“The Results of Our Work”


This is the message that I gave at the Bethel Home on 28 July 2002 (the 10th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A). The Scriptures were Genesis 29: 15 – 28, Romans 8: 26 – 39 (which I didn’t use because of the time frame for the service), and Matthew 13: 31 – 33, 44 -52.

Jacob loved Rachel. This is one of the basic ideas of the Old Testament, one that is used to illustrate the reason for Joseph being sold into slavery. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son because Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife. In the Old Testament lesson for today we find out that Jacob worked seven years for Rachel’s father Laban in order to marry her. But when the wedding feast was over, Jacob found out that he had married Leah, Rachel’s older sister.

As Laban explained it to Jacob, he could not marry Rachel until Leah, the older sister had been married. This was the custom of the time. So it was that Jacob, the trickster had been tricked. Most commentary points out the irony of this. For Jacob had tricked his older brother Esau and then his father Isaac in order to gain the birthright and inheritance that came with it. It is only fitting that the trickster gets tricked when the time came. But Jacob loved Rachel enough that married Leah and worked another seven years in order to marry Rachel.

I am not sure if Jesus was thinking of Jacob when he taught his followers the parables that were the Gospel reading for today. But the points that he made in the lesson could be related to what happened to Jacob. If our focus is on the immediate results of our work, we can easily lose track of what we seek.

What good does it do for us to sell all that we have just so that we can get the one pearl of value? How shall we get anything else? The treasures might be in the field that we buy but they are still buried and beyond our reach.

The mustard seed is small and almost impossible to see but the rewards gained when it is planted and allowed to grow are incomparable. The value of the yeast is not in what it is now but in what it does to the loaves of bread.

In the parables we heard today, Jesus pointed out that the keys to the kingdom of heaven were not in the things we do today. He made it clear time and time again that there was only one way to gain that entrance.

It is not always that easy. The things around us can easily sidetrack us from what we seek. But when we have made Christ the center of our life, when we let Christ be our guide, then our work takes on a different meaning. Instead of rewards gained now on earth, our rewards are the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

And at times when we might feel weak, at times when it seems like we cannot gain that reward, we are reminded that Jesus died so that the keys to heaven were guaranteed. The results of our work may never be enough, but if our focus is on Christ and his presence in our lives, then like the mustard seed which grows beyond what it is, then our work goes beyond the immediate and the keys to heaven become our reward.

“Signs (1997)”


This was the message I gave at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church (Brighton, TN) for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), 3 August 1997. I am pretty sure that I used 2 Samuel 11: 26 – 12: 13, Ephesians 4: 1 – 16, and John 6: 24 – 35 as the Scriptures for this Sunday.

When I first read the scriptures for this Sunday and the comments by the people to Jesus about seeing more signs, I thought about a song from the 70’s entitled “Signs” by the Five-Man Electric Band. In the song, the opening lines are “signs, signs, signs, everywhere there are signs.” And as we drove up to Pleasant Grove this Sunday I thought about all the signs that we saw along the side of the road, including the various signs churches has.

In the song, one of the signs is about keeping trespassers out and the second sign mentions that “long-haired freaking people need not apply”.

In response to this second sign, the lead singer sticks his hair up under his cap and goes into apply for the job. The owner of the business indicates that the job is his because he looks like a fine-upstanding young man; to which the singer pulls off his cap and exposes the business owner for a hypocrite.

Each day we see a lot of signs, signs that tell us which direction to take, when to stop, when to go. We see signs in stores telling us what the prices of various goods are. Of course, some of these signs are also designed to get us to buy certain products.

And in a broader sense, that is the way our life is today. We see signs but the meaning that we read into them may not be what the sign is all about. Last week, there was a TV show about the prophecies of Nostradamus and how they could come true in the year 2000. The broadcast was last Wednesday because there were 1000 days until the next millennium. As each day brings us closer to the year 2000, we hear more about the coming millennium.

But this is also an example of how we can misread signs. The next millennium does not start on January 1, 2000, but one year later on January 1, 2001. So every one who puts stock in reading the signs is going to be off by one year. As Paul points out in his letter to the Ephesians, we must be careful and avoid the trickery and deceit of others.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.

Now I am not saying that those who think the next century starts in 2000 are deceitful or otherwise; it is just that their information is wrong and we must be careful about what we do with false information. For those who feel that the end times are approaching, Christ himself told us that we should always be prepared for His coming because we cannot know when He might come again.

The prophet Nathan came to him and told David a story about two men.

The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he come to him, he said, “There were two men, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.”

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his won sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

Instead of selecting a lamb from his own flock, the rich man took the only lamb of the poor man. David saw the injustice in such an action and demanded to know the name of the rich man so that he could be justly punished.

David saw the signs but did not know what they meant. Can you imagine David’s shock when Nathan pointed out the he, David, the King of Israel and Judah, was the guilty man for having stolen the wife of Uriah from Uriah and then ordering Uriah to lead his men into battle knowing that Uriah was certain to die.

“You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, say: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

Nathan made it very clear to David that his punishment would be as severe as what David proposed for the rich man in the parable.

To the people seeking Jesus that day in Capernaum, the miracles they had witnessed, the feeding of the multitudes, the healing of the sick were all signs that Jesus was the king they longed for to lead them out of the oppressive Roman rule. Yet, the people did not understand what those signs represented.

The people of Israel saw Jesus feeding the multitudes in the same way that they remember Moses feeding their ancestors during the Exodus from Egypt. But like those who see the year 2000 as the beginning of the next century, the people of Israel had forgotten who it was that provided the manna each day of their wanderings. Because they didn’t understand what they saw and because they had forgotten their history, Jesus pointed out that they weren’t ready to do His work.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous sings but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the father has placed his seal of approval.

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

We ask that same question each day.

How are we to know, or find out, what the Will of God is? I do not think that any general answer can be given to this. In clear moral or political issues, we must surely judge and act by the great truths and demands of Christianity; and if we have the pluck to do this, then, as we act, more and more we shall perceive the direction of the Will. That choice, cause, or action, which is least tainted by self-interest, which makes for the increase of happiness – health – beauty – peace – cleanses and harmonizes life, must always be in accordance with the Will of the Spirit which is drawing life towards perfection. The difficulty comes when there is a conflict of loyalties, or a choice between two apparent gods. At such points many people feel unaware of any guidance, unable to discern or understand the signals of God: not because the signals are not given, but because the mind is too troubled, clouded and hurried to receive them. “He who is in a hurry,” said St. Vincent de Paul, “delays the things of God.” But when those who are at least attempting to live the life of the Spirit, and have consequently become more or less sensitive to its movements to have no clear light, they will often become aware, if they will wait in quietness, of a subtle yet insistent pressure in favour of the path which they should take. The early Friends were accustomed to trust implicitly in indications of this kind, and were usually justified. When there is no such pressure, then our conduct should be decided by charity and common sense; qualities which are given to us by God in order that they may be used.

We have to read the signs, not with our own view of the world but with the view that God wants us to have. Yes, this may be difficult.

Are we able to meet the challenges this world presents to us each day? Can we change what seem to be signs of gloom into hopes for the future? All we have to do is see the signs that are in front of us. By his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus reclaimed us from sin and as Paul wrote

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says” “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

With all the troubles in the world today, there are those who are certain that it is the end time and that God again has forgotten his people. But just as the people of Israel forgot who provided the manna that fed them each day in the wilderness, so too have people forgotten that Jesus told us we would never know the time of His return and that we should always be prepared. But the situation, no matter how grim it might seem, is not what it seems. We have been given the gift of God’s grace, if only we accept what Jesus told us so many years ago,

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Can we do the works of God?

Christian ministry is more than doing good. Ministry is an act of service performed either consciously or unconsciously in the name of Christ. Ministry is Jesus Christ expressing his life through us. It is born, therefore, not in activity, but in solitude, where through the spirit we experience the power of life from within. No one becomes a “minister.” Rather in trust we so open ourselves to the Spirit that Jesus Christ can express his ministry through us. Prayer and ministry, therefore, are indissoluable. In the stillness of meditative prayer we are confronted by God’s loving claim upon us – the most intense intimacy a human being can experience. To know this intimacy we have only to let go. Instead of relying on our own initiative, where we are in control, we discover that we are participating in what God has already initiated within us.

So we have been given the signs, the gifts we need to make this world a better place. And it makes the last verse of the song I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon even more appropriate now. For at the end of the singer’s journey, he came to a sign which said “Everyone welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray.” And to this the singer made his own sign “Thank you God for thinking about me; I’m alive and doing fine.”

The signs are there and you don’t have to look very far to know that God is present.

A Litany For A Cross Dedication


On Sunday, August 19th, we are dedicating a cross in the Children’s Garden at Grace UMC in Newburgh, NY. This cross is made of steel I-beams from the World Trade Center and was given to the church on 9/11/2011.

My message that evening as we prepare to dedicate this cross is “Oppression or Freedom – Think Twice” and is based on 2 Samuel 18: 24 – 33, Ephesians 5: 15 – 20, and John 6: 51 – 58. I haven’t begun thinking about all that I am going to say but I do know that one theme that I will use is that “this cross is planted in a Children’s Garden and it is a garden for peace, not violence. Those who want this cross to be a symbol of violence and war must find another cross in another garden.”

I mean no disrespect to those who died in the attacks on 9/11 but I also think that the best memorial that we can offer to them is to insure that such attacks do not happen again. I want to remind the people that the Romans used the cross as a sign of oppression, a sign that one had better think twice before opposing Roman rule. I want to remind the people that the religious authorities of that day didn’t mind using the cross to remind those that followed Jesus that disturbing the status quo and the power structure wasn’t a good idea.

And finally I want to remind people that through Christ’s Resurrection, the cross is a sign of hope and freedom.

What I want to do is conclude the message with the beginning of the litany that dedicates the cross. Here are the beginning lines of that litany:

  • Let this cross be a reminder that Christ died so that we may live;
  • Let this cross, meant to be a symbol of defeat, be a symbol of victory;
  • Let this cross, meant to oppress, be a symbol of hope;
  • Let this cross remind us that in and through Christ we work for freedom and justice.I would like to add a few more lines to this. What would you suggest?

“Notes on the 9th Sunday after Pentecost”


Here are my sermons/messages/thoughts for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost:

Sunday, July 31, 1994 (Year B), Grace United Methodist Church, St. Cloud, MN, “Journey To The Promised Land”

Sunday, July 30, 1995 (Year C), Mulberry (KS) and Arma (KS) United Methodist Churches, “We Gather Together”

Sunday, August 13, 2000 (Year B), Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY, “Life’s Little Rewards”

Sunday, August 05, 2001 (Year C), Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY, “A Vision of the Future”

Sunday, July 21, 2002 (Year A), No message or post

Sunday, August 10, 2003 (Year B), Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, Putnam Valley, NY, What Have We Been Taught?”

Sunday, August 01, 2004 (Year C), Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, Putnam Valley, NY, lay speaker from the Gideons

Sunday, July 17, 2005 (Year A), “Tending The Garden”

Sunday, August 06, 2006 (Year B), Mt. Hope United Methodist Church, Mahopac, NY, “The Life We Lead”

Sunday, July 29, 2007 (Year C), Dover United Methodist Church, Dover Plains, NY, “What Shall We Say?”

Sunday, July 13, 2008 (Year A), Dover United Methodist Church, Dover Plains, NY, “There Is A Choice”

Sunday, August 02, 2009 (Year B), Lake Mahopac United Methodist Church, Mahopac, NY, “What Do You Do With The Gifts You Have Been Given?”

Sunday, July 25, 2010 (Year C), Hankins United Methodist Church, Hankins, NY, “To Build a New Community”

Sunday, August 14, 2011 (Year A), See “Thoughts for a week in August”

“There’s A Sermon In Here Somewhere But First a Warning!”


There is a sermon in this somewhere but it is more important that you also be aware of what is happening before writing the sermon.

A friend of mine received the following e-mail this morning:

From: “Victory Church, UK” <victoryconferencedesk@gmail.com>

Subject: Symphony of Praise – Celebration of Victory Conference 2012.

Date: July 24, 2012 6:49:27 AM EDT

To: <name deleted>

Victory Church, UK.

Greenforge Way

Springvale Ind Estate

United Kingdom

NP44 3UZ

http://www.victorychurch.co.uk/

Host Pastor: Pastor Richard Taylor Email:victorychurchukdesk@gmail.com

Tel Phone: + 44 7045750464

Grace and Peace unto you <name deleted>,

REQUEST FOR SPEAKING ENGAGEMENT

I am Pastor Richard Taylor of the Victory Church,United Kingdom. We are writing to invite you to be our guest speaker at this year Symphony of Praise – Celebration of Victory Conference 2012.  After reading through your profile at http://www.nyac.comThe lord has direct us to email you for this assignment .All travel arrangements,speaking fee and accommodation will be taken care of as soon as you honor this invitation.

Venue

Spurgeon Hall (Church Hall)

Greenforge Way

Springvale Ind Estate

United Kingdom

NP44 3UZ

Date : 4th to 6th of September 2012

Topic:The Effect Of Compromising God”s Standard

We will send you all binding documents including a Letter of
Invitation and Contract Agreement as soon as you honor our invitation. Email any questions you may have. We await your earliest response.

Remain Blessed

Pastor Richard Taylor

Senior Pastor

Victory Church

Tel Phone: + 44 7045750464

Now, as far as one can tell, there is such a church and the pastor of that church is the person named in the e-mail. The link to the web site is valid and that is where the fun begins. When you check the contact information for the church you get an entirely different set of e-mail addresses. Neither of the two e-mail addresses used in the e-mail match the e-mail addresses for the church or the pastor (who has his own private e-mail address and web site).
That particular information prompted me to turn to Google and see what I found. Using Victory church scam I came away with a site which gave me some additional information.

This e-mail and its variants really do nothing wrong; you are invited to preach or sing or do something in return for your expenses being covered. So you are tempted to reply and begin the process. Their reply is to ask that you submit a certain sum of money by Western Union transfer to cover the cost of the work permits you will need for doing the work in the United Kingdom as well as providing your bank information so that the funds can be transferred to you quickly and efficiently. At this point, one either realizes what is transpiring or is taken for a fool.

I guess those who have the 2.5 million dollars in a bank still want to give away the money but they realize that most people would rather work for the funds than simply take them. It is an interesting evolution of the Nigerian bank fund scam; I even got an e-mail from someone saying that they were an FBI agent and they needed my help tracking down one of the Nigerians behind the scam. I might have bought the idea except that it wasn’t an official government e-mail and the e-mail addresses used weren’t official government e-mail addresses. So “they” are trying something new.
I have put notes about similar problems in “An Emerging Technical Problem”and “Continuing Thoughts on Emerging Technical Problems”.

Like I said, there is a sermon in here somewhere but take heed of the warning first.

“Can You Imagine?


I am preaching at Zion’s Hill UMC (Wilton, CT) this morning. The scriptures for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, 22 July 2012, are 2 Samuel 7: 1 – 14, Ephesians 2: 11 – 22, and Mark 6: 30 – 34, 53 – 56. The services starts at 9:30 and you are welcome to attend.  (This has been edited since it was first posted.)

In the e-mail that Pastor Steve received telling him that I would be the lay speaker for today, I was described as a well-seasoned lay speaker. Now, I don’t know if this referred to my cooking abilities or my predilection for Lexington, NC, style barbeque or something entirely different. I suspect, of course, that it has more to do with the fact that I have been a lay speaker for over twenty years and have said that I will go just about anywhere I am needed. At least, I wasn’t described as “half-baked”.

To be honest, I never imagined that when I heard the call from God (or rather felt the call from God) some forty-seven years ago to begin working on the God and Country award that I would be a certified lay speaker in the United Methodist Church or that I would have done or be doing anything similar today. Of course, forty-seven years ago there was no United Methodist Church but the Evangelical United Brethren Church (I was a member of the First Evangelical United Brethren Church, now the First United Methodist Church, of Aurora when I earned my God and Country award) and the Methodist Church, and the merger of the two denominations was just beginning to take place. But when you answer God’s call the only thing that limits what you do is a lack of imagination.

And even when I began a series of assignments in 1995 for the Parsons District of the then Kansas East District and could see the possibilities of being a pastor in the United Methodist Church I could not imagine that someday I would be the 21st century equivalent of a circuit rider traveling the same paths that Francis Asbury, Jesse Lee, and many other circuit riders rode some 250 years ago. I will admit that I have troubling imagining how long it took for them to travel on horseback from church to church, charge to charge when I can get to most of the churches in the New York/Connecticut District from my home in Beacon in an hour or so.

I cannot begin to imagine the troubles and turmoil that the early circuit riders went through. Often times, a stormy night was described as so bad that only crows and Methodist preachers were out. As noted on one web site, life on the trail in 18th century America was so rugged and exacting that half of the early church’s circuit riders died before the age of 33. But their devotion to God and America kept them going. It was a demanding life, as one early preacher wrote,

Every day I travel, I have to swim through creeks or swamps, and I am wet from head to feet, and some days from morning to night I am dripping with water. My horse’s legs are now skinned and rough to his hock joints, and I have rheumatism in all my joints. . . what I have suffered in body and mind my pen is not able to communicate to you.

As the preacher continued, he tells why he suffered as he did,

But this I can tell say, while my body is wet with water and chilled with cold, my soul is filled with heavenly fire, and I can say with Saint Paul, ‘But none of these things shall move me. Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy. (“Nothing But Crows and Methodist Preachers”)

But I have experienced the joy and celebration that those early riders must have experienced when they came to a church but that was only because the church changed the starting time without telling me and I arrived thirty minutes late.

Still, when I see all the Methodist Churches throughout this district and conference I can only begin to imagine and appreciate the sense of purpose and dedication that each circuit rider had when they brought the Gospel message to the people.

It had to have been similar to the sense of purpose that Jesus had when he saw the people coming to him in the Galilean countryside. It had to have been the same sense of purpose that John Wesley had when he saw how the Church of England, his church, the church in which he had been raised, ignored and neglected the lower and working class people of England. There will be some, I know, who might not like the following statement and there will be some, I know, who will be uncomfortable but I fear that one of the problems with the Methodist Church today is that we no longer have that same sense of purpose, that same sense of hurt when we see others hurting in both body, mind, and spirit.

Through both my own upbringing and study, I have a sense of the history of the Methodist denomination and its parallels to the history of this country. One of the first thing that struck me when I began visiting churches in this district as a lay speaker were the numbers stamped or carved into the ends of the pews. Now, from my studies, I knew what those numbers meant but I never had actually experienced such a setting. I know that such numbers were a way of recording which families had rented or paid for that pew (and when someone says that you are sitting in their pew, they are not necessarily joking). I also know that if you could not afford the price of the pew, you and your family stood in the back of the church or in the balcony. It was a very subtle reminder that, in a country dedicated to the notion that all men were free and equal, some men were more free and equal than others.

In that period of time when I was beginning to discern the call God gave to me I taught at a community college in Illinois. A colleague of mine at this community college happened to belong to the Free Methodist Church. I do not recall if we ever discussed just exactly what it was about his church that made it free or why the United Methodist Church that I attended was not free. I would later discover that the Free Methodist Church began as a protest against the purchasing or rental of church pews as well as the unwillingness of the Methodist Episcopal Church to speak out against slavery.

As it happens, the particular United Methodist Church that plays such a prominent part in my life, especially at a time when I was struggling with the very nature of being a Christian, not just the call from God, has carved in stone above the side entrance to the church its original title, “First Methodist Episcopal Church, South”. Since I am a Southern boy, this should not be surprising but this particular church is in Kirksville, Missouri, and is about thirty miles south of the Iowa state line.

But when I joined 1st UMC in 1966, I was not aware of that particular part of the history of the church or the denomination. In fact, I would not discover that particular stone carving until many years later (always remember that you have to live with the words you carve in stone). Truth be told, I would rather have gone to Faith Evangelical United Brethren Church but it was a few miles further away and when you had to walk to church, such things are important. (I had the opportunity to preach at that church, now Faith UMC, a few years ago and told the congregation about my decision; a member of the congregation came up to me afterward and said, “You could have called. We would have come and gotten you.”)

Were it not for my own experiences growing up in the South, I cannot begin to imagine how a church, which began as a ministry to the least of society, could ever be divided and be so against the words that we heard Paul write to the Ephesians today. And it is equally difficult for me today to imagine that words so similar to that which divided the Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1840s into the Methodist Protestant Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Episcopal Church are again being spoken in this day and age. You may disagree with me but the words that I hear being spoken today about who can and cannot be a member of this denomination bear a striking resemblance to the words that divided this church in 1840 and so dominated our society in the 1960s. We are a denomination that placed reason and experience as cornerstones, along with scripture and tradition, in arriving at theological conclusions, yet we are willing to be willfully ignorant about humanity.

Were it not for the fact that I cannot even begin to imagine not being a Methodist, let alone a lay speaker, I might have quit the church a long time ago over similar issues, notably civil rights and the war in Viet Nam. When I was a sophomore at Truman State (then known as NE Missouri State College) in 1969 I saw a world in turmoil. I had grown up in a church that used the Bible to justify segregation and glorified war, where poverty, homelessness, and healthcare issues were non-issues, where one’s decision to follow Christ was literally an order to follow made by church elders and where, if you chose to dissent from their orders, you were ostracized and cast out. Perhaps it was the college environment but it was as much my parents who allowed and gave me the opportunity to think for myself and I had to wonder if I even needed to be in church.

Now, I have said it before but when I began going to college, it was an opportunity to sleep in late on a Sunday morning. But no matter how much I wanted to sleep in late, I couldn’t do it; I had to be in church on Sunday morning. And so it was that I went. And as much as I learned in my classes during the week, I also learned much in church. Not book learning per se but learning nonetheless. I learned that one could do good but that it wasn’t what would open the doors to heaven for you; it was only Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and my acceptance of Christ as my Savior that would do that. But I also learned that, having accepted Christ as my Savior, I had to work for Christ so that others could have the same opportunity as well.

What I remember is that forty years ago I saw a world in disarray and without hope and no means to bring hope. But through my experiences in the small chapel at First United Methodist Church some forty years ago I learned that hope did exist and I could have that hope if I followed Christ with all my heart, all my mind, and all my being. It was a lesson taught to me some forty years ago and a lesson that I have kept in my heart all these years.

I was lucky.  There were churches where I could find the answers to my questions.  I had pastors like George Eddy at 1st EUB and Marvin Fortel at 1st UMC who taught me and guided me.  Without their teaching and guidance I may never have understood the nature of God’s call or realize that one day some years later I needed to do more that simply say that I am a Christian and a Methodist. 

Others of my generation may have had the same questions but could not find the answers.  And in today’s world marked by more violence, where wars are waging and poverty, homelessness, and sickness are more and more part of our lives, there are more people asking the same questions.  Can you imagine where they will find these answers?

The call that I received from God that day in Montgomery, Alabama, that led to my receiving my God and Country Award in 1965 continues to this day, whether it is by traveling to wherever I am needed or just staying at my own church helping run the Saturday morning breakfast ministry or Vespers in the Garden program. I don’t have to get up at 3 in the morning on Saturdays and struggle with a gym that has no air conditioning but if I don’t some people might not get a decent meal. I don’t have to deal with those individuals who suggest that it is alright to serve the hungry low or poor quality food on paper plates and have them eat with plastic utensils. But how would I feel if Christ were one of those who came to our breakfast and he didn’t get the best I had to offer.

I was lucky to have a pastors who helped me to see what the future might be, even if I could not imagine it then. I can only imagine what might happen if I did not answer the call to go somewhere and preach or if we found it necessary to shut down Grannie Annie’s Kitchen.

And so it is that I ask you, can you imagine what your life would be like if you had not accepted Christ as your Savior? And what if you haven’t done so at this time? Wouldn’t it be better to accept Christ as your Savior than to imagine the alternatives that not doing so offers? Wouldn’t it be better to let the Holy Spirit empower your life and let you do things that your imagination can only tap into? Or would you rather imagine the alternatives?

This is an important time in the life of the United Methodist Church. It is an important time for each one of us as well. Can you imagine what will come if we don’t put Christ into our lives?

More Money for Teachers


There is an article out this morning that states that President Obama is proposing to credit an elite corps of master teachers, an plan that will bolster science and mathematics education in this country.  It will cost approximately $1 billion dollars.

On the whole, that is a great idea.  But two things caught my eye; first,  it will reward high performing teachers.  And how will these teachers be determined?  Will we continue to use existing testing procedures which make test scores the basic measure of a teacher’s effectiveness?  As I have pointed out on more than one occasion, the only way that you will ever know if someone is a good teacher is to see what happens to his or her students five or ten years after the class.  Focusing on the short-term tells you nothing about what is going to happen in the long run.  Maybe in a few years, after we have tested every student and know how things turned out, we can offer a correlation between test scores and success.  Right now, we don’t have that capability.

Second, the money will be a stipend paid to current teachers.  I see this as “soft” money, money that can disappear in a heartbeat.  The problem with the science and math education reforms of the late 1960s was that when the money end, so did the reforms.  Schools were expected to continue doing what was done but without the financial support provided by Congress (let’s not even discuss the current attitude in Congress about funding any program that the President suggests).

This is is not about the Department of Education and what it does or does not do.  If, as the article states, there are 80 some programs designed to improve teacher effectiveness, then we probably want to combine, consolidate those programs so that funds are directed where they need to be and not to overhead and needless over-management.

This has to be about the future and our ability to think about the future in ways not yet imagined.  Right now, as I have stated more times than I care to admit, we can solve problems where the answer is in the back of the book; we cannot solve problems that haven’t been created yet.  And when the problem gets created, then it will be too late.

This is about our children, not about ourselves.  If we care about our children, we will work to improve all the schools in this country, knowing that the money spent now will be saved in productivity later.  We cannot make that statement about the educational system right now.

If we are serious about educational reform, let us make sure that we get the best people and we pay competitive salaries from the start.  Right now, those that need to be teaching are elsewhere because they cannot afford to be teaching.  We need to change the salary structure in our schools so that the money goes to the classroom teacher and not the administrator.  We need to make sure that math and science classes have laboratories so that what is taught is used and not simply produced.

I am glad that there is a discussion about giving teachers more money.  I hope that we can do it instead of just talking about it (again).

How to Treat (or not) Treat Visitors


DrTony:

I wanted to “reblog” this because it echoes some of the thoughts I have expressed on a couple of occasions in the past.
I have visited a number of churches over the years and very seldom have I been greeted. Now, I came for a specific reason so greeting was not high on my list (except the one time when the pastor wanted me to come and wanted to know what happened).
I agree with the notes about the web site. I know where most of the churches in this area are and their starting times but I know that many newcomers to the area are going to check the website. If if is out of date or incorrect, they probably aren’t got to go there. The “find-a-church” function on the umc.org page is a great help but I think that many churches don’t even know it exists or what information about the church is given. Same thing about Facebook – Facebook is great if one can get to but is it set up for visitors?
I think that the bulletin is the most crucial piece of written information that any church has; it is the one thing that is likely to go home with the visitor and provide them with the resources to follow up on any questions they might have.
Coffee hour – I have actually been told that people should be grateful that they are getting a cup of coffee after church and that other “goodies” shouldn’t be served. If we see the coffee hour as part of the Sunday morning ministry, that is not a good thought to have.
I hope others will look at this post and consider what visitors will see when they walk into their church.

Originally posted on Tuesdays with Morris:

Today, I found myself thinking about some of the reasons I would not visit or return to any given church. So, I thought I’d share some of those and invite any of my readers to share their reasons too!

1. Horrible Website

  • I’m not really talking about design here…instead I’m talking about content.
  • In the world of church websites, I really think simple/user friendly websites are best.
  • However, some churches have incredible websites that make my jaw drop. I immediately want to visit some churches simply by visiting their homepage. But, this is not the norm, nor the expectation.
  • The expectation is that you will have up-to-date, accurate information. Seriously, if you aren’t going to update your website, you have two options: 1) Put very basic information that will not change often (worship times, location, phone number, etc.) 2) Shut it down.
  • For example, today I visited a website that…

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“The Church For Others”


Here are my thoughts for the Sunday Vespers in the Garden. This should have been entitled “Continuing the Story” but I didn’t think of that until after the Vespers were over.

I have a secret to share with you this evening; I didn’t pick the Scriptures or the theme for this evening’s message or for any of the Fridays or Sundays. They came from a book that I was given when I began lay speaking over twenty years ago. The readings are based on the common lectionary and developed by some group quite a few years ago. I don’t know who the group was or why they picked the particular scriptures, especially for the weekday readings but I do know that the selections were designed so that over a three year period, one will read the entire Bible.

Now, if the readings for today (2 Samuel 7: 18 – 29, Ephesians 1: 1 – 10, and Mark 6: 7 – 13) see a little different than those read this morning, it is probably because 1) the pastor or lay speaker has their own plan in mind (which isn’t all that bad) or 2) they are using the revised common lectionary.

My pastor when I first began lay speaking was John Praetorius and he would set down early one Saturday every August and lay out a series of readings, hymns, and messages for about sixty weeks and then print them out as a booklet for the congregation. Obviously, he didn’t do all the thinking about it in one night, rather writing down his thoughts as they occurred and then putting them together in one long session. And since he was working on a 60-week cycle, he already had some of the weeks already recorded from the previous year’s session. This was the model that he inherited from his father and grandfather, both preachers and bishops in the Evangelical United Brethren Church.

Now, when I began lay speaking I used the basis of this model simply because I would only be preaching a few times a year and it was an easy model to follow. It is also something of the model that we give to beginning lay speakers, pick one or two scripture readings that you are familiar with and write a message that you can use if you are called at the last minute.

When I began preaching every week, it wasn’t easy to use that model so I went to a lectionary based model, first with the common lectionary in my prayer guide and then with revised common lectionary. Following the lectionary is a good idea if because it gives you an outline for the coming weeks and it also allows you to see how other ministers might be using the same three scripture readings. When I was living in Pittsburg, Kansas, back in 1995, practically every pastor was using the same three scripture readings each week but you could easily see that each person had their own take on what the scriptures said.

The downside of the lectionary readings approach is that if you do not read the Bible during the week, you sometimes wonder what or how a particular reading fits into the scheme of things. Also, many of the traditional Bible stories that we learned in Sunday School are not in the lectionary; that is, of course, why we learned them in Sunday School. So, if you only come to a Sunday morning worship and don’t partake in some sort of Sunday School or Bible study, you are likely to miss something. (I bring this up for the most obvious reading and because someone asked me during Grannie Annie’s Kitchen yesterday if there was any sort of Bible study available; the hunger of the soul can be as great as the hunger of the body).

It is not a requirement that the minister or speaker use all three lectionary readings; we encourage beginning lay speakers to focus on one of the three and there are many ministers who will do likewise. I never received those instructions in my beginning classes so I tend to find a way to use all three readings for a Sunday morning service and two readings for the Vespers service on Sunday; it does present some interesting challenges.

I bring this all to you because it helps if you know why we read David’s prayer in Samuel for the first reading this evening. It is entirely possible to read or hear it as it is, without any knowledge about what transpired in the previous section or what is to come in the next section. It sounds as if David is celebrating the presence of God in his life and one might even think, from what he said, that God is going to give a house to David.

I can think of a number of preachers who follow the prosperity Gospel theme that would use that approach.

And while it is a celebratory prayer, it is also a prayer of caution. If we had read the previous section, we would know that the prophet Nathan has told David what God intends to do and that the house of David, David’s family, will play a very important role in the future of Israel and the world. The house that God will build for David is not some physical house but the genealogical house that bring Joseph of Nazareth and his wife Mary to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus.

If we read further, we will find that David wants to build a house for God, a massive temple to house the Ark of the Covenant and replace the tent structure that the Ark is presently sitting in. But God will not allow David to build the Temple and it will be Solomon who builds the First Temple.

Thus, the beginning of the story is that God’s promise to build the house of David is the announcement of Jesus’ birth and ministry. But it does not end there; the story continues when Jesus sends out the 12 into the world.

Again, we have to understand that this is a post-Pentecostal mission but a mission within the context of Jesus’ own ministry. And it is direct contrast to the attitudes of many of the prosperity gospel preachers and those ministers who feel the Word of God is only appreciated in a $2,000 Armani suit or those who would much rather have some sort of magnificent edifice in which to worship God.

I will not argue against the need for some place where we can meet and worship God but the command of Jesus was to fulfill the mission where the people were not, have the people come to the church.

I think it is entirely possible that we could read the passage from Samuel as if we were the ones who were thanking God. If we have accepted Christ as a Savior, we have every reason to be thanking God for what He is doing for us and for our family. But we also have to know the pitfalls and dangers that will lie before us if we keep those blessings and good fortune for ourselves. We are the ones, who like the 12, have been asked, in fact told that we need to go out into the world, to send the demons packing, to bring wellness to the sick, to anoint their bodies, and heal their spirits.

It is not enough to thank God for what he has given to us if we are not willing to share it with others.

“The Church Present Is The Church Future”


This was the message that I gave at Grace UMC (St. Cloud, MN) for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A), 25 July 1993. My scriptures for this Sunday were Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 9 and Matthew 25: 13.

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The measurement of time is an interesting thing. The development of our civilization can be marked by how we measure time. While we use watches and clocks to measure the passage of the day, people in John Wesley had to rely on bulky and unreliable clocks. People in Jesus’ time marked the passage of time through the use of hour glasses. Early man had only the movement of the sun and stars. While we have calendars to tell us what day of the month it is, early man had to rely on the changing of the seasons. It was against that backdrop that the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven;

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to rend, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 8)

But time meant more to this writer than simply passages through life.

“What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the sons of men to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 9 – 11)

Against a background of day-to-day life and the struggle to make a living, the writer saw that God was a part of his life and that he was a part of God’s plan for the world. He knew that without God, life held no promise, that there was no hope in the future. The same is true for us today. As we begin to look towards the year 2000 and the new millennium, we ask what the future will bring us. Will the future bring us hope and good fortune? Or will it bring us pain and misery? Will God remember or forget us in the passage of time?

It has long been noted that the coming of a new century brings with it renewed anticipation for the Second Coming of the Lord. There are some who say that the all of the disasters we have endured this summer, the floods in the Midwest, the excessive heat in the East, and the drought in the South, are all signs that God is displeased with us and His return is imminent.

We are not the first generation to say this. Every generation before us has had someone who looked at society and all of its troubles and interpreted it to mean that now is the time for the coming of the Lord. But Jesus told us that we would never know when he was coming.

“Then the Kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you. Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’” (Matthew 25: 1 – 13)

Nor will we know how he will come. In Matthew 25: 31 – 46 we read,

“But when I, the Messiah, shall come in my glory, and all the angels with me, then I shall sit upon my throne of glory. And all the nations shall be gathered before me. And I will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and place the sheep at my right hand, and the goats at my left.”

“Then I, the King, shall say to those at my right, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, into the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world. For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me water; I was a stranger and you invited me into your homes; naked and you clothed me; sick and in prison, and you visited me.'”

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Sir, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you anything to drink? Or a stranger, and help you? Or naked, and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?”

“And I, the King, will tell them, ‘When you did it to these my brothers you were doing it to me!’ Then I will turn to those on my left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry and you wouldn’t feed me; thirsty, and you wouldn’t give me anything to drink; a stranger, and you refused me hospitality; naked, and you wouldn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.'”

“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ And I will answer, ‘When you refused to help the least of these my brothers, you were refusing help to me.'”

“And they shall go away into eternal punishment; but the righteous into everlasting life.” (Matthew 25:31 – 46)

Jesus may come this afternoon and we might not know it. After all, even Jesus’ own disciples did not recognize him at first after the resurrection. So what can we do if Jesus should ask us what we did to help Him?

There are a number of possibilities. First, we could run away. But then we would be like Jonah. Remember what happened to him? When first called by the Lord, Jonah chose to flee. In chapter 1 of the book of Jonah, we read

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god; and they threw the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call upon your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we do not perish.”

And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us, on whose account this evil has come upon us? What is your occupation? And whence do you come? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.

Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Take me up and throw me into the sea; the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they cried to the Lord, “We beseech thee, O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood; for thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee.” So they took up Jonah and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1: 1 – 15)

Jonah did not simply go to the next city or county to get away from God. He tried to put as much distance as he could between himself and God. It would be like trying to hide from the authorities in New York by going to Los Angeles. But it doesn’t matter where we hide, God can still find us. And, like Jonah, when we get trapped by our efforts to escape, until we come to the Lord, He will not help us.

Second, we could ignore the problem. After all, if God is angry with this country, He has the power to simply wipe it off the map. But, if we choose to take no action, we are like the servant given the single talent. Turn to the parable of the servants and the talents, Matthew 25: 14 – 30. I want to use this parable in its literal terms, using the word talents to mean the skills and abilities we bring to the church. If you recall, the first servant was given ten talents which he used wisely. Because he did so, he returned twenty talents to his master. Likewise, the second servant, given five talents, returned ten talents to his master because he too had used them wisely. But look at what happened to the third servant in this parable, the one who choose to hide his single talent and not develop it. In Matthew 25: 24 – 30 we read

“He also who had received the one came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ (Matthew 25: 24 – 30)

Just as this third servant lost his single talent because he failed to use it, if we do not use our talents, those skills and abilities that God has given to us, we will die. This death may not be a physical death but it will certainly be a spiritual death, leaving us without any hope for the future. A church which ignores its responsibilities to society, a church which does not seek to be a positive force in its community, will likewise die.

Finally the third possibility. Instead of running away from the Gospel or ignoring it completely, we can accept the Gospel message in our hearts and take the Gospel message to the people. Jesus knew that the Gospel message must be taken to the people. He sought a ministry outside the temple walls. In closing the Sermon on the Mount, he told the people

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 13 – 16)

To take the Gospel to the people is undoubtedly the toughest choice we can make. It is tough enough to accept the Gospel; it is even tougher to live the Gospel message. Stephen was stoned to death because he chose to preach the Gospel and challenged people to choose a life in Christ.

John Wesley understood that challenge. He knew that if English society was to change, it’s heart must change first and that could only be done through the Gospel. Forbidden by law to preach in the Church of England, Wesley and his followers, our forefathers in the United Methodist Church, took the message of the Gospel into the fields and the streets of England. On more than one occasion, crowds were encouraged to harass and physically abuse Wesley and the other Methodist preachers. Many an earlier Methodist preacher was put into jail for preaching the Gospel. But we cannot expect others to know the Gospel message if we do not let them know.

But there are rewards. Because they were kind to three strangers, Abraham and Sara, both in their ninety’s, became the parents of the future nation of Israel. Because Wesley preached the Gospel, because Wesley sought to make fundamental changes in English society, many historians feel that the violent revolution which occurred in France was avoided in England.

We do not know when Jesus will come again nor how he will do so. But how we as individuals and as a church act today determines our tomorrow. If we run away from God, we will never receive rest. We will be like Jonah, trapped and with no hope of escape. If we ignore God, we will be like the writer of Ecclesiastes crying that all our work is in vain. We will have no future.

Accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Savior will not solve society’s problems. But by placing Jesus in our hearts and in our souls, we gain the power by which those problems can be solved. We can become like the other two servants whose talents, whose skills and abilities multiplied when they did the work of their Master. We go beyond a simple day-to-day existence. Through our acceptance of Jesus Christ, we receive that special guarantee of the empty tomb, the promise of everlasting life as our future.