“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?”

“A Reflection Of A Past Life; A Vision Of A Future Life”


This is the message that I presented at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen this morning, Saturday, September 14th. I am using the Scriptures for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) – Jeremiah 4: 11 – 12, 22 – 28; 1 Timothy 1: 12 – 17; and Luke 15: 1 – 10 – but am focusing on Paul’s words to Timothy.

We served some 93 people this morning. My thanks to the 10 volunteers who helped serve the people and then clean up. Please contact me if you are interested in being a part of this ministry in some way.

I had a choir director a few years ago who was always encouraging us to sing with a little more feeling; so that it meant something to us. This was, to be sure, a departure from the way most of that particular choir had been raised in the Methodist Church. And that in itself was a little unusual because one of the things that early Methodists were known for was their singing.

But over the years that part of Methodism seems to have disappeared. I see this in both the traditional and modern hymns we sing and how we sing. There is no feeling to the song, just some words put forth with a musical accompaniment.

Now, this isn’t necessarily a piece about music or singing but rather about how one feels, whether it be in singing or in everyday tasks. It is about the life that we have and the life that we lead. How do others see us? Do they see us as individuals who struggle with life, very sad, often angry, and certainly not blessed? Or perhaps they see us as people who are able to love, in spite of their present status or troubles, patient in trials, rich in hope, strong in adversity. Can they bear witness to the knowledge that every day God is present in their lives and that He has provided for them as He does for the sparrows in the sky?

John Wesley called this holiness, the act of living a life that displays an active love of God and neighbor that penetrated every part of their life. Those passing by could see the fruit of this holiness.

Now, we need to understand that holiness is not an all or nothing thing. You may have some holiness but you need to continue working on it, otherwise you risk losing what you had. Now, you also have to understand that you cannot gain this holiness by doing good works. Lord knows, Wesley tried and he failed.

I think we know many people who think that they have this holiness, if not because they are doing good things, then because they walk around proclaiming how their lives are blessed, and by contrast, yours is not. That very attitude, which I saw growing up and which I still see today, almost drove me from the church.

That sort of attitude is very closed and not open to life and what we might encounter each day. And a closed life fails to recognize that we need to have an openness to the creativity of life to which God calls us.

But in our move to a truly open society we must be always ready for the surprises that will spring forth, both those that assist in the creative process and those which threaten to destroy the creative process.

We must be aware that there is more to life than just what happens each day. If we are not willing to look for that which is beyond the boundaries of our thought, we can find ourselves quite easily caught in the present, with no hope for the future.

We have to ask ourselves if there is some power that breaks through into our lives and frees us from those forces that would limit what we do and constantly threatens us with destruction?

When we hear of the life of John Wesley, we know that he had developed a method for living, a method for achieving the knowledge that salvation was his. But we also know that this method did not work because it lacked one singular item, the presence of the Holy Spirit.

It would not be until that moment that we have come to Aldersgate that John Wesley would know that one could not work at gaining that feeling; that it came with an open heart and acceptance of the knowledge that Christ was the truth, the way, and the life.

It was that singular sensation of his heart being strangely warmed that told him of the presence of the Holy Spirit and that gave him the ability to take the Methodist Revival to a higher and more successful plane.

I chose the reading from 1 Timothy for this morning because we have Paul telling Timothy that his life had changed because of Jesus. It does not matter what translation of the Bible one reads; Paul points out that his life was pretty worthless before his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. And how many of us have a life like that, one full of invective, arrogance, hatred and ignorance? How can we ever expect anything good to come out of a life like that. And yet Paul says that because of God’s grace he was able to be saved.

In the passage that we read today, Paul is passing on to Timothy the mantle of leadership. And each one of us, whether we know it or not, whether we truly understand what lies before us, also receives that same mantle. Each one of us understands and knows in our heart the evil, the sin, and the violence that encompasses this world. And in accepting Christ as our Savior we are able to cast aside, as Paul did, that evil, that sin, that violence and rely on the merciful God who can bring good out of evil.

We are now in a position, as was Paul, to received forgiveness and then be in a position to pass it on to others.

When John Wesley began the Methodist movement, he did so by looking out to world. It was when he took Christ into his heart that his life began to change and the Methodist movement began to change the world.

My challenge to you today is look at where your life is at today. Perhaps you need to bring Christ into your life. Now is the time to do so, to say that I repent, I cast aside all that I once was and begin a new, with Christ in my life.

If you have accepted Christ in your life, then you need to seek ways that will enable your own holiness, your own love of God become more visible.

Without Christ, our lives will always be a reflection of our past; with Christ, we have a new vision for the future. Our challenge will always be to decide what we want to see.

“An Invitation To The Table”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Old Dreams, New Visions”


This is the message that I gave at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen at Grace UMC in Newburgh, NY this morning. It is based on the lectionary reading from Hebrews (Hebrews 12: 18 – 29) but also has the thoughts of the Old Testament reading (Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10) and the Gospel reading (Luke 13: 10 – 17) in it as well.

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

A while back I came across a listing of the top ten anti-war songs. Now most of the songs on that list I knew and had sung but there were a couple on the list that I had never heard. One of those was “Fall of the Peacemakers” by Molly Hatchet.

Now, as a Southern boy, I sort of knew about this particular group as it is one of the leaders in the particular brand of rock and roll that has a distinctly Southern twang to it. The group is better known perhaps for “Flirting With Disaster” but I found the “Peacemakers” song very interesting, especially with its reference to the funeral of President John Kennedy. I also came to like a third song by the group, “Dreams I’ll Never See”, which starts off

Just one more morning I had to wake up with the blues.

Pulled myself out of bed yeah, put on my walking shoes.

Climbed up on a hilltop baby, see what I could see.

The whole world was falling down baby, right down in front of me.

Chorus:

‘Cause I’m hung up on dreams I’m never gonna see yeah.

Lord help me babe.

Dreams get the best of me, yeah.

I thought about this song when reading the passage from Hebrews that I read from this morning and because next week we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the steps of the Washington memorial that became known as the “I Have a Dream” speech.

There was a hope at that time fifty years ago that the vision that Dr. King so proudly proclaimed would become reality, that one would judged by their character and not by the color of their skin. There was a hope some fifty years ago that the dreams and visions of this country would be fulfilled that year. And while the hope is still here today, it is seen in a dimmer light than it was then.

And we must also realize that this coming Thanksgiving we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Kennedy. It would be safe to say that the dreams and hopes that echoed throughout this land some fifty years ago began to fade when the bullets were fired that fateful day in Dallas, Texas.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews speaks in passing to another death, the death of Christ. If we were to put ourselves in the place of those gathered in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago, we might be rejoicing to hear Jesus speak of the hope and promise found in the Gospel message. It offered to the people then the same hope and promise that were given and felt that hot August day in Washington, D. C. fifty years ago.

And surely if we were to have been in Jerusalem on that fateful Friday that we have come to call Good Friday, we would have felt that same way about the death of Christ as we did when the announcement was made that John Kennedy had been killed in Dallas.

But the writer of Hebrews points out that the death of Christ was not a reason for sadness but for rejoicing. Because in Christ’s death on the Cross.we have found freedom.

But this is not a freedom where we can do anything we like and I think that is what too many people do not understand. It means that life as we know it has changed. Before Christ, many people feared God; note the words of Hebrews that said that if an animal so much as touched the ground on Mount Sinai, it was died. Even Moses was terrified.

The death of Abel in Genesis called for vengeance and retribution; Jesus’ death on the Cross was God’s sign of forgiveness and reconciliation. No longer could we not approach God but God was part of our lives.

The whole basis of society has changed. When John Wesley began the movement that was to lead to today’s United Methodist Church, it was assumed the righteousness was found in the good things of life. Only those who lead the “good” life would be able to find Christ; Wesley challenged that view and said that all could find Christ if given the opportunity.

But this view was always one that supported the status quo, that said that unless you were like me, you could never have the peace found in Christ. What John Wesley did was to say that you could have the same peace that anyone found in Christ; that you were not barred from doing so.

No longer was God inaccessible to you; no longer was the rewards of Heaven unattainable.

The challenge that we face today is the same challenge that John Wesley faced some two hundred fifty years ago, to bring Christ to others, how can we be witnesses for Christ? Our task, our challenge is to be with Christ in the midst of world’s needs, by His grace seeking to be the signs of His ultimate fulfillment. This means that we are concerned for mankind’s freedom, we are concerned for the well-being of others, we dream of a “new city”, and long for a life freed from despair.

In Christ comes the freedom, the equality that Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed would come. It is a vision that has been a part of our lives for almost two thousand years ago. The dream can be a vision and it can be a reality. It requires that we accept Christ as our Savior, it requires that we allow the Holy Spirit to enter our lives, and it requires that we work to fulfill the Gospel message in this place and in this time today.

What Option?


This is the message that I am presenting at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen at Grace UMC in Newburgh, NY, this Saturday, August 17th, and at Sunday Vespers in the Garden at Grace UMC. I am using primarily the reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 5: 1 – 7) for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost but also make reference to the readings from Hebrews (Hebrews 11: 29 – 12: 2) and Luke (Luke 12: 49 – 56).

The doors to Grannie Annie’s Kitchen open at 8 and all are welcome to come and be a part of the Saturday morning community. Vespers in the Garden at Grace begin at 7 on Fridays and Sundays and all are welcome to be a part of this worship service.

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When I first read the passage from Isaiah I thought of a couple of things. First, I thought about all those who have proclaimed that America is the new Israel, how this land is the new Promised Land.

Even today, there are those who see the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom taking place here in the United States and that the American people, or at least some of them, are the inheritors of the title of God’s chosen ones.

Of course, that sort of runs against Christ speaking of the opportunity for all to know God and it also means that we, the people, need to take the words of God spoken through Isaiah very, very carefully. Isaiah tells the people of Israel two thousand years ago that their choices to go away from God, to ignore their own people through violence, repression, and economic inequality are not the ways of God’s people.

The primary themes of the Bible, our relationship with God and our relationship with the other people who live on this planet, are the same today as they were two thousand years ago. And yet today, it seems as if we have not learned a thing.

There is still violence, repression, and economic inequality today and it seems to be getting worse, not better. There has to be an alternative that we have not considered, an alternative that brings out the best of the human condition, not the worst.

But what or where is that alternative? That is part of my second thought in reading this passage from Isaiah plus the words on faith that the writer of the Book of Hebrews wrote.

Some people will say that there is no God, no Yahweh, no Jehovah, no Allah, no supreme being by any other name. There are argument is that no god would ever allow such destruction, such violence, such indifference to the human plight to ever exist.

But stop and think about that for a moment.

If you say that there is no God or supreme being and you do not offer an alternative for what you believe, then you are essentially offering little to justify your own existence. For me, at least, to deny the existence of God is to deny one own existence and remove all hope from your life and to say that there is nothing in this world for you.

Those who offer this thought say that you have to go it alone, it is by whatever means you can think of that you will succeed. You put walls up around you so that no one can bother you. But what happens is that you limit your vision of the future and you have put yourself in a prison of your own making, a prison from which you cannot be released. And what kind of life is that?

If we understand that humans were created in the image of God, then you also understand that God gave us the ability to think and create as well as destroy. Anger, violence, war, and destruction come from the same source as love and creativity and to limit one is to surely limit the other. Anger, violence, war and destruction come from man, and to paraphrase President John Kennedy, problems created by man can be solved by man. And I do think that we have spent far too much time on the destruction aspect of our lives and too little time on our creativity.

But creativity requires vision, it requires hope and when your life is limited and without hope, such creativity is not possible to find.

The one thing that God offered the people of Israel, the one thing that God offers to each one of us today is hope, the promise that there is a worth to this life and a goal at the end.

That hope is found in Jesus Christ. In sending Jesus Christ to be among us, God said that there was hope, there was a chance for a better life. This is the theme of the book of Hebrews, that there is a hope present in our lives. Now, the writer of Hebrews didn’t say that this was going to be an easy life or that one might find the resolution of hope in their earthly life. But he also pointed out how many people followed through on that hope so that we might have that opportunity today.

On more than one occasion Jesus pointed out that following Him was not an easy path as well. And we know that each day on that three year journey from the River Jordan to Jerusalem, the number of people who followed Jesus became less and less as the reality of the journey became apparent.

I know that many people today don’t want to follow Christ; it is jut too hard to do so, it requires too much from them. They want a world where everything is given to them without question and without effort; they don’t want to have to return the effort.

In the Gospel reading for this weekend, Jesus points out that His coming would even bring division among families and friends. A Lutheran colleague offered the following words,

Similar words (from Matthew’s Gospel) began a section of a recent newsletter from LCMS Missionaries Brad and Genevieve Ermeling. They wrote: “These words of Jesus often strike us as harsh truths that many of us in Christian homes have never had to face.” (“A Warning Label of the Package of Christianity”)

We are often asked to do things that run counter to tradition and practice, things that speak of a new vision of the world and not simply a continuation of the present one. This will cause conflicts, both within families and within society.

But in that division is a sign of things to come. Two thousand years ago, there were those who could not see the signs. Trapped behind the walls of indifference and self-centeredness they could not see what was happening. They could not see the future.

And today, there are those who have built the same sort of walls, who feel that they are safe within those walls, safe from the problems of the world. There are those who have built walls of selfishness and greed, who place their own needs above everyone else, who are not willing to be a part of this world. Each of these individuals, trapped in a prison of their own making, cannot see the future.

But there was also those who saw what Jesus was doing and heard what He was saying, who understood that there was hope, there was a promise in the future. They understood that to follow Him was not an easy thing to do but that in doing so the results would be better, not just for themselves but for everyone. (Keep in mind that the earlier church, the church that Rome prosecuted, opened its doors, its hearts, its mind, its soul to all the people and not just the limited number of early believers.)

They understood that in Jesus there was a future, open and unbounded.

When I was growing up, I saw many a person who profess to believe in Christ but whose actions belied that belief. I saw people who engaged in many acts of selfishness and greed, whose actions and attitudes were devoted to their own self-promotion and self-aggrandizement. And yet, on Sunday, they would stand before God and the people and proclaim their belief in Christ and state how Christ had brought them from the prison of sin and death.

Something inside me said that was wrong. I saw a world of oppression and violence, of greed and inequality, and a church that was blind to the vision that Christ offered. And I knew others then who felt that way and I know many today who feel that way as well. They have left the organized church because they felt that there was no place for them and they have left God because they could not see how God would allow that to happen.

I might have done that as well and left the church, Jesus, and God far behind. But I do not want to imagine what might have happened.

But there were people who showed me that God’s love for each one of us was unlimited and that it overcame what other men might say and do. I was given an opportunity, as we all are, to find Christ, perhaps in a way that I had never thought.

I also knew that John Wesley saw the same church and the same people some two hundred years before. And I knew that he chose not to walk away but rather do something about a church that was indifferent to the world. He chose, as a follower of Christ, to reach out to the world, to the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the oppressed.

I was given the same opportunity and I have tried to do the same, through my words, my thoughts, and my deeds.

Christ said He came to this world to bring hope to the oppressed, that He came to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and build homes for the homeless. And He called upon us, each one of us, to continue that mission. Followers of Christ are called to make disciples of the people of this world and that means showing them through not only word but action what that means.

You may say that you will go it alone and that is the only way that you can survive. But that traps in you in slavery to sin as sure as anything else you do.

You may feel that Christ is for you and you alone and you have no obligation to share that faith with others. But if you do not share your faith by your thoughts, your words, your deeds, and/or your actions, how will others come to Christ. Can you truly be a follower of Christ when you do not do what you have been asked to do?

The point Wesleyan Christians have made consistently is that we cannot overcome sin, but that Christ can. If we are growing in holiness by working out our salvation, the Holy Spirit does, in fact, have the power to overcome sin. It is a long journey for many, but it is not impossible for God.

Kevin Watson recently wrote, concerning the fullness of the Gospel,

The gospel proclaims that Jesus was the Son of God, he was crucified, died, and raised again on the third day. Jesus faced the very worse that sin and death could do. He entered fully into the reality of death. And he conquered sin, even the grave! (from John Meunier – “He Breaks The Power of Canceled Sin”

The only power to escape that slavery is found in Christ. We cannot overcome sin but Christ can. In one of his hymns, Charles Wesley wrote of the power that Jesus has to cancel sin and set the prisoner free. It is by the Grace of God that we have this opportunity but it is the work of God in our lives that moves us onward to perfection and completion. (adapted from Allan Bevere “Grace Is a Gift From God, Grace Is a Work of God”)

We live in an interesting and challenging world, a world that often times offers little hope or promise for the future. We have been told that the option is that we have no option.

Perhaps that is true. If we do nothing today, then there are no options and there is no future. But God came to us in the form of Jesus Christ and offered an option, a choice, an opportunity for a future of freedom. Yes, it is not an easy option and sometimes what we have right now seems so much better. But a life of slavery to sin and death has no escape and that is hardly the best option.

We are offered the chance today, through God’s Grace and Love, to find our future through Christ. The choice is yours, what option shall you take?