Carrying the load


Here are my thoughts for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, 30 October 2011. The Scripture readings for this Sunday are Joshua 3: 7 – 17, 1 Thessalonians 2: 9 – 13, and Matthew 23: 1 – 12. I have put my previous posts for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A) and my posts for these readings at the end of this particular post.

I have edited this since it was first posted.

Somewhere on my blog there is a note that I hold a Ph. D. in Science Education from the University of Iowa. That means several things. It means that my academic gown is a little more elaborate than the gowns worn by those with Master’s degrees (though I liked the sleeves on the Master’s gown) or those worn by those with Bachelor’s degrees. It would have been nice if I could have gotten a beret to wear but that wasn’t part of the Iowa package. But I am happy with a robe that has a nice hood that shows my area to be science oriented and trimmed with the black and gold of Iowa.

More importantly, for those who are familiar with the field of science education, Iowa is the standard by which the field is measured. Because I choose to do my work in chemical education, it might have been better if I had gone to Purdue instead. Purdue has been the center of chemical education research since the late 1950s, when we began seriously examining the nature of how individuals learned science. But the opportunity to attend Iowa and complete my doctorate there was something that I could not pass up. To the credit of my doctoral committee, they gave me the opportunity to follow some ideas that I had rather than forcing me to choose one of their ideas that, while valuable to the field of science education, did not fit into my own career plans. It should be pointed out that I wanted to stay in and have stayed in chemistry; if I had desired or wanted to pursue a more education oriented career path, it would have been far more beneficial to follow the lead of the faculty at Iowa.

So, I am entitled to the use the title “Doctor” because I have earned it. But as a number of my friends, who supported me in the pursuit of this degree, have told me, they still won’t kiss my ring because of the extra letters I can put after my name.

But I have encountered many individuals who are like the religious scholars and Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading. They have that air about them that says that because they have a doctorate or, even worse, a doctorate from the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, they are to be treated as royalty and every word that they uttered is to be treated as if it were from God Himself. There are on occasion those who even view God as an interloper into their realm. The sad part is that because the way life in academia goes, such attitudes are more prevalent and tend to be the norm, rather than the exception. And if you so desire to move forward in an academic-based life, it is the way that you have to go.

We do live in a world that almost demands adherence to the status quo, even when such adherence works against the goals of the organization. That I have a doctorate in science education means to some that I cannot, as I have written on a number of occasions, also have an active lay ministry. And for some, being an active lay minister in the United Methodist Church means that I cannot have a doctorate in science.

I also think that you are supposed to maintain the status quo when you receive your doctorate, even when your research and your writings are “outside the box” when it comes to the status quo. As I have pointed out on this blog, there have been a number of instances where I did something driven by my research or interests that don’t fit within what others think my doctorate should be about. Case in point – I was doing things relative to computer literacy before computer literacy was even considered a buzz word. Because I was ahead of the curve, I received quite a bit of static instead of praise. I thought that having a doctorate meant pushing the envelope, not simply confirming that wheels are round.

If the title that you have or the place you went to school is all that matters, then I fear that we are in for a very rude awakening in this country. For the simple fact of the matter is that we can’t all go to the very best schools and we can’t all have the fancy titles. Somewhere along the line, we have to get our hands dirty.

Twelve men were picked to carry the Ark of the Covenant across the River Jordan. While they stood in the River, the water stopped flowing and the people could cross safely. The Old Testament reading tells us that the river went dry while the twelve were standing in the river bed. But I wonder if the ground was immediately dry or if took some time to get that way. If it took time, that meant that the twelve carrying the ark were standing in mud for a little bit of time. It probably dried out as the people walked across but it had to be messy at the beginning.

And Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he and Silas worked at other jobs so as not to burden the people. Paul also speaks of the attitude in which they worked. Contrast what Paul to the Thessalonians with what was written about a prominent televangelist a few years ago –

One friend of mine in Texas recently inquired to see if a prominent preacher could speak at her conference. The minister’s assistant faxed back a list of requirements that had to be met in order to book a speaking engagement. The demands included:

  • a five-figure honorarium
  • a $10,000 gasoline deposit for the private plane
  • a manicurist and hairstylist for the speaker
  • a suite in a five-star hotel
  • a luxury car from the airport to the hotel (2004 model or newer)
  • room-temperature Perrier

This really makes me wonder how the apostle Paul, Timothy or Priscilla managed ministering to so many people in Ephesus, Corinth and Thessalonica. How did they survive without a manicurist if they broke a nail while laying hands on the sick? (from http://www.fireinmybones.com/Columns/072707.html – his is only one part of what J. Lee Grady wrote; let’s just say that some of those who claim to be preaching the Word of God are quoting the wrong book.)

It isn’t about who you are but what you do and why you do it. The research professor who simply passes notes to his graduate students about what to do and then write up the research report so that it can be submitted over his name without giving credit will have a hard time understanding the research if he never goes into the lab. The preacher (and there are so many of them today) who proclaim the prosperity gospel the true word of God will have a very hard time when they answer to St. Peter.

But I am concerned with those who listen to those false prophets and accept their words as the divine truth. I am concerned for those who see the poverty in this country but walk on by it; who see the need for housing in this country but choose to let the bankers destroy the housing industry. I am concerned with those who would rather let the insurance companies destroy the medical profession instead of seeking health care for all. I am truly concerned for those who say that the role of a Christian is to make disciples of all the peoples but who have no idea what that means.

It does not mean that we force people to believe as we do. When Jesus gathered with the disciples for what we call the Last Supper he told them love one another as He had loved them. This is how others would know that they were His disciples, by the love that they show for others. To show the love for others means that we must carry the load. We cannot stand on the side of the river and expect others to do the work; we have to be willing to help in whatever way we can. The Bible is filled with those stories that tell us the consequences of not completely the task before us.

In this time of so much uncertainty, it bodes well when we carry the load. Those who refuse to do so will find out soon enough what their refusal means.

To Finish the Journey


Here are my thoughts for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, 23 October 2011. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Deuteronomy 34: 1 – 12, 1 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 8, and Matthew 22: 34 – 46. This has been edited since it was first posted.

Have you been following the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City, in other cities around the country and around the globe? I will be honest; I didn’t think there were enough people in this country willing to come to New York City or elsewhere and make a statement about the way life is going in this country. And the truth be told, if the situation would allow it, Ann and I would probably be down there.

The sad part about this protest is that there are too many people who should be there but aren’t, not because they cannot be there but because they do not understand that they should be there. The issues facing this country affect each and every one of us but there are some who are either unwilling or unable to see what lies before them.

Moses climbed to the top of the mountain and glimpsed into the Promised Land knowing that he would never set foot there. Of course, no one in that first generation of Israelites who left Egypt entered either; they weren’t even given the opportunity to see the goal they had sought. For the benefit of those who aren’t aware, the people had come to the Promised Land once before and sent spies into the land. While all twelve spies returned and confirmed that the Promised Land was indeed a land of milk and honey, ten of the twelve exaggerated the power and force of the people occupying the land. While two of the twelve did report the truth about what lie in the Promised Land, the Israelites choose to believe the other ten. And for this, God punished the people for their lack of faith and rebellion. It would be another forty years before the people would be given the opportunity to complete the journey called the Exodus.

We are at, I believe, a similar place in time. We see the truth before us but we seem to fear what we see. We seem uncertain and hesitant to cross over the River Jordan into the Promised Land because we aren’t certain about what lies there. We are dominated by a mindset that says that what we have right now is better than what might lie on the other side and we are unwilling to risk what we have in hopes of a better life.

I grew up in the 60s hearing those in power proclaim that we needed to maintain the status quo even though that meant maintaining inequality in this land. And yet, that decade started off with John Kennedy pushing this country to go beyond not only the boundaries of this country but the boundaries of this planet. But as we entered into the 70s and we fought a war in Southeast Asia, the cost of exploring the universe became too great. And I can only say that I think it was our fear of failure in Viet Nam that kept us from seeking a better world. And we have kept that mentality up until this day.

Our politics have become the politics of fear and hatred. Our fear has moved us backward in time. We seem bound and determined to return this country to a time when there were only two classes, the rich and the poor. Our middle class is shrinking and will in a few years, if nothing else changes, disappear.

Many of our churches, faced with shrinking populations, are unwilling or unable to see the mission opportunities outside their front, actually their back door. They have turned inward, holding on to what they have with the idea that yesterday was better than today and tomorrow only promises to be a disaster.

Many who call themselves Christian today hear the words of the Bible to treat the immigrant as a friend, not a stranger, because they, the people of the Bible, were once immigrants as well. Yet, while they hear those words, they either do not understand them or ignore them. They would rather build fences and walls that keep others out rather than let others in.

Many who call themselves Christian hear the words of the Bible that say to give comfort to poor and the needy yet often wish that the poor and needy would just accept their lot in life and go away. The 18th century notion that wealth is a sign of righteousness is alive and well in the 21st century. But while righteousness perhaps should imply a certain degree of sharing, the wealthy today want to keep what they have and actually want more. It seems they can’t get enough. It makes one wonder if they plan on taking their wealth and riches with them when they die.

One of the big debates in Jesus’ time was the same as today, taxes. And I would be willing to bet that the Romans imposed a flat tax on all of the citizens of Israel during that time. It is no wonder that the tax collector was one of the most hated persons in the community, especially among the lower classes. The rich weren’t hurt by the tax like the poor were and probably were able to get out of paying taxes most of the time.

And yet, with history telling us that flat taxes are regressive, i.e. hurt the ones with the least, we still seem fixated on the idea that a flat tax will solve all of our problems. I am not saying that our present tax code is that great but I also know that the alternatives before us are worse than the present situation.

I am reminded of a proposal made back in 2003 for a fair tax, one based on Judeo-Christian ethics. As I wrote in “Do As I Say? Or, Do As I Do?”, in 2003 the state of Alabama had and probably still has one of the most oppressive and regressive tax codes in the country. Besides topping out at 5%, the state also has a 4% sales tax. And communities are allowed to add their own sales tax to that 4%, creating in some places a sales tax of 10%.

Susan Price Hamill proposed a new tax code that would have been fairer than the present code, which placed an unfair burden on the poor while benefitting the middle and upper classes. Opposition to her proposal came from some of the places that you would expect (the rich, the land owners, and those who have to pay more in taxes). But opposition also came from the Alabama Christian Coalition who tried to say that Christians have no obligation to take care of their neighbors. And when that interesting piece of Christian theology failed, they resorted to slander.

There comes a time when we have to look at where we are and decide if it is better than where we might be or where we were. The Israelites chose a path that kept those who began the Exodus from ever entering or seeing the Promised Land. It would be the next generation that would be able to enter.

The church of today does not have that luxury; its policies and attitudes have driven most of the next generation away. Those who have stayed have stayed with the promise that they would be the leaders if the policies never changed. These individuals are so hungry for power that they are willing to hold onto the past, even when they see that what they will inherit is dying.

The youth of today, the hope and promise of this country are occupying Wall Street. Surprisingly, the things that they are doing are very similar to the beginnings of Christian communities two thousand years ago. But they don’t know that this is the way the church started because they don’t see it as a church. Rather they see it in what they were taught in Sunday School; they remember what Jesus did.

The Pharisees come to Jesus, again looking to trip him up with a theological question; but, as before He sees through their attempt. Referring to the Ten Commandments, they want to know which is the most important. It is an interesting question because each one of the commandments is different from the rest and you have to use all of them collectively rather than individually. And Jesus states that we are to love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and then to love others as well as we love ourselves. The rest of the law comes from there.

Just as the Israelites stood on the banks of the Promised Land but were unwilling to trust in God and fearful that their individual abilities would do them little good, so too do we put our reliance on the collection of laws and not what the laws are meant to do. We would rather make more laws that restrict than work from the basis of the laws we have. We would rather tell people what they cannot do then try to live as we are supposed. In the end, we would much rather stay where we are than try and finish the journey that we have undertaken.

If we are who we say we are, that is, if we are to be called Christians in today’s society, then we must finish the journey that was begun two thousand years ago. If we cannot love others as we love ourselves, then we will find that journey to be difficult.

We need to hear the words of Paul to the Thessalonians again, how what was said by Paul and Silas was not meant to cover things up or make things easy but to speak the truth. Paul and Silas didn’t come into Thessalonica with the airs of a television preacher, proclaiming the truth as they knew it and the people were to believe it. They did not just give the Message to the people, they gave their hearts and the Love of Christ.

We stand at the top of the mountain overlooking the Promised Land. We are being called to finish the journey but to do so we must leave the baggage of our fears and our hatred and exclusiveness behind. We must take on the mantle of Christ, to love God with all our passion, our prayers and our intelligence. And we are to love others as we would love ourselves. If there is to be a tomorrow in this world, it will be because we finished the journey that is expressed in our love for others.

Are you ready to finish the journey?

Who Shall Feed My Sheep?


Here are my thoughts for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, 16 October 2011. The Scriptures this Sunday are Exodus 33: 12 – 23, 1 Thessalonians 1 – 10, and Matthew 22: 15 -22. . It is also Laity Sunday and I will be at Dover Plains UMC; the service starts at 11 and you are welcome to attend. 

I have edited this since it was first posted. As I was preparing a report, I noticed that I had this piece listed as the 18th Sunday after Pentecost when it was actually the 19th Sunday.

Yes, I know the title of my message is more attuned to what transpires in the Gospel of John following the resurrection (John 21: 1 – 19) than any of the readings for today. But in one sense, what Jesus asks Peter to do in that passage very specifically relates to what this day, Laity Sunday, is and should be about. So bear with me as we look at the three readings for today.

Let us first begin by remembering what this part of the country looked like some two hundred and sixty years ago. Route 9 from New York northward was, if I am not mistaken, first called the Albany Post Road and so it would have been the major land route north out of New York City. I would suspect that Route 22 would have been here, though obviously not paved. It would have been a well-worn path coming up from New York City. And when you look at the churches between Cold Spring and Carmel along NY Route 301, you know that there had to be a path there as well.

Those who had come to the shores of this country came seeking a new life, hoping that their future here held more promise than their lives in the old world ever would. Perhaps they came escaping an unpleasant past and/or present and just wanted the chance to start over. Others perhaps just wanted to start anew and fresh. Settlers to this part of New York would have followed these early land routes as well as sailing up the Hudson to find a place to live and begin their new life in this wondrous new world.

But starting over and beginning anew is more than coming to a new country and building a home. No matter how you want to romanticize it, it was and still is hard work.

Those who came to this new world knew that there was nothing here; nothing, at least, in terms of what they left behind in the old country. There were no towns; there were no schools; there were no churches. All that was once part of their life was left behind in the search for a new life in the new world.

And within the framework of each individual is a desire to know more about the world around them and there is a desire to understand and know that God is a part of one’s life.

So this new life required that you find a place to build a home and as people came you began to build a town, a school, and a church (especially when you came to this country to escape religious persecution in the old country). You built the school for the future of your community, though I sometimes think that we have forgotten that. And in many towns, especially in the mid-west, you know that the town is dying when the school closes or consolidates with another school.

Churches were and are an integral part of any town’s community. It is about having a place where one’s soul can be refreshed; it was about having a place where their souls could be feed. You built a church to give one’s soul a chance to recharge (and I will say that I know we have forgotten that). There is a great sadness in many communities across this country, not necessarily in the rural areas, when a church has to close its doors.

In those early days of this country, it wasn’t just a matter of building the schools or the churches; it was also finding the teachers and the preachers. When you look at the history of higher education, you see that the first colleges and universities were directed towards the training of ministers (which might surprise many of the alumni of those institutions). But those who were in school were not going to be in the pulpit for some time and the people were, if you will, very hungry.

It was a hunger that John Wesley understood and one he struggled to fill. His problem was that the Church of England was not willing to send ministers from England to lead the congregations that had aligned themselves with Wesley’s Methodist Revival. And Wesley was reluctant to appoint/ordain anyone. Ultimately, John Wesley will appoint individuals to lead the new Methodist congregations in this country. But, “The rise of American Methodism is largely the story of self-motivated laypeople whose experience of God’s redeeming grace compelled them to preach and organize societies, which later were linked together to form the earliest connection…” (From “That Dear Man of God:” Edward Evans and the Origins of American Methodism as quoted on http://www.methodist-motion.org/id43.html)

From the laity came the first circuit riders, those individuals (not always men) who traveled from location to location bringing the Word to the people. When one looks at the churches in this region of the Hudson Valley where we live, we see the sites and locations where they visited and preached.

But it does not matter whether we are talking about America in the early 18th century or America in the present time. People still feel the need to feed the hunger in the soul; they still need a place where they may find rest and comfort from their labors. And perhaps more so today than 250 years ago, they need to know that there is a reason for what is happening in this world. In a world of anger, hatred, violence, and war, they need to hear that there is an answer and it is not the answer of more anger, more hatred, more violence or more war.

The people know that the answer to this hunger, the place where they can find the answers, the place they can find rest and comfort is the church. But it is hard to find the answers at times when the world demands we pay more homage to Caesar than we do God.

We have become a society in which the weekend has become an extension of the workweek and we fail to realize that our soul needs rest as much as our body does. The Biblical notion of a day of rest every six days has somehow become the idea that everything not done during the previous six days must be done on the seventh.

And the church is as guilty of this as any other societal institution. Instead of being the place where we can find rest and comfort, it is another societal institution demanding our time and energy. We have forgotten what the church is and was about.

There is a balance between what we do for the church and what we do for God. It has become more of a social thing where we worry about paying the bills or the color of the carpet or when to have the next fund-raiser. If we were more in terms of what the Thessalonian church was doing, then the societal issues would be easily resolved. If the church today were more focused on providing that which the people truly need, then many of the issues that so dominate this world would probably disappear.

The cynic and the skeptic will tell me that this is all well and good but the church has to pay the bills or it cannot do the work. But people don’t talk about the church that pays its bills; they talk and they visit the church that welcomes them as Christ welcomed us. They talk and visit churches where the spirit of the Lord is alive and present in the thoughts, words, deeds, and actions of the members of the church. And I, unfortunately, know from my own experience that visitors to the church don’t want to hear about the financial problems of the church or the need to get involved in the next big church project/fund raiser.

Most of those words were written this past Wednesday afternoon. That evening, I received Dan Dick’s post. Hear what Reverend Dick wrote about the United Methodist Church in general,

As I prepare for General Conference I am reminded again that there are two churches in today’s United Methodism: one that is concerned with its own survival and existence that will spend exorbitant amounts of money to justify its own existence and a much smaller church that wants to serve God and Jesus Christ in the world. One is concerned with numbers; the other is concerned with lives. One is concerned with image; the other is concerned with integrity. One is concerned with power and control, the other with justice and service. We stand at a crossroads. We need to make a choice. Will we sell out to a lesser vision of church as social institution or will we rise up to BE the body of Christ? It begins with discipleship — and if our leaders are going to make this rich and wonderful concept meaningless, we are in deep, deep trouble.

(http://doroteos2.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/discipleshi)

There are many challenges facing the church, be it the church in general, a specific denomination or a specific church. The competition between Caesar and God will not be won by condemning Caesar nor will it be accomplished by making God the new Caesar. It will not be accomplished by marketing the church or finding ways to make the church seem like it is part of society.

There was another reason why I entitled the sermon what I did. There is a song by Jefferson Airplane entitled “Good Shepherd” which is based on the words that Jesus spoke to Peter in John.

If you want to get to heaven
Over on the other shore
Stay out of the way of the blood-stained bandit
Oh good shepherd
Feed my sheep

One for Paul
One for Silas
One for to make my heart rejoice
Can’t you hear my lambs acallin
Oh good shepherd
Feed my sheep

If you want to get to heaven
Over on the other shore
Stay out of the way of the long-tongue liar
Oh good shepherd
Feed my sheep

One for Paul
One for Silas
One for to make my heart rejoice
Can’t you hear my lambs acallin
Oh good shepherd
Feed my sheep

Interlude

If you want to get to heaven
Over on the other shore
Stay out of the way of the gun shot devil
Oh good shepherd
Feed my sheep

One for Paul
One for Silas
One for to make my life complete
Can’t you hear my lambs acallin
Oh good shepherd
Feed my sheep

I used that song as part of the basis for a sermon a couple of years ago (see “A Rock and Roll Revival”) and in preparing that sermon I found that the lyrics for a 60s rock and roll song came from an early 19th century Methodist preacher. More importantly, it was what Jorma Kaukonen, the lead singer for the Airplane on this song, said about singing passages from the Bible. For Kaukonen, such songs as this one have opened the door to the Scriptures for him.

And I truly believe that is what the church must do today in order to feed the sheep of the world. It must find avenues and doors in the world around us that will open the Scriptures to the people who have that hunger that only the church can feed.

We cannot feed the sheep with platitudes and good wishes nor will they eat when all they receive from the church is rejection and hostility. Right now, I fear that too many churches have taken the attitude that the world outside the church should be left behind, never to be seen again. But what will you do when people find God in the world of rock and roll songs? When Jesus told his questioners to render unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s and render unto God that which was God’s, he was telling them to put things in perspective and priority. God does come first, no matter how or where you find Him.

The question is a simple one, “who will feed my sheep?” Our task is to feed the sheep wherever they may be. The people did not come to the circuit rider; the circuit rider came to the people. So who shall we call upon?

Moses asked God who was going to lead the people of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land and God said that he, Moses, would. Not some highly trained preacher or minister but a simple shepherd. Of course there were no highly trained preachers or ministers back then; there was just a group of people leaving a life of slavery and toil to return to the land of their ancestors, to return to a land of hope and promise. Moses would have Aaron, his brother, to help him but all the work would be done by the people.

When the Methodist Church began in this country two hundred and seventy some years ago, there were no trained preachers but there were committed lay people, willing to undergo the trials and tribulations of traveling town to town on nights when, as the old saying goes, the only thing out were Methodist circuit riders and crows.

Now, in the 21st century, when the people of the world cry out in anguish and pain because they sense that they have been forgotten and abandoned, when the bodies of the people and the souls of the people cry out in hunger, both sustenance for the body and sustenance for the soul, we hear Jesus again calling to us, “who will feed my sheep?”

On this Laity Sunday, there can only be one answer. Are you prepared this day to answer?

Thoughts on the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry


I don’t know about you all but I find this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry to be very interesting, especially in terms of chemical education.

First, was the comment on NPR the other day that the chemistry community in America did not respond well to the initial discovery, especially with Linus Pauling thinking that it was nonsense and discouraging anyone from looking at it see – “Noble-Winning Chemist Fought Hard For Acceptance”).

My initial thought upon hearing about this research was “is it in the textbook?” My response was that I don’t think it is. Now, I am thinking in terms of the introductory chemistry textbook, not upper level inorganic or physical chemistry textbooks. I don’t think that I have even seen any reference to it on-line. Now, I may be incorrect in that regard and if so, let me know (gently, please).

But the comment in the NPR story leads me to believe that because a giant in our field didn’t think the discovery was important that it is not in the textbook. Why put something in the textbook if no one or at least someone doesn’t think it is important. What does this say about the nature of what
we teach? Personally, I would rather and do teach chemistry instead of teaching the textbook. But I would like the textbook to stay abreast of the material so that we are not caught off guard. That’s why I think this year’s award is so interesting. It proves the need to relate the text to the material rather than the material to the text.

Then again, Funky Winkerbean had it right, don’t you think? See “People walking on the moon?”

I Don’t Like Rules!


Here are my thoughts for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, 2 October 2011. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Exodus 20: 1 – 4, 7 – 9, 12 – 20; Philippians 3: 4 – 14; and Matthew 21: 33 – 46.

I will admit it – I don’t like rules. Now, I am not talking about rules that come about from life and life’s experiences. Things such as knowing that hot glass looks the same as cold glass or one should never stick your nose in something to see what it smells like (there is a technique that we teach in the lab to do that). We might call such rules common sense but they were taught to us somewhere along the way.

Of course, there are times when I wonder how we teach someone about those rules. It certainly doesn’t make sense to let a two- or three-year old touch a hot item and burn their fingers just so that they will know that hot things can hurt. And it does take some time to learn that the way you smell things doesn’t require inhaling it unless you take a whiff of something noxious and quickly learn that isn’t what you do.

We learn to play baseball, football, soccer and other games by knowing what the rules are. The rules tell us what we can and cannot do. But there are other rules that come about because someone said that is the way things are done and that is the way we are going to do it.

There appears to be a rule that dictates how worship is be done in a church, even though we have little knowledge of how worship was done in the beginning church. There appears to be a rule that states that individuals such as myself cannot profess to be a Christian and work as a chemist (this rule also appears to have a corollary that says scientists cannot be Christians or religious).

There appears to be a rule that says this planet is ours to do with it what we please. And when someone speaks of global warming and what it is doing to the climate, we are to cast aside such warnings as frivolous, if not meaningless. God did not give us this planet to do what we wanted; he made us stewards to take care of it.

The church, the very essence of the vineyard in today’s Gospel reading, is not our church but God’s. And yet we act as the workers who ignored, stoned and killed the servants of the vineyard’s owner. And the warning that Jesus gave to the Pharisees and the scribes is a warning that should be heeded by many leaders in today’s churches, no matter the denomination. They may not have killed Jesus but they have cast him out of the vineyard and decided that the church is theirs to do as they please.

I now that at some time in the past I had memorized the Ten Commandments; it is part and parcel of the confirmation process. And I think that when one starts learning about faith and religion, it is important to do so. But somewhere along the line in one’s development, it becomes important to understand that these are not rules, carved in stone, to be rigidly obeyed. They are commandments, to be lived and honored, to be a part of one’s life.

Keep in mind that in the coming chapters of the Old Testament, there are going to be many, many more rules. All of these new rules are going to be an understanding of what the Ten Commandments mean; by in another sense, they are going to be loopholes through which people can crawl so that they can say they have upheld the commandments of God while finding a way to play golf on Sunday, or find no contradiction between against abortion but for the death penalty. It is perfectly alright to say that we don’t covet our neighbor’s things because we are so busy getting things for ourselves.

Paul, writing to the Philippians, warns us those who are more interested in appearances that carrying out the words of God. They are more interested in how one adheres to the rules than how the Spirit is a part of their life. Paul says, at least to me, it is what you do with what you know that counts. Just being able to check things off and say that I have done this and I have done that so therefore I am eligible this much of God’s grace is not the way things are done. Paul recognizes that his life as Saul was trapped in the maze of rules and rule enforcement; as Paul, he knows that such a life was a prison.

Even our own John Wesley understood this. Like Paul, Wesley would probably admit that he didn’t have it altogether, especially in those months and years before Aldersgate. His life was a life of checklists and things to do, things done in the hopes of achieving grace. It wasn’t until the presence of the Holy Spirit came into Wesley’s life did it become clear how God’s grace was achieved.

There is one rule that we must follow. It is that we must repent of our previous live and open our hearts and minds to Jesus Christ. Repentance means to begin anew, to seek a new life.

Yes, I don’t like rules especially those written by others. But the words, given to the people by God, are not rules; they are a way of life. The words Jesus spoke when he began his ministry were not rules but the fulfillment of the rules and the words. They were an acknowledgement that one must repent of one’s old ways, of one’s adherence to strict and confining rules, and to begin a new life in and with the Spirit. You cannot lead a new life through strict adherence to the rule. Maybe that’s why I don’t like rules. But, in my own personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as my Savior, I have a new life and a new outcome.

The choice today, my friend, is the same that it has been every day for some two thousand years or so. Live within the rules and be trapped or let the presence of Jesus Christ enter into your live and set you free.