“What Time Is It?”


This was the message that I presented for the 26th Sunday after Pentecost (B), 16 November 1997, at Pleasant Grove UMC, Brighton, TN. The Scriptures for this Sunday were 1 Samuel 1: 4 – 20, Hebrews 10: 11 – 14, and Mark 13: 1 – 8.

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This has been week with rumors of war and the possibility of war. For some, the prospects of a war in the Middle East are the precursor to the End Time. But, as Jesus told his disciples in the Gospel reading for today

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Now, I see the visions of Revelation as a warning of what can happen if we are not careful, if we are not aware. Throughout this particular passage in Mark, Jesus was constantly reminding his disciples, and that includes us, to be alert to the possibility of deception

“You must be on your guard” (v. 9),

“So be on your guard” (v. 23),

“Be on guard! Be alert!” (v.33),

“Therefore keep watch” (v. 35) and “Watch! (v. 37)

There will come an end time but it will not be through wars or famine or other destruction but when we allow ourselves to be deceived, to be distracted by society, when we lose the vision of Jesus’ sacrifice in our hearts. The writer of Hebrews spoke of this very point when he spoke of the priests and their daily sacrifices.

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.

Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

The problem for the Israelites was these daily sacrifices had become routine, something expected by society but not done from the heart. As a result, they had no meaning. When your spiritual activities are done in this manner, they, too, lose their meaning.

It is times like these when the outside pressures start pushing on us that we might easily forget where the center of our activities lies. But it is also the one time in our lives when we need to realize that Jesus went to the cross for each of us. When the pressures of the world seek to drive us away from God, that is when we, more than ever, need to “draw nearer to God.”

The writer of Hebrews established five conditions for drawing “near to God”. First, we must have “a sincere heart.” This means our undivided allegiance in the inner being. As St. Teresa of Avila wrote

Likewise, I have already said that we cannot speak with God and the world at the same time. And that is what one does who say her prayers and, at the same time, listens to conversation going on around her or thinks of whatever comes into her mind without checking the thoughts. Sometimes, however, no matter how much a person tries she cannot control these distractions, either because of some indisposition, particularly if she is inclined to be melancholy, or a weakness of mind. Sometimes, too, God allows his servants to have stormy days for their greater good and, although they are distressed are seek to calm themselves, they are unable to do so. No matter what they do, they cannot pay attention to the words they are saying. Their minds cannot concentrate on anything, but wander so haphazardly as to seem a prey to frenzy. From the pain this causes them, they will know that the fault is not theirs. Let them not be distressed, for that makes matters worse; and let hem not tire themselves seeking to infuse sense into an understanding which is, at the moment, incapable of it. But let them pray as well as they can and even not pray at all, but consider the soul to be sick and give it some rest, busying themselves in some other act of virtue. (From “Way of Perfection” by St. Teresa of Avila)

Each day we should spend a few moments in prayer but this time should only be for prayer and we should not allow there to be any distractions.

Second, we must continue to hold the “full assurance of faith.” Faith that knows no hesitation in trusting in and following Christ. We must have no doubt about trusting Christ. I am reminded of what Wesley said when he came to Christ at Aldersgate.

Here was Wesley, having been a minister for a number of years but having a sense of failure for the work that he had done, stating that in his heart he knew that Christ had died for him, to save him from his sins. This is the assurance that we must understand and hold to.

The third point is hold unswervingly to the path of Christ. Hannah was tormented by Penninah yet she did leave God behind.

Fourth, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on.” Through our prayers as a congregation, we continue to let people know that they are thought of and even when things are tough, there is someone/somewhere to turn to.

“Let us not give up meeting together.” The Greek word translated “give up” speaks of desertion and abandonment (see Matthew 27: 46; 2 Corinthians 4: 9; 2 Timothy 4: 10, 16). Throughout the early days, Paul was constantly encouraging the new churches to continue, even when the struggle seemed hopeless. Even today, our presence here today shows that we can continue.

The conclusion to all of this is simple. The end time will come when we allow the outside world to take over our lives. But it will not happen as long as the center of our live is Christ.

Only by denying the world can you live in it, that only by surrounding yourself by an artificial, self-induced quietude can you live in a spiritual life. A real spiritual life does exactly the opposite; it makes us so alert and aware of the world around us, that all that is and happens becomes part of contemplation and meditation and invites us to a free and fearless response. (“Reaching Out” by Henri J. M. Nouwen)

What do the scriptures tell us? First, do we spend time in prayer and meditation with God? Is time such that there are no distractions and interruptions?

When Hannah went to the temple to ask God for a child, her concentration was so strong that she was not conscious of what she was doing. That is why Eli thought she was drunk. But through her devotion, through her faith, her prayer was answered.

The early church felt discouraged at time, we all feel that way. Now, I entitled this sermon “What Time Is It?” because, for some, it is the End time. But as we close today, I ask you to consider your relationship with Christ, to ensure that no matter what else might happen, that your relationship is strong and healthy.

“Who Can I Turn To?”


This is the the message I gave at Alexander Chapel UMC (Brighton, TN) for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), 28 September 1997. The Scriptures were Esther 7: 1 – 6, 9 – 10; 9: 20 – 22,; James 5: 13 – 20, and Mark 9: 38 – 50.  (Edited to reflect proper liturgical date.)

Every day when I log into one the computers at work, I get a message telling me how many days are left until the year 2000. Now, I am not sure if this is just a programmer having fun or if it is a subtle reminder to the programmers of how many days they have left to fix the year 2000 problem.

The year 2000 represents a major problem to “big” computer users because, in early computer design, years were based on 2 digits, i.e., ’97, ’98, ’99, rather than 4 digits, i.e., 1997, 1998, and 1999. When the time comes, computers using the 2-digit program will think it is 1900 rather than 2000. And this will cause a great deal of trouble for companies who have not done anything.

The year 2000, or perhaps more appropriately the next millennium, also represents a challenge for many people who do not use computers but rather see the time as the Second Coming of Christ. When the year 999 turned to 1000, there were many people who felt that it was time prophesied in the Book of Revelations and prepared accordingly. There have been commentaries that the same thing will occur with the coming millennium.

Now, Christ told us that we would never know the exact time of his coming and that we should always be prepared for that time. So the changing of a calendar date should not be considered anything extraordinary. Still, it is interesting to note that every time there is a big event in world history, be it the new millennium or a war or famine, people have felt that it was the time of the second coming and have acted accordingly.

For us, this is a time to consider the place of the church in today’s society. For it was during a similar period in history, when all the events suggested that the end was near, that John Wesley started the Methodist Revival. But when the world around you is falling apart, especially when everyone else seems to be succeeding, what can you do? Who can you turn to?

When I read today’s scriptures, I got a sense of community, of the church’s place in society. Throughout his entire letter, James was speaking to the community, encouraging them to work together, to help each other.

The Old Testament reading for today comes from Esther. Esther was part of the Jewish community in Babylon during the Jewish exile but was married to the Babylonian king. At the time of the reading, a plot was being developed to kill all the Jews in Babylon, as one commentary suggests, as part of annual celebration which required a sacrifice to one of the Babylonian gods.

But when the king asked his wife, Esther, if there was anything she desired, she took the opportunity to ask for the freedom of her people, the captive Jews. Thus the plot to kill the Jews was stopped and the chief plotter was killed instead. The closing portion of the Old Testament reading spoke of what the community, having been saved, did in celebration.

Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

Contrast that to the actions of the disciples upon hearing that someone else was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. They were apparently in an angry mood because someone was doing something they felt that they only had the right to do. But Jesus told them not to complain when someone else did work in His name because such work was good. And as he noted in verse 39, having done good made it impossible for that person to speak ill of Jesus later.

For whatever reason, the disciples viewed their community as the twelve disciples and Jesus, yet Jesus knew that the community was much larger. As Jesus told his disciples, if someone was for the group, they could not be against the group. In verses 42 – 48 of the Gospel reading for today

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you stumble, cut it off; it is better for you toe enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off;’ it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where the worm never dies, and the fires is never quenched.

Jesus told us what would happen if we ignored the community around us. John Wesley saw a community downtrodden and forgotten, not only by the government but by the church as well. To him, action by the church was needed and it was by his actions, in starting that the Methodist revival that conditions improved.

“What can we do?” you ask. At this point, I remember a prayer that has the line “my ship is so small and the sea is so big.” But James told his community to consider prayer, and not just a simple request but rather prayers done in faith. The person that the disciples were upset about healed through his faith in Jesus. If he had healed through deceit or trickery, then the person who was sick would have not been healed, nor would Jesus have been as understanding.

Prayer is our means of communicating with God.

Norman Harrison in “His in a Life of Prayer” tells how Charles Inglis, while making the voyage to America a number of years ago, learned from the devout and godly captain of an experience which he had had but recently with George Miller of Bristol. It seems that they had encountered a very dense fog. Because of it the captain had remained on the bridge continuously for twenty-four hours, when Mr. Miller came to him and said, “Captain, I have come to tell you that I must be in Quebec on Saturday afternoon.” When informed that it was impossible, he replied: “Very well, if the ship cannot take me, God will find some other way. I have never broken an engagement for fifty-seven years. Let us go down into the chartroom and pray.”

The captain continues the story thus: “I looked at that man of God and thought to myself, ‘What lunatic asylum could that man have come from. I never heard such a thing as this. ‘Mr. Miller,’ I said, ‘do you know how dense this fog is?’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘my eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God, who controls every circumstance of my life.’ He knelt down and prayed one those simple prayers, and when he had finished I was going to pray’ but he put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to pray. ‘Firstly,’ he said, ‘because you do not believe God will, and secondly, I believe God has, there is no need whatever for you to pray about it.’ I looked at him, and George Miller said, ‘Captain, I have known my Lord for fifty-seven years, and there has never been a single day that I have failed to get an audience with the King. Get up and open the door, and you will find that the fog has gone.’ I got up and the fog was indeed gone. George Miller was in Quebec Saturday afternoon for his engagement.” “I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes” by Glenn Clark

Who can we turn to? When you pray, whether it be in your private daily devotions or as part of the church prayer each Sunday, from where do the prayers come? When we turn to God, when our prayers come from faith with our eyes turned to the Living God, then we know that our prayers will be answered.

“The Wisdom We Seek”


Here is the message that I gave at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church (Mason, TN) for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (B), 21 September 1997. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Proverbs 31: 10 – 31; James 3: 13 – 4: 3, 7 – 8; and Mark 9: 30 – 37 (changed the lectionary date from 17th to 18th Sunday after Pentecost on 31 August 2014)

I am sure that we all remember Benjamin Franklin’s dictum “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Wisdom has been something that we have looked for and cherished in our leaders and in ourselves. When we speak of a great leader, we often say he or she was a wise and just leaders.

I think that is part of the reason why the Old Testament readings for the last few Sundays have come from the Book of Proverbs. This collection of wise sayings was designed to offer ways of leadership to the people of Israel.

Of course today, when we view the actions and behavior of politicians, no matter if they are national, state, or local leaders, I think that the term “just plain dumb” comes to mind more readily. For it seems that our leaders and many people today have forgotten what true wisdom is and have sought success without wisdom.

Solomon knew that gaining wisdom was not the easy task. Faced with many difficult challenges, especially where the governing of Israel was concerned, he knew he could have trouble if his wisdom was lacking. So when God asked him what he wanted most, Solomon asked for wisdom.

Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today.

And now, O Lord my god, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life. (1 Kings 3: 3 – 14)

Now, it is interesting to note that Solomon, who could have asked for anything that he desired, asked for wisdom and in doing so, got everything else.

In the reading from the Letter of James today, James points out that there are two kinds of wisdom.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

As James points out, when our wisdom comes from above, when we turn to God, then the wisdom we gain can better our lives. That is what Solomon found out. But if our wisdom is driven from our earthly desires, then results we obain can never be successful.

Throughout the history of the Kingdom of Israel, the Israelites sought leaders who were as much wise men as they were powerful leaders. And when they were not wise but boastful, when they choose to leave God, failure was often the result. Both Solomon and David, at the end of their reigns found this out as well.

As Solomon found out, seeing wisdom first will lead to everything else. For if we do not have wisdom, if we cannot know how to make the right decision, then all that we do will be based on our earthly desires rather than on our heavenly goals. But God did give Solomon one instruction to go with the fame and fortune that would come with his wisdom. He (Solomon) had to follow in the path of God. If he left the path of God, he would find that everything he had would be lost.

The disciples are walking with Jesus to Capernaum but it must have not been a good walk for as the scripture notes,

. . . he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

It is easy to understand why they did not understand the nature of the resurrection because their wisdom, as James might say, came from the earth and was based on worldly experiences, not from God.

Jesus had been telling them about His coming death and resurrection but the disciples did not understand what he was talking about. For as the next part of the gospel reading tells us, the disciples were more interested in their place in the kingdom and who would be the greatest.

As Jesus tells his disciples, as He is telling us,

He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Who ever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

There are those who have trouble with this approach. For common wisdom, wisdom from the earth, if you will, says that we cannot be last. We cannot put others before us. Yet, what is that we most admire about Mother Theresa? That she forsake everything because those for whom she ministered had nothing. I found it very interesting to read that she would go to a banquet to accept an award but leave before the dinner was served because the banquet was more that what the people of her ministry were eating.

I find the following an interesting commentary on the nature of thought and wisdom.

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

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

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

Following the inmost desires, aspirations, thoughts, by which one allows oneself to be dominated (pursuing the will-o’-the-wisps of impure imagining or steadfastly walking the highway of strong and high endeavor), a person at last arrives at their fruition and fulfillment in the outer condition of life. The laws of growth and adjustment everywhere obtain. (“As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen)

From where do our thoughts come from; from where do we gain our wisdom? The challenge we face today, the decision we must make today is from where shall our wisdom come from. It is an easy thing to look at the world from a worldly viewpoint but what will be gained? If we take Christ into our own heart, if we allow His presence in our lives each day, the wisdom we gain will provide us with the right direction in our lives and make the lives of others better as well. If we are to seek wisdom, then we must understand how we are to use that wisdom..

My own readings this week focused on being a wise steward, of understanding that what we have comes from God. If we think with the wisdom of the world around us, we can never understand what God wants us to do, we can never reach the Kingdom of Heaven. But when we accept Christ in our hearts, the wisdom we gain provides us with the riches we seek but can never have.

“What Do We Do Next?”


This is the sermon that I presented at Pleasant Grove UMC, Brighton, TN, for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost (B), 7 September 1997. the Scriptures for this Sunday were Proverbs 22: 1-2, 8-9, 22-23; James 2: 1-10 (11-13), 14-17; and Mark 7: 24-37

The Gospel reading for today reminded me of the first time I ever considered what it meant to be a Christian.

When I was a college sophomore, during the spring of 1969, I went to the pastor of the church that I attended. Spring break was coming up, and while I was coming home to Memphis, I felt the need to take communion at the church that I attended in college since that was where I was a member.

(This is not the first time that this account has been posted to my blog. I first published my account of this conversation and what happened on that spring break trip home in “That First Baptism”; the details of the conversation itself were first published in “Our Father’s House”. But this is probably the first time that I spoke of this encounter in a message)

Now, Reverend Fortel was a little surprised by this request but he agreed to it anyway. So on the day before the break, we met at the church and went to the chapel for communion.

Now, instead of going through the ritual of the Sacrament, we discussed what communion was and I recall reading the prayer found on page 30 of our current hymnal

We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies.

We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.

But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.

Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to partake of this Sacrament of thy Son Jesus Christ, that we may walk in newness of life, may grow into his likeness, and may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen. (The United Methodist Hymnal, page 30)

I don’t recall my exact emotion but I do remember questioning the statement “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.”

I felt that, as a Christian, our worth was such that we could sit at God’s table as his equal. But Reverend Fortel pointed out that because of sin we had lost our place at God’s table, but because of His grace, God has restored our position.

The woman in the Gospel reading today was neither Jewish nor from Israel, yet she still sought Jesus. And when Jesus reminded her of her status, she point out that “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” to which Jesus acknowledged her faith.

It was because of her faith and not her status that she was saved. God’s grace is given to us all, no matter what our status.

Each of the Proverbs that are part of the Old Testament reading for today speak of the relationship between the parts of society and how each part should treat each other.

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.

The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail.

Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.

Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate;

For the Lord pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.

Yet, today, it seems as if status is everything. Even in Wesley’s time, being poor was considered the result of a sinful life. In the Epistle reading for today, James warns the reader against showing partiality because of a person’s status. On more than one occasion, Wesley pointed out that being poor was not something to be pitied.

Doing good works should never be and cannot be considered an accounting technique. We cannot say that we did so many good works and expect those works to take our sins. Much will be said about the good works done by Lady Diana and Mother Theresa. Many will see the works of Mother Theresa in terms of her job as a nun but nothing will be said about the faith of Lady Diana. I do not presume and will not make any judgements about these individuals. They showed the world through their lives and actions what can be done and that is all we can say.

It is what we do because we have come to Christ that matters. Good works are one of the responsibilities that we accepted when we came to Christ was to help those less fortunate than us so that they could find Christ in their lives. To Wesley, this was very important because the living conditions in England at his time made it very difficult for the poor to survive, let alone succeed. And when the day-to-day conditions make it impossible to live, a simple greeting to have faith is going to do little to reduce that individual’s burden.

It was inconceivable to Wesley how anyone could ignore the poor and their struggles. He remembered the words of Jame, “if a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs,” what is the good of that?

Having been saved by our faith, having been lifted up by God’s grace, how can we not help others? James told his readers that if you break one law, then you break all the laws. If you sin, it doesn’t matter how great or small the sin because you will have fallen from God’s grace.

It is our duty as a Christian and as a Methodist to work towards the life of Christian perfection. It is not an easy life but then no one said that it would ever be. It is a much easier live to not worry about others and simply seek God’s forgiveness when we sin. But there may come a day when we fail to seek forgiveness. What will we do then?

Think of the woman in the Gospel reading today whose faith in Christ brought her to Him. Though in the eyes of society, she may not have been worthy, by her faith and her actions, she was saved.

The last portion of the prayer that caused me to think concludes “. . .that we walk in the newness of life, may grow into his likeness, and may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.” Each day we renew the bond we have with Jesus, each day we seek to fulfill the redemption of our worth by our faith and our actions so that other may know of a life in Christ.

“You Knew the Job Was Dangerous When You Took It”


This was the message that I presented at Alexander Chapel United Methodist Church (Mason, TN) on the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), August 24, 1977. The Scriptures for this Sunday were 1 Kings 8: (1, 6, 10 – 11) 22 – 30, 41 – 43; Ephesians 6: 10 – 20; and John 6: 56 – 69

When I first read the Gospel and Epistle readings for today, my first thought was that being a Christian was a dangerous thing to be. But then, I thought about what Christ asks of us each day and I knew that I would call this sermon, “You Knew the Job Was Dangerous When You Took It.”

Now I must admit, and it brings embarrassment to my daughters and possibly my brothers and sister, that I am a fan of “George of the Jungle.” Now I am not talking about the movie of the same name, though I hope to see it soon, but rather the cartoon show from which the movie took its name. When I was in college, the only thing that got me out of bed on Saturday mornings was this cartoon show. As I recall, each week one of the vignettes during the half-hour show involved Superchicken and his faithful companion, Fred.

Now, no matter what happened during each episode, you could be assured that Fred would either get run over , blown up, or beaten up while the hero, Superchicken, would always walk away unscathed. And whenever Fred complained abought this obvious disparity in treatment, Superchicken would always say “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.”

Even with Christians being persecuted in other countries and openly being a Christian bring ridicule in this country, being a Christian today should not be viewed as dangerous. Yes, Jesus warned us and his early followers that it would not be easy when we first go out on missions.

“I send you out like sheep among wolves; be wary as serpents, innocent as doves. Be on your guard, for you will be handed over to the courts, they will flog you in their synagogues, and you will be brought before governors and kings on my account, to testify before them and the Gentiles.” (Matthew 10: 16 – 18)

But we certainly do not have to face the dangers that either the early Christians nor the early Methodist ministers had to face when they began preaching some two hundred years ago. Stephen was stoned for preaching the salvation from sins through Christ.

Not only were early Methodist ministers barred from preaching in the churches of England, they were also subject to crowds throwing stones at them as they preached in the open fields of 18th century England. Even John Wesley bore with pride the bruises caused by a well-thrown stones. Yet, because these ministers were in the fields preaching the Gospel, more people heard the Gospel.

Despite all this, despite the ridicule, despite the obvious persecution, the dangers we face today come more from within, because when faced with the uncertainty of tomorrow, when faced with what seems to be an impossible task, many people will choose the easy way out.

When Jesus was in the wilderness, Satan tempted him with the easy way out. But Jesus knew, as we know today, that His Kingdom could not be reached by giving in and taking the easy way, will not give us that which we seek. His message is a difficult to hear and understand if your focus is on avoiding the hard path.

This was the case for many of the early followers of Jesus. Jesus spoke of the bread of life and how it brings the gift of eternal life. Many of his disciples could not accept this teaching.

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

On hearing this, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

The message of God’s love for us, of our salvation from sin by the Grace of God did not often fit with the desire of some of these early followers for an earthly king who would restore the kingdom of Israel. Wanting freedom from the oppressive Roman government, they were not willing to seek the heavenly kingdom and freedom from sin that Christ offered. Faced with the unknown, faced with the challenge of understanding Jesus’ message, many followers just were not willing to continue following Jesus. So they took the easy way out and left his group.

Understanding Jesus’ message is not an easy thing to do. Sometimes, our best choice is not to leave but to stay. Consider what Peter said to Jesus in response to Jesus’ asking if they wanted to leave as well.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

But Jesus knew that not every one who began following him was going to be with him at the end. The mystery of faith is not always immediately obvious and often times we do not wish to make such leaps of faith. And in a society which likes to see its results now, having to wait is not the desired answer. But faith must be taken as it is. In Hebrews 11:1 we read “Faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see”.

Each day, we face some new challenge and we must decide which way we are going to go. When the troubles of the world start getting to us, when it seems like there is nothing that we can do, how will we react?

One thing we owe to Our Lord is never to be afraid. To be afraid is doubly an injury to him. Firstly, it means that we forget him; we forget he is with us and is all powerful. (From Meditations of a Hermit by Charles de Foucauld)

And as Solomon noted in his dedication of the new temple in Jerusalem, God is always with us.

Secondly, it means that we are not conformed to his will; for since all that happens is willed or permitted by him, we ought to rejoice in all that happens to us and feel neither anxiety nor fear. Let us then have the faith that banishes fear. Our Lord is at our side, with us, upholding us. (Meditations of a Hermit by Charles de Foucauld)

When Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, he closed with

“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name — for men will hear of your great name and your might hand and your outstretched arm — when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people of Israel, and may know that this house I have build bears your Name.

The temple was there for all who heard God speaking to them and the invitation to come to Christ was there even then. If we come to Christ, if we open our heart to Him, then we gain what we need to meet any dangers that we might encounter. Mother Theresa tells us

Put yourself completely under the influence of Jesus, so that he may think his thoughts in your mind, do his work through your hands, for you will be all-powerful with him to strengthen you. (A Gift for God by Mother Theresa)

Paul told the church at Ephesus, in a similar time of trouble and danger

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his might power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything to stand. Stand firm then with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

When we open our hearts to Christ, we find that no matter what we face, we are able to face it with the confidence that the Lord is with us. The invitation to come to the Lord has been here since long before we were on this earth.

There are dangers in the world, even today. Being a Christian will do nothing to change that. But being a Christian, accepting Christ as our personal Savior means that no job will ever be a dangerous one and we can go forward secure in our lives.

“Signs (1997)”


This was the message I gave at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church (Brighton, TN) for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), 3 August 1997. I am pretty sure that I used 2 Samuel 11: 26 – 12: 13, Ephesians 4: 1 – 16, and John 6: 24 – 35 as the Scriptures for this Sunday. 

Note – in editing my files I see that I had posted this as the 10th Sunday after Pentecost but have it listed in my preaching record as the 11th Sunday.

When I first read the scriptures for this Sunday and the comments by the people to Jesus about seeing more signs, I thought about a song from the 70′s entitled “Signs” by the Five-Man Electric Band. In the song, the opening lines are “signs, signs, signs, everywhere there are signs.” And as we drove up to Pleasant Grove this Sunday I thought about all the signs that we saw along the side of the road, including the various signs churches has.

In the song, one of the signs is about keeping trespassers out and the second sign mentions that “long-haired freaking people need not apply”.

In response to this second sign, the lead singer sticks his hair up under his cap and goes into apply for the job. The owner of the business indicates that the job is his because he looks like a fine-upstanding young man; to which the singer pulls off his cap and exposes the business owner for a hypocrite.

Each day we see a lot of signs, signs that tell us which direction to take, when to stop, when to go. We see signs in stores telling us what the prices of various goods are. Of course, some of these signs are also designed to get us to buy certain products.

And in a broader sense, that is the way our life is today. We see signs but the meaning that we read into them may not be what the sign is all about. Last week, there was a TV show about the prophecies of Nostradamus and how they could come true in the year 2000. The broadcast was last Wednesday because there were 1000 days until the next millennium. As each day brings us closer to the year 2000, we hear more about the coming millennium.

But this is also an example of how we can misread signs. The next millennium does not start on January 1, 2000, but one year later on January 1, 2001. So every one who puts stock in reading the signs is going to be off by one year. As Paul points out in his letter to the Ephesians, we must be careful and avoid the trickery and deceit of others.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.

Now I am not saying that those who think the next century starts in 2000 are deceitful or otherwise; it is just that their information is wrong and we must be careful about what we do with false information. For those who feel that the end times are approaching, Christ himself told us that we should always be prepared for His coming because we cannot know when He might come again.

The prophet Nathan came to him and told David a story about two men.

The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he come to him, he said, “There were two men, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.”

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his won sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

Instead of selecting a lamb from his own flock, the rich man took the only lamb of the poor man. David saw the injustice in such an action and demanded to know the name of the rich man so that he could be justly punished.

David saw the signs but did not know what they meant. Can you imagine David’s shock when Nathan pointed out the he, David, the King of Israel and Judah, was the guilty man for having stolen the wife of Uriah from Uriah and then ordering Uriah to lead his men into battle knowing that Uriah was certain to die.

“You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, say: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

Nathan made it very clear to David that his punishment would be as severe as what David proposed for the rich man in the parable.

To the people seeking Jesus that day in Capernaum, the miracles they had witnessed, the feeding of the multitudes, the healing of the sick were all signs that Jesus was the king they longed for to lead them out of the oppressive Roman rule. Yet, the people did not understand what those signs represented.

The people of Israel saw Jesus feeding the multitudes in the same way that they remember Moses feeding their ancestors during the Exodus from Egypt. But like those who see the year 2000 as the beginning of the next century, the people of Israel had forgotten who it was that provided the manna each day of their wanderings. Because they didn’t understand what they saw and because they had forgotten their history, Jesus pointed out that they weren’t ready to do His work.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous sings but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the father has placed his seal of approval.

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

We ask that same question each day.

How are we to know, or find out, what the Will of God is? I do not think that any general answer can be given to this. In clear moral or political issues, we must surely judge and act by the great truths and demands of Christianity; and if we have the pluck to do this, then, as we act, more and more we shall perceive the direction of the Will. That choice, cause, or action, which is least tainted by self-interest, which makes for the increase of happiness – health – beauty – peace – cleanses and harmonizes life, must always be in accordance with the Will of the Spirit which is drawing life towards perfection. The difficulty comes when there is a conflict of loyalties, or a choice between two apparent gods. At such points many people feel unaware of any guidance, unable to discern or understand the signals of God: not because the signals are not given, but because the mind is too troubled, clouded and hurried to receive them. “He who is in a hurry,” said St. Vincent de Paul, “delays the things of God.” But when those who are at least attempting to live the life of the Spirit, and have consequently become more or less sensitive to its movements to have no clear light, they will often become aware, if they will wait in quietness, of a subtle yet insistent pressure in favour of the path which they should take. The early Friends were accustomed to trust implicitly in indications of this kind, and were usually justified. When there is no such pressure, then our conduct should be decided by charity and common sense; qualities which are given to us by God in order that they may be used.

We have to read the signs, not with our own view of the world but with the view that God wants us to have. Yes, this may be difficult.

Are we able to meet the challenges this world presents to us each day? Can we change what seem to be signs of gloom into hopes for the future? All we have to do is see the signs that are in front of us. By his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus reclaimed us from sin and as Paul wrote

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says” “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

With all the troubles in the world today, there are those who are certain that it is the end time and that God again has forgotten his people. But just as the people of Israel forgot who provided the manna that fed them each day in the wilderness, so too have people forgotten that Jesus told us we would never know the time of His return and that we should always be prepared. But the situation, no matter how grim it might seem, is not what it seems. We have been given the gift of God’s grace, if only we accept what Jesus told us so many years ago,

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Can we do the works of God?

Christian ministry is more than doing good. Ministry is an act of service performed either consciously or unconsciously in the name of Christ. Ministry is Jesus Christ expressing his life through us. It is born, therefore, not in activity, but in solitude, where through the spirit we experience the power of life from within. No one becomes a “minister.” Rather in trust we so open ourselves to the Spirit that Jesus Christ can express his ministry through us. Prayer and ministry, therefore, are indissoluable. In the stillness of meditative prayer we are confronted by God’s loving claim upon us – the most intense intimacy a human being can experience. To know this intimacy we have only to let go. Instead of relying on our own initiative, where we are in control, we discover that we are participating in what God has already initiated within us.

So we have been given the signs, the gifts we need to make this world a better place. And it makes the last verse of the song I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon even more appropriate now. For at the end of the singer’s journey, he came to a sign which said “Everyone welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray.” And to this the singer made his own sign “Thank you God for thinking about me; I’m alive and doing fine.”

The signs are there and you don’t have to look very far to know that God is present.

“Giving Your All”


This was the message I gave at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 29 June 1997. The Scriptures for this Sunday were 2 Samuel 1: 1, 17 – 27; 2 Corinthians 8: 7 – 15, and Mark 5: 21 – 43.

- note – this was the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), not the 5th. -

It is during this week that the willingness of individual to give of themselves is probably more evident than any other time of the year. For it was this week some two hundred and twenty one years ago that fifty men put their signatures to the Declaration of Independence. Not all of them signed with the flourish that John Hancock did but sign it they did. And as each man signed this most important document in our country’s history, they knew that if the Revolution was a failure, that what they were signing was not a Declaration of Independence but rather their death warrant. For if the Revolution failed, the British would hunt each of the individuals down and hang them for treason.

In the reading from the Old Testament, David laments the death of Saul and Jonathan. He does so not because of who they are but for what they were doing at the time of their deaths. After all, Saul had been trying to kill David prior to the battle in which he lost his live but David knew that Saul’s death was a blow to the country. And that made the loss of Jonathan every more of a blow because of he was like a brother to David.

This week, we celebrate our country’s independence, but today we celebrate our independence, our freedom from sin. But to do that, we must first enter a new relationship with Christ.

It is not what you are nor what you have been that God sees with his all-merciful eyes, but what you desire to be. St. Gregory declares that

“all holy desires heighten in intensity with the delay of fulfillment, and desire which fades with delay was never holy desire at all.” For if you experience less and less joy when you discover anew the sudden presence of great desires you had formerly pursued, your first desire was not holy desire. Possibly you felt a natural tendency toward the good but this should not be confused with holy desire. St. Augustine explains what I mean by holy desire when he says that “the entire life of a good Christian is nothing less than holy desire.” (The Cloud of Unknowing)

That is the step that Jarius had to take. As Jarius was the leader of the local synagogue, he knew that what he was about to, seek out Jesus and ask Jesus to save his daughter, could possibly lead to his disgrace in the community. But he also knew that the only hope for his daughter lie with Jesus and, knowing that this act could lead to further difficulties for him in society, he still came to Jesus.

The saving grace of Jesus is there for everyone but it requires that everyone make some sort of step towards overcoming the barriers that they have put up. And Jesus also showed that he would put up no barriers.

While Jesus is with Jarius, a woman comes up from behind to touch his robe. For this woman, coming to Jesus represents her last hope. Because of her twelve-year illness, this woman has been effectively banished from society. Deemed unclean, no one can help her and she has nowhere to turn to. She cannot even go to the synagogue to pray for help because, as an unclean person, she is not allowed to enter. She has nowhere else to turn to when she makes the decision to come to Christ.

Jesus’ reaction to the woman touching his robe shocked his disciples because they did not yet understand how much Jesus knows about each one of us. That woman was lost to society and yet Jesus knew she was there and he stopped everything he was doing to find her. Jesus gives us his all, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

It was not Jarius’ position as the leader of the synagogue which saved his daughter but rather his faith. Not everyone believed as Jarius did. When Jesus, Jarius, and the three disciples came to Jarius house, friends came to say that Jarius’ daughter was dead. All Jesus said was to keep the faith and all would turn out okay. His friends just laughed at this suggestion.

Only when he came to Jesus was he able to achieve what he was seeking. Jesus did not look at the woman’s illness or her standing in the community as a barrier to her being saved either.

And that is the same with us today. If we choose to look upon our lives in terms of what we now have, we will gain nothing. But if we give up such things and allow Jesus to come into our hearts, then we will hear Jesus say to us, just as he said to Jarius and the women, “Go in peace”, knowing that we are saved.

All week long, as I have worked on this sermon, I have thought of a song which has the words, “What can I give him?” This is a song which I have sung around Christmas time and it, as I recall, is the dilemma of what to the give the new born Jesus. The three wise men gave gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh because they were gifts appropriate for a new-born King.

But for us today, all Jesus is asking is that we give wholly and freely of ourselves. As Paul writes in the beginning of the Epistle today

But just as you excel in everything, in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in our love for us — see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

Such giving knows no boundaries, is not limited by who you are or what you do yet is offers unlimited rewards.