An Encounter on a Dusty Road


Here are my thoughts for last Sunday, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (28 August 2011). The Scriptures for this Sunday were Exodus 3: 1 – 15, Romans 12: 9 – 21, and Matthew 16: 21 – 28.

I was supposed to be at Drew UMC (Carmel, NY) for their Saturday evening worship service but Hurricane Irene sort of messed up those plans.

I will be at Drew on September 24. They have a potluck/BBQ starting at 5 with the service at 7 so, if you can, make plans to be there for the meal and stay for the worship. They are having a special service to mark the 1 year anniversary of their Saturday services on the 17th with Bishop Park of the New York Annual Conference giving the message. If you can make it to that or any of their Saturday services, you are more than welcome.

I will return to Dover Plains UMC on September 4th. The message is entitled “A New Beginning” and is based on Sunday’s Lectionary readings – Exodus 12: 1 – 14, Romans 13: 8 – 14, and Matthew 18: 15 – 20.

My initial thoughts about this piece focused on our use of technology in our lives, most notably GPS or “global position systems.” As you may note, when I go to another church, I will add the location of the church in the beginning notes. Originally, I looked up the location of the church so that I would be able to get to where I needed to be.

But I have found that over the course of the past few years some of the locations are just a bit off. I don’t know how systems such as Google maps or car-based GPS systems work but there have been some instances where the instructions lead you in the wrong direction.

The first time that I went to the Hankins United Methodist Church, the instructions lead me to the parking lot of an Assemblies of God church parking lot. I was close to where I needed to be but still about ½ mile away. Fortunately, I had some back up instructions and I got to the church on time.

There is an inherent error in the location of the Lake Mahopac United Methodist Church that I believe is based on the number of the church. If you are coming from I-84 into Mahopac, the instructions (both from Google Maps and an in-car system) have you turning left to get to the church. But the church is on the right hand side of the road, not the left.

And there was a United Methodist Church in Connecticut that I was trying to locate. The only problem was that when I used the Google maps function of “find-a-church” I was directed towards a United Methodist Church in Kentucky. That problem has been fixed but sure had a few people confused for a while.

By the way, do you know about the “find-a-church” feature at umc.org? It is a great feature and I think every United Methodist Church is listed in the database. But the information is not always up-to-date or even correct. May I suggest that you take the time to visit umc.org (find a church is in the lower right) and see what you can find out about your church and its location?

And technology of another kind was nice to have because it allowed us to see Hurricane Irene coming up the coast. Having lived the better part of my growing up years in the South, hurricanes are a part of my life. I can still remember living in Wichita Falls, Texas, in 1961 and hearing naval aircraft fly over my elementary school and land at Sheppard AFB. When you grow up on an Air Force Base, you grow accustomed to certain sounds and airplanes flying in and out. But that day was different, maybe because the sounds were different or it was a different time of day. But you could see that the planes bore Navy markings and that was different.

It turned out that the Navy was flying all of their planes out of the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station in advance of Carla’s landfall. And that is how we became aware that Carla was coming. Back then, satellite observations were just beginning so the predication of path and intensity was not as precise as it is today.

In 1969, I was living in Memphis and experienced the rainfall of Hurricane Camille. We knew well in advance that Camille was coming our way but that didn’t stop the rain from falling. And believe me it fell.

We still are working on the prediction of the path and intensity of a hurricane. All through Friday and Saturday there were expectations that Irene would be a far greater storm than it turned out to be. And I will be honest; I have a feeling that it wasn’t going to be a gentle visit. I have lived in the New York for going on twelve years now and I am still not sure that this part of the country truly understands what it means to be struck by a hurricane.

In the end, Irene was a very strong tropical storm when it came into New York but that didn’t stop it from raining and raining for most of Saturday night and Sunday morning. The winds were not as bad as was expected but it still did enough damage that we lost power around 5:30 Sunday morning. We were lucky in that our power was restored that evening. It is my understanding that there are other parts of this area that are still without power and will be so through the weekend.

And then on Monday, we lost our cable. In itself, that wasn’t so bad but I use the cable for landline telephone and internet service. I have a backup system for the internet but it is not the preferred alternative.

And then the rains came and the flash floods followed and parts of Vermont and New Hampshire became separated from the rest of their respective states. Here again, I don’t think that people were entirely prepared for this. And these flash floods are making it that much harder because of the damage to the roads and the access ways.

There are those who will say that God directed Irene to the East Coast, to drown the politicians in Washington, D. C., or at least send a message to them. That may be well and good but the politicians were on vacation and very few of them were in Washington. And while I am not entirely upset that multi-million dollar homes built on the seashore may have been damaged, I had to worry about those who have no homes or don’t have the funds to repair any damage to their homes. We had made the decision to not serve breakfast at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen on Sunday because we were certain how bad the weather would be or if we would be able to cross the Hudson River. The decision had been announced that if the winds from Irene approached 60 mph, the Hudson River Bridges from New York City to north of Poughkeepsie would be closed. Also, there was a state of emergency declared in Newburgh so we couldn’t have gotten to the church anyway. Ours is a limited ministry so we were not able to provide those who came on Saturday with extra food stuffs for Sunday. And as at least one other blogger noted, while we may have been safe and sound, albeit without power on Sunday, how did those who had no shelter survive a night of continuous rain and wind?

I would hope that the events of this past weekend have opened the eyes of the people to the world around them. We are now faced with the possibility that many conservative politicians are going to demand that more cuts be made in the social programs of this country in order to fund the recovery efforts that we must make. And we are already seeing promises made to the heartland of this country, to the people of Joplin, Missouri, that they would receive funds to recover and rebuild are being stripped to fund the recovery and rebuilding efforts in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

But, at the same time, we still spend how many billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan? When conservative politicians decry the waste in Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and other social programs, why do they not yell as loud or louder about the waste and loss of funds in the money we send to support our war effort?

Peter did not like it when Jesus spoke of having to go to Jerusalem. We don’t seem to like it when we are called to do things for the least of our citizens. And yet when we say we are Christians we are saying that we are prepared to make that walk to Jerusalem. Paul, in writing to the Romans, wrote of the things that we need to be doing and the things that we need not be doing. The reading concluded with Paul telling us that we see our enemies hungry we should feed them. And if they are thirsty, then we need to get them something to drink.

And if we are to do that for those we hate, what are we supposed to be doing for those we profess to love? Shall we only worry about those whom we would rather be like or do we need to worry about those whom we would prefer to not to know even exist?

When Moses encountered the burning bush that day so long ago, he heard God say that He, God, had heard the cry of His children and it was time to bring them home. And then God said to Moses that it would be Moses who led them home. And Moses could only offer excuses as to why he was not the best choice. We know how that story turns out – Moses will lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and bring them to the Promised Land.

From that encounter on a dusty road came the beginnings of a new nation. And from that nation and what would develop began part of our heritage. It certainly wasn’t dusty and the winds and the rains have pretty well taken away the roads but it is possible that we have encountered God this past weekend. It is an encounter which calls to question not what the politicians are doing but what we are doing. It is an encounter that calls on us to make sure that all people are taken care of and not just a select few. It is an encounter that calls on each one of us to examine the road we are walking and making sure that it is the same road that Jesus is walking. We can be like Peter was in this passage and seek to turn away from that path. Or we can like Peter will become, the leader, and begin the walk.

Consider what has transpired these past few days and consider where you will walk in the coming days. Just has Saul encountered Jesus on a dusty road to Damascus, just as Moses encountered God on a dusty road in Midian and just as Peter encountered the Christ on the road to Jerusalem so too have we each encountered Jesus. What shall you do?

 

A Question Related to Academic Publishing


When I began my academic career I vowed that I would never buy into the “publish or perish” mindset.  In somewhat of a retrospect view, perhaps that was not the best idea I have ever had.

It has been some time since I published any chemistry educational research but then again I haven’t done research either.  That’s the conundrum that one faces when one is in a teaching situation.  When the emphasis of the institution is on teaching, research is not often possible.  And research is what is needed in order to publish research-oriented manuscripts.

But I haven’t left the area of chemical education; just haven’t written much about it in professional journals  or done any serious writing.

That is not to say that I haven’t done any writing or considered what is happening in the area of chemical education. I serve as a reviewer for the Journal of Chemical Education and I reviewed a textbook for Physical Sciences Educational Review in 2003.  I also had a piece on science education published by Energion Publications (“A Not So Modest Proposal”, Energion Publications)

I have written a number of posts that deal with science education, the topic of academic freedom and the relationship between science and religion (generally speaking they are listed under the chemistry category).  The only problem is that they are posted on my blog, not in an academic journal.  And that poses the question – “Can one list on their vita or publications list items that have been posted to their personal blog?”

A second question would necessarily have to be “Does the posting of a piece on one’s blog or any blog for that matter allow for peer-review?”

When Marcin Paprzycki and I wrote our series of research papers on the nature of computer networks and their impact in the classroom we foresaw the development of electronic journals.  What we did not foresee (nor did anyone that I am aware of)was the development of the blog as a communication tool.  If the essence of science includes publication, then we have to consider how documents that one posts on the Internet as a blog post are treated in one professional career.

Having said that and knowing that quite a few people use the piece “An Assignment on Academic and Scientific Integrity”, should it be listed on my publications list?

Should there be a second list of those publications that are more related to my discussion of science and religion and the interface between the two?  And in this day and age where science and religion are treated as “enemies”, should I even discuss the fact that I live and breath in both worlds?

 

“Doing the Right Thing”


I am preaching at Long Ridge United Methodist Church (Danbury, CT) and Georgetown United Methodist Church (Wilton, CT) on Sunday, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Exodus 1: 8 – 2: 10, Romans 12: 1 – 8, and Matthew 16: 13 – 20. The service at Long Ridge starts at 9:15; the service at Georgetown begins at 11. You are welcome to attend.

I began preparing this message a little over a month ago. When I began looking at the three Scripture readings for today, I came to the conclusion that the title of the message should be “Doing the Right Thing.” In the passage from Exodus that is part of the lectionary for this morning, we are told that the Pharaoh has commanded that all new born baby boys be killed. The mid-wives are more afraid of what God might say than they are what the Pharaoh could ever do, so they create a story that explains their failure to follow the Pharaoh’s orders.

Later in the same passage, we read of the birth of Moses and his adoption by the Pharaoh’s daughter. And thus begins the story of the return of the Israelites to the Promised Land. From a historical standpoint, the mid-wives did the right thing. But how do the actions of some mid-wives some three thousand or so years ago pertain to us today?

Paul, in writing to the Romans, writes of what it is we are to do as followers of Christ. And, at least for me, this is where it becomes interesting.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to the Henderson Settlement in Kentucky. I accompanied another adult and four of the youth from my home church for a week of volunteer work. Ours was one of three groups, one from the Ohio area and the other from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Each group worked on a number of assignments, generally fixing or repairing homes and buildings within the area of the Settlement. Some of the work was on the Settlement property; other assignments were in the surrounding countryside.

The Henderson Settlement is part of the Red Bird Missionary Conference. I would think that many people are aware of the Red Bird Mission, which is part of this unique conference of the United Methodist Church. I don’t have all the details with me but the work of the Missionary Conference is, I believe, supported in part by our apportionments. But much of the funding for the Conference, the Red Bird Mission itself, and the Henderson Settlement comes from individual gifts and tithes. In addition, much of the work done in and around the Settlement and elsewhere through the Conference is done by volunteer work.

The interesting thing is that some years ago I lived about two hours from Henderson and, while I knew of the Red Bird Mission, I knew nothing about the Red Bird Missionary Conference or even the existence of Henderson. But while I may not have been aware of either the Henderson Settlement, the Red Bird Mission, or the Red Bird Missionary Conference as they were, I was aware that the three counties of southeast Kentucky (Bell, Cumberland, and Letcher) are among some of the poorest counties in this country (the poverty line for a family of two adults and two children in Bell County where Henderson is located is $21,000 and the median income for the area is $22,000; you do the math.)

If for no other reason than to say to the individuals of that area of this country that they are not forgotten, there is a need for the presence of the United Methodist Church in that area of this country. Sometimes the way that you tell someone that they are not forgotten is to help them do things that they cannot always do on their own. And that is why I went to Henderson two weeks ago.

This was not a vacation trip nor was it done so that I could revisit a part of the country where I lived and served a lay minister. It was an opportunity to put into practice during the week the words said so many times on Sunday.

It was not a vacation by any means. If anything, it provided the opportunity for many individuals, both youth and adult, to experience what I have come to call “working Christianity”, of putting the words taught in church on Sunday into practice on Monday. And this was before I began to consider the words that I would put down for this message today.

While I was there in Henderson I had the opportunity to lead the morning devotions on Monday and Tuesday. Devotions at Henderson are held on the side of a hill overlooking a valley and three crosses (pictures of which are on the Henderson Settlement page on Facebook). On Monday, with those three crosses and the valley as a backdrop, I spoke of the 72 who were sent out on mission trips by Jesus and how they came back jubilant at what they had done.

I have seen that type of expression in the youth and adults who have gone on similar mission trips in the past few years. To go on a mission trip, to work for Christ and not get paid, to give up a week’s vacation time and know that it was not wasted has to have an impact on one’s life.

But when I have read the passage in the past from Mark about the 72, I always thought that the 12 disciples were part of that group. That meant that there were some 60 individuals who went on a mission trip, came back with the glow of success but were never heard from again. What did they do between that passage in Mark and the Resurrection? Did they continue the work that they did in their home town and region? I pointed out to the fifty or so adults and youth that were there on Monday morning that they too would go home and I hoped that they would continue the mission work that they began in the hills of Kentucky during a week in August (“Thoughts for a week in August”).

On Tuesday, I offered a story that I have told many times before. It was a story that caused me to think about who I was when I was a college student, what I was doing at that time and what it meant to say that I was a Christian.

When I was a college sophomore, I was active in the anti-war and civil rights movements on campus. I participated because I thought that it was the right thing to do. But I also thought that my participation in these activities, which I felt were for the common good of the people, would be the key to my getting into heaven. Marvin Fortel, my pastor at that time, pointed out doing good things, in whatever form they may take, will not guarantee my entry into heaven.

Only a true and honest acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s personal Savior will allow the doors of heaven to open up. Now, I suppose this is why we have so many individuals who profess to be Christian but whose actions, words, thoughts, and deeds belie that very idea. They have professed an acceptance of Jesus Christ and therefore expect that the doors of heaven will swing wide open upon their arrival. But the manner in which they have made this profession, often times very publically, belie their actions. They are the ones that John the Baptist and Jesus Himself would call hypocrites. Their actions do not speak of the act of repentance that must also come. You cannot profess Jesus Christ on Sunday and then go out into the world on Monday and forget what you said the day before.

My trip to Henderson also confirmed something that I had long suspected was true. When I was 12, I lived in Montgomery, Alabama. One Sunday, my grandmother, who had come down from St. Louis to visit with us, went to church with us. We attended St. James Methodist Church (this was in 1963 before the merger). Somehow, as we were leaving the church that Sunday morning, Grandma Mitchell got separated from us. When we found her outside the church, we asked her how she got out and she pointed over to a gentleman and said, “That nice young man over there helped me.”

Our response was that that particular young man was the Governor of Alabama, George Wallace. For those who do not know, George Wallace was elected the Governor of Alabama as a staunch and defiant segregationist, and as I found out while in Henderson, a member of St. James Methodist Church. At that time, he had proudly and defiantly announced what the policies of the state of Alabama would be with regards to civil rights and equality in the state. If you did not understand where he stood politically then, I suppose you could say that he was a nice young man. But it was very hard for me, even at the age of 12, to see him as nice.

I will say this; to his credit, Governor Wallace repented of his words and actions and sought to make right the wrongs he once so proudly supported.

I will also say this; it was at that time that I made one of several decisions that would lead me to this particular place and time. I did not know what it meant to be a Christian in 1963; I had very little understanding of what the Methodist Church stood for. But I began a walk that year that I still continue to this day, learning and working about Christ and what it means to say that I am a Christian and a United Methodist.

But it didn’t sit right in my twelve-year heart then to hear a Methodist Governor preach hatred and exclusion, to say, in public, words that run counter to the very expression of what it means to be a United Methodist. There is no doubt that those words, along with the actions of the political establishment of that time, did a lot to push me in the direction I would walk a few years later.

To say that you were a Methodist back then or a member of the United Methodist church today means that you have accepted Christ as your Savior. You have acknowledged, along with Simon Peter, that Christ is your Messiah. And when you make the decision to follow Christ; when you acknowledge Him as your own Savior and you make that commitment to follow Him, your life changes. Your name may not change as it did for Peter or as is it did for Paul on the road to Damascus but your life will change.

And like I learned that spring day in Kirksville, Missouri, some forty-two years ago, when you make the announcement that you are a Christian and a Methodist, you are making the announcement that you understand that you fall short of the perfection of Christ. But, even in falling short, you are willing to work to reach the perfection of Christ, to go out and do as Paul suggests to the Romans:

Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.

It is admittedly a very difficult task, to do something for others when you want so much to take all the credit for it. Our whole society is predicated on the notion that we do things for ourselves and that we seek wealth, fame, riches, and glory because those are the way we will be measured in this world. We live in a world where the words that we say are more important that what we do.

I went to Henderson really not knowing what I would be doing. I found myself doing things and using skills that I hadn’t used in some thirty years. I came back to the dormitory for lunch and dinner with my tee-shirts soaked to the point that they were still not dry the next day. And yet, it didn’t bother me. I was asked to go down and I expected to work, so I did. And I think that is the same feeling that all that came down from Newburgh and those who came from Ohio and New Jersey also felt.

But more importantly, there was something about being there, in the hills of Kentucky that allowed me to remember who I am and what I am. Over the past few months I have seen my ministry evolve from simply pulpit supply to one of caring. It has been a challenge as a small group of people have gone from strangers to part of a Christian community in Newburgh. Many of those in this community are perhaps not Christian but, then again, many of those in the first Christian communities two thousand years ago did not know who Christ was either. But those who did know Christ let them in and supported them in the ways that they had been taught.

As I said to those on the hillside that Monday morning now two weeks ago, I hoped that those who had come to Henderson that week would, like the 60, go home after that first mission trip and continue working for Christ. It is very easy to go home after a mission trip like Henderson, Red Bird, Biloxi, or Haiti and tell everyone about it and then do nothing until next year’s trip. Please excuse me if I sound blunt but when you do that, when you engage in mission work for a week and then rest for 51 weeks, you are doing it for yourself, not Christ. And that is not the right thing to do.

There are many challenges in this area. In response, my wife and I offer a worship ministry on Fridays and Sundays called “Vespers in the Garden”. It is a simple worship service but I have had the opportunity this summer to watch an individual grow in Christ and take on tasks that a few months ago he was only dreaming about. It also gives some individuals the opportunity to hear the Word of God and sing songs of praises in a peaceful setting that offers protection from the world outside. It is often the only worship they get because many of the churches in Newburgh have found a way to shut their doors to them because they are homeless and unemployed.

Our food banks are stressed to the limit and each week more and more people come looking for assistance. On Saturday mornings and Sunday mornings my wife and I host “Grannie Annie’s Kitchen”, which is sponsored by our church. We open the doors of the fellowship hall and offer a breakfast to those who might be hungry. We don’t ask what their situation might be; we do have some guidelines in place so that all may share of the limited bounty that we have. I wish it weren’t the case; I wish that there was a way to do this more often and for more people. We do not do it for glory or honor; we do it because Christ came to feed the hungry and heal the sick and find homes for the homeless. We do what we can with what we have and we praise God that we are able to do a small part. This is not a “feel-good” ministry; it is hard and sometimes burdensome. But it is, I think you will agree, the right thing to do. If you are up to it, I invite you to be a part of this ministry.

There is, in Orange County, a project called “Methodist and Friends Build” which works with Habitat for Humanity to build affordable housing for families that cannot, even in the best of times, afford to buy a home. There is also a project, called “Family Promise”, which is trying to help families who are homeless. You would be surprised how many families there are in this area, this state, and across the country who cannot afford housing, even though both parents are working. These programs offer opportunities and alternatives.

And yet there are those who profess Christ as their Savior on Sunday and then wonder why we allow the homeless, the hungry, the sick, to come to our church. There are those who would say that the hungry, the homeless, the sick or the destitute have no business being in the church at all. They brought their problems on themselves; let them fix them themselves.

And when Jesus ate with the sinners, the religious and political establishment questioned his ministry. What is the right thing to do?

I would encourage you to consider what you might do. Each community is different; each community has different things it can offer. You may not be able to go to Henderson or Biloxi or Haiti or Mozambique but you can do something. It may be that you can help fund a youth trip or something similar. You may wish to support the Red Bird Missionary Conference or parts of it in addition to your regular tithing and support here in the New York Annual Conference. But don’t say that you can’t do something; my mother went on a Volunteer in Mission trip to the Caribbean when she was in her mid-sixties.

But don’t go or give expecting some great reward for your effort. God doesn’t want that nor do the people who you would be helping. And I don’t think you would gain much either. No longer do you work for yourself, expecting riches, fame, and glory for your efforts. You, having proclaimed Christ as your Savior, now do the right thing and work for God.

Thoughts for a week in August


I am at the Henderson Settlement in Kentucky this week (7 August – 13 August) with my home church’s youth group.

The Sunday blog

I didn’t get a chance to post my normal Sunday thoughts because of the trip preparation so I figured that I would do so now. A colleague was basing her sermon for Sunday in part on the passage from Romans. Here are some of the thoughts I put down for her when she asked for my thoughts.

As to the passage from Romans, consider Paul’s question.  If one does not know of Christ and/or God, how then will they ever get into heaven?  There is a philosophical argument that says that if you know nothing of sin, you cannot be a sinner. But once you become aware of sin, then you find that you are a sinner.

I don’t necessarily think that Paul is stating that one must go through Christ to get into heaven.  A devout Jew has a path separate from ours but if they deviate from their path, then they are in deep trouble (this is why I think Paul is referring to Moses at the beginning of the passage).  For us, Christ was sent as alternative and is the One whom we can trust to be there in times of need.

If I were writing a sermon, I would point out that Joseph’s brothers did not like him, let alone trust him and they had no use for the prophecies that came out of his dream.  They felt that Joseph had the good life and they had to do all the hard work.  No one likes a visionary who does not work.

Of course, we can look to the next few chapters and know how that comes out.

And there are times when our faith is tested to the max, when our eyes are no longer on Christ and we find ourselves slipping fast in the ocean of despair.  Who did Peter call on when he began to sink into the Sea of Galilee?  Whom shall we call on?

Those were my thoughts in part on the passage from Romans and how I saw the passages from Genesis and Matthew relating to it. I probably would have entitled the sermon “Trust is a Must”, a portion of a saying from the Hall of Famer bowler Billy Welu (trust is a must or your game is bust).

Notes on Henderson Settlement and the surrounding area

For those that don’t know, the Henderson Settlement is part of the Red Bird Missionary Conference of the United Methodist Church. It is located just outside Middlesboro, Kentucky in the southeast corner of Kentucky. But in one sense it is another part of the world. Cell phones don’t work in these hills and unless you have a reliable wireless network for the internet, communication is limited to regular phone lines.

In a country where the poverty line for a family of two adults and two children is set at about $21,000, the median income for this county is $22,000. There are two population centers where there is work so they raise the income but when you get outside those centers, the average income drops rather dramatically. And the poverty of the area is not limited to just this one county. The county where I lived when I was preaching at Neon UMC is about two hours north of here and its income numbers are very similar to the ones for this area.

For the youth of this area, there isn’t much hope. The only jobs are in the coal industry and we aren’t using as much coal as we did once upon a time. But using coal brings with it a variety of problems. To get to the coal, you must strip the mountain tops which destroy the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. And you have to deal with one of the most insidious diseases ever discovered, black lung disease. Let’s just say that this disease is appropriately named and you can imagine what it does and has done to many a miner.

Those who can only imagine why it is so important to fight for the unions in this country need only look to Appalachia and the fights that went on between the miners and the mine owners.

So the youth of this area stay in the area and work in the mines or they try to get out. I was told today that this area ranks in the top ten for prescription drug abuse among teenagers in the country.

Against this backdrop that is vaguely similar to the times of John Wesley and England in the early 18th century stands the church, especially the United Methodist Church, offering hope and a promise.

It is the promise that the people of this area will not be alone and that there are people who care enough to give of their time and resources to spend a week helping the people of the area. Some of this work involves building and repairing the houses of the people; other times it involves work on the settlement property (our youth did renovation work on the community pool and completed some other tasks that earlier groups had begun but were unable to complete).

For many of the youth, this trip is a life-changing experience. We often see poverty in abstract terms and we often tend to overlook the existence of poverty in own neighborhoods. But when one travels to another part of the same country and discovers conditions that one only can imagine happening in 3rd world countries, it changes one’s perspective.

This week, besides our group, there was group from New Jersey and one from Ohio. The Ohio group first came several years ago and returned each year since that original trip. I think that many of those in the New Jersey group are repeaters. I was the only one in our group that had never been here before.

It is not an easy time and if you think of it as a vacation, relaxing in the sun and swimming in the pool, don’t plan on coming. Each day starts at 7 with vespers (more on this in a moment) and then breakfast at 7:30. The work starts at 8 and you work until 11:15 when you get a break for lunch. The afternoon shift is from 1 to 4 or thereabouts. Dinner is at 5:30 so the time between the afternoon shift and dinner is used for cleaning up. (By the way, the cooks are a great bunch and they are to be applauded for the work they do preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day!)

There is a group meeting on Monday nights to give everyone some of the history of the settlement and the work done at the settlement. On Tuesday, a local bluegrass band offers up some traditional mountain music. This Thursday we will go to the local United Methodist Church for an ice cream social to support the church’s (Hope United Methodist Church, Frakes, KY) youth ministry. Friday will be a closing worship at Hope and then Saturday morning the long drive home.

I will be honest. We often toss around the idea of doing mission work without ever understanding what it is that we are speaking about. The trip to Henderson is part of the Volunteer in Mission program (or I think it is) and should be a part of every church’s plans. Maybe your church doesn’t have enough individuals to come down alone but you could always pair up with another church.

The plans for my home church next year involve staying at a United Methodist Church about ½ way down so that the drive is split into two parts. This way, the connections between Methodist churches is shown.

Giving to Henderson Settlement can be done in a number of ways and are listed on their website. We speak of supporting the church with our prayers, our tithes, our gifts, and our support. This is one way to do it.

Monday’s Vespers

As we gathered together on Sunday evening for the orientation, each group was asked which morning vesper/devotion they would like to do (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday). Our group chose Tuesday. Since no one chose Monday, I volunteered to do it.

The theme for this week was “Open Doors.”

I chose as my Scripture Luke 10: 1 – 24. I looked at the fact that 72 were sent out to do mission work. And I wondered what happened to the 60 (I assumed that 12 of the group were the 12 disciples) after they came back. I can only imagine that those 60 others went to their home and continued the work that began when they went on that first mission trip. Doors were opened for them and they had great opportunities in front of them.

And as I stood on the hillside that morning, looking at some fifty people I had never meet, I spoke of the doors that were opening for them as well as my own group and me this week. Will we go home and close those doors or we will seek the opportunities that lie before us?

Tuesday’s Vespers

For Tuesday’s vespers, I chose Mark 10: 13 – 16 as my scripture. In this passage, Jesus tells the disciples to let the children come to Him. I reminded those that were there of the Gospel reading from a couple of weeks ago where Matthew recorded that only 5000 were fed and how that was only the number of adult men that were present. Too often we forget that women and children were also there (how does the story go? That a child offered his lunch?)

I pointed out that many times that we marginalize the efforts of the youth in our churches and yet it is the youth that is the hope and future of the church. I also pointed out that we do this work, both at Henderson and at our own church, not for what we might gain but because it is part of our reaching for the perfection of Christ.

When we say that we are Christians, what does that mean? Does it mean that we have some sort of guarantee or does it mean that we may have to work just a little bit harder? What does it mean that we say that we are Methodists? Is it just another title or is there substance behind what we do?

I hope that I offered a challenge to those who heard my words on Monday and Tuesday and I hope that you will ponder the ways that you can full the statement that says, “why yes, I am a Christian. I am also a United Methodist!”

WYSIWYG


This is the message I presented at the Walker Valley United Methodist Church in Walker Valley, NY, for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, August 8, 1999.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Genesis 37: 1- 4, 12 – 28; Romans 10: 5 – 15, and Matthew 14: 22- 33.

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How often have you heard the term "what you see is what you get"? Often times, those using computers use the phrase "wee-zee-wig" with means the same thing. In computer terms, it means that what you see on the computer monitor is what will be printed out.

Of course, many people, especially when personal computers first came out, didn’t realize that this was the case and they would try to make what was in their mind what they wanted on paper. When this would happen, the output would not be what was desired and what you saw was not what you got.

Many times, our conversations with others take on the same type of approach. We will be thinking one thing but what others hear may be something totally different. I hope, of course, that my sermon today is not one of those situations.

The scriptures today deal with what we see, understanding what we see and knowing what to do with that understanding. The Old Testament reading for today is about Joseph and the day his older brothers sold him into slavery. Joseph’s brothers were angry with him, in part because as younger brothers often do, he had told their father of something wrong that they had done. In other words, he snitched on his brothers.

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

And there was the matter of the richly ornamented robe that Jacob had given him. If you have brothers or sisters, then you know how gifts given to one sibling or the appearance of favoritism can cause problems with the other siblings.

And last, there was the matter of Joseph and his dreams. Joseph was a dreamer. The Hebrew word used in the OT reading means “master of dreams” or “dream expert” but in the context that the brothers used it, it was used with obvious sarcasm. Joseph saw the future as it might be. But his brothers lived in the present and to them dreams meant nothing. So, in a society where birth order was extremely important, the last straw for the brothers was the dream that Joseph had that had them bowing down before him. When the opportunity came, they sold Joseph into slavery, unknowingly setting the stage for the dream they so despised to become reality. They did not want to see what Joseph saw.

The disciples saw Jesus walking across the surface of the lake but because it was early in the morning and they were perhaps still half asleep and a mist was rising from the surface of the lake, they couldn’t tell that it was Him. Rather, the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost. Wouldn’t you, faced with an unknown apparition that appeared out of nowhere and defied what you knew was impossible, be just as terrified as the disciples were that morning?

What Jesus asks us to do is focus on Him and block out all outside distractions? But many times we are like Peter, eager to do what Christ wants us to do but faltering when we become aware of the outside world.

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

That may be the one thing that keeps us, as it were, from walking on water. We may want to come to Jesus; we may hear Jesus calling us to come to Him, but we hear the wind and we see the waves of water and we suddenly realize that we are sinking. Faith demands that our focus always remain on Jesus

When we focus on the here and now, when we let the distractions of the world around us get to us, there is no way that we can see or hear what Jesus offers us.

The passage from Romans speaks to us today about the nature of righteousness. Righteousness does not require that we do things that go beyond faith and believing. As Paul told the Romans,

But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

Asking Jesus to come down from heaven or to arise from the grave are impossible questions for us to ask, let alone think about. But faith does not require that we do anything like that; it is the real world that makes those demands. All that Jesus asks us to do is believe.

"That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Just as we have to change the way we see Jesus, focusing solely on him, so too must we see the world in a different manner. Joseph’s brothers could only see the world around them and had no way to see or comprehend the future that Joseph tried to tell them about.

The disciples came to know that Jesus was truly the Son of God but when they saw Him walking across the water, the image they saw was not of Jesus but of a physical impossibility. If we try to see Jesus in terms of this world, the world we live in, we will never see him.

Like the disciples that morning, Wesley and others came to see Jesus and His message in a different light. The prevalent attitude of the church during Wesley’s time was that poverty was a result of sinful life. In the sermons of that time, one can read of a real concern for those less fortunate but it was assumed that the only way to save the working class, the poor and downtrodden was to make their lives better. Wesley felt that it wasn’t necessary for those less fortunate to be like their betters but it was necessary to enable them to find the way to Christ for themselves.

Paul challenged the Romans then, he challenges us today to focus on what to do with the word.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

It is not important to have just heard the word and believe in it. We must also take the word out into the world. This can be a very daunting task because we are so prone to see the world around us and let it take away from what we truly wish to see.

When Peter’s focus was on Christ, he could do the impossible, he could walk on water. Yet, when he let the feeling of the wind on his face and he saw the waves lapping against his feet distract him, he lost his focus and fear took over as he sank beneath the water. That is the way life is for us sometimes. Yet, when that happens, whenever we may feel frightened, unsure about what is to take place, all we have to do is remember what Jesus say to His disciples that morning on the lake, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

When we open our hearts and let Jesus be the central part of our life, when we don’t let the outside world distract us from the true meaning of faith, then we can actually see more than we ever thought possible. In other words, when our focus, our faith, is on Jesus, what we see is what we get.