“Hard Times”


Meditation for July 20, 2014, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 28: 10 – 19, Romans 8: 12 – 25, and Matthew 13: 24 – 30, 36 – 43

And the scripture tells us that Jacob took a stone and made a pillow out of it. Even now, so many years after I first read that passage, I still don’t see how Jacob slept that night.

My pillow is very special to me; I once had a pillow that carried my head at nights while growing up and going to school. It finally died, of course, and I have sought to find another one that gives me such comfort.

Maybe that’s why Jacob had the dream of the angels climbing the stairway to heaven. With a stone for a pillow, you aren’t going to be comfortable and perhaps a little more open to a dream. But in the end, that hard pillow leads to an encounter with God that says the future will be better than the present.

I cannot help but think that we are experiencing hard times. I will even admit that when I see the news and all the troubles that circle this world I begin to think that maybe those who have predicted these are the End Times may be right after all.

But the problem with that scenario, at least for me, is that those who prophecy that these are the End Times feel that only certain people are going to win and that it is all fixed. I have never really liked the idea that the outcome was fixed before we even started, though there have been times when I was certain I wasn’t playing on a level playing field (read the Bartlett High School in band competition in 1966 and 1967; but that’s for another time).

The Gospel reading for this Sunday would also suggest that there is a fixed outcome and that, come Judgement Day, the good will be separated from the evil, the good will survive and the evil will perish.

Where does that leave us? First, what seed are we that got planted in the field. In Clarence Jordan’s translation of Matthew, he uses the term “certified seed”. Farmers know that is seed that is clean and ready to plant, with no weeds or other items that might interfere with the planting process. That is seed that has been prepared for the planting; the seed that the enemy sows has just about everything imaginable in it and when it is planted, who knows what might pop up.

So, are we the seed that was certified? Are we the seed that has been processed and purified? If we are to be planted in the fields, it would be nice to know that we are ready to be planted.

My problem with a vision of the End that says that certain people will win and others will lose always says that this is worked out in advance. And that doesn’t give much hope to those people who aren’t on the “good” list.

But that isn’t what Jesus said or did? Yes, he did say that the good will survive and the bad will lose. But He also gave us the opportunity to become one of the good and cast away our bad life. And yes, that is a hard choice to make at times. We want the good life now, not later.

And yet, that is what Paul is telling the Romans; the good life comes later but you have to give up the bad life right now!

One of the things that you learn in chemistry is that reactions don’t always go right away. Certain factors have to be in place and occasionally you have to add a little something to the process to get the reaction going. But after the reaction gets going, things go pretty well.

Sure these are “hard times” but they will only remain such if we let them. We have been given a great opportunity to see a future that is beyond description but we have to make some choices right now.

Maybe we don’t need to sleep with a stone fr a pillow but I know that the decision not to follow Christ could cause us to toss and turn all night long, undoubtedly like Jacob must have done. In our discomfort, perhaps we will see the path that we will lead us out of our own hard times and into the good times.

But it doesn’t take a pillow of stone for us to change our lives; all it takes is for us to open our hearts and minds to Christ and give up the hard life of sin and death for the good life in Christ.

“It’s A Matter Of Priorities”


Meditation for July 13, 2014, the 5th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 25: 19 – 34, Romans 8: 1- 11, and Matthew 13: 1 – 9

For some, the Old Testament reading today gives proof of the fixed outcome of life. After all, it will be Jacob who becomes Israel and fathers the twelve sons who will be the foundation of that nation. So there has to be a reason for Jacob trying to get Esau’s birthright; for without it, Jacob will never have the means and resources to become the one to father the nation.

But what if Esau hadn’t been hungry, what then? And what if Jacob had just given his older brother the stew without question or cost? Would the story still have turned out the same?

In cosmology, the study of the universe, a idea that says that this present universe is just one of many universes, one of many possible outcomes. And in this scheme of multiple universes (or multiverses), this present one, the one in which we live, is just an accident of time and place?

I have a hard time with that idea, if for no other reason than I believe that God did create the universe in a particularly unique way. But the story of life is a matter of choices, good and bad, right and wrong. It is entirely possible that the story of how we would have gotten here would have come out the same even if Esau hadn’t been hungry or Jacob had been kind enough to give his brother a meal.

The one thing we know at this point in the story is that Jacob’s future may be very bleak. As the second son, he doesn’t get a whole lot in the way of an inheritance. And his encounter with God, the encounter that results in his name becoming Israel, is still in the future.

And how much of the family history do he and Esau know? They are the second generation of Abraham’s family and they may not have a viable understanding of the covenant their grandfather made with God so many years before. As I was growing up, we knew very little about the history of our family before either of my parents’ grandparents. It wasn’t until some twenty years ago that I discovered my family lineage traces back to Martin Luther and that my calling to the pulpit, which I answered before I discovered my family’s history, was part of a long line of ministers. So we might want to know what Esau and Isaac knew about their family. Did they know that their father had a brother?

For me, it would seem that they didn’t know much of the history and Jacob was more concerned with his own life at this moment that he was with the future of his family. Because as the second son, his future wasn’t that bright. And Esau comes home one day very hungry. And Jacob has the opportunity to gain what he might not otherwise have, the birthright of the oldest son.

I know I am reading a whole lot into this story but why else would Jacob do what he did? His priority at this point is himself and only himself; he has no idea that in a few years he is going to encounter God and his life is going to change. While I am sure and certain that we know when we encountered God and made the decision that changed our lives, up until that moment, did you know that in the next moment that you would encounter God?

Now, we might know when it is that we will encounter God but we certainly need to be in a situation where that encounter can occur. And at this point, I want to jump from being the one who encounters God to the one who prepares the moment.

Do we, in the way we live our life each day, show people the presence of God in our lives? One of the points Paul makes in his letter to the Romans is that the way we live our life has a lot to do with this. After all, if we are only interested in ourselves, we are not likely to find God at all. And if we are not preparing the ground in the right way, it is not very likely that our efforts will produce anything.

Preparing the way is more than just telling people about Christ. Of course, if you don’t tell people about Christ, they will never know that He existed but you have to show people, especially in today’s world, that He does exist. Look around and tell me what you see in the morning. The peace and calm of the rising sun is disturbed by news of fighting and violence around the world. Even our own denomination is dominated by hatred and exclusion and talk of schism.

Is it any wonder that people don’t believe there is a God or that He even cares for us? If the people who claim to be God’s children are fighting among themselves, what hope is there for others who think that they have been cast aside?

So we must prepare the ground so that our efforts to help others find Christ are not wasted. It will take more than simply opening our hearts or our minds or our souls. It will take learning who we are and what we are called to do.

It means getting beyond the law because the law only restricts us, it does not help us grow. It means looking beyond the moment and seeing what the future holds. Esau cared very little for the future because he felt he was dying at the present.

Right now, the future doesn’t seem to good and I think that is because we are more worried about the present. What will it take to bring people to Christ? It will be a group of people who show the presence of Christ in their lives through their words, their deeds, and their actions. They will be the ones who help the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the needy, and the oppressed. They will not worry about the color of the person’s skin, the state of their bank account, or the lifestyle. They will say that all are welcome.

They will know that those who were called Methodists have been doing this for over two hundred years. It is the call that they have received and the call they have answered.

I truly believe that too many people, Methodists included, have forgotten what their priorities are and have gone back to the old days. I think it is a matter of priority that we 1) remember who we are and have been and 2) get back to doing what it is that we are supposed to be doing.

There are some who are not going to like that, who feel that adherence to the law is far more important that welcoming all who seek Christ. The law cannot save us but it can keep us from being saved.

I stare at the words Paul wrote to the Romans and I envision him writing the same letter to each one of us. What is our priority?

“The Real Final Exam”


Meditation for June 29, 2014, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 22: 1 – 14, Romans 6: 12 – 23, and Matthew 10: 40 – 42

To say that I am not a fan of the present teaching model would be something of an understatement. But, perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

I was not happy with the way that the Common Core Curriculum was “imposed” on the teachers of this country. It seemed to me that very little was done in the way of preparation for teachers, students, and parents alike. That there needs to be a common core should go without saying but you don’t change the curricula model without some sort of warning or preparatory system If there was such a warning or preparation period, I am not aware of it.

Personally, I didn’t have any problems with the curriculum but then again, I was working with my kindergarten age grandson and most of what we did was pretty simple stuff. I think the problem that most people had was simply with the fact that they had to think for themselves and weren’t able to adjust to the change.

Too many people today don’t want to take on new tasks, especially when it comes to learning. They are quite content to do it the way it was done when they were students and that is all they expect. And when a student, especially a college-age student, encounters a new way of learning, there is much rebellion. And that’s what makes it so easy to have a test-oriented curriculum; all you have to do is present some knowledge to the students, have them memorize it, and then test them on it. Once they are tested on it and they achieve a reasonable success level, then we move onto a new topic. That leads to the quote from “Teaching As A Subversive Activity”, written by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner way back in the good old days of 1969,

The Vaccination Theory of Education – English is not History and History is not Science and Science is not Art and Art is not Music, and Art and Music are minor subjects and English, History, and Science major subjects, and a subject is something you “take” and, when you have taken it, you have “had” it, and if you have “had” it, you are immune and need not take it again. (This and other sayings I have found interesting are at “A Collection of Sayings”.)

If we simply test our students, we don’t have to get involved in the learning process and that is the problem. Learning is an active and interactive process between people; testing is not.

Some of this saw this coming almost thirty years ago. When I was teaching in Missouri, the State Board of Education, in its infinite wisdom, created the Basic Essential Skills Test or BEST test. Now, the rationale and purpose for this test were valid; every student needs to have a certain basic set of skills for life after school. But the manner in which the BEST test was done required a response.

So we created the Scholastic Education Council on New Directions Basic Essential Skills Test – 1) I will let you figure out the acronym and 2) the actual questions are at “THE BETTER TEST”. Clearly, our response was satire but it went to the point of what students should learn, how they should learn, and how that learning should be measured.

There was an episode in the TV series, “The Paper Chase” that speaks to this point. It was the final exam in Contract Law and Professor Kingsfield had created an exam with 100 questions covering a myriad of law-based topics in areas such as real estate, medicine, theology, and probably a few areas that one would not relate to the study and practice of the law.

To get the answers required the students search not only the law library but practically ever other library on campus. And because the students were competitive to the point of insanity, when they found the answer to one of the questions, they kept the resources for themselves so that other students would not be able to answer the question.

You can imagine the chaos that ensued because students were unable to answer all the questions (certain in their own minds that completion of all the questions was necessary for success). In the end, the students or rather the various study groups began to work how ways to share the work that they had with other groups so that they could get the answers for the questions. In the end, they wrote a series of contracts.

And what you have to remember was this was a course in Contract Law. The purpose of the exam was not to obtain all the answers individually but work together and develop solid and viable contracts, which was the purpose of the course.

A second example occurred while I was a graduate student at Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis). The Memphis Fire Department had agreed to take away several 55-gallon drums filled with chemical waste that the Chemistry Department had collected over the years. But before they could take them, the contents of each drum had to be identified.

Chemistry graduate students at that time took a series of monthly exams that measured their knowledge and competency. The solution to the problem of identifying the contents of the drums was to give each student a drum and tell them to apply their analytical and organic knowledge to the identification of the contents. (Of course, while this solved the department’s problem, it may have created problems for the individual students.)

I am not entirely certain that our present model of teaching can do that. In the end, our students learn to solve problems that already have solutions but they are not capable of solving problems that haven’t been solved.

And what perhaps bothers me more than anything else is that there will be a point in our own personal lives where we are going to be faced with such a problem. We shall be asked a question for which we may not know the answer and then what will or shall we do?

There really isn’t a question in the Old Testament reading for today but it is quite clear that God is testing Abraham. It is as if God is asking Abraham to prove that he, Abraham, will fulfill his part of the covenant. This covenant is the promise that Abraham’s descendants will outnumber the stars in the sky and yet God has directed Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him.

What must Abraham have thought? After all, as far as I know, Abraham believes that his oldest son, Ishmael, is dead and now he is about to kill his other son. The promise, the fulfillment of the covenant is clearly at stake at this point.

How would we respond in such a case? How would we respond if we had to put our faith on the line and just hope, without a single piece of evidence that God would fulfill His part of the covenant. And that is the real final exam! It is the one question that we have no way to study for; there is no book in which we can find the answer.

We could, I suppose, not worry about it. As Paul pointed out, you could lead the life we want, do what we want and ignore God. That way you wouldn’t have to worry or bother about right thinking or right living. But what do you get for all of that? Not much and when that moment comes when you have to answer the question you have avoided all your life, you won’t have the time, let alone the ability to think about what to say.

In the end, what you do, what you say, how you think shows where Christ is in your life. Many years ago I taught a course in how to teach science (a methods course). Most of my students expected me to lecture them on the various ways that one could teach science and sometimes I did just that. But a lot of times, I used the method that was the lesson, having the students do what they were going to be doing later on in life. I thought it was more important to do the method than simply speak about it. Not all my students got the message.

I would like to think that this is what Jesus was doing, having his students, his disciples do that which He taught them. It wasn’t easy for them to learn (and we know that many dropped out over the course of the three years). But in the end, enough understood and when the Holy Spirit came to them on that first Pentecost, they understood what they needed to do and then went from there.

Are you prepared today to take all that you have learned and go out into the world to show others who Christ is? The class is dismissed and the course begins.

“Stranded In The Wilderness”


Meditation for June 22, 2014, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 21: 8 – 21, Romans 6: 1 – 11, and Matthew 10: 24 – 39.

When I start writing something, I have a sense of what I want to say but I have also found that sometimes this changes as I am go along. For me, this is God speaking to me as I write. It is one way that I sense the presence of God in my life.

This may not be how you feel that it happens but that is the wonderfulness of God in each of our lives; what works for you is not necessarily what works for me and what works for me may not be the best for you.

But there are also times (and they have been plenty lately) where that sense of the presence of God in my life has not been there. Such times are times when I feel as if I am the middle of the wilderness, with no path seemingly available, no future in front of me.

In the times that I participated in teaching others how to prepare a sermon, I tell the students to look at the lectionary readings for the Sunday in question and go with that one. But I never took that course and when I began preaching on a regular basis I felt the need to use all three readings together.

And there are times when I struggled trying to find the common thread to the readings. Still, as I looked at the three readings, it came to me that I needed to look at not just the three readings but the direction they take the reader.

It would be very easy to use the Old Testament reading as the backdrop for a discussion of the politics of the mid-East and what happened to Ishmael and those that came after him. But to connect that to the other readings would be a stretch and one that I didn’t want to make.

But I also know that the skills that I have, the gifts that I have been given, and my ability to use them come from God. What did the writer of Genesis tell us about Ishmael, that God was on his side as he grew up? Is that not the case for each one of us? Have there not been times in each of our own lives where we have to wonder about the skills that we have and what to do with them?

The passage from Matthew speaks also of the conflict that will arise within families when one person in the family chooses to follow Christ. But doesn’t the same strife happen when someone in the family takes a path of their own choosing rather than one that would be, let’s say, more traditional or keeping with what the family wants?

Or, on a more personal level, what is the strife that comes within one’s self, when there is a conflict between doing what you love and what you think you have to do? Society, that most powerful of driving forces today, tells us that we need to focus on ourselves, getting what we can for ourselves and not worrying about others. And yet, there is that something inside us that tells us or pushes us to pursue things that may not have the same material gain but lead to greater rewards.

When I started writing my blog, it was with the intention of keeping in the habit of writing a weekly message. After all, I had just completed a seven-year period where I was doing that as the lay pastor for three small churches in Kentucky and New York. For awhile, I thought that I would be doing that again but it didn’t come to pass. Still, when you look at my preaching schedule over the past nine years, I have been, on the average in the pulpit twenty weeks out of the year. So writing the blog has served its purpose.

But now I think that I need to see if that is where I need to be going. One of the other things that I did with this blog was focus on chemistry and chemical/science education. And I think it is time that I look more in that area than I have been doing.

We as a people, a society, a nation, and inhabitants of this planet, are at a crossroads. The signs are appearing more and more frequently that what we are doing to this planet is doing more harm than good and we are fast approaching that time when it will be too late. We will find ourselves in a wilderness of our own making and without the capability and resources to make the corrections and changes. For me, one of the problems is that we have gotten lazy in our thinking; we, quite frankly, want others to do our thinking for us. We are unwilling to think independently and critically; we are fast approaching the time when we won’t be able to even do that.

I have said it before but it bears repeating but our students leave school today with the idea that if the material is not in the text book, then it isn’t going to be taught and that all the problems have been solved and are in the back of the text book (from The Age of Unreason by Charles Handy, 1990). But what will happen when we encounter a problem that hasn’t been solved or for which the answer hasn’t been provided in advance? What do we do then?

So I need to move my thoughts in another direction, perhaps back to from whence I came, the laboratory and the mind. But I will not leave my heart nor my soul to do so.

My concern has to be that one understands where science fits, along with faith and religion, in one’s life. And that is where I think I need to focus.

Paul writes about a life in sin and a life with Christ, two clear choices. Paul writes to the Romans that they have an option, one with hope. But he also writes or implies that you don’t have to take that option but that leaves you with sin. And throughout all of his writings, to live in sin is to live in slavery. There is a freedom that can only come from Christ and in terms of what Matthew wrote, it is a freedom to do your thing, the thing that your heart, mind, and soul direct you to follow.

We are stranded in this wilderness, wondering what will happen to us. But just as Hagar saw the well of water which enable her to save her son and go on to the future that was to be, so too can we look to God through Christ and find our freedom, our path out of the wilderness.

We have a choice to make today. The simplest thing would be to do nothing, but that leaves us where we are and as time moves forward, that means we shall be left behind (pun intended). On the other hand, we have the opportunity to follow Christ, out of the wilderness and into the future. What shall your choice be?

“A Particular Order of Things”


A Mediation for Trinity Sunday, June 15, 2014 (Year A)

The Scriptures for this Sunday are Genesis 1 – 2: 4, 2 Corinthians 13: 11 – 13, and Matthew 28: 16 – 20.

There is a certain degree of irony in the Scripture readings for this Sunday, at least for me. There is, of course, the Old Testament reading which I look at from one particular point of view and the Gospel reading for today and how I see it as well.

In another project that I am working on I write that believe that there are no three words that create more controversy in society today than the beginning words of Genesis, “In the beginning.” Intuitively, we know that there has to be beginning for everything, but for some reason, perhaps our own human frailties, we have a hard time understanding this.

It is very difficult to envision the creation of this planet and the life that exists, let alone the creation of the universe. In an increasingly complex and technologically oriented world, it seems far easier to accept the notion that God created the world and all that is here in a period of six days.

This is the view that we first learned in Sunday School and never adequately discussed in our science classes growing up. Perhaps it was not discussed because 1) it was too controversial and/or 2) it is a concept not easily demonstrated in the classroom as a demonstration or through experimentation. What we know from the development of the various science curricula in the 1960s was that understanding a rather abstract thought requires an approach that moves the student from a concrete viewpoint to an abstract viewpoint and this is not always easily done.

But we are by nature a curious creature, a creature created in the image of the same God that created this world and this universe. It is our curiosity that seeks to understand this world and this universe. To not ask questions about this world would be to deny our own creation.

Consider what Charles Handy said,

Learning is discovery but discovery doesn’t happen unless you are looking. Necessity may be the mother of invention but curiosity is the mother of discovery.” (The Age of Unreason , 1990)

We can only begin to imagine what the author of Genesis might have been thinking when he or she recorded the words that chronicle the beginning of the universe and this world. I learned this morning of a possible theological reason but I don’t think it affects the scenario that follows.

Perhaps it was the end of the day and families were gathered around the fire. One of the children in the group may have very well asked one of the elders how it was that they had gotten to that moment in time and space. And the elder may very well have responded, “In the beginning” and the lesson began.

It was a story told from the heart as well as the mind and it reflected the knowledge and understanding of the world at that time. It was as much a story of how a group of individuals came to be and was an explanation of their relationship with God as much as with this world. That story, how we came to be a group of individuals in a relationship with God, is still a valid story today, some three thousand years later, and one which needs to be retold time and time again.

But to tell the story as it was told three thousand years ago would 1) effectively deny who we are, 2) deny the relationship that we have with God, 3) ignore all that we have come to know about this planet and this universe, and 4) turn a living story in pages in a dry and dusty old book.

Now, I recall reading or hearing somewhere that the order of creation outlined in the first part of Genesis mirrors the order of creation from the “Big Bang” to life today. And I have to wonder about that. I do not wonder if the elder who told the story some three thousand years ago had some magically insight into what took place,

Rather, it would seem that this elder took some time to think things through and place things in the most logical order. After all, you can’t have living things appearing on the planet before there was plants and things to eat. And you can’t have the plants appear before the land is established. And where the water and the air come from? So the story was laid out in a logical manner in the minds of the story tellers.

If this were the case, as I would think it had to be, then why is it that we don’t want to think today? Why is it that we are quite willing to let others think for us? As I see the world around us today, I see us going away from exploration and questioning and moving towards a state of inflexibility and closed minds.

We are not interested in what is around the corner, we do not care if there is life on other planets, and we are not prepared to answer questions that have not been asked because we do not teach curiosity and inquiry in our schools today. We want our students to memorize things without questioning what it is they are memorizing.

Don’t get me wrong, memorization is a very valid skill but it is 2nd on the list of learning skills with analysis and other higher level thinking skills coming after that. You cannot simply stop at memorization; you must move upward if you expect new things to be created.

Creativity is a natural part of learning but it cannot be learned if it is not put into place. And when someone says to me that we are not to question things, such as the Bible, I have to wonder what their individual goal or thought process might be.

And that leads me to the Gospel reading for today. The passage from Matthew is often called the “Great Commission”, the challenge to bring people to Christ. In some translations, the challenge is to make disciples but The Message translates those words as “train everyone” and “instruct them in all that I have commanded you.” Clarence Jordan, in his Cotton Patch Gospels, says to make students and teach them.

You cannot do that if you beat them over the head with the message, which is how I have seen people interpret the command to make disciples of all the people. If you are not going to show me what it is that you want me to do, if you are going to tell me that this is the way that I have to do then 1) I am not likely to listen and 2) I will not be interested in the outcome.

Were it not for my own curiosity, I might have walked away from the church some fifty years ago and never looked back.

But my story is a little different; I came to Christ on my own and in answer to His call. Not everyone is like that, though they will come on their own. How then do we teach them? How then do we train them?

And this brings forth the 2nd irony of this weekend. I just completed an on-line course in finding one’s spiritual gifts. I learned a couple of things; first, my present gifts are not what I thought they would be and second, I became convinced that knowing one’s spiritual gifts are important and necessary to the direction and mission of the local church.

If you have no idea what your gifts are, it becomes a little hard to do the things that you need to be doing if you don’t know if you can do them. And then we consider Paul’s words to the Corinthians as to how things are done.

So, today we have been charged and challenged to take the Word out into the world. We have been charged and challenged to do so in a way that expresses the love of God for all of his children, children born on this world that He created.

Just as there was only one order to the way the world can be created, there is only one order in which we can bring the world to God, through Christ and with love.

“A Convergence of Time, Place, and Ideas”


Mediation for Pentecost (Year A)

8 June 2014

The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 2: 1 – 21, 1 Corinthians 12: 3 – 13, and John 7: 37 – 39 (note in the text I that used John 20: 19 – 23 in preparing these notes).

I have noted on a couple of occasions in the past that June 6th is an important date in my life because it is the birth date of my youngest daughter, Meara Lee. As I wrote on my Facebook page, “There are no words that I can write or say that express the joy she and her sister have brought to my life.”

But June 6th has another meaning to me, one that I seldom thought about since I was more interested in the completion of the process that started on that date. Still, any process that is finished has a beginning and it was on June 6, 1966 that I began my college career by enrolling as a first quarter freshman in the High School Honors Program at Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now known as Truman State University).

For the record, I was only 15 when this happened and just completed my sophomore year in high school. After the summer session was over, I would go to Memphis, Tennessee, where my family had moved while I was in school and begin my junior year in high school at Bartlett High School. I would return to Kirksville the next summer and then the summer after I graduated from high school to complete my freshman year and begin my sophomore year in college.

I had no idea what I would be getting myself into or what paths my life would travel when I went to Kirksville that summer day some 48 years ago, nor what would happen when I told Dr. Wray Rieger, Dean of Students and my adviser that summer, that I would major in chemistry.

What is interesting, at least in terms of today being Pentecost Sunday, is there never has been an occasion while I have been either preaching or writing blogs where Pentecost occurred on June 6th and only four times where there was a day or two difference between these two events.

And I suppose that I should wait until such time that does occur but the events of this day and age suggest that I should not wait. If June 6th marks the beginning of a journey, so too is Pentecost.

Pentecost may be considered the birth date of the church, for it was on this day that the Holy Spirit came to the people gathered in Jerusalem per the instructions of Jesus Christ. But birth dates can quickly turn in counting mechanisms and that, if you will excuse the pun, make things rather old rather quickly.

But Pentecost was and is more than simply the birth of the new church. It was the beginning of a movement, a movement that would change the world in ways that no one could foresee or even imagine. And with all the talk in the church today, especially in the United Methodist Church, about the impending death of the church, perhaps we need to think about what we are doing for tomorrow rather than counting the days from last year or the years that have passed by us rather quickly.

If we are to look to the morrow and begin again the movement of the church and this denomination, we need to realize at least two things from the Scriptures for today.

First, no matter where the people came from, they were speaking a common language. They understood each other rather clearly and when you consider the tone of the words in the reading from Acts, they were rather surprised that they were able to do that. Differences between people in terms of nationalities and cultures quickly disappeared.

For me, the problem today is that we no longer speak a common language. Oh, we may all speak English but the words we use often times have multiple meanings. And I think at times, we stretch our sensibilities to get the words we use to mean what we want them to mean.

Second, there seems to be a movement to make everyone in the church identical, no matter what side of the issue each person may stand on. And if you don’t stand with me on this issue, then you stand against me and I don’t want you in my church. What was it that Groucho Marx said, “I do not want to belong to any organization that would have me as a member.”

Paul points out that the people of God have been given many gifts and the assumption that I get from that is that we need as many individuals as possible to insure that we have all the gifts we need. For it is only when we have all the gifts are we able to function as a whole community.

If we choose to cast someone out because they don’t have a special gift or perhaps because we already have that gift, then we risk causing the community of believers to fail.

In the Gospel reading for today (I mistakenly used John 20: 19 – 23 instead of the regular Gospel reading – John 7: 37 – 39), Jesus asks the disciples what they will do if they do not forgive the sins of others. What are we going to do if we say to someone that they don’t meet what we consider the qualifications of our little club?

I know where I stand as to the future of this church and this denomination. I also know that there are many people who do not feel the way that I do and I sometimes wonder why that is. I also know that many of the beliefs and thoughts about people that so dominated the discussions in this denomination almost two hundred years ago were wrong and we have changed. What bothers me is that we are doing the same thing today. And if our judgements prove to be wrong, what shall we say to those whom we rejected today?

Let’s look at Pentecost as it was some two thousand years ago – the beginning of a process, a movement and let’s go out and change the world as we are supposed to be doing.

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

“What Do We Do Now?”


Mediation for the Ascension Sunday/7th Sunday of Easter (Year A), 1 June 2014

Ascension Sunday

The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 1: 1 – 11, Ephesians 1: 15 – 23, and Luke 24: 44 – 53.

I am beginning a personal study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think I was introduced to this individual when I was in college because of his anti-war stand but I didn’t equate that with his religious writings. In fact, I may not have even been aware, some thirty-five years ago, what he thought in that area.

But now it is a different story. I still am interested in a man who would renounce his pacifist background and work actively against a totalitarian regime, knowing full well that in doing so he risked his own life. And how, in these efforts, he challenged each one of us to examine our own belief in Christ and what it means to be a Christian.

I am aware that some of what Bonhoeffer wrote doesn’t set well with some religious writers and thinkers today. But at a time when Christianity is slowly but seemingly steadily moving towards a more legalistic and rule-bound religion, maybe we should stop and think about what he said. And how does this apply to this particular Sunday, Ascension Sunday?

I get a sense from in reading today’s passage from Acts that the disciples and other followers really didn’t want Jesus to leave. I am not sure if they were afraid of what might happen after He left or if they felt that they weren’t ready. Jesus did tell them that they would receive the Holy Spirit but that they would have to wait. I wonder how that would be received in today’s society with our “I want it now” mentality?

For me, the meaning of Ascension Sunday and the subsequent preparation for Pentecost is that the responsibility for bringing the Gospel message to the people is shifting from Christ to us. For three years, Jesus brought the Good News to the people and taught the disciples how to do it themselves. Granted, the disciples weren’t really aware that was what He was doing but during this period of time, from the Resurrection through this Sunday and on to next Sunday, the “light bulb” in their minds was beginning to come on.

I have said it before but it bears repeating. As much as I am Southern born and Southern bred, so too am I evangelical. I was baptized an evangelical and I was confirmed in the Evangelical United Brethren Church and I have this evangelical nature to me. But just as I do not hold to so many of the Southern traditions that tore this country apart some 150 years ago, I am not an evangelical in the manner that it is used today.

And quite honestly, and this will tick off some of my friends, I don’t think my purpose as an evangelical is to make you come to Christ or condemn you if you don’t. I don’t see evangelism as the imposition of my will on your life.

Rather, I hold to evangelism in much the same manner that Clarence Jordan did. For Dr. Jordan, evangelism was the declaration that God was changing people and the world. It was the broadcasting of the Good News that kingdom of God was breaking loose in human history and that a new social order was being created and that we were all invited to share in what was happening. Evangelism required that we declare the Gospel in both word and deed.

Yes, evangelism includes challenging people to yield to Jesus, to let Jesus into their lives and allow the power of the Holy Spirit to transform them into new creations. But it was much more than than. It was also in proclaiming what God was doing in society right now to bring about justice, liberation, and economic well-being for the oppressed.

Evangelism was the call to participate in the revolutionary transformation of the world. It required that you live out the Kingdom of God in community and through social action. (notes on evangelism from the foreword to The Cotton Patch Gospel: Luke and Acts by Tony Campolo).

So, if evangelism is our opportunity to show the Gospel as well as speak of the Gospel, shouldn’t it be done on our own. It isn’t that we don’t need Christ to do the work but He sort of wants us to do the work, don’t you think?

And yet, how many people are willing to do that? They are quite willing to speak of what needs to be done but not so quick to take on the task. And what I have gained from reading Bonhoeffer is the distinct impression that we need to be doing what we have been called to do. My early reading of The Cost Of Discipleship suggests that he saw the church more in the streets than in a sanctuary on Sunday.

I don’t think he was saying that we shouldn’t be in the sanctuary on Sunday but that isn’t where we were going to do the most good. And this fits well with my understanding of prevenient grace, that having achieved a state of grace, we need to work to improve on it rather than lose it.

But I don’t think that we can do anything if we are completely and totally focused on Jesus, here on earth. And while it may be presumptuous on my part, I don’t think that was His intention either. We weren’t going to do much with Him around, no matter how much we might want Him to be.

But Jesus reminds us, as He reminded the disciples gathered that day that He would send the Holy Spirit to facilitate the actions that we have to take.

So what do we do now? We proclaim that Jesus is the Christ and then we show the people what it truly means to be a Christian, by not only our words but our actions and our deeds. We open our hearts and receive the Holy Spirt so that we are empowered to bring the Good News to the world.

“Where Are We Headed?”


Mediation for 6th Sunday of Easter (Year A)

25 May 2014

Memorial Day

The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 17: 22 – 31, 1 Peter 3: 13 – 22, and John 14: 15 – 21.

The title for this piece was going to be “The One True God” and I was going to focus on Paul’s comments to the Athenians about their unknown god and our society’s focus on other gods, such as money and material.

And part of what I was going to say was how we have transformed a day to honor all those who have died in the service to their country into a day to satisfy our own needs. I was going to also point out (and I had this thought long before the present scandal in the VA erupted) that while we give some degree of honor to those who have died, we care very little about those who were wounded, injured, or maimed during the course of the combat activities or as a result of their combat. And this lack of care goes a long way back and is not limited to just the current administration. It was also pointed out by some that those who blame the current political administration of this country were among those who voted against increasing or at least maintaining benefits for current veterans.

I wish that was the only problem we were facing at this time but the shooting in the Santa Barbara area Friday evening along with the shooting in Brussels on Saturday spoke to our preoccupation with violence as a solution to our problems. I don’t know all the details about the Brussels shooting but it would be an easy guess that it was predicated on violence and hatred, perhaps not of the three who were killed but on a group of people.

And it would be easy to blame the system for failing to warn us about the young man in California. We can’t blame the guns because he bought them legally and cleared all the proper legal checks. And no matter what his mental state was, he saw the solution to his own problems in terms of violence.

And while all of this individual versus individual violence was going on (and how much more happened that we did not hear about?), there were at least three violent attacks against society with car bombs and armed militia involved. The one thing that I think these attacks have in common is that they were initiated by religious fundamentalists who seek to impose their version of religious law on the populace.

There are days when I think that we are on the verge of the end times, what with all the weather-related problems and the societal-problems. But I also know that those who would loudly proclaim such news also say that the solution to the problem is the imposition of their own version of religious law. The book that these fundamentalists use may be different from the book that the other fundamentalists use and their methods, for the moment, may be less violent but in the end they want to impose their own beliefs and values on all the people of this globe, no matter who they are or what they believe.

And the hallmark of fundamentalists, at least for me, is that you are not to question the authority of those who lead, only blindly accept what they say as the truth.

Within the United Methodist Church is a group of 80 pastors who have this view and they are willing to destroy the denomination if that means that their views are the dominant ones. These 80 individuals hide behind the curtain of anonymity and no one outside their own group knows who they are. But they have made it clear that theirs is the view that counts the most and that makes me wonder.

First, since I don’t hold those same views, what will they do with me if they gain control of the denomination. What will they do to my chosen vocation of chemistry and science when I am ordered to believe that this universe, planet, and the life on it was created in a span of six days? Will their drive for a legal truth destroy the lives and careers of people who seek the truth using the mind that God gave them?

Perhaps the scripture that I should have used was from last week when Thomas asked Christ where we are headed and Philip asked how would we know when we got there.

I see a society that may not believe as these unknown leaders do but they are not willing to say anything against them. There seems to me a blind acceptance of the moment by too many people in society today, a willingness to accept what is happening with perhaps a hope that something better will come.

There is clearly a societal wide fear of the unknown, a fear so large that we are unwilling to venture beyond the safety of our present state, no matter how hypocritical that might be.

My greatest fear is not the unknown but that we are unprepared to solve the next problem. We actually know all the answers to the present questions (though not all are in the back of the book) but we don’t know the answers to the questions that haven’t been asked and we don’t have the ability to find the answers.

In his words to the congregation today, Peter points out that we do have the answer, though we may have forgotten it. The words of Christ, written in John today, speak of what we have been given as well.

Christ did not give us a set of rules; He gave us a way of Life. He spoke of the Way, the direction we needed to be headed.

With yesterday (May 24th) being Aldersgate Day, we are reminded of what happened to John Wesley and how his legalistic, formal approach to living really didn’t work. But that moment that he accepted the Holy Spirit, things began to change.

Perhaps it is time that we forsake the gods of violence and hatred, of money and material. Perhaps it would be best if we sought the solution instead of relying on others to lead us. Quite honestly, I don’t think they know where they are going.

Perhaps it is time that we seek Christ. Then we will know where we are headed.

“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.”