“Top Posts for 2012″


Here are the top posts for 2012. Since I really didn’t post much new stuff this year, the list looks a lot like last year’s list (“Top Posts for 2011”).

I am not sure what 2013 will look like from a blogging standpoint. We are continuing the Saturday morning devotionals at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen and if I give the devotional, then it will be posted. (Get in touch with me if you are in the Newburgh area and want to present the devotional some Saturday).

  1. The Chemistry of Bowling – July 26, 2008 (#1 in 2011)
  2. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch – November 18, 2009 (#3)
  3. What is a part per million? – February 19, 2010 (#8)
  4. Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday? – March 13, 2008 (#2)
  5. Who Cuts the Barber’s Hair? – September 15, 2009 (#5)
  6. A Collection of Sayings – January 17, 2008 (#4)
  7. John Wooden – A Review of “A Game Plan for Life – the power of Mentoring” by John Wooden and Don Yager– October 9, 2009 (#7)
  8. What Does Stewardship Mean to Me – November 6, 2005 (#13)
  9. Hearing God Call – January 7, 2009 (#12)
  10. A Brief History of Atomic Theory – April 27, 2011 (#9)
  11. The Dilemma of Modern Christianity – April 18, 2009 (#6)
  12. The Twelve Disciples – Were they management potential? – October 3, 2008 (#14)
  13. A Child’s Book Report on the entire Bible” – November 6, 2005 (not ranked)
  14. What Does It Mean To Be Called? – August 30, 2008 (#16)
  15. The Difference Between Football in the North and South – October 8, 2006 (#10)
  16. A Cake Without Baking Powder” – October 8, 2006 (unranked)
  17. Just What Is The Right Thing To Do?” – June 28, 2008, (unranked)
  18. The Difference Between Republicans and Democrats” – November 27, 2008, (unranked)
  19. Describe Your Pastor” – March 11, 2008, (unranked)
  20. A Scout is Reverent – February 2, 2010 (#19)

My all-time list is

  1. The Chemistry of Bowling (#1 in 2011)
  2. Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday? (#2)
  3. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch – November 18, 2009 (#4)
  4. A Collection of Sayings (#3)
  5. John Wooden – A Review of “A Game Plan for Life – the power of Mentoring” by John Wooden and Don Yager– October 9, 2009 (#5)

“Choices”


This was the message that I presented at Tompkins Corners UMC for Christ the King Sunday (C), 21 November 2004. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Jeremiah 23: 1 – 6, Colossians 1: 11 – 20 and Luke 23: 33 – 43.

I spoke last week (“Signs of Things to Come”) of the two responsibilities of the church, the social and personal responsibilities of the church in today’s society. Now, some might say that I spend too much time on the former while never speaking of the latter.

I have and I will always feel that my relationship with Christ is what allows me to speak out in this world, to speak out against injustice and oppression. I grew up in a world where the Bible and the words of God were used for injustice and repression. So it is that I think that it is my own relationship with God through Christ that allowed me to escape that view of the world and fight for a world of equality and justice.

In the words of Jeremiah, Jesus came to this world to take care of those that the world had forgotten. We seem to have forgotten that particular piece of prophecy in today’s world. Many churches today seem to think that this passage applies to the relief of oppression in the world and they hold onto that view at the expense of their own membership. For these churches, there is no church but the one outside the walls. Other churches, perhaps in response to the whole-world view of other churches, feel that the shepherd role applies first and foremost to a church’s own membership. For these churches, the world outside the walls doesn’t exist.

But the fact of the matter is that both worlds exist and any church that ignores one in favor of the other will, in the long run, suffer the consequences for its ignorance.

In a recent article comparing the nature of members in traditional, mainline churches and evangelical, fundamentalist churches, it was discovered that mainline churches favor traditional family values and are made up of traditional families. The members of the evangelical or fundamentalist churches are apt to be non-traditional, single parent families. You might think it to be otherwise, based on the most recent public events.

But the fact of the matter is that the traditional mainline denominations have difficulty adapting to the nature of the society outside the church and are not always willing to make the changes needed. The reason that these non-traditional families attend the non-traditional churches is that they get the one thing that they are missing in their lives, acceptance and love.

You may disagree with this idea but stop and think about it for a moment. These individuals are experiencing difficult family situations and are looking for a community that will help them get through their life. There is admittedly a dichotomy here. Evangelicalism holds up a traditional ideal of the family but has more non-traditional families, whereas mainline Protestantism holds up a more liberal ideal but has more traditional families in the pew. Churches may speak of being open and welcoming but whom do they welcome? To whom will the doors of the church open?

Jeremiah’s words are angry words and they were directed at the rulers of Judah. Jeremiah is merely acknowledging earlier pronouncements given in Ezra. And whether we care to admit it or not, those words are directed at this society where we have been given many of the same tasks that the leaders of Israel were given. And just like the leaders then, we have failed now.

But it is also interesting to note that the same Hebrew words that produce the phrase “bestow punishment”, used several times in this passage, also produce the phrase “bestowed care.” And God, in bestowing punishment on the people of Israel for failing to hold to the covenant promises, also provides care for those in need and suffering. The final part of this passage from Jeremiah is the prophecy that Jesus will come and He will be the one and true King of all people.

I think that the one thing that we have to consider is that no church, be it mainline or non-traditional, can presume to hold to one line of thought if its actions are opposite or not consistent with that thought. I think that is what has caused much of the problems with the mainline denomination; they hold to a liberal view of life, yet exclude or deny that view to many who seek it.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians is another example of Paul having to deal with problems in a local church. And again, it has to do with how the people have interpreted the original message. The commentary that I use indicates that the church in Colosse focused on six things:

  1. Ceremonialism – the adherence to strict rules about the kinds of permissible food and drink, religious festivals, and circumcision.
  2. Asceticism – the carrying out of strict rules to the extreme
  3. Angel worship – this was not necessarily a belief in angels (which was okay) but rather a worship of the angels themselves as suitable replacement for God (which can never be okay).
  4. The depreciation of Christ – in the false teachings presented to the Colossians, Christ as our Lord and Savior was reduced in stature.
  5. The development of secret knowledge, – this was the idea that not everyone was entitled to the knowledge of the resurrection.
  6. And, a reliance on human wisdom and tradition – the false teachers were implying that salvation could only be obtained by combining faith in Christ with secret knowledge that only they, the teachers, could gain and with man-made regulations concerning the activities that one undertook in church and in daily life.

It is not likely that what many churches are doing today compares to the problems of the church in Colosse. But much of what is done in many churches today (and I am not going to split the difference between traditional and non-traditional churches) is very similar. We don’t spend time focusing on the single most important fact about why we are here – that Christ is King and Our Savior.

I think we hide that fact. I think we would rather focus on the church as a building and an entity on its own. But, if we stop and pause for a moment and think about why we are here, then we have to realize that which Paul emphasized in the portion of his letter that we read today. For Paul, our focus should be on the simple fact that Christ is the one and only King.

As the New Year approaches, we are faced with choices. Shall we, individually and collectively, make the decision to follow Christ, to acknowledge that He is our one and only King? Or shall we make the decision to keep going as we have been going, trusting in our own judgement? We do not know why the two criminals were crucified on the same day as Jesus. It might have simply been for expediency.

We know that the Romans and the Jewish Church Council certainly had no understanding of what was to transpire that day. To them, Jesus was just another criminal for whom punishment must be meted out. But for us, the act of crucifying Jesus was the symbol of care being meted out; it was a sign that God cared for us.

For the one criminal, wise to they ways of the world, Jesus was just like him, a common criminal and sentenced to death. There was nothing but punishment to be gained. But the other criminal understood, even at the moment of his own death, that Jesus was the Son of God and the Savior of man.

We can be like the first criminal and accept the punishment of life that we are given. Or we can see Christ as our Savior, as did the second criminal, and be given eternal life, free from slavery to sin and death. We can know that Jesus’ crucifixion was the bestowment of God’s care for us. The choices are ours to make, what shall they be?

“The Results of Our Work”


This is the message that I gave at the Bethel Home on 28 July 2002 (the 10th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A). The Scriptures were Genesis 29: 15 – 28, Romans 8: 26 – 39 (which I didn’t use because of the time frame for the service), and Matthew 13: 31 – 33, 44 -52.

Jacob loved Rachel. This is one of the basic ideas of the Old Testament, one that is used to illustrate the reason for Joseph being sold into slavery. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son because Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife. In the Old Testament lesson for today we find out that Jacob worked seven years for Rachel’s father Laban in order to marry her. But when the wedding feast was over, Jacob found out that he had married Leah, Rachel’s older sister.

As Laban explained it to Jacob, he could not marry Rachel until Leah, the older sister had been married. This was the custom of the time. So it was that Jacob, the trickster had been tricked. Most commentary points out the irony of this. For Jacob had tricked his older brother Esau and then his father Isaac in order to gain the birthright and inheritance that came with it. It is only fitting that the trickster gets tricked when the time came. But Jacob loved Rachel enough that married Leah and worked another seven years in order to marry Rachel.

I am not sure if Jesus was thinking of Jacob when he taught his followers the parables that were the Gospel reading for today. But the points that he made in the lesson could be related to what happened to Jacob. If our focus is on the immediate results of our work, we can easily lose track of what we seek.

What good does it do for us to sell all that we have just so that we can get the one pearl of value? How shall we get anything else? The treasures might be in the field that we buy but they are still buried and beyond our reach.

The mustard seed is small and almost impossible to see but the rewards gained when it is planted and allowed to grow are incomparable. The value of the yeast is not in what it is now but in what it does to the loaves of bread.

In the parables we heard today, Jesus pointed out that the keys to the kingdom of heaven were not in the things we do today. He made it clear time and time again that there was only one way to gain that entrance.

It is not always that easy. The things around us can easily sidetrack us from what we seek. But when we have made Christ the center of our life, when we let Christ be our guide, then our work takes on a different meaning. Instead of rewards gained now on earth, our rewards are the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

And at times when we might feel weak, at times when it seems like we cannot gain that reward, we are reminded that Jesus died so that the keys to heaven were guaranteed. The results of our work may never be enough, but if our focus is on Christ and his presence in our lives, then like the mustard seed which grows beyond what it is, then our work goes beyond the immediate and the keys to heaven become our reward.

“Our Choices”


This is the message that I gave for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, 26 June 2005, at Fishkill (NY) UMC. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Genesis 22: 1 – 14, Romans 6: 12 – 23, and Matthew 10: 40 – 42.

Technically, Fishkill was my home church and had been since I moved up to New York in 1999.

But from 1999 to 2002, I was the lay pastor at Walker Valley (NY) UMC and from 2002 to 2005 I was the lay pastor at Tompkins Corners (NY) UMC. But I had resigned my position at Tompkins Corners a month before in order to effect some needed changes in the structure (which, as you now from reading some of the posts I have put about, didn’t work and the church closed two years ago; if you haven’t, see “Notes For Trinity Sunday”). So I was available to preach and the call came to come to Fishkill.

It was that noted Eastern philospher and Hall of Fame catcher, Yogi Berra, who once noted that when you come to a fork in the road you should choose it (note added in publishing this piece – check out http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/6285 for a picture of a fork in the road – it is at the intersection of NY 199 and NY 308; when the churches in Milan and Red Hook were yoked together, you passed this in going from Milan to Red Hook). We are at a point in time where we have come to that fork in the road and we must choose which way to go. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” In other words, when you come to a fork in the road, take it. Unfortunately, the people to whom Jeremiah directed these roads answered “we will not walk in the ways of the Lord.” Theirs was not a good choice.

We are continually faced with choices and, sooner or later, we must make a choice. Sometimes the choices are mundane, should we use paper or plastic? Other times, they are deep and insightful. Unfortunately it seems like many of the choices that we make today are made out of fear or misunderstanding.

Ever since September 11th (a date we can say without a year), we have been bombarded with ideas and thoughts that are based on fear or misunderstanding. Travel across the electromagnetic spectrum and listen, if you can, to the myriad talk shows on television today and all you hear is fear. Many preachers, claiming to be “the true voice of God”, and other talk show hosts pour invective on those who disagree with them about abortion, homosexuality, war, evolution, gun control, and the role of government. Such preachers and talk show hosts call out the troops, marshaling them to swamp their elected representatives with phone calls and letter on this and that issue on which we are told our faith and freedom hinge.

It is possible that some will say that I am trying to strike fear in your hearts today. As loud and vocal are the commentators on the right, so too are the commentators on the left just as equally vocal in their pronouncements that those on the right are trying to take away our basic freedoms of thought and choice. We are at a point in time and society where if you publicly state that you are a Christian you are labeled a fundamentalist and conservative. And if you claim to be a liberal in today’s environment (and are willing to pubicly state such), then you are labeled a secular humanist who does not believe in God, Christ, or the power of the resurrection and the Gospel.

But this dialogue, by both sides, blinds us to the work of faith activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Clarence Jordan, and Dorothy Day whose work in the name of Jesus Christ and the Gospel is now considered to be “progressive”. And the arguments of both sides blinds them so that they cannot see the rigidity of their own ideological demands. It is almost as if we have turned the clock back in time to the days of Jesus and we hear the voices of the Pharisees and Sadducees seeking ways to discredit Jesus because they are blind to the message of hope, promise and justice that Jesus gave.

It has been said that the most common command in the Bible is “fear not.” It is a command that Jesus repeatedly gave to his disciples and followers; it is the command of the angel at the annunciation when Mary was told that she would be the mother of the Messiah. When God’s presence with humanity is palpable, it takes away fear – fear of enemies, fear of the future. Yes, there is sin in this world and it must be named and resisted. But we cannot move into the future if we are afraid or fearful. (Adapted from “Fear Not”, Christian Century, June 14, 2005)

In this day of division, hatred, and destruction, there are those who have made a choice, have decided to walk a different path. As John Danforth, former senator from Missouri and an Episcopal minister, recently wrote in the New York Times, these are the moderates of Christianity. Instead of claiming to possess God’s truth, moderate Christians only claim to be imperfect seekers of the truth. Instead of dividing society, religion is to be inclusive, seeking to bridge the divisions between people.

Rather than arguing with those with whom we disagree, we must practice humility and tolerance. In a world based on fear and hatred, in a world of division and exclusion, we must follow the Lord who sat at the table with the tax collectors and sinners and welcome all into our midst. We must replace an agenda based on hatred with the one we were taught as children, that we are loved by God and that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. (“Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers” by John C. Danforth, New York Times, June 17, 2005)

Against this background, it is clear that we must make a choice. It has to be a choice based on trust and understanding, not fear or blind obedience. Such an example of trust comes from the Old Testament reading for today.

Abraham was commanded to take his son Isaac to the mountains of Moriah where he is to sacrifice Isaac. From the very beginning of the story, it is clear that Abraham did not do this out of simple obedience to God, for he repeatedly says “Trust in the Lord.” I am sure that Abraham, given the choice, might have asked God about the wisdom of such a command. After all, God formed a covenant with Abraham in which he, Abraham, would be the father of many nations because he chosen to follow God. Abraham had already lost one son, Ishmael, and I am sure that he did not want to lose another one. But he does not question God, choosing rather to trust in Him.

At the end of the story God decides that his faith is worthy and provides a worthy and appropriate sacrifice to replace Isaac on the altar. Abraham’s faith and trust are rewarded. I do not think that we will ever see our lives tested in that same way, for we have already been given that worthy and appropriate sacrifice, Jesus Christ. But that does not mean that we don’t have to make a choice anymore; Rather, it means that the choices that we make take on an even greater importance.

Paul notes that we are free to choose the path we wish to walk but we have to be careful which one we choose. For if we choose the path and life that makes us a slave to sin, the reward is death. But if we choose to walk the path set before us through Christ, even if some would say that it is a slavery no different from other forms of slavery, our rewards are righteousness and everlasting life. When we choose to follow God, we reap the benefit of holiness which are eternal life.

This narrative that Paul offers us can be a very confusing one to follow. How can one who is a slave ever gain anything? Does not the slave-owner keep everything? Paul notes that if we are slaves to righteousness, we gain everything. If we are slaves to sin, then we gain nothing. We are asked to see beyond the limits of our world and the limits of our own understanding. If we do not do so, then we are trapped in the limits of this world, unable to see the freedom offered by Christ.

So we must make a choice. In fact, we must make two choices. First, we must find a way to let Christ into our lives and then we must find a way to take Christ’s message out into the world. For if we cannot take the message out into the world, we will be trapped in a world of darkness and fear, unable to see the hope and promise of the Gospel message. If we really wish to respond to the fear, the violence, the oppression, the hatred that seem so ever present in this world today we must do so in such a way that does not simply use the same approaches. For violence only begets more violence, hatred breeds only hatred, and injustice will only lead to injustice. We must begin to think more in terms of witness and less in terms of worldly solutions. (Adapted from “Mine Wars”, Scott Williams, Christian Century, May 31, 2005)

We again hear the words of Christ spoken so many years ago. As we welcome Christ in our hearts so too do we welcome God into our lives. We offer the cup of water or aid someone less than us not because we think it will get us into heaven or wipe the slate clean of our own transgressions but because we are Christ’s disciples. And in doing so, we do not lose the reward that we gain through righteousness.

We must be willing to teach and learn about Jesus, the Prince of Peace. We must come to a place in our lives where we make a thoughtful decision to apprentice ourselves to Him, being willing to rearrange our thinkg and living according to His teachings and example. Out of our apprenticeship to Jesus we will find a way to remove the darkness and fear from the world.

It will be this commitment to Jesus that will direct our interaction with people. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us that we should avoid treating our enemies with contempt or anger. It is very easy for us to become sinfully contemptuous of those with whom we disagree, no matter what the issue. But it is then we begin to lose the argument, no matter how logical, because we have abandoned the high ground and begun to disregard the teaching and example of Jesus.

(This was one of the times when I was confident enough to sing a solo as part of the sermon.)

Our words, our thoughts, our actions must be a reflection of our choice to follow Christ. That is how we will be able to stand up against the powers of war and destruction. That is how we will be able to silence the voices of evil and hatred that seek to divide this world. In opening our hearts to Christ, we will be to gain that which we do not have alone. Remember that he told us “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” If we ask Him, He will teach us. By His actions and words, we will be able to display gentleness, joy, and kindness in the midst of heated debate that will allow us to keep our heads while those around us are losing theirs. (Adapted from “What is Wrong With the World?” by Jim Hardenbrook, On Earth Peace, Summer, 2005) Our witness comes because of our response to Jesus and the way in which He came into this world.

Jesus came into this world humbly, not as an authority from above but as a humble servant. He came not to reveal an ideological system to be imposed on society but as the one who, in the way in which he gave himself, affirmed the need for human freedom and decision. He came as the one prepared to risk His truth and life within the openness of the secular world. When He was asked to identify Himself, either by displaying his authority or by giving a sign that would convince man of his supernatural powers, He refused. He had to be found and needs to be found within the openness of the secular world or not at all. This means that those who follow Him should not seek to impose our faith as a metaphysical form or as a religious or institutional means to provide society with stability and unity. Rather, we should seek to maintain an open secular world in which we claim no established rights over other views. In doing so, we accept the responsibility to witness for Christ by seeking to point to his presence as He works within history and this world. It will be our words, our deeds, our actions and our thoughts which serve as the basis for our witness. Yes, there is some uncertainity in what we do. But as we accept this responsibility we must be willing to expect the unexpected; we cannot fear the future if our future is tied that of Christ. As Abraham journeyed from his home to Mount Moriah without fear but trusting in the Lord, so do we journey into the world and society of today trusting in the Lord and not fearing the future. (Adapted from Faith in a Secular Age by Colin Williamson)

Now, you might say that this is all well and good but I am not prepared to make a choice at this time. I don’t even know what choice to make. So, as we prepare to sing our closing hymn this morning and close this service, I would like you to think about John Newton, the author of the hymn. John Newton was the captain of a slave ship plying the triangle trade between Africa, America and England. Ships would load up with guns, ammunition and manufactured goods in Britain and France, then sail for four months to West Africa where the cargo was exchanged for captured slaves. The ships would then make the middle passage across the Atlantic where the slaves were sold to individuals in the Caribbean and in the North American colonies. Finally, the ships loaded up with the sugar, tobacco and cotton produced in the colonies and sailed back to England and France where the raw produce was refined and re-exported to other countries. (http://www.nald.ca/fulltext/caribb/page12.htm)

But one day, during an extremely powerful Atlantic storm, Newton decided to accept Christ into his life. Contrary to common thought, he did not turn the ship around and return his human cargo to Africa; but he did change the way in which he treated his unwilling passengers and slowly but surely turned against the enterprise that made him a wealthy man. Eventually, he left shipping and began a study that would lead to his ordination in the Church of England. He also became an outspoken anti-slavery advocate. It was then that he began to write so many of the hymns that we sing today.

The words “that saved a wretch like me” are not metaphorical but a true biographical statement by a man who before he chose to follow Christ was a wretch. But in choosing to follow Christ, his life change and he was able to make changes in the world around him. He first made a choice to change his life and then to change the world.

So too are we faced with two choices. The first is to answer the call from Christ, no matter how it may come. The second is to take by our words, our thoughts, our deeds, and our actions the Gospel message of Christ into the world.

These are our choices today. We do not have to make a choice today. But if we do not, then the world remains cloaked in darkness, fear and doubt. But, by making the choice to follow Christ and take His message out into the world, we bring light and hope into a world of darkness of fear, doubt and despair

“Meditations on an Easter Sunrise”


Here is the message I gave for the Easter Sunrise service on April 20, 2003, at the Tompkins Corners (NY) UMC. I used Mark 16: 1 – 8 as the Scripture reading.

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There is something about a sunrise that amazes me. Each sunrise of a given year will be different, perhaps because of the particular calendar date, perhaps because of the weather that day, and no doubt because of the location. A sunrise on the plains of Kansas will have characteristics and a beauty not found in a sunrise in Eastern Kentucky on the same day. And the sunrise of one day will have no indication of what the one tomorrow will be like.

And surely it must have been that way that first Easter some two thousand years ago. The women of Jesus’ ministry came to the tomb that morning in sorrow, for Christ had died on the cross some thirty six hours before and it was their task to complete the preparation of the body for burial. You must remember that Jesus had died at the end of Friday and there was not enough time that day for the proper preparations. So Mary and Martha came to that tomb to finish the task of preparing the body for burial.

They knew that there would be guard over the tomb, for the Pharisees and chief priests feared that someone would try to steal the body. They knew that there would be a stone in front of the opening to the burial chamber and they had no way of moving it. Coupled with the sadness they felt, it must have been a very emotional time for them on the occasion of sunrise.

But grief and sadness quickly changed to amazement and dismay when they came to the tomb and found the stone had rolled away and there was no guard. And there was greater dismay and perhaps even greater grief when they discovered that the body of Jesus was no longer there. For now, the task of completing the burial was impossible and the grieving could not be finished.

But the women are met by an angel who tells them not to fear or worry, for Jesus has risen, as He said He would. Now, their task is not to complete the burial but rather to tell the disciples what has happened. As John reported in his Gospel, Jesus then comes to Mary so that she will know that He is alive.

In the quickest of moments, the grief that began that day has changed to joy. Each of the disciples and all of the people in the ministry that Sunday must have felt the same way. The grief that they felt when their best friend died on Friday changes to joy and celebration. For some the change comes quickly, for others it was slow to occur. But through that day and through the coming days of the week, Jesus appears to each disciple, individually or in groups, to show that, yes, the resurrection is true.

No matter which of the Gospel readings you choose, there is that sense that this day will never be like any other. For the sorrow that began on Good Friday with the death of Jesus has now changed to joy with His Resurrection.

We gather here this morning in fellowship and celebration, with friends and family. We gather as a community united in our belief that the resurrection is the triumph of righteousness and a victory for life over sin and death. As we go out into the world this week, we take with us the joy that comes with the sunrise of this day, the celebration once again of Easter and Christ’s resurrection.

Following the Rules


This is the message that I gave at Tompkins Corners UMC for the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C), 15 February 2004. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Jeremiah 17: 5 – 10, 1 Corinthians 15: 12 -20, and Luke 6: 17 – 26.

I believe in my heart and with all my soul that Jesus was a radical and revolutionary. Unfortunately, this view has gotten me into a lot of trouble, especially in my own family.

Some years ago, in one of my very first sermons, I suggested this very idea. That particular Sunday, one of my cousins was visiting. Paul is the patriarch of the Schüessler family, the oldest son of the oldest son of my maternal great-great grandfather. He, along with his father and two brothers, is a Lutheran minister, one of many that dominate the heritage of our family. After the service that Sunday, he commented that I really should not have portrayed Jesus in such a manner. Yet, a year later, in a sermon preached to the entire Schüessler clan, he raised the image of Jesus as a revolutionary. He did acknowledge that this view of our Lord and Savior came in part from what I had said the year before.

One of the reasons that I see Christ in these terms is that He challenged the status quo, He challenged the notions that people had about their relationship with God. The problem then and even now is that much of our understanding comes from what others have said or written. We willingly let others define what Christ should be for us when it should be up to us to make that definition.

When you get home, carefully reread the words of Jeremiah. He is warning us about relying on the thoughts of others to determine what our own thoughts should be. He starts by quoting the beginning of Psalm 1. But the Psalmist was emphasizing that a good life, the keys to blessing came from avoiding the wicked and studying the Torah. Jeremiah emphasized that the keys to a good life and well-being were found through trust in the Lord.

The “tree of life” that Jeremiah speaks of is the symbol of wisdom. Wisdom is meant to be the ability to perceive the order of God in creation, the intelligence to act in accordance with God’s order, and the moral behavior that leads to well being. Wisdom was not necessarily found in the hearts of mankind.

Jeremiah felt that you could not trust in both God and man. If you turned to one, you would turn away from the other. If we were to turn where our heart would lead us, than we are apt to turn away from where God is leading us or where God would have us go.

That might have been the rationale or reason for Paul writing about the resurrection in his letter to the Corinthians. There were those in Corinth who argued against the actual occurrence of the resurrection. Among the arguments presented was that it was not a physical resurrection but rather a spiritual one that we all go through.

But, and this is the central point to Paul’s rebuttal, if there is no resurrection, if Christ was not raised from the dead, then there is no hope in our faith, there is no promise in what we do. Even today, there are those in the Christian community who would argue that the basic tenets of our faith are no longer valid. They argue that science and the progress of civilization have made many of our statements of faith meaningless and mute. How can there be a loving God if there is war, violence, and repression in the world? If God so loved this world that He would send His only Son, how is it that we have sickness and death?

But wars are the consequences of mankind’s behavior, not God’s. God gave us the wisdom and the ability to act. If there are wars or violence, if there is hatred or repression in this world, it is because we have failed to be God’s servants, not because God has abandoned us. In sending His son, God said to us that He would never abandon us. Our own propensity for war or violence, repression and hatred; our own desires to put our thoughts first, to make the decision about what we are to do merely indicates that we perhaps have abandoned God. This is a world in which there is a lot to fear but putting the blame on an insensitive God does not remove or take away the fear.

When Jesus stood on the plain that day he knew the fears of the people gathered before Him. They were a people living under a tyrannical and repressive foreign government. The taxes imposed by Rome and their own leaders were so burdensome that there was virtually no middle class. Their own leaders worked hand-in-hand with the foreign governor, compromising their own values solely to survive.

Many felt that life was hopeless and adopted a cavalier, laziez faire, “what difference does it make” attitude. Some felt that it was necessary to fight back, to use the same weapons of violence as were used on them. And the Pharisees felt that only by slavish devotion to the countless, myriad, and often-contradictory laws was salvation possible.

This was the world in which Jesus lived; these were the people who gathered before Him that day. The Beatitudes, whether we speak of the traditional text found in Matthew or the shortened version that Luke wrote about in today’s Gospel reading, were not simply a collection of simple statements designed to comfort different groups of people. And they could not be read alone.

Think about the first time you read the Beatitudes and how you may have viewed them as individual statements. They seemed rather contradictory.

How can the meek inherit the world? Shouldn’t it be the ones that have the spirit in their lives who inherit the kingdom of heaven? But that is our thinking being applied to Jesus’ words. We fail to see the commitment that He put before us in order for us to reach the kingdom of Heaven.

Rather, they were meant to identify the stages of experience each person would go through in order to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus spoke of the poor but he was not speaking to the financially poor. Some may feel that he was offering pity to those that lacked resources for there were certainly many that did, but that would only give credence to their poverty. Rather he was speaking about those that lacked spirit and acknowledged that they were poor in spirit would find the ultimate in riches. Those were the ones who were more apt to find what they are looking for.

Some might have been hungry but it was not food that would satisfy their hunger. It was a hunger for righteousness in this world and the hunger would be gone when there was no injustice.

When Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God on earth, he was not offering to make the people more comfortable in their sins. He was calling them to a new life in the Spirit, to a citizenship in His beloved community. The peace that they sought could be found in this community; it was a community that could bring peace to the world. Each of the Beatitudes was a step in the path towards that citizenship.

Each step was not merely an acknowledgement of what they lacked or what they sought; rather, it was a called to action. You cannot be a peacemaker simply by changing the environment; you must also change your heart.

To those whose loyalties lie with this world, those who are citizens of God’s kingdom are subversive agents, dangerous enemies that cannot be tolerated. They must be persecuted, ridiculed, ignored, or removed.

But Jesus warned those who make such citizenship an act of martyrdom to be carefully as well. It was not our task to go out into the work and deliberately seek persecution. To seek abuse in the name of God is hardly what the Word of God is about. That would, again, be our thinking; that would be our telling God what to do.

What Jesus told us to do then and what tells us to do now is to preach the Word and lead a life in great contrast to the world around us. Look at what Jesus said in the next passage in Luke. When we are struck on the check, we should turn the other check. When we find someone naked and cold, we should give that person the coat off our back.

We have a hard time with this approach because they are new rules and they are rules to a game that we may not want to play. They are not simply rules to follow, they are words of action. And it requires that we see the world in new terms, terms that we do not define.

God did not mean our lives to be solitary devoid of human contact. If others cannot see us, we are just as well hidden from God. Jesus’ words this day are a call to action, to do more than just listen. No matter what the cost might be, the words that Jesus spoke are how we should live. It is not simply a matter of course to preach the words; rather, we must demonstrate that we are living the words.

The Pharisees put forth a series of rules that defined each day. But in defining each day, they thought nothing of tomorrow. Jesus gave a set of rules to follow that would give us much more than today, following his rules gave us eternal life. Which set of rules do you wish to follow?

It’s That Simple


This is the message that I gave at Tompkins Corners UMC for the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany (Year B), 16 February 2003. The Scriptures for this Sunday were 2 Kings 5: 1 – 14, 1 Corinthians 9: 24 – 27, and Mark 1: 40 – 45.

As some of you may know or as I may have alluded to in the past, I am a fan of the Star Trek series. Note that there is a distinction between being a fan and being a “trekkie”. A “trekkie” is easily identifiable by the depth of their knowledge of the original show and its resulting spin-offs as well as the size of their collection of Star Trek memorabilia. By definition, my sister Tracey with her vast collection of Star Trek materials is on her way to being a “trekkie” while Keith Shikowitz, my friend and doubles partner, is the quintessential “trekkie”.

I am a fan, most notably because of James T. Kirk, the captain of the Enterprise that most people know. I am slowly becoming a fan of Jonathan Archer, the captain of the NX-01, the first Enterprise, as the words of Star Trek so vividly remind us, to boldly go where no one has gone before. Archer gets a vote because his explorations in space set the tone for future explorations by Kirk , Picard, and the other captains of the Enterprise.

There are those who would vote for Jean Luc Picard as the best of the captains. In fact, in some management circles today, there are those who strive for the “make it so” approach that Picard uses in command decisions. But I like Kirk.

First, I like Kirk in part because he is from Iowa. And if you doubt that, all you have to do is go to the small country town of Riverside, Iowa. In the town square in Riverside today is a monument that points out that in 2233, James Tiberius Kirk, the future captain of the Starship Enterprise, will be born in that town. I like to think that had Kirk not left Riverside for the Starfleet Academy, he would have journeyed up the road to Iowa City and attended the University of Iowa, as I did. Much to my sister and Keith’s regret, as well as my own, I failed to take a picture of this unique monument when I passed through the town during the summer of 1998.

But perhaps the reason that I like Kirk as a leader is his approach to problem solving. For those not well versed in the curriculum of the Starfleet academy, all graduates must partake in a simulation known as the “Kobyashi Maru problem”. Notice that the requirement is that the graduate take part in the simulation, not pass it. For in the history of Starfleet Academy, only one person has ever successfully solved the problem.

The Kobyashi Maru problem is first and foremost a no-win situation. There is no solution to the problem and every future captain who has taken the simulation has failed, resulting in the loss of his or her ship, the officers and crew. It is a test of how a captain deals with life and death and ultimate failure. But Kirk passed this test and you must be asking how? As he himself said, it was a matter of changing the parameters of the problem so that a winning solution was possible. But as one of his officers noted, he cheated. What he did was sneak into the control room the night before he was scheduled to take the simulation and reprogram the computer to allow for a winning solution. Why did Kirk do it? Why risk an almost sure expulsion from the academy so close to graduation? As Kirk himself said, he did it because he did not want to face death. Nor did he like the idea of losing.

We are all like Kirk at times, not wishing to face death or the end of life. We see life in terms defined by society, measured by how well we do according to society’s guidelines. We have turned life into a race or contest; one in which the contestants have defined the outcome. And in such a race, solutions, the way to win, are often hard to find.

Kirk looked at the problem and came up with a solution that would be considered “outside the box.” We are not always comfortable with that type of thinking, for it puts us in the position of having to push the limits of our own thoughts. Jesus used a similar approach through his ministry.

Don’t confuse creativeness with cheating. It was said that the officers of Enron and WorldCom used similar thinking in their accounting processes. True, their accounting procedures were creative but were done solely for their own gain and done at the expense of the employees of the company. While the officers may have gotten rich, the employees lost everything. While Kirk may have been motivated by his desire not to face death, his actions saved the ship, his officers and crew from death and failure as well.

As we look at Jesus’ ministry, we will see countless examples of thinking “outside the box” and against the current views of society. Everyone who sought Jesus did so because society had cast them out, said to them that their lives were worthless. The choice of a leper in today’s Gospel reading was perhaps a very deliberate one on Mark’s part.

Leprosy was one of the most feared diseases in the Bible. It was not necessarily the leprosy of modern times, a disease better known as Hansen’s disease. But it was one that was contagious and contact with lepers was not advised. Elisha, the prophet, did not want to meet Naaman, the general in the Old Testament reading for fear of infection.

If you were a leper in those days, you were cast out and condemned to a life without hope. And if there was no hope, there can be no future. For those condemned by society and offered no chance for the future, Jesus was their last hope. To them, hearing of this man from Nazareth whose healing powers were indescribable, was a sign of hope. To them, Jesus represented hope and the promise of the future. And in a society where success was determined by one’s ability to fit into a predetermined mold, Jesus showed that there was a better solution.

Note that Jesus’ reaction to the leper’s request to be healed was one of compassion. Here was a soul forgotten not only by society, but also by his family and friends. And not only did Jesus answer the man’s request, he did so by touching him, something most definitely against all rules of society. But though Jesus knew and had no doubts about the correctness of his own actions, he also knew that the religious and political leaders of that time would use the occasion, as they did others, to show how Jesus was working against society. In part, that is why he commanded all those who he healed to remain silent.

It is easy to understand what Paul was writing about in the passage from Corinthians that we read for today. Corinth was a hot bed of athletic competition, highlighted by an annual race. Competitors in the race trained for the ten months preceding the race in order to be ready for it. In referring to disqualification, Paul was referring to the rules that disqualified those who would seek to use inappropriate or unethical means as a way to win the race. And though this race brought laud and honor to the victor, the other athletes received nothing to show for their work and effort over the previous ten months.

If we view life in the terms of the race, as Paul was saying some did, with only one winner, we will quickly find ourselves disillusioned with life. Though there are times when winning is acceptable, to view life in those terms is not. Life may be a race but it is one in which everyone has a chance to win and winning is not determined by how well some do or how poorly others do.

Paul spoke of training to win the race. He knew that any champion must have a dedication to succeed, no matter what the cost. Even a life in Christ required the discipline of a champion. But Paul wanted those that were reading this letter to know that a life in Christ offered all the chance for winning, not just for a select few or the ones with the most talent or dedication.

Each of us has a calling to follow God and how we answer the call will determine if we win the reward that goes with the calling. Paul knew that by remaining faithful to the calling, he would receive the reward but if he ignored or treated lightly his mission, the reward would be lost. And such a loss was a very real possibility for Paul had seen others who had given up their calling simply because the cost was too great and the demands of the life too great.

We are at a point in time where all we see around us are signs of despair and abandonment. We see panic where thoughtful consideration is needed. And we are asking what we should do. Could it be that life has become so complicated that simple answers do not work?

That was most certainly the response of Naaman when Elisha commanded him to bath seven times in the River Jordan. His response was that was too simple a solution. Did not his own position in life, as a powerful general, demand a cure reflective of his stature in life? Were not the rivers of his own homeland just as good or better as the River Jordan?

But it is too his credit that he, Naaman, listened to his servants. They pointed out that he would have willingly done something difficult or hazardous if that had been what Elisha had commanded him to do. So why not think about the simple solution? And once he did so, Naaman knew that the simple solution was the best solution.

Paul wrote that we are runners in a race but it is not a race with only one winner. The race defined by society can only have one winner, a winner defined by economy, politics, and other societal influences. And when we get tangled up with the rules imposed on us by society, it becomes easy to lose sight of what life is about.

But, it is very comforting to know that no matter how complicated life gets, there is a simple solution. And in a time where we are faced with challenges whose solutions seem beyond our comprehension, it is nice to know that a simple solution exists. And when it seems that society has passed us by, cast us out or shut us out, it is comforting to know that a simple solution exists.

It would be just as simple to say that no solution exists; that there is no hope; that we can do nothing. It would be very easy to say to those who society has abandoned that there is nothing we can do for them because there is nothing we can do for ourselves.

We are in a society rushing by, demanding more and more of our time, not giving us time to pause. And while we may think that in a complicated society it will be a complicated solution that saves us, all we have to do is think about Naaman. He wanted a complicated answer but found that it was a simple one that worked best. Jesus was on the road to the next town in order to continue his ministry but he still had the time to stop and answer the cry of a lonely leper needing help. Sometimes during the hectic pace of life, the best solution is something not complicated but simple, to stop and pause, to ask for Jesus’ help. For Jesus promised that no matter when or where, He would always be there to answer our cry for help.

We might be comfortable that Jesus is a part of our life. We may have found the peace that others seek. But then we had better remember that the race of life still requires training and discipline and we cannot run the race if someone else is on the side of the road. Our own race means nothing if we pass by those in need, if we shun others because they don’t fit into a predetermined mold. Remember that after he had been cured, the leper could not remain silent but had to tell others what had happened.

Life may be complicated and there definitely are no easy answers. But life changes when we take Jesus Christ as our own personal Savior. It is that simple.