The Time and The Season


Here are my thoughts for the first Sunday in Advent.

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If one only glanced quickly at the readings for today (Isaiah 64: 1 – 9; Mark 13: 24 – 37), it would be very difficult to think of them as Advent readings. But the calendar says that it is late autumn, the days are getting longer, and it is the time for the season of Advent. So how is it that readings that have almost an apocalyptic overtone are used for Advent?

Advent is the time and the season for preparation, the preparation of the coming of Christ. But it is a joyful and peaceful season. The apocalypse, especially in the writings of the Book of the Revelation of John, is neither joyful nor peaceful. But the word apocalypse simply means to reveal or to uncover. For this season we must reject the literal notion of the apocalypse and focus on its true meaning, its meaning for the here and now.

During Advent, the voices of the prophets come through loud and clear, preparing us for the coming of God in human form. Should we not hear the words of Isaiah, “we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth,” as a wake-up call?

But just as the prophets provided cold clarity about what it means to be God’s people and what our responsibilities are to each other and to God, so too did they remind us that God refuses to give up on us.

This is what Paul is telling us in his letter to the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 1: 3 – 9) Paul writes, “I give thanks to God always, specifically those who are members of the body of Christ.” He is assuring us that God has already given us the strength we need to bear whatever comes in our life. Perhaps we should use this blessing in those moments in church where we pass the peace of Christ between friends and strangers. Who knows what might happen if we say this and find out that we truly mean it?

The common notion of the apocalypse is one of destruction and death, of completion and ending. But the apocalypse is more a sign of things to come, a sign of hope. After all, even Christ’s words are an offering of the hope that is to come, not the destruction. Christ’s words are directed towards a destruction of our own making, not God’s work. And if the destruction that we fear is ours to make, so too is the chance for peace and hope, but only if we come to Christ. Again we hear Paul’s words, telling us that God gives us the strength we need to bear whatever comes our way.

The Preacher wrote, “to every thing there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” Advent is a season of preparation, of preparing for the coming of Christ. We think of it more in terms of His birth rather than in terms of His Second Coming. But perhaps we should think of it more in terms of the rebirth of our community, of our chance to focus on a community for the new age. The words we hear today are a reminder that we, as a people, share in the same call to purpose proclaimed by Isaiah. We are the people who are the clay, to be formed by God. We are the work of God, for His purpose and His end.

Jesus tells us that just as the fig tree knows when it is time to put forth its shoots and then its fruit, so too will we know when it is time. But it is something that we know only through Him, not without Him. If we try to tell what time of the season it might be without Christ in our lives, we will never know. If we see the readings for today as a sign of the end, we will never have the opportunity to see the joy, the peace, and the hope that are to come.

We sing of God’s help in ages past but that is not all there is to the song.

United Methodist Hymnal #117

Not only do we sing of His help in ages past, we sing of His help in days to come. That is what this season is about. We do not fear what has past; we rejoice in the chance to make things right and celebrate the birth of Christ and the chance for the birth of a new community. As we reread Isaiah’s words, we see that they are words of hope, that though things may seem bad, God is still hear amidst the darkness and desolation of the time and season.

This is the season of Advent; this is the season in which we prepare for the coming of Christ. We celebrate this coming as a birth but we are reminded that we should celebrate His coming as the crucified and risen Savior, who has come to bring hope, peace and joy into the world. Let us resolve today to open our hearts and, as we look upon the babe in the manger, we let the Christ come in. And as we let Christ into our hearts, let us resolve to work in the world around us so that life begins anew, a community that seeks joy, peace, and hope.

Further comments on the coming revival


There were three responses to my posting “The Coming Revival”. There were probably others who read it, as they do the others that are posted, but who did not comment on what was said. To post a comment or not to post a comment is one’s choice.

But I was troubled by the comment from John, of Locusts and Honey fame. Here is his comment,

Your judgment of the budget hinges on whether government should steal from people in order to help the poor. If Jesus ever advocated Robin Hoodism, please cite chapter and verse. Posted on 21 November 2005 at 8:36 am to “The Coming Revival”

In reading John’s writings, I have noticed a certain sense of humor. So my first inclination was to think he was trying to make a joke of some sort. If it was a joke, I thought it was a poor one and one that shows no regard for the topic at hand. At the least, it was a bit callous.

But it was not as callous as the note I received from my Congresswoman, Sue Kelly of the 19th New York Congressional District. I sent copies of the blog to both of my Senators and my Representative. So far, the only response I got is from Representative Kelley.

November 21, 2005

Dr. Tony L. Mitchell

7 East Willow Street

Beacon, New York 12508-1812

Dear Dr. Mitchell:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the 2005 federal budget process. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your views.

As you may know, Congress passed a budget earlier this year which called for $35 billion in savings in our mandatory spending programs, which make up over half of the federal government’s spending annually. The new federal spending associated with responding to the unprecedented devastation caused by hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma have caused many to believe that budget savings must be increased further.

Recent economic reports show that our economy is strengthening, and sensible budget enforcement is an important part of ensuring the economy continues to grow. While Congress currently is examining various budget proposals associated with hurricane recovery and the larger federal budget, please know that I am continuing to work for policies that will promote fiscal responsibility and continued economic growth, while taking care not to eliminate support for those in need.

As this process moves forward, please do not hesitate to contact me with any future concerns you may have. Once again, thank you for reaching out to me on this important issue.

Sincerely,

Sue Kelly

Member of Congress

I am well aware that this was a form letter generated automatically in response to the e-mail that was sent. But it also shows a certain degree of callousness on Representative Kelly’s part to not have someone check and see if such a response is proper. This automatic response, which says that those in need will continue to receive support, is almost opposite of the direction that I was taking in my writings.

But, returning to the point of this writing, it could be that John feels that the tax situation in this country is unfair and inequitable. Maybe he thinks that taxes are unfair, burdensome and a bother. It would not be the first time, nor will it be the last, that others fell that way. The whole issue of taxation in this country seems to be that we pay too much in taxes.

I have always seen paying taxes as part of my duty as a citizen. How else do we pay for the services that government provides? And I also realize that there are times when our taxes are too high; I also realize that there is a certain inequity in the tax system. First, those who have the ability and the wherewithal to do can get exemptions to the tax law by supporting their Senators and Representatives, those with the ability and the wherewithal can hire accountants and tax attorneys to find the loopholes in the tax code that will enable them to reduce the taxes that they pay. Not everyone has that ability or the wherewithal to obtain such services.

A fair and equitable tax system would impose a fair burden, if you will, on all individuals. Right now, we do not have such a system. And rather than giving tax breaks to a few (yes, I know that the tax breaks are for all of us but who are the true beneficiaries of such largesse?), perhaps we need to revise our system so that it is fair to all.

I could not help but think of Zaccaheus, the tax collector. Tax collecting in Biblical times was not an honorable profession. Those that collected taxes earned their living by taking a commission from the taxes they collected and it was not unheard of for such collectors to take a few extra coins to keep in their pocket. But, after meeting with Jesus (a meeting that caused great displeasure amongst the community leaders), Zaccaheus renounced his ways and returned that which he stole four-fold. Maybe, if we revamp the present system and follow this Biblical example, things would be better off.

But the issue of my posting was not the taxation system but rather the budget that Congress passed. I know that there are those in this country who feel that our government, be it Federal, state, or local, has no business developing, promoting, or advocating social programs. Maybe that is true; maybe it is our responsibility as individuals to take care of the others in this world who are in need. But what happens when the tragedy of loss is greater than what individuals can provide?

The lessons learned from the 1920’s and 1930’s are still with us. When the nature of economic crisis is great, it takes a larger response to meet and resolve the crisis. Whatever factors may have played out in 1929, the Great Depression was caused by the greed of a few and the inability of all to answer the needs of the many. It took a combined response of all through the government to pull ourselves out of that low spot in the economic history of our country.

Any discussion about budgets and who gets what portion of Federal and state funds should be a moot point. Why should it not be an automatic thought that all who reside in our country receive the basic benefits of society? Look at Norway– their taxes may be what we consider high but every person in the country has medical coverage (it is not free; everyone pays something in the way of a co-pay), child care is not a burden on the parents, and what we call poverty in this country is non-existent. The salaries in the country are also higher. The standard of living in Norway is consistently and traditionally higher than that of the United States, normally ranking 1st or 2nd in the world. Norway’s foreign aid contributions on a per capita basis are also higher than this country. So it isn’t about the money; it is about what value you place on people and what you do with the money.

I am not that all enamored by most of the current social programs; I think that the way they are administered have caused more harm than good. I also think that there is a great inequity in the way the money of the Federal government is spent. We spend far too much money on developing ways to kill people than we do on helping people. We seem to think that war is a better solution to the world’s problems that giving the hungry food or the thirsty water. And the money that we spend on defense does not go to the men and women serving in our military; it goes to defense contractors so that “jobs can be saved and/or created.” All we have to do is look at the logistical support given our troops as they went off to fight that ill-conceived and poorly planned war in Iraq; where are all the billions that have been spent on defense if our troops do not have adequate armor for their vehicles? And why are our troops not provided care when they come home? Why is it that we speak of supporting our troops in time of war, why do we wave the flag so boldly when we send the troops off to fight but forget them when they come home? Why do the dead come back to Dover, Delaware, in the dead of the night without the fanfare of fallen heroes?

These are the results of a budget which does not care about people but more about power. We spend money to only further the political power of a few and we ignore the many. The intent of the programs designed to help have been lost in the immediacy of political rhetoric. It is time, as I wrote in my original post, for a revival.

This revival should focus on seeing that everyone, not just a few, are able to live a worthy life, not just one that gets by. This revival should focus on seeing that those with abilities can use their abilities and not suffer because of where they live or who they are or other factors created by the indifference and callousness of their fellow men.

We need a revival that will point out the obvious. Those that have but fail to share will be like the rich young in Matthew.

The Rich Young Man

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

“Which ones?” the man inquired.

Jesus replied, ” ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ “

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19: 16 – 24)

The rich young man went away said because he was unwilling to give up that which made him rich but prevented him from being saving. Jesus had promised a man treasure in heaven if he followed him (Matthew v. 21; compare it to Matthew 6:20); the man preferred to keep his treasure on earth (Matthew 19:22).  The rich young man was like many “First World” Christians today. They want God to affirm that we are religious enough without costing us anything more than we have already been offering him. They trust only tentatively the value of heaven’s kingdom and hence are prepared to sacrifice only little for it; but one who is not sufficiently convinced of the gospel’s truth to sacrifice everything (Compare this with Matthew 13:44-46) will not prove worthy of it. This is not to say that we are justified by our merit-we must receive the kingdom like a child. (Matthew 19:13-15)  But genuine, saving faith is practically shown not by merely reciting a prayer but by living consistently with what we profess. (From the commentary on Matthew 19 at http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/index.php?action=getCommentaryText&cid=1&source=1&seq=i.47.19.6)

Jesus promises to more than make up for our sacrifices; do we believe him enough to sacrifice whatever our calling demands? As Craig Blomberg comments: “This entire episode should challenge First-World Christians, virtually all of whom are among the wealthiest people in the history of the world, to radical changes in their personal and institutional spending.”

The rich young man was not the only person whose attachment to possessions proved a challenge to his commitment to Christ. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred by the Nazis, pointed out, the difference between us and the rich man in the story is that Jesus stood before him and did not allow him to reinterpret the Master’s words in a more convenient manner. Bonhoeffer claims that the man’s honesty in rejecting Jesus’ command was better than disobedience that pretends to be obedience today He compares a boy told by his father to go to bed; the boy has studied theology, however, so he is now intelligent enough to reason, “Father tells me to go to bed, but he really means that I am tired, and he does not want me to be tired. I can overcome my tiredness just as well if I go out and play.” But a child offering such arguments to his father would likely meet with language or an experience he would have to interpret more literally, as would a citizen with her government-or a disciple who reasons away God’s demands. (From the commentary on Matthew 19 at http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/index.php?action=getCommentaryText&cid=1&source=1&seq=i.47.19.5)

The call for revival has never been more evident than it is today. The beginning of Advent should remind us that Christ is coming, not as a thing of the past but as a present moment. Advent should remind us that Christ came to save mankind, not allow a select few the opportunity for salvation.

We miss the essence of Christmas unless we become, in the words of Eberhard Arnold, “mindful of how Christ’s birth took place.” Once we do, we will sense immediately that Advent marks something momentous: God’s coming into our midst. That coming is not just something that happened in the past. It is a recurring possibility here and now. And thus Advent is not merely a commemorative event or an anniversary, but a yearly opportunity for us to consider the future, second Advent – the promised coming of God’s kingdom on earth.

Such an understanding of Christmas is possible only insofar as we let go of the false props of convention and seek to unlock its central paradox. That paradox, to paraphrase the modern martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is the fact that God’s coming is not only a matter of glad tidings but, first of all, “frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.”

The love that descended to Bethlehem is not the easy sympathy of an avuncular God, but a burning fire whose light chases away every shadow, floods every corner, and turns midnight into noon. This love reveals sin and overcomes it. It conquers darkness with such forcefulness and intensity that it scatters the proud, humbles the mighty, feeds the hungry, and sends the rich away empty-handed (Luke 1:51-53).

Because a transformation of this scale can never be achieved by human means, but only by divine intervention, Advent (to quote Bonhoeffer again) might be compared to a prison cell “in which one waits and hopes and does various unessential things… but is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside.” It is a fitting metaphor. But dependency does not release us from responsibility. If the essence of Advent is expectancy, it is also readiness for action: watchfulness for every opening, and willingness to risk everything for freedom and a new beginning. (From http://www.bruderhof.com/articles/MeaningOfAdvent.htm?source=DailyDig)

So as Advent begins, let us remember why Christ came. As Advent begins, let us remember that the cost of discipleship may be too great if we are unwilling to sacrifice so that others may rejoice. Let us again start the renewal that begins this season.

The coming revival


Here are my thoughts for tomorrow. They were prompted in part by the vote in the House of Representatives on the upcoming budget. But the Scriptures that I refer to are the Scriptures for tomorrow. Take that as a sign if you will.

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There are going to be few Christians conservatives out there who are going to rejoice with what I am about to say and there are a few Christians liberals out there who are going to be aghast by the same statement. Now, if it is not clear, I am a liberal in every sense of the word; I am also an evangelical in every traditional sense of the word. But I think the time has come for a true Wesleyan revival in this country.

But, before the conservatives really rejoice and the liberals lament, I don’t think that this revival is the one that the conservatives are clamoring for; I think we need to stop worrying about throwing all the sinners out of the church(after all, who would be left?) and start worrying about what the Gospel message is about.

This past week the House of Representatives passed a budget that places an unfair and unreasonable burden on the poor and needy in this country. Cuts were made in food stamps, child care, child welfare, and higher education funding. And while programs that benefit the least of our nation, the richest of our nation continue to reap major tax cuts. What bothers me more than anything else is that those who voted for these cuts in funding for the poor and decreases in taxes for the rich claim that they are Christians.

I am not going to take a poll and find out what church, temple, or synagogue members of Congress (both Senators and Representatives) attend and/or are members. But the past series of elections have revolved around values and faith. The majority of the members in Congress have allied themselves with the conservative and fundamentalist version side of the Christianity, so by either association or otherwise, they claim to be Christians. So how can it be that such a budget could even pass? Why is there even such a discussion or consideration?

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Old Testament reading for today is from Ezekiel.(Ezekiel 34: 11 – 16, 20 – 24) Ezekiel tells us that it was the leaders of Israel who failed the country. Throughout the Bible we are reminded that the leader of people will care for those under his charge just as a shepherd cares for and loves his flock. A good shepherd will feed the flock, tend to the weak and the sick, search for the lost, guide and protect the flock, and give his best. We read in the Bible that a bad shepherd is more concerned about feeding himself, worrying about his own health, guiding with a heavy hand, abandoning or scattering his flock and keeping the best for himself.

When we read the Scriptures, we see the comparisons where leaders are exhorted to be good shepherds for their people. A good leader is one who is concerned with his or her people’s needs and that care is being provided for the sick and needy. A true leader looks for those who have fallen away. He leads like a shepherd by providing direction and correction, not with a fist but with a loving hand. A good leader protects those under his care and does not leave them to the wolves – to those who would lead the people astray. A good leader gives of himself to those under his charge. This is the reason why Ezekiel speaks out against the leaders of Israel; It is his prophecy in this passage that speaks of Christ’s coming.

It has been pointed out the major theme that runs throughout the Bible is poverty. If you cut out any passage in either the Old or New Testament that relates to the poor or the needy, there would be nothing left in the Bible. The care of the needy and the poor is what we should focus on, not giving to the rich in the hopes that they will give to the poor.

The one dominant theme of John Wesley’s ministry was his desire to see the poor in England taken care of, not ignored or cast aside. His desire to bring relief to the less fortunate was brought about by the callousness of the Church of England. It has long been said that England avoided the violent revolution that occurred in France at the same time because of the Wesleyan revival begun and lead by John Wesley. So I think that now is the time for another Wesleyan revival; one in which we, those who call ourselves Christian, renew our commitment to the Gospel message that we have for today. (Matthew 25: 31 – 46)

In this passage Jesus is bluntly telling us that we cannot expect to gain much on earth if we ignore those on this earth who do not have anything. Jesus is telling us that whenever we ignore those who are hungry, thirsty, in need of clothing or shelter, or oppressed, then we should never expect the rewards of heaven.

I realize that there will be some who will say that what I have to say in this piece today is political. But I did not make the matter in question political; I am not the one who made one’s faith a political issue. But I am going to be the one to say that if you say you are a Christian and you do not care for the weak, the sick, the oppressed, and the less-fortunate of this country, then you either do not know what it means to be a Christian or you are a hypocrite, no better than the Pharisees and Sadducees that fought against Christ some two thousand years ago.

Were I an ordained pastor in a regular church, the IRS might investigate me and the church for bringing a political statement into the pulpit. But I am not the one who made this a political issue; I am not the one who has said by my vote in Congress that caring for the poor, the needy, the less-fortunate is not my concern.

But I am the one who is saying that a Wesleyan revival is needed. We need to remember who we are and what we say we are. Paul writes to the Ephesians (Ephesians 1: 15 – 23) and says that he has heard of their faith in Christ. What would he say about us? In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of one’s loyalty; where is our loyalty?

There is a need for a revival in this country. As Methodists, inheritors of the original revival, it is up to us to begin that revival. Like John Wesley, we must first open our hearts and let Christ in. For without Christ leading us, we are nothing and we can gain nothing. But ours is all to gain when we have Christ in our hearts and when we let Christ lead us. And if we have Christ in our hearts, it is much easier for us to let the Holy Spirit empower and give us the strength and knowledge that will bring all to the throne of God.

We have heard the words of Ezekiel and know that our leaders are the ones to whom he is speaking. Just as the leaders of Israel failed their people, so too have our leaders failed us. We have heard the words of Christ, calling us to task because we have also failed to take care of those less fortunate than us. Now is the time to change; now is the time for us to say who we really are. There is a need for a revival; the time is now and it is up to us.

Lighting the world through our talents


This has been an interesting week. First, with the shift from daylight savings time, darkness seems more pronounced. And with the increasing darkness of the days, I see an increasing darkness in the world.

There were some glimmers of light last week. The entire Dover, PA, school board was defeated in the election. Their defeat was almost totally because of their stance on the issue of “intelligent design.” But this glimmer of hope, this glimmer of light in a dark world was countered by the Kansas State Board of Education deciding to implement their new science curriculum which includes “intelligent design.” And then the world got a bit darker when Pat Robertson took it upon himself to say that God has turned his eyes away from the people of Dover for their voting to “exclude God from their lives.”

What has transpired this week is not about religion and science; it is about seeking the truth and knowing what the truth is. First, I will say that I have no doubts that God created this universe, this particular world, and the life that exists on this planet. That is a statement of what I believe. I also believe that God intended us to find out how He did it, not why He did it. Are we not created in His image? If we are, then why were we given a brain if not to think and discover things about the world around us?

Science is about the how of the world, not the philosophical why? Science is empirical; that is, it is based on the evidence that we see. Faith is that which is unseen. The two are exclusive and one cannot live by one alone. To put any suggestion of why something is done or to remove the search for empirical evidence by suggesting that some things cannot be determined because they are too complex for simple understanding is to change the nature of science.

The idea behind “intelligent design” is bad science and we are teaching enough bad science. The debate over evolution, creationism, and, now, “intelligent design” all started because science teachers were teaching evolution as a fact and not as a theory.

Let me state that not all science teachers teach evolution as a fact. There are some who do understand the nature of science and teach it properly. But the record shows that many science teachers in this country are woefully unprepared to teach science to begin with and so they do not understand what science is about. As a result, they transmit their misunderstanding of science to their students and it is this that has lead to the current situation.

Our science education process in this country is abysmal, to say the least, and any discussion about “intelligent design” should make that clear. Those empowered to teach do not understand what they are teaching and those who do not like what is being taught do not understand that what they want taught as science can never be defined as science.

I am not going to lay the blame solely on the teachers. Parents have failed in this process as well. The reason that parents have gotten upset about the teaching of evolution, from my viewpoint, is that their children are coming home with questions concerning the differences between what they are learning in school and what they are learning at home and at church. I think that is great, because it shows that the children are growing and inquiring about the world and ideas around them.

Those parents who have gotten angry about the teaching of evolution have found themselves in the position of defending what they believe. That is also good. If our faith is strong, we should be able to withstand the pressures of others. But I think what is happening is that parents do not want to defend their beliefs, because they do not know how to do so. As a result, their defense is that the teachers and the education system are at fault for their failure to teach the values that they believe. But if our educational system teaches one set of values, to the exclusion of others, then those who are excluded will also get angry.

The majority of school systems respond by teaching valueless values. And we wonder why we have so many problems. And the problems are not going to go away; they are going to continue to grow because we, no matter who we are, are not willing to grow. Did not Paul say to the Thessalonians that we are “children of light”? (1 Thessalonians 5: 1 – 11) Did not Jesus point out that we should walk in the light and not hide it? When I hear mention of the light in the New Testament I think of two things.

First, of course, is freedom from sin and death. The powers of darkness do not do well in the light; sin and death cannot accomplish their task when exposed to the power of the sunlight (or perhaps one should write the Son Light). Second, the light is gained through the seeking of truth. Jesus also pointed out that those who seek the truth will be set free. Freedom from sin and death comes from knowledge; such knowledge is both about Jesus and what Jesus said and did. Freedom comes, not because we listen to others but because we learn.

To stop learning is to let darkness creep in to our lives. To stop learning is to let knowledge die. When darkness creeps into one’s life, one’s knowledge dies, there is no growth. And when there is no growth there can only be death. As Plato once wrote, “One can easily understand a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when grown men and women are afraid of the light.” (E-mail – Daily Dig for 8 November 2005)

Many use the Gospel reading, the parable of the talents (Matthew 25: 14 – 20), when a stewardship moment is needed. And for many, stewardship moments are about money; money to keep the church up or money to develop programs.

But I have always seen the parable as more than money. After all, when we joined the United Methodist Church, we said that we would support the church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service. Is this not a summary of the parable of the talents?

To me, this parable is about skills and knowledge, growth and life. If we hold on to what we have (as the individual given the one talent did) then we will die.

But we if we take the talents that we have been given and utilize them, they are returned in kind. The individual given ten talents returned twenty; the individual given five talents returned ten. It is hard to decide what talents we have but we cannot be afraid to use what we have and go beyond where we are in life.

The problem is that we are trying very hard in this country to not lose the talents we have; we have become afraid to venture beyond the boundaries of our existence. We are building walls and shutting people out. We do not extend our fellowship beyond those we trust for fear that we might find something new. Pat Robertson’s comments are only typical of those who fear the future. Those that fear the future are not willing to go beyond what they have; they are not willing to grow. Whatever talents they have been given, they seem more concerned about holding on to them, not giving them away so that they can be returned. And did not Paul, in his letter to Thessalonians for today, say that we are not destined for God’s wrath? (1 Thessalonians 5: 5)

Why would Pat Robertson say something like he did last week? Why are his comments so totally ignorant of the world around him? Could it be that he must defend his ideas and the only way he knows how is to attack? Why is it that so many fundamentalists are defensive when it comes to defending their views? As I read many of the Methodist blogs this past week, I saw many blogs that criticized the views of others, especially in light of the Judicial Council’s recent decisions. Some of the criticisms were done in the light, open to comment and discussion, in hopes that the truth will come out.

But others attacked the views of others and used false names and addresses so that there could be no response. Some, who did leave a valid address of some sort, do not allow comments posted on their sites. They freely spew venom, hate and ignorance but do not allow others to fight back. They are willing to cast darkness in the world for they fear the light.

“Seek ye the truth and the truth will set you free.” The truth is found in the light and if you make the world dark, then truth cannot be found.

The challenge today is to find the truth in the world; to understand the truth in the world. Yes, Jesus is the light, the truth, and the way we should live. But Jesus lived among us, not separate from us. He encouraged us to move beyond simply following the law; he encouraged us to live the law. His parable of the talents was not about money but rather about what we can do in this world.

My understanding of the Book of Judges is limited, since I am still learning. But I have come to know that this book of the Old Testament is about those whose talents were put to use, in leadership and prophecy. It was a time in the history of Israel when leadership was provided by talented individuals. These individuals used their talents for the betterment of the society and the nation; they sought no personal gain. Again, it is my understanding that the people of Israel were uncomfortable with this system of leadership, not because they thought it wouldn’t work (which it did) but because the nations around them had kings and the trappings of power. How could the nation of Israel be a strong nation if it did not have kings and the trappings of power?

We know of course that that Israel did have a king, the one true King. But they were blind to God, as the Book of Judges depicts. And when there is a call for leadership among the people, it is those whose talents and abilities shine that are chosen. That is why the reading from the Old Testament for today (Judges 4: 1 – 7) focuses on Deborah.

It was her talents, her abilities that allowed the Israelites to succeed. I wonder how many fundamentalists or conservatives would be comfortable with someone like Deborah leading them. It is clear that the general of the Israelite armies, Barak, was not. In the passage following today’s selection, Barak is unwilling to go into battle on the words of a woman but he will go into battle if she goes with him.

I have seen too many people today who are uncomfortable with the changing nature of the world around them. They seek security in the old ways; they seek comfort in limited knowledge. They have taken the one talent they have been given and hidden it. And the parable of the talents tells us what happens to such individuals. There are those who have been given many talents but they are unwilling to use them, not because they fear the lose of the talents but because they fear what might happen, what others might say, if they use their talents. How many talented people refuse to work in public service today because of the climate of society?

And why should they not be afraid? The power of darkness is frightening and gains more power through fear. But those of us whose talents are few can do a lot to encourage others and in our encouragement, in our own work, we can overcome the darkness in the world and bring light to the world. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians, “encourage one another and build up each other,” (1 Thessalonians 5: 11) are just as true today as they were in Paul’s time.

We must use the talents that we have been given, in ways we might not yet understand and for reasons that are not exactly clear to us. But when we use these talents, when we seek to move beyond where we are at this moment, then great things happened. The talents we are given are returned to us in kind. The world around us is no longer a world of darkness but one of light.

We are reminded that the world was in darkness when Jesus was born. The single light of His birth in Bethlehem did not die but rather was spread. It was the shepherds who saw the light first and they took the light with them The wise men came and took the light back with them to their own countries. The disciples came and then took the light beyond the boundaries of Israel and through the world.

The task of taking this light out into the world falls upon us today. It may seem that this is an impossible task. But God does not call us to do impossible tasks; He merely wants us to use what we have been given, not for our purposes but for His. And His purposes are to bring light to the world.

Though written for another occasion, the words of “Light One Candle” are very much appropriate as we think of our talents and bringing light into the world.

LIGHT ONE CANDLE (http://www.peterpaulandmary.com/music/14-10.htm)
Peter Yarrow- ©1983 Silver Dawn Music ASCAP

Light one candle for the Maccabee children
With thanks that their light didn’t die
Light one candle for the pain they endured
When their right to exist was denied
Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice
Justice and freedom demand
But light one candle for the wisdom to know
When the peacemaker’s time is at hand

chorus:
Don’t let the light go out!
It’s lasted for so many years!
Don’t let the light go out!
Let it shine through our love and our tears.

Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe
And light one candle for those who are suffering
Pain we learned so long ago
Light one candle for all we believe in
That anger not tear us apart
And light one candle to find us together
With peace as the song in our hearts

(chorus)

What is the memory that’s valued so highly
That we keep it alive in that flame?
What’s the commitment to those who have died
That we cry out they’ve not died in vain?
We have come this far always believing
That justice would somehow prevail
This is the burden, this is the promise
This is why we will not fail!

(chorus)

Don’t let the light go out!
Don’t let the light go out!
Don’t let the light go out!

So today, there may be questions in your mind about what your talents are and what you should be doing? Listen carefully as you hear the voice of God asking you to open your heart, your mind, and your soul and to allow Jesus Christ to enter. And those who have allowed Christ to enter may hear God again calling you, saying “take that which has been given to you and go out into the world, using your talents so that others may come to know peace, joy, and freedom.”

Shall you be like the one individual who, given the single talent, did nothing and let the world stay in darkness? Or shall you answer the call, that voice inside you, and take the talents that you have been given to light the world?

What does stewardship mean to me?


As this is the time of stewardship campaigns and budget battles, I post the follow thoughts. You are welcome to use them; please credit the thoughts so as to not confuse people.
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What does stewardship mean to me? What should stewardship mean to you? These are questions that have perplexed churches since the first church budget was ever proposed. It is not a subject that many people like to deal with since money and budgets are not “proper” topics for church members to discuss. We believe that God will provide.

So why have Stewardship moments; why have a Stewardship drive?

Stewardship is more than just giving money so that the church can stay open and pay its bills. Stewardship is about returning to God what God has given to us. Stewardship is our responsibility to see that God’s work on this earth is done. Unfortunately, that does require money. It also requires our participation.


There are two things that you need to know about me. First, I am a second generation military brat. For those who may not be aware of this term, it means that both my grandfather and father served in the military and that much of my early life was spent traveling from air base to air base. As such, I do not have a home church; a church that I could say to others “This is the church where I grew up.”


But having a home church is something that I never worried about. Having a church home has. There was a period of time that I call my “wilderness period.” Things were not going as I hoped and if it had not been for my church home, I may have truly become lost in the wilderness. So, it was very critical that, whenever I moved, I find a place that I could call my church home. For the past six years that has been Fishkill United Methodist Church.


Please don’t get me wrong. This was not a superficial choice. It was based on prayerful consideration of what Ann and I needed in a church, not what we wanted in a church. So, Fishkill is our family’s church home, as it is for you. For many of you, it is also your home church. We are asking for you to consider that home.


But a church, just like any other business, must have some idea of what its income will be so that it can plan its coming year. Ask yourself if there is any business that operates on the basis of not knowing what its income will be during the coming year. Ask yourselves what happens to such businesses. I spent most of my high school teaching career in farm communities and I didn’t know of too many farmers that did not plan their crops in advance without some idea of what the market will bring and what the weather is likely to be. Similarly, you don’t take care of your own home without some consideration for what moneys are available.


We have to take care of our church home. In planning the budget, the Finance Committee wanted to insure that no work area would be put in the position of ignoring the needs of the church. But if the Fishkill Church is to grow, there must be a plan for that growth. The moneys for each work area take into account the growth of the church and provide for the basic needs of the members of the church.


There are going to be those who wonder why I would offer thoughts about stewardship for the church. Though I have been a member of Fishkill United Methodist Church for over six years, I have not been a regularly attendee or participator in church activities. I know that it is going to sound rather lame but I haven’t attended church on Sunday mornings for most of that time because I was working on most Sunday mornings.

How many times have we heard that excuse?  Sometimes it is true and, if you have to work, it cannot be helped.  But too often the excuse is used to justify the unjustifiable.

When I was in college, I thought I would enjoy the luxury of finally getting to sleep late on Sunday morning. My mother wasn’t there to tell me to get up and get ready for church. But somehow I couldn’t do it; something inside me kept me going to church. And after college, during that time in my live when I could say that I was almost lost in the wilderness, I felt a nagging pull on me when I missed church.

And for everyone who skips church, there are those who make the effort to attend. At the church that I belonged to in Memphis, there was a lieutenant in the Memphis Fire Department. By regulation, he had to be at the station when on his shift so he couldn’t always be at church. But on those Sundays when he was not working, he was in church with his family.


Or maybe you know someone like a friend of mine in Minnesota who worked the 3rd shift at the State Prison He was a prison guard and there were some Sundays when the night was not as calm and peaceful as he would have liked them to be. Yet, he came to church every Sunday and served as the Liturgist, even when his body was crying out for sleep.


Yes, there are going to be days when we would just as soon roll over and go back to sleep when the alarm goes off on Sunday morning. But like these two individuals, if we give ourselves to Christ and let the Holy Spirit direct our lives, we have the strength necessary to make it on those mornings when our bodies don’t have the strength.


Yes, I haven’t come to church most Sunday mornings over the past six years because I was preaching, first at Walker Valley United Methodist Church and then at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church. That nagging feeling I felt while in college so many years ago, the feeling that just never seemed to go away was the Holy Spirit, pushing and pulling me towards the path of the ministry that God wants me to follow.


My decision to pursue an active lay ministry began because I found churches in Texas and Minnesota that supported and “pushed” me to go where the Holy Spirit was leading me. If the members of those churches had not been good stewards of the faith, I might not have gone into lay speaking. We have no way of knowing who will be affected but if we are good stewards, then there might be one individual who might miss God’s call. That is not good stewardship.


Good stewardship is about caring for people and God’s work. God’s work is not the building but one cannot meet in God’s building if it is not maintained. Efforts to reach out to individuals in the local community, the state, the region, the country and the world cannot be accomplished if we are not good stewards.


But these plans are limited to the amount of money available. By now, you would have received your estimate of giving card. The purpose of this card is to provide the finance and stewardship committees with an estimate of how much income this church can expect in the coming months. Without those cards, decisions about the health of this church cannot be made.


In returning the card, you are helping with that plan. We are not asking that you tithe though if you can, you should. We recognize that, for many of you, a tithe is not possible. We are simply asking that you give, as John Wesley asked, all that you can.


I am still relatively new to the Fishkill Church. As such, I know that many will hear these words with some pessimism. So all I ask is that you listen carefully to the voice of God speaking to you this day. It is that same voice that nagged me to go to church when I was in school; it is that same voice that pushed me from the pew into the pulpit. It is the Holy Spirit asking you to do only what you can, not what you cannot do. Listen to the Holy Spirit and pray about what you should do. Consider the works of God that will be accomplished because you decided to become a good steward. If you do this, you, along with the Finance Committee, will help make this Stewardship Campaign for Fishkill United Methodist Church a success.

Where do we go from here?


Where do we go from here? I think that is the question that the Israelites must have been asking themselves. Over the past few weeks, we have read of the Israelites travel through the wilderness and across the River Jordan. Now they are in the Promised Land. Now what do they do? Where do they go from here? Can’t we stay by the river in the shade of the trees where it is cool and comfortable? Must we leave the banks of the river and move on from here?

I think that the same is true for the church today. How many people come to church because it is comfortable and it offers comfort and protection from the outside world? It seems to me that churches today do not challenge the member to leave the banks of the river but stay in the shade. The message given is for the here and now; there is no thought for the future.

Clarence Jordan wrote, “It is one thing to enter ‘the narrow way’ of discipline and complete dedication to Christ and the kingdom; it is another thing to keep on climbing this upward trail.” (Adapted from Sermon on the Mount by Clarence Jordan, Chapter 13) We see a lot of people who come to Christ full of ambition and enthusiasm. But when things do not go as they should, these are the ones who stop by the wayside. Perhaps that is why churches who preach the current “Gospel-lite” are successful and why they keep growing.

After all, if you don’t mention what comes next or what is around the next corner, there is no reason to give up or stop one’s journey. If the promise of the Gospel is a fancy car and riches beyond belief while you are on earth, why would you even think of tomorrow and what might lie ahead?

I won’t say that many of today’s preachers are false prophets (though I think that Clarence Jordan would do so) but is their message a true message? Yes, these modern day preachers have the right degrees and they are successful. How could you preach success if you were not successful yourself? These modern day preachers are very polished speakers, articulate and easy to listen to. But then again, in this day and age, doesn’t one have to be articulate and easy to listen to in order to gain an audience?

The message that Jesus brought implies that the future will not be an easy one. The Good News that Jesus proclaimed involved sacrifice and effort on our part. We know of the rich young ruler who found out that he could not take his riches with him into heaven; we read that when Jesus started to speak of the difficulties that lie ahead people started to leave.

In telling the story of the ten virgins (Matthew 25: 1 – 13), did He not say that those who think only in the here and now get left behind? It was those who prepared for the future who were welcomed into the banquet, not the ones who lived in the present moment.

And what was the challenge that Joshua put forth in the Old Testament reading for today? Was that not a challenge to move into the future rather than stay in the moment? This chapter in Joshua (Joshua 24) celebrates that moment in time when people stepped beyond chronos and into kairos. They moved from the present moment into the future and the fullness of time through God.

The challenge for the people that day on the plain of Shechem was to reject the present and the gods of now and embrace the future-oriented covenant that God is offering. In his letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 4: 13 – 18) Paul challenges the reader to see beyond the expected to that time when all will share the boundless hope offered by the Gospel message.(Adapted from “A Kairos Community” by Robert Roth, Sojourners, November 2005)

We cannot enjoy the fruits of the Promised Land if we rest on its shores. We crossed the River Jordan but that only is one part of the journey. Now we must move up from the banks of the river onto the higher ground. We see and hear our civilization crashing around us, much as tornados rip through the heartland of this country every spring and summer. We have seen the hopes of many drown in the rains that have accompanied the hurricanes of 2005.

Many years ago, I came across an interesting little book, “The Gospel According to Peanuts” (Robert L. Short, 1964). In one of the chapters, Short showed the strip where Linus built a monstrous sand castle when it started to rain. As the strip concludes, Linus’ work has all been washed away and he is saying that there is a lesson to be learned. As we see from Short’s book the panels from this particular strip are interspersed with Jesus’ parable about the two men who built their houses on sand and rock respectively (Matthew 7: 24 – 27). When the rains came, the house built on the sand was washed away; the house built on the rock stood. And Linus knew that there was a story among the raindrops. Those that hear these words and listened to the words are the ones who built their house on the rock. Those who did not listen to the words are the ones who built their house on the sand.

For us this story, like the story of the ten virgins, is about the future and preparation. Are we prepared for the future? Are we willing to move into the future? If our foundation is strong, if our foundation is built on the rock, then we are prepared and can move forward. The words of Jesus both provide the foundation and the call for action.

Shall we stay on the river bank, building our hope and future on the sand of the river? Or shall we move further down the path that only begins at the river’s edge? Shall we follow Christ, even if the road that we walk leads to three crosses on a far away hill? What have we to fear by following Christ? Has He not said that He would be with us along the way? Has he not said that we need to suffer on the cross for He has already done so, for our sake? Shall we stay or shall we go forward into the future? Where do we go from here?

What’s next?


These are not my thoughts for tomorrow but rather thoughts about what has transpired over the past few days.

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There are a number of things going on in the United Methodist Church and churches in general that have me worried, bothered, and questioning the direction in which we are headed.

First is the trial in Dover, Pennsylvania, on the issue of intelligent design. Whatever people may think about the way the world was created and how it was created, to develop a theory which incorporates an “outside force” guiding the process violates the basic concepts of science. And if this discussion is, as it seems, nothing more than a disguised attempt to bring creationism into the classroom, then we are again trying to mix two incompatible areas of study, science and religion.

People have never been comfortable with the concept of evolution as first expressed by Darwin. The problem is that what people understand about Darwin is not necessarily what Darwin said and/or wrote. Second, evolution is not always taught as it should be. Evolution is a theory, the best explanation of the available physical evidence. Unfortunately, it is often taught as factual information and that is not correct.

If someone wants to argue that evolution is taught incorrectly, I will agree with them. But to say that we need another viewpoint, especially one that avoids the issue of physical evidence, as a counterpoint is also wrong.

The real issue is not just the improper teaching of scientific theories; it is how parents and communities respond. It seems to me that the response has been to challenge what is taught, not how it is taught. If a child comes home with questions about faith, I would think that parents should rejoice, for their child is thinking. But it seems to me that rather than rejoicing, parents are panicking and becoming defensive. If one’s faith cannot stand up to critical questioning, one needs to examine how strong one’s faith is.

I think that is the problem we face today. Rather than allow our faith to be questioned, we build fences and barriers to defend our faith. But if the underpinnings of our faith are not strong then, like the levees of New Orleans, they will collapse under the pressure of outside forces.

The central point of intelligent design seems to be that we come to some point where we can no longer explain how something works. We have, in the words of intelligent design, reached a point of “irreducible complexity.” But have we reached a point because we cannot go any further or have we reached a point where our tools, our skills, and our abilities are incapable of taking us any further?

Two hundred years ago, we saw the atom as a single indivisible piece of matter. But then electricity showed us that there were such things as electrons. And electrons convinced us that there must be protons. Suddenly, new information showed us that the atom could be divided. Later in the 19th century, the discovery of radioactivity confirmed that the atom was not the single, indivisible piece of matter that we once thought it was. And as the 20th century progressed and our skills grew and tools became more advanced, we found that the protons, electrons, and neutrons were not as they seemed to be.

But if our theory about the atom were limited by “irreducible complexity”, we would never have moved beyond the simple concept of the atom. We have long said that biology is a new area of research, what is to say that the tools we work with are incapable of resolving issues in biology.

I feel that the outcome of the trial in Dover will result in the inclusion of “intelligent design” in modern science teaching. Even if all this requires is that a teacher read a statement that suggests alternative theories, this result will result in science research slowing down. Science and science education cannot nor should it even consider basic tenets of faith; to include a statement that has as its underpinnings fundamental religious beliefs will do just that.

The second thing that has me worried is the “marketing” of the church. I cannot see, and I have written and spoken on this before, how we can market the Gospel. Marketing is designed to make something palatable to the consumer. To market the Gospel means to make it acceptable to people. But the principle of the Gospel is to make people change and you cannot do that if you make the product simple. The Gospel is meant to challenge people and Jesus made it very clear that those who choose to follow Him were going to have a rough road to walk. Those who preach the “prosperity gospel” or “gospel-lite” message don’t point out that Christians are called to sacrifice. Marketing Jesus is something that cannot work and I wonder why we even bother to try.

Having said that I don’t like marketing, I wonder what we are going to do with the current marketing campaign of the United Methodist Church. First, who are we directing this campaign to? In what areas are we looking to build churches? Larry Hollon pointed out that the current direction of the United Methodist Church is away from the traditional roots of the church (Adapted from “The Season to Discount” by Larry Hollon, http://homepage.mac.com/larryhol/iblog/C2050680009/E20051007090723/).  We seem to spend more time on the big churches and on a message of comfort for the individual than on small churches and concern for all.

Up until this week I thought that the description of the United Methodist Church as one of “open hearts, open minds, and open doors” was pretty good. It invited a person to visit without making judgements or promising them something that wasn’t true. (I just wish that the time slots selected were a little more realistic; the first time I ever heard one of the spots was at 2:30 in the morning. I may have been awake but who else is?). But the recent decisions of the UMC Judicial Council make me wonder if the campaign is appropriate or even truthful.

The decision of the Judicial Council concerning Reverend Stroud (http://www.umc.org/site/c.gjJTJbMUIuE/b.1145011/k.F51E/Judicial_Council_reverses_lower_court_rules_against_Beth_Stroud.htm) was not unexpected; they really didn’t have any choice. The Discipline is very clear on this matter and the Council was not in any type of position to decide otherwise. To have done so would have ignited a fire storm of such proportion that nothing would have been left standing. Rosa Parks’ funeral this past week reminds us that it takes great faith to fight a law which is wrong; I don’t think the Council was prepared to take that step.

The second ruling that the council made, concerning Reverend Ed Johnson (http://www.umc.org/site/c.gjJTJbMUIuE/b.1144999/k.E558/Church_court_reinstates_pastor_who_denied_membership_to_gay_man.htm), was also in line with The Discipline. But the subsequent letter from the Bishop is meaningless if the church is going to give pastor’s the discretion to decide who can be members of their church. These rulings have done, in my mind, two things. First, they have told a group of individuals that they are, in effect, second class citizens. I am reminded of a blues song from the early 1950’s

Black, Brown And White (B. B. Broonzy) – This song can be found on the CD: “Big Bill Blues” (Vogue). The recording date was September 20, 1951 in Paris.

This little song that I’m singin’ about

People you know it’s true

If you’re black and gotta work for a living

This is what they will say to you

They says if you was white, should be all right

If you was brown, stick around

But as you’s black, m-mm brother, git back git back git back

I was in a place one night

They was all having fun

They was all byin’ beer and wine

But they would not sell me none

They said if you was white, should be all right

If you was brown, stick around

But if you black, m-mm brother, git back git back git back

Me and a man was workin’ side by side

This is what it meant

They was paying him a dollar an hour

And they was paying me fifty cent

They said if you was white, ‘t should be all right

If you was brown, could stick around

But as you black, m-mm boy, git back git back git back

I went to an employment office

Got a number ‘n’ I got in line

They called everybody’s number

But they never did call mine

They said if you was white, should be all right

If you was brown, could stick around

But as you black, m-mm brother, git back git back git back

I hope when sweet victory

With my plough and hoe

Now I want you to tell me brother

What you gonna do about the old Jim Crow?

Now if you was white, should be all right

If you was brown, could stick around

But if you black, whoa brother, git back git back git back

What does the future for the United Methodist Church hold? All I can see, and this is knowing the the Council of Bishops have written a letter which tries to stem the damage done by these two decisions, is that we are saying to a class of people in our community that they are welcome to come into our church but they must sit in the back of the church.

Some conservatives don’t like it when their thoughts on homosexuality are compared to the thoughts of their counterparts of one hundred and fifty years ago. But it is the same type of thought. From the 1850’s through most of the 20th century, people of the church have taught, preached and said that the minorities in this country were not the same as the whites. We may have overcome that idea but we are bringing it back with this new idea.

Sexuality is not part of the Good News that Jesus brought to the people. Perhaps homosexuality is a sin, especially if it is in the manner described in the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah. But that was not a lifestyle; that was rape. As far as I have been able to determine, the only reason there are biblical comments against homosexuality is because two homosexuals cannot have children. You had to have children in your family to insure that the family and tribe survived. The Roman Catholic Church’s policy against birth control has nothing to do with the sexuality of the individual; it has to do with a policy of bringing children into the world so that the race and the church can continue. Shall we tell couples that they better have children born in their marriage or they shall be considered sinners in the eyes of God?

I do not feel that I should be the arbitrator of what is proper and what is not. Jesus pointed out that the one without sin could throw the first stone; who was there to throw that stone? And if the abuse of sexuality is a sin, then should we not throw out or bar those who have committed adultery? How about those who are divorced? Is not divorce a sin; should those who have been divorced not be allowed to enter a church? Remember that John Wesley got into a great deal of trouble when he was in Georgia because he barred a former girlfriend from taking communion with the man who replaced John Wesley in her heart?

And what are we going to do, if in one hundred years, we find that homosexuality is not a “lifestyle” but a genetic reality? We preached for a number of years that blacks were inferior (and there are still Christians who say and believe that to be true). We quickly changed our tune when we discovered that we are all alike under the skin. What will we do to counter one hundred years of prejudice and hatred if we find that people are born homosexuals, a product of their parent’s genes? What shall we say when it becomes clear that God’s plan is not as clear as people would have it? But, perhaps we need not worry about that. After all, if we introduce “intelligent design” into the science curriculum and the teaching of science suffers because we no longer dare or even attempt to probe deeper into the nature of matter and life, then we won’t find out why lies in the genetic makeup of people. And then we won’t have to worry.

I am concerned about what is happening, not so much with this country, but with the church, both in general terms and in terms of the United Methodist Church.

In 1969, during what was perhaps the worst part of my academic career, I spent a night at the Bible College in Moberly, Missouri. I was trying to get back to school after Easter/Spring break and it was not an easy trip. That night, one of the students told me rather emphatically that my baptism as an infant was not sufficient for me to get into heaven; only baptism as an adult would do. On a day when everything had gone wrong, when my future looked very much like it might be in the jungles of Viet Nam, such words of doom did not east the pain that I was feeling that night.

I did not feel the need then nor even today to think that a second baptism is necessary for me to seek salvation. I have accepted Christ as my Savior and I have tried to walk in the way that He showed me. Fortunately, I found others who could offer words of hope and promise rather than gloom and doom.

But I wonder how many people are going to hear and read the words that have been printed and spoken and turn away from the church because they see it as a house of hatred and fear, of condemnation and rejection. How many people will not hear the Good News that Christ came to this world to save us, not reject us?

I wonder how many people remember why Jesus came to our little world; what has transpired this past week seems more like what the Pharisees and Sadducees would have said and done, not what Jesus said or did. What will come next week? Will I find that the church that I wish to attend has closed its doors to me because I dare to question what is going on?