What If


I am preaching at Mt. Hope United Methodist Church in Mahopac, NY, this morning. The regular preacher, Will Porter, had surgery a couple of weeks ago and I got the call to cover for the next couple of weeks. Let us pray for Will’s recovery and return to the pulpit.

In the meantime, here are my thoughts for this the 8th Sunday after Pentecost. It is a lengthy post, I know, but some things have to be said.
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A number of years ago I came across a book “What If Jesus Had Never Been Born” by James Kennedy. It was an interesting book that outlined a number of situations that would have changed had Jesus never been born. It is always an interesting exercise to consider the impact of various and sundry things.

I doubt that the young man who is the central focus of the New Testament reading for today (1) realized or understood the impact that his presence would have on the multitude gathered that day on the mountain side. But that is often times the way it works out. How many times do we see what is before us and fail to make a decision. Often times, it seems that what we do will not make much of a difference in the affairs of the world; but then, there are those singular times when one decision does make a difference.

As I mentioned two weeks ago, I had a lot of traffic on my blog concerning war. Two individuals have, it seems to me, argued for the inevitability of war, saying that no matter what one’s thoughts are, war is inevitable because there is evil in the world. One individual basically suggested that I would have allowed the Nazi war machine to roll over Europe.

There are those who will say that Israel has the right to respond as they have. Are the Israeli responses the responses of a nation seeking peace or just responding in kind? How long will it take before we realize that violence only leads to violence and unless someone makes a major break in the circle of violence, it will continue to grow? It is not just simple acquiescing to the wishes of the other side; it is by demonstrating that peace is possible. It can be done by feeding all who are hungry, not starving them; it can be done by building homes, not destroying them. It can be done but it takes a commitment to do what is not done, not simply wait on the other person.

The problem is that we should not even be in this mess in the Middle East. We knew in 1948 that there would be a bloody conflict but we, the rest of the world, stood aside and let it happen. What would have happened if world leaders had sought viable solutions that meet the needs of all the peoples of the Middle East?

What would have happened if the German pastors, instead of supporting the Nazis, had spoken out against the wrongs that the Nazi government was doing in the 1930’s. Would we have had World War II if these men of God had spoken out against war, violence, and evil then? Unfortunately, these men of God were more interested in their own well-being and establishing that they were just as nationalistic as everyone else in Germany.

It is hard to think that so many people died because the church turned a blind eye to the plight of the people. John Conway wrote,

It was the tragedy of the German churches that they were so inadequately prepared to oppose such strident heresies. They lacked safety valves against the challenge of the ‘radical right’ that offered a vision of church and state working hand in hand to renew the nation’s strength. The more perceptive churchmen realized too late the dangers of Nazi ambitions. The heresy of a nationalist pseudo-religion had gained too many adherents for effective defenses to be built or successful alternatives to be preached. Cut off from potential allies in the ecumenical movement abroad, only a handful of staunchly orthodox members of the Protestant Confessing Church were ready to take up arms to uphold Christian truths and to suffer for their faith. The lessons to be drawn from the churches’ behavior before and after the rise of National Socialism remain. (2)

I cringe at the thought that was written about Germany in the 1930’s is again happening in this country at this time. How long shall Christians allow people to kill other people in the name of their country because it is correct? These are days which challenge the very soul of the church; these are days which cry out for each church to speak out and think of their responsibilities to mankind, no matter how they pray to God. Yet, we have pastors argue for war when the One for whom they “work” is called the Prince of Peace? We walk a fine line indeed when we say that our actions are acceptable because they are in the best interests of the country but which go against the moral teachings we supposedly learned in Sunday School and church.

Our Old Testament reading for today (3) again offers a choice of seeing and doing. What would have happened if David had led the army into battle, as he should have done, instead of staying back in Jerusalem? There are no reasons given in any of the commentaries that I read for why David stayed back; but it does say that it was the time that kings took their armies into battle and David was the king but he did not lead the army.

And in retrospect, David himself would have agreed that probably he should have done so. Then he would not have seen Bathsheba on the roof top and he would never have had the affair with her.

But he didn’t do what he was probably supposed to do and, as a result, had to cover up his mistakes. He tried everything he could think of to get Uriah to spend one evening with his wife, Bathsheba. But Uriah was an honorable man and a loyal soldier and he would do nothing that his own men would not have the opportunity to do as well. In the end, David sends Uriah back into the battle zone with sealed orders that instruct Uriah’s commander to put him in the forefront of the most intense battle. In doing so, David deliberately ordered Uriah to his death. And in killing Uriah, David also killed an untold number of young men as well, for what battle ever has only one casualty.

If David had taken responsibility for what he had done, then he would not have conspired to kill Uriah in order to cover up his lies and mistakes. If David had taken responsibility for his actions, other young men would not have died needlessly. How long will it be before we determine that we cannot send young men and women off to war because of a leader’s lies or mistakes? How long will it take for us to realize that our actions have a profound impact on others, often in ways that we cannot foresee or imagine?

What would happen if, in this country today, businesses saw their employees as people and not just as some sort of commodity on the profit/loss sheet? What if our major employers were to treat people with the same compassion as Jesus felt for those on the mountain side?

Of course, when you read or listen to the news today, you have to wonder if people are paying attention to this lesson. The Chicago city council voted the other day to require Wal-Mart and other similar stores to pay their employees a living wage of $10.00 per hour with $3.00 per hour in benefits by the year 2010. Wal-Mart has suggested that if this ordinance is passed, they will pull out of the Chicago market. Other business leaders have suggested that paying such salaries will do more harm than achieve any good. But right now, workers at Wal-Mart make somewhere on the order of $16,000 per year. This is an interesting statistic since anyone earning under $8.20 an hour or just over $16,000 per year is considered under the federally defined poverty level. (4)  And we have the wonderful disclosure that Exxon had record profits during the second quarter (but we are not to find any correlation between the price we pay for gasoline and those profits).

The House of Representatives did pass legislation this week that will raise the Federal minimum wage for the first time in almost ten years. But they put in a rider that will give another tax break (the elimination of inheritance taxes) that will benefit only the richest of the rich. How long before we learn that we cannot treat the poor, the lower and middle classes with disrespect? This is not what the Gospel said.

In the 1950’s the laws of many Southern states forced minorities to sit in the back of the bus, even when there were seats in the front. What would have happened if Rosa Parks had obeyed the law and gone to the back of the bus instead of taking the first available seat in the front? She knew full well what the consequences of her actions that day would be but I doubt that she understood how far those actions would reach. If nothing else, her action brought Martin Luther King, Jr., to the forefront of the beginning Civil Rights movement. So, if Mrs. Parks had decided not to fight the system, it is most likely that Reverend King would not have risen to the prominence he did.

Then maybe he wouldn’t have come to Memphis, Tennessee, in the spring of 1968 and he would not have died by an assassin’s bullet. Maybe he wouldn’t have come to Memphis anyway. The sanitation worker’s strike was a small one and it didn’t have much coverage; after all, who cares about a bunch of garbage men other than the people who need their garbage picked up. It should be noted that not many people outside of Memphis were even aware of this strike when it began. A similar strike by sanitation workers in New York City had just ended and the media of the day did not consider a similar strike in a town of just 500,000 people newsworthy. The city of Memphis was able to keep the problem below “crisis-level” and out of the public’s eye.

And weren’t the sanitation workers way out of line asking for a raise from $1.70 to $2.35 per hour? The city’s offer of 8-½ cents per hour seemed reasonable enough. But, there was more to this strike than just wages; it was about working conditions and respect given for doing the job that others would not do.

This strike began on February 1, 1968 when two black sanitation workers were crushed to death when the compactor mechanism of the trash truck was accidentally triggered. In a separate incident on the same day, 22 black sewer workers were sent home without pay when it began to rain while their white supervisors were retained for the day with pay.

On February 12th, 1375 workers (mostly sanitation workers but with other Department of Public Works employees) went out on strike for job safety, better wages and benefits, and union recognition. (5) 

Dr. King was invited to Memphis to aid in the effort to bring about reconciliation between the workers and the city as well as bring attention to the disparity between classes.

Dr. King came because the worth of someone’s soul is not determined by the job they perform each day or the color of their skin. Dr. King came to Memphis because the importance of a person comes from who they are, not where they live. Even though he initially did not want to come, even though he didn’t have to come, Dr. King came to Memphis, even though he didn’t have to. And as history points out, maybe he shouldn’t have come. But would our respect for other people have gotten better if he hadn’t?

He came because Jesus taught us to care about other people as much as we care about ourselves. What is the central point of the New Testament reading for today, if it is not that we should care for others as we would care for ourselves?

What would have happened if the people had been sent home to get something to eat? What would have happened if Philip’s argument that they didn’t have enough money to buy food to feed all of the people. Remember that though the Bible says that there were five thousand present that day, the actual total was probably much, much larger because they only counted the men that were there that day. With the women and children that were there, the crowd may have been about fifteen or twenty thousand.

Are we to even think that the disciples had any other option available to them there on the mountain side some two thousand years ago? It states clearly that Jesus knew he was going to feed the multitude so there never was another option. Why do we think that there is an option today; why do we think we can keep cutting the costs for taking care of people while raising the amount of money spent on war and other forms of legalized killing?

What if we, the people, were to cry out and proclaim that poverty is not simply the consequences of sin but rather a marker of society’s lack of concern for people? If nothing else, it would make us what we say this morning, Methodists.

It was the issue of poverty and the lack of concern for the lower classes by the church and English society that made John Wesley seek a better way.

John Wesley preached a lot about money. And with probably the highest earned income in England, he had the opportunities to put his ideas into practice. What did he say about money? And what did he do with his own?

John Wesley knew grinding poverty as a child. His father, Samuel Wesley, was the Anglican priest in one of England’s lowest-paying parishes. He had nine children to support and was rarely out of debt. Once John saw his father . . . marched off to debtors’ prison. So when John followed his father into the ministry, he had no illusions about the financial rewards.

It probably came as a surprise to John Wesley that while God had called him to follow his father’s vocation, he had not also called him to be poor like his father. Instead of being a parish priest, John felt God’s direction to teach at Oxford University. There he was elected a fellow of Lincoln College, and his financial status changed dramatically. His position usually paid him at least thirty pounds a year, more than enough money for a single man to live on. John seems to have enjoyed his relative prosperity. He spent his money on playing cards, tobacco, and brandy.

While at Oxford, an incident changed his perspective on money. He had just finished paying for some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a cold winter day, and he noticed that she had nothing to protect her except a thin linen gown. he reached into his pocket to give her some money to buy a coat but found he had too little left. Immediately, the thought struck him that the Lord was not pleased with the way he had spent his money. He asked himself, Will the Master say, “Well done, good and faithful steward”? Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money which might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid? (6)

It is clear that this single incident changed the way Wesley viewed his life and what he was to do in his ministry. His income rose from 30 pounds a year to 120 pounds in four years, yet he learned to live on 28 pounds a year. Now, 30 pounds a year may not seem like a lot to us today in 2006 but in 1731, it was a major income. It is noted that Wesley had one of the highest earned incomes in England, making one year on the order of 1400 pounds. But he continued to live as if he were earning 30 pounds and gave away the excess. This lifestyle even got him in trouble with the English tax authorities who felt that he was hiding his wealth somewhere or somehow. They figured that anyone with income such as his who did not have the trappings of a rich lifestyle must surely be hiding their money somewhere. Wesley told the tax people that he had given away most of his wealth and that he had sufficient income to live on even though he was wealthy. I only wish that Wesley’s modern day colleagues, the ones with the thousand dollar suites and smiles to match, could say and do the same.

Another way Wesley limited expenses was to identify with the poor and needy. He had preached that Christians should consider themselves members of the poor, whom God had given them money to aid. So he lived and ate with the poor. Under Wesley’s leadership, the London Methodists established two homes for widows in the city. They were supported by offerings taken at the band meetings and the Lord’s Supper. In 1748, nine widows, one blind woman, and two children lived there. With them lived John Wesley and any other Methodist preacher who happened to be in town. Wesley rejoiced in eating the same food at the same table, looking forward to the heavenly banquet all Christians will share.

We live in a world where respect for other individuals is limited; we do not care where the bombs fall when we are engaged in a war against terrorism. In a world where the “bottom line” is more important, we do not care that people cannot live on the wages they earn. What if we lived as the Christians did some two thousand years ago, sharing and caring for others as much as we cared for ourselves?

So if we respond as we should, we can begin seeing a change. After all, when the people finished eating, there was more in the baskets than when they started. Surely others not mentioned in the Gospel reading for today were fed as well.

What if the Ephesians had not responded to Paul’s encouragement? (7)  What if they had not allowed Christ to dwell in their hearts?Then where would we be today?

We are here today because those who came before us heard the word of God and took it into their own hearts. We are here today because others before us allowed the Holy Spirit to enter into their lives and the work of one became the work of many? As Paul noted, together we are able to accomplish far more as a group than we could do as separate individuals.

We are asked to change a system that seemingly dwarfs our ability to do so. Even within a singular community of faith, the task seems too daunting to even consider. But what if we invested our energy into retelling the Bible stories we grew up listening to and reading. Did not those stories we enjoyed have many of the same issues that we deal with today? Did they not overcome those issues back then? When simple stories begin to crystallize our imagination, history shows that they are more powerful agents of change than we can imagine.

Whether God does it or we do it ourselves, when the social system fails and we leave people without hope, when the religious establishment becomes part of the problem instead of the solution, the stories that we grow up listening to tell us, in no uncertain terms, that it is time for those with “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” to stand with Jesus. It is time to tell and retell our stories, driving them as deeply as possible into the popular imagination, letting our stories of faith and faithfulness inform our action.

So we are asked today if we will open our hearts and allow Christ to come in. We are asked today if we will open our hearts and allow the Holy Spirit to use us to do things that we could not possible do otherwise.

(1) John 6: 1 – 21

(2) http://www.bonhoeffer.com/bak2.htm

(5) http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/memphis-v-mlk/

(6) http://rescomp.stanford.edu/~georgie/money.html – An article written by Charles Edward White, assistant professor, Christian thought and history Spring Arbor (Michigan) College

(7) Ephesians 3: 14 – 21

Southern Born & Bred


This is not my regular post for this week (that will come later in the day/weekend) but one I posted back in May. I found some new stuff that I felt should go in, plus someone actually commented about it.

There is a saying out there that some people understand and some people just can’t begin to understand – “I am Southern born and Southern bred; when I die, I will be Southern dead.”

Now, before anyone jumps on my case, just because I am Southern doesn’t mean that I am some sort of anti-intellecual or that I am tied to traditions that should have never been held in high esteem (and anyone who reads my stuff knows how I feel about those traditions).

The following is not meant to be serious social commentary but humor so enjoy! :)

Bless your hearts and ya’ll have a blessed day now.
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Subject: FW: SOUTHERNOSITY

Only a Southerner knows the difference between a hissy fit and a conniption fit, and that you don’t “HAVE” them, you “PITCH” them.

Only a Southerner knows how many fish, collard greens, turnip greens, peas, beans, etc., make up “a mess”.

Only a Southerner can show or point out to you the general direction of “yonder”.

Only a Southerner knows exactly how long “directly” is — as in: “Going to town, be back directly”.

Even Southern babies know that “Gimme some sugar” is not a request for the white, granular sweet substance that sits in a pretty little bowl in the middle of the table.

All Southerners know exactly when “by and by” is. They might not use the term, but they know the concept well.

Only a Southerner knows instinctively that the best gesture of solace for a neighbor who’s got trouble is a plate of hot fried chicken and a big bowl of cold potato salad. If the neighbor’s trouble is a real crisis, they also know to add a large (made-from-scratch) banana puddin.

Every Southerner grows up knowing the difference between “right near” and “a right far piece”.

They also know that “just down the road” can be 1 mile or 20.

Only a Southerner both knows and understands the difference between a redneck, a good ol’ boy, and po’ white trash.

No true Southerner would ever assume that the car with the flashing turn signal is actually going to make a turn.

A Southerner knows that “fixin” can be used as a noun, a verb or an adverb.

Only Southerners make friends while standing in lines. (We don’t do “queues”, we do “lines”; and when we’re “in line”, we talk to everybody!)

Put 100 Southerners in a room and half of them will discover they’re related, even if only by marriage.

Southerners never refer to one person as “ya’ll”.

Southerners know grits come from corn and how to eat them.

Every Southerner knows tomatoes with eggs, bacon, grits, biscuits and coffee are perfectly wonderful…that redeye gravy is also a breakfast food…and that fried green tomatoes are not a breakfast food.

When you hear someone say, “Well, I caught myself lookin’,” you know you are in the presence of a genuine Southerner!

Only true Southerners say “sweet tea” and “sweet milk”. Sweet tea indicates the need for sugar…and lots of it…we do not like our tea unsweetened. “Sweet milk” means you don’t want buttermilk.

And there’s the ol’ time favorite, “goin’ back home to see mommernem” for some “down home cookin”.

And a true Southerner knows you don’t scream obscenities at little old ladies who drive 30 MPH on the freeway. You just say, “Bless her heart”, and go your own way.

To those of you who are still a little embarrassed by your Southerness….Take two tent revivals and a dose of sausage gravy and call me in the morning.

Bless your heart!

And to those of you who are still having a hard time understanding all this Southern “stuff”….Bless your hearts, I hear they are fixin’ to give classes on Southernness as a second language!

And for those that are not from the South but have lived here for a long time, ya’ll need a sign to hang on ya’lls front porch that reads: “I ain’t from the South but I got here as fast as I could”.

Bless your hearts…ya’ll have a blessed day…
An’ hurry back, now, ya hear?

Southern Born & Bred

If you are from the Northern states and planning on visiting or moving to the South, there are a few things you should know that will help you adapt to the difference in lifestyles:

The North has coffee houses, The South has Waffle Houses

The North has dating services, The South has family reunions.

The North has switchblade knives; The South has Lee Press-on Nails.

The North has double last names; The South has double first names.

The North has Indy car races, The South has stock car races.

The North has Cream of Wheat, The South has grits.

The North has green salads, The South has collard greens

The North has lobsters, The South has crawdads.

The North has the rust belt; The South has the Bible Belt.

In the South: –If you run your car into a ditch, don’t panic. Four men in a four-wheel drive pickup truck with a tow chain will be along shortly. Don’t try to help them, just stay out of their way. This is what they live for.

Don’t be surprised to find movie rentals and bait in the same store….do not buy food at this store.

Remember, “y’all” is singular, “all y’all” is plural, and “all y’all’s” is plural possessive.

Get used to hearing “Y’all ain’t from round here, are ya?”

Save all manner of bacon grease. You will be instructed later on how to use it.

Don’t be worried at not understanding what people are saying. They can’t understand you either.

The first Southern statement to creep into a transplanted Northerner’s vocabulary is the adjective “big’ol,” truck or “big’ol” boy. Most Northerners begin their Southern-influenced dialect this way. All of them are in denial about it.

The proper pronunciation you learned in school is no longer proper.

Be advised that “He needed killin” is a valid defense here.

If you hear a Southerner exclaim, “Hey, y’all, watch this,” you should stay out of the way. These are likely to be the last words he’ll ever say.

If there is the prediction of the slightest chance of even the smallest accumulation of snow, your presence is required at the local grocery store. It doesn’t matter whether you need anything or not. You just have to go there.

Do not be surprised to find that 10-year-olds own their own shotguns, they are proficient marksmen, and their mammas taught them how to aim.

In the South, we have found that the best way to grow a lush green lawn is to pour gravel on it and call it a driveway.

AND REMEMBER:

If you do settle in the South and bear children, don’t think we will accept them as Southerners. After all, if the cat had kittens in the oven, we wouldn’t call ‘em biscuits.

You know you’re at a Redneck Church if…



  1. A member requests to be buried in his four-wheel drive truck because, “I ain’t never been in a hole it couldn’t get me out of”.
  2. A singing group is known as “The O.K. Chorale.”
  3. Baptism is referred to as “branding.”
  4. Finding and returning lost sheep is not just a parable.
  5. Four generations of one family sit together in worship every Sunday.
  6. High notes on the organ set dogs in the parking lot to howling.
  7. In the annual stewardship drive there is at least one pledge of “two calves.”
  8. It’s not heaven, but you can see heaven from there.
  9. Never in its entire 100-year history has one of its pastors had to buy any meat or vegetables.
  10. Opening day of deer hunting season is recognized as an official church holiday.
  11. People grumble about Noah letting coyotes on the Ark.
  12. People wonder when Jesus fed the 5,000 whether the two fish were bass or catfish.
  13. Prayers regarding the weather are a standard part of every worship service.
  14. The Call to Worship is “Y’all come on in!”
  15. The church directory doesn’t have last names.
  16. The doors are never locked.
  17. The final words of the benediction are, “Y’all come on back now, ya hear!”
  18. The only time people lock their cars in the parking lot is during the summer and then only so their neighbors can’t leave them a bag of squash.
  19. The pastor wears boots.
  20. The Preacher says, “I’d like to ask Bubba to help take up the offering” — and five guys stand up.
  21. The restroom is outside.
  22. There is a special fund-raiser for a new septic tank.
  23. There is no such thing as a “secret” sin.
  24. When it rains, everybody’s smiling.
  25. You miss worship one Sunday morning and by 2 o’clock that afternoon you have had a dozen phone calls inquiring about your health.

Y’all have a good day!

Where Shall God Rest?


Here are my thoughts for tomorrow, the 7th Sunday after Pentecost.
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It has been over twenty years since I last went camping. Now, we really need to define what we mean by camping. For me, camping is sleeping in a tent without an air mattress and cooking one’s meals over an open campfire. The last time that I did this was during the late part of the spring in 1981 when I spent a couple of weekends canoeing on the Current River in south central Missouri.

The Current River and the Jacks Fork River form the heart of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Down stream from where the Jacks Fork joins the Current River, the Eleven Point River joins. The Eleven Point is classified as a “wild & scenic” river. All three rivers are easy to canoe but if you want to spend the night on the river, you have to be prepared to bring everything you want in with you and you had better take it out with you when you leave. As some of us were taught in the Boy Scouts, make sure that you leave the place in a better shape than you found it.

But this type of camping is not for everyone; if they don’t have a twenty-foot recreational vehicle with a reasonable home-like kitchen and some sort of bathroom facilities, they don’t even want to consider camping.

When we read the Old Testament reading for today (1)we find that God is still residing in a tent out among the people of Israel. Having built himself a fine palace, King David now wants to build an equally fine temple for God. But God indicates through the prophet Nathan that such a place is not necessary nor would David be the one who would build such a temple, if a temple were to be built.

God also tells David that it is not the temple by which the peace of the people will be maintained but rather by those who follows David in his royal lineage. For us, this is the first indication that Jesus will be our one and only true King. It also, of course, begs the question why we have so many mega-churches in this country. Do we really need massive structures dedicated to God if God Himself told David not to bother with such an edifice?

This is not to say that we shouldn’t build a temple or church. There is always going to be a need to have a place where we can gather for worship. Did not Jesus tell us disciples, as they once again gathered together from their mission work, that they needed to get away for some quiet time? (2)

The problem with building such large places is that we get away from why we built the place in the first place. We went camping to get away from life but we demanded that life come along with us. There are times when it would be nice to have an RV, if for no other reason than it insures a nice place to sleep when traveling. But unless you have the money to insure that the bathroom in the RV is the same size as the one you have at home and the bedroom in the RV is likewise the same as the one you have at home, you will find it necessary to accept some limitations to what the RV will provide. The same is true with building programs; at some point, the building takes over and you forget why you built the building in the first place.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t maintain the building you have; that is simply a matter of good stewardship. Right now, most of the churches in this area are really getting “hammered” by rising utility costs. The challenge will be to maintain the present building while not sacrificing funds for the mission of the church. We have to be especially careful not to place the maintenance of the building over the work of the building. After all, even as the disciples tried to rest, the crowds came. And the medical and spiritual needs of the people have to take some precedence over other more worldly matters.

We have to be very careful that we do not place the building over the people. We will quickly build walls that should never be built; these are walls that separate us from people. These walls come when we try to protect our lives from the outside world. We have built this nice building in which to have church and we certainly don’t want strangers or people who don’t appreciate the finer things of life messing up our nice new building. But Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians (3), tells us that those were the walls that were torn down by Christ’s death on the cross.

Oh, yes, there are times when we need walls. But those walls protect us from predators or wind and rain. But we don’t need walls that separate us from people, especially if we are the ones who put up the walls. Our efforts at kingdom building should be to bring people inside the walls of the church, not keep them outside.

Last week I wrote about non-violence and the need to see those we call our enemies as children of God just as we see ourselves as children of God. When we label our enemies as terrorists or give them racist nicknames; when we call them anything but children of God, we deem them unworthy of the same gift that we claim for ourselves. We put up walls cemented with the mortar of name-calling, labeling, and prejudice that were some of the very walls that Jesus sought to tear down.

The time was also not right nor was David necessarily the right person to build the new temple. Also, God did not want a new temple built because He was with the people. I chose an analogy with camping because we have a choice as to how we will go camping. When we pick the RV method, we remove ourselves from the primary reason that we wanted to go camping. Similarly, if we build a massive edifice so that we can worship God, we are likely to forget why we worship God in the first place. God does not want to reside in massive blocks of stone and glass but rather to reside among the people.

In Christ, we have been given a wondrous gift. But it is a gift that we cannot hide behind walls; it is a gift that we must share with others. Have we opened our hearts so that God can enter our lives? Or have we built walls that keep the light of God inside where no one can see it? Do we show that God has a presence in our lives? We are asked to be the means by which God comes again in the midst of the people. The question that we have to ask this day is a simple one:” Where shall God rest this day?”


(1)

2 Samuel 7: 1 – 14

(2) Mark 6: 30 -34; 53 – 56

(3) Ephesians 2: 11 – 22

This Is That Time


I am preaching at Mt. Hope United Methodist Church in Mahopac, NY, and Holmes United Methodist Church in Holmes, NY, this morning. These are the thoughts that I hope to present for this Sunday, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost. (And yes, I know, it is a long one but I had a lot to say this morning.)
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When I began planning this sermon I was intrigued by the combination of dancing in today’s readings from the Old Testament (1) and the New Testament (2) reading. In part it reminded me of the reading from Ecclesiastes that begins “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” (3)

Verse 4 of the passage from Ecclesiastes tells us “that there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn; and a time to dance.” (4) The New Testament reading with its description of the death of John the Baptist brings us mourning while the return of the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament reading clearly is a time for dancing.

But in the middle of the Old Testament reading for today is a verse that just doesn’t seem to fit.

“As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.” (5)

Later, in verse 20, Michal curses David for his behavior in the streets.

Why was Michal so angry with David? The story of Michal and David was both a love story and a tragedy. She had fallen in love with the handsome young warrior before he had fought Goliath and this love grew with his heroism. But as her love for David grew, she also became estranged with her father, King Saul. She had risked her life in order to save David and this only caused the separation between her and her father to deepen.

Perhaps in retribution for this act, Saul gave her to another man, Palti, in marriage. While married to Palti Saul and her brother Jonathan died in battle and her other brother, Ishbosheth, was murdered by assassins. When David returned from battle, he demanded that Michal be returned to him. While we may be confused about how someone married to someone else can be given to a third party in marriage, it was apparently proper and good to do so in Old Testament times.

Even if the reasons for her marriage to Palti were not hers, it appears that Michal had come to love him, as it is recorded that she wept uncontrollably when she was returned to David. And her despair must have grown even more with the reunion with David; for David was no longer the young, courageous warrior that had served her father’s household. Now David was king and she would have to share or compete with six other wives for his affections and attention. For those keeping track, Michal is married to two men and David has six wives. This definitely fits into the Old Testament definition of marriage being between one man and one woman.

It is not likely that David’s actions in today’s reading were the sole cause of Michal’s hatred. Her hatred had grown over the years. Her sarcastic words in verse 20 of this chapter came from a lifetime of pain and hurt. She was separated from her father and her brother and now they were both dead. Instead of looking to God for support, she became bitter. It is recorded that Michal died childless. In the context of the Old Testament, this was the final blow. Her life, once full of promise, ended in tragedy and bitterness.

Anger and bitterness are also the hallmarks of today’s New Testament reading. Herodias, the wife of Herod, had divorced her first husband in order to marry Herod. Similarly, Herod had divorced his first wife in order to marry Herodias. The complication in all of this was that Herodias’ first husband, Philip, was Herod’s half-brother. John the Baptist had declared this marriage was not a lawful marriage since one man was prohibited from marrying his brother’s wife. (6)

Now we can only imagine how Herodias must have felt, to have the nature of marriage criticized in public by some “wild man” from Galilee. It is noted that Herod feared John because he was a righteous man. So Herod probably understood that there was some truth to what he was saying. But Herodias only grew angry at what John was saying and began looking for a way to get rid of this irritant in her life.

That opportunity came when their daughter danced before Herod. Because of the quality of her dancing, he agreed to give her anything she wanted. Normally, this would have been property or money but Herodias took this opportunity to have John the Baptist beheaded. The anger of one led to the death of another.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be anger which yields actions that result in death. Thomas Beckett was royal chancellor to King Henry II. In 1162, following the death of the archbishop of Canterbury, Henry appointed him to be the new archbishop. Henry must have thought that, with their friendship, he could more easily control the church and get the church to more easily support the crown’s policy. But Beckett did not go along with this plan. The man who was a layperson one day, an ordained priest the next, and the most powerful clergyman, the Archbishop of Canterbury, on the third day took his job very seriously.

Beckett would not allow the king and crown to engulf the church. Henry’s plan to gain authority that properly belonged to the church failed because Beckett would not allow such an uncontrolled usurpation of power.

Those who knew Beckett before his appointment found it amazing that he, Beckett, would come even close to being a man of God. But he grew into the job and the position. He understood what he had been called by God to do and refused to do what Henry wished that he would do. In exasperation, Henry made a passing remark that he wished someone would dispose of this headache. Four young knights, William de Tracy, Reginald fitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, and Richard le Bret, all who hoped to rise in favor with Henry, rode off to Canterbury and assassinated Beckett on the high altar of the cathedral. The four knights were disgraced and Henry found himself seeking repentance for his thoughts and actions/ (7)

But I do not need to read from the Bible or the history of society for you to know that anger has a way of leading to desolation and destruction. Which one of us did not shake their heads in amazement when we heard and read of that doctor in Manhattan who attempted to commit suicide by blowing up his 125-old year Manhattan townhouse so that he wouldn’t have to sell it and give the proceeds to his ex-wife in a divorce judgment. What was most interesting for me was that divorce lawyers in New York admitted that anger was the key point in obtaining a reasonable settlement in most cases.

And which of us does not shake our head in amazement when we read of a “drive-by killing” where an innocent person, young or old, is killed because they were in the path of a bullet intended for someone else.

Even more disturbing in this day and age is that anger and violence are becoming more and more commonplace. The report in the news last Friday (8) tells us that violent crime is on the rise. Violence has become an almost daily occurrence in our lives and it seems as if we can do little to prevent it.

We are a society whose first response, it seems, to any injustice is “an eye for an eye”. We seek Biblical support for revenge by using what actually called for punishment. The passage from Exodus is not a call for retaliation but rather what punishment is to be given. It is why Jesus started the passage in Matthew 5 with “we were once told.” It was a pointed remark by Jesus to those before him that what they had been taught was a corruption of the original meaning.

And then Jesus goes one step further. Not only does he correct the understanding about the law, he gives a new meaning of what our actions are to be.

As you know, we once were told, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but I tell you: Do not react violently against the one who is evil.” (9)

Jesus does more than simply deny the spiritual validity of an eye for an eye; he removes the right to engage in violent self-defense when an “evildoer” violates your humanity. Because someone wrongs you, you do not have the right to wrong your assailant. You may have the power to get even, but God does not give you the right to do so. Nor do you have the right to imitate the evil that led to the assault upon you. Again, you may have the power, but Jesus reminds of what Amos said in calling us away from the imitation of evil: “Seek good and not evil, that you may live . . . Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate.” (10) The core precept here is not about passivity or flight. It is about fighting back with different weapons. It is about resisting evil without showing enmity. (11) Jesus points out that what we had learned was not what God had intended and what is really meant by love.

Two weeks ago, I posted “Study War No More” on my blog.   (This sermon was also posted there this morning.) Of all the thoughts that I have posted in the past year or so, this one generated the greatest number of comments. Among the comments was the following:

Richard said…

I agree totally with you. But sometimes, when I defend this position I’m asked by people how do I propose we respond to attacks on us, genocide, holocaust, and other atrocities. Do we maintain peace with these countries which are killing us and others? I’d be interested in your reply, for my own personal understanding. Thanks. (12)

We are faced with a dilemma when it comes to fighting anger, violence, and hatred. One’s concept of “rights” easily conflicts with one’s concept or feeling of moral duty. If I am wronged, it is my “right” to do wrong against him who has wronged me. If I am wronged, it is my moral duty to behave not as instinctive reaction would dictate, but only as reason and good sense show — for two wrongs do not make a right, and fire added to fire will surely burn the house down. (13)

We are tempted to say that such and such a condition is evil, that such and such a goal is good. But it is what comes after good and evil have been defined and agreed upon that determines what actions we will take. Do we practice what we preach? Or do we, advocating peace, resort to violence in our advocacy? And in advocating freedom, do we refuse to face the real threat to the security that our freedom affords us? If in advocating love, do we hate the haters more than they hate us? If we are to preach love, freedom, and peace, we must first love, be free, and be peaceful — or better yet, not preach at all but love, peace, and freedom speak for themselves in our actions. (14)

It is true that God causes the sun to rise on both the bad and good alike and sends rain that falls on the just and unjust alike. It is also true that God created a universe that still has many mysteries that lie beyond our comprehension and that makes room for every kind of life to flourish, permeated by grace. Because God’s grace has no limits, we who are followers of Jesus must love our enemies, for that enemy is the recipient of God’s grace — of God’s rain — just as we are. And that, as the old proverb goes, is the rub.

We are quite willing to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior so should we not also proclaim the spirit, the mind, the heart and the soul of Jesus as the content of how to live in today’s society? It is probably the hardest thing for us to do because what Jesus preached two thousand years ago is so hard for us to accept today. Our societal values often prevent us from following the healer, the prophet, the teacher and the resurrecter of human lives that Jesus was. It is time that we make the visible practice that Jesus taught, thought, and lived the practice of Christianity today. Instead of “loving our neighbors and hating our enemies”, shouldn’t we be doing what Jesus commanded us to do, “love our enemies as well.” (15)

In Matthew 5: 40 we read,

If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your shirt as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. (16)

What Jesus teaches us is that what we call conventional love is not enough. Such mundane, conventional loving is inadequate. And the love that we are to show our enemies is not really about our enemies; it is about God and about you as you begin to become that prism for the light and love of Jesus.

It is about becoming a child of God. The potential of the life within you is more than you can know. When Jesus says to love your enemies you will become that child of god. Becoming a child of God only happens through the enlargement of our hearts by God’s grace. This is what Paul wrote to the Ephesians; we have an inheritance that can only be ours because we are the children of God. The practical consequence of this is that while we will continue to view the enemy as an enemy — remaining clear-sighted in that respect — we will also come to view that enemy as one of God’s children and thereby deserving of our respect.

In 1965, there was a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. It was this march, marked by violence, which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. By that time, many people had died in the struggle for civil rights and Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke to the marchers that day on the value of truth:

I can’t promise you that it (truth) won’t get you beaten. I can’t promise you that it won’t get your home bombed. I can’t promise you won’t get scarred a bit — but we must stand up for what is right. If you haven’t discovered something that is worth dying for, you haven’t found anything worth living for.”

I am not saying that we should plan on dying for the cause of non-violence or because we are children of God. Death is a dark, fearful foe. But because of Christ, we can cope; we need not shiver in chilled terror. God has promised that He will be there for us.

What we are asked to do is challenging, to say the least. In the face of those who would rather see us dead, loving our enemies allows us, through God’s grace, to break the cycle and to see and feel differently – to see and feel as God sees and feels. Loving our enemies stretches our imaginations so that the incredible and wonderful diversity of the human family becomes for us a thing of beauty and joy. Jesus teaches that in our process of becoming children of God, loving our enemies enables us to become as generous as God is generous: that is, generous without limits. (17)

And so we must start today. This is the time where we must start breaking the cycle that leads to anger, hatred, and violence. This is the time when we must say that anger, hatred, and violence are not the answers. We know that it will take time for this to happen but if we do not start today, it will not get done.

As we sing our closing hymn today, let us remember the story of John Newton, the author of those words. John Newton was a slave ship captain and owner; he was reputedly one of the meanest men ever. Perhaps his anger and disposition came from the work that brought him his wealth and power. But one day, in the middle of a run from Africa to America with his cargo of slaves, he ran into God. Now, he did not, as the popular tale goes, turn his ship around and take the people in the hold of his ship back to Africa. But he did begin to soften his attitude and he did begin to treat the people he carried better than other captains.

Ultimately, he got to the point where he could no longer continue this horrible business and he retired to England where he began writing hymns. When we sing of that wretch that was saved by the Grace of God, we are singing the autobiography of John Newton. And we are singing of the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives; it may not be immediately as it was for Paul on the road to Damascus. But it will change lives and it is time that we begin bringing the Holy Spirit into the world to change lives and minds.

Some who have read or heard what I have said and written here will tell me that it is a nice idea and it would work in a perfect world but we do not live in a perfect world. We still live in a world where people use evil for their own purposes. The continuing civil war in Iraq and the escalating war in Israel are proof of that.

But one cannot compromise principles. We are constantly bombarded everyday with aspects of materialism on television, in shopping malls. We are constantly placed in situations that call for us to compromise but, knowing that God is there, we can resolutely declare that we will not serve such gods and we will not worship at their altars, no matter what the cost.

On Easter Sunday, 1965, a group of civil rights marchers attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. They knew that they would be met by a contingent of Alabama state troopers and local law enforcement officials, all dedicated to the premise that the marchers would not complete the march. And when the marchers came to the Edmund Pettis Bridge, they met that contingent.

Now, the marchers could have turned back but their efforts to seek justice and equality in a land that said that all men were entitled to justice equality would have ended. And to move forward was to invite confrontation; so they stopped and knelt in prayer. It was the law enforcement officials who came forward and initiated the brutality that ensued on that Easter Sunday.

Similarly, in 1930 Gandhi led a group of protestors to the Indian Ocean to pick up salt. The manufacturing, possession and trading of salt by native Indians were illegal activities, even when the salt was found by the ocean in naturally occurring deposits. The Salt Marchers were committed to non-violence and, just as some thirty-five years later in Selma, Alabama, the law enforcement officials began beating the marchers. It was said that nothing much was accomplished that day in 1930 but the world began to see that there were ways to achieve goals without implementing violence. (18)

When Allan Boesak was in jail in 1985, imprisoned for battling apartheid in South Africa, he thought back to the time he saw black teenagers dancing around a police car just after one of his church members had been arrested. They were singing “It is broken, the power of Satan is broken! We have disappointed Satan, his power is broken. Alleluia!” The police were confused and at the sound of this freedom song released their prisoner. (19)

And lest we forget, Jesus began his ministry and the concept of non-violence during the time when the Roman Empire was at its peak. The Romans had achieved their domination of the world through a very simple response to opposition, brutality. Those that opposed the Roman government with violence were treated with the cruelest form of brutality, crucifixion. We know that there were Jewish authorities that wanted no part of the Roman oppression and made deals with them in order to co-exist and maintain their own power. The tragedy of the show trial on Maundy Thursday and the execution by crucifixion on Good Friday tells us the outcome of such appeasement.

But we also need to remember that Thursday night in the Garden of Gethsemane when the authorities came to arrest Jesus. One of the disciples (said by John the Gospel writer to be Peter) took his sword and cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. But Jesus rebuked the disciples, saying “He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword” and healed the wounded servant. (20)

If Jesus is going to reject violence, what are we to do? The one struggle that I had writing this sermon was that I don’t have all the answers. In part, this is because the questions that I seek answers for are my own questions and you have your own questions. But I know that the source for the answers is the same for all of us.

When John Wesley first came to America, the ship he was on was rocked by a terrible storm, a storm much like the one that caused John Newton to change the direction of his life. But Wesley was not ready to change his life; in fact, he questioned even more his calling to do the work of God as he watched a band of Moravians pray. There were people who found solace in God but John Wesley was not one of them. It was not until the failure of his American mission work and his return to England that Wesley was able to feel the touch of God on his heart. And when John Wesley trusted God that night in the chapel on Aldersgate street, his life and the work of the Methodist Church changed.

Perhaps you have been hearing God’s call to you; today is that time to answer the call. Perhaps you have answered God’s call and you are seeking ways to do what He has asked you to do. Today is that time to ask for the Holy Spirit to warm your heart and show you the path to walk.

 


(1) 2 Samuel 6: 1 – 5, 12 – 19

(2) Mark 6: 14 – 29

(3) Ecclesiastes 3: 1

(4) Ecclesiastes 3: 4

(5) 2 Samuel 6: 16

(6) Leviticus 20: 21

(7) See http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/becket.htm; also Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs by James C. Howell.

(8) NBC News, 14 July 2006

(9) Matthew 5: 38 – 39

(10) Amos 5: 14 – 15

(11) Adapted from “Higher Ground: The Nonviolence Imperative” by James M. Lawson, Jr. in Getting on Message – challenging the Christian Right from the Heart of the Gospel (Rev. Peter Laarman, editor)

(12) see the comments for “Study War No More” - 5:17 PM, July 02, 2006

(13) Adapted from Letters of a C. O. in Prison by Timothy W. L. Zimmer, page 25

(14) Zimmerman, page 37

(15) Matthew 5: 43 – 44

(16) Matthew 5: 40

(17) Continued from Lawson

(19) Adapted from Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs by James C. Howell

(20) Luke 22:50; see also Matthew 26: 51, Mark 14: 47 and John 18: 10 (though John does not mention the healing).

Maybe We Should Study War More Often


My recent posting, “Study War No More” (1), produced a number of comments that I feel require a response.

First, John said…

Except for slavery, Nazism, fascism, and communism, war has never solved anything (2).

I responded with

You are possibly correct but why did we allow such “-isms” to even develop? Should we not have done things which prevent war, not simply wait until they occur and then fight them? (3)

Then, John said…

You are possibly correct but why did we allow such “-isms” to even develop? Should we not have done things which prevent war, not simply wait until they occur and then fight them?

Sure, that would be great, Tony. But if it’s 1939 and the Nazis are rolling across your border, what do you do? Just keep saying that you should have done something sooner? That’ll be a big help. (4)

Going back to John’s original comment, which of those blights on human society did we actually defeat on the battlefield? Maybe it was slavery. Assuming that John is referring to the Civil War, perhaps war did solve slavery, at least in this country as an agricultural and societal issue. But we never got rid of slavery. Slavery as the enslavement of human by another still exists today, even in the United States (see http://www.alternet.org/story/38684/).

All that the Civil War did was change the nature of slavery. The vindictive nature of the Republican power structure after the Civil War and the punitive punishment inflicted on the South during that “wonderful” period of time known as Reconstruction led to the formation of the Ku Klux Klan and did nothing to change the attitudes of many Southerners. It enabled them to pass Jim Crow laws and perpetuate segregation up until the 1960’s. It was a mentality that transcended national boundaries.

Apartheid was present in South Africa until the last part of the 20th century. It was defeated not by war but rather by moral outrage and mostly peaceful political action. The same, I would hope, can be said about the defeat of segregation in this country. It was not always peaceful but the Civil Rights movement was based on the moral power of the Gospel, not on the power of a gun.

Even the end of British colonialism ended without too much violence or bloodshed. Gandhi’s advocacy for non-violence ultimately led to Britain ending is colonial occupation of India. It was the British and their violent response to Gandhi’s non-violent approaches that ultimately turned the world against the British.

And for the most part, the chains of slavery have simply been replaced by another form of chains, the chains of poverty. The attitudes that enabled people to enslave other people did not change and agricultural slavery simply became sharecropper and tenant farming. We still have a plantation mentality where CEO’s of major corporations earned salaries and bonuses way out of line with what their employees earn. And the employees at the bottom of the wage scale, those who earn only the minimum wage, do not earn enough to pay for basic living requirements. War may have ended slavery but the consequences are still with us.

It may be that war conquered Nazism and fascism but these two ideologies are still present today. The hatred spewed forth is even more virulent than any of the hatred spouted in the 1920’s and 1930’s. And remember that Timothy McVeigh was more of a neo-Nazi than anything else. Lest we forget, just as the Ku Klux Klan developed out of the vindictiveness of the post Civil War Reconstruction period, National Socialism rose out of the hatred that was generated by the vindictiveness of the victors in World War I. Maybe war defeated Nazism but what we have today says otherwise.

And what war defeated communism? This country has fought two wars against communism. In one war, we came away with an armistice but no peace treaty. Both North Korea and South Korea occupy essentially the same territory today that they occupied before the war started. 36, 576 American military personnel died during the three years, one month, and two days of the Korean War and all we can say is that our first military encounter with communist forces ended in a tie. Our second encounter, in Viet Nam, was a defeat by anyone’s measure.

We did not defeat it in war (unless you want to classify the “cold war” as war). Communism, as an economic system, was flawed from its inception so it was always doomed to fail. But it was not defeated on the battlefield as much as it was defeated in the marketplace. And, while the Soviet Union is no more, the threat of nationalism inside Russia still exists and there are several former Soviet republics that still followed the communist party-line.

So, I stand by the statement I made in the blog last week, “War gives us nothing but takes away everything.” And what war has done has created even more problems that it solved.

And in response to his recent comment, where was everyone in 1938 when the Nazi party was persecuting the Jews of Germany. The signs were there that the Nazis were going to be more than just loud and obnoxious but people choose to stand aside and let them move forward with their objectives. The problem with John’s argument is that he would use war to solve our problems. Why shouldn’t we first put the Gospel into action and work to prevent hunger, sickness, and oppression? Why should we wait for armies to be rolling across the border before we decide to fight? Shouldn’t we keep the armies from ever starting to roll across the border?

In one respect, John is correct (though he probably doesn’t realize it). If we choose to not study war anymore, then we will forget that it is ugly, abusive, messy, painful, and long lasting. So we should study war if only so that there will be no war.

(1) http://heartontheleft.blogspot.com/2006/07/study-war-no-more.html

(2) http://heartontheleft.blogspot.com/2006/07/study-war-no-more.html comments – 3:22 PM, July 02, 2006

(3) http://heartontheleft.blogspot.com/2006/07/study-war-no-more.html comments – 11:45 PM, July 02, 2006

(4) http://heartontheleft.blogspot.com/2006/07/study-war-no-more.html comments – 5:59 PM, July 09, 2006

Working Together


Here are my thoughts for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost.
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One of the outcomes of my doctoral research was that I found out that businesses wanted chemistry graduates to be able to work together. This is because cooperation in the workplace is as essential to the success of a project as the technical and scientific knowledge that individuals bring to the project.

The ability to work together transcends the secular workplace. In today’s Gospel reading (1) Jesus sends out the disciples on their first mission in pairs. There were probably two reasons for doing this. First, by having a working partner, there was mutual support during this brief first missionary effort. Second, having two individuals working together adds to the credibility of the testimony that the disciples gave. It should be noted that this was also in accordance with the Old Testament where the testimony of two or more witnesses was necessary for the testimony of one to be considered.

This concept of teamwork for the completion of the task or the project in question was also stated in the Old Testament reading for today, (2)Here we read of the elders of Israel anointing David as their king; this was the third such anointing for David. He was first anointed by Samuel in anticipation of his rule and the second was in acknowledgement of his rule over Judah. This third anointing acknowledges that his rule will be over the entire nation of Israel.

But there is also the covenant between David and the elders. Covenants, such as what is common in the Bible, are formal agreements between two parties with each assuming some obligation or responsibility. Covenants can be made between two individuals, such as the one between Laban and Jacob following Jacob’s marriage to Rachel or the one between David and Jonathan. Or it can be as it was in today’s reading an agreement between an individual, such as David, and a nation, the people of Israel.

This covenant between David and the nation was to redefine the relationship between the king and the country. Earlier, in 1 Samuel 10: 25, Samuel had noted what the duties and prerogatives of the Israelite king were to be. This was done for the benefit of both the people and the king-designate. This was meant to clearly distinguish the Israelite kingship from that of the surrounding nations and ensure that the king’s rule in Israel was compatible with the continued rule of God over Israel as her Great King. The covenant established by David in today’s reading reaffirms this previous understanding.

It made it clear that the work of the country would be a partnership, with each partner responsible for certain tasks. The accomplishments of the nation could not be done without both partners working together. So when Jesus sent the disciples out into the mission field as partners, he was merely reminding them of the covenant that had been established long before they were there.

Now, Paul writes about the work that he is doing alone. (3)  But is he really working alone? As we read this 2nd letter to the Christians, we know that Paul is referring to himself, though he would rather not specifically state so. But as we read his words, we note that he is also referring to the Holy Spirit and acknowledging that without the presence of the Holy Spirit, none of his work would mean anything.

It is the same for us today. We go out into the mission field every time we leave our home or the church. Sometimes we go out in pairs but often times our journey is singular in nature. But, in accepting Christ as our Savior and opening our hearts to the presence of the Holy Spirit as the disciples did some two thousand years ago, we are not alone.

As Paul has noted on other occasions, we all have our own special skills and talents. It is those talents that we are called upon to utilize in the spread of the Gospel. But, as he reminded the Corinthians in this letter for today, it is not our skills and talents that enabled the Gospel to be successfully passed to the nations. We have to understand, as Paul did, that it is our partnership and covenant with God that brings the success we sometimes try to pass off as our own.

The partnership that we have with God today through the opening of our hearts and souls to the presence of the Holy Spirit is a reminder and a continuation of the partnership first established on the plains outside Israel when David became king. It is in the same manner as when Jesus sent the disciples out into the mission field, trusting in God, and working with a partner.

Are you prepared this day to work with God? Will you allow the Holy Spirit to come into your life so that the work you do brings glory to His Kingdom? These are the questions that you take with you today as you prepare to once again go out into the mission world.


(1)

Mark 6: 1 – 13

(2) 2 Samuel 5: 1- 5, 9 – 10

(3) 2 Corinthians 12: 2 – 10

Study War No More


Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost.
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In many ways, 1969 was not a good year for me. Not only was I having difficulty in college but I was getting into trouble with my family with regards to my developing political beliefs. First there was the card that I passed around my Sunday School class during a visit home.

The card was a version of the statement by the Greek historian Herodotus that “in peace, children bury their parents. War violates the order of nature because it causes parents to bury their children.” At a time when the majority of my classmates and their parents were still supporting the Viet Nam war and military service was still an honorable profession, such an attitude was not a popular one to have.

Then there was the necklace that I gave my mother for Mother’s Day that year. It was a necklace from “Another Mother For Peace” and read “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” Though my mother accepted it as a gift from her oldest son, she was not thrilled that I would be thinking in those terms. Interestingly enough, some thirty-seven years after the fact, this same group is still active and has its own web site, http://www.anothermother.org/index.html.

We still haven’t learned what war is about or what it actually accomplishes. We will learn that the world is turned upside-down, filled with tragedy, impious, unethical, and terrible when we choose the path of war. (1)

The Old Testament reading for today (2) is David’s lament on the loss of Saul and Jonathan in war. I don’t believe that this passage supports war but rather argues against war, for how can a nation be successful in any endeavor when its young and its leaders are killed in the process of war? Should we remember what Robert E. Lee, on observing the carnage, death and destruction at Fredericksburg, VA, said, “It is well that war is so terrible, lest we grow fond of it.”

There really can never be a justification for war. Too often we use wars as a means of equalizing things or solely for the oppression of other peoples and nations. Never is the outcome of war good for those who are the defeated will never truly accept their defeat.

Yes, there are things that come out of war that benefit mankind. The use of the helicopter in the Korean and the Viet Nam wars allowed trauma medicine to develop where injuries that were once life-threatening now are treated rapidly and with less loss of life. It is possible that hospitals in this country and around the world would have discovered the use of the helicopter for medical transportation without war but war only hastened its use.

The use of nuclear reactors for power generation came about because of the research on the atomic bomb. But we do not use nuclear power in this country as we could and should because we fear the terrorist who might try to destroy the reactor. And we are not willing to give up our cheap coal, oil, and gasoline in face of the price of managing nuclear wastes.

War is just another way we seek the resources and the benefits of society while denying others the same resources and benefits. We crowd around Jesus seeking his attention and wondrous touch. But as we crowd around Him, we prevent others from doing so as well. Fortunately, Jesus knows who is seeking Him and He is aware of those who seek to briefly touch His cloak. (3)

But how many people in this world do not have the opportunity or the wherewithal that the woman in the crowd had? Too many times countries that are denied resources seek those resources through war because the countries with the resources are not willing to share. But Paul points out that those who have the resources should work with those who do not have the resources. (4)  As he points out to the Corinthians, our giving leads to more abundance for us all.

But are we willing to give so that others have what we have? If we are not, then we will be denying the very act of Christ whose act of sacrifice insured that we would gain. What do we gain through war?

War gives us nothing yet takes away everything. We willingly send our young people off to war in the hopes that they will come home. Maybe, just maybe, many years ago war had an outcome that was best for all but that would have been before mankind was around. What good comes out of war? Why do we even think of war as a first option?

Should we instead give up the study of war and begin, not the study of peace, but rather that act of peace? Should we follow the lead of Christ who gave of Himself so that all can share in the rewards? Maybe we should remember the words of the old spiritual to gather down by the riverside, lay down our swords and guns, and study war no more?


(1)

Adapted from http://www.umilta.net/trojanwomen.html

(2) 2 Samuel1: 1, 17 – 27

(3) Mark 5: 21 – 43

(4) 2 Corinthians 8: 7 – 15