Who Shall Lead Us?


This was to be my “blog” for August 21st; it is based on the common lectionary for that Sunday, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost.

Thomas Paine wrote “These are the times that try men’s souls.” He was, of course, referring to the events that would eventually lead to the American Revolution. But he could have easily been describing the problems of today’s churches.

These are times when we read and hear of numerous churches that are growing in leaps and bounds, prompting the term “mega-church.” According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, there are approximately 800 Protestant churches in the United States with a sustained average weekly attendance of 2000 or more.[1] In addition to their size, these churches have charismatic pastors who offer a softer and gentler version of the Gospel. It is a Gospel that promises wealth and good health to those who believe but it appears that the only ones getting wealthy are the pastors who present the message.

The Gospel was, at least to me, never about getting rich or having good health. The riches that we receive are in heaven and not here on earth. The Gospel message, again at least to me, was about helping the sick, the needy, the homeless, and the oppressed. It was and is a message that centers on Christ’s sacrifice so that we may be free from sin and spiritual death. But these are points missing in the mega church; look at the stage (I will not call it an altar) and see if you can find the cross or any other reminder of Christ’s sacrifice and suffering for our sake.

Attend a worship service at one of these churches or at any more modern worship service and you are likely to feel that you are in a rock concert rather than a church service. The music of today’s modern worship service takes on the tone of a mantra rather than challenging the worshipper to open their hearts. We hear an almost Calvinistic message that poverty and homelessness are the products of the sinful nature of the person rather than inequities and inequalities in life. Listen to these “good-time” pastors and you have to wonder if there are any homeless, sick, needy or any oppressed people in the world. It is almost as if the world of these pastors and their congregations did not have any sick, needy, homeless, or imprisoned. Theirs is the reply of the people in Matthew 25: 31 – 39.

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

These churches, offering their “light” Gospel turn away those who seek solace and peace in a world of turmoil and darkness.

I listened to someone the other day who said they were religious but who had quit going to church. It seems that when this individual was faced with a major crisis in their lives, they had wanted to go to their church and pray. But the church was closed when they got there and the priest was not willing to open up the church so that they could go in. In a time of need, the church was not there for this person and because the church was not there, this person no longer goes to church. How many similar stories have we heard or do we know where the church is not there when a person seeks solace and comfort but cannot find it. Our churches are quickly becoming a church that turn people away rather than let them in. If they do not like a person’s lifestyle or economic status, they are likely to turn that person away.

These self-proclaimed religious leaders of our country proclaim that they have Biblical support for their message and decisions. But they forget that leaders in the Bible challenged the people, and did not simply offer simple or comfortable answers.

We cannot, in this day and age, have leaders who simply choose approaches that mirror the problems of today. We cannot respond to violence with violence; we cannot make the world free by oppressing others. In a world where people are sick, needy, or homeless, we cannot say that they are not welcome or that they are in such a state because of their own sinfulness. Callousness, shallowness, and indifference cannot cure the problems of the world; yet, that is the manner of the message many people hear in church today.

We claim to be Christian but we are not willing to walk the path that Christ walked. We cannot expect any government to offer solutions that require that we give of ourselves. Often times, the demands of the political state contradict the demands placed on us by the kingdom of heaven. We fail to realize that if Jesus had accepted Satan’s offer to command the kingdoms of the world, He would have had to renounce His Lordship.

We want the kingdoms of the world; we want the kingdom of heaven as well, but we want it know and here on earth. We want our leaders, political or spiritual, to lead us to the Promised Land. This was the promise of Satan, not Christ. When Peter proclaimed to Jesus and the other disciples that Jesus was the true Messiah, Jesus did not give him the keys to the kingdom on earth but rather the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

Our own declaration that Jesus is the Messiah is something that we believe in our heart and our mind but it is not always provable in a world that demands physical proof. And, sometimes like Peter on Good Friday, we are not always prepared to meet the demands of society that demand such proof.[2]

We live in a world that responds to violence with violence, oppression with further repression and ignores the sick, the needy, and the homeless. In this world is a river that separates us from the kingdom of peace, justice, and perfect love.

We need to be people who seek to find ways to cross the river; we need to be people who dare to live in accordance with the ways of the other side, not this side of the river. And as we cross the river, we need to remain in touch with those who do not go with us, even if they choose not to go with us.[3]

Paul spoke to the Romans about the gifts we have all been given. One of those gifts is to help others come to the river’s edge and find the way to the other side, to the Promised Land.

We need to be reminded that “Moses” means “I drew him out of the water.” Moses’ life began on the river’s edge but it was from that river’s edge that he was able to lead his people to the Promised Land. Our Moses is Jesus and He is willing to lead us to the Promised Land if we are willing to follow.

The mission of the church is not to be a source of discord or hatred but to bring the Gospel message into the world. In the midst of all the trouble, in the midst of all the violence and hatred in this world, we must be willing to bring the message of freedom and love that is the Gospel message. It is not an easy path to walk and there are times when we need someone to lead us. Such a leader will not be found in our political system but rather in our heart.

It should not be a question of who shall lead us that we answer today but rather “shall we let Jesus lead us?” The answer to that question is in your hearts; it is an answer that you need to express this day.

Down By the Riverside

Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Ain’t gonna study war no more.

refrain

I ain’t gonna study war no more,
I ain’t gonna study war no more,
Study war no more.
I ain’t gonna study war no more,
I ain’t gonna study war no more,
Study war no more.

Gonna stick my sword in the golden sand;
Down By the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Gonna stick my sword in the golden sand
Down by the riverside
Gonna study war no more.

refrain

Gonna put on my long white robe;
Down By the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Gonna put on my long white robe; Down by the riverside
Gonna study war no more.

refrain

Gonna put on my starry crown; Down By the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Gonna put on my starry crown;
Down by the riverside
Gonna study war no more.

refrain

Gonna put on my golden shoes;
(ETC)
Gonna talk with the Prince of Peace;
(ETC)
Gonna shake hands around the world;
(ETC)

I don’t mind if you use this but please let me know (TonyMitchellPhD@verizon.net). Also let me know what part you are using so that proper citations can be used.



[2] Adapted from “West Coast Witness” by Peter S. Hawkins (Christian Century, 9 August 2005)

[3] Adapted from “Battle Lines” by Eberhard Arnold (http://www.bruderhof.com/articles/ea/BattleLines.htm)

Where Have You Been?


I took a few days off for travel. I hope to add what would have been my posts for August 21st and 28th later this week. I should be back to regular posting this weekend.

If you like what I write or would like to use what I write in some of your writings, please contact me. I use other sources that are not always marked in my writing. My e-mail address is TonyMitchellPhD@verizon.net

Have a good week!

What Do You See?


The sixties rock group, “The Hollies”, had a song once that said “Look through any window, yeah.What do you see?”The answer was “Smiling faces all around rushing through the busy town.”And that is the same question that I ask today.“In this day and in this society, what do you see as you rush through life and through the town?

We live in a time and a society where it is not easy to see the hard parts of life.We do not easily see the homeless, unless they are sleeping on the side of the street early in the morning. We do not see the sick or the hungry; we probably don’t even know what the oppressed look like. And we are so busy trying to keep up without our own lives we tell ourselves we do not have the time to look.Or is because we are blind or do not want to see.

It has been said that when the first pictures of the invasion of Tarawa, an island in the Pacific, in November, 1943, came back to the States editors did not want to show them in the newspapers and magazines.This invasion, which resulted in 3,000 United States Marine casualties, was one of the bloodiest and most costly of the Pacific campaign.It was a harbinger of things to come.Editors were afraid to print the pictures of the dead for fear of turning the American public against the war.Those pictures that were printed horrified the nation and almost prompted a congressional investigation.Against that backdrop of history, is it no wonder that we do not see too many photos of the dead Americans, killed in Iraq and Afghanistan?When will we see what is really there and not what others would have us to see?When, in this day and age, will we see that there are homeless, sick, and needy people in this country and that more that compassion for them is needed?

We are much like Joseph’s ten brothers, who in the midst of the famine and drought that Joseph had predicted, came to Egypt to beg for food for their families.In Joseph, they saw the rich young ruler and the imperial majesty that was the trappings of the office.What they saw was guided by a fear; a fear that this most powerful person would turn them away because they were not Egyptian.They did not see their younger brother, whom they had sold into slavery some time before.

But Joseph saw and knew who they were.Now, it would be have possible for Joseph to have ignored his brothers and their request for aid and help.But his heart was filled with compassion and his actions supported his compassion.He did not let the norms of society, which demanded revenge and retribution.

Our lives are too often driven by what society deems appropriate.We still live by the Old Testament adage of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”We have forgotten that Jesus told us “to turn the other cheek; to go the extra mile for the person, even if he were to offend you.”We do not see that when we act in the manner of others, we merely continue the cycle of violence and retribution.

Jesus spoke of the Pharisees as the blind leading the blind, of not seeing what was in front of them.The Pharisees’ heart was hardened and they were incapable of carrying out acts of compassion.The Gospel demands more than simply compassion for those in need; it commands action.This was something that the Pharisees could not give.

Jesus heard the cries of the Canaanite woman that same day that he called the Pharisees blind and unable to see.If he had been like them, he would have ignored her cries, for she was not Jewish.At first, when you read Matthew, Jesus does not answer her; in fact, He exclaims that his mission is to the lost people of Israel.But she pointed out that even the dogs of that time gathered up the crumbs of food that fell from the table.And with this demonstration of faith, Jesus granted her request of mercy and aid.Jesus was not going to walk by and allow one to suffer, even if that person did not meet the requirements imposed by a blind society.

The gifts of God’s grace and knowledge of God’s unfailing and never ending love that Jesus brought us are there for all to see and collect.But some people are too blind to see; some people are so bound by tradition that they do not recognize these gifts.But the hope and promise of the Gospel is that those gifts are there and will always be there.

There are times when it would seem that God has forgotten us.There are times when it seems that God does not see us in the sea of humanity that surrounds us and sometimes threatens to engulf us.Paul reminded the Romans and he reminds us today that this never occurs.God’s love is continuous and, though we may be imprisoned in sin, we still have the chance to be free.

The challenge for us today is to see the invitation to accept God’s grace and mercy as it is offered to us through Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.The challenge for us to day is to see that there are others in the world that are homeless, sick, hungry or oppressed.But the challenge is more than to just see that these individuals; the challenge is to reach out and make the truth and promise of the Gospel a reality for all to see.

Jesus is standing there, inviting us into His kingdom this day.What do you see?

To Change Dreams Into Visions


When we are growing up, we all have dreams. Perhaps they were the same dreams as those that Joseph had, seeing his brothers all bow down before him or latter the dreams that would prophesy the seven good years of harvest followed by seven bad years. Perhaps they were just dreams of what we would like to be. But we had dreams. We also had visions as well; we saw what things could be or, more likely, what things were.

Growing up and living on Air Force bases, I saw the B-52 bombers parked at the end of the runways, ready to takeoff within 15 minutes of the order to do so and carry their bombs into the heart of the Soviet Union. Growing up in the South in the 1960’s, I saw and felt the effects of segregation and racism. If you are going to keep one part of society oppressed, you must enact rules that will affect all of society. Segregation is not simply something that affects blacks and minorities; it affects all. This was a vision that I saw growing up.

And I saw the effects of having the dreams of our youth and the hopes that we saw in our dreams shot down in cold blood. 1968 was the year that I graduated from Bartlett High School in Memphis, Tennessee.

It would have been one thing if the visions of that year were only that of a single item such as the Tet offensive. That would be enough to bring into question the hopes for the future when it seemed that a war that did not seem to have a conclusion was now a war that seemed dedicated to the killing of this country’s youth. But that was also the spring during which Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis and Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. It was the summer in which the hopes for peaceful protests were beaten down on the streets of Chicago. The hopes that came from the dreams were beaten and destroyed in the visions of violence and oppression of that year.

Joseph’s brothers reacted to his dreams by selling him off into slavery, never knowing that their act of hatred would be the vehicle that would enable the dream to become a vision. The ten older brothers let their vision of a world of tradition and rules prevent them from seeing the possibilities that Joseph’s dreams allowed. It is the same with us.

We can allow other factors to block our dreams and prevent them from becoming visions of the future. During that fateful political campaign of the spring of 1968, Robert Kennedy often quoted George Bernard Shaw, “Some people see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not?”

Shall we be those who simply ask why things are or shall we dream of things that never were and dare to ask why not? We seem to have become a nation of cynics, only interested in tearing down the efforts of others. We have become a nation willing to let others put their dreams into action, no matter what the consequence will be to us. Is it not time that we begin to act?

Peter and the other disciples are in a boat in the Sea of Galilee when they see Jesus walking across the water. Peter reacts by jumping out of the boat and walking across the water to meet Jesus. It is only when Peter takes his eyes off Jesus and realizes what exactly it is that he is doing that he falls into the water.

Where are we looking? Are our eyes focused on Jesus so that we have a new vision of the world? Or are we so rooted in the ways of life that we cannot believe what is possible? And what of those who have fallen into the sea? What happens to those who are drown in a sea of woe and trouble?

Jesus response to Peter was to say that Peter’s faith had let him down. If he had continued to believe, he could have walked on the water forever. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, asks how others who do not believe will ever achieve that same result. Paul asks how others are to believe if they never hear of Jesus and what the Gospel message is about.

Our vision of the world changes when our focus changes from the world around us to Jesus. And when our focus changes, so too does our life. It is not enough to simply change our life, accept Christ as our Savior, and then proceed down the road. And it is not enough to get others to hear the Word.

The problem today is that too many people are forcing others to hear the Word. Or the Word that is being broadcast by countless TV evangelists is one that limits the vision to the single person. I think that if we are to have a vision of a world in which the Gospel message is alive, then we must work towards that vision. We must work to feed the hungry, house the homeless, heal the sick and free the oppressed. We cannot say that we believe in the Gospel but then act against what we say we believe.

It has been said that Patrick Henry had a vision of his wife enchained and locked away in the basement of their home in Virginia when he arose before the Second Virginia Convention on March 20, 1775 and spoke of freedom and the need for action. We all have memorized his concluding remarks, “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” But we were not aware that Patrick Henry’s wife, Sarah, was being treated for mental illness at the time of this speech. The treatment for mental illness then was nowhere near the humane treatment that many today receive; rather, the facilities where Sarah lived were more like a prison than a hospital. Faced with that choice, Patrick Henry elected to keep his wife at home, though he was obliged by law to keep her in chains.

So to speak of life in terms of chains and slavery was not simply a metaphor but a vision that was in Patrick Henry’s mind and life. Are we not much different today? Should not the dreams that we have, should not the visions that we see for this country drive our actions?

But like Peter trying to walk across the water and falling into the sea, our vision will only fail if we fail to focus on Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Our vision for this world will only become reality if we take heed of our Savior’s words and put them into action. We all have dreams but can we make the dreams become visions? If our vision is on Christ, I think that we can.