“What Is An Ebenezer?”


This will be the back page for the 23 July 2017 (7th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A) bulletin of Fishkill United Methodist Church.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 32:1-3, 16-20, 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, 23, 31, and Matthew 16: 13 – 20.


When we sing “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” we sing “here I raise my Ebeneezer.”  This refers to a place called “Eben-Ezer” where Samuel built a stone monument to serve as a reminder to the people of God’s help in a time of stress and strife, of God’s faithfulness and His eternal covenant with the people of Israel.  It also represented the beginning of a new life after a period of sadness and trouble.

Stone monuments are not seen by just a few people, they are seen by everyone.  So, everyone near Eben-Ezer saw this monument and knew of God’s faithfulness and help and the opportunity to begin again and renew their lives.

But stone monuments do not stand the test of time; they tend to erode and disappear over time.  But God’s presence and promise does not; it lives through Christ and in our hearts, minds, and soul.

We come to this place today because this is our “Eben-Ezer”, our place of safety and sanctuary.  It is where we are recharged and renewed.  But this “Eben-Ezer”, just like its predecessor 2000 years ago, is also seen by all.  We have raised our Ebeneezer so that everyone can find safety and sanctuary, of being recharged and renewed.

“Who Built Your Road?”


This will be the back page for the 16 July 2017 (6th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A) bulletin of Fishkill United Methodist Church.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 30: 18 – 29, Romans 9: 30 – 33, and Matthew 16: 13 – 20.


It has been said that one reason for Paul’s success as an evangelist was the roads the Romans built throughout their empire.  Using stones and other local materials, these were roads carefully planned to facilitate military traffic between Rome and the provinces to keep the Pax Romana.

Some of these roads still exist today, providing paths for many people to walk.  Now, whether they were intended or not, the existence of these roads made it very easy for Paul to achieve his goal of spreading the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire, in effect working against why the roads were built (but that is for another time).

Our journey with Jesus is never an easy one.  But when we take the rocks that we often stumble over and make them part of the road on which we walk, the journey becomes a little easier.

Today, we need to consider two very simple questions, “Who cleared the path and laid the rocks so that your journey would be smoother?  Who built the roads on which you took your journey?”

And then there is another set of questions, “Are you helping build roads for others?  Are you doing the things that build the roads that help make the journey for others a bit smoother?”

“Let It Rain”


This will be the back page for tomorrow’s bulletin (9 July 2017, 5th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A) for Fishkill UMC.  It is based on the Gospel reading (Matthew 7: 24 – 27).  The other readings are from Isaiah 26: 1 – 7 and 1 Peter 2: 1 – 10.

Let It Rain
We will conclude with Eric Clapton’s “Let It Rain”, though the Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” also works.

Sounds of Freedom


These are my thoughts for this week.  They are based on the Scriptures for Sunday, July 2, 2017, the 4th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A) – Genesis 22: 1 – 14, Romans 6: 12 – 23, and Matthew 10: 40 – 42.

What are the sounds of freedom?  What sounds or words do you associate with freedom?  Granted, there are many choices one could pick but the first sound that I thought of was Richie Havens singing “Freedom” at the Woodstock Festival back in 1969.

The story is that Richie Havens was the opening act for the festival and only scheduled to sing a few songs.  But, for whatever reason, the next couple of acts had not arrived and the organizers asked Richie to keep playing.  So, he played and he played.  And after playing virtually all his material, he began to improvise on the song, “Freedom.”

The ability to improvise is not as easy as it might seem.  If one is not versed in the fundamentals of one’s trade, it is literally impossible to improvise.  So, when I hear this song, I am reminded that freedom is more than a word and that we must work on the fundamentals upon which freedom is based.

And there is another song which reminds me of the fundamentals of freedom, “Find the Cost of Freedom” by Crosby, Stills, & Nash.  As the words of the song state, the cost of freedom is buried in the ground.  Unfortunately, there are those who see the way to freedom through war and are quick to go to war when other means can achieve freedom as well.

I am reminded of the closing lines of Patrick Henry’s speech on March 23, 1775.  We all are aware of this speech for the closing line, perhaps echoing Joshua’s proclamation from Joshua 24: 15, “As for me and my family, we’ll worship God.”

“I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

But it is the line that precedes this is just as important when considering the words and sounds of freedom,

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the prices of chains and slavery?”

Those who heard that speech that day were probably well aware that Patrick Henry’s wife, Sarah, was mentally ill and there were those who felt that the best solution was to have her committed to the public hospital in Williamsburg.

If Patrick Henry had agreed to this treatment, his wife would have been locked in a windowless cell and chained to the wall with leg irons.  Rather than accept this, he chose to keep her home, in a well-lit and well-ventilated two-room apartment with 24-hour attention.  It should be noted that when Sarah died, she was died a Christian burial or religious funeral service because it was felt her mental illness was caused by possession by the devil.

The cost of freedom goes beyond the sacrifice of a few and to finding a way to maintain freedom.  Sadly, in today’s world, there are those who wish for others to die for their country while ignoring the wounded and maimed.  And when the wounded and maimed come home, they are quickly forgotten and monies that could be spent on building freedom are spent on additional weapons of war.

The next words of freedom come from Jesus.  In John 8: 32, we read that we are to seek the truth and the truth will set us free.  It is interesting to note that some of those who heard those words felt that they were already free because they adhered to the laws, rules, and regulations of the time.

But those laws, rules, and regulations gave freedom to those who wrote the laws, rules, and regulations; for the rest of the population, all they did was to enslave and entrap the population.  When people began to seek the truth for themselves, instead of relying on others, then freedom became a possibility.

And that leads to the last words of freedom.  When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963, he spoke of people working together to seek the common goals of all humanity.

The words and sounds of freedom are many and various.  They echo through the ages and presage the future.  And while individuals speak the words of freedom, they require the work of all the people, working for all the people and not just a select few.  One cannot be free if someone else is not free.

So as you celebrate freedom, remember what you are asked to do.

 

Defining Freedom


This is the back page for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, July 2nd, 2017, bulletin of Fishkill United Methodist Church.  It was written by one of the youth of the church, Miles Cobb.


 

There are some misconceptions about freedom today, such as nobody can tell you what to do or that everyone has equal rights. A third definition, perhaps the closest to the truth, is that freedom give us the right to speak as we want and declare our opinions

For most people, to be free means that no one is commanding them or that they are not being held against our will. The right to do whatever we want is not a realistic possibility.  You could argue that if you want to steal from a store or trespass onto private property, then you should be able to do that. Doing whatever you want is a possibility, but there are consequences. The second way of defining freedom that I mentioned above is that everyone has equal rights, but this is not a reality. In America one of our mottos is equality, but groups such as African Americans, women and LGBTQs are continuously discriminated against. In the ideal American nation discrimination would not exist, yet it does.

Finally, there is a fourth way of defining freedom.  In the Bible freedom is described as a blessing by God that grants self-control and the ability to love. By this definition, through God and Jesus we are all free. When God created humans, He blessed us with consciousness and the freedom to love. This is what being “human” means. The quote that I always associate with freedom is 2 Timothy 1:7- “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Today, as the idea of freedom is becoming more and more convoluted, there is always this single verse to remind us how to be free in the heart of God.

“A Matter of Priorities”


This will be on the back page of bulletin of the Fishkill United Methodist Church for 25 June 2017, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A).  It is based on the scriptures – Genesis 21: 8 – 21, Romans 6: 1 – 11, Matthew 10: 24 ‑ 39


To paraphrase Charles Dickens, these can be the best times or they can be the worst times.  We live in a world that many people see as devoid of hope or opportunities.

And we wonder how we can change this; how can we bring hope and opportunity to the world?

We can do great things but that it is not possible when we see faith as an individual thing.  When we do that, these times become the worst times.

You see, when we see our faith only in terms of what it means for us, when we hold onto our faith and do not share it, it becomes useless to us.  And such a vision of faith makes it very difficult to understand the faith of others.

When we share our faith with others, it allows others to share their faith with us.  And in this sharing of faith, opportunities arise.

 

“What Does It Take?”


This will be on the back page of the Fishkill UMC bulletin tomorrow, 18 June 2017 – the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A).

Genesis 18: 1 – 15, (21: 1 – 7), Romans 5: 1 – 8, Matthew 9: 35 – 10: 8 (9 – 23)

One of the ethos of desert living was that one never turned away a stranger, even if that stranger might be an enemy.  The desert was far crueler than any individual or group of individuals might be and there was an understanding that you helped those traveling in the desert and they would in turn help you.

That runs very much against human nature.  We do not want to help our enemies or those who seek to do us harm.  As Jesus pointed out to the Disciples in today’s Gospel reading, people were going to find fault with them because the message the Disciples presented was often in contrast to accepted beliefs.  But Jesus told them to just do what they could do and let those results show the people the future.

This can be difficult, if for no other reason that it is so often in opposition to the “get it now” mantra of society.  Put as Paul wrote, the key is patience – do what is expected of you and you will receive the rewards at the proper time.