“The Life You Lead”


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

Laity Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Faithfulness”


The following was the morning devotional for the New York Conference Board of Laity for Tuesday, October 7, 2014.

Good morning, my name is Tony Mitchell and I am a certified lay servant from the Fishkill United Methodist Church. A copy of this devotional can be found on my blog “Thoughts From The Heart On The Left.”

I choose Hebrews 11: 1 – 31 as the scriptural basis for this morning’s devotional but, for time purposes, not going to read it this morning. But I suggest that when you get the opportunity, you read it one more time. Perhaps, as is often the case, a second reading of a familiar passage provides a new understanding.

This passage begins with the idea that faith is a belief in things unseen and then goes on to list all those incidents where our spiritual ancestors acted on faith.

Now, when Clarence Jordan wrote his Cotton Patch version (which he called a “colloquial translation with a Southern accent), he noted that he saw the Letter to the Hebrews as a convention sermon at an annual conference of early Christians. The delegates may have been so impressed and inspired that they insisted that it be included in the convention minutes.

Jordan wrote as verse 1 of chapter 11, “faith is the turning of dreams into deeds, it is betting your life on unseen realities.” I think of all those listed in this chapter of Hebrews and the trials and difficulties they endured, all based on the proposition that the Kingdom of God and the promises it held were real and not some sort of myth or superstition.

In today’s world, faith is often treated as just that, a myth or superstition. The critic and the cynic will tell you that any belief in God is something that one cannot prove and thus is meaningless in a life that demands proof.

Over the past few weeks and even months, I have felt that my own faith has been tested, perhaps to the point of breaking. But I keep holding on, with my faith sustaining me when nothing else seems to work. And as I look back at history, those 2000 or so years since Jesus began His ministry on the dusty roads of the Galilee, I have to say to the cynic and the critic, if this is all a myth or superstition, why does it still exist? Shouldn’t faith have disappeared a long time ago.

In the end, the proof that faith is real is found when we show God’s love to others, when we show the existence of God in our own lives and help others when they are tested. The proof of God’s love comes when we answer the cries of the people who are hungry, the cries of the people who are sick, the cries of the people who are naked or homeless and the cries of the oppressed. Faith is truly the turning of dreams, those of others into deeds, that which we do.

“Finding My Faith (and keeping Mariano’s)


This is the message that Wanda Kosinski presented at the Goshen (NY) United Methodist Church on September 14, 2014 (14th Sunday after Pentecost (A)). Sunday services are at 10:30 am and you are invited to attend.

Please join with me in prayer … Dear God, may the words I prepared to share with everyone here this morning be found pleasing to you. And if it is a different message you wish your people to hear from the one that I plan to deliver then I would ask the Holy Spirit to help me find the words that you wish to be shared with those gathered here this morning.

Good morning! Some of you may already know that back in June I was supposed to deliver a sermon but then a case of laryngitis made that impossible. I do appreciate Cheryl filling in so wonderfully for me that day.

And here today, I’m given another opportunity but the words I prepared previously did not seem to quite convey the message for today so while I plan to share with you a portion of that other sermon – my inspiration for today’s message came from a different source.

I spent a good deal of this past summer on a personal spiritual journey of sorts. I decided to do this because I came to realize that more and more I was feeling sort of distant or lost (for lack of a better word) from God and especially the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. So, I decided that with Sunday school ending it was a good time for me to take a time out and re-evaluate my faith and my beliefs and try to re-energize or what I like to refer to as finding my faith focus.

I spent a lot of time reading the Bible and other Christian books and in silent prayer. I also took the opportunity to attend Sunday worship in a few places other than a Methodist church. And on several Sundays, I skipped attending a formal worship service altogether and simply took a long walk outdoors in nature to serve as my worship time for the day.

On more than one occasion I’ve found it challenging to find a topic for a message or sermon from the lectionary readings for a particular Sunday. And I know that when that happens it is perfectly fine to use another source for inspiration.

But finally after reading and re-reading the lectionary verses for this Sunday, the first few lines of this morning’s reading from Romans became a starting point for preparing today’s message. Initially, I used the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible for reading this verse:

Welcome those who are weak in faith, (my first faith encounter) but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.”

I then decided to use the Bible Gateway web site to do a bit of research and look up the same verse but using 3 other Bible translations and this is what I found:

First, from the Easy-to-Read Version of the Bible:

Be willing to accept those who still have doubts about what believers can do. And don’t argue with them about their different ideas.”

Second, from the Living Bible:

Give a warm welcome to any [person] who wants to join you, even though [that person’s] faith is weak. Don’t criticize her for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong.

And third, from the Common English Bible:

Welcome the person who is weak in faith – but not in order to argue about differences of opinion.

After the opening sentence or two of the verse from Romans, each of the Bible versions proceeds with an example of the difference in how some people eat meat and others only eat vegetables. Of course, this is just one of many differences among people.

On a whim, I attempted to correlate the food eating difference to the difference in levels of faith at different times in one’s life and how circumstances and events might effect and change one’s level of faith.

Perhaps when faith is high – meats are on the menu and when faith take a dip, then only veggies are in order. Of course, I don’t mean for this correlation to be taken seriously and hope the Bible scholars in the house won’t call me on this (smile).

With that thought, I was reminded of an interview that I’d heard on National Public Radio while driving home from work one day a few months ago – what I’ll refer to here as my second faith encounter. Mariano Rivera was being interviewed by Robert Siegel on the program All Things Considered about the book he wrote entitled “The Closer.”

As I’m sure many of you already know Mariano Rivera was the famous closer with the NY Yankees until his recent retirement. What not everyone might know is that Rivera is a devout Christian and a very religious person. At one point, he was asked about something he wrote in his book concerning the hand of God being in everyday life, even in baseball.

Rivera answered: Well, it’s my belief. You know, it’s all about faith, not only in baseball, but just normal life. My faith in the Lord is everything.

He went on to explain how his faith made it possible for him to walk out of circumstances like losing Game 7 of the World Series. If he wasn’t able to win the game that day it was alright because he had given it everything that he had. But he wasn’t going to second-guess his faith or ability due to the loss.

Rivera suggested that we need to shine in the middle of adversity. He said, “You still have to point to the sky and say, you know what, Lord? Thank you for this moment, because you permitted it.”

My third and final faith encounter happened quite unexpectedly and it was, I believe, the thing that renewed or reconnected me to a closer feeling to God and my faith.

It happened last month when I was at the hospital in Toms River NJ visiting my Mother. On my 2nd day there, I arrived at the hospital quite early in the morning – about an hour before visiting hours started. When I entered my Mother’s room she was sleeping so I sat down and started to pray.

A few minutes later a Catholic priest appeared at the door. He was doing his daily visitation rounds. I told him that I was here from New York to see my Mother.

He then asked me if I’d like to share communion with him. Now I know that the Methodist communion table is open to all but I also know that this is not the case in the Catholic Church concerning the sacrament of Communion. So, I explained to him that although my Mom was Catholic and I had been raised in the Catholic faith that I was now a Methodist and about 5 years ago had taken a reaffirmation of faith and joined the Methodist Church.

We talked for a few minutes about my involvement in teaching Sunday school and my service as a lay servant in my church. He then again asked me if I’d like to share communion with him and that the only requirement, as far as he was concerned, was a belief in God which I clearly had.

So, he gave me communion and we prayed together (my Mom was sleeping through this) and this exchange was so comforting and healing to me. I thought it was so cool that he could set aside whatever differences about communion might exist because the moment asked only to do what Jesus would do.

To me, this final faith encounter was comforting and healing for sure, but it also reaffirmed my belief that there is so much more all people and all religions share than the minor differences.

And most important, it left me feeling, once again, connected to God. Amen.

“Taking Time To Do It Right”


A quick note – this replaces an earlier announcement.

I am at Grace United Methodist Church in Slate Hill, NY this Sunday, September 7, 2014. The Scriptures for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A) are Exodus 12: 1 – 14, Romans 13: 8 – 14, and Matthew 18: 15 – 20. The service is at 10 am and you are invited to attend.

A quick reminder – don’t forget the pre-Advent Bible Study that we are having at our house on the four Sundays in October; see “Understanding Advent In The 21st Century” or the invitation on Facebook for further information.

I had a thought in place when I began this piece that lead me to entitle it “Taking Time”. But as I looked at things, the title expanded to “Taking Time To Do It Right”, in part because that was more to the point I wish to make. And if you are going to take the time to do things right, one ought to do things right, right?

As one who consciously follows the lectionary reading, it is correct and proper to follow the readings from Genesis with readings from Exodus. But, in one sense, it isn’t logical to include a passage describing the preparation for Passover in readings for September.

With the calendar that was used at the time of the writing of Exodus, the first month of the new year was in April, which explains why it is celebrated then. So why read about the preparation for Passover in September?

Under the present Jewish calendar, the first month of the New Year is September, which is why Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, occurs during this time (this year it will begin on 26 September this year).

So even though Passover is some six months away, we can still look at the preparations needed for that occasion. But note that while the Passover meal is set for the fourteenth day of the month the actual preparations for the meal begin some two weeks prior to the actual meal. There are also instructions for how Passover is to be celebrated after the Israelites ultimately reach the Promised Land.

In His instructions, God places a sense of urgency on the meal, “Eat the meal but also be ready to leave”.

Now, I have been a follower of the legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, for almost as long as I have been a follower of John Wesley. In preparing his basketball players and students for life, John Wooden created what has become known as his “Pyramid for Success.” On paper, it is more of a triangle but it consists of a number of thoughts and maxims that encapsulate John Wooden’s concept of success.

One of those maxims which I feel applies in this case is “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” and I think that it applies in this case. And in thinking about Coach Wooden and his UCLA basketball program, I couldn’t help but remember something Richard “Digger” Phelps did prior to the UCLA – Notre Dame game where the Irish defeated the Bruins and ended the UCLA 88-game winning streak on January 19, 1974. During one of the practices prior to that game, Coach Phelps, in having the team anticipate victory, had the players practice cutting down the nets so that they would know how to do it right. And when that victory did occur, the team was ready for the celebration.  (And as a quick aside to the matter, Coach Phelps is a local boy from Beacon.)

Another maxim that came to mind was “be quick but don’t hurry.” If one observed a UCLA basketball practice run by John Wooden, one observed practices run at speeds matching and exceeding game conditions. If mistakes were going to be made, they were going to be made in practice when they could be corrected and not during the game. And more than one player noted that it made the game seem easier.

The instructions that the Israelites were given regarding the eating of the meal were not given for their comfort but, rather, to prepare them for God’s quick and miraculous delivery. The Israelites had to be quick but not hurry when the time for the Passover came to be.

Now, I am not today nor have I ever advocated any sort of “End Times” theology. It has always amazed me that many of those who do espouse the idea that 1) they are going to Heaven and you are not and 2) there is nothing that anyone can do about it.

And while I am not crazy about that first point, especially others have said it to me, it is that second point that bothers me more than anything else.

If there is nothing that we can do about the world around us, if the violence and destruction that seem so prevalent today are the way that it is going to be, then what was the point of Jesus coming to earth the first time? Let’s not worry about His Second Coming, why did He come the first time?

Let me pause here for some thirty seconds while we think about this; you will understand why in a moment or two.

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Let us contemplate the words that Paul wrote for today and what it meant then and what it means now. Paul was writing with a sense of urgency, that Christ was coming and we had to be prepared for His arrival. But he also was warning everyone not to get so focused on that task that they forget their regular tasks.

It appears from the historical record that many individuals, convinced that Christ was about to return, had given up paying bills, sold all their possessions, and sat around partying and having a good time. Paul pointed out that they still needed to focus on their daily lives but lead those daily lives in such a way as to let everyone know that they were Christian.

But how do we do that? Do we simply say every now and then “I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior” and then go about our business as if nothing happened? Or do we make it a point to let everyone know that we are a Christian and do so in such a way that really just irritates them? Or do we live our lives as an embodiment of Christ, treating everyone, no matter who they may be or what they may believe, in the same manner that Christ taught us?

For me, the words of Genesis and Romans speak of preparation, not for a time we cannot predict but rather to live a life today that will work against the powers of evil, death, and destruction.

I will admit that this is not an easy task, especially in today’s society. There are those today who see the world in black and white, devoid of any color or shading. Some of these individuals would create a faith-based society, guided by their own views of the world and law, but it would be a rather limited moralistic society. Others are just the opposite, placing their values and thoughts in a world in which they claim faith has no place; yet, by their very words and actions, they would create an almost identical faith-based, quasi-moralistic society.

If either of those solutions is to be the answer, then I would suggest we prepare for a rather abrupt ending to life. Because that is what we will get. And it is not the life that I feel that we are asked to live or the way we are to believe.

What is the life that we have been asked to live? How, in a world of increasing sectarian and secular strife can we ever find true peace? How can we make the world that Paul envisioned in his letters to the Galatians and the Colossians be the world of today?

Hear those words again, though perhaps in a slightly different matter. Dr. Clarence Jordan held a degree in agriculture from the University of Georgia in 1933. While in school, he became convinced that the roots of poverty were spiritual as well as economic. As a result, he went to seminary and earned a Ph. D. in New Testament Greek. He then took this background and 1) created the Koinonia Farm in Georgia in 1942 and 2) translated most of the New Testament from the original Greek into what is known as The Cotton Patch Gospels.

The development of the Koinonia Farm, which is still in operation, was an effort to show that a life built upon Christian principles could work and that segregation and inequality had no place in ordinary life. That it survived the 50s and 60s is a testament to the correctness, if you will, of the approach.

The Cotton Patch Gospels are written with references to Southern geography and Southern tradition but they are still true to the words and thoughts of the original writers.

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians became the “Letter to the Churches of the Georgia Convention” and Galatians 3: 28 became

No more is one a white man and another a Negro; no more is one a slave and the other a free man; no longer is one a male and the other a female. For you all are as one in Christ Jesus…noble heirs of a spiritual heritage.

Paul’s Letter to the Colossians became the “Letter to the Christians in Columbus” and Colossians 3: 11 became

The pattern for the new man is same for a Negro and a white man, a church member and non-church-member, foreigner, Mexican, employee, employer,…Christ is everything in everybody.

Jordan continued

Wear the clothes, then, that will identify you as a people whom God has selected and dedicated and loved. Your outfit should include a tender heart, kindness, genuine humility, loyalty, persistence. Put up with one another, and freely forgive each other if one has a grip against somebody. You all forgive as freely as the Lord forgave you. Overall all these things wear love, which is the robe of maturity. And let Christ’s peace, into which you were called as one fellowship, order your lives.

And just as Paul called the Romans, the Colossians, and the Galatians to seek a different and newer world, so too are we called to do the same. It may be that we need to reevaluate our thinking process.

When I was working on my doctorate, I was introduced to the concept or notion of “wait time”. This was the time that the teacher or instructor had to wait after introducing something new before proceeding. Research showed that a minimum of thirty seconds was needed for an idea to be established in a listener’s mind. And thirty seconds can be an extremely long time; as you undoubtedly found out a few moments ago.

And in today’s world, we don’t like to wait, even for thirty seconds; we want to respond now and in kind. We have, I believe, taken the thinking of the Bible concerning violence and anger and turned it around. We have become too quick to anger and too slow to think, to reverse the words of James. In James 1: 19, we read,

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage.

Clarence Jordan, in his Cotton Patch Gospels, translated this as,

Listen here, my dear brothers. Let every man of you be quick with his ears, slow with his tongue, and hard to get riled up, because a man’s temper contributes nothing to God’s cause.”

In a world where we are too often quick to anger, we read in Ecclesiastes 7: 9,

Don’t be quick to fly off the handle.
Anger boomerangs. You can spot a fool by the lumps on his head.

But you will say to me that there is a point in time where we have done everything we can possibly do and we are now entitled to treat another person as a pariah for ever after. How can we respond to the world in a manner that will allow us to find peace?

Let us take a second look at the passage from Matthew that is the Gospel reading for today. Matthew’s Gospel was written to a persecuted, predominantly Jewish church, trying to find a way after the destruction of the Temple. They were also trying to find a way to include Gentiles in their new community. So conflict was a part of their beginning and it was probably a life-threatening issue.

But Matthew reminds the readers that Jesus is speaking about reconciliation and He does not allow for a quick dismissal of those who have hurt us or threaten to hurt us. Even His final words, spoken about those for which reconciliation has failed, are a call to seek and include in our love those with whom we are in conflict. It is a story that invites us into an adventure of constant, unfailing reaching out, seeking understanding, and loving sacrificially.

It is a story that tells us that once we make the decision to follow Christ, we are never off the hook of forgiving and seeking reconciliation. We are called to be those who learn to speak, even in our moments of greatest threat and greatest conflict, words of peace, not retaliation, words of compassion, not rejection. (adapted from http://sacredise.com/blog/?p=1473)

At some point in time, we will have to realize that our walk with Christ will not be an easy one but it will be the right way to go. But we knew that it would not be easy and we knew that it would require an effort on our part to take the time to do it right.

There was only one way that the Israelites would get out of bondage in Egypt. The Romans, enduring persecution for their belief, knew that only one way to lead them to freedom. The early church, followers of Christ, understood that there was only one way to go, and that it would take time to do it the right way.

Shall we rush to the first thing that comes to mind or shall we take the time to do it right? Shall we prepare now or just wait?

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.