Yellow Lines and Dead Armadillos


The title of a recent post by John Meunier, “Only Two Things In The Middle of The Road?”, posed a question that I am sure not many people would know how to answer. For those who are not enlightened and never read Molly Ivins or Jim Hightower, I am providing the answer as the title of this piece.

But the purpose of John’s post was not to offer some Texas humor but rather provide links to some of the discussion taking place in the blogosphere concerning the thoughts and efforts of some to seek a schism or not seek a schism in the United Methodist Church.

Now, if you have received an e-mail from me, you know that there are a series of quotes that I find interesting:

  • If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. (Henry David Thoreau)

  • And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8: 32)
  • Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind. (John F. Kennedy)

The quote from President Kennedy was given in response to the need for a ban on nuclear weapons but could easily apply to the situation the United Methodist Church is facing today. If we don’t end that which threatens to divide this denomination, then it will kill it. I don’t think that schism is the answer simply because neither side will be able to survive the aftermath.

I was brought up to seek the truth. I choose to walk a path that encompassed and still encompasses a life of science and faith. To seek the truth should be each person’s goal and the distillation of the facts to their simplest components the means by which we find that one single truth. (There may be a hint of Eastern mysticism in that, I am not sure.)

But the one quote that has been a part of my life for as long as I have known the quote and even before I knew that there was such a quote was the one from Thoreau. Circumstances and choice lead me to a path of my own choosing.

I choose to walk with Jesus Christ. It has taken me many places. And when I may have strayed from that path, I always found a way to get back to it. The discussion of, for, or about a schism in the United Methodist Church seems to suggest that there are only two paths and I have to choose between one of two possibilities.

That I would have to choose between those two options neither sets well with my own philosophy/approach or the path that I did choose to walk. And so many other times, the finality of the choice being offered doesn’t give me the opportunity to make up my own mind.

Granted, I would be considered a political liberal or progressive. And I have written that I don’t see how one can consider the Gospel message to be a conservative one, especially not in the context of today’s conservativism. Granted, I came to this conclusion because I saw too many individuals who did not care about others or worked to insure that their views were the dominant ones.

And when you look at what Jesus did to the power structure of his society, how can anyone work to make sure that the power structure of today’s society excludes others. I am not a Wesleyan scholar but I get the impression that was the thinking that drove Wesley to begin the Methodist Revival some two hundred years ago.

The one thing that I do know is that the road I walk demands attention to Jesus, not what others are doing or saying. I hold to the faith and work to see that the Gospel is there for everyone, not selecting those who get to hear it or somehow don’t come up to a particular set of standards.

The question we perhaps need to be asking at this time is more to the point about where you are headed, not which side of the road you are walking on? Are you headed in the right direction with your life and your goals? Are you helping others find their own path to Christ?

“What Is The Ultimate Question?”


A Layperson’s Theological Perspective

What is the ultimate question?

Let me first start off by saying that, unless the person asking the question has read any of Douglas Adams work, the answer is not “42”!

And one must be under the age of five to ask the ultimate philosophical question, “Why?” Of course, those who have raised children know that the answer to this important question of life and the universe is “Because!”

More importantly, what if you do not know what the question that will determine your next step professionally or personally will be? How do you prepare for that question or series of questions?

Two thoughts:

First, it has been almost fifty years since I completed my own confirmation class. And while I am confident that I came out of that class with a better understanding of who I am what I know about the church and theology today is far more than I knew then. But what I know I know from experience and my own thought and not through an organized study of faith, theology, and Methodism.

And I wonder how many others today understand those same areas. How many times has a pastor focused on those topics for an extended period of time and in such a way that people come away with clearer understanding?

I know that when I write a message to be presented on a Sunday morning, I have focused on the lectionary readings and have tried to place them in the context of what is happening today. On some occasions, I am pretty sure that what I said has challenged one of the listeners to seek further information but that is speculation on my part. I am sure that everyone who has, either as a lay servant/speaker or pastor, hoped that what they said on a particular Sunday changed the life of someone who heard or read the words given that day. But, until the Day of Judgement does come, we have no way of knowing if that happened.

So the question/thought arises, how do we who have been charged with preparing the minds of individuals to open the hearts and souls of those same individuals do just that, prepare them for the ultimate question, the one which we do not know?

And that leads to the second thought, what might be the ultimate question or what questions should we be able to answer so that we can answer the question we do not know, especially from a layperson theological perspective?

Is it perhaps, “Are you saved?”

Or is it one of Wesley’s historical questions -

  1. Do you know God as a pardoning God? Do you have the love of God abiding in them? Do you desire nothing but God? Are you holy in all manner of conversation?
  2. Do you have gifts, as well as the evidence of God’s grace3, for the work to which you have been called? Do you have a clear, sound understanding and a right judgement of things of God; a just conception of salvation by faith? Do you speak justly, readily, and clearly?
  3. Do you have the fruit? Have you been truly convinced of sin and converted to God and a believer as edified by your service?

Things for me suggest that I spend some time working on the Wesley questions, if for no other reason than to clarify some things in my own mind. There is no doubt in my own mind that I can answer those questions in the affirmative, though the language that I might respond in may not be the accepted form.

Over the next few weeks I am going to look at the questions John Wesley posed. I invite your thoughts and comments about those questions or questions you feel that the laity and especially the laity who have been called to serve should be able to answer.

“The Other Side Of The Universe”


I was at the at the Sloatsburg United Methodist Church in Sloatsburg, New York this Sunday morning.

Their services start at 10:30 and you are welcome to attend.

Here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday of Easter (Year A), 27 April 2014. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 2: 14a, 22 – 32; 1 Peter 1: 3 – 9; and John 20: 19 -31.

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My family lived in Aurora, Colorado (a suburb of Denver) when I was a freshman in high school and I attended William C. Hinkley High School. Now, even back then I knew that if a school was named after someone, it was because they had been very important or had done something really great. Why else would you name something after them? And I assumed that sometime during my high school studies I would find out who William C. Hinkley was and what famous deed he had done that warranted naming a high school after him.

Well, that spring, I not only found who William C. Hinkley was and what he had done but I got to sit next to him and help him fly his Cessna airplane. As it turned out, Mr. Hinkley was the Superintendent of Schools when the school named after him was built two years before. Clearly, he was not dead.

As one might think, it changes your perspective about someone you think is dead but is, in fact, quite alive.

Our thought for the day comes from the Reverend Dr. John Polkinghorne. For the record, I have never met the Reverend Dr. John Polkinghorne but I believe he is still alive and well, preaching and thinking somewhere in England. John Polkinghorne earned his doctorate in physics, conducted research in elementary particle physics and then made the decision to become an Anglican priest. It was a decision that probably shocked and confused many of his friends in the scientific community but it was one he felt called to make.

Still, in moving from the secular to the sectarian word, he did not forsake the one for the other. He has become one of the key thinkers in relating the conundrums of quantum physics with the mysteries of Christian faith. It should be noted that he is not alone in being identified as a scientist and a Christian but that is a story for another time and place (see “9 Groundbreaking Scientists Who Happened To Be Christians”, Allan Bevere’s response, “Groundbreaking Christian Scientists”, in which he adds Copernicus and Polkinghorne to the list, and my own thoughts on the subject of science and faith, “A Dialogue of Science and Faith”).

Part of that untold story lead me to the quote I chose for the thought for the day. In preparing this message and quite by accident I discovered that the thought for the day comes from a question Lyndon F. Harris asked him in an interview for Cross Currents (http://www.crosscurrents.org/polkinghorne.htm)

Reverend Harris asked the following question,

Your background in science gives you a special vantage point from which to do theology, an approach that you’ve described as “bottom up thinking.” Please explain that phrase, and why you think this methodological commitment is important for theology.

Reverend Polkinghorne replied,

Bottom up thinkers try to start from experience and move from experience to understanding. They don’t start with certain general principles they think beforehand are likely to be true; they just hope to find out what reality is like.

Now as it happens, this is only part of the answer to the question. Reverend Polkinghorne continued by saying,

If the experience of science teaches anything, it’s that the world is very strange and surprising. The many revolutions in science have certainly shown that. If that’s true of our encounter with the physical world, it’s likely to be even truer of our encounter with God.

We see such strange and surprising things in science and the world every night when we look to stars in the sky; we just don’t always know it.

From the very beginning of our consciousness, we have looked at the skies in wonder, awe, and amazement. Our first thought as we watched and observed the stars throughout the night was that the stars were fixed to the edge of the universe in what was called the firmament. If there was another side to the universe, it was on the other side of the firmament and beyond our reach or vision.

But the more we observed, the more we came to know. And when our ability to see into the heavens got better, we saw that there was more to the stars than simply what we saw with our eyes. The other side of the universe is still out there but now it is easier to reach. Our vision of the skies has lead us into new areas of exploration and wonder.

But it took more than just seeing what was in the skies to understand what was in the skies; it took a different sort of thinking. These visions of the skies required that we change how we thought about things.

A bottom-up thinker tends to see this new material in the same old way, using what they already know to try and explain what has happened. It doesn’t always work. Even the disciples, with all they saw and did still needed the experience of the Resurrection so that they could totally and completely understand what happened and what it meant.

A few weeks before the Resurrection, Thomas asked Jesus to explain where it was that they were headed. I think that Thomas gets a bad rap at times. For me, he wasn’t so much a doubter as he was a skeptic, wanting to know more about what was going on so that he could make a decision.

Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”

Thomas said, “Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?” (John 14: 1 – 5, The Message)

In response, Jesus told Thomas and the others that He was the Way, the Life, and the Truth. He also said that no one would get to the Father without having Jesus in his life. And then Jesus added,

Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”

Philip said, “Master, show us the Father; then we’ll be content.”

You’ve been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don’t understand? To see me is to see the Father. So how can you ask, ‘Where is the Father?’ Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you aren’t mere words. I don’t just make them up on my own. The Father who resides in me crafts each word into a divine act.

Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see—these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do. (John 14: 6 – 14, The Message)

Philip’s response is what we would expect from bottom-up thinkers. They have all the information in front of them, yet are not willing to make the decision. That will come that night in the Upper Room described in the Gospel reading.

We are all, I believe, bottom-up thinkers at some point in our lives. It is part of our process of thinking. But we also should have experienced a moment in time that some call the “Aha! Moment”, a moment in time and thought when things suddenly become very clear (see “The Aha! Moment”and references within).

This moment of clarity and understanding is not limited to any particular field of thought or study nor is limited to any particular place and time. Rather, it has to do with who we are and where we are in our own thinking.Such moments are unique for each of us. Our problem is, first of all, we try to make everyone’s experience the same and second, we don’t help others prepare for that moment. It leaves a lot of people seeking experiences when they should be moving forward.

I think that our encounter with Christ is one of those moments. It is that moment in our life when we understand that Jesus Christ died for us on the Cross, and that in his Resurrection on Easter gave us a new life. Each of us has that moment and each person’s moment is different. This moment is more than a statement that we are a Christian but that we have an awareness, a feeling that we have that Christ is a part of our life.

It might be that we came to Christ in a manner similar to that of Saul on the road to Damascus. Or it might have been in a manner similar to that of John Wesley’s Aldersgate moment.

There is no doubt that the ten disciples gathered that night in the Upper Room experienced that moment. After all, how would you have felt if someone you had traveled with for three years, who had been your teacher and your friend, and had been executed by the religious and political authorities and was buried in a tomb suddenly appeared to you in the very room where you stood?

Now, for reasons that we are not given, Thomas was not with the others that night. But we do know that when they were together, he was neither willing or unable to accept what they told him about the Risen Christ. He needed that same experience that the other disciples had experienced in order to believe for himself.

But Jesus noted that others would come to the faith without the experience that he, Thomas, needed. And without saying so, it is up to each one of us to provide in some way that experience.

And therein lies the challenge we face today. There are going to be those today who are like Thomas, skeptical about the Resurrection and this whole Christianity thing. There are those who are seeking Christ and want to know where He is and how to find Him. And the problem is that we are the ones who will have to help those individuals find Christ.

Our problem is that we cannot make others come to Christ by telling them that they have to accept Christ or that they have to accept Christ in the manner that we did. There are too many people out in the world today doing that and, as a result, they are, I believe, driving people from Christ, not bringing them to Him.

I will be honest; this is a task that I have struggled with from perhaps the first moment that I choose to follow Christ in my own life. I know in my heart, mind, and soul that the story is true, otherwise why would we be here today, some two thousand years later?

If this story were a fable, a myth, or fabrication, how has it remained over time? Surely, if this story was not true, we would have found out by now, wouldn’t we?

As it turns out, Reverend Polkinghorne has some of the same ideas I have about the truth of the Resurrection. In his book, Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity, he points out that if the story was not true, it might not have ever been told. Something had to have happened for us to know about a wandering carpenter from a peripheral province of the Roman Empire, a man who wrote no book and who endured an excruciating death on the cross. Something had to have happened that changed a group of frightened and demoralized disciples who ran away and hid on Good Friday into a confident group who would face the political and religious authorities on Pentecost and tell the Good News that the man they executed as the One and True Messiah. Something had to have happened to bring about such an astounding transformation.

Why were Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus mentioned if they did not play a role in the actual burial of Jesus on Good Friday? In a time when the testimony of women was not acceptable in the court of law, why are women, among them Mary Magadelene, mentioned in terms of the empty tomb on Easter Sunday? Surely, in both instances, the reasons for the inclusion of this information in the Gospels is because there is some truth and validity to the story.

And we know that the world changed on Easter. Saul became Paul and went from being the persecutor of Christians to an advocate for Christ; the Methodist movement went from a rule-bound, legalistic club for college buddies to a world-changing movement when the Holy Spirit entered John Wesley. And when Christ becomes a part of our life, our life changes as well. It makes it easier to respond to the call from Christ.

We have to offer a new vision of Christ, one that shows God’s love for the people, all the people no matter who they are.

When John Wesley began the Methodist Revival, there was a genuine concern in the church establishment for the lower classes. But as you read sermons from that period of time, you find that it was assumed that if the lower classes, the poor and working class, were to be saved and enter into Christ’s purpose for them, they had to take on the culture and lifestyle of those better than them. In other words, it was God’s will that “they” would become like “us”.

Wesley was attacked because he helped the people find their own way to Christ. The early Methodist revival questioned the ideological assumption of the privileged that threatened the security of their own prejudices. For the upper classes in England in the 18th century (and I think for many in today’s world as well), there was an assumption that their life is a reflection of God’s will; they assumed that they could see God’s presence in their own way of life but what it did show was how they were projecting their own way of life as a means of determining what it was that God was doing. Wesley saw a need to take the church to the people, not bring the people to the church.

What had happened was that the Gospel had been shaped to meet the demands of the world instead of the demands of the world being met by the Gospel. But that is what will happen when the law of the organization becomes more important than anything else.

Two thousand years ago people thought the sky was fixed, like a dome over the earth. This single thought dominated scientific thinking for over a thousand years. It took a new vision of the universe to see that the other side of the universe was not a roof over the earth.

The Resurrection offers us a new vision for the world. It offers us the chance to see what God is doing and how we must respond. We all probably know Proverbs 29: 18,

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

But read it as it was translated in The Message,

If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves;

But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.

What is God doing in this world today? More importantly, do we see what God is doing in our world today?

One of the text commentaries suggested that the law had replaced prophetic vision. When Jesus began his ministry in the Galilee two thousand years ago, the law had been so enforced that people were trapped and hope was gone. I think that John Wesley saw the same thing when he began the Methodist movement/revival. I am not altogether certain that we are not doing the same thing in this day and age.

But Christ broke free from the ghetto of religious law and regularity in which the faith of that time had imprisoned the people. In this new freedom Christ was able to meet the needs of the outcast, the hopeless, the helpless.

The light of Christ will only come to us when we are ready to move out into the world, when we are ready to leave the safe boundaries of the sanctuary and the law in which we have so often tried to keep God imprisoned.

We must be prepared to break free from these boundaries for they threaten to limit our vision of the world. If our vision and understanding of God’s purpose are limited, it becomes difficult to see Christ as He comes to us; it becomes difficult to hear Christ as He calls us.

If we are limited in our thoughts we will hide Christ in some sort of strange theology rather than having Him revealed as the One who came to set the prisoners free and makes Himself know in the events to which we can point,

Then he gave his answer: “Go back and tell John what you have just seen and heard:

The blind see,

The lame walk,

Lepers are cleansed,

The deaf hear,

The dead are raised,

The wretched of the earth have God’s salvation hospitality extended to them.

We are sometimes hesitant to do that. We know the history of the church and we know that many of those who began this movement died for the efforts. We know that Methodists in this country were often denied access to the church because they had chosen to follow the path set by John Wesley. We have no desire to be a martyr for the faith.

But a martyr is not necessarily one who dies for the faith; they are those who witness for the faith. We have the assurance from Peter and others that our efforts will not be in vain, though in a society that demands an instant response, that doesn’t always seem to be the case.

At one point in our life, the other side of the universe was literally a barrier, a barrier preventing us from moving beyond the boundaries of our own world. And because of sin, our lives were bound in slavery as well.

But through His death and Resurrection, Christ has given us a new life. Just as our exploration of the physical world has removed the boundaries that keep us on this planet, so too does Christ give us the opportunity to be free from sin and death.

We are charged this day and in this time to help others come to know Christ and receive the same opportunity.

“No Reservations Required”


A couple of thoughts related to the title of this post:

I was visiting at another church a couple of Sundays ago and it happened to be communion Sunday. Now, while I was a visitor to the church, several of the people there know me from my work in the district. So, as it was, the usher called me by my name when it was time to come up for communion.

Now, it occurred to me that we are called by Christ by name, so it is only natural that we, as His servants, should call others by their names on occasions such as communion. To do this without using name tags requires a little bit of extra effort and not everyone would want to do that. But isn’t that part of the communion we are establishing?

Along those lines, I will be at the at the Sloatsburg United Methodist Church in Sloatsburg, New York this Sunday. Services start at 10:30 and reservations are not needed. The title of the message is tentatively titled “The Other Side Of The Universe” and the Scriptures for the 2nd Sunday of Easter are Acts 2: 14, 22 – 32; 1 Peter 1: 3 – 9; and John 20: 19 – 31.

“Our New Operating System”


I am at the at the Sloatsburg United Methodist Church in Sloatsburg, New York this Sunday. Services start at 10:30 and you are welcome to attend.

Here are my thoughts for the 7th Sunday of Epiphany (Year A), 23 February 2014. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Leviticus 19: 1 – 2, 9 – 18;3: 10 – 23; and Matthew 5: 38 – 48.

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The title for today’s message is an interesting one, don’t you think? It reflects some of the thoughts I had while I was reading the Scripture readings for today and seeing if I could install, or rather, have a new operating system installed on my netbook. It turned out that the installation was not as simple as I envisioned and it required skills that I had not used in quite some time.

Now, I have always been interested in computers and computing technology but, as the machines have developed and evolved, my own interests moved from computer programming towards how one can best use computers, computer technology, and information technology in one’s own daily life. I am quite happy to let others build the machines and then write and refine the programs that allow me to do and make it a little easier to accomplish.

My choice of sayings for the thoughts of the day reflect that evolution and change in computers. If I had had the space to include them, I would have added the statement made in 1943 by the chairman of IBM, Thomas Watson,

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

I would have followed that statement with one made in Popular Mechanics in 1949 where, forecasting the relentless march of science, it was proclaimed that

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”

I could then add the comment made by an unnamed engineer in the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM in 1968 about the microchip,

“But what … is it good for?”

Of course, it was the microchip and its subsequent development that has lead to the existence of computers in so much of our lives.

I wonder how Ken Olson, president and founder of the Digital Equipment Corporation feels about the statement he made in 1997 that

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

And finally there is that definitive statement by Bill Gates in 1981 that

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.”

Today, of course, we operate with computer memories in the gigabytes and have devices in our home and work that operate on chips with greater computer power than the limit proposed by Mr. Gates some thirty years ago. What I find personally interesting is that many of the memory sticks that are so common today have many times more memory capability than did the Apollo spacecrafts that went to and landed on the moon in the late 60s and early 70s.

It would be unfair to say that each of these “prophecies” was a failure. Each of these statements was a reflection of the time and the knowledge available at that time. It was a statement that this is were we are at and where we are going to be. I am sure that similar statements have been made by many in today’s society, statements that place a limit on what we can and cannot do.

The noted philosopher, Charles Handy, pointed out that we live at a time where it seems that the more we know, the more confused we get. And as we increase our technological capacity, we also seem to become more powerless.

We call for an end to wars yet we see more wars as the solution. And while we have developed some of the most sophisticated armaments in the history of the world, we can only watch impotently while parts of the world kill each other and we are entrapped in wars of our own making (italics added as my own thought).

We grow more food than we need but we somehow cannot feed the starving. We offer feeding programs but the food often given out is loaded with sugar and carbohydrates which leads to an increase in diabetes.

We can unravel the mysteries of the galaxies yet we cannot understand other humans. We know that learning takes time but we demand immediate results from education. We call for quality education but we seem to think that funding education is wasteful.

We call for an end to poverty but our solution is to allow the rich to keep their money such that the gap between the rich and the poor has increased, not decreased, over the past few years.

We demand the truth and we will listen to any prophet who can tell us what the future holds. But prophets do not foretell the future. What they do is tell the truth as they see it; they warn of dangers ahead if the present course is not changed. They point out what they think is wrong, unjust or prejudiced. They offer a way to clarify and concentrate the mind.

But they cannot tell the people what to do, despite the fact that is what many people want them to do. It was Jesus who told us that we should seek the truth and the truth will set us free but we are afraid of that truth. (from “The Age of Paradox”, Charles Handy; first referenced in “To Build A New Community”)

We say we are solving the problems but in doing so only create more problems. We create rules and laws to solve the problems but which only create barriers and walls that entrap and enslave us.

This is not to say that we cannot go beyond the limits of today’s society; it is more proper to say that innovation and creativity exist in an environment that encourages one to look beyond the boundaries, to peek around the corner and over the horizon. But you cannot do so if you are limited by rules and regulations or when others seek to impose their definitions and beliefs on you.

It has long been noted that the first thing that John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach at UCLA, did at the beginning of each basketball season was to teach his players how to put on their socks and basketball shoes. And he reminded them that their hair could only be so long.

To the players, such rules were an imposition on them, rules designed for the coach to control them. But as they learned, such rules were not to limit them but to allow them to play.

By insisting that their socks and shoes be put on in a particular manner, Coach Wooden was insuring that they would not get blisters on their feet and thus be prevented from playing. The rule about the length of a player’s hair was not a fashion statement but rather an acknowledgement that long hair would prove to be an impediment when playing.

Player after player will tell you that they did not understand Coach Wooden’s rules when they were playing but after their playing days were over, they found that rules provided the basis for the success in their lives, whether it was in basketball or elsewhere.

And for me, there was a degree of comfort in knowing that Coach Wooden found his own success in Christ.

Charles Handy, the noted philosopher, noted Jesus changed the thinking of the time by teaching that the meek should inherit the earth, the poor would be blessed and the first would be last in the ultimate scheme of things. (Charles Handy, The Age of Unreason, pg 23) In doing so, Jesus challenged the system and caused people to think in an entirely different manner. You cannot be a true Christian unless you are willing to change your thinking and see things in a new way. You cannot do this in a solely rational manner; you must have a vision based on faith. By the same token, you cannot see new things in a new way based on faith alone; you must be able to act in a rational manner. (adapted from “A New Order Of Things”)

We can easily see the Book of Leviticus as a set of laws, rules, and regulations that tell us how to live. In fact, there are many today who seek to have that accomplished today.

But if we look carefully at the rules that are the reading for today, we find that they are more than that. From the very first statement, “Be holy as I am holy” to the ending verse, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” these verses show how the holiness of the Holy One is to be lived out in our daily live and how we treat and do not treat our neighbors. These verses are the biblical ground for what John Wesley would later call “social holiness.”

Wesley would also put it this way, social holiness is the way we watch over one another in love. It was a way to help early Methodists fulfill the three General Rules:

  1. Do no harm
  2. Do good
  3. Stay in love with God

The organization of the early Methodist church, the Methodist bands, class meetings and societies, was done to help the early Methodists fulfill these rules. But it was not meant to be a simple checklist of personal actions (I have done this, this and this today); rather it was meant to be a way of actively working and witnessing against evil and for good in the general society. It was, if you will, the basis for an operating system, a way to live one’s life to the fullest.

Jesus takes the call from Leviticus to love one’s neighbor further. He reminds us that in God’s Kingdom we are called to love not just our neighbors but those who harm us, oppress us, and seek to destroy us. Offer those who harm you the other cheek; give those who steal our outer garments all your clothes; offer to walk an extra mile when you are compelled to walk one. Give liberally to those who beg and want to borrow from you. Counter those who would steal with a generosity they weren’t expecting and give those lacking in love and who seek to harm you the perfection in love they sorely lack.

In those verses of Matthew, Jesus offers a way to turn the evil intentions of one’s opponents back on themselves for all to see. And in doing so, in going against what would seem to be the norm and usual response, Jesus was calling us to experience and exercise the perfection in love that was possible with the coming of God’s Kingdom.

This is our new operating system, one that takes us beyond the norms and visions of society, one that takes us into the new world of God’s Kingdom.

Just as I found that my own skills and abilities were insufficient to make the changes I wanted for the operating system of my computer, so too are my skills and abilities insufficient for making significant changes in this world that would allow God’s Kingdom to be realized. But it is not up to me, nor can it ever be up to me, to achieve that sort of outcome.

Paul writes to the Corinthians,

Don’t fool yourself. Don’t think that you can be wise merely by being up-to-date with the times. Be God’s fool—that’s the path to true wisdom. What the world calls smart, God calls stupid.

Our responses to the actions, words, thoughts, and deeds of this world cannot be the same. That is what Jesus was saying; those are the rules for living first stated in Leviticus. If God loved us, then we must show that same sort of love. The love for one’s neighbor first expressed in Leviticus is also shown by loving our enemies as well.

There are too many examples, both throughout the pages of history and in our own lives, that tell us our own vision of the future is limited. And yet there is Jesus telling us that we can reach beyond the horizon, we can see around the corner and the vision of God’s Kingdom is there if we were but to see.

Our choice today is very simple. We can continue using the same operating system we have now and get the same results that we have always gotten. Or we can open our hearts, minds, and souls to Christ and accept the new operating system that is offered. And in doing so, we know that the world will change. The choice is ours, what will it be?

“Pardon Me, Do You Know The Way To Bethlehem?”


Here are my thoughts for 5 January 2014, the Epiphany of the Lord Sunday (Year A). The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 60: 1 – 6, Ephesians 3: 1 – 12, and Matthew 2: 1 – 12.

A couple of things – I didn’t post anything for last Sunday but if I had I would have compared what transpired in Israel with the slaughter of the innocents with what is transpiring in this country with the cuts being made in our social programs and what is transpiring in other countries such as Syria where children are being killed with the same ease as those who are intent on fighting. Somehow I just can’t escape the notion that we haven’t learned that when you do harm to the welfare of the young and innocent, you don’t give yourself much of a future.

The second note I wanted to make was that I had promised to write something with the title of this post for a youth group to give as a devotional. I want to apologize to that group for not getting it done. In my defense, I am finding it difficult to be creative at the moment. I might be able to use what follows later and prepare something that can be done by a group.

Along those lines, I chose the title because this is the Sunday that the wise men (number unknown) arrived at the home of Joseph and Mary. We know from the scriptures that they were essentially astronomers (thought we would probably call them astrologers today) and had determined by their observations of the night sky that something unique was taking place.

Now, just as I would have compared the situation in Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth and Herod’s rage with what we are doing to our children last week, let us think about what is transpiring with our society, country, and throughout the world today.

Each day we get evidence that we are getting dumber and dumber each day. Whether it be in what we know about human qualities or science matters, we are unwilling and unable to sufficiently analyze the information before us and make informed and accurate decisions. I don’t have any data but I suspect that if we were to quantify the number of conspiracy based theories floating around the universe and/or the Internet today, we would find that the number has increased significantly over the past twenty years or so.

And I would be willing to wager that our standing relative to other countries in terms of mathematics, science, history, and reading has fallen at the same time.

Let’s face it; we are quickly becoming incapable of thinking for ourselves. And there are quite a few individuals who would be glad and are working towards reaching the goal where they will do our thinking for us.

Now, some people will gladly point out that religion has a hand in it but it is not religion that is leading us astray. It is those leaders who feel that they and they alone know what is the best path to take and what are the best thoughts to think. These leaders work very well in the darkness of ignorance and will do whatever it takes to keep the people there.

But the prophet Isaiah calls for the people of Israel to be in the light, to see what is coming. You know that if you keep people in the dark, they can’t see what’s coming and if you can’t see what’s coming, you will not be prepared.

I have said it before and I will keep saying it. Our schools are not preparing students for the unknown problems; they are preparing for the problems that are already solved. Ask any teacher and they will tell you that when they assign problems for homework, they have to make sure that the answers are in the back of the book. If they give any other problems, they will hear about it from the administration and the parents.

Even Paul points out that, under normal situations, he might not understand much of what he writes. But he also acknowledges that there was a moment in his life when he gained that understanding.

In some circles, that is called the “AHA Moment”, that moment when a hard problem becomes very easy to understand. We should have all had such a moment in our life but it only comes when your mental skills and thinking processes are tested. And I think that we would all agree that Saul was truly tested that one day on the road to Damascus, sufficient that not only was his mind opened to Christ but his life changed and he became known from then on as Paul.

The wise men were clearly students of the sky, seeking answers to many questions. Whatever it was that they saw, individually and/or collectively, was sufficient to cause them to leave their lands and travel to Israel and seek out Jesus.

You cannot seek out Jesus if your heart is closed; you will never know who Jesus is for you unless your mind is open as well. In our churches today, we are faced with a dilemma. There are those who come to the doors of many churches asking where the child born in Bethlehem may be found. But they do not get an answer because many people do not know the answer or they are unwilling or unable to share the knowledge.

So, do you know the way to Bethlehem? Can you help a traveler find the way?

“Guess Who’s Coming To Breakfast?”


This is the message that I am giving at Fort Montgomery United Methodist Church in Fort Montgomery, NY this Sunday, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 1st. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13; Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16; and Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14. The service begins at 9:30 and you are welcome to come on in.

Some years ago (a senior phrase for I can’t remember when) the comedian, actor, musician, and entrepreneur Steve Allen created what some called the “ultimate talk show”. Fortunately, if one does remember certain aspects of something, it is likely that one will find what they are looking for somewhere on the Internet.

Presented on PBS, The Meeting of Minds featured guests who played important roles in history. Guests included Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, Marie Antoinette, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Paine, Frances Bacon, Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, Charles Darwin, Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas More, Karl Marx, Galileo Galilei, and Attila the Hun. Characters from Shakespeare’s plays were the guests on one show.

Allen noted that he felt that putting the greatest figures of all time together and have them interact with each other provided an interesting way to understand the world around us today and to prepare us for tomorrow. (notes from “Meeting of Minds”)

Along those lines, when I first began blogging, I was asked in an on-line interview to identify my “spiritual heroes”.

I listed Peter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dr. Meredith Eller (one of my college professors), and Clarence Jordan and gave a brief explanation of why I chose those four individuals. Bonhoeffer, Eller, and Jordan were chosen because of the impact their lives had on my own life. And while I was thinking of the impact their lives had on my life in the secular world, I quickly found that it was very difficult to separate the secular world from the spiritual world. And what each of these individuals meant to my spiritual life is perhaps one of the reasons why I am where I am on this journey with Christ today.

The choice of Peter as a spiritual hero probably had to do more with what I thought we had in common from reading about him. 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 that at this time of my life I perhaps have more in common with Nathaniel than the other disciples.

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 (adapted from “Who Will Be The One?”).

Along that train of thought, if I were to have a series of these meetings, much in the manner of Steve Allen’s work, I would have dinner with Isaac Newton, Joseph Priestley, and Robert Boyle. The choice of these three individuals is in part because of my own background in chemistry, physics, and mathematics.

I would hope that you know who Isaac Newton was and that your memory of high school chemistry hasn’t faded to the point where you have forgotten that Joseph Priestley was the co-discoverer of oxygen and Robert Boyle is considered the father of modern chemistry. It would be nice to have these three gentleman at dinner so that we could discuss many things and perhaps Newton could help me with that calculus problem that has bothered me all these years.

But any discussion with these three individuals would be more than simply a discussion of chemistry, physics, and mathematics; it would also be a discussion of God, Christ, and religion. While many individuals know of the scientific background of Newton, Boyle, and Priestley, very few are aware of their religious backgrounds.

Newton was required to take a religious position upon graduation with each of his three degrees but was able to get an exemption from that requirement. Boyle’s early writings were more of what we would call religious tracts rather than chemistry research notes. Priestley was a Dissenter, one whose beliefs differed from the orthodox view of the Church of England. His views about the nature of God would ultimately lead to his departure from England and move to America. Each of these individuals saw God as a part of their own life and the reason for their research; it was and continues to be a statement radically different from the views of many concerning science and faith in today’s society.

I would also invite the former Governor of Texas, Ann Richards, and my favorite political writer, Molly Ivins, to have dinner with my wife, Ann, and I. To understand who these ladies were and why I would invite them to dinner I need to retell a story that Molly Ivins wrote about Governor Richards and that I posted on my blog in “Three Women of Texas”.

At a long-ago political do at Scholz Garten in Austin, everybody who was anybody was there meetin’ and greetin’ at a furious pace. A group of us got tired feet and went to lean our butts against a table at the back wall of the bar. Perched like birds in a row were Bob Bullock, then state comptroller; moi; Charles Miles, the head of Bullock’s personnel department; and Ms. Ann Richards. Bullock, 20 years in Texas politics, knew every sorry, no good sumbitch in the entire state. Some old racist judge from East Texas came up to him: “Bob, my boy, how are you?”

Bullock said, “Judge, I’d like you to meet my friends: This is Molly Ivins with the Texas Observer.”

The judge peered up at me and said, “How yew, little lady?”

Bullock, “And this is Charles Miles, the head of my personnel department.” Miles, who is black, stuck out his hand, and the judge got an expression on his face as though he had just stepped into a fresh cowpie. He reached out and touched Charlie’s palm with one finger, while turning eagerly to the pretty, blond, blue-eyed Ann Richards. “And who is this lovely lady?”

Ann beamed and replied, “I am Mrs. Miles.”

I trust that you understand the humor and irony of this story. I grew up in the South during that period of time when the color of your skin was the determinate factor in one’s acceptance in society and it was very easy to understand that judge and his behavior. But I also understood Ann Richard’s sense of irony and her ability to put ignorance in its place.

Perhaps you have wandered into some meeting and received a similar greeting as the one given by the judge in my little story. And while I hope that it has never happened to you, I know of too many situations where a visitor to a church has, in fact, encountered a similar greeting. And I would hope that if you were the witness to such a greeting, your response would be as much like Ann Richards as it might be for Christ to greet someone lost.

Now, the term for all of this is “Radical Hospitality”, one of the five fruitful practices of a vital and viable church (see “Five Practices with Robert Schnase”.

Robert Schnase provides two definitions for this idea, the first that focuses on the congregation; the second which focuses on the individual.

Congregations that practice Radical Hospitality demonstrate an active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ. Radical describes that which is drastically different from ordinary practices, outside the normal, that which exceeds expectations and goes the second mile.

In our personal walk with Christ, radical hospitality begins with an extraordinary receptivity to the grace of God. In distinctive and personal ways, we invite God into our hearts and make space for God in our lives. We say Yes to God and open ourselves to the spiritual life. We accept God’s love and acceptance of us. We receive God’s love and offer it to others.

Now, radical hospitality is not really a new idea. After all, what did Jesus say to the 72 he sent out on that first mission trip? And did the early circuit riders, including the many who traversed this part of the Hudson Valley some two hundred and fifty years go, make it from charge to charge? If it were not for the hospitality of the churches and the individuals who welcomed those 72 and the early circuit riders, the chances are the church would have died a long time ago.

And, as noted in the reading from Hebrews for today, how many times did someone unknowingly feed one of God’s Angels? How many times did one of the early followers of Jesus in those early post-Easter days greet a stranger and tell them the story, only to find out it was Jesus they were talking with?

But it would seem today that hospitality is, in itself, a radical notion; something that should never be tried. We have regressed from the idea that anyone may enter into God’s House to the notion that the sanctuary is a place for only a privileged few. And while we may think that this is acceptable, we ignore the words of the prophets, such as Jeremiah, who warned the people that in doing so they were deserting God.

Dan Dick started one of his blogs a couple of years ago with a note about a conversation he had recently.

I was talking with a small group of young adults about the potential of the church to transform the world. My argument was simple: if we would strive to find a meaningful way to engage 7 million plus United Methodists in the United States in some form of life-affirming missional service, we could impact the very roots of a wide variety of social ills. Snorting coffee, one young woman barked derisively, “Are you serious?” I confirmed that I was, and she replied, “The churches I have been to are some of the most inward-focused, uninvolved, cautious, conservative, and apathetic groups I have ever known. Sure, there are a few individuals in the churches who get their hands dirty, but very few. (Adapted from http://doroteos2.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/are-you-serious/) – I first used this in “A New Set of Guidelines”

Despite having the advantage of knowing what happened to the people of Israel, despite hearing the words of the Old Testament prophets warn against turning from God, we go out and do the same things over again and 1) we don’t even see what we are doing and 2) we wonder where we are going wrong!

At least today we are aware that we are in trouble but no matter how hard we try we can’t find a solution because we don’t know what the problem is.

So how do we do that today? How can we, how should we show the love of Christ in a world where hospitality is often times a forgotten word? How do we engage in radical hospitality when the thought of many people is to not let people in? Maybe we need to step back and reflect on how we got here.

Let us go back to Jesus telling the people to open the doors of the banquet hall and invite all who can come to come, even if they are unable to repay the host (and I can hear almost every finance chair across the country cringing in their sears at that thought). Let us remember the hospitality shown by the early post-Easter church, even when to openly declare your faith probably meant persecution, arrest, trial, and execution.

Let us remember that we are the inheritors of a movement that gathered in the homes of believers and invited not just believers but non-believers to be a part of their community. Let us also remember that we are also the inheritors of a movement that faced intense opposition and persecution, and I am not necessarily speaking of the early, post-Easter Christians.

Methodism here in America was often marked by the clergy of other denominations denouncing Methodist preachers for “preaching delusions,” “working to deceive others,” spouting heretical doctrines,” and “promoting wild singularities”. These “wild singularities” included dramatic preaching, exuberant worship, and weekly class meetings where members shared their inner most selves.

Also, in the 17th and 18th centuries, many of the states supported established churches and these entrenched denominations did not welcome new religious groups. In some places, it was against the law for non-established religious groups to hold services. (adapted from The Heritage of American Methodism, Kenneth Cain Kingham)

Isn’t it nice to know that once we were the rebels, called by Christ to preach the Gospel wherever and whenever? Isn’t it frightening to know that we are know like everyone else?

How was it that this church and all other churches in this area along the roads that parallel the Hudson River came into being? At a time when the people cried out for the Gospel, when the people cried out for spiritual freedom as much as political freedom, the early Methodist circuit came bringing the Good News.

But where, if they could not meet in established churches, could they meet? What was it that the writer of Hebrews told those who received that letter?

So let’s go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is—not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking our share in the abuse of Jesus. This “insider world” is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the City about to come.

It’s easy to see that they took the heed of the Hebrews and meet outside the confines of the regular church.

We need to recapture that spirit, if for no other reason that it will help people understand why we are Methodists. It was at those gatherings that we began to understand why we are called Methodists. To gather at one’s home was often times the only way they could worship.

But I think it is important that we do more than simply meet in other people’s homes, much in the manner of the early Methodist classes. I think that is important because if we do is transfer the church from the church building to someone’s house then we do nothing that solves the problems that we face. We must find ways to do church outside the framework of “normal” church.

In the vernacular of today, how can we “do” church without “doing” church? The one thing I cannot do on a single Sunday morning as the guest of the congregation is tell you how to do this. You know more about what you have, what skills and capabilities you have and where to draw your resources from; all you have to do is look. The question then become what ideas can you draw from to decide what it is that you all can do. I can say, as I said last week, that one should take the Spiritual Gifts course offered by the NY/CT District. This course will give you some idea of what your gifts are and what you can do to utilize those gifts.

How can I see church outside the church? We are so used to church on Sunday we forget the role the church played in communities the rest of the week. And with so many other groups grabbing Sunday time for their events, maybe we should take some other time to offer people that all too critical moment away from the secular world.

We must ask ourselves today how we can be witnesses to the crucified servant Lord. Our answer must be rooted in knowing that we are to be with him in the midst of the world’s needs, by His grace seeking to be the signs of his ultimate fulfillment and not the bringers of that fulfillment. In doing so we free ourselves from the conformity of the world’s self-assertive way and transformed into the way and manner Christ assumed in his ministry for us.

I used this quote from Will Cotton, the Senior Pastor at St. Barnabas UMC in Arlington, Texas, and the pastor whose words and actions were instrumental in my beginning this part of my own personal journey with Christ last week but they bear repeating today. He wrote that he sees a different ministry for the church in the coming years.

The 21st century (for at least the rest of our lifetimes) in ministry will not be primarily about the local church. Churches and denominations will be wise to train people for ministry in secular situations. The gospel is returning to the streets, the marketplace, the classrooms, the chat rooms, the homes and even the bars. My job description has shifted in response to the leading of the Spirit. I am not just a performer of ministry; I am a leverage person, equipping people for ministry in places I will never be able to go. I used to lead Bible Studies with up to 80 people in them and they were enjoyed. But two years ago, I moved to more intensive studies that prepare leaders who then start classes, small groups, and even lead “in the marketplace” studies and support groups. My favorite book on this shift is Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal. My two CLMs came out of those classes. If I train 15-20 people (which I do at near seminary level with some texts actually from Course of Study for local pastors) and they lead groups of even 10 people, then the yield is three times what I was doing in the large studies before. The Church you and I are a part of will be so different in just 20 years from now, and the truth is, no one knows what it will look like (nearly every Bishop worth his or her consecration will tell you that). But the shift from church-centered ministry to community-centered ministry is part of it.

The church today, wherever it may be located, on a country road somewhere, in the suburbs of a city, or even on a street corner in the city, can no longer just be a Sunday only operation. It has to be, quite literally, a 24/7 operation. It can no longer be the repository of holy relics; it has to be the source for all who seek answers. It has to be a fulfillment of the Gospel message to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, lift up the downtrodden, and bring hope to the lost and weary. (from “Thinking Outside The Box”)

So, let me invite you to be a part of Grannie Annie’s Kitchen on Saturday mornings at Grace UMC in Newburgh. Come and be a part of the worship that we offer every Saturday morning and come and be a part of a community of sixty to seventy souls that gathered for the breakfast Ann has prepared.

This is not an invitation to come and work, though that would be nice. But I also think that to just come and sit with those who have come would be just as nice. We open the doors to the community at 8 and begin our brief worship service at about 8:10 – this Saturday Pastor Jeff will lead the worship and offer communion; Lay servants in the district have the chance to lead the worship on the other Saturdays of the month; call me if you are interested in that aspect).

And maybe, as you sit in a different setting but experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, which I truly believe is present at that time each Saturday, an idea will come into your mind about what you can do.

We did not set out to change the world when we began Grannie Annie’s Kitchen, only offer a decent and nutritious meal to who all who came.

But in the Spirit of those who offered meals to the weary travelers of the Old Testament, in the Spirit of those who offered meals as part of the worship, so we have begun opening the doors to God’s Kingdom just a bit wider.

So I will hope you will accept this invitation, just as I hope that you will accept the invitation that Jesus gave to you when he told the host to open the doors of the banquet hall. And I hope that you will then let the Holy Spirit come into your heart and mind and soul and empower you to invite others to be a part of that wonderful banquet found in God’s Kingdom.

“An Invitation To The Table”


This is the message that I am giving on Saturday morning (August 31st) at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen at Grace UMC in Newburgh, NY this morning. It is based on Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14 but it also considers Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13 and Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16. The doors to Grannie Annie’s Kitchen open at 8 and you are welcome to come. Drop me a note if you are in the area on a Saturday morning and are interested in presenting the message.

I will be at Fort Montgomery United Methodist Church in Fort Montgomery, NY this Sunday, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 1st. For my message, “Guess Who’s Coming For Breakfast?” I will be using Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13, Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16; and Luke 14: 1, 7 -14 as the scriptures. Services are 9:30 and you are welcome to attend.

This particular Gospel reading is a very interesting one because, if you are not careful, you might think that it is actually another reading that you have heard before. In fact, in Luke, there are two stories about being invited to a banquet and they are back to back. It is this second one that we are perhaps more familiar with, in part because it also is in the Gospel of Matthew. The story in Matthew does have a little bit different ending to the one in Luke though and I think that reflects the audience that Matthew was writing for and the audience to whom Luke was writing.

In today’s Gospel reading, the host is told to open his table to all the people and not just those who will have to some day repay the host for his having invited them to dine at his place.

We can assume that all those who are invited do in fact come to the dinner and there is much made of who will sit where because where you sat at the table was indicative of your status in that society. Jesus basically tells all those who want to sit at the head table that it would be better for them to sit somewhere else and wait to be invited to come to the head table; it would make a better statement, perhaps, about one’s standing.

Keep in mind that two of Jesus’ disciples, the brothers James and John, will come to Jesus shortly before the Last Supper and asked that they be given the seats of honor, only to be rebuked by Jesus.

Now, in the second banquet story, the honored guests offer excuse after excuse as to why they are not able to attend. So the host tells his servants to go out to the streets of the town and get everyone they can find to come and enjoy the banquet. Now, the only difference between the story in Luke and the story in Matthew is that there are a few individuals in Matthew who come to the table ill-prepared for the meal and, in doing so, show a great deal of disrespect for the host inviting them. The host naturally instructs his servants to throw out those who fail to respect the traditions of the meal.

It always seemed to me that Jesus had a difficult time with the social conventions of His day. He was always getting in trouble with the leaders of society because He was with the wrong people; you know, the sinners, the sick, the poor, the prostitutes (there was even a rumor going around that His girl friend was a prostitute), and tax collectors (and one of His disciples was a tax collector). He always seemed to have those who society considered unclean and unworthy following Him and it was an expectation of society that if your friends were “unclean” then you were yourself.

But when you read the Bible and you look at it closely, Jesus put respecting the individual for who he or she was before social norms or traditions, even if it went against the religious laws of that time.

Each of these stories points out one key point – God’s grace is for everyone, no matter who they might be or their own personal station in life. And while God’s grace is for everyone, you have to accept it by following and believing in Jesus; if you don’t, then you don’t get it (in more ways than one).

I am afraid that many people, both those in the church and those outside the church may not be willing to accept that idea. Too often people inside the church are unwilling to open the doors of the church to non-members.

Maybe I wouldn’t mind it so much if the church today was more like the church two thousand years ago, before Jesus began His ministry. Then, no one except the really high up in the church power structure got to enter the sanctuary of the temple. That made God inaccessible to the people, no matter who they might have been in life. Of course, somewhere along the line, the rich and powerful found a way to use their influence to get inside the church and that may have been why Jesus made a point of putting in the comment about where everyone was seated.

But the church today is more like that church than it is the church that began after Easter. But that post-Easter church wasn’t so much a church as it was a gathering of people. And they understood the point about the place of honor and how they should open their doors to all of the community. And this was at a time when to be known publicly that you were a follower of Christ was to risk arrest, trial, and execution.

Now, I do not know how those outside the boundaries of the church two thousand years ago or even those outside the boundaries of the new church felt about all of this. The chances are that they never came close to the one church because too many bad things might happen if they were to try and come in. And in that period where the new church was a gathering in someone’s home, they might not have felt welcome. But I think that those outside who did come in were welcomed and they understood that it was an unconditional welcome and those who welcomed them did so for no other reason than it was the right thing to do.

I wonder what happened to that church and why the church today is so much like the one that existed before Jesus Christ began to walk the roads of the Galilee?

Why is that so many people who call themselves Christian do things with the expectation that this will help them get into Heaven, even when Christ said that it wouldn’t. Remember, in today’s Gospel reading, He said to bring the people to the banquet, even if they could not repay the honor that others could do. But as I have already stated, even those who could not repay needed to show respect.

There are quite a few people today who will tell you that to change the direction of this country that we need to return to a more Judeo-Christian outlook. For me, that would seem to suggest that we look at the post-Easter church, the church of community and gathering and less at the rigid and ritualistic church of two thousand years ago.

Some people when they come into this place see a gym; since they come for the food, they probably don’t even see the altar that we put up every Saturday. And I know that there are quite a few that don’t come until it is “safe”, you know, after the worship is over. I would suspect that when the word got out that there was a meal over at someone’s house back in the early days of the new church, people came at all times and they really didn’t want to hear about this guy Jesus Christ who died on a Roman cross for their sins.

But they probably missed out on a lot, just as those who have come at nine are finding out that they are missing out on the meal as well.

But slowly the world changed. The Roman authorities quit persecuting those early followers of Christ and it became easier to meet in open.

And those who heard the word over the years found ways to bring the hope and promise of the word to all those who came, even when the established church was not necessarily attuned to that way of thinking.

Many people today want that really old church, the one where only a few people can come in. But that’s not what Jesus asked His followers to do. He asked them to open the doors and let all who would follow be able to follow, to show love to all those, even those who might hate Him or ignore Him.

Jesus told everyone that would follow Him to repent and start anew, to rejoice in the fellowship of a community of believers, and to work in such a way that all were fed, all were healed, and all were freed from the slavery to sin and death.

So we have gathered here, a community of believers and friends, seeking the opportunity of worship and a meal. Because we have heard the invitation to join Christ, we need to reach out to others to that they too can receive the invitation to Christ’s Table.

“Thinking Outside The Box”


I am at Rowe United Methodist Church in Milan, NY, tomorrow for the Sunday service at 11 am. You are welcome to attend if you are in the area. The message for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost is based in part on Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, and Luke 13: 10 – 17.

When I began working on this message, I envisioned the title as “A New Calling”. But my reviewer, after reading it, suggested that a better title was “Thinking Outside The Box.” And who am I to argue with my wife when it comes to such things? And the thinking that I am presenting today also matches some thinking and conversations that we are having at our church.

On a clear and cold January 20, 1961, John Kennedy stood on the steps of the United States Capitol and took the oath of office to become the President of the United States. He then spoke to the people gathered there, to the American people throughout the land, and to millions of people around the world.

He spoke of a torch being passed to a new generation, a generation tempered in the fires of war and guided by the principles set forth in the American Revolution. It was, I believe, a statement to all those who had said that he, John Kennedy, was too young and too inexperienced to be the President.

Let us ignore for the moment that John Kennedy was, at the time, older than many of the leaders of the American Revolution. Let us ignore the fact that John Kennedy was older than Jesus Christ when He began the ministry in the Galilee that would change the world.

John Kennedy’s words that day inspired a new generation to seek public service and to work for the ideals first expressed in the American Revolution. They were words that said that what you could do was determined by your ability, not by your age.

It was a time of inquiry and exploration. If you were in school at that time, you were part of the great changes taking place in the areas of science and mathematics, changes that would help us join those already beginning to explore the world beyond the skies.

It was a time when the promises of this country in terms of equality and opportunity seemed very close to fulfillment. There was a vision that we would reach beyond the stars before the next century began.

But something happened and that journey was never completed.

Today equality is measured by the balance in one’s bank account and opportunities exist for only a chosen few. From a society that saw its future in the stars we have become a society that wonders if there will ever be a future. Conquest, War, Famine, and Death, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, seem to be the daily litany of the news and far too commonplace.

Our educational system, instead of preparing thinkers and visionaries, produces individuals who can recite myriad reams of facts but have no clue what the facts mean, how they relate to the world, and how to use that information to solve the problems this country faces today and will face tomorrow.

People cling to battered and tired visions of the past, hoping to restore the “good old days”, even if they weren’t really that good. And because we have lost our vision, our ability to solve the problems that we faced today is limited. We seek solutions that based on the old ways and wonder why they don’t work.

The prophet Joel proclaimed,

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.

But it seems that the old no longer dream, the young no longer see visions, and our sons and daughters can no longer prophesy. We turn to others to tell us what to say and think, individuals who rely on our fears and our ignorance, our traditions and our bias.

And I think that it is time that we change and do so before it is too late. I am not a believer in the end of the world vision offered by so many people today, in part because such a vision is based on our fears and our ignorance. It is time, I think, that we hear the Call of God and respond to it.

This is about answering the same call that God gave to Jeremiah. I know that Jeremiah says that “he is only a boy” but that doesn’t stop God from calling upon him to take on a task. And if a young boy is to be called to take the call of God, who is to say that anyone of us cannot take the same call?

How many of the prophets willingly and quickly answered God’s call? How many of the prophets offered excuses and reasons why they could not do what God wanted them to do?

This is not about how young or old we are today. The call from God isn’t and never was age-related. How old was Abram when God said to pack everything he had and head to a new land? How old was Sarai when God informed her that she was going to be pregnant? How old was Moses when God came to him somewhere in the Negev Desert and told him to return to Egypt and free God’s people?

How many people do you know whose age has never limited what they can do? In other words, how many people can think “outside the box?”

Back in 1988, I was a young (relatively speaking) college instructor struggling to complete his doctorate and getting those all important research papers published when I met the Nobel Laureate, Dr. Herbert C. Brown. While I was still trying to get that first publication, Dr. Brown was routinely involved in the publication of 100 research papers a year. It was not pro-forma that his name was on the paper; he was in the laboratory, offering advice and suggestions on the conduct of the research involved.

And yet we have all met and know individuals far younger than us who have not had an original thought in years.

Bob Dylan wrote a song in which he noted that times were changing and that we best heed the call. I got the note about the 175th anniversary of Rowe the other day and I liked what it said at the top of the page, “1838 – 2013 . . . and still counting!” It says to the people of this area that this church plans to be here for a long time and to be a part of the community for at least another 175 years or so.

It is important to remember who we are and where we have come from, for it tells us much about where we can go. But we need to rekindle and revive the vision that brought people to this place, to each of the United Methodist Churches in this area and throughout the country. Too many people today focus on issues founded in ignorance and bigotry and that turn our attention away from the Gospel message of hope and deliverance. Too many people wish things were the way they have always been and not the way they could be.

It was a Sabbath morning some two thousand years ago and Jesus was doing what He probably did every Sabbath during His three year ministry and what He had done every Sabbath since he was twelve; He was in the synagogue listening to the rabbi teach a lesson from the Torah or, as was the case in today’s Gospel lesson, teaching the lesson Himself.

But this Sabbath was perhaps just a little bit different. There was a woman, bent over with the pain of arthritis, present in the building, probably over in the women’s section since she wasn’t allowed to be in the same part of the building as the men. And Jesus called her over to Him, laid His hands on her, and healed her.

Think about this very carefully. First, Jesus brought a women into a part of the building where she was not supposed to be. Surely, that upset many of the traditionalists, for whom appearance and tradition counted more than anything else. Second, He touched her. This wasn’t the first time that Jesus had touched a sick person and in the very act of touching that person, Jesus became ritually unclean. In the eyes of the traditionalists, Jesus should have left the building right then and there!

And then, He healed her of an eighteen year ailment. At that point, the leader of the congregation had had enough and denounced Jesus for working on the Sabbath. And all Jesus did was point out the hypocrisy of the law that said it was proper to take care of one’s farm animals but not heal a sick person.

It also says something about the nature of that group of people that day that they were delighted that the Jesus had responded to the leader has He had. It makes you wonder how the leader treated the other members of the congregation.

And how many times have we seen that in our lives? Where tradition and honor take precedence over what is right and proper? How many times have we questioned the right of an individual to be a part of the church because they don’t fit into our preconceived notion of tradition and honor? How many times have we said “that’s just not the way things are done around here”?

John Wesley was not the first person of his time to show concern for the poor and impoverished people of England. In many sermons of that age, there is a real concern for the lower classes; but it is assumed that if they, the poor and working classes are to be saved and to enter into Christ’s purpose for them, they must take on the culture of their betters who stand as a living sign to the Grace of God. In other words, it was assumed (and I think it is still assumed today) that the will of God was to make “them” more like “us.”

The writer of Hebrews points out that those who follow Christ have been given a new way of life. Tradition told the people not to touch, in fact I think in some translations they were to never go near, Mount Sinai. To do so was to die. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are in a new world, working under a new covenant, a fresh charter.

This new covenant, this new charter comes with a thorough house cleaning, a removal of all the historical and religious junk that has gotten in the way of entering God’s Kingdom. God is no longer on some mountain far away and untouchable; He is right here, right now, with us.

Because John Wesley followed the example of Jesus and went to the people, not to make them like their betters but to enable to find the way of Christ in their own world, he was bitterly attacked. The missionary work of John Wesley and all of the early Methodists, including those who founded this church 175 years ago, made a statement about the ideological assumptions of the privileged and threatened the security of their prejudices which they assumed to be the will and purpose of God.

The call that we have is to make sure that all the people have that opportunity. Jeremiah was to pull up and tear down, take apart and demolish, and then start over, building and planting. For me, that means looking at how we do church, where we do church and what church members can offer not only to and for each other but to and for those with whom they come into contact every day.

Will Cotton, the Senior Pastor at St. Barnabas UMC in Arlington, Texas, and the pastor whose words and actions were instrumental in my beginning this part of my own personal journey with Christ, wrote that he sees a different ministry for the church in the coming years.

The 21st century (for at least the rest of our lifetimes) in ministry will not be primarily about the local church. Churches and denominations will be wise to train people for ministry in secular situations. The gospel is returning to the streets, the marketplace, the classrooms, the chat rooms, the homes and even the bars. My job description has shifted in response to the leading of the Spirit. I am not just a performer of ministry; I am a leverage person, equipping people for ministry in places I will never be able to go. I used to lead Bible Studies with up to 80 people in them and they were enjoyed. But two years ago, I moved to more intensive studies that prepare leaders who then start classes, small groups, and even lead “in the marketplace” studies and support groups. My favorite book on this shift is Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal. My two CLMs came out of those classes. If I train 15-20 people (which I do at near seminary level with some texts actually from Course of Study for local pastors) and they lead groups of even 10 people, then the yield is three times what I was doing in the large studies before. The Church you and I are a part of will be so different in just 20 years from now, and the truth is, no one knows what it will look like (nearly every Bishop worth his or her consecration will tell you that). But the shift from church-centered ministry to community-centered ministry is part of it.

We must ask ourselves today how we can be witnesses to the crucified servant Lord. Our answer must be rooted in knowing that we are to be with him in the midst of the world’s needs, by His grace seeking to be the signs of his ultimate fulfillment and not the bringers of that fulfillment. In doing so we free ourselves from the conformity of the world’s self-assertive way and transformed into the way and manner Christ assumed in his ministry for us.

The church today, wherever it may be located, on a country road somewhere, in the suburbs of a city, or even on a street corner in the city, can no longer just be a Sunday only operation. It has to be, quite literally, a 24/7 operation. It can no longer be the repository of holy relics; it has to be the source for all who seek answers. It has to be a fulfillment of the Gospel message to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, lift up the downtrodden, and bring hope to the lost and weary.

Some will say that it is not possible for them or their church to answer that call. But the call that God makes is based on the skills and abilities of the people. Moses told God that he was incapable of speaking to the people (tradition says that he was a stutterer) so called Moses’ brother, Aaron, to do the speaking.

It may be that one does not know what can do; but there is a course offered in this district called “Knowing One’s Spiritual Gifts”. It is a very interesting course because it gives one insight into what one’s own gifts are. Knowing what one’s gifts are can tell you how to answer God’s call and to think outside the box.

We have two choices this Sunday morning. Time and time again we have allowed the methods of past generations to dictate what the next generation will do. But we end up finding ourselves asking and thinking that if we can only find the right and relevant method we will be as successful as they were.

It may strike some as quite out-of-place but it is not very important whether the number of Christians at a particular place and time is large or small. What is more important is to ask whether the large or small numbers of Christians know that they are representatives for all and that they are called to participate in the mission of the reconciliation of the universe.

We must leave it to God whether and when He wants to use our worship and witness in order to add to or cut down the number of His militant church on earth. In the end, it is not a question whether the church exists for itself but rather it exists as part of the whole world.

We have a new calling today, one to reach out to the world, first in this corner of the world that we call home and then to the rest of the world. We may say, as so many have done before, that we are small band and that we cannot do anything but God has always shown that He will give those who answer His call the skills, the abilities and the power to do so.

Will you answer the call of God, the New Calling, today? Do you dare to think outside the box?

“Can You Find Your Church?”


Can You Find Your Church?

Interesting question, don’t you think? And the answer is, of course, I can find my church. Just please don’t tell me it is right where you left it.

But what about the person who has just moved to the area and would like to come to a United Methodist Church? The answer in this case is that they probably could find your church but how will they find it?

At this point, we are a little out of my depth when it comes to mapping programs but hopefully you have friends or know some people who can help in this regard.

They could do as I have done on a number of occassions; wander around the new neighborhood until they find a church. But in today’s technological society, they are just as apt to go to the Internet and do a search there.

Someone searching for a United Methodist Church might try googling for the church but the odds are that they will get lots and lots of church information and it will be very hard to sift through it all to find your church. Think about it, how many churches are there in this country that have the same name as your church? The same could probably be said for searching for the church on Facebook.

Searching on Google and Facebook can be very difficult if you do not have something specific in mind.

But there is one search engine that provides very specific results about churches in one’s area and it is the “Find A Church” function on the UMC.org page.

Did you know that this was there? I have found that many churches are not even aware that this function exists and that their specific church is listed on it.

There are two ways to utilize this function. First, you have to go to UMC.org. On the the top of the page, just off to the left center is a tab marked “Find a church”. You can use this tab to get to the find a church page or update your church’s information.

Clicking on the find-a-church part takes you to a page where you can enter information such as street address, city, state, and zip code information or even a particular church name. This will lead to a results page.

The second way to get to this information from the first page is to enter a zip code over on the right hand side of the first page (in the slot marked “enter zip code”). This will give you all the churches with that particular zip code. There is an option to expand this search in 5-mile increments.

Now, here is the question for you to consider. If the person looking for a church finds your church by either process, what will they find when they click on the church’s name?

If a particular church doesn’t know that this page exists, not much information is going to be available. There might be a street address and perhaps a telephone. If one is lucky, there might even be an e-mail address. With the street address, there is a connection to Google maps so that one can get directions to the church.

This is where the fund begins. For one church in my area, the listed mailing address happens to be the parsonage and not the church which is about five miles away. That is the type of error that each church has to check, to make sure that street address of the church is the street address of the church.

Google maps tend to make errors, such as putting one local church on the other side of the intersection from where it actually is. Or the time that the directions from Google put me in the parking lot of an Assembly of God church one mile from my destination. My favorite one though is the one that put a Connecticut church in the middle of Kentucky.

If you have not looked at this function on the UMC.org web page, you need to do so. Is the information listed correct? (The e-mail address for a church in this area was linked to a church of basically the same name but in Indiana.)

Is the link to the web site correct and active? A person uses technology to find your church who gets wrong e-mail addresses and/or incorrect web sites is not likely to visit your church. We just through a period of many changes in this district and the pastors listed on the Find-a-church page are not entirely correct.

I cannot offer any insight into what it takes to change the information on this page. There are options for changing the information and/or adding new information but we are still doing that at our church so I am not prepared to give clues on that aspect.

But the mantra still remains the same. Once you put your presence on line, you must constantly work to insure that the information is correct and accurate. When one makes a commitment to technology, one is making a long-term and active commitment. You cannot create a web page and expect it to take care of itself. Too many seekers today are attuned to the technological nature of society; they will not consider a church that makes only a partial attempt to be technological oriented.

So can you find your church? And when you find it, what will you find?