is why Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, occurs during this time (this year it will begin on 26 September this year).

So even though Passover is some six months away, we can still look at the preparations needed for that occasion. But note that while the Passover meal is set for the fourteenth day of the month the actual preparations for the meal begin some two weeks prior to the actual meal. There are also instructions for how Passover is to be celebrated after the Israelites ultimately reach the Promised Land.

In His instructions, God places a sense of urgency on the meal, “Eat the meal but also be ready to leave”.

Now, I have been a follower of the legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, for almost as long as I have been a follower of John Wesley. In preparing his basketball players and students for life, John Wooden created what has become known as his “Pyramid for Success.” On paper, it is more of a triangle but it consists of a number of thoughts and maxims that encapsulate John Wooden’s concept of success.

One of those maxims which I feel applies in this case is “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” and I think that it applies in this case. And in thinking about Coach Wooden and his UCLA basketball program, I couldn’t help but remember something Richard “Digger” Phelps did prior to the UCLA – Notre Dame game where the Irish defeated the Bruins and ended the UCLA 88-game winning streak on January 19, 1974. During one of the practices prior to that game, Coach Phelps, in having the team anticipate victory, had the players practice cutting down the nets so that they would know how to do it right. And when that victory did occur, the team was ready for the celebration.  (And as a quick aside to the matter, Coach Phelps is a local boy from Beacon.)

Another maxim that came to mind was “be quick but don’t hurry.” If one observed a UCLA basketball practice run by John Wooden, one observed practices run at speeds matching and exceeding game conditions. If mistakes were going to be made, they were going to be made in practice when they could be corrected and not during the game. And more than one player noted that it made the game seem easier.

The instructions that the Israelites were given regarding the eating of the meal were not given for their comfort but, rather, to prepare them for God’s quick and miraculous delivery. The Israelites had to be quick but not hurry when the time for the Passover came to be.

Now, I am not today nor have I ever advocated any sort of “End Times” theology. It has always amazed me that many of those who do espouse the idea that 1) they are going to Heaven and you are not and 2) there is nothing that anyone can do about it.

And while I am not crazy about that first point, especially others have said it to me, it is that second point that bothers me more than anything else.

If there is nothing that we can do about the world around us, if the violence and destruction that seem so prevalent today are the way that it is going to be, then what was the point of Jesus coming to earth the first time? Let’s not worry about His Second Coming, why did He come the first time?

Let me pause here for some thirty seconds while we think about this; you will understand why in a moment or two.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Let us contemplate the words that Paul wrote for today and what it meant then and what it means now. Paul was writing with a sense of urgency, that Christ was coming and we had to be prepared for His arrival. But he also was warning everyone not to get so focused on that task that they forget their regular tasks.

It appears from the historical record that many individuals, convinced that Christ was about to return, had given up paying bills, sold all their possessions, and sat around partying and having a good time. Paul pointed out that they still needed to focus on their daily lives but lead those daily lives in such a way as to let everyone know that they were Christian.

But how do we do that? Do we simply say every now and then “I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior” and then go about our business as if nothing happened? Or do we make it a point to let everyone know that we are a Christian and do so in such a way that really just irritates them? Or do we live our lives as an embodiment of Christ, treating everyone, no matter who they may be or what they may believe, in the same manner that Christ taught us?

For me, the words of Genesis and Romans speak of preparation, not for a time we cannot predict but rather to live a life today that will work against the powers of evil, death, and destruction.

I will admit that this is not an easy task, especially in today’s society. There are those today who see the world in black and white, devoid of any color or shading. Some of these individuals would create a faith-based society, guided by their own views of the world and law, but it would be a rather limited moralistic society. Others are just the opposite, placing their values and thoughts in a world in which they claim faith has no place; yet, by their very words and actions, they would create an almost identical faith-based, quasi-moralistic society.

If either of those solutions is to be the answer, then I would suggest we prepare for a rather abrupt ending to life. Because that is what we will get. And it is not the life that I feel that we are asked to live or the way we are to believe.

What is the life that we have been asked to live? How, in a world of increasing sectarian and secular strife can we ever find true peace? How can we make the world that Paul envisioned in his letters to the Galatians and the Colossians be the world of today?

Hear those words again, though perhaps in a slightly different matter. Dr. Clarence Jordan held a degree in agriculture from the University of Georgia in 1933. While in school, he became convinced that the roots of poverty were spiritual as well as economic. As a result, he went to seminary and earned a Ph. D. in New Testament Greek. He then took this background and 1) created the Koinonia Farm in Georgia in 1942 and 2) translated most of the New Testament from the original Greek into what is known as The Cotton Patch Gospels.

The development of the Koinonia Farm, which is still in operation, was an effort to show that a life built upon Christian principles could work and that segregation and inequality had no place in ordinary life. That it survived the 50s and 60s is a testament to the correctness, if you will, of the approach.

The Cotton Patch Gospels are written with references to Southern geography and Southern tradition but they are still true to the words and thoughts of the original writers.

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians became the “Letter to the Churches of the Georgia Convention” and Galatians 3: 28 became

No more is one a white man and another a Negro; no more is one a slave and the other a free man; no longer is one a male and the other a female. For you all are as one in Christ Jesus…noble heirs of a spiritual heritage.

Paul’s Letter to the Colossians became the “Letter to the Christians in Columbus” and Colossians 3: 11 became

The pattern for the new man is same for a Negro and a white man, a church member and non-church-member, foreigner, Mexican, employee, employer,…Christ is everything in everybody.

Jordan continued

Wear the clothes, then, that will identify you as a people whom God has selected and dedicated and loved. Your outfit should include a tender heart, kindness, genuine humility, loyalty, persistence. Put up with one another, and freely forgive each other if one has a grip against somebody. You all forgive as freely as the Lord forgave you. Overall all these things wear love, which is the robe of maturity. And let Christ’s peace, into which you were called as one fellowship, order your lives.

And just as Paul called the Romans, the Colossians, and the Galatians to seek a different and newer world, so too are we called to do the same. It may be that we need to reevaluate our thinking process.

When I was working on my doctorate, I was introduced to the concept or notion of “wait time”. This was the time that the teacher or instructor had to wait after introducing something new before proceeding. Research showed that a minimum of thirty seconds was needed for an idea to be established in a listener’s mind. And thirty seconds can be an extremely long time; as you undoubtedly found out a few moments ago.

And in today’s world, we don’t like to wait, even for thirty seconds; we want to respond now and in kind. We have, I believe, taken the thinking of the Bible concerning violence and anger and turned it around. We have become too quick to anger and too slow to think, to reverse the words of James. In James 1: 19, we read,

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage.

Clarence Jordan, in his Cotton Patch Gospels, translated this as,

Listen here, my dear brothers. Let every man of you be quick with his ears, slow with his tongue, and hard to get riled up, because a man’s temper contributes nothing to God’s cause.”

In a world where we are too often quick to anger, we read in Ecclesiastes 7: 9,

Don’t be quick to fly off the handle.
Anger boomerangs. You can spot a fool by the lumps on his head.

But you will say to me that there is a point in time where we have done everything we can possibly do and we are now entitled to treat another person as a pariah for ever after. How can we respond to the world in a manner that will allow us to find peace?

Let us take a second look at the passage from Matthew that is the Gospel reading for today. Matthew’s Gospel was written to a persecuted, predominantly Jewish church, trying to find a way after the destruction of the Temple. They were also trying to find a way to include Gentiles in their new community. So conflict was a part of their beginning and it was probably a life-threatening issue.

But Matthew reminds the readers that Jesus is speaking about reconciliation and He does not allow for a quick dismissal of those who have hurt us or threaten to hurt us. Even His final words, spoken about those for which reconciliation has failed, are a call to seek and include in our love those with whom we are in conflict. It is a story that invites us into an adventure of constant, unfailing reaching out, seeking understanding, and loving sacrificially.

It is a story that tells us that once we make the decision to follow Christ, we are never off the hook of forgiving and seeking reconciliation. We are called to be those who learn to speak, even in our moments of greatest threat and greatest conflict, words of peace, not retaliation, words of compassion, not rejection. (adapted from http://sacredise.com/blog/?p=1473)

At some point in time, we will have to realize that our walk with Christ will not be an easy one but it will be the right way to go. But we knew that it would not be easy and we knew that it would require an effort on our part to take the time to do it right.

There was only one way that the Israelites would get out of bondage in Egypt. The Romans, enduring persecution for their belief, knew that only one way to lead them to freedom. The early church, followers of Christ, understood that there was only one way to go, and that it would take time to do it the right way.

Shall we rush to the first thing that comes to mind or shall we take the time to do it right? Shall we prepare now or just wait?