“The Final Victory”


This was to be the devotional for Saturday, November 9th (25th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (Grace UMC, Newburgh). However, circumstances have forced us to suspend the operation of the Kitchen for the time being. It may be that we will resume operations in a few months but other factors suggest otherwise.

The Scriptures for this Sunday were Haggai 1: 15- 2: 9; 2 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 5, 13 – 17; and Luke 20: 27 – 38. I focused primarily on the passages from 2 Thessalonians and Haggai but some of what was in Luke was in this piece as well.

Monday is an important day, at least for me. No, it’s not my birthday (that was back in September) and it’s not my anniversary (that’s in July). It has nothing to do with Grannie Annie or this Kitchen (that was last week). But it has all to do with who we are as a country and as a people and as a society. And yet, for all that Monday represents, we, in our wonderful manner, have reduced it to a blip on the calendar.

It has to be an important day because it is a national holiday though I doubt that many people could tell you why it is such a day. Today is Veteran’s Day and it is the day that we set aside so that we can completely and fully honor all those individuals who have served this country in war and peace throughout the years. Still, when we consider how many veterans of this country are treated when they come home, perhaps it would be better if we didn’t celebrate it all.

I sometimes think that we focus on celebrating such things in hopes that it will bring us the ultimate, the final victory. We have changed the name of this holiday from an indication that we had stopped fighting to one that suggests honoring all those who have fallen. And yet, when our veterans come home, we do little to honor them.

Now, do not think that I am opposed to honoring those who have served this country. If anything, we haven’t done enough to honor them. But I think that we, as a society, really don’t care about those who serve. We are more interested in who won the war, not how much it cost or what toll it takes on families, both here and in the countries where we fought. And what is worse, most people have probably forgotten how this day came about and what it meant.

The original name for November 11th was Armistice Day, for it was on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 at 11 in the morning that the shooting and killing in what we have come to call World War I ended. The war itself would not end for several months, until the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty.

The importance of this that I have my grandfather’s diary from that time in his life. It was a recording of the military action of the 34th Regiment of the 7th Division of the United States Army while fighting in France during 1918. In this diary, on 9 November 1918, he wrote

On way to front again. We are to attack tomorrow. Men have been hiking all day & night, then to go in an attack will sure be hell.

Two days later, 11 November 1918, he wrote

A great day. The armistice was signed today. We were to resume our attack at 2 p. m. in case it was not signed. Slept in a German dugout last night.

That’s all he wrote. Nothing he wrote in this diary ever gave me a hint of his feelings about war, death or destruction. But there is a note at the beginning of the diary that, in the event of his death on the battlefield, that the finder of the diary find a way to get it to his wife, my grandmother. I think that for all that was not in the diary there was an understanding that death was always a possibility. For the record, my grandfather died some 37 years later, in peacetime and at home, among family and friends. Of course not everyone was so lucky as the words on so many marble head stones in the many national cemeteries throughout this country show us.

We have to realize that at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the shooting stopped. This was not the end to the “War to end all wars” but merely a cessation of combat activities.

There was a distinct possibility that combat action might resume, as the notes in my Grandfather’s diary suggest, if the various parties did not sign the agreement.

Over the years, we have forgotten the war did not officially end until the signing of the Versailles treaty in April, 1919. And while I am not a historian, I would hazard a guess that many historians will tell you that the unofficial beginning of World War II began at that moment.

As I have watched the various shows about World War I that appear on the various cable channels, I have been continually amazed about what we don’t know about what happened then. The one thing that has always struck me was the vindictiveness of the French and English in setting the terms for the treaty of Versailles. If there was ever a clear cut cause for World War II, it can be found in that single document.

The conditions imposed by that treaty would set the stage for the rise to power of Adolph Hitler. I sometimes wonder if we are not doing the same thing with our various wars today. And yet, we keep on sending people off to war, in hopes of achieving that final, elusive victory.

We as a society want a finality to things; we don’t want things to drag on. But we are unwilling to work for the finality; we are unwilling, and perhaps unable, to find a way to remove the causes that bring about war and violence.

Paul’s warning to the people of Thessalonica is very clear. Be wary of the false preachers, the ones who proclaim these are the End Times, the time of Christ’s final victory. Paul is very clear in his words that while Christ’s time reaches into the the past and is clearly in the present, it also reaches into the future. If we think that these are the End Times, Paul would tell you that you had better think again.

Some might say that the reading from the Gospel about the widow and the seven brothers might not apply to these thoughts today. But I think they just might. Jesus rebukes the authorities for the blindness in seeking a solution to a hypothetical situation through the laws of society. (It may not be all that hypothetical; I have a cousin who married two of three sisters but that’s another story for another time).

Can we see beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law? Or do we get so caught up in staying within the constraints of the law, we fail to see what might happen?

In the passage for Haggai, we read about the people rebuilding the Temple after its destruction. It is not a time for vindictiveness but a time for rebuilding, a time to begin again.

As long as we are more concerned with who won the war, we are never going to be in a position to rebuild and restart. Jesus did not come to enforce the law but to go beyond the law, to restore the connection between the people and God.

I think that, on this day, when we honor those who have served this country, as we plant flags on the white marble headstones, we can do one of two things. We can remain locked up in the legalistic and limited view of the world that says the answer to war is more war. If this is what we think, then we need to get more land because there will be more dead to bury.

Or we can think about the love of God for all of his people and work to make sure that love is expressed in every language in every nation by every person today, tomorrow and for the days to come. That will be the final victory.

“Amazing Grace – The Power of The Holy Spirit”


This is the first message that I ever gave as a lay speaker. During a lay speaker class, I was asked how long it took to write my first message and I replied “three years.” I began thinking about being a lay speaker in 1988 but it was not until 17 November 1991 that I ever put together on paper the words for a sermon. Interestingly enough I never thought about the relationship between the title of this message and the fact that I was at Grace UMC when I gave it. I focused more on the hymn and what that hymn meant. That Grace UMC would make the turn around that it did (six months before this message, it was thought that the church was going to die; it survived those rough times and prospered over the years) is amazing and perhaps this was a way to foretell that.

Following the lead of my pastor, John Praetorius, I chose a reading and a text (as I have pointed out before, I didn’t start using the lectionary until 1995). I chose Matthew 28: 10 – 20 as the Scripture reading and 1 Chronicles 17: 16 – 17 as the text for my message.

The song “Amazing Grace” is an interesting one, both for its music and its message. This song is based in part on John Newton’s own life and experience (The Hymns & Hymn Writers of the Church, Tillet & Nutter, 1911). That experience can be understood from the passage from I Chronicles he used as the basis for the song:

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me thus far? And this was a small thing in thy eyes, O God; thou hast also spoken to thy servant’s house for a great while to come, and hast shown me future generations, O Lord God! (1 Chronicles 17:16 – 17)

At one point, he was a ship’s captain; more to the point he was a slave ship captain. One day, while on the regular run from Africa to the American colonies, he decided that what he was doing wasn’t right. He then turned his ship around and took the would-be slaves back to Africa. This was a rather dramatic move on his part, one that many people would have been afraid to make. Even Newton might have been afraid to make such a move, but the Holy Spirit gave John Newton the power to turn his boat around without fearing the consequences.

Saul also felt the power of the Holy Spirit when he was struck blind on the road to Damascus. More importantly, it was the same Holy Spirit which directed Ananias to go to Saul and help him.

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosed to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:10 – 17)

Now Ananias may have been afraid to go see Saul on his own. After all, here was a man who had the power to throw Ananias in jail for simply believing in Jesus. But, with the power of the Holy Spirit, he was able to go to Saul.

It was the same power of the Holy Spirit which lead John Wesley to question his own faith and how the Church of England ministered to the people of England. Without that Power to lead him, it would have been very difficult for Wesley to lead the Methodist movement.

We have all felt the power of the Holy Spirit at some time in our lives. The first time it came to me was in the form of my mother’s right elbow. When I was 12 and my family was living in Montgomery, Alabama, I grew tired of my mother elbowing me to keep me awake during the sermon. As a result, I decided to sit by myself. During that time, I begain to think about what it was to be a Christian. Shortly after we moved to Denver, Colorado, that summer I approached George Eddy, the pastor at the 1st Evangelical United Brethen Church in Aurora, about studying for the God & Country Award given by the Boy Scouts. Under his tutelage, I earned that award and joined the EUB church in 1964. Even today, that still rates as one of my personal achievements. I am also convinced that it was the presence of the Holy Spirit that lead my family and I here from Odessa, Texas and to this church. I did not know about Grace Church until I walked by it while visiting the campus during the summer.

What these stories show is the impact the Holy Spirit can have on individuals. It is that power which change’s one life and gives them the strength to change others. The idea of leadership within the church is what this Sunday is about. Jesus, through his disciples, has empowered us, as the laity, with the task of ministering to the world:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. (Matthew 28:18 – 20)

Finding leaders for the church has always been a problem. Consider Moses’ reaction to his nomination by God to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt:

But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either heretofore or since thou hast spoken to thy servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who make him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak. (Exodus 4:10 – 13)

Today is Laity Sunday, a day on which we honor all those who serve the chruch. Leadership is not limited to a select few, but is the responsibility of all members of the church. After all, when anyone joins the church, we as members also reaffirm our vows to “uphold it by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service.” (The United Methodist Hymnal, page 48 (1989))

While I am a relatively new member of Grace Church, I still have an appreciation for its 130 year history. This is the most crucial time in that history. It is a time when this church can grow and expand its ministry in the neighborhood and the city. From the Talmud, we read

“In every age there comes a time when leadership suddenly comes forth to meet the needs of the hour. And so there is no man who does not find his time, and there is no hour that does not have its leader.” (I believe that I first saw this quote in Making of a President – 1960)

This is Grace Church’s time. Through the Holy Spirit, we are called to carry out the mission of this church.

How do we meet this challenge? First, our Church Conference is December 8th. As a member of the church, you are entitled to vote on matters before the church. We have started an Estimate of Giving program and you can return that card so that the church will be able to plan its budget. If you sing in the choir, serve as an usher, serve as a greeter after church, serve as a Sunday School teacher, or help with Fellowship Time between Sunday School and church, you serve the church. There are many other ways to help the church meet this great challenge.

The question that we as members of Grace Church must answer is “Are we willing to lead Grace Church in its mission and growth.” This is the same challenge John Newton faced when he turned his boat around and Ananias faced when he went to help Saul. If we do as John Newton, Ananias, John Wesley, and others have done and let the Holy Spririt guide and direct us, then we will be able to understand the meaning of the sixth verse of “Amazing Grace”:

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.”

The Contradiction of Life Today


Here are my thoughts for this past Sunday, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost. The Scriptures were Isaiah 65: 17 – 25, 2 Thessalonians 3: 6 – 13, and Luke 21: 5 – 19.

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It seems to me that there is a contradiction in the Scriptures for today. And the problem today is that too many people want the contradiction. They want the good life espoused in Isaiah and push for the war that Jesus implies will come with the end of times. And the same people will offer Paul’s words for today as proof that the good life only comes through individual effort, not community effort and certainly not from anything the church may say or try to do.

But Isaiah’s words for today end with words of peace, Paul was writing about those who quit working for Christ because they felt that Christ was coming, and Jesus warned us to be wary of those who would try to mislead and deceive us.

I see too many people today who, because of the position in life they have created for themselves or others have created for them, believe that they have the right to tell me what to think and do. I also know that many people today are rather happy letting these so-called experts do just that, tell them what to think and do.

Yes, there is going to be dissension in the world today. There are far too many people who fear the world and want to find ways to gather all things together and keep them for themselves. I have said it on a number of occasions in the past and I will say it again; there are many people today who see the church sanctuary as protection from the outside world and all the work that they do for the church is make sure that the walls that separate them from the world are strong and impenetrable.

But when Isaiah wrote his words, he was writing to a community, not to a collection of individuals. When Paul was writing his words, he was also writing to a community and not a collection of individuals. And that is part of the contradiction of today. We call ourselves a community but then we act as a collection of individuals. We are more interested in our own well-being than we are the well-being of the community of which we are a part.

And we fail to realize that if the community that we live in should fail, we will be without just as much as those who don’t have anything right now. But our world says that we can do that; we can have wars and destruction, we can have families turn against families, brothers against brothers and parents against children and nothing will happen.

The contradiction is that we think that once we have done something simple, say to come to church on Sunday, then we have accomplished what is necessary for our lives. But we have to remember, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, in answering the call presented in the Gospels, we radically change our existence. When Jesus calls us to follow Him, we find ourselves being dragged out of a relatively safe and secure life into one that is absolutely insecure. We leave a life that is observable and calculable for one where everything is unobservable and fortuitous. We step out of the realm of finite into the realm of infinite possibilities.

Everything that we do in answering the call to follow Christ is in direct contradiction to what our senses, our friends, the law, and the world around us say it is. But that contradiction will bring more than we can imagine. There is a call today to put down your nets, your books, your things of life and follow Jesus. It will lead you to places unknown but it will lead you to a far greater life. You don’t have to do that; you have been given that choice. But it is choice that speaks of war and violence, death and destruction, hopelessness and frustration.

There is a choice and in an world of contradictions, a very clear choice.

What Will You Do?


This is the message I presented at Walker Valley on the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, November 14, 1999.  The Scriptures were Judges 4: 1 – 7, 1 Thessalonians 5: 1 – 11 , and Matthew 25: 14 – 20.

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The reading from the Old Testament today comes at an interesting time in Israel’s history. It was the time between the leadership of Moses and Joshua and the rise of the great Israelite kings.

This was also a time, as was noted in the beginning of the reading when Israel was straying from its path with God. As God had promised, as we heard in the covenant made last week, when the people of Israel strayed, God would not protect them. But when they followed God, then God protected them and helped their armies defeat their enemies.

At this time, leadership came from a group of individuals collectively known as judges, though the people wanted a king just like the countries around them. Never mind that God had said He would be their once and future King, if other countries had a king, they wanted one too. We may think of judges as something like magistrates or county executives who oversaw the daily activities of the nation. But these judges were more than simple county executives; their powers were note simply limited to the executive branch but included the legislative, judicial, and sometimes military branches as well.

Judges did not get their position through election by the people or through hereditary; they were called to serve and empowered by God.

The acknowledged leader of Israel at this time was Deborah. Now, at this time, Israel and the other ancient societies around it were patriarchal in nature. All the leadership positions, be they priests, town elders, military leaders, or simply just the head of households were occupied by men. What counted most, then, in the selection of Deborah to serve, as the judge at this time, was not her gender but rather her gifts and talents and her calling by God to serve.

And even today, what counts the most are not the limitations placed on people by society and societal views but how God enables us to work.

That is the meaning of the Gospel message for today. The passage for today is often used for financial reasons because the talent referred to was a unit of money. But I like to think of the word in its broadest sense, the gifts and abilities one has to use.

For even if we have but one talent, if we fail to use that talent, then we will have gained nothing. But, on the other hand, if we use those talents that we have, then we find that our abilities and capabilities quickly expand and we gain more from our use of those talents.

And even if we simply have one talent, should we not use that talent to its fullest ability? Suppose all that you can do is say hello to someone. Just because you don’t know that person, is that a reason to not say hello? The story is told of a church that received a check from a lawyer representing the estate of one individual. The check was of such a size that it could be used as a down payment for the parsonage that the church was contemplating buying. And why did this church get a check of such a value from an individual no one knew? Because that individual had once visited that church and people had stopped and said hello. Even the simple talent of saying hello can provide many great rewards.

But against that backdrop is the fact that we sometimes view this use of our talents with cynicism. This last week we celebrated Veterans’ Day. It is a time when I think of honored veterans, the men and women, buried alongside the members of my family, my grandfather who served in the Army during World War I and through 1943 and my father who served in the Air Force during World War II and through 1964, at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Was not the only talent many of them had a willingness to serve?

On March 22, 1980, paramilitary forces in La Paz, Bolivia assassinated a Jesuit priest by the name of Luis Espinal. Shortly before his death, he wrote the following mediation

There are Christians who have hysterical reactions, as if the world would have slipped out of God’s hands.

They act violently as if they were risking everything.

But we believe in history; the world is not a roll of the dice going towards chaos.

A new world has begun to happen since Christ has risen. . .

Jesus Christ, we rejoice in your definitive triumph . . . with our bodies still in the breach and our souls in tension, we cry out our first “Hurrah!” till eternity unfolds itself.

Your sorrow now has passed.

Your enemies have failed.

You are a definitive smile for humankind.

What matter the wait now for us?

We accept the struggle and the death; because you, our love, will not die!

We march behind you, on the road to the future.

You are with us and you are our immortality!

Take away the sadness from our faces.

We are not in a game of chance . . .

You have the last word!

Beyond the crushing of our bones, now has begun the eternal “alleluia!”

From the thousand openings of our wounded bodies and souls there arises now a triumphal song!

So, teach us to give voice to your new life throughout all the world.

Because you dry the tears from the eyes of the oppressed forever . . . and death will disappear.

I do not know why Father Espinal was assassinated though I can imagine it was because of the message he preached and the challenge he presented to the people of his community. Against that backdrop, it is very easy for us to say “Let others do it, it is too great a task for me.”

But we cannot get off that lightly. Even if we are not called to serve in the world, there are problems here in New York that demands our attention and presence. To be a presence in this world is a daunting enough challenge. We are just a little church, in the hills of New York. How can we do anything?

First of all, if the statistics that I am familiar with are still relatively the same, we are not a small church but rather a medium-sized one. Second, borrowing from Pastor Paul Rosa of the New Prospect Church down the road, who wrote in his church’s most recent newsletter,

A small church is not necessarily one “one the way” to becoming a megachurch. And we certainly should not measure our ministry by statistics. But, there is no faking it, no anonymity in a Wee Kirk. No hiding behind a busy program schedule and four-color brochures. What we must offer to the Lord and show to the world is a community that is visibly different, bearing witness in our lives, relationships, and conduct that our Lord is the one who died and rose again, to heal our broken lives and cultures.

Our work today cannot be accomplished solely through what we think we might do. There are times that we, like the people of Israel, so many years ago, wish for a strong leader to guide them and direct them. Listen carefully to the political rhetoric of the coming campaign and you will hear that call. But, should we not look at what we can do.

That is part of the reason why I put that insert in today’s bulletin. That may not be a comprehensive list of talents that one can use and it is certainly not a comprehensive list of areas where one can use those talents, but it is a start. And as we begin the planning for the coming year, I want you to think about how you can use the talents that you have to help this church and make its presence in the community a stronger one.

It is a frightening thought, I am sure, to do what the Lord commands you, not someone else, to do. So many of the leaders of the past often thought that God wanted someone else to do His work. But when God calls you to serve, as he called each of the judges, it is because it is your talents, your skills and abilities that are needed at this time.

Yes, it is frightening. But Paul told the people of Thessalonians to “put on the breastplate of faith and love” and wear as a helmet “the hope of salvation”, not as decorations to be worn and displayed for all to see but rather as the source of strength for one’s work in this world.

You have the list of talents before you; there is a category for other talents not listed. You have the list of places where those talents can be used as well as a category of “other” in case there are areas that are not listed. My friends, the question before you this day is “What Will You Do?” with the talents you have?

The Time Is Now


This is the message I presented at Tompkins Corners UMC on the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, November 10, 2002.  The Scriptures were Joshua 24: 1 -3a, 14 – 25, 1 Thessalonians 4: 13 – 18, and Matthew 15: 1 – 13.

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In the three or so years that I have lived in New York I have attended or participated in at least six weddings. The old adage that the more things change, the more they remain the same certainly applies to weddings. No matter whether it is the 21st century or the early days of the Christian era, planning a wedding is a long and time-consuming process.

There are a number of weddings mentioned in the Gospels. Jesus’ very first miracle was performed at the wedding in Cana when he changed the water into wine at the behest of his mother (John 2: 1 – 3). This was more than a simple social error since the family had the obligation to provide a feast of the socially required standard. I am sure there are mothers around today who can relate to the panic that must have run through the bride’s family that day.

On more than one occasion Jesus spoke of the wedding feast and the preparation that went into planning a wedding of that time. Notes from that time tell us that the wedding planning began a year in advance with a marriage contract between the bride and groom. A year later the groom went to the bride’s house where the bride was presented to him. This was followed by a procession to the groom’s home where a festive wedding banquet was held. This banquet could last up to a week, depending on the resources of the groom.

Some weeks ago, the Gospel reading spoke of the wedding and noted that invitations had been sent to the guests over a year before the actual wedding in order that the guests could make preparations. We are reminded that Jesus used this story to remind those listening to him that His coming had been announced long before Jesus came to Galilee. The second invitation was to let the invitees know that the time had come for them to come to the wedding. Again, Jesus used that analogy to announce that now was the time of His coming.

In the Gospel reading for today, the ten virgins are waiting for the procession of the bride and groom from the wedding to the groom’s house for the feast. The use of the lamps is necessary because this procession was typically a nighttime one. The five wise virgins are complimented and rewarded for the preparation while the five who were not so wise are punished for their lack of wisdom, for their squandering of what had been given to them. Just as it would be embarrassing for the family to run out of food or drink at the banquet, so too must it have been embarrassing for those five to be shut out of the wedding festivities.

But the message we must take from this is our preparation for the coming of the Lord. Our preparation must begin from the moment we know that Jesus is our Savior; it cannot wait for the moment when we really need His presence. We know that Jesus is part of our lives; we do not know when the time will come when we will meet Him.

The Thessalonians expressed a concern that they would not be a part of the Second Coming of Christ. They had mistakenly thought that only those who were alive at the time of the coming of Christ would witness and share in the glory of it. The fact is that Christians who have died will be raised first and so go before the living to the gathering in the sky. In writing this portion of the letter, Paul is looking for a practical and immediate response to the great doctrinal teaching of the Second Coming. We, like the Thessalonians, should remind each other of the truth of Christ’s presence as a source of comfort in times of death and stress. Paul wrote “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4: 13 – 18) in the present tense so that they would be a constant comfort as we do wait for the time to come.

But what shall we do while we wait. Do we sit back and let everything go? Or do we take a stand against the forces that distract us from this simple basic truth?

The Old Testament reading today comes at the end of Joshua’s time as the leader of the Israelites. Joshua’s words are an appeal to Israel to choose between God and the many false substitutes around them. If they were not to choose God, if they were not to serve the Lord, then they would have to choose between the gods that their ancestors had worshipped or the gods of the people who lived around Israel. It is a fitting tribute to his leadership that Joshua clearly and unambiguously takes the side of the living God. Joshua showed that a leader must be willing to move ahead and commit to the truth regardless of the people’s inclination.

In response, the people acknowledged that all that had transpired was because of God and that all that they had gained was because of God’s presence in their lives. To remember God and what He had done was to insure that they would continue to serve Him. But history also shows that the people of Israel were quick to forget what it was that God had done for them. Joshua’s challenge that day is to make the commitment to serve God more than a statement but rather the basis for action. This challenge is given to us today as well.

When John Wesley began his ministry after Aldersgate, Joseph Butler, Bishop of Bristol, confronted him:

Butler – “You have no business here. You are not commissioned to preach in this diocese. Therefore I advise you to go hence.”

Wesley – “My lord, my business on earth is do what good I can. Wherever therefore I think I can do most good, there must I stay so long as I think so. At present I think I can do most good here. Therefore here I stay.“ (Frank Baker, “John Wesley and Bishop Butler: A Fragment of John Wesley’s Manuscript Journal)

Wesley knew that his ministry would not be defined by the place but by the time and that to delay the time would delay the ministry. If one is to find success in their own ministry, it will because they do not wait for the moment or rely on the past. We cannot wait for a time that is at our convenience; we must act when the time is now.

It is possible to come to this table today without worrying about tomorrow. It is possible that our ministry will never be called up. But those are possibilities that can never be considered, for to do so would be to make everything Jesus said and did meaningless in our lives today.

We can never know when that invitation to heavenly banquet will be received and neither should we ever worry about that. What we do know is that, like the Israelites so many years ago, when the torch of leadership was passed to a new generation, that we must renew the covenant first made by the blood of young lambs shed for Passover and then by the blood of the Lamb on the cross at Calvary.

The time is now to say that we will serve the Lord our God with our heart, our mind, and our body.

 


Where Shall You Stand?


This Sunday, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, I am  at Dover United Methodist Church in Dover Plains, NY (Location of church).  The service starts at 11.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Joshua 3: 7 – 17, 1 Thessalonians 2: 9 – 13, and Matthew 23: 1 – 12.

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This sermon is being prepared at a time when we are preparing for the singular most political act of our life and at a time when we quietly (perhaps too quietly) remember those who have fallen on the field of battle.  Whether we wish it to be or not, Election Day is somehow intertwined with Veteran’s Day; for those we have elected in the past and those we elect next Tuesday and in elections to come will have, in some part, the command of those who have died or will die on fields of battle.

Our thoughts of wars to come should be tempered by our thoughts of wars past.  Yet, it would seem that we would rather not think about them at all.  We have turned our commemoration of Memorial Day into a celebration of summer and we barely even know what the significance of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month means or why Armistice Day is now called Veterans’ Day. 

We are fighting in at least two wars overseas right now yet we see or hear nothing related to the costs in human terms or the future of this country.  A war against terror cannot be fought on traditional battlefields with traditional weapons; a war against terror is fought against the causes of terror including poverty, hunger, sickness and disease, oppression and inequality. We seem to blindly accept the words of our leaders that we are winning a war against terror but yet we still send troops overseas. 

We have also forgotten what Robert E. Lee said, “It is good that war is so horrible or we might grow to like it.”  General Lee also said “What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.”

It is not a question of do we fight or should we fight; it is a question of how do we solve the problems of the world without resorting to violence and power.  This is not a statement of appeasement or capitulation; it is a statement that says we must seek solutions to war and violence before war and violence are given the chance to develop.  We know what causes war but what do we do to remove the causes of war from our lives?  We know that a group of people or a nation oppressed will seek to rise up so why do we not seek to remove the oppression?  We know that a people starving and impoverished will seek ways to find food and resources, so why do we not work together?  Yet, we willingly and easily listen to leaders who offer the blood and sacrifice of others in exchange for the promise of easy victory at no cost.  We accept those words because we see war as the ends to a mean, not a continuation of the process.

Yes, there are governments and there are people whom we may call evil.  We must work to see that such individuals do not dominate this world.  But, is using their ways the best way to defeat them?  Or, in using their ways, their methods, do we not become like them?

We see it in our political rhetoric today.  If we cannot win the people with our ideas, we will use their fears.  It is often much easier to cloak our opponents with the mantle of darkness and evil than it is to offer a new vision.  For a new vision can only be seen in the light of truth, justice, and equality; false teachings will quickly die in such light.

The other day I got a chance to hear Janis Ian speak about her career. In 1966, she recorded a song called “Society’s Child”. This was a very controversial song when it was released because it dealt with the subject of inter-racial dating. In her interview, Ms. Ian recounted how protesters almost drove her off the stage and out of the profession. But she continued to sing and during this one performance, when those who were protesting her song looked like they would attack her, the theater management shined lights on them. In that light, where others could see them, they quickly stopped their harassment and tried to hide. It has been said time and time again that false teachings will wither in the light of truth. This is but just one example.

In the 1960’s did we win more with the Peace Corps or our various military corps? Did our leaders then and do our leaders today understand what force can or cannot do?  Will those whom we elect in two days understand the outcome of their decisions and the effects that such decisions will have?

We have created a world in which hatred, violence, and war are seen as the solution to the problem rather than part of the problem.  It is time that we take a stand against this path; it is time that we take a stand for what is right.

I am not saying that we should say to the person whom we elect as Commander-in-Chief this Tuesday that they will be expected to lead our troops, the young men and women of this country, into the next big battle.  I am saying that whomever we elect must be prepared to do all that he can do to insure that such a battle doesn’t take place.  And that is a statement to each one of us that we must do all that we can do to insure that the next battle doesn’t take place.

And while we must demand that our leaders stand with us, we must stand against the changes we see in the world that lead us to more wars and more violence.

You will say to me that it is impossible for an individual to change the system that is so large that it threatens to dwarf us.  But to stand against poverty, against hunger, against sickness, against injustice and equality and for righteousness is more than dashing off letters to Congress or refusing to buy products that threaten the health and safety of both the buyer and the worker.

We need to invest energy in remembering what and how our spiritual ancestors stood against the corruption, the injustice and the oppression of their times.  Three thousand years ago, the prophet Amos spoke out against the direction society was headed.  It was a time when great wealth was flowing into the country but it was also a time when the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer.  It was a time when the people did everything “right”; they tithed, they kept the Sabbath.  But the people, despite their apparent religiousness, ignored the poor and the downtrodden.

Is that not the truth today?  There are over two thousand verses in the Bible that deal with wealth and poverty and our responsibility to the poor; yet we ignore these words and say that any discussion is irrelevant to the problems of poverty and its effect on the poor.

If there is poverty, hunger, sickness, or oppression in this world; there will be violence and destruction, for violence and destruction grow out of poverty, hunger, sickness and oppression.  We cannot seek justice and equality in other lands if we do not seek justice and equality at home.  We cannot say that we need a strong defense for national security if there are people we are protecting who have nothing.  We have forgotten the lessons that tell us that we cannot have both guns and butter; we will have to learn that we need butter before we can have guns.

We cannot have a god that only serves us when we desire it to; we must also serve God when He demands that we do.  It is our Biblical faith that calls for those with “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” to stand with Jesus Himself on the behalf of those who cannot.

Henri J. M. Nouwen, in Making All Things New, wrote

The spiritual life is not a life before, after, or beyond our everyday existence.  No, the spiritual life can only be real when it is lived in the midst of the pains and joys of the here and now.  Therefore we need to begin with a careful look at the way we think, speak, feel, and act from hour to hour, day to day, week to week, and year to year, in order to become more fully aware of our hunger for the Spirit.  As long as we have only a vague inner feeling of discontent with our present way of living, and only an indefinite desire for “things spiritual,” our lives will continue to stagnate in a generalized melancholy.  We often say, “I am not very happy.  I am not content with the way my life is going.  I am not really joyful or peaceful, but I just don’t know how things can be different, and I guess that I have to be realistic and accept my life as it is.”  It is this mood of resignation that prevents us from actively searching for the life of the Spirit.

Our first task is to dispel the vague, murky feelings of discontent and to look critically at how we are living our lives. This requires honesty, courage, and trust.  We must honestly unmask and courageously confront our many self-deceptive games.  We must trust that our honesty and courage will lead us not to despair, but to a new heaven and a new earth.

When the Israelites crossed the River Jordan, the leaders were right there, in the middle of the River.  Joshua did not say to the Israelites, “cross the river where I show you.”  He stood in the river with the other leaders and said, “Now you can cross.”  The people could not have crossed the river until the appointed leaders carried the Ark of the Covenant into the River.  It was that direct involvement that insured that the people could cross.

Jesus spoke of leaders who would carry the burden instead of giving it to others to carry.  Jesus very bluntly points out that difference between the leaders and the people.  The leaders placed the burden on the people while taking all the glory.  And when it came time, Jesus carried the burden for all of us.  We come to the table today because that is what He did.

Jesus presented us with the concept of the servant-leader, the leader who didn’t stand in front of the people for the glory of the task and hide when the task was tough but rather was there with the people where the work needed to be done. Paul is pointing out that he and his companions in ministry did not expect “extra-special treatment” for what he was doing.  Paul also noted that he was pushing the people of Thessalonica to lead lives worthy of the glory of God.

We must take a stand today.  On the eve of the Armistice of the Great War, the war they said would end all wars but only caused more, that we will not only say we are against war but we will begin working to make sure that there are no more wars.  We will do that by saying that Gospel message to feed the hungry, heal the sick, find homes for the homeless and bring hope to the oppressed is more than just words in a book but the goal of life. We must give dignity and the means to a quality life to all people, not to just a few. Again, we recall that Jesus gave dignity and meaning to the life of those who sought Him after society had rejected them; so too are we called to do the same.

We remember that Christ called us to follow Him; we remember that He stood for us against slavery to sin and death.  He calls us to stand with Him today.  Where shall you stand?

What Is The Promise For The Future?


Here are my thoughts for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost.

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I will admit, as I have in the past, that I have problems with any Biblical prophecy or prediction that says there must be a war before there is peace. It goes without saying that I have some problems with today’s Gospel reading. (1) There are some who have used Jesus’ comments about the possibility or rumors of wars to point out that my arguments against war are meaningless.

Now, there are individuals who say that they speak on the behalf of God and feel that now is the time for the United States and/or Israel to initiate a nuclear exchange with Iran. This is because they see these times as the End Times and Armageddon is about to occur. They see the signs and hear the rumors and say that now is the time.

Those who say that there will be peace on this planet following Armageddon ignore the truth and the reality of war. If what we learned after Hiroshima and Nagasaki is any indication and since the nuclear weapons that will be used in the next war will be improvements over what was used in 1945, it will be a long time, a very long time before there is peace.

I suppose that I might not have these qualms if this were an earlier age or if I had been born at a different time. But I was born and raised during the height of the Cold War and when I was old enough, I could see the B-52 bombers parked on the ready ramp ready to roll within 15 minutes as a response to an attack on this country by the Soviet Union. I was also privy to a briefing given to the families of the SAC pilots and crews stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Missouri that indicated that the majority of the state of Missouri would be wasteland in the event of nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Throughout the Cold War the only thing that prevented a full-scale nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union back then was the knowledge that we could easily destroy each other’s country many times over. This policy was known as mutually assured destruction and it had its own quaint acronym, MAD. No acronym was ever so appropriate in describing what it was.

The effects of radiation will not quickly disappear but only linger long after the initial exposure. The ground where the nuclear weapons land will be poisoned for a long period of time and any survivors will be hard pressed to find a new Eden or its equivalent.

While many people may feel that a tactical nuclear attack would be limited to one area of the globe, they fail to realize that the effects through the fallout will be affected in an area much large than the intended target. It has been long thought that one of the reasons why this country sought a ban on above ground nuclear testing in 1962 was that fallout was beginning to show up in the world’s food supply.

Everyone remembers or has probably heard of the Chernobyl nuclear accident of 26 April 1986. It would be easy to presume that the results of the accident were limited to just the area around Chernobyl but the fallout drifted over parts of Russia, Europe and North America. Granted, large areas of the Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were contaminated but the effects of the radiation were felt as far away as the northern portion of Finland, Sweden, and Norway.

Radioactive fallout contains radioactive iodine (129I or I-129) that is quickly absorbed in the environment. In humans, it is quite easily absorbed by the thyroid gland. One beneficial effect of this action is that we can use I-129 to treat various problems with the thyroid. Unfortunately, such treatments can only be used on adult patients; similar treatments would affect the growth of children. For children in the path of the fallout from Chernobyl, it was necessary to give them large doses of iodine that would be absorbed by the thyroid and thus prevent the adverse affects of the radioactive iodine.

It is quite clear that any discussion of a limited or tactical nuclear war anywhere in this world is also a discussion on destroying the future of the world as we know it.

If we were to have a limited nuclear war anywhere in this globe, are we prepared to take the steps to protect our children? Or shall we see the future of this civilization and the world die in the toxic residue of nuclear folly? Let those who call for a nuclear war in the Mid-East because these are the End-Times explain to the world why no one can live in the world that is left after a nuclear Armageddon.

It should be noted that Jesus warns us against listening and following false teachers. (2) The false teachers, even today, are the ones who say that they speak for God and that now is the time. And even if all the signs of the end were to happen, Jesus still tells us that the end is not immediate. Other things must happen first.

Now, with what Jesus said and with what Paul wrote (3), if I see war coming and I do nothing about it, can I say that I am upholding or following God’s will? I think not! We who say we are Christians must work for the Kingdom and not simply assume that when Jesus comes, all will be right with the world because we say that we are the true believers.

Many use Paul’s admonition in the portion of his letter to the Thessalonians as a rationale to oppose welfare. (4) That discussion is for another time. Paul was writing to the Thessalonians because they thought that they were in the End Times and they no longer had to work for the coming of Jesus. I take what Paul wrote as meaning that with the Second Coming about to occur, it was even more important to work for the coming of Christ.

What we do can take many forms. It strikes me that words can stop war but they must be words of truth spoken from the heart. They cannot be words of hatred or anger; they cannot be words that threaten or condemn.

1968 was a very interesting year. First, it was the year that I graduated from high school. It was also the year that the Viet Nam war became a distinct part of my life. The war had been going on for several years and there had been many protests against the war prior to 1968. I had not paid much attention to the protests because I had other things on my mind.

But during the summer of 1968, I became more and more aware of what was transpiring in the jungles of Southeast Asia and what was transpiring on the campuses across this country.

And then there was April 4, 1968. I have posted my thoughts about this day (5) and there is no reason to go over them again at this time. But on that night, in city after city, riots and violence broke out as it became known that Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel. It is reported that in 110 cities, there were over 39 deaths and 2,500 injuries. But in one major city, Indianapolis, there was no violence; there were no deaths.

Robert Kennedy had come to Indiana as part of his campaign for the Democratic nomination for the President. There were those that night that encouraged him not to go into the ghettos of Indianapolis, for it was too dangerous. But the part of Senator Kennedy that made people admire him and seek to work with him told him that he had to go. And as he spoke of the pain and sorrow in his own life when his brother, President John Kennedy, was killed some five years before, he asked the people of Indianapolis not to strike out against the society which they held accountable for the death of Dr. King. He advised and prodded them not to strike out in violence but to work so that such violence would not occur again.

Unfortunately, Senator Kennedy would himself die by an assassin’s bullet some two months later and any thought that words of hope and promise would be part of the political campaign disappeared with his death. Political campaigns today are characterized more by the mud that is slung and how low a politician can sink. No longer do politicians offer hope. No longer is there a discussion as to how to make a better tomorrow when politicians and leaders offer only gloom or doom.

The new world is here if we work for it. If we stand aside and let those who only gather for themselves the fruits of the people, then we shall go hungry. If the words of false teachers and false prophet are the only words people hear, then there will be wars. And there will be no peace; for there will be no earth for the people to live on.

Isaiah speaks of a new tomorrow, of a better place. (6) He speaks of people building home in which they themselves will live. He speaks of people having food to eat and lives that are worth living. It will be a world in which the young will live long lives rather than dying young. It is a worth so much different from the world that we live in today. When Isaiah speaks of creating a new heaven and a new earth, he is speaking of the world after Christ has come. But is not the Second Coming of Christ of which he speaks but rather the first.

But if we hold to the teachings of Christ who announced to the world that the Good News was upon us, that the sick shall be healed, the hungry shall be fed, the naked have clothes and the oppressed set free, then the new earth promised so many years by Isaiah will arrive.

(1) Luke 21: 5 – 19

(2) Luke 21: 8

(3) 2 Thessalonians 3: 6 – 13

(4) 2 Thessalonians 3: 10

(5) http://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2007/04/04/where-were-you-on-april-4-1968/

(6) Isaiah 65: 17 – 25

What’s The Connection?


Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday of Easter
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I have struggled with the three lectionary readings for today for the better part of the week. Part of this struggle has to do with a decision I made when I began the lay preaching that has marked my career.

When I first began my lay speaking career, I picked one or two passages and focused on them. This was in the manner of one of my preaching role-models.

This particular preacher did not use either the revised or the common lectionary but rather developed his own. Over the course of the year, he would jot down thoughts and ideas along scripture verses and connectional ideas and once a year go on a “retreat” where he laid out what he proposed to preach for the coming year. At any one time, he had sixty sermon ideas lined up. He didn’t have the sermons actually prepared but he had the ideas and when the time came, he wrote his sermons.

But when I began the long-term pulpit supply that has characterized my lay ministry for the past twelve years, I found that particular method wouldn’t work for me. The demands of preparing a message every week coupled with my own professional job requirements required some other source of inspiration and I found it in the lectionary, both the common lectionary and the revised lectionary of today. So I spent time looking at the Old Testament reading, the Epistle reading, and the Gospel reading and trying to find the connection between the three. Sometimes it has been easy to find; sometimes it has not.

I would advise beginning lay speakers or those who only preach once or twice a year to follow the advice that was given to me by another preacher; look at the three lectionary readings for the Sunday that you are preaching and follow the one that your heart and soul tell you to follow. Pick one of the three and use it to your heart’s content; as you progress in your career, you can try other methods.

So having written all that, what connection do I find in the three lectionary readings (1) for today? In one sense, we are the connection.

It starts with John the Seer’s vision of the Kingdom which is to come; it is most definitely a vision of what he would like to see in his world. As Robin Griffith-Jones pointed out in his book, “Four Witnesses”, John the Seer weaves a tapestry of connections. He does not spell out the connections nor does he explain the combination that he sees; rather, he leaves that task to each one of us. (2)

The Seer’s world is one of turmoil and violence. Christians are being persecuted and the handy scapegoat for many of the Roman Empire’s faults. John the Seer sees the world around him being destroyed and the church which he has helped build being destroyed along with it.

For him, the Heavenly Kingdom is the answer. In his vision, he sees those who have survived the persecution. But it is interesting that John adds that these individuals no longer will hunger or thirst.

We might assume that this hunger and thirst have been filled through the Bread of Life offered by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the Living Water that was offered to the Samaritan woman at the well. But I am reminded that John Wesley, who saw the poverty and hunger of his own England and the lack of concern by his own Church of England, argued that those who are not fed real food or drink real water will have a hard time accepting the Bread of Life and the Living Water.

We must, as evangelicals, offer the Bread of Life; we must, as evangelicals, offer the Living Water. But if a person’s physical body is hungry or thirsty, then they will not accept the food and water that their soul longs for. If a person is cold, then the warmth of the Holy Spirit cannot warm the body. I am not saying that we should ignore the spiritual needs of the people of this world but, if the physical needs are not filled, the spiritual needs will never be filled.

Peter is told of the death of Dorcas. He does not simply comfort her friends and counsel them in their sorrow; but rather he takes the skills and the powers that have been given to him through the Holy Spirit and heals Dorcas. And it is this event which the people talk about for days to come.

Here again, I am not saying that we all have that same power or ability but Paul does note that we all have been given skills and talents that we can use in the name of Christ. Still, such skills and talents are of little use if we do not take care for the physical mind and body with the same effort and intensity that we care for the spiritual mind.

There are those who say that they are Christians but their acts betray their minds. They want to know that the Messiah is coming, much like those who questioned Jesus that day in Jerusalem described in the Gospel reading for today. Those in the square that day are told that they have been given the answer to their question but because they do not believe the answer, they do not understand. Those that believe that Jesus is the Christ do so because they have seen the proof; those who do not believe do so because they are blind to the proof. As Jesus pointed out, those who know hear their Master’s voice and they follow His call.

And that is the key point for me; if we are called to Christ and then we do nothing, then that call was naught. If we are called to Christ, then we must do those acts that will show that Christ is alive. This will be done because we will care for people in times of sorrow; this will be done because we will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and bring hope to the oppressed. If others are to hear the call of Christ in their lives, they must see the proof. To simply say that there is a call will never be sufficient; to do nothing that will help people come closer to Christ cannot help people hear the call.

Jesus stood before His neighbors and proclaimed the Gospel message. It was not a message of war and celebration; it was a message of hope and peace; it was a fulfillment of the promise of God to never forget His children here on Earth. If we are to see the Kingdom of Heaven, then we must work for it here.

There is a connection between what we say and do each day of the week and what we say and do on Sunday. Just as Christ told the people around Him that day described in the Gospel reading for today, so too is it true for us. Others will know the Father because of what we do. If we say that we are Christian but our words, thoughts, deeds, and action belie that, then people will wonder what the connection is. If we say that we are Christians and our works, our thoughts, our deeds, and our actions support that, people will wonder what the connection is and they will want to find out more.

It thus becomes our responsibility to help others make the same connection with God through Christ that we have made.

(1) Acts 9: 36 – 43; Revelation 7: 9 – 17; John 10: 22 – 30

(2) Adapted from “Four Witnesses” by Robin Griffith-Jones

Where do we go from here?


Where do we go from here? I think that is the question that the Israelites must have been asking themselves. Over the past few weeks, we have read of the Israelites travel through the wilderness and across the River Jordan. Now they are in the Promised Land. Now what do they do? Where do they go from here? Can’t we stay by the river in the shade of the trees where it is cool and comfortable? Must we leave the banks of the river and move on from here?

I think that the same is true for the church today. How many people come to church because it is comfortable and it offers comfort and protection from the outside world? It seems to me that churches today do not challenge the member to leave the banks of the river but stay in the shade. The message given is for the here and now; there is no thought for the future.

Clarence Jordan wrote, “It is one thing to enter ‘the narrow way’ of discipline and complete dedication to Christ and the kingdom; it is another thing to keep on climbing this upward trail.” (Adapted from Sermon on the Mount by Clarence Jordan, Chapter 13) We see a lot of people who come to Christ full of ambition and enthusiasm. But when things do not go as they should, these are the ones who stop by the wayside. Perhaps that is why churches who preach the current “Gospel-lite” are successful and why they keep growing.

After all, if you don’t mention what comes next or what is around the next corner, there is no reason to give up or stop one’s journey. If the promise of the Gospel is a fancy car and riches beyond belief while you are on earth, why would you even think of tomorrow and what might lie ahead?

I won’t say that many of today’s preachers are false prophets (though I think that Clarence Jordan would do so) but is their message a true message? Yes, these modern day preachers have the right degrees and they are successful. How could you preach success if you were not successful yourself? These modern day preachers are very polished speakers, articulate and easy to listen to. But then again, in this day and age, doesn’t one have to be articulate and easy to listen to in order to gain an audience?

The message that Jesus brought implies that the future will not be an easy one. The Good News that Jesus proclaimed involved sacrifice and effort on our part. We know of the rich young ruler who found out that he could not take his riches with him into heaven; we read that when Jesus started to speak of the difficulties that lie ahead people started to leave.

In telling the story of the ten virgins (Matthew 25: 1 – 13), did He not say that those who think only in the here and now get left behind? It was those who prepared for the future who were welcomed into the banquet, not the ones who lived in the present moment.

And what was the challenge that Joshua put forth in the Old Testament reading for today? Was that not a challenge to move into the future rather than stay in the moment? This chapter in Joshua (Joshua 24) celebrates that moment in time when people stepped beyond chronos and into kairos. They moved from the present moment into the future and the fullness of time through God.

The challenge for the people that day on the plain of Shechem was to reject the present and the gods of now and embrace the future-oriented covenant that God is offering. In his letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 4: 13 – 18) Paul challenges the reader to see beyond the expected to that time when all will share the boundless hope offered by the Gospel message.(Adapted from “A Kairos Community” by Robert Roth, Sojourners, November 2005)

We cannot enjoy the fruits of the Promised Land if we rest on its shores. We crossed the River Jordan but that only is one part of the journey. Now we must move up from the banks of the river onto the higher ground. We see and hear our civilization crashing around us, much as tornados rip through the heartland of this country every spring and summer. We have seen the hopes of many drown in the rains that have accompanied the hurricanes of 2005.

Many years ago, I came across an interesting little book, “The Gospel According to Peanuts” (Robert L. Short, 1964). In one of the chapters, Short showed the strip where Linus built a monstrous sand castle when it started to rain. As the strip concludes, Linus’ work has all been washed away and he is saying that there is a lesson to be learned. As we see from Short’s book the panels from this particular strip are interspersed with Jesus’ parable about the two men who built their houses on sand and rock respectively (Matthew 7: 24 – 27). When the rains came, the house built on the sand was washed away; the house built on the rock stood. And Linus knew that there was a story among the raindrops. Those that hear these words and listened to the words are the ones who built their house on the rock. Those who did not listen to the words are the ones who built their house on the sand.

For us this story, like the story of the ten virgins, is about the future and preparation. Are we prepared for the future? Are we willing to move into the future? If our foundation is strong, if our foundation is built on the rock, then we are prepared and can move forward. The words of Jesus both provide the foundation and the call for action.

Shall we stay on the river bank, building our hope and future on the sand of the river? Or shall we move further down the path that only begins at the river’s edge? Shall we follow Christ, even if the road that we walk leads to three crosses on a far away hill? What have we to fear by following Christ? Has He not said that He would be with us along the way? Has he not said that we need to suffer on the cross for He has already done so, for our sake? Shall we stay or shall we go forward into the future? Where do we go from here?