I am presenting the message at the combined services of the South Highlands UMC and Cold Springs UMC at 10 am Sunday, July 14th, at the Cold Spring UMC. Come and join in the worship if you happen to be in the area tomorrow. The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, are Amos 7: 7 – 17, Colossians 1: 1 – 14, and Luke 10: 25 – 31. I will be reading the Gospel reading for Dr. Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel, with his added commentary.
I will be at the Modena Memorial UMC next Sunday. Service starts at 10. The Scriptures for next Sunday are Amos 8: 1 – 12, Colossians 1: 15 – 28, and Luke 10: 38 – 42. The title of my message is “I Am Not A Practicing Christian!”
Luke 10: 25 – 37 (as translated by Dr. Clarence Jordan in The Cotton Patch Gospels) with commentary
One day a teacher of an adult Bible class got up and tested him with this question: “Doctor, what does one do to be saved?
Jesus replied, “What does the Bible say? How do you interpret it?”
The teacher answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and will all your sould and with all your physical strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”
“That is correct,” answered Jesus. “Make a habit of this and you’ll be saved.”
But the Sunday school teacher, trying to save face, asked, “But . . . er . . . but . . . just who is my neighbor?”
Then Jesus laid into him and said, “A man was going from Atlanta to Albany (GA) and some gangsters held him up. When they had robbed him of his wallet and brand-new suit, they beat him up and drove off in his car, leaving him unconscious on the shoulder of the highway.
“Now it just so happened that a white preacher was going down the same highway. When he saw the fellow, he stepped on the gas and went scooting by.
Commentary by Dr. Jordan
Obviously his homiletical mind probably made the following outline:
- I do not know the man.
- I do not wish to get involved in any court proceedings.
- I don’t want to get blood on my new upholstering.
- The man’s lack of proper clothing would embarrass me upon my arrival in town.
- And finally, brethren, a minister must never be late for worship services.
“Shortly afterwards a white Gospel song leader came down the road, and when he saw what had happened, he too stepped on the gas.
Commentary by Dr. Jordan
What his thoughts were we’ll never know but as he whizzed past, he may been whistling, “Brighten the corner, where you are.”
“Then a black man traveling that way came upon the fellow, and what he saw moved him to tears. He stopped and bound up his wounds as best he could, drew some water from his water-jug to wipe away the blood and then laid him on the back seat.
Commentary by Dr. Jordan
All the while his thoughts may have been along tis line: “Somebody’s robbed you; yeah, I know about that, I been robbed too. And done beat you up bad; I know, I been beat up, too. And everybody just go right on by and leave you laying ere hurting. Yeah, I know. They pass me by, too.
He drove on into Albany and took him to the hospital and said to the nurse, ‘You all take good care of this white man I found on the highway. Here’s the only two dollars I got, but you all keep account of what he owes, and if he can’t pay it, I’ll settle up with you when I make a pay-day.’
“Now if you had been the man held up by the gangsters, which of these three — the white preacher, the white song leader, or the black man — would you consider to have been your neighbor?
The teacher of the adult Bible class said, “Why, of course, the — I mean . . . er, well, er . . . the one who treated me kindly.”
Jesus said, “Well, then, you get going and start living like that!”
SERMON: “ Who Will Be The One?” – Dr. Tony Mitchell
After I had completed the major part of this message I thought that maybe a better title might be “Who Are Your Heroes?” But that actually doesn’t work because we tend to overplay the idea of heroes in today’s society and I am more interesting in knowing who is going to do the work that many people shun. In terms of the big picture though, perhaps those who do the work, be in terms of our secular world or for Christ, that others shun are our heroes.
In 2005 I needed to find a way to continue my writing on a regular basis. That’s when I discovered blogging. Blogging is a verb derived from web log, which can be consider a recording of observations or thoughts that one puts on the world wide web. When I started the blog, I thought only in terms of keeping to a regular schedule of studying the Scriptures and writing something related to those readings.(see http://locustsandhoney.blogspot.com/2005/12/methodist-blogger-profile-tony.html). Interestingly enough, one of the first pieces that I posted (“Isn’t This The 21st Century?”) was a combination of faith and science, the two areas that tend to be the markers of my own life.
I was aksed in an on-line interview conducted shortly after I began blogging “who are my spiritual heroes?” I listed Peter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dr. Meredith Eller, and Clarence Jordan and gave a brief explanation of why I chose those four individuals. The reasons, though, had to do more with the secular world than the spiritual world. But as you will hear this morning, sometimes there is not much difference in those two worlds and we can often find the strength we need to deal with the secular world through our spiritual foundations.
The choice of Peter as a spiritual hero probably had to do more with what we have in common from reading about him. I think that if I were to prepare this list today and keep one of the twelve disciples on it, I would probably pick Nathaniel Bartholomew. It isn’t that Peter has dropped off the list but I find perhaps more in common with Nathaniel at this time of my life.
Nathaniel Bartholomew was said to be the scholar of the group. Tradition has it that he went to Georgia with Thomas on his mission trip after Pentecost. While the Georgia that Nathaniel and Thomas traveled to is not the Georgia in my own life, it offers a connection, both in terms of spiritual heroes and in terms of Methodism, that is so much a part of my life today.
I chose the other individuals because their lives gave something for me to use in my own life. And again, those contributions were contributions in the daily secular world, not the spiritual world. But on reflection, those contributions showed me how the spiritual world, the world of faith, plays such an important part in our daily life.
In 2005, I saw spiritual heroes in terms of my academic life and the role religion and faith played in my life. That is not to say that there were others who played an important part in my life. During the spring of 1969, I struggled with my own faith and it’s role in my life. This is the one question that we all have to deal with at one time or another in our lives and just as we need spiritual heroes to show us how to live in an increasingly secular world, we also need those who can show us the direction that we must take.
For me, that individual was my pastor at 1st United Methodist Church in Kirksville, Marvin Fortell. His role was more personal and what he said and did had a lot to do with the direction my life would take that spring. But the congregation at 1st UMC did not like his involvement with either the anti-war or civil rights movement and, quite honestly, forced him to leave the pastorate at 1st for another United Methodist church.
And while I struggled to find where my faith was leading me, there were also the events of the mid 1960s, the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement, defining how I would live my life as well.
As a chemistry major in college, I was required to take a sequence of history courses. I ended up taking 2 – 1/3 courses with Dr. Eller and I came to admire him as a professor.
When some of my fellow students at Truman (when it was still known as Northeast Missouri State Teachers College) and I began organizing an on-campus anti-war organization, he agreed to be our advisor. Now this was a brave move on his part. This was 1969 and Truman was and is deep within the very conservative heartland of Missouri and America. The risks that we students took in stepping forth in our opposition to the Viet Nam war were perhaps minor when compared to the risks that Dr. Eller was taking, both professionally and personally.
Dr. Eller would later show me a possible path that I might walk at a time when there was some uncertainty in the direction of my life. It was my understanding that while he was a history professor at Truman State University, he was also an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. During one graduation ceremony I kidded him about his doctoral robes being a little less shiny than the other members of the faculty. That was because they were his preaching robes and he used them every week.
Perhaps Dr. Eller’s background of history and religion was a more natural combination than my own background of chemistry and religion but it did show that one’s life on Sunday was not necessarily separated from one’s life on Monday.
My own involvement with the anti-war movement on campus would introduce me to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I met him as a leading player in the underground anti-Nazi/anti-war movement in Germany before and during World War II. Later on, I would discover his writings on the nature of Christianity and our lives. Bonhoeffer’s writing focused on what it means to be a Christian in today’s world and what we, as Christians, expect and what is expected from us as Christians. He was opposed to the rise of Hitler and Nazism and their suppression of civil rights from the very onset. But what may have disturbed him more than anything else, and what gave rise to his thoughts on Christianity and its cost, was the quiet acceptance of the persecution of people and the oppression of civil rights by the churches of Germany. It is interesting to note how eerily similar what transpired in Germany in the 1930s is taking place in so many places today.
I hope that Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words, thoughts, and action still influence what I say about Christianity and how I live a life in Christ.
I came to know Dr. Clarence Jordan sometime in the early 1990s when I first heard a reading from The Cotton Patch Gospels. As Southern boy, to hear the word of God written in terms of the Georgia countryside gave new meaning and life to those words. And as you heard this morning, the viability and vitality of the Gospel has the same meaning and is perhaps better understood when written and spoken in one’s own languages. And now you understand why I perhaps can connect to Nathaniel Bartholomew and his Georgian connection.
As one who grew up in the South during the 1950s and 1960s and experienced, though not at the level of some, the discrimination so prevalent at that time, I could understand why Dr. Jordan would choose to speak out against those, especially in the church, who would preach discrimination and hatred in the name of Christ.
Each person that I have listed as a hero probably never intended on being one. No one sets out to be a hero and those who try to do so are more often likely to be failures rather than successes.
Each was called by God to complete a particular task, though perhaps not the task they perhaps had in mind. Throughout our history, there have been those called by God to change the direction of their lives and go to where God called them, even if they did not want to go that way.
We hear Moses say to God that he can’t take on the task because he cannot speak. We hear Sarai laugh when God says that she and Abram will become parents at the age of ninety.
We hear Amos saying that he wanted to be a farmer and not a prophet. But God called Amos to preach even if there were some who didn’t want the Word preached. And we read the opposition to that preaching in the early verses of the Old Testament reading.
How many of the prophets would much rather have done something else than go and preach the Word of God to an uninterested and apathetic populace?
I would think and believe that Nathaniel Bartholomew would have been very happy being the scholar and studying the scripture. And yet he took the Gospel message to Georgia where tradition says that he died a violent death.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer had the opportunity to take a faculty position at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. But his concern for the Gospel and the people of Germany living under Nazi oppression took him back home to work against Hitler and the Nazis. Arrested in 1944, he would be executed in Buchenwald just a few days before U. S. troops liberated that concentration camp.
And while Dr. Jordan died peacefully while working on his translation of the Gospel of John, he endured persecution and opposition for his belief in equality. On more than one occasion the Klan (all who professed belief in the Risen Christ) attacked the Koinonia Farm that stood for equality and freedom.
I know what you are going to say, your heroes were all religious scholars, each had an understanding of the Bible and God. But Amos was not a religious scholar and his knowledge of the Scriptures was probably limited to what he learned when he was a young man.
I am not a religious scholar nor is my understanding of either the Bible or God at the level of Nathaniel Bartholomew, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Clarence Jordan, or Meredith Eller. It would be quite easy for me to say that they are my heroes and then go about doing my own thing, whatever it may be and wherever it may lead me.
But somewhere along the line, I have heard the call from God. It was perhaps a subtle call, a quiet nudge that forced me to change direction. I know, in my own life and time, I have met Christ even if it were not in the manner of Moses and the burning bush or Paul and his encounter on the road to Damascus. It began in the spring of 1969 when I was challenged by Reverend Fortel to understand what my statement about Christ being my Savior meant and what I was to do about it.
So I turn to you all this morning and ask the question that I hope you are asking at this moment, how will we know that God is calling us? How will we know what to do when God calls us?
The story of the Good Samaritan, whether told in the traditional way or put in the patois of Southern life, reflects that moment of God’s call.
There isn’t a person who has not, at some point in time, been in the position of each individual in this story.
I would hope that none of us have ever been in the position of the victim in this story, beaten, robbed, and abandoned on the side of the road. But we have met them, perhaps more than we care to admit.
Most people, I think, chose, as did the preacher and the song leader, to just walk on and not get involved. They will proudly tell you that they are Christians but that Christianity is a personal thing, something between Christ and them. They feel that they need not share their Christianity with anyone. They forget that while it is a personal thing, it is most definitely not a private thing.
It is one thing, they believe, to be against poverty, injustice, or oppression. All you have to do is nod your head knowingly as the preacher hums along; it is a totally different thing to put your life and career on the line and work against poverty, injustice, and/or oppression. Besides, the church has no business being involved in such causes; it has more important things to think about.
I never met Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Clarence Jordan; I only know that they made a choice that went against the flow. My limited encounters with Dr. Eller and Reverend Fortel only gave me snippets of their thoughts but I know that they too made choices that went against the flow of common thought and most certainly at great professional risk.
But in all these cases and in every case where the choice of any individual was counter to God’s desires and plans, there was a power beyond themselves that decided the direction of their life. Things like this – and we are constantly reminded that they are constantly happening – should convince us that the overruling reality of life is the Will and Choice of a Spirit acting not in a mechanical way but living and personal way.
We should also see that a spiritual life does not consist of merely an individual’s betterment or an assiduous attention to one’s own soul but in a free and and unconditional response to the Spirit’s presence and call, whatever the cost may be (from The Spiritual Life by Evelyn Underhill)
Each of us must take responsibility for the beliefs we hold and must personally wrestle with life’s most fundamental questions. But once we have decided to follow Jesus, we cannot help but live out our personal beliefs in public ways. The demands of the gospel refuse us the option of a purely inward spirituality. (from Jim Wallis – e-mail note on 11 July 2013).
And that leaves us with the third choice, to help that person whom we have never met, whose cry for help has fallen on deaf ears and blind eyes. The Spirit has called us to not walk by but to stop and offer assistance.
Like so many before us, this challenge is one that we have difficulty responding to. There are many reasons why we would walk on by but there needs to be only one reason why we would stop and help someone we have never met. Here the words of Paul again,
We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.
Who will be the one that stops and helps? Who will be the one who sees to it that those in need find assistance?
Let me tell you about another person, perhaps a hero in the eyes of some. This person was my mother. Now I know that mothers do the tasks of heroes and never get that sort of recognition. And I know that my mother, like everyone else, would say that she was not and never was a hero. She just answered the call that God made. After she was seventy some years old, she decided that she would be a rock star and go and sing Gospel music to the seniors at the senior centers around Memphis. So my brothers, sister, and I prepared a CD of songs that she could sing to and off she went.
But before she settled into the sedentary life of a rock-and-roll star, she ventured into fields many would say she should have never entered. Her church, Good Shepherd UMC in Bartlett, TN, decided to undertake a mission trip to St. Vincent’s Island, a small island in the Caribbean. This was perhaps one of the first VIM trips the United Methodist Church organized.
Some of the people went to work on the local school and took their hammers, saws, and other carpentry tools. Solomon Christian, a member of Good Shepherd, was also a dentist so he gathered his dentistry tools and went to take care of the dental needs of the people, adults and children. Because of the various restrictions imposed by the travel from Memphis to the islands, the amount of medicine was limited. So much of Solomon’s dental work was done without anesthesia or pain killers. And that is why my mom went on the trip. While she was a fair carpenter, there were plenty of carpenters on the trip. And she wasn’t a nurse and her medical training was confined to the typical cuts and bruises four children encounter growing up. So she wasn’t going to be much help in the medical field.
But children hurting, especially after a dentist pulls a tooth without a pain killer, need someone to hold them, hug them, and love them. So my mom went as the team’s DH, designated hugger. Every child who had dental work got an abundant supply of hugs from my mom to comfort and ease the pain.
My wife Ann started Grannie Annie’s Kitchen in November, 2010, in response to a need for a breakfast on Saturdays in the community. Since that time, we have opened the doors of Grace UMC in Newburgh on Saturday from 8 to 10 to offer the people of Newburgh a nice home cooked breakfast and a short devotional. Since February we have had, on the average, 52 people come for breakfast and 8 individuals come to help serve. The high temperatures of the past few weeks suggest that perhaps we shouldn’t be doing this but I don’t recall a mention of the weather when the multitudes were fed. It isn’t about what you do; it’s about what others receive.
Who will be the one to answer the call? History has shown that it could be just about anyone. It isn’t defined by how young or old one is or whether they are a man or woman or what skills and abilities they have or do not have. It is how one responds to the situation before them; with blind indifference or with the love of Christ in their hearts, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Who will be the one to answer God’s call? The choice is yours today. There will come a moment in your life where you will encounter Christ. You can walk on by as if nothing happened or you can stop and answer the call; it is your choice.