“What Can I Do?”


Mediation for November 16, 2014, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Judges 4: 1 – 7; 1 Thessalonians 5: 1 – 11; Matthew 25: 14 – 30

I started this, then hit a “road block”, then got started again. I don’t know how good this one is.

A colleague and friend, in preparing her sermon for today, asked a very simple question, “What would you do if you only had one talent?”

Had a chance to think about what you were asking and came up with my own question, “What can I do?”

Do we do as the one individual in today’s Gospel reading did, take it and hide it away? Or is there some way that we can do something with what we have?

When I looked at the Old Testament reading for today, I saw that Deborah made one choice. Her single talent was to make the right choices; that’s why she was a judge.

Paul’s words to the Thessalonians speak of not knowing when Christ was coming back and that we probably shouldn’t be preoccupied with that notion but focus on what it is that we can do right now.

Each person has at least one talent; sometimes they know what it is, often times they do not know. But there are others whose primary talent is finding others. And that means that there isn’t a problem that cannot be solved.

But it also means that there comes a moment when our preconceived notions about time and space have to be cast aside. If we live in the present world, we will see things in only one sense. What was that George Bernard Shaw quote that Robert Kennedy so often used when he campaigned for President in 1968, “You see things; and say ‘why?’ But I dream of things that never were and say ‘why not?’”

That is where we are. We as a people are faced with many challenges and sometimes we think that we are unable to do anything. But we have been given the opportunity through Christ to see new ways to solve those problems. It changes the question from “what can I do?” to “when do we start?”

“Guy Fawkes Day”


This is a combination of things that I posted on my Facebook page this morning.

There is a certain irony in this day being the day after the 2014 election. It happens to be the anniversary of Richard Nixon’s election at President in 1968. And it is also Guy Fawkes Day! Any English historians wish to comment on that? :)

Okay, we woke up to the same world this morning as before. The Sun is coming up in the east (we need only worry if it comes up in the west but that means you did something really awful or interesting the night before).

Unfortunately, the rules for politics remain the same as well. That means that seniority rules and all the newcomers to political organizations will have to wait their turn. Or they will cause such a problem that it will make people even more disgusted with the system. The end result will be more and more people turning away, leaving the system to those on the extreme who will change the world to fit their view.

Some may say that it is too late, that the world is on a path of destruction. But I don’t think so. First, we have been saying that for how many years now and it hasn’t happened. Second, all change comes from the bottom, not the top. Those who think that they can change the world from the top will quickly find that it doesn’t happen that way. True change comes from those individuals who work local, with their friends, their neighbors, and the people they meet on the street. True change comes when you educate people, not when you tell people what to do or think.

We need a political system but we are reminded that politics is derived (I think) from the same root that gives us people (something Pete Seeger once said). So, the questions becomes, what are you going to do today that will make the world better tomorrow?

One final thought, I am sure that there were some in Israel two thousand years ago who complained about the system and that fact that the political/religious structure ignored them and blocked them out. But there was someone from Nazareth (and we all know that nothing good comes from Nazareth) who showed that there was a way to the truth and to the life. The political/religious establishment sought to silence Him but they failed and the world became a better place.

Change comes when you meet and work with all the people. The groundwork has been laid; now all we have to do is build on it.

Peace this day and Peace tomorrow.

“Thoughts On A Sunday Morning”


Some quick thoughts on this Sunday morning, 2 November 2014.

First, please remember that Tuesday, November 4th, is Election Day. There is no more important election than this one but that statement is true for every election. When you forget to vote, two things happen: 1) You lose the right to complain about how things are taking place and 2) You allow someone else to tell you how to think and talk.

Right now, my fear is that too many people no longer trust the political system and will not vote. This will give those who seek to manipulate the system for their own benefit more leeway to do just that. And it is becoming more and more evident that certain groups do not want people to vote because they fear the expression of the free voice. These special interest groups want to turn the clock back, not one hour, but 200 years, to a time when only certain individuals could vote.

I happened to watch a program on the democracy that was created in Athens some 2000+ years ago. Granted, the power to vote and govern was limited but if you were in that group that had the power you were expected to vote and take part in the governmental process. What we have done over these past 2000 years has redefined who is a part of that process. And this has caused those who considered themselves “elite” to seek changes that save their position at our expenses. Democracy was never meant to be that way and the only way that it will revert to a select group of individuals controlling our lives is if we let them. So in the end, participate in what I have always called the single greatest act of political protest known to mankind, VOTE!

I hope you remembered to “fall back” this morning. What I needed to do was remember which clocks I needed to set manually (five of them) and which did so automatically. Now, if I could get the coffee maker to put in the coffee and add the water automatically, I would be set.

I normally don’t do this but in your prayers this morning, left up the United Methodist Church. There are those who would sacrifice the denomination for the law and who place the value of the law over the value of a human soul. I don’t see this as a conservative/liberal/progressive issue but as one that falls within the meaning of the Gospel. But I do think that those who espouse the viewpoint that the law supersedes grace are locked into a mind-set that is out-dated and incomplete.

Also, as we approach Thanksgiving and Christmas, pray for the families of this country. As the gap between rich and poor increases and many of the rich seem bent on keeping it all for themselves, we need to remember that many individuals and families do not have the resources to survive. The Gospel message, for me anyway, has always been about helping individuals meet their needs, be it housing, medical care, or food. As we begin looking to the ends of the next two months, pray that all will find the resources needed and that all will give so that all receive.

And finally, a quick thanks to those who have visited this blog over the past three months. There has been a gradual increase in readership and it suggests that the projected group of the blog is on track.

“How Do You Reach Your Goals?”


Mediation for October 26, 2014, the 20th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Deuteronomy 34: 1 – 12; 1 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 8; Matthew 22: 34 – 46

The problem with following the lectionary is that sometimes you don’t know the “whole” story. Of course, that implies that 1) you only follow the lectionary on Sundays and don’t do any reading during the week or 2) you have never studied the Bible.

There is something in my mind’s files that says that there is a lectionary reading for each day of the week to fill in the gaps between the readings on Sundays. And I know that there are parallel readings that are often covered in Sunday School so that the stories that we remember growing up are taught (since many of the Old Testament stories seem to be missing in the Sunday lectionary readings). And I would hope that there are supplemental or additional readings during the week, especially in the New Testament so that we get to cover the writings of Jude (which never show on Sunday).

But if you have never studied the Bible or done any regular reading, then the line in Deuteronomy where God tells Moses that he can look at the Promised Land but that he will never enter it has to be quite a shock. Especially when a few lines later, it is noted that there were no prophets like Moses in Israel after his death.

What was it that prevented Moses from entering the Promised Land? What had he done that was so wrong that he could see the object of the Exodus but would never be allowed to reach? Let’s put it this way. My guess is that the answer is not what you think it is.

Earlier in the Exodus, the people wanted water to drink and Moses provided it. But he did not provide in the manner that God had prescribed and what he, along with his brother Aaron did, was sufficient for God to be really, really angry. So while Moses did the right thing in providing a fresh water supply for the people, he did not do in the manner that reflected God’s work in the process.

The Pharisees come to Jesus and seek to trap him, trying to find some way that they can show the people that Jesus is not who He says He is but some charlatan out to deceive the people and gain all the power for Himself. Of course, we all know by now that the Pharisees and others in the religious/political power structure of the time are more interested in keeping the power for themselves (or at least we should know that by now).

So when Jesus is asked what is the most important commandment, Jesus says to love your God with all your heart and mind and spirit. This question from the Pharisees, like all the other questions they have been asking, always seeks to determine the priorities in life one has. Where are your priorities? How will you reach the goals you have in life?

Some years ago, when I was working on my Masters degree at the University of Missouri, an assignment required that I review a book. The book that I picked dealt with a topic related to statistical quality control. Now, it was a short book so it was easy to read (or I thought it was easy to read) and I thought that it covered the topic pretty well. Now, on the day that I was to give the review in class, I happened to be at one of the local low-cost mega-stores that had sales in aisles for a few moments. As it happened, the book that I was reviewing was being sold at a ridiculously low price. So my review that night was that it was a good book and covered the topic pretty well but it was on sale at that store for $2.00 which should give you some idea of its value. The professor leading this course agreed with my review and noted that he knew the author and that the author had written the book as part of the tenure process. The value of the book wasn’t in what I got out of it but what the writer got.

Are we doing what we do because we get something out of it or are we doing it because it furthers the work of God’s Kingdom? Now, this isn’t one of those things where we succeed and we proudly announce to all that it was for God’s Glory. I think that is a round-about way of saying that we are doing whatever it is we are doing for ourselves.

Paul warns the Thessalonians about doing something that has mixed motives or hidden agendas. Perhaps it is the Methodist in me but we don’t do something because of what we might get out of it but because it is what we are supposed to be doing. Do we shop at a Christian store because it is a Christian store or because it is a good store to buy what we need?

We are reminded that when John Wesley first began what came to be known as the Methodist Revival, he did it in a legal and mechanical way, a way with absolutely no feeling. And at the beginning, it was an abysmal failure. Now, when you look at what he and the other early Methodists were doing, one might get the idea that it should have worked. But it was being done for the individual and not for God, nor was God anywhere in the process.

But when the Holy Spirit became a part of the process, in that night that we have come to called Aldersgate, things changed.

Where are you in this process? Is what you do for you or for God? Are you doing what God wants you to do or are you trying to do what you think God wants? This is perhaps the hardest question one has to answer because we are so tempted to do something our way and then say that it was for God.

How do you reach your goals? Do you start with God? Do you consider God in the process? Now is the time to make a decision, not unlike the one John Wesley made many years ago, to trust in God and allow the Holy Spirit to guide and direct the process.

Now is the time to decide how you will reach your goals.

“The Life You Lead”


Mediation for October 19, 2014, the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Laity Sunday

Exodus 33: 13 – 23; 1 Thessalonians 1: 1 – 10; Matthew 22: 15 – 22

I wrote some notes about these three passages a couple of months ago with the thought that I would be in the pulpit somewhere this Sunday. But in re-opening this file I noticed that what I wrote back then does not match what I am thinking today, which is often the nature and case.

I don’t know why this particular Sunday was picked to be Laity Sunday. I suspect that if one were to go back into the history of the denomination and examine old copies of The Discipline I think one might find a legal paragraph or two that mandates that lay speakers do one service a year in their own church.

I have a sense that such a rule/paragraph existed at one time and I know that it doesn’t exist today. In one sense, if it did exist, it would be a little impractical, especially in those churches with more than one active lay speaker. Of course, there really isn’t such a thing as a lay speaker anymore, having shifted to the title of lay servant and preaching or presenting the message is no longer the primary task of the lay servant.

But in one sense, having changed the focus from speaking to service makes every Sunday a Laity Sunday.

I was in a discussion with a friend the other day about the nature of the sermon and whether it served primarily as a call to respond to Christ or to provide information to the assembled people or some other purpose. I hope that we concluded with the idea that a particular sermon serves a particular purpose based on the situation and needs of those in attendance. But it also served as a call for each member of the church, the laity, to respond in some way.

Now, hold onto that thought for a moment. I will come back to it shortly.

In addition to time being set aside to recognize the laity of the church, this is also the time that many churches begin their stewardship campaign. And unfortunately most of these campaigns are simply pleas for money to operate the church and its functions for another year (see “Creative Stewardship” and “What Does Stewardship Mean To Me?” as my response to that approach).

Stewardship has to be more than simply giving money for the operation of the church. When everything is expressed in terms of operating the church, then I fear that we have elevated the building to a status similar to a false idol. This is not to say that the building is not important but then again, how many successful churches today are operating outside the framework of a permanent structure?

Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees, again looking for a way to entrap him. This time, the issue is taxation, an extremely sore point with the religious establishment who could not stand that money taken by the Romans was money that could have been given to them. And Jesus replies that one gives to the government what should be given to the government and one gives to God what should be given to God.

Let’s not get into a discussion on the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of citizenship (of course, back then the Israelites were not necessarily considered Roman citizens). But too many people, I think, use Jesus’ thought of giving to the government and giving to God as an excuse to not give to God because they have to give so much to the government.

But that can only occur when God is not the priority in your life, when His presence is a slot of time on Sundays and sometimes during the week. In the Old Testament reading for today, Moses challenges God to make His presence known to the people so that they will know and understand the special relationship they have with Him.

I think the problem is that, while God is among us today, we are blind to His presence. We speak of the unique relationship that we have but we don’t acknowledge it. And if we do not acknowledge it, we can’t be aware of it.

I wrote a prayer a few years ago that hung in our feeding ministry’s kitchen. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a copy of it on my hard drive. But I remember that one line I wrote acknowledged that Jesus Christ would be one of those who we feed that morning. How can we give to God what is God if we do not treat everyone as if he or she was a representative of Christ?

Second point, how can we see God if our lives are lived in such a way that it doesn’t reflect what we believe? When you read Paul’s words to the Thessalonians for today, note how he commends them for leading a life that shows the presence of Christ and what that means to others. Others see in the Thessalonians the way to live and the openness in which that live works.

And now I go back to the idea that every Sunday is Laity Sunday and that we, the laity, take with us at the end of the service is the knowledge that we serve Christ with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind.

You cannot split your life into parts as far as Christ is concerned. You either live it fully in and with Christ or you do not. And if you do not live it fully in and with Christ, then you had best do what Jesus Himself first called upon the people to do, repent of your ways and begin anew.

You cannot expect people to accept you as a Christian if your life does not show the love of Christ. What was it that cause the people to notice the behavior of the Thessalonians if it was not a change in their life?

In response to such a challenge last week, I wrote that “generosity requires a change in thinking.” Anyone can be generous with their money but how many people are generous with their lives?

On this Sunday, we need to understand that it is not a recognition of what we have done but rather what we are going to do. It is a recognition that the life we lead is one that leads to Christ and helps others find Christ in a troubled and disturbed world. It is a life that does truly lead to peace and justice for all.

“A Second Question Related To Academic Publishing”


Back in 2011, I posted a piece on my blog entitled “A Question Related To Academic Publishing” (http://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/a-question-related-to-academic-publishing/ if it doesn’t show up as a link).  In this piece I asked about the viability of listing blog posts as publications on one’s vita.  There was only one response to the post (and I want to thank that person for making the comment).

I bring up the idea of alternative publication processes because 1) I think the presence of electronic journals is more prevalent and the use of the Internet suggests we think about such alternatives and 2) an article published in Science entitled “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review” (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6154/60.full).  In this article, the author describes an experiment to determine the viability of publishing in “open access journals”.  The conclusion is not very good.  It would seem that the majority of such journals are only interested in scamming money from the authors and will publish anything if the check clears (sarcasm is mine).

I suppose we should not be surprised by all of this.  The academic world is a distinct part of the information age and we should expect individuals seeking to take advantage of the opportunity before them.  The next question is, “What do we do next?”

“The Value Of Your Ministry”


Meditation for 21 September 2014, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Exodus 16: 2 – 16, Philippians 1: 21 – 30, Matthew 20: 1 – 16

Sometimes we need to see the Scriptures in a totally new manner, or at least not view them in the way we have perhaps always done it. That, I hope, is the case with this particular post.

As you can see from the title, this has to do with the ministry of the church. When we think of a particular church’s ministry, it is often in terms of the congregation and the needs of the congregation first. The needs of the community in which the church resides are, perhaps, often overlooked, or thought to be the same as the congregation’s needs and wants.

Sometimes, this will work; often times I don’t think it does. My first impression of Rick Warren and his “Purpose Driven Church” model was that the church administration assessed the needs and interests of the congregation and got those people with common needs and interests together and called that a ministry. Now, if your church has the numbers to do this, it might work.

But, and I made this point when it was first presented to me, if your church is anything like the ones that I have worked with in the past, the numbers aren’t there and they never will be.

This has nothing to do with the perceived state of the church today. Some churches are in places where the population as a whole is not changing and is probably going down. Churches in such areas as these have to, by necessity, operate with an entirely different model. And churches such as these need our support more than we perhaps realize, simply so that the people in those congregations don’t think that they are being forgotten.

But there are churches in areas where the numbers speak of growth and promise, yet the ministries of those churches are adapted to the congregation and not the community. These are the churches in trouble. And that is an area that we really need to look at. A church whose ministries are inward and have turned a blind eye to the community outside the walls of the sanctuary is a dying church.

But I am looking at something else at this time. Much of our publication discussion of the ministry of the church has been of two types, one informal and one, naturally, formal. The informal ministry emphasizes our willingness or unwillingness to let the Spirit rule the Law. For some, the Law is everything and, thus, that which is against the Law cannot be allowed.

But there are those (and for the sake of clarity, I believe I am in that group) who feel that the Spirit supersedes the Law and we must often do that which is in conflict with the Law. I fear that this informal ministry will, in the next couple of years, be formalized and become part of the corporate ministry of the church and the denomination.

The formal ministry of the church, at the local, denominational, and general levels, is that by which the church is identified. As part of the corporate structure, the formal ministry is the current measure of the vitality of the church. This is what the church says it is going to do. But there is another view of the ministry, not the corporate view but the individual view.

And I think that we need to see the ministry of the church more from the individual view than from the corporate view. This view starts by asking each member, “What are your ministries? What do you do, individually, that shows others who Christ is and brings them to a point where they can accept Christ?” If your life has been given to Christ, then all ministries are of the same value and that value is, perhaps, priceless (yes, I know, it is part of a 21st century cliché but it fits the Gospel reading).

But if you are like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, angry that God has taken you away from the security of your slavery in Egypt, what value do you place on your ministry? What if you are one of the workers who has put in the long hours and ended up wit the same pay as those who worked less? What value do you place on your ministry? If you feel that your efforts deserve greater rewards, then perhaps your ministry really has no value.

The problem today is not necessarily our corporate ministries but rather the value that we place on them. Many corporate ministries today focus on the needs of the congregation rather than the needs of the community. And individually, we are more interested in what we get out of the ministry than what others might.

As I read the passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians for this Sunday, I could not help but think about all the time and effort that he, Paul, put into his work. And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that he was getting frustrated with the work (and at least one suggestion that the “thorn in his side” was a wife wondering when he was going to get a “real” job).

And maybe Paul did have the right to complain. How many times did he have to leave a town because he angered the power structure? Did the results that he achieved justify the time and effort he put in? Keep in mind that most of the time, the letters that he was dictating and mailing to the churches dealt with problems that had arose in the church. Is what Paul gained truly measurable by the bottom line demanded in the corporate and self-centered individual ministries of today?

What is the value of your ministry? Are you expecting more than what you put in? Or will your efforts offer someone new a hope or opportunity that they might not have received otherwise?

The hardest thing we have to do is finding out what our ministry is. Figuring out how to accomplish it becomes pretty easy. We start by committing our lives and our souls to Christ and then we work to help others do the same. The value of our ministry will perhaps never be known, except to those who are touched.