24 Hours


Here is the message that a friend of mine, Cheryl Carpenter-Gomes, presented this past Sunday, June 1st, at her church, the Goshen UMC, The Scripture for this morning is John 17: 1 – 11.

Taking a look at the gospel scripture for today, I realize it is probably one of the most amazing scriptures we have. It is one time that we actually hear Jesus praying to God the Father. The bible says He prayed often but this is the one time we can hear how He prays.

We know when the disciples asked HOW to pray he gave them the Lord’s prayer, however this IS the Lord praying himself. He knows the end is near; in 24 hours he will no longer be walking this earth so he prays to his Father. Now, if you learned that you were going to die within the next 24 hours, would you pray? What would you say? What would you ask?

I know I would be praying. I always have a sort of continual dialog going with God through out the day as my prayer but, if I knew that in 24 hours life for me is over, what would I say? Well, it would probably be something like this.

Um. Hey God it’s me, you know I’ve had a truly blessed life, a difficult childhood, I couldn’t “do” things other kids could do like ride a bike or run or even wear cool sneakers till I was 13 due to a bone structure problem, which made me be bullied a lot, but in retrospect, I turned out okay. I lost my dad at 60 and my sister at 36 really much too young, I helped my parents support my sisters kids until they were old enough to help themselves. That was not easy, but we did it. And I have no doubt that they are both with me in spirit daily.

I worked on Wall Street starting at 16, took the subway in to work after school and got mugged on it twice. I graduated at 17 and I was this close to going for my traders license, however in order to keep up with the street in the 80’s it took a lot of controlled substances to play that game and well that could’ve killed me,

I joined the Naval Reserves instead, and I thought for sure THAT WILL kill me, but I made it through and am proud of that accomplishment, unfortunately the only cruise I went on was on a really ugly battleship grey boat, and I spent most of that time swabbing decks, ( I do believe i became very adept at my painting skills however)

I got married and have a beautiful family, I had two kids, 1 boy and 1 girl best of both worlds. And while neither of them were born with instructions, I think they are turning our pretty good.

And for the last dozen years or so, I’ve been working here in the preschool, which I didn’t ever think was in my plans. I had a wonderful mentor for 3 years and then became a teacher, I love what I do, and i believe this is my calling. I have great friends in many walks of my life. heck, I’ve even been for a hot air balloon ride!! so yes, my life has been blessed.

BUT WAIT! I’m only 48! there is so much to do.. My children are only half grown. I want to see them grow older and be happy I want to hold a grandchild (or 2). I want to travel further west than Arkansas! I’m sure there are fine wines I have yet to taste, and sights of your creation I have yet to behold!! There are classic novels to read, great food to taste, more people to meet, I’m really not done yet. I need more time!!!!

Alas, Jesus said nothing like this in his prayer, could you imagine? Hey God it’s me Jesus, I haven’t met the right woman yet, the one in the mohair robe is kinda cute..I want to have a family.. I want to travel more .. No, he didn’t say any of these things. He knew his life was complete as it was. He was born for one reason, so he could die for us and he knew this his whole life.

When he prayed it was for his disciples, he prayed that God’s name be Glorified And Yes, he prayed for us. he was thinking of us way back them.

Jesus prayed that we might all be one. He prayed that the Christians who would come later — you and me — would all be one “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (17:21). He was praying that we would be one so that his work on the cross wouldn’t be wasted. He wanted people to see our love for each other — and to be drawn to Christ.

A person’s dying words tell us what that person thinks is really important. Jesus’ dying words were a prayer for us — that we might be one so that the world would see our unity and be drawn to Christ. That’s what Jesus thought was really important.

So how are we doing? what can we do to make Jesus’ prayer come true? How can we start becoming one with each other and with other Christians?

The solution to our loving problem is to seek God’s help — and to seek each others help.

- With God’s help, we can get past the things that divide us. With God’s help, we can love each other.

- With God’s help, we can love our Christian brothers and sisters down the street — however different they might be — however strange their ways might seem.

- With God’s help, we can become less concerned with the labels and more concerned with what is in a person’s heart.

- With God’s help, we can begin to care about our Christian brothers and sisters who are experiencing persecution in many parts of the world.

- With God’s help, we can become one, even as the Father and Son are one — and then the world will see our witness and believe in Jesus –believe that he was sent by the Father– believe that he came to help them.

And then Jesus’ prayer — his dying request — will be answered. Amen

“Chosen By God”


During the month of May, the New York Annual Conference Board of Laity conducts a morning devotional in preparation for its Annual Conference.  I was asked to do the devotion for today, Thursday, May 22, 2014.

Good morning, my name is Tony Mitchell and I attend Grace United Methodist Church in Newburgh, NY. The scripture for this morning is from Romans 5: 1 – 11; I will read Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel version, “The Letter to the Christians in Washington.”

Since we have been put in the swim with God because of our faithfulness, we have a close relationship with Him through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Through Him, we also got an open door into this favored position we hold, and we get “status” from the confidence we receive from God’s greatness. Not only so, but we also get “status” from getting banged up, being fully aware that getting banged up makes us tough. Now toughness makes for reliability and reliability for confidence, and confidence doesn’t let you down. For God has given us a love transfusion by the Holy Spirit he provided for us.

While we were real sick, in the nick of time Christ died for people who couldn’t care less for a loving God. Hardly anybody will die for an ordinary person, and it’s possible that someone might screw up enough courage to give his life for a truly good person. But God convinces us of his love, because while we were still sinful trash, Christ gave His life for us.

So now that we have been taken on board by his sacrifice, shall we not all the more be saved by Him from “the life away from God.” For if, while we were rebels, we were won over to God through His Son’s death, how much more, having been won over, shall we be saved in His life. And on top of all this, we get “status” with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have been won over.

This reading to the Christians in Washington (or Rome if you will) prompted me to think of a particular sports metaphor. Actually, two came to mind.

You know how it is when the Super Bowl is over and the MVP of the game has been announced. The announcer goes up to this player and asks, “Now that you have won the Super Bowl, what are you going to do?” And the player responds, “I’m going to Disney World!”

I get that impression sometimes when I hear someone tell me that they are a Christian, that they have won the fight and are going to heaven. I probably wouldn’t mind this so much except that the announcement is made in such a way that seems to say that I am not going to get the same rewards; that this outcome is for them and them alone. It is this attitude of exclusiveness that is causing so much trouble for the church today. When the doors of the church need to be open, people are finding them closed. And the people who need to be opening the doors are the members and not necessarily the clergy.

That’s why I think that the more appropriate metaphor for this reading, one that would apply to our having been selected or chosen by God, is the recent NFL draft, the upcoming NBA draft, and the Major League Baseball draft, whenever that is held.

Players in the draft are chosen for the skills and talents that they can bring to a team and history tells us that players in the later rounds of the draft have as much or a greater impact on the fortunes of the teams that select them than those players who get all the glory for being picked in the first round.

We all know Paul’s words, elsewhere, that each of us has been given a particular set of gifts and that we need to utilize those gifts for the betterment of the community, not simply or solely for our use.

Our society is very much a selfish, self-centered society. Society teaches us that each person should look out for themselves and that society should help the individual. Paul will point out that what we receive through the Holy Spirit, what empowers our gifts and our abilities, is very incompatible with this selfishness and self-centeredness. Your energies are wasted when they are focused inwardly but they multiply when focused outward, to helping others (from “Two Roads”)

Yes, there is something special in being chosen by God and, as Paul wrote so many times (including today’s reading), it eases the pain and makes the difficult times a little easier to endure. And we gain confidence in our ability to do something when we know that! But we should also not let the possibility of pain, difficulty or failure quenches the Spirit and lets the wonderful talents that we have be wasted.

I really began to understand what it meant to be a part of the United Methodist Church when I realized that, having been saved by and through the actions of Jesus Christ, I had to do something with and in my new life.

People will see the fire of the Holy Spirit in us, the same fire that danced around, over, and through the people gathered together that first Pentecost some two thousand years ago.

We know too well that fire destroys everything foreign to it and everything akin to it gives it strength. The fire of zeal lets each person use their different skills and abilities in different directions (adapted from Art of Prayer)

It is not that we all do the same thing; that might be rather boring. And while we are empowered to do our own thing, it is so that the community of which we are a part can grow in Christ.

I close with this simple thought, “if not now, when?”, and “if not I, who?”

Let us pray.

Our Gracious and Loving Father, we thank thee for finding us amidst the turmoil and strife of everyday life. We thank thee for sending your Son whose sacrifice on the Cross saved us from a life of sin and death. And we thank thee, O Father, for the gifts that you have given to us. Now, be with us as this day begins and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, let us use those gifts so that others may come to know You as we do. In thy name we pray.

And all the people say, “Amen.”

“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?

“The Master Lesson”


Here are my thoughts for the 5th Sunday of Epiphany (Year A), 9 February 2014. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 58: 1 – 12, 1 Corinthians 1: 1 – 16, and Matthew 5: 13 – 20.  This is the message that I will give at the Sloatsburg United Methodist Church this Sunday (I may make some changes in it between now and Sunday but this is essentially what I shall say); services there start at 10:30 and you are welcome to attend.

Today is Scout Sunday and something of an anniversary for me. In 1965 I was working on my God and Country Award in the Boy Scouts. I actually received the award and was confirmed as a member of the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church (now 1st UMC) of Aurora in May of that year, this Sunday serves as a marker and a reminder of when I began this journey with Christ.

As I noted in my summary sheet for Boy Scout Sunday, there was a period of time when I didn’t do much after earning the award. But sometime around 1984, I felt the need to do something that reflected the choice I had made twenty years before. Since then, I have either been the liturgist or presented the message on the second Sunday in February as a reminder of a choice I made many, many years ago.

My appreciation for the environment around us also began when I was in the Boy Scouts. And when I began my college studies a little over a year after completing my God and Country work, I began a second journey, a journey of investigation of this world.

This weekend is also Evolution Weekend and marks the celebration of Charles Darwin’s birthday on February 12, 1809. This message marks the 6thyear that I have participated in this part of the Clergy Letter Project, an effort to show that science and religion are compatible and can safely interact with each other. (Here is a link to my previous messages and posts – Evolution Weekend.)

Let me begin by saying that the United Methodist Church has 1) endorsed this project, 2) included a statement concerning the relationship between science, technology, and theology in The Social Principles section of The Book of Discipline (¶ 160 – The Natural World, section F), and 3) this will not be a science lesson.

Now, in one sense, perhaps I shouldn’t concern myself with issues about evolution and the creation of the universe and life on this planet. After all, I am a chemist more than I am a biologist and the issue of evolution and creation is one of biology, isn’t it?

But there is a lot of chemistry involved in the beginning of the universe and the development of atoms, elements, and compounds. And the combination of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen to ultimately form the various components of DNA means that I have to be interested or at least should be interested in how it all works.

So, I participate in this project, not because I don’t believe that God didn’t create the universe, this planet, or the life on it but rather because I do believe that He did create the universe, the planets, and all the life that we see.

It never occurred to me back in 1966 that by declaring that I would study chemistry that such studies would be conflict with my belief in God and that Jesus Christ was my Savior and that I could not be a certified lay servant/speaker in the United Methodist Church. Nor did it occur to me that my acceptance of Christ somehow prevented me from being a chemist and from searching for answers to questions sometimes out of reach.

I hold a view of the relationship between science and faith similar to that expressed by Alan Lightman, the first person to hold dual appointments in physics and the humanities at MIT. In an essay entitled “The Spiritual Universe” (from his book The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew) he writes

If science is the religion of the twenty-first century, why do we still seriously discuss heaven and hell, life after death, and the manifestations of God? Physicist Alan Guth, another member of our salon, pioneered the inflation version of the Big Bang theory and has helped extend the scientific understanding of the infant universe back to a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after t = 0. A former member, biologist Nancy Hopkins, manipulates the DNA of organisms to study how genes control the development and growth of living creatures. Hasn’t modern science now pushed God into such a tiny corner that He or She or It no longer has any room to operate—or perhaps has been rendered irrelevant altogether? Not according to surveys showing that more than three-quarters of Americans believe in miracles, eternal souls, and God. Despite the recent spate of books and pronouncements by prominent atheists, religion remains, along with science, one of the dominant forces that shape our civilization. Our little group of scientists and artists finds itself fascinated with these contrasting beliefs, fascinated with different ways of understanding the world. And fascinated by how science and religion can coexist in our minds. (“Brain Pickings for 15 January 2014”)

And while Lightman and those in his group might see a world in which there is a need for both science and faith, there are those today who would tell you that to be a scientist, or in my case, a chemist precludes one from being able to study and preach the Word of God, just as there are those who feel that one’s presence in the pulpit prevents being in a lab somewhere during the week.

And as a science educator, I have to be concerned about what is transpiring in this world today, when people seek to limit free and independent thought about things both secular and sectarian to the point of being forbidden. This limits what we can do, what we can envision and where we might go.

The title of this message comes from a term often used in fine arts and music classes. A master class is one in which a recognized expert comes and teaches something a topic that everyone knows but in greater depth and detail that normally covered. It is designed to take you beyond where you are and to where you can be.

If as it is written in Genesis, we are created in God’s image, how can I not ask questions? Am I, as some would have me to do, to blindly accept something as the truth when other information tells me otherwise?

What I find interesting is that I have learned more about the Bible, Christianity, Methodism, and my own personal faith in the past few years than I learned in the two years I devoted to earning the God and Country Award and becoming a member of this church. But if I were to accept the notion that such knowledge was fixed, I would not have learned anything. And where would I be on this journey that began almost fifty years ago?

You may disagree with me on this point but telling me that I cannot pursue this information just makes me want to find out what it is you don’t want me to know. And I am fully aware that in some translations of the Bible, it was eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil that drove Adam and Eve out of the garden and destroyed their relationship with God. In looking for and finding Christ, we have the opportunity to restore our relationship with God.

I know that when I began my journeys in both the secular and sectarian worlds I probably accepted the notion that the world was created in six days as described in the opening verses of Genesis. But somewhere along the line, I began to ask questions, questions that the Book of Genesis could not answer directly, questions that many people do not want answered or even asked today.

Asking questions about the Book of Genesis or any of the material in the Bible does not necessarily mean that one is questioning their faith. It means that one is trying to understand what their faith means. If I am not driven to seek more knowledge, of what value is my life? What have I learned if I do not know who God is and what He means to me?

The British philosopher and writer Alan Watts wrote a book in 1966 entitled, interestingly enough, “The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are”. In a sentiment that Alan Lightman (physicist and holder of a joint appointment in physics and the humanities at MIT) would come to echo more than half a century later in his remarkable meditation on science and what faith really means (and which I have expressed on numerous occassions before), Watts adds:

Irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world. Faith is, above all, open-ness – an act of trust in the unknown. … No considerate God would destroy the human mind by making it so rigid and unadaptable as to depend upon one book, the Bible, for all the answers. For the use of words, and thus of a book, is to point beyond themselves to a world of life and experience that is not mere words or even ideas. Just as money is not real, consumable wealth, books are not life. To idolize scriptures is like eating paper currency. (“Brain Pickings for 2 February 2014”)

For me, Watts is not saying that because I have studied chemistry that I must abandon God nor because I believe in God and accepted Christ as my own personal Savior that I should ignore chemistry and its scientific foundations but rather that I should use the one to find the other.

But today’s so-called experts don’t do that; they tell you to accept what they tell you as fact and irrefutable. But basis for their knowledge is often limited and incomplete and any challenge to their authority brings ridicule and scorn.

The roots of today’s debate go back almost four hundred years. Each one of us was probably taught that the church did not want Galileo to publicize his ideas about the nature of the universe. But it was not the church, per se, that sought to limit Galileo or the work of Copernicus and Kepler; rather it was individuals within the academic establishment that had based its power and authority on the Aristotlean view that Galileo’s observations challenged.

They were opposed to these new ideas because their reputation, status, and power were built on maintaining the Aristotelian view of an earth-centered universe. The church was brought into the argument because the academic establishment convinced members of the church establishment that the changes proposed by Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo would harm the church and threaten their status, reputation, and power as well. (From “The Changing of Seasons”; I believe my original source was The Galileo Connection by Charles E. Hummel)

What I fear, perhaps more than anything else in this world, is this same sort of world today. A world where those whose power and status are maintained in a closed environment, a world in which we cannot find the answers to our questions, a world in which we say to seekers and those on a journey that this is the answer and no questions are allowed in either the secular or sectarian world.

Were Paul’s words to the Corinthians an encouragement to seek new wisdom? Were Paul’s words not an indictment of those in power who sought to limit such new wisdom?

We, of course, have plenty of wisdom to pass on to you once you get your feet on firm spiritual ground, but it’s not popular wisdom, the fashionable wisdom of high-priced experts that will be out-of-date in a year or so. God’s wisdom is something mysterious that goes deep into the interior of his purposes. You don’t find it lying around on the surface. It’s not the latest message, but more like the oldest—what God determined as the way to bring out his best in us, long before we ever arrived on the scene. The experts of our day haven’t a clue about what this eternal plan is.

Paul makes this point –– those who crucified Jesus were blind to the message that Jesus gave. They were so fixed on what they had at that moment that they could not see what lie before them.

If we are trapped in the moment that we call today, how can we move beyond the boundaries of that thought. As I read the words from Isaiah for today, I could not help but think about how those words, writen over three thousand years ago, still have meaning today and how we haven’t learned much in that time.

We are still so much more interested in our own well-being that we are others. Our greed and ignorance take precedence over caring for others and making sure that all have a chance. Isaiah makes the point, I believe, that when we are are more concerned with what we have and we ignore the plight and circumstances of others, we cannot expect much in reward.

Even Isaiah points out that when you do God’s work, you begin to shine as a light that shows the truth and the future. Those who find protection in the Law often times find themselves trapped in it.

Are we to be blind to what transpired in the Galilee some 2000 years ago? Are we to ignore the words that were spoken, the actions were taken as Jesus and His followers walked those roads? Would not asking those questions make us more like those who crucified Jesus?

What is that Jesus said to the people in our Gospel reading for today? We are to be the light of the world. Does that not mean that we show others what we have found and help them to find it themselves?

Jesus points out that He came not to fulfill the Law but to go beyond it. Those who would seek to limit what we know want the Law to constrain and prevent, to keep people where they are and not where they can be.

The lesson from the Master is very simple; if we impose boundaries on others, we will find ourselves limited. If our focus is on ourselves, we will find ourselves trapped. Our journey will be over because we can go nowhere.

But if we accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour, if we open our hearts, our minds, and our souls to Christ, we will find something beyond the horizon. There will be meaning and purpose to our lives, meaning and purpose that we cannot find any other way. That is the lesson to be taught, that is the lesson to be learned, and that is the lesson to be shared.

Top Posts of 2013


Top Posts for 2013

Here are the top posts for 2013 on this blog. As was the case for last year (“Top Posts for 2012”) I didn’t post much new stuff this year. The once nice thing is that my readership numbers continue to show an increase each year, though perhaps not as much as in previous years.

I hope that 2014 will be a different year in terms of my blogging/writing. It is possible that the direction of my ministry will be shifting and I won’t be posting much again. Or I may find it appropriate to go back to a post every week.

I am also thinking that I need to do more in the area of chemistry and science education. We are at a point where our knowledge of science is getting very limited and I am convinced that our ability to solve the unknown problem is quickly disappearing. Pretty soon we are going to be at a point where the only problems that we can solve are the ones where the answers are in the back of the book and that is sort of meaningless since those problems have already been solved.

So as I ponder what paths I shall take with this blog, here are the top posts from 2012 (as of 26 December 2013)

  1. The Chemistry of Bowling: A Short History of Bowling Balls, Lanes, Coatings, and Conditionersposted on July 26, 2008 (#1 in 2012)
  2. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch – posted on November 18, 2009 (#2)
  3. What is a part per million? – posted on February 19, 2010 (#3)
  4. The Twelve Disciples – Were they management potential? – posted on October 3, 2008 (#12)
  5. Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday? – posted on March 13, 2008 (#4)
  6. A Child’s Book Report on the entire Bible” – posted on April 5, 2008 (#13)
  7. What Does Stewardship Mean to Me – posted on November 6, 2005 (#8)
  8. Who Cuts the Barber’s Hair? – September 15, 2009 (#5)
  9. John Wooden – A Review of “A Game Plan for Life – the power of Mentoring” by John Wooden and Don Yager– October 9, 2009 (#7)
  10. The Nature of Academic Freedom – March 17, 2010 (not ranked in 2012)
  11. Describe Your Pastor” – March 11, 2008, (#19)
  12. The Difference Between Football in the North and South – October 8, 2006 (#15)
  13. Just What Is The Right Thing To Do?” – June 28, 2008, (#17)
  14. Hearing God Call (sermon/message)– January 7, 2009 (#9)
  15. Meditations On An Easter Sunrise” (sermon/message for April 20, 2003) – posted on April 6, 2013 (not ranked in 2012)
  16. The Dilemma of Modern Christianity – April 18, 2009 (#11)
  17. The Changing of Seasons” (sermon/message for October 24, 2010) – posted on October 24, 2010 (not ranked in 2012)
  18. The Meaning of Service” (sermon/message for November 17, 2002) – posted on November 14, 2008 (not ranked in 2012)
  19. There’s A Sermon In Here But First Warning” – posted on July 24, 2012 (not ranked in 2012)
  20. A Collection of Sayings – January 17, 2008 (#6) – This was actually the 21st rated post but the post that was in 20th was a summary of previous posts and is scheduled for deletion shortly.

The all-time list is

  1. The Chemistry of Bowling (#1 in 2012)
  2. Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday? (#2)
  3. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch (#3)
  4. A Collection of Sayings (#4)
  5. What is a part per million? (new to the top 5)Top

“Renewal, Revival, and Rejoicing”


This is the message that I gave at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (Grace UMC, Newburgh) on Saturday, October 19th, for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The Scriptures for this Sunday were Jeremiah 31: 27 – 34, 2 Timothy 3: 14 – 4: 5; and Luke 18: 1 – 8; I focused primarily on the passage from Jeremiah but used thoughts from the other two readings as well.

When I thought about the title for this message, my first thought was something like “Destruction, Desolation, and Despair.” But that is a rather depressing title and neither the direction that I wanted to take the message nor indicative of the Scriptures for this weekend. So I looked again at the Scriptures and I thought about it and came up with “Renewal, Revival, and Rejoicing.”

But you have to realize that from destruction, desolation, and despair, to renewal, revival, and rejoicing, you have to think about what was happening to the Israelites some 3000 years ago and again some 2000 years ago and in this country some 200 or so years ago and perhaps even today.

The Old Testament reading comes at a time when the people of Israel are returning home after exile in Babylon. But they are returning to a country that has been completely and totally destroyed. The best and brightest of the Israelite society have been taken away and it would seem that there is no way that the country can be rebuilt. Amidst the desolation and destruction, there is only despair; there is no hope.

It was that way when during the time of Jesus’ ministry. Perhaps there wasn’t much destruction since the country had been rebuilt but there certainly had to be desolation and despair. The country was occupied by a foreign power and was governed by a group of political and religious authorities who were more interested in their own power and sought favor from the Roman occupiers. Many of the people felt that there was no hope, no mercy, and certainly no justice unless, of course, one had money and power.

And two hundred years ago in this country, amidst the destruction and desolation that followed the American Revolution, there had to be a degree of despair. Because of the revolution, many of the clergy affiliated with the Anglican Church, the state church of the colonies and England, had left for the safety of England rather than stay through the struggles. This left many in this country without pastoral leadership.

In these three eras of history, there was clearly destruction and desolation and most certainly there was despair. To see hope and promise was very, very difficult if not even seemingly possible. And today, when there are still homeless, there is still hunger and sickness, it is quite easy to sense the despair amidst the destruction and desolation in the land that many see as the 21st century Promised Land, the “land of milk and honey.”

But against that background, against the attitude that perhaps there is no hope, no promise for a better tomorrow and no future, there is hope, there is a promise. It began with Jesus walking the roads of the Galilee, speaking about the promise and not just speaking but offering hope through healing, feeding, and prayer. It continued with Paul offering advice to Timothy, his successor.

Paul told Timothy to stick with what he, Timothy, had been taught and not get caught up with the spiritual junk food that so many other preachers of that time were offering. You know those type of preachers, they are still with us today.

They speak with smooth tongues and syrupy sweet voices, offering untold riches if you will send them your money. Maybe that would be the way to go, after all when they have your money they go out and buy expensive suits and fancy cars for themselves. I don’t think that is what is in the Gospel.

And I don’t trust those preachers who tell you that all the problems of the world are somebody else fault and that there is no hope for you, a lost sinner. I’ve heard these preachers before and all I know is that they do not speak the same words that Jesus spoke nor is what they offer what God offered me.

A God who would send His son to the world to save me from my sins because He loved me would not send a preacher to say there is no hope. Nor would He have His Son, Jesus, tell us that it was easy to get into heaven.

Paul told Timothy to keep preaching the Gospel, preach it with intensity and challenge the people. He reminded Timothy that it would be hard work and it would be difficult but it would be worth it when it was all said and done.

The call for mercy, justice, and hope can never be quieted. Jesus told the people about the persistent widow, who would call for justice and mercy from a judge corrupt beyond belief.

Just like the people who heard Jesus tell this story, we know how this story turns out. But Jesus said that the judge will ultimately grant the widow justice because it was the right thing to do.

For us today, in a world perhaps without hope or promise, we have to understand that God will not forget us; we have to understand that God will respond to our cries for help. But those who call out must continue to watch, listen, and work towards the outcome. Too many people today call out for God, “Help me, God!” and turn away when He does not answer immediately.

But as they are turning away, there is God reaching out. It isn’t that God didn’t respond; it is that we were not looking when the help was offered. Here the words of Jeremiah again,

Be ready. The time’s coming”—God’s Decree—“when I will plant people and animals in Israel and Judah, just as a farmer plants seed. And in the same way that earlier I relentlessly pulled up and tore down, took apart and demolished, so now I am sticking with them as they start over, building and planting.

These words were spoken to a people amidst the destruction of their country, amidst the despair of a life without hope. These were the words of God saying there was the promise of renewal and revival, of rejoicing in a new beginning.

And when the people of this country cried out for pastoral leadership, John Wesley sent the circuit riders to preach and teach among the people of this country. His actions, by the way, were in defiance of the religious leaders who would not respond to the cries of the people.

And so here we are today, hearing the words of God, seeking to renew our lives and revive our spirits, rejoicing in the thought that through Christ we are saved. In the darkness of times we know that we have not been forgotten, that we are not lost but have been found and if we accept Jesus Christ as our own personal Savior, we have hope for the future.

We have that single opportunity today to renew our lives, revive our spirit and rejoice in Christ. Amen!

“A Nonconformist In A Nonconforming World”


This is the message that I gave at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (Grace UMC, Newburgh) on Saturday, October 12th, for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The Scriptures for this Sunday were Jeremiah 29: 1, 4- 7; 2 Timothy 2: 8 – 15; and Luke 17: 11 – 19; I focused primarily on the passage from Timothy but used thoughts from the other two readings as well.

Last Sunday I got a note about an interesting book written back in the late 1960s. It was entitled “How To Be A Nonconformist: 22 Irreverent Illustrated Steps to Counterculture Cred from 1968”. It was written and illustrated by a 12-year old girl over in Connecticut. There were two things that were interesting about this book and its author; the author would go on to lead a decidedly nonconforming life and it was the only book that she wrote by herself.

At the end, after listing and illustrating the various rules that one needed to follow, she wrote “Now, you are ready to be a nonconformist.” You turned to the next page and there it read, “just like everyone else.”

I think that 1) that was a pretty good description of our society back then and 2) it still applies today. We seek to be an individual who does his or her own thing yet we end up looking and acting like everyone else. We find our individuality in the common things we share with each other. I am not sure that is being a nonconformist.

I would like to suggest that being a Christian today, in the greatest sense of the word, is to be a nonconformist. In fact, I know that many individuals, Christian and non-Christian today, who would object to that description because they are anything but nonconforming.

And yet, when you look at the work of Jesus as walked the roads of the Galilee you are looking at an individual who did not conform to the rules and regulations of His society. How many times did Jesus heal the sick by touching them, in direct violation of normal rules of society? How many times did He include women and children in His group, again a direct violation of normal behavior? If Jesus’ ministry was anything, it was nonconforming.

And Paul, whose instructions to Timothy are the center of today’s message, was just as much a nonconformist as Jesus was. As Saul, he would seek to persecute Christians because they went against the accepted norms of society. He was very much the conformist, seeking to arrest, persecute, and execute anyone who offered any view that didn’t conform with his society.

But, as Paul, he would continue the preaching the Gospel message that Jesus began and quickly became a nonconformist. And he was sufficiently nonconforming, sufficiently against the standards of society to warrant arrest and persecution. That’s why we heard in the passage this morning that Paul was writing from jail.

Even the early Methodist church was nonconforming; it represented an alternative way of life to the self-indulgence, hedonism, and social fragmentation of society. In a society where admission into God’s Kingdom was believed to be based on who you were and your status in life, the early Methodist church said that all were welcome.

Just as Jeremiah told the people of Israel, returning to their homeland destroyed by war and invasion, when many of what may call the best and brightest were taken away in captivity and slavery, that God had not forsaken them, that there was hope and that they would be able to rebuild their broken lives, so too did the early Methodist church speak out against the norms of society that said hope was impossible for all but a select few.

But we live in a world today where it seems that not much has changed. It is a world where it seems as if people no longer have any hope, that lives cannot be rebuilt and should just be thrown away, where your admittance into God’s Kingdom is still based on the statistical things and not one’s character.

The church must exist as a alternative to that world, it must not conform to the ways of society, it has to be a light to the world and a beacon of God’s coming kingdom that reaches beyond race and class, economic standards and social norms. The church through its people must show the love of God in a world where there is no love. The church through its people must show its concern for and friendship with the poor, the despised and vulnerable people of the world. It has to announce to all that God is present among all the people, including the marginalized, the abused, and the outcast and not just on a Sunday morning at a given hour of the day.

The church through its people must show a moral integrity and commitment to justice that is a prophetic witness to God’s holiness and righteousness. In all that is said and done, the people of the church must stand as an alternative to a society that relies on success, prestige, wealth and power as a means to happiness and salvation.

Paul was preparing Timothy to lead the church when he gave those instructions to him that we read this morning,

Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they’re not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul.

What is that Paul is saying here? He is saying that how we act has a lot to do with where Christ is in our lives and where we are in Christ. If our words are not backed by our actions, then our words are hollow. If we speak of God’s love but have no love, then we do not mean what we say. You cannot say “this is mine and you can’t have it!”

Now, here comes the “tricky” part. The Gospel reading for this weekend is the story of the healing of the ten lepers. The healing of the lepers was one of those acts that literally got Jesus in trouble because it violated so many of society’s (not God’s) rules. Jesus healed ten lepers, ten outcasts, and brought them back into society. And yet, only one of the ten truly understood what had transpired and he came back to say thank you.

I am sure that the other nine were healed just as well as that tenth one was but I wonder how long they stayed healed and cured. It is our nature to take something and not respond; ours is a society where it is me first and no one else (in part, I think that is why Paul was talking about what Timothy had to do).

What happened to those nine lepers who were healed by Jesus but didn’t come back and say thank you? Who knows? They were happy to have been healed and given a chance to get back into society. But the odds are that they didn’t change the way they lived and probably found themselves with the disease again as a result.

Society doesn’t require that they say thank you; God doesn’t ask for a thank you either. God’s grace is free and unlimited to everyone and you can do with it whatever you wish. He gives us His Grace freely and openly; we are the ones who need to be saying thank you, in our words, our thoughts, our deeds, and our actions to God for what He has done for us.

Each day, we are given the opportunity, to accept God’s grace and change the way we live. Instead of being one who tries to be a nonconformist by confirming to the wishes and desires of society, we can find our individuality and soul by being one with Christ.

The challenge for each one of us is to make that decision – shall I accept Christ or shall I continue along the path that I have walked. The first choice gives me the opportunity to be who I am; the second just makes me one of the crowd. The choice is yours today.

“Which Road Will You Walk?”


This is the message that I gave at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (Grace UMC, Newburgh) on Saturday, September 21st for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The Scriptures for this Sunday were Jeremiah 8: 18 – 9: 2, 1 Timothy 2: 1 – 7, and Luke 16: 1 – 13; I focused primarily on the passage from Jeremiah but used thoughts from the other two readings as well.

If I were to list my favorite things, as a poem I would use Robert Frost’s poem “Two Roads”. It speaks of two roads diverging and the writer having to make a choice as to which road they will walk down. One road is well traveled while it appears that no one has ever traveled down the other one. How often is this choice the one we have to make, of choosing the road that everyone else is traveling or taking a new path, one that has never been tried.

Sometimes you have to take the road every one travels; if you want to get to Beacon from Newburgh, you almost always have to take the Newburgh-Beacon bridge. But that’s not to say that you can’t go down to Bear Mountain and cross over there; or go up to Marlboro and cross over to Poughkeepsie. But it is so much easier to use the Newburgh-Beacon bridge because it is shorter and more familiar.

How much of our life is like that, where we will take the easier path, the shorter path, the one that everyone else takes? Sometimes, it is the best way to go but often times, just because everyone else does it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the right thing to do.

In preparing these notes, I turned to my prayer guide for some thoughts to help my thinking and writing. I don’t know who James Allen was but in his book, “As A Man Thinketh”, he wrote the following.

The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors; that which it loves, and also that which it fears; it reaches the height of its cherished aspirations; it falls to the level of its unchastened desires, and circumstances are the means by which the soul receives its own.

Every thought-seed sown or allowed to fall into the mind, and to take root there, produces its own, blossoming sooner or later into act, and bearing its own fruitage of opportunity and circumstance. Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts bad fruit.

The outer world of circumstance shapes itself to the inner world of thought, and both pleasant and unpleasant external conditions are factors which make for the ultimate good of the individual. As the reaper of his own harvest, man learns both by suffering and bliss.

Following the inmost desires, aspirations, thoughts, by which one allows oneself to be dominated (pursuing the will-o’-the-wisps of impure imagining or steadfastly walking the highway of strong and high endeavor), a person at last arrives at their fruition and fulfillment in the outer condition of life.

The laws of growth and adjustment everywhere obtain.

This says to me that we have two choices, one that will lead to the good life and one that will lead elsewhere. Now, this good life is not necessarily that “good” life of the secular road. That’s what leads Jeremiah to cry out over the imminent destruction of his people. They have been chasing the “good” life and now they will reap the penalty.

I go back to something that I have said before but it is always worth repeating, when you come to this place, you leave your baggage behind.

This is a place of renewal, a place to find that one thing that will turn your life around. Last week I spoke of the transition of power that was taking place, of Paul’s retirement (actually, his impending execution) and Timothy taking over the mantle of leadership.

In that portion of the letter that is part of this weekend’s lectionary, Paul continues instructing Timothy on what he is to be doing. Timothy is to continue telling everyone about the Good News, that Jesus Christ came for everyone, not just a few people but for everyone.

He, Timothy, is also to pray for everyone including the leaders of the community so that they make the decisions which will allow each one of us to live the life we are supposed to live.

And that leads me to the other note that I found in my preparation. It is a prayer by Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest and scholar. It speaks to what we must do, both in prayer and in life. Hear this prayer,

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I am impressed by my own spiritual insights. I probably know more about prayer, meditation, and contemplation than most Christians do. I have read many books about the Christian life, and have even written a few myself. Still, as impressed as I am, I am more impressed by the enormous abyss between my insights and my life.

It seems as if I am standing on one side of a huge canyon and see how I should grow toward you, live in your presence and serve you, but cannot reach the other side of the canyon where you are. I can speak and write, preach and argue about the beauty and goodness of the life I see on the other side, but how, O Lord, can I get there? Sometimes I even have the painful feeling that the closer the vision, the more aware I am of the depth of the canyon.

Am I doomed to die on the wrong side of the abyss? Am I destined to excite others to reach the promised land while remaining unable to enter there myself? Sometimes I feel imprisoned by by own insights and “spiritual competence.” You alone, Lord, can reach out to me and save me. You alone.

I can only keep trying to be faithful, even though I feel faithless most of the time. What else can I do but keep praying to you, even when I feel dark; to keep writing about you, even when I feel numb; to keep speaking in your name, even when I feel alone. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.

Now, I will be honest. Those words perhaps mean more to me and my own struggle in the faith than they may have meant for you. But if one pauses and thinks about one’s own life, those words, perhaps in a slightly different tone, are words that you might have spoken.

What if you were one of the those whom Jeremiah was crying out about? How would you feel? Would you not wonder where your hope, your salvation might be?

There are a number of instances where Jesus alludes to the abyss, the distance between each one of us and Him. And it is clear that we cannot shrink that distance, no matter how hard we try. But Jesus has the ability to bridge that gap and bring to us that which we seek, if we just reach out to Him.

In those times when we feel alone, or helpless, or powerless, we know that Jesus will be there. We also know that He will be there in the times of plenty and bounty, times when we are apt to ignore Him and think that we did it ourselves.

Each person comes to this point on their own and they must make the decision about what comes next on their own. But each of us, having in someway been there, can help find that path, help each person find Christ in a world that often doesn’t want us to find Him.

We come to a crossroads in life and we must decide which path to take. That is the call we make this morning, “which road will you walk?”