Very Interesting


The other day I posted “How Ironic” to alert you all to what was happening at Butler University.  It was announced over the last two days that the University was dropping its lawsuit (see “Butler Drops Suit Against Student Blogger”) against the anonymous student blogger.  But it was also indicated that there was still the potential for Butler University to seek some sort of administrative action against Jess Zimmerman, the student in question.

It is interesting to read what the University’s attorney said and what the University actually did and what they propose to do.  In a world where we claim to have such a thing as academic freedom, it apparently means that one is free to write or say whatever you want just as long as it supports authority, be it governmental or academic in nature.

It was also interesting to read the next article (right after the Butler announcement) about the VA and its handling of education claims for veterans.

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Cross-posted to RedBlueChristian

A New Dialogue


I am writing this from the perspective of one who is still seeking. I have come to the conclusion that the path that I have chosen to walk is the path that I need to walk. In the words of John the Mystic, seek the truth and the truth will set you free.

But I think there are too many others out there in the world for whom it is not clear what path to walk. I also think that there are those out there eager and willing to give directions but who have no idea where those directions lead but expect that one will blindly and without question follow them wherever the path may lead.

I come to these thoughts because of the recent conversations that have taken place in this country and around the world. These conversations have led me to a couple of conclusions.

First, there needs to be a dialogue among Christians about the nature of Christianity. It seems to me that many of those who proclaim themselves to be Christians have no idea what it means to be Christian. Excuse me for being blunt but many of those who proclaim themselves Christian on Sunday do not lead that life on Monday; either they have compartmentalized Christianity as a Sunday-only activity or they have a corporate and nationalistic view of what Christianity means.

There may be disagreements about what Christianity is and what it does; after all, that is why we have the various denominations. But the tone that many use when they speak of Christianity implies an interpretation that isn’t in the historical record but one which has been created in America over the past one hundred years. In other words, we have Americanized Christianity and made it fit our way of life.

It also seems to me that there needs to be a dialogue between the various faiths. Part of this can be seen in the voices who cry out that they and they alone know the true path to salvation and freedom. I know the path that I wish to walk and it is the path that I would encourage others to walk but is it the only path?

There are three religions, each of which proclaims a belief in the same God and whose roots all come from one man who had two sons. Yet, the languages of many of the more conservative followers of each religion proclaim that the other paths are false paths. It strikes me that the commonality of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity is far more important than any radical interpretation of either religion which states that all other religions are false. And, for someone to proclaim that one who has decided to follow a non-Abrahamic path or even a non-Western path is a lost soul is to say that one has no knowledge of that path.

From a Christian viewpoint, it strikes me that Christianity has done a great disservice to mankind in its justification of the enslavement, subjugation and/or destruction of any group of people because they refused to believe as we have proclaimed they should know. If we know nothing about the path others walk, perhaps we need to see where it leads before saying it goes nowhere.

I have observed too many individuals who have left “the church” because of what a particular church has done or is doing. They seek to find peace in their souls but they cannot find it in a religion that provides fixed and unchangeable answers to complicated questions or who expect blind obedience and unswerving loyalty. Some change religions in an attempt to find the answers; others leave religion behind, seeking other choices.

Then there some who have been raised in a life without faith or belief, commonly referred to as “the unchurched”. For these individuals, the world around them is a world of logic, certainty and rational thought. They have no use for religion because religion defies certainty and logic, of calling for miracles and events that transcend rational thought.

For these individuals, there is no place for religion in their lives of rational and logical thought. What these individuals have done, though, is replace one religion with another. While calling upon science to solve the problems of the world, they are in fact invoking scientism, a belief that there is only one reality, the material world.

Science and scientism are not the same thing; for those whose belief is in scientism, science is the only trustworthy method for gaining knowledge about this material reality. In this view science has an exhaustive monopoly on knowledge and it judges all claims by religion to have knowledge of supernatural realities as fiction, as pseudo-knowledge. All explanations are to be reduced to secularized material explanations and religion loses because it is nothing more than false knowledge. (Adapted from “Eight Models of Relating Science and Faith”)

Rabbi Michael Lerner pointed out that

"Science, however, is not the same as scientism — the belief that the only things that are real or can be known are those that can be empirically observed and measured. As a religious person, I don’t rely on science to tell me what is right and wrong or what love means or why my life is important. I understand that such questions cannot be answered through empirical observations. Claims about God, ethics, beauty and any other face of human experience that is not subject to empirical verification — all these spiritual dimensions of life — are dismissed by the ‘scientistic’ worldview as inherently unknowable and hence meaningless."

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"Scientism thus extends far beyond an understanding and appreciation of the role of science in society. It has become the religion of the secular consciousness. Why do I say it’s a religion? Because it is a belief system that has no more scientific foundation than any other belief system. The view that that which is real and knowable is that which can be empirically verified or measured is a view that itself cannot be empirically measured or verified and thus by its own criterion is unreal or unknowable. It is a religious belief system with powerful adherents. Spiritual progressives, therefore, insist on the importance of distinguishing between our strong support for science and our opposition to scientism.

In 1959 the physicist and author C. P. Snow presented a lectured entitled “The Two Cultures” in which he foresaw a schism between science and literary life. For Snow, science was the key to solving the widening gap between the rich and poor of the world. For Snow, science was the agent of change necessary to halt the spread of Communism. (Adapted from “Our Two Cultures”) But as I read Dizikes’ essay, I saw the seeds for what we would call scientism.

So, with Communism perhaps dead and the gap between rich and poor still growing, perhaps the agent of change is not religion, be it secular or sectarian. Rather, as Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote,

"So why has the [political and religious] left become so attached to scientism? The left emerged as part of the broad movement against the feudal order, which taught that God had appointed people to their place in the hierarchical economic and political order for the good of the greater whole. Our current economic system, capitalism, was created by challenging the church’s role in organizing social life, and empirical observation and rational thought became the battering ram the merchant class used to weaken the church’s authority. Many of Marx’s followers thought they were merely drawing out the full implications of their new worldview when they adopted a scientistic approach that not only dismissed God and spirit as being without empirical foundation but also reduced all ethical and aesthetic judgments to little more than reflections of class interests."  (Adapted from Science and the religious progressives, “The Daily Dose” (Science & Theology News) for Wednesday, April 12, 2006 – http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060424/lerner)

When I began this piece, it was with the thought that there needed to be a dialogue between science and religion. It is clear that such a dialogue needs to take place. But, as with the other dialogues that need to take place, it is a dialogue that requires an understanding of the points being discussed. It is an understanding that each side speaks a language that the other does not necessarily understand. It is also an understanding that each person must speak both languages in a world of many languages.

Albert Einstein once noted that “science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind.”

This is a call for a new dialogue, a dialogue between denominations, a dialogue between faiths, and a dialogue of world views.

What is at the End of the Universe?


Many years ago, I gave a talk in which my opening slide indicated that the particular presentation was the fourth part in a trilogy, a play on the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe” series by Douglas Adams. I used a reference to his first book in “The Answer to the Question”) and I am again referring to this series with an oblique reference to “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”).

Carl Sagan would routinely ask students in his astronomy classes at Cornell the question, “How can we determine if there is life on Mars?” One of his students is said to have replied, “Just ask them. Even a negative answer is significant.” The student is said to have received an “A” in the course.

Our attempts to find out if there ever was life on Mars has been marked by monumental successes (the recent landings of “Spirit” and “Opportunity”) and classical failures (roughly one-half of all the attempts sent to Mars have failed). The success rate of these missions has improved over the years but two things stand out about the early problems and failures.

Many of these early failures can be attributed to technical problems. Other can be attributed to human error, such as the situation where one computer programmer supposedly entered code based on the English system of measurement while another programmer was utilizing the metric system of measurement. But the early and consistent failures lead some to theorize that there was either some sort of “Great Galactic Ghoul” that ate the probes or some sort of “Mars Curse”. Then again, it is entirely possible that the life that is on Mars simply does not wish to be disturbed. But now we presume that any life on Mars is either no longer there or has yet to arrive (ala Ray Bradbury).

Hopefully we find such explanations for our inability to put any sort of space vehicle in orbit around Mars or land something on Mars to be humorous. But a recent essay in the 13 October 2009 issue of The New York Times (“The Collider, the Particle, and a Theory About Fate”) begs the question if such theories about galactic ghouls or planetary curses are indeed humorous.

If you were paying attention in your chemistry or physics class, you know that there are four basic types of forces: gravity, electromagnetic, the strong force, and the weak force. Each force has a particular role in the explanation of chemistry and physics and there is a particle that goes with each force. And as physicists delve into the nature of matter and its composition, they are finding new particles and additional forces.

For chemistry, it is sufficient to say that an atom can be split into three sub-atomic particles: the proton, the neutron, and the electron. But physicists will seek to split each of these particles into other smaller particles. (See http://www.friesian.com/particle.htm for additional information into this area of physics.)

One of the things that physicists working with the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland are attempting to do is to create one of those really small sub-atomic particles, the Higgs boson. If the Standard Model for physics is correct, then this boson is the particle that gives the other particles their mass. (See http://www.particleadventure.org/standard_model.html or http://www2.slac.stanford.edu/vvc/theory/model.html for further information on the Standard Model.)

Now, at this point let us stop and think about what how theories are developed. In simplified terms, theories explain what has been observed and try to predict what might happen. We can develop a theory that says there is something (be it a curse or a ghoul) preventing us from orbiting the planet Mars or landing spacecraft on the planet’s surface but such a theory has to be testable and it can be proven incorrect (the fact that Spirit and Odyssey have been on the surface of Mars and have operated successful for so long should disprove the theory that there is a curse).

But perhaps that isn’t sufficient proof. It was noted that when the physicists at CERN, where the collider is located, attempted to start the system in the spring of 2008, a connection between two of the magnets vaporized and shut the system down. It has taken the better part of the past year to repair the damage and get it ready for the next test.

This failure, along with the failure to build the Superconducting Supercollider here in the United States back in 1993 has lead two physicists, Dr. Holger Nielsen and Dr. Masao Ninomiya, to offer a theory that is both revolutionary and radical, that the Higgs boson is so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one. This is something akin to a 21st century time-traveler going back in time and killing their grandfather.

Everything I know about theory construction says that this is a plausible and acceptable explanation. It fits the argument presented by the Mars failures and even the failures of the United States to get its first satellites into orbit back in the late 1950’s and the early 1960’s. It suggests that we are rushing too fast into the future and we should just hold our place in time and space and rest awhile where we are in the space-time continuum.

The frightening part about this theory is that it gives credence to those who argue for “intelligent design” as the answer to evolution and creation. If there is a particle out there that somehow is preventing either its own discovery or limiting our future to what we know now, then surely there is a creator out there who designed this universe in all of its complexity and just doesn’t want us to know anymore about it. It would mean, ultimately, that there is a limit to our ability as humans and that there is an end to the universe.

But I want to postulate another explanation. Now, I do believe in a Creator, One who put this universe together and put us on this planet. But He put us on this planet and gave us the ability to seek things and find out things. And sometimes the things that we try to find are complicated. But to hide behind the explanation that something is too complicated for us to understand is to belittle our own abilities and merely makes mediocrity the norm.

Yes, we had problems launching rockets in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s but we were pushing the envelope when it came to rocket design. Remember that the former Soviet Union was launching rockets back then and while they had failures, they opted for a brute force approach and got their satellites in orbit.

Yes, we have had problems getting spacecraft to the moon and beyond but the failure to do so was a more a tribute to human error and design than some “thing” out there that prevented us from going forth.

Each push on the envelope is always going to create problems and you just have to deal with those problems when they pop up. The problem that those working on the problem of the Higgs boson have discovered is that the energy required is beyond anything dealt with in the past and there are bound to be problems with the materials that must be developed (the development of fusion as an energy resource should point this out as well).

The same thing can be said about “intelligent design.” To argue for a level of complexity beyond the capabilities of humans is to limit the ability of humans and is to say that there is an end to the universe beyond which we can never travel. I don’t think that is what God had in mind when He created the universe or humankind.

What I do think is that God put the evidence out there for us to find it, if we are willing to look for it. To say that it is too complicated is to say that we don’t want to go there and that is to deny our humanity and our creation.

And borrowing from Douglas Addams, when we do get to the restaurant at the end of the universe, I expect you to pick up the check.

How Do We Measure Independence?


This is the message for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, 5 November 2000, at Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY.  The Scriptures are Ruth 3: 1 – 5, 4: 13 – 17; Hebrews 9: 24 – 28;  and Mark 12: 38 – 44.

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Parts of this sermon were adapted from “Yahweh is my God” from “Living the Word” by Michaela Bruzzese in Sojourners, November – December, 2003 and “Living by the Word” by Mary W. Anderson in Christian Century, November 1, 2003.

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This is an interesting Sunday, if other Sundays are not. It comes after the day on which an individual can make the single most dynamic expression of independence known to civilization. And it comes just before the 85th anniversary of one of those events that insured that our independence could be expressed by our vote. Last Tuesday was the first Tuesday of November and it is our traditional Election Day. Yet, the majority of citizens of this country, for whatever reason, choose not to participate. And this coming Tuesday will be the 85th anniversary of the “war to end all wars.” I do not know if bells will ring at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month to honor what once was called Armistice Day and is now known as Veterans’ Day. And if they do ring, I am sure that most people will think that it is only a signal to begin shopping for the many specials that will be offered on Tuesday.

It is highly ironic that, in a country that values its independence and speaks so highly of it in the abstract, the people cannot even remember what the holidays are about or what is required of them to insure independence. Ask yourself and then ask others what is the meaning of Memorial Day. Other than a reason to begin summer, why do we celebrate this day? Can the people you know state what it is that Thomas Jefferson wrote and was first adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4th? Do people understand why Benjamin Franklin said, “surely we will hang together or we will hang separately?”

And so you will not be embarrassed when you ask these questions to your friends, Memorial Day was begun as a remembrance of the Union dead of the War Between the States. It was not until after World War I that the meaning of the day was expanded to honor all those who have died in American Wars. And it was not until 1971 that Congress made the day a national holiday.

Major General John A. Logan, head of the Grand Army of the Republic (an organization of Union veterans) picked the day of May 30th as Memorial Day since it was believed that flowers would be in bloom all over the country. General Logan’s orders for that day stated, “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.” (From http://www.appc1.va.gov/pubaff/mday/mdayorig.htm)

The opening line of the Declaration of Independence, which was first read on July 4, 1776, was “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and Nature’s God entitled them a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” The statement about self-evident truths is the beginning of the second paragraph.

Benjamin Franklin knew that the struggle for independence was not an individual struggle but a group struggle and were this noble effort of the colonies to fail, all signatories to this Declaration would be hung, either with their comrades or alone. It is interesting to note that when the American people saw the Declaration of Independence for the first time, the only signature on the document was that of John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress. Most of the other signers did not affix their signatures to the document that resides in the National Archives until a month or so later. But as one of the wealthiest men in our young country, Hancock was acknowledging that he was willing to lose everything, his money and his life, should the fight for independence fail.

We cherish our independence. Jesus’ choice of the widow in the Gospel reading today was not by accident. In those days, there were no rich widows. Women were totally dependent on male relatives for their livelihood. To be a widow meant that you had not only lost someone you loved but that you had also lost the one on whom you were totally dependent.

We seek financial independence because we do not want to be dependent on someone else. Money gives us independence and freedom. In a sense, it gives us the right to determine what our lives will be. But does financial independence mean that we have simply surrendered our independence for a dependence of another form? The issue can never be about the amount of money in our checkbook or the size of our portfolio bur rather what the money does for us? Is it our heart, our security, our source of power. Or is it our tool for stewardship?

When we read of Ruth and Naomi gathering food in the barley field, do we remember that it was the law of the community that commanded farmers to leave some behind for the poor and the strangers. In Leviticus 23:22 we read, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave then for the poor and for the stranger: I am the LORD your God.”

What gives us independence? Do we find independence in what we have or the things we seek? Jesus contrasted the example of the widow who gave the two coins with the actions of the church leaders whose superficial piety did nothing to disguise their quest for power and acclaim at the expense of the poor. “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes … and to have … places of honor at the banquets.” (Mark 12: 38 – 40)

Independence really means that your choices are your own. The widow in the Gospel was free to give her money. Those with more would have told her to keep it. Now who has the independence?

The widow trusted in God rather than in her money or rather her lack of it. The same can be said for Ruth. Faced with poverty and an uncertain future, she chose to trust in God. Some may say that Ruth’s marriage to Boaz was preordained but Ruth still had to make the choices and that in itself required trust in God.

The theme of Hebrews throughout these past few weeks has been that it is no longer necessary to offer sacrifices or perform rituals in order to seek redemption. Such things are no longer necessary because of Christ’s single sacrifice. And today we are reminded of that sacrifice and the trust that Jesus placed in God.

Remember that on that night the Last Supper with the disciples and Jesus was alone in the Garden, he was alone in part because the disciples could not keep watch. With all the pressures bearing down on Him, Jesus trusted in God to see that everything would turn out okay. Even facing the fact that one of his best friends, one he had chosen to be by his side for some three years was in the process of betraying Him, Jesus trusted in God.

As we celebrate communion today we will say “We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies.” It is a measure of our independence that we can say that for it shows that we trust in God first.

The idea of independence can never be measured in terms of money or power. For whatever we have, we always find someone who has more. And if someone has more than we do, then we are limited by what they have, not who we are. Independence is measured in trust.

When John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence, he implicitly stated his trust in the American people, even though the British army was the best in the world. Independence was gained because there was a trust in the cause and not necessarily in force or might.

When the widow gave her two coins in the offering that day so many years ago, she was stating that she placed her trust in God. When Ruth sought Boaz, it was with trust in God that things would work out. As we read, their marriage leads to the birth of Obed, the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David. Without trust, the House of David could not have been established.

In a world of power and money, people don’t give up power and money since that is what they are defined by. But it is a definition that limits them for they are afraid to lose what they have. That is what makes Christ’s sacrifice so much more important to us. He gave up everything so that we might have freedom over sin and death. And what can be a greater measure of independence than that?

 


And What Shall I Give?


This is the message for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, 5 November 2000, at Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY.  The Scriptures are Ruth 3: 1 – 5, 4: 13 – 17; Hebrews 9: 24 – 28;  and Mark 12: 38 – 44.

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When I first started my lay speaking career, the styles of two particular pastors guided and influenced me. The first pastor whom I ever really had the chance to observe was Will Cotton, the pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Odessa, TX; the second was John Praetorius, the pastor at Grace United Methodist Church in St. Cloud, MN.

While there were common elements in the styles of these two Methodist preachers, there were also a great deal of difference in the two. The thing that I first noticed about Will and his preaching was that he never used a written sermon. Every sermon that I saw and heard him give was delivered without the benefit of written notes. Later, I found that he did write out his sermons but then put the essence of the sermon to memory. He could do that because his background coming out of college was in drama and music. He used his music background in a number of ways, by singing in the choir and later by creating what became known as “sermons in song”, where he would use a number of songs and hymns to emphasize the points in the Scripture for that particular Sunday.

John Praetorius was also a very good singer (it is not a job requirement but it always seems as if pastors must also be able to sing), but his background and his path to the pulpit were a little different from that of Will. Will wanted nothing else than to be a preacher in the United Methodist Church while being a preacher was often the furthest thing in John Praetorius’ mind.

I have always maintained that it was family pressure that forced John to attend law school after graduating from college. And it could be that was the case (he never disagreed with me when I have said this in the past). Because the one thing that John did not want to do when he graduated from college was go into the family business, being a preacher in the Evangelical United Brethren church and later in the United Methodist Church. Not only were John’s grandfather and father preachers, they were also bishops in the old EUB church and he was bound and determined that he was not going to be a preacher. So he went to law school and became a rather successful prosecutor in Bloomington, MN. But somewhere along the way to court and judicial success, John found something missing and he decided that preaching was where he needed to be.

But John’s law background helped because his sermon preparation took the form of an oral brief and instead of a script such as Will would prepare, John prepared an outline of key points that emphasized the Scripture that he was preaching from each Sunday. John also outlined his Scripture readings, sermons titles, and hymn selection a year advanced, putting those items to paper and providing a worship schedule that he stuck to.

I quickly learned that I was never going to be a preacher in the style of either Will or John. Were I try to be anything like either of them, I would have failed for I cannot sing like either of them, nor do I have the organizational skills of John or drama training of Will. But I have my own sense of what is needed, choosing to use wherever possible all three Scripture readings in my sermon each Sunday.

To compare my style of preaching to any other preacher, especially with two preachers whom you have never met, is like comparing apples and oranges. The same can also be said about comparing one’s personal relationship with God with that of another person. Each is unique and is fitted to the style of the person. The only common thread among us all is that we have a unique relationship with Christ as our Savior.

We have to be careful that we do not give the impression that our relationship with God is the only right relationship and that others are less because of their relationship. And that is the point that Jesus was making in the Gospel reading for today.

Jesus compares the percentage contributed by the rich and the poor to remind us that God measures not how much we give but how much we retain. Those with greater income have an obligation to return a larger percentage of it to God’s work. John Wesley’s famous exhortation to give all that you can was matched by his similar exhortation to earn all you can, doing so in a manner that did no harm to other workers and not at the expense of others and to save all you can.

The challenge for any church is to find ways to do that. Unfortunately, too many churches have, in my mind, have become like the scribes of Jesus’ day. The scribes of Jesus’ day were teachers of the law, often dependent on people’s gifts for their support. Some, however, overstepped the bounds of humility, piety, and dignity by flaunting their position of respect and trust. They sought the glory that belonged to God and even took advantage of widows who helped feed and support them.

The churches today, as churches since the beginning of the Christian era, have always been charged with the care and feeding of those less fortunate. The church has and should be seen as a sanctuary, to offer protection for those who need it.

In verse 3: 1 of the Old Testament reading for today, Naomi returns to the subject of security or rest, which she first addressed in Ruth 1: 9. In the first instance, she asked God to provide her daughters-in-law the “rest” or security of marriage. Now she was determined to seek this rest for Ruth. For many women, marriage was the only security they had in the Israelite. As was noted last week, the family was the only security that many people had in the society of the Old Testament. Without a family, Ruth and Naomi had no security and no hope for the future.

Ruth’s actions (that of removing the edge of Boaz’s outer garment and lying by his uncovered feet) were a daring and dramatic action that called for a decision on the part of Boaz to be her protector — and likely, her husband.

The two prominent themes of the Book of Ruth are love and loyalty and redemption. Ruth showed her loyalty and love to both Naomi and God as was demonstrated in last week’s reading. The power of redemption is illustrated in today’s reading. As you read the passages that connect last week’s reading with this week’s, you can see the Hand of God acting to redeem Naomi and Ruth from poverty. Through Him, Ruth and Boaz meet and by the presence of the Spirit, Boaz is prompted to fulfill the responsibilities of the “close relative” or kinsman-redeemer (as noted in 3: 9).

The kinsman-redeemer was the “the defender of family rights.” Normally, a close family relative, the kinsman-redeemer was the person with the financial resources to rescue a poverty-stricken family member, stepping in to save that relative from slavery or having to see things to gain the funds necessary to survive. And though he was not the closest relative, Boaz willingly took on this duty. He bought the land that Naomi was about to sell and he married Ruth and carried on the family name through the birth of their son. As the commentary notes, all that he did exemplified compassion and redemption.

Every year at this time, preachers are faced with a dilemma. For today’s Gospel reading is typically used as a call to stewardship, a way of showing that each person’s contribution to the church is as important as the person before them and the person after them. Yet, the majority of preachers whom I have heard or worked with are reluctant to talk about church finances. Perhaps it is too secular a topic to talk about from the pulpit. Certainly, it tends to drive people away; one of the most frequent reasons people give for not joining a church is that they are always asked for money. Another reason that pastors are reluctant to discuss budgets and finances is the trouble that often accompanies it.

Now, unless your church is like the one in Georgia that just recently received a check for $8 million dollars (New York Times, November 9, 2000) or the church in Illinois that owns two operating gas and oil wells, finances are a part of the scheme of things. But the scheme of things should not focus on money but rather what you do with the money and how the money is spent.

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.

In the evangelism scheme currently the vogue in the country today, one of the differences between a dying church and a living church is how finances are discussed. If the discussions center on which of the operating bills need to be paid, then the church is not doing well. But, when the discussion is on how that church can better be a presence in the community, whether local, state, or beyond, then the church is growing. I happen to think that Walker Valley is in the latter category.

To redeem means to save, to buy back, to recover. To redeem also means to “make good,” as in “to redeem a coupon.” We can operate in this world more successfully when we operate with a sense of redemption rather than with a sense of condemnation. Having a sense of redemption means that we operate under the belief that we will receive what was promised, as well as having an assurance that even what we have lost by error will be “redeemed.”

The entire Gospel, or if you will, the “Good News” of Jesus is that we can be and have been redeemed. It is God’s will for us, as it was for Naomi and Ruth, that there be an ultimate celebration in our lives, not on-going suffering and sorrow. Our presence as Walker Valley United Methodist Church is meant to give others that sense of redemption, of hope and promise; to be there when others need us.

Our own personal redemption could not have been accomplished where it not for Jesus Christ. It was by his blood and sacrifice that we were redeemed. That is why we celebrate communion, to celebrate His presence in our lives. As you come to the table this morning, be thinking about how you can help others to know that same sense of redemption, of that same sense of freedom that you have this morning. Ask yourself what it is that you can give that will make that sense of redemption which this church offers available to all.


A New Vision (Part 1)


These are my thoughts for October 25, 2009, the 21st Sunday after Pentecost. This is also Reformation Sunday. The Scriptures for today are Job 42: 1 – 6, 10 – 17; Hebrews 7: 23 – 28, and Mark 10: 46 – 52.

I am entitling this piece Part 1 because, at this moment, my sermon for next week at Dover is tentatively entitled “A New Vision”. I know that I will be basing part of that sermon on the Epistle/2nd reading from Revelations so that is where I got the title. But there is a new vision in the Scriptures for this Sunday, a physical new vision (from the Gospel reading in Mark) and a metaphorical new vision (from the Old Testament/1st reading from Job). So it makes sense to entitle this message the same and just have two parts. And with it also being Reformation Sunday, we are offered Luther’s vision of the new church.

There are those and there will be those who said that Job had it coming to him last week when God challenged him and asked where he, Job, was during the creation. In today’s Old Testament reading, it may be that Job is apologizing for even thinking that he somehow was on the same level as God, which, of course, he wasn’t and could never be.

But the Book of Job holds a place in the Bible, not as traditional wisdom but rather as an alternative wisdom. And, if you look at and read this book from that viewpoint, you can see an entirely different take on Job’s comments in verses 1 – 6. Traditional wisdom will tell us that one does not take on authority; one does not call authority to task. But the alternative tradition would have us first do that, to ensure that authority does keep its promises and does take care of the people.

As an educator, we have to deal many times with students’ conceptions and misconceptions about a topic. We may think that certain ideas are well understood but unless the ideas are tested, previous thoughts may not always be removed from the thinking process. We may teach that all things fall at the same rate but if you ask a high school student which falls faster, a feather or a hammer, they will inevitably answer a feather. The answer is more intuitive than you might think and unless proof is offered that the hammer and feather will fall at the same rate, they will hold onto the old idea. (“Hammer and feather experiment from Apollo 15”) One of the problems that we have in science education today is that there is no clear understanding in either the public sector or with many science teachers about what a hypothesis and theory are.

If we accept the notion that a scientific theory is “an idea about something, but not necessarily true”, then we will have troubles explaining the world around us and be unable to move beyond our present vision of this world. (“What makes science ‘science’?”) The notion of what a theory is and what a theory isn’t what a theory means and does are topics for discussion at another time and place (though you can see some of my thoughts in my piece “The Processes of Science”).

For the moment, we want to exam how Job’s vision of God has changed and what it means for us. Job, himself, will admit that he was babbling on about things and that he lived on the rumors of God. But now, having sought God and having encountered God, his vision and his understanding of God have changed. As it states in verse 6, he will no longer live on the “crusts of hearsay or the crumbs of rumor.”

To me, this means that Job has had his God moment, that singular moment when his understanding of who God is becomes complete. Too many people try to tell you how to have this moment and how it must fill certain requirements and what must happen. But this is the old way, the way that society in Jesus’ time was taught and what so many people try to teach us today. They know the way and their way is the only way; if you do not it as they prescribe, you will fall into purgatory or even worse, below.

But, like Bartimaeus, if we seek God through Christ, it will be our faith that gives us the ability to see. Note, in the beginning portions of the Gospel reading for today, the comment by Mark that many tried to keep Bartimaeus from crying out to Jesus as He walked by. They all recognized the authority that Jesus had but, in the old school way of thinking, in the traditional way of thinking, to approach authority figures, to demand of them anything was unthinkable and unacceptable.

But we also know that Jesus did the unthinkable and the socially unacceptable. He offered a vision that struck at the heart of society, at the ways that society worked and operated. He offered a vision that went beyond the status quo. On this Sunday, when we stop to consider what happened that day some five hundred years ago when Luther nailed the 95 theses on the church door, we need to begin our thought of a new vision for the church. It will be a vision, not of days long past, but of days to come. The power of any true vision is to offer an alternative to the existing reality, to think outside the box and around the corner.

Borrowing from Michael Riddell and his thoughts (Threshold of the Future), if a vision is to have the power to change reality, it has to be found in the arena of the imagination. The language of vision is found in symbol, myth, and poetry. When people use such language, there exists the probability that people can once again entertain the dream that things can be different from what they are now. Visions are nothing more than the operation of an alternative consciousness that allows the imagination to produce a new scenario that is radically different from the present one.

Martin Luther offered a new vision of the church that enabled the people to be empowered. John Wesley offered a new vision of the church that brought the words of the Gospel into reality and offered hope and renewal to all the people. In his faith, Bartimaeus gained his sight. Through Christ, God has heard our cry. It is now time for us to offer a new vision, a vision not of today but of tomorrow.

How Ironic


You may or may not know that I am a participant in “The Clergy Project” and its Evolution weekend project (www.evolutionweekend.org).  But this is not the reason for this particular post.

Jess Zimmerman is a junior at Butler University who wrote some blog articles that were critical of the treatment of his stepmother who was removed as Chair of the Butler University School of Music.  In what was perhaps an attempt to intimidate him, his father’s (Michael Zimmerman, founder of the Clergy project) contract as the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Science was not renewed.

The story about what is happening can be found at Inside Higher Ed (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/10/16/butler#) and The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stu-kreisman/student-blogger-shut-down_b_325370.html).  You can also read Jess’s take on this amazing story – and view all documents associated with the case, and lots of press coverage, including a piece written by Clergy Letter Project member Matt Young on Panda’s Thumb – in Jess’s blog at www.akadoe.blogspot.com.

Now, I find it interesting that the administration claims that they are not suing Jess Zimmerman but rather the anonymous blogger who wrote the critical pieces.  Jess has acknowledge that he did in fact write the pieces so the claim that the blogger is anonymous is somewhat weak.

Whether you support Butler University in their claims and subsequent actions, the fact remains that the university has sought to stifle free speech and open dialogue.  It is rhetoric that sounds amazingly like much of what has transpired during the past eight years when we were told that anyone who spoke out against the Bush Administration’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan was working for our country’s enemies. 

I am taking this opportunity to encourage you to first read the pieces cited above and make your own decision.  Then I am encouraging you to go to www.ipetitions.com/petition/butler and sign the petition in support of Jess Zimmerman.

Here is what I posted as a comment to my signature:

It is ironic that a school founded by an abolitionist would engage in the same sort of activities that many who opposed abolition used themselves to shut down free speech in the early 1800’s.

A university, any university, is a symbol of learning and inquiry. To work against free speech is to work against that which a university, any university, stands for.

The administration may not like the light in which it stands at the moment but that is the nature of freedom. Those who seek to hide in the darkness will die in the light.

Butler University must open its activities in this matter to the public and withdraw its suit against Jesse Zimmerman.

There is also a Facebook page for support (search for Friends of Jess Zimmerman).

And then tell your friends.

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Cross-posted to RedBlueChristian

What Is Service?


This is the message for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, 2 November 2003, at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, Putnam Valley, NY.  The Scriptures are Ruth 1: 1 – 18; Hebrews 9: 11 – 14; and Mark 12: 28 – 34.

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The decades of the eighties and nineties brought us many memorable things. Unfortunately, much of what will be remembered as memorable will be viewed in terms of greed and avarice. But that doesn’t mean that nothing good was developed during that time. It’s just that the desires of a limited few and their greed took center stage in the events of the day and are still remembered today.

I think that the one positive thing that came out of that time was a definition of excellence as it applied to corporations and organizations. Much was written about how to find excellence in an organization and how organizations could develop excellence. But, since the decades of the 80′s will forever be known as the "Me" decade, working together in an organizational setting and seeing that one’s success is tied to the success of others will never receive the glory and honor that it should.

One idea that came out of that period that needs to be repeated today is that innovation very rarely comes from the top of an organization but rather from the people at the bottom of the organizational chart. Time and time again, major innovations or modifications that result in new products come from someone working alone in the lab or tinkering on the production line.

The one product that I always like to mention, if for no other reason that it has ties to church choirs, is "Post-it notes." In 1974, Art Fry worked for the 3M company in product development. On Sundays he sang in the choir of the North Presbyterian Church in North St. Paul, MN. He marked his choir book in the time-honored way of scraps torn from the bulletin. But sometimes the scraps of paper fell from the book and he lost his place. In describing the moment that began the development process, he remembered an adhesive that had been developed a number of years before.

The only problem with the adhesive was that it was not very sticky. And you want adhesives to be sticky. But if the goal was something that would stick for only a few moments, this was a perfect adhesive. It took him a year and a half but he finally had a workable idea that could be marketed. (From Serendipity: Accidental Discoveries in Science, Royston M. Roberts., pg. 224 – 225)  The important thing about this development was that it involved an idea that the 3M corporation had basically shelved since it did not work and it involved Art Fry working on his own. But 3M is a company that encourages creativity and allows its employees to develop ideas that might work. In an environment where ideas are generated from the top down or where strict rules of conduct are employed, this would never have happened.

Even though we recognize that innovation and creativity come from below more times than from above, we still are a society that favors a top-down approach. We trust our leaders, even when our leaders betray our trust. We crave the power that a top-down approach gives to us; we relish the idea that we can tell someone below us what to do and criticize them or complain when they fail to do the job. In a top-down management system, we favor rules that determine our daily conduct. And woe to those individuals who challenge those rules or even the basic concept of the rules.

The scribe comes to Jesus asking which of the commandments is the greatest. He is not speaking of the Ten Commandments but rather the 613 individual statues that comprise the laws of Jewish society. Scholars of the law, of which this particular scribe may have been one, divided this collection into "heavy" or "great" commandments and "light" or "little" commandments. So, instead of asking about the relationship between individuals, the scribe was simply engaged in a minor philosophical debate.

Jesus answers first with what has become known as the Shema, after the first word of Deuteronomy 6: 4. In Hebrew, this word means "hear." The Shema became the Jewish confession of faith, recited by pious Jews every morning and evening. To this day, every synagogue service begins with the Shema.

But Jesus did not stop there. He followed with the commandment from Leviticus 19: 18 that everyone should love their neighbor. It is a logical and natural development that one’s love for their neighbors is like one’s love for God.

The Gospel passage from Mark for today ends with the comment that after that day no one approached Jesus with any questions. Up until that time, the Pharisees and scribes had been testing Jesus, seeking to find some way to discredit his teachings. But He had answered every question truthfully and in a way consistent with God’s law, if not always consistent with society’s laws. In doing so, Jesus reminded the leaders that society was more than not necessarily hierarchical. You cannot love your neighbor less than you love God. And you cannot declare your love for God without declaring your love for your neighbor.

By now, you know that Clarence Jordan, the founder of Koinonia, fascinates me. One day he got tired of his daughter, Jan, being hassled and ostracized. One particular boy in the school called her names and repeatedly threw her books down. After a few weeks, Clarence Jordan decided that he had head enough of this harassment and that he was going to ask Jesus to excuse him for fifteen minutes while he taught this young man a lesson. But his daughter pointed out that one could not be excused from being a Christian for any length of time. And his daughter was not willing to accept the alternative that her father proposed.

As the story is told, two weeks passed and no words were spoken about the young man. When Clarence asked his daughter what had happened, she replied that the boy no longer bothered her. As she said, "I got to figuring that I’m a little taller than Bob and I could see him coming before he could see me. When I’d see him, I’d begin smiling and waving and gushing at him like I was just head over heels in love with him . . . like I was going to eat him up. The other kids got to teasing him about me having a crush on him, and now, the only time I see him is when he peeps around the corner to see if I’m coming. If I am, he goes all the way round the outside."(From the Misfits chapter of Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs by James C. Howell.)  When we apply God’s love to our situations, things work out a whole lot better than when we apply society’s rules.

Jesus sought a society where equality was the standard, where everyone had an equal chance. This meant that He had to give up some of his power. In most organizations, nothing can be done unless someone gives their permission for it to be done. Many times, an individual with no control or input into the problem demand that all items be brought before a committee before any meaningful decision is made. And committee meetings, as we all know, are the best way to kill a wonderful idea. How many times have we heard that it is better to seek forgiveness than ask permission?

In a top-down model, those in power don’t want to give away their power. They don’t want others to do things that would dilute their power. They are unwilling to share or teach others how to do their job. They are unwilling to let others do their job because the new kid on the block may do it better.

Jesus gave His disciples and followers the authority to act in His name, even when they did not think that they were ready to do so. One can only imagine Jesus pacing along the shores of the Sea of Galilee waiting for them to come back. Were Jesus a "normal" leader, He surely must have been worried about the damage that the disciples and followers did in the countryside. But we know that they came back, telling tales of great success and wonderful miracles accomplished in the name of Jesus. Yes, some did come back reporting failure and showing that they still didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to do. You get that when people are brought up expecting to follow orders and not think on their own. And though he was not like us, his expression often times showed that human side of his life, "Oh, faithless and perverse generation, how long must I suffer thee?" (Matthew 18: 17 – 18)

Even though he may have been exasperated, Jesus still gave them the authority and eventually the disciples got the knack of carrying out the mission. By delegating to individuals the authority to act in His name, Jesus was delegating power. There was much work to do and Jesus gave to those who followed him the authority to act in his name. "The fields are ripe for harvest, but the workers are few" (Matthew 9: 36 – 37), he said. It was not a haphazard delegation of authority though.

When Henry II cried out, "Who will rid me of this man?" he was not asking for someone to kill Thomas á Becket. Thomas á Becket was not a threat to the king but simply was against the way the king wanted to run the English government. But with no explicit orders, and with no more authority than that, four of the king’s knights went out and did just that.

Jesus’ delegation of authority was very specific. When he sent them out on that memorable mission, he told them what to do, what to wear, and whom to talk to.

Delegation of authority requires a tremendous amount of trust. Those in leadership roles must trust those to whom they give authority to act. If leaders act or micromanage everything done, they cannot delegate. If they cannot delegate, people working for them become nothing more than "yes-men" and nothing gets done.

Leaders must share information and the authority that comes with that information. In this way, they are able to empower others to do the right things in ways that offer fulfillment, not only on an individual level but overall as well. (Adapted from "He Gave Them Authority" in Jesus CEO – Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership by Laurie Beth Jones.)

Jesus not only gave people authority; he held them accountable. Accountability had nothing to do with blame. It has everything to do with individual and corporate growth. Accomplished tasks breed self-confidence. Self-confidence breeds success. And success breeds more success. We have to have accountability because it is the cornerstone of empowerment and personal growth. If no one is accountable for a project, no one gets to grow through the experience of it.

Holding people accountable allows them the opportunity to sign their name on a portrait of success, no matter how small that portrait might be. It gives them their next growth challenge in a defined and measurable form. To treat them as equals is to hold them accountable.

When groups show that accountable is to be worn like a medal of success rather than as an albatross of failure, a decision by the way that is generated at the top of the organizational structure, then people are more eager to wear it. In saying that "whatever you ask for, will be done. Whatever you loose on earth, will be loosed in heaven. Whatever you bind up, will be bound." (Matthew 18: 18) Jesus held people accountable. (Adapted from "He Held People Accountable" in Jesus CEO – Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership by Laurie Beth Jones.)

I bring this all up because today is the day we honor all those who have gone before us, the saints of whom we sang in the opening hymn. We celebrate their work because it is by their work that we are able to do ours.

We can study the history of our faith and proudly say that we are where we are today because our ancestors in the faith raised their voices, made bold decisions and prayed and taught the faith. We are where we are today because our ancestors were willing to go to jail, to be thrown to the lions and be burned at the stake. We are here today because our ancestors fought for religious freedom, braved and explored a new world to establish churches in America and spread the Gospel. They did all these things because they loved Jesus. They did also because they loved us, their descendants whom they would never know. They loved us so much that they wanted to make sure the Gospel was here for us. We are who we are today because of their faith, their devotion, and their bravery.

But those are not our only saints. It is also true that we are here today, we are who we are, and in the condition we find ourselves because we also had biological and spiritual ancestors who sat on their hands, who cared only for themselves, who thought little about the impact of the actions on future generations. We are also the products of those who were apathetic in their witness. We are the descendants of those who advocated a racially segregated society. We are related to those who opposed women being ordained. And we may have to admit that some in our heritage just shrugged their shoulders in the face of oppression and greed. We are products both of those ancestors who fought for the faith and of those who fought against the faith. We are the descendants of both sets of grandparents. We have saints in our blood and skeletons in our closet.

We are the spiritual grandchildren of all wonderful stewards who gave their all, and of the generations of curmudgeons who threw water on the Spirit’s fire every chance they got. What types of ancestor do we, who by baptism are part of the community of saints to come, hope to be?

We are the potential saints for future generations. We are the shoulders on which others will stand. Will we be the ancestors who sat on their hands or ancestors who raised their hands? Sometimes we forget that we aren’t just living our busy lives; we are also laying a foundation, molding a future, and establishing a legacy. (From "Saints and Sinners" by Mary W. Anderson in The Christian Century (October 18, 2003)

What shall our legacy be in the years to come? Those we admire, as witnesses to Christ are the ones we believe are the best examples of living the simple commands of Jesus to love God with our whole selves and our neighbors as ourselves. It is a love that has been the center portion of the Bible.

Naomi was worried about the future for her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. The laws of the time said that the brothers of their late husbands were obligated to take care of them but their husbands had no brothers. So there was no way to insure the future for either woman. The options for either woman are not that promising. Hence, Naomi’s exclamation that both Orpah and Ruth return to their homelands, for only there will they be able to find a future.

But Ruth, in verse 16, gives what is considered a classic expression of love and loyalty, "Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried." (Ruth 1: 16 – 17) The love that Ruth expresses for Naomi is a reflection of God’s love for each of us, no matter who we are or where we are from. We will see in the story of Ruth that God’s love is unconditional and that he will provide. After all, if God does not provide in some way or another, then Ruth will not meet Boaz and their descendants will not give us the house of David.

The story of redemption found in Ruth is a reminder of what our lives should be. Ours is a community founded on the express belief that God loves us, so much so that he would provide for our future. Ours is a community founded on a simple expression that the love we have for God is expressed by our love for others. Methodism grew out of John Wesley’s conviction that there was more to the Gospel than praying that the poor find comfort in their world.

The hallmark of organizations during the eighties and nineties was service. If organizations could provide good service in some way, then success was possible. The success of this organization will be measured by the love that others find when they come to this place.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Christ’s sacrifice was for us and that nothing we do will ever match it. Placing our faith and confidence in what has already served its purpose and passed away, things like the rituals encompassed in the Mosaic Law, cannot help us. We cannot expect a new system of service and love to be handled in the old ways of management.

Jesus brought to us a new system and called for us to see a new way of service. On a day when we think of the service of the Saints, we are again reminded that being a saint means living in hope and not in despair. It means forgiving, not judging; loving, not despising; lifting up, not tearing down. We are challenged to strengthen our own shoulders, so that through our service and devotion today, the ancestors of tomorrow will be able to sing the praises of the saints as well.



Serving God


This is the message for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, 5 November 2000, at Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY.  The Scriptures are Ruth 1: 1 – 18; Hebrews 9: 11 – 14; and Mark 12: 28 – 34.

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The one thing that has marked my career and personal life these past fifty years has been my mobility. As the son of a career Air Force officer, we lived in a number of places and in a number of settings. In terms of school, I went to six different elementary schools, two different junior high schools, and three different high schools. The longest time that I ever attended any one school was just short of two years and those were the two years that I was at Bartlett High School in Memphis where I graduated from high school in 1968.

To some, this was a very negative childhood because it kept me from developing life-long friends, perhaps the central part of childhood. And while it is true that I do not have many friends from my high school and earlier days, I see me life in a different light. For I got to see parts of this country and the world and do many things that others never get the chance to do. But, sometimes when I think about it, and I look at the friends my brothers have from all their time in one place, I wonder if those critics were not correct.

It seems like whenever my family moved from one base to the next, it was always during the school year and I was always coming into a new situation, a stranger in a strange land, if you will. When you move into a new place, you are never sure of what the “rules” are.

But over a period of time, I quickly learned the sense of the new community I was in and, whether I might agree or disagree, I knew what the rules were. But when the community is changing each year, as it was for me, you quickly learn to trust your own path and not worry about what others say and do. If what I knew in my heart and soul is right and that is what I do, then I knew that I would be accepted. But if what I did was not acceptable to the community, well, I was never going to be accepted any way.

In one sense, I can empathize with the story of Naomi, Ruth and Orpah and what they went through, as we read this morning from the Old Testament. In the society of that time, it was up to each family to take care of their own. When the husband died, it was the sons who assumed the responsibility of caring for their mother. Remember that one of Jesus’ last acts on the cross was to transfer the care of his mother, Mary, to his disciple, John.

Seeing his mother, with the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, Jesus said to her, “Mother, there is your son”, and to the disciple, “There is your mother”; and from that moment the disciple took her into his home. (John 19: 26 – 27)

But, as we read today, ten years after Naomi’s husband died, both of her sons died, leaving her without the traditional support network. That is why, in verse 7, Orpah, Ruth and Naomi left Moab where they had been living for Judah where there was food and support. But this support would have only been for Naomi since Ruth and Orpah were Moabites and not Jews. That is why Naomi said to her daughters-in-law they would be better off going back to their own country where they might find support among their own families.

But Ruth, in the emotionally charged response that ends the reading from the Old Testament reading today, declared her determination to remain with Naomi. Her own affirmation of faith is especially striking because it means that in going with Naomi and following the God of Israel, Ruth is giving up all claims to everything she ever knew. Like Abraham, Ruth chose to forsake her family and homeland to follow God.

Why would Ruth do this? It is not stated in this reading but something about the way Naomi lived must have said to Ruth that God was truly the one God.

The theme of the Book of Ruth is that God’s love is open to all, even non-Israelites. God’s plan has always been to bring all the nations of the world to Him. The covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants was so that all nations would be blessed through the nation of Israel.

The Book of Ruth also demonstrates the concept of loyal love, the kind of love that holds its promise. It was that loyalty that Ruth displayed both to Naomi and to God. It is that same loyalty that we sing of in the chorus to Hymn #530, “Are Ye Able?”

It is Ruth’s loyalty to God and her faith in God that could have only come from seeing how God was a part of Naomi’s life. And it will be her faith that is rewarded, as we will read next week.

It is that same loyalty and faith that Jesus speaks of in the Gospel reading for today. The Pharisees and scribes are trying to trick Jesus with their questions about the commandments and the law. What Jesus calls the first commandment, that there is only one God and He is the God of Israel, was the essence of the Jewish faith. The manner in which Jesus made that statement was a summary of the first four of the Ten Commandments. In giving his second great commandment, Jesus summarized the last five of the Ten Commandments, those that deal with the treatment of people.

I found it interesting that none of the commentaries that I have access to make any type of comment about the last sentence in the reading for today. Jesus tells his questioners that they are very close to the Kingdom of God and then Mark (as well as Matthew) writes that they never asked any more questions of Jesus.

In some sense, I think Jesus challenged the Pharisees and Sadducees. For this group who were among the most vocal of Jesus critics were also among the most vocal and the most public in their own expression of the belief that there was only one God. But righteousness is only a show if your actions do not support your work. It was almost as if Jesus was saying to this group of questioners, you are close but you still have one step to take.

In Hebrews, the writer has been telling us that Jesus, through His sacrifice, offered more that any worldly priest could ever offer. His loyalty to God produced greater rewards than anyone could imagine. In being loyal to God first, our perspective changes. And how others see us changes as well. The task we face this day is serving God with all our heart and all our soul. If we serve God is this way, there is no way people cannot help but notice and then they began to see God and know God. The question then will be “Are Ye Able?”

Is It Any Wonder?


This comes from “News of the Weird” – At any one time, the New York City school system is forced to keep about 1,600 teachers on full salary and benefits (costing about $100 million per year) even though  they cannot be required to work.  Six hundred are in a multi-year arbitration process for terminable misconduct or incompetence, and 1,000 are long-term layoffs from shuttered schools but whom principals continually pass over for transfer.

Is it any wonder that I can’t get a teaching position in the system?