This is the place

The other day I read an article which indicated that Rick Warren, the author of Purpose Driven Church and what is become known as the “purpose driven paradigm,” was becoming involved in the move to end world-wide poverty. Now, this may meet with some disdain in some parts of the church world and it may be meet with some skepticism in others, but I am glad to see that it is happening.

Now, let me first off indicate that I have not read any of his books. I have taken part in a seminar based on his work and it was perhaps that seminar that caused me to question the validity of the concept behind his books and thoughts. I came away from that seminar on church growth asking how one applied the concepts of church growth that required a minimum of 1000 individuals to a church that might be lucky to get 10 to 20 people on any given Sunday. That is part of the reason that I have problems with today’s church growth models; they focus on the big churches and not on the reason why we have churches. It almost seems as if the little church, the small church is doomed to extinction.

But Rick Warren has begun to change from focusing on the growth of his mega-church and other churches to the fight against global poverty. It is one thing to have a successful life but what good is one’s success if there are others who are not successful? Do you bring about success by driving down others or by keeping them from being successful?

In the Gospel readings for today, five thousand people have followed Jesus to hear Him preach. Now, it is my understanding that the women and children who might have been in the crowd were not counted so it is likely that there were anywhere between five and fifteen thousand people on the hillside that day. That, of course, makes the miracle of the feeding of the six thousand even more incredible.

It came to pass that Jesus’ disciples noted that the people were getting hungry and perhaps they should be sent away in order to get fed. But Jesus said that the disciples should feed the multitude, not send them away. And when the disciples said that they had no food to share, Jesus pointed out that there was food plenty enough to share among the people in the crowd. So the disciples search the crowd and found five loaves and two fish. Jesus blessed the food and the disciples gave it to the people. In the end, all the people ate and there was food left over.

It can never be about the number of people that come to the church to find God, it has to be about the feeding and care for the people that search for God. In a world of oppression and rejection, the people sought out Jesus to find the answers and find the hope for their lives. To ask them to find their own source of food was to remove that source of hope.

And I am convinced that is what we need to do today. Countless preachers and ministers are offering hope to people but it is an “empty” hope, one that doesn’t feed the soul forever but only for the moment. Other people are so physically hungry that they cannot search for the spiritual food that will feed their souls. John Wesley noted that a person who is hungry will not listen to the Gospel, for they are searching for food for the physical soul. They will not listen to the words of hope and promise if the grumbling in their stomachs is louder.

So we must feed both the physical and the spiritual. We cannot simply create churches that bring people in but ignore the people who do not have the resources to get to church. We are almost always required to take the Word that is inside the church walls outside the walls and into the world.

The Gospel message is for all, not just a select few. Paul writes to the Romans and points this out. The Gospel is not for some but for all, no matter what their background or ancestry. If we cannot take care of the ones outside the walls of the church, then we will have a hard time helping those inside the walls.

People come to a church for any number of reasons but it is safe to say that they are searching. Jacob comes to a place on his journey home where he struggles with God, a struggle that will end with his name no longer Jacob but rather Israel, one who struggled with God.

This morning, you might be struggling with God, asking why things are happening. Why must there be poverty and starvation in this world of plenty? Why must there be violence and repression in a world where many claim to follow the Prince of Peace? Why must there be injustice in a world where we are told that God seeks justice for all?

Perhaps it is because we are that same place as Jacob, now Israel, was. Perhaps it is because we see that knowing the Gospel is not enough. Having accepted Jesus as our Savior, what shall we do? This is the time and the place in our lives where, like Jacob, we are struggling with God. Perhaps this is the time and place where we begin our journey anew and refreshed, seeking not to keep the Gospel in our minds but in our hearts. Perhaps this is the time and place in our own journey where we begin to reach out and help those who need more than just spiritual comfort.

We are reminded that Jesus will ask us what we did to help the homeless, the oppressed, the hungry and the naked. This is the time that we answer in the affirmative rather than ask where such persons were.

Our Hope

The theologian Walter Brueggemann wrote

This urging to bring hope to public expression is based on a conviction about believing folks. It is premised on the capacity to evoke and bring to expression the hope that is within us (see 1 Peter 3: 15). It is there within and among us, for we are ordained of God to be people of hope. It is there by virtue of our being in the image of the promissory God. It is sealed there in the sacrament of baptism. It is dramatized in the Eucharist – “until he comes.” It is the structure of every creed that ends by trusting in God’s promises. Hope is the decision to which God invites Israel, a decision against despair, against permanent consignment to chaos (Isaiah 45: 18), oppression, barrenness, and exile.

Hope is the primary prophetic idiom not because the general dynamic of history or because of the sings of the times but because the prophet speaks to a people who, willy-nilly, are God’s people. Hope is what this community must do because it is Gods’ community invited to be in God’s pilgrimage. And as Israel is invited to grieve God’s grief over the ending, so Israel is now invited to hope in God’s promises. That very act of hope is the confession that we are not children of the royal consciousness.

Of course prophetic hope easily lends itself to distortion. It can be made so grandiose that it does not touch reality; it can be trivialized so that it does not impact reality; it can be “bread and circuses” so that it only supports and abets the general despair. But a prophet has another purpose in bring hope to public expression, and that is to return the community to its single referent, the sovereign faithfulness of God. (From The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann)

It will be hope that determines our lives but the lack of hope seems to be the dominant theme of daily lives.

It seems to me that one of the reasons that we cannot understand the nature of terrorism is that we do not understand what drives people to kill themselves in the name of a movement. But that it is because we lead reasonable lives, in which hope can be fulfilled. If hope cannot be fulfilled, we would do things to change the outcome.

For some, there is no hope in life and, thus, they are open to the words of those who offer hope, no matter how irrational that hope may be. The farmer in Matthew 13: 44 gave up all that he owned because there was a promise of greater riches buried in a field; the merchant in Matthew 13: 45 did the same so that he could buy a single pearl. If someone offers us untold riches, we are just as likely to give up all we have in return for a promise of greater riches somewhere else. The terrorists who killed themselves in London gave up their lives because someone promised them a better reward than what they might have in the world today.

In less dramatic examples, how do we explain the phenomena of people standing in line to buy a lottery ticket when the prize is in the billions? Their lives will be changed if by chance (and it is nothing but chance) that pick the right set of numbers. But for what price will this hope cost them? A number of years ago, one person won enough in a lottery so that they would not have to work for the rest of their life; but they could not quite their job because their job was a requirement of their parole.

We live in a society where we almost demand instant satisfaction. We are not interested in a Christ who demands sacrifice and obedience; we want a Christ who will meet our demands, not the other way around. We place our faith in the large and the accessible, not the small and hard to obtain. This is the delusion of hope to which Brueggemann spoke.

Jacob had hopes of marrying Rachel and he worked for seven years in order to reach that goal. But the trickster Jacob was tricked because tradition dictated that Rachel’s older sister be married first. So Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah. But Jacob did not give up his hope and he agreed to work for Leah and Rachel’s father for another seven years so that he could still marry Rachel.

In the parable of the field (Matthew 1: 44), Jesus also gave the analogy of the mustard seed. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed.” That particular seed is small but yet grows in a tree that offers comfort and shelter for all. But the only way that we will attain that shelter is through process.

As long as we take away the hope of others, we will live in a world and a society of poverty, injustice, and repression. And a world in which poverty, injustice, and repression must expect what comes of that life.

But if we hear the words of the Gospel and we work to overcome poverty and repression, if we seek justice for all, then we will see the hope grow and flourish, just as the mustard seed grows from a tiny seed into a magnificent tree. Paul speaks to the Romans about the outcome of life. If our hope is built upon Christ, there is little that we cannot do; if our hope is built on other notions, then we can expect suffering and pain to be dominant in our lives.

The hymn “My Hope Is Built” tells us

1. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

Refrain:  On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.

2. When Darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.


3. His oath, his covenant, his blood supports me in the whelming flood. When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.


4. When he shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in him be found! Dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne!


On what do we have our hope built? Do we seek our hope in that which will fade away through time or is our hope built on that we will endure and will always be there?

Tending the Garden

It is an old story but the church is a period of transition, change, and ultimately trouble. This is nothing new. Every since religion, be it Christian or otherwise, became organized, it has found itself in transition and change. It has always been in battle with outside forces which seek to change the church and which the church seeks to change. It is just that now these changes are more apparent and more public.

It does not matter what the issue is. It could be war, the economy, abortion, or sexuality; the church finds itself struggling with the nature of the Gospel and what the outside, secular world wants to do. As Jesus said in Matthew, the Word is planted in fertile soil, it is planted in some poor soil, and it is planted in rocky soil. Only in the fertile soil does the Word grow well. But the fertile soil also allows weeds to grow and it is possible that the weeds will choke out the Word.

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus seems to say that we should not worry about this growth of weeds and wheat; that when the harvest has come, the weeds will be separated and destroyed and only the good wheat will be stored in the grain house. What bothers me is that many people seem to think that they are the ones who should destroy the weeds.

Yes, when one is growing a garden, one needs to keep the garden in good shape. That means keeping the weeds out. But it is an on-going process; unless one has prepared the bed in which the garden is to grow very carefully, there will always be weeds and, thus, one will always be working on the garden.

But at this point I have a problem with the analogy. What measures should we take to keep our garden neat and “weed” free? Should we condemn those whose lifestyles do not match ours? How should we destroy the weeds? I am always amazed that some of the most beautiful wildflowers in nature are often called weeds when in someone’s garden.

The problem is that the church is part of the secular world and if we destroy the secular world, we risk destroying the church. And the church cannot always remove itself from the world. Yes, there are probably going to be times when the church should remove itself from the world, put up walls and keep the forces of evil outside. Where it not for monasteries in medieval times that served as the repositories for knowledge, much of what we know today would have been lost in time of the “Dark Ages.”

But even then, the world continued and eventually the good that knowledge brings overcame the evil that accompanies such knowledge. So too will that occur in this day and age. Paul, writing to the Romans at a time of great stress and conflict, pointed out that there will be times when things do not look well. But they will always be accompanied by the hope and promise found in the Gospel. And that as the children of God, that hope and promise are for us. So we must persevere and have patience.

Jacob met God on the road one day and was told of the great promise God had for him. As descendants, spiritually and physically of Jacob, we have inherited that promise. It is a promise that this is our world. But in giving us this world, we are required to take care of it. We cannot wait for the harvest to cast out the weeds; we must make sure that the weeds do not grow.

But this does not mean that we cast aside those whom we disagree with or whose lifestyle or thoughts are different from ours. Ours is not a garden of one variety; it is a garden of many plants, many colors, and many fruits.

We are constantly reminded that we are in a war against terror. But our fight against terror cannot use the same weapons of war or thought; for to do so simply fuels the flames of hatred, persecution and injustice that began the terrorism in the first place. It was noted the other day that extremists, be they Islamic fundamentalist or extreme right-wing white hate groups, seek the disadvantaged and the disillusioned for membership. These young people find in the words of the extremists recruiting them the hope and promise they do not find in the world in which they live. They see a church that excludes them, or treats them as second class citizens. They do not see the hope and promise of the Gospel.

We cannot end terrorism in this world by violence, for violence only breeds more violence. We cannot end terrorism by hating terrorism, for hate only brings more hatred. Terrorism is bred in the hatred, injustice and persecution found in this world. To end terrorism, we must end the hatred, the injustice and the persecution. We must make the hope and the promise of the Gospel the outcome of the world.

The challenge that the church today faces is not a new one. The battles that the church faces today are not new ones. And the answer, the means are also not new; we have heard the Gospel for over two thousand years. Isn’t about time that we listen to the words? Do not the sounds that we hear outside our walls tell us that we need to focus on the Gospel?

The Gospel message that Jesus brought us tells us to take care of our garden. Paul is telling us that it will be hard work but in the end it will be profitable work. We have heard from Jacob that this is the place we must be and this is the place where we will find God. We take care of our garden, this world, not by destroying this world, but by destroying that which causes the world to become full of weeds. When we heed the message of the Gospel, we kill the forces that breed war, injustice, hatred, and persecution. When we heed the message of the Gospel, the harvest is fruitful and there is plenty.

Yes, working in the garden is hard and sometimes it seems as if it would be just easier to burn the garden and destroy the fields. But that destroys the world and us as well. So tend to the garden and see the rewards in due course.

"The Emperor’s New Clothes"

Let me see if I got this right. Judith Miller went to jail for refusing to name a source that she didn’t use in a story she didn’t write. Robert Novak can still shill for the Bush Administration, even though he wrote the story that Judith Miller didn’t. And this all started because someone in the Bush Administration apparently got mad because Joseph Wilson refused to lie and tell the world the story the Bush Administration was pushing, that Iraq was going to buy uranium from the Niger government. Since Joseph Wilson wouldn’t lie, the Bush Administration punished him by leaking to Robert Novak that his wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative.

Despite previous and countless statements that anyone in the Bush Administration who leaked classified information would be punished themselves, the Bush Administration is now saying that they didn’t say what they said and, even if they did, there is nothing that can be done about it. It seems to me that it is not George and Barbara Bush’s second son who lives in the White House these days but rather Homer and Marge Simpson’s boy, Bart (“I didn’t do it, no one saw me do it, there’s no way you can prove anything!”).

At what point in this play will the people of this country begin to realize what is happening here? Will another 1750 (see for the current toll) young men and women serving in our Armed Forces have to die? Will it take a major epiphany in the minds of the government and the public to realize that you cannot win a war on terror when you use terror as a weapon? In the name of liberty, we have allowed Congress to pass and attempt to expand a law so gloriously named “The USA Patriot Act”. (The other day, George Carlin pointed out that we could easily give the Iraqis our Constitution; it was written by some pretty smart guys, it has worked for over two hundred years, and besides, we aren’t using it right now.). As a country founded on the precept of liberty, we seem to have forgotten what that means.

There is a good chance that I will be called unpatriotic or un-American for writing this. So be it. But, as I observe this farce of a play that Gilbert and Sullivan would never have imagined, let alone write, I wonder why people are not shouting, “The Emperor has no clothes!”

What path are we on?

We are two nations in one. It seems that we have always been and perhaps will always be two nations. During the Revolutionary War, we were divided between the revolutionaries and the loyalists; during the Civil War, it was North and South. Now, it seems that it is the rich and the poor, the have’s and have-not’s. How long will it be before we understand that we cannot be divided by economic status, social status, or even simply differences of opinion?

It is alright to have differences of opinion but it seems that today many people do not care what others think. Either you believe what they believe or you are not allowed to believe at all.

The Old Testament tells us the story of Jacob and Esau, two brothers. On day, after a long and unsuccessful hunt, Esau comes home tired and hungry. Esau’s hunger was so great that he was willing to offer his brother Jacob anything at all so that he could get food. Jacob demanded and received Esau’s birthright, the right to the power and prestige that go with being the oldest son in the family (even thought Esau and Jacob were twins, Esau was the oldest by the matter of seconds).

Should Jacob not have offered the food to his brother without worry about compensation? Should Jacob cared more for his brother than he did his own position in life? How much like these two brothers are we? Are our own goals in life driven more by where we stand in society and life than they are by our caring for our brothers and sisters?

Jesus spoke of the sower spreading his seeds on the ground. Some seeds fell on the rocky soil and died quickly; others fell into the weeds and while they grew, the weeds choked off the growth and those seeds died as well. Only the seeds that fell on the fertile ground grew and flourished.

We are faced with a dilemma. Is the ground upon which we walk, is the path we take one of rocky soil? Is it choked with weeds? Or is the fertile soil open to the reception of the Holy Spirit, allowing us to grow in the spirit of Christ?

Will the spirit of Christ grow in us so that we are able to reach out to those in need and offer them help without demanding something in return? It is our choice what we do?

And the dilemma is that having prepared the ground on which we will walk, what shall we do about the ground around us? Is it possible that we might ignore others simply because we have the “good life?” I note with interest the reports that Rick Warren, one of today’s leading evangelists and writers, has forsaken his salary and given it back to his church. He is now leading the fight against global poverty, recognizing the call from Jesus to take care of those less fortunate.

John Wesley once pointed out that those who are starving cannot hear the call of the Spirit. We cannot follow Christ and then walk by those whose lives are cast upon the rocky ground or trapped within the weeds. Our own lives will not be any better.

We are two nations. Even in our own lives, we have two parts. We need to be careful that the life that keeps us tied to the world around us does not block us from the life that keeps us free and alive. We need to hear the call of the Holy Spirit this day, opening our hearts to the possibilities of growth and life that abound in Christ. We need to hear the call of the Holy Spirit that calls upon us to not abandon those around us suffering. lost, or in despair.

Is the path that you walk a path strewn with boulders and rocks, one that will cause you to stumble and fall? Is the path that you walk filled with the weeds of life that choke life and prevent growth? Or is the path that you walk one that allows the Holy Spirit to grow inside you, allowing you to find freedom and the promise of life eternal?

We walk a path. What path are you on?
If you would like to use my thoughts, please contact me first (Dr. Tony). I would not want you to get into trouble because you printed something without my permission or if you missed proper credit for a citation.

Isn’t this the 21st century?

Today’s New York Times (9 July 2005)has an article about evolution and the Catholic Church (“Leading Cardinal Redefines Church’s View on Evolution”). It prompts me to post the following sermon, entitled “To Be Continued”, that I gave on 22 May 2005 at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church. I fear that we are returning to the days when Galileo would be tried by an ecclesiastical court for believing something that the church did not support.
Considering the political events of the past month, the choice of the Old Testament, made several years ago, is ironic. The Kansas State Board of Education, following the lead of the Ohio State Board, is considering the adoption of the theory of evolution by “intelligent design” as an alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution.

This is not a new proposal but a restatement of proposals made in the 1980’s. Back then, the fight was for the inclusion of creationism as an alternative to the theory of evolution. This fight was defeated because it was clear that it was the inclusion of religion in a scientific topic. Its backers then developed the idea of “intelligent design” but the meaning is still the same.

This congruence of Bible, politics, and science reminded me of the Apollo 8 mission to the moon during Christmas, 1968, and its television broadcast on Christmas Eve. Then Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders, the crew of Apollo 8, read from the first chapter of Genesis (our Old Testament reading for today) as the on-board TV camera looked down on the barren, lifeless soil of the moon. (see for a description of that night and a link to a movie of that broadcast.)

As best as I can recall, for this was perhaps the most turbulent time in my own life, I thought it was the perfect adaptation of God’s word and God’s creation. Were it possible to have done so, I would have used a copy of the video of that reading this morning.

Then there were a few minor and inconsequential protests about the inclusion of religion with science (more to the point, the protests were about individuals reading the Bible while working for the Federal Government). Today, the controversy today is not about adapting but rather including religion in science.

The problem for Christian fundamentalists (and I would have to agree with them on this point) is that the theory of evolution is taught as fact rather than a theory. They also argue that it is in direct contradiction with the first chapter of Genesis. Their fear, from the time that Darwin first proposed his theory in the late 19th century to today, is that God is being taken out of the student’s lives.

The argument that God is being taken out of student’s lives by the inclusion of such topics as evolution begs the question of what is happening in the student’s lives when they are at home. To have public schools responsible for the moral or religious development of students is an abdication of a parent’s responsibility. School and education have always been about learning (or at least it was supposed to be that way) and it is possible that students will learn new ideas that contradict what they learn at home. But the answer is not to require that schools teach only those ideas that don’t contradict what is taught at home. Under the disguise of science, this is exactly what Christian fundamentalist are trying to do.

Their basic argument is that evolution is too complex to be adequately explained by Darwin’s theory. And since it is so complex, there must be some sort of intelligent design which guides the development of life on this planet. The proposal before the Kansas State Board of Education is a requirement that biology teachers teach an alternative theory of evolution based on what its proponents call “intelligent design.”

The teaching of something such as “intelligent design” or the formation of any theory that requires the existence of an outside influence violates every precept of scientific inquiry, especially the part that says you must base your ideas on what has happened on what you observe.

Darwin’s theory, like all theories, is not a fact. Rather, it is the best explanation of the observed facts. It is not complete and it certainly doesn’t cover all the various nuances of evolution. Yes, it is a complicated, complex, and possibly incomplete theory. But to fill in the blanks with a conclusion that there is a greater force outside our realm of knowledge is to deny that we have the ability to think and act as individuals in this world.

I know that there has been and will always be a great deal of controversy about the role of science in religion and religion in science. Since mankind became aware of its place in the universe, there have been attempts to determine who brought us here and how we got here. Religion answers those questions from the tenet of faith; science answers those questions from the tenet of empirical evidence. The two are mutually exclusive; any attempt to mix them or use the one to complete the other brings no answer at all.

At this point let me say that I believe that God did create the heavens and the earth. I also believe that the physical record of how the world was created and life evolved is very similar to the way it is described in Genesis. But I don’t think that it was done in seven days. The physical evidence says that it took much, much longer.

Now, in an attempt to rationalize the difference between Genesis and the physical record, some will say that we have no idea of what God’s day is. That is simply an attempt to explain God in terms of our own existence. There are those who say that the earth and solar system are much younger than the physical evidence suggests and that God has manipulated the physical evidence so that we will think otherwise.

These individuals tell us that the means for measuring the age of the physical evidence is faulty and filled with errors. This is an interesting explanation because even scientists agree that the measurements for the age of fossils and the earth are not precise. But precision does not mean errors were made; it means that there is some uncertainty in the measurement. Improving the measurement will improve the precision and lessen the uncertainty.

And I would ask why would God manipulate the evidence? If the physical reason is evidence of God’s hand in creation and it is lie, then how are we to believe that God loves us enough to send His son?

I think that God meant for us to find the evidence and use it to learn more about who God is and what He has done. We were, as it is written in Genesis, created in His image. We are thinking creatures, capable of rational thought. So should we not be using that capability in our lives? I think that the physical evidence about how this world was created and life evolved is one way to better understand who we are and what God’s plan is. After all, even His son told us to look at the physical evidence.

When John the Baptist was in prison and knowing that he was about to die, he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask Jesus if he indeed was the Messiah or should they wait. Jesus sent the disciples back to John with the command to look around and see what was happening. The blind were receiving new visions, the sick were being healed, the lame were walking, and the deaf were again hearing. The signs were there that the Messiah had come; all one had to do was look. But not everyone, as the historical record shows, was looking or willing to understand.

Genesis is about whom we are and our relationship with God. It answers questions about who we are but it also asks us to ask more questions. It is not about becoming God, which some fear modern science does. But Christian fundamentalists would rather we not ask questions; they would prefer that people blindly accept their definition of who God is and what has happened, even when the physical evidence tells us otherwise.

It has long been said that when Galileo left the court after being sentenced to house arrest for violating church teachings, he muttered that his conviction did not change the fact that the sun was the center of our solar system. Despite the evidence provided by the Apollo missions to the moon and our many other space activities, it still took the Roman Catholic church over three hundred years to admit that perhaps they were a little hasty in their judgment of Galileo and Copernicus.

The problem for today’s church is that it must live in a secular world. And in a secular world, the church must work extra hard to keep secular ideas from creeping into the church. (Having said that, it is interesting to note how many fundamentalist churches use the secular concepts of mass marketing to further their own missions.) But instead of seeing the rise of secular faith as an enemy that we must fight, we should see this as an opportunity to learn to read the Bible with a new understanding.

The word “truth” in Hebrew means dependable and reliable rather than that which can be rationally placed in a system. God is true because He does what He says He will do. But we attempt to place God in our organization of reality by labeling Him as omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. This puts God outside the realm of truth. If truth is that which is dependable and reliable, then perhaps we should look at God in terms of what He has done.

When we do this, then we can see the world in a different light. We can see the secularization of the world as the fruit of biblical faith. When we do this, we are able to see that a secular attitude is one that frees us to see something of the true dimensions of the biblical revelation of God as the living God known through the events of history.

But this process, while a liberating one, is also one with great danger. It allows us to see God at work calling us to respond to the new possibilities for movement toward the goal of an open community of mature persons – a goal revealed through Christ. But it is also possible that we can respond in a wrong way and allow ourselves to become prisoners to a limiting ideology. If we allow ourselves to be imprisoned in such a manner, then we cannot be open to seeing what God is doing in the events of our time and being ready to respond to His call to join Him in the struggle to move towards the free and open society that He intended for us.

We are reminded that we don’t live in a mechanistic world ruled by necessity or in a random world ruled by chance. We live in a world ruled by the God of Exodus and Easter. He will do things in us that neither we or our friends or neighbors would have supposed possible.

We should value an understanding of faith that, while solidly based in the Bible, does not see the scripture as God’s final word on every subject but as a foundation from which to process new information. We should have an understanding of faith that focuses on matters of justice for all. Our faith should recognize the complexities of existence and be comfortable with not having all the answers. Nor should we feel it necessary to defend God against all comers. These things make it possible for us to have a personal experience of faith to trust God and to follow Jesus.

To follow Jesus is to make a choice. It is a choice that many individuals are not willing to make. There are also those who would rather force you to make the choice instead of allowing you to make it yourself. This is the problem with the teaching of evolution. It should be allowing you to see the wonder of God’s world and God’s work but, because some fear that you will not make the right decision about God, they would rather force you to accept their notion of what God did. This is certainly not what Jesus ask of those who came to Him.

We should listen to what Paul was saying to the Corinthians. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians dealt with the problems of that early church. In the conclusion to the first letter, Paul offers a solution.

The Holy Spirit, who dwells in each of us, can empower us to live righteously. Furthermore, the Spirit can reconcile the differences between each of us. Instead of fighting each other, we should encourage and love one another. There is a need for God’s grace, not selfishness; there is a need for God’s love in this world, not anger; and there is a need for communion between members of God’s world, not conflict. Rather than using the Holy Spirit to divide us, the Holy Spirit empowers us to come together and find answers to the questions that we face. We are not the first to face the problem of seemingly unanswerable questions.

The disciples went to the mountaintop with Jesus but there were some who still doubted. Matthew does not tell us who the doubter or doubters were. We are not even told what it was that they doubted. Perhaps it was that they weren’t sure it was actually Jesus. Perhaps they were sure that He had even died, though they had watched it happened. Maybe they had simply been through enough and did not want to be fooled or hurt again.

When Thomas had expressed his doubt about the resurrection, Jesus provided it. But this time, He did not. He simply told them, in the words of the Great Commission, to go and make disciples, go and baptize, go and teach. Jesus did not answer the questions but rather commanded the disciples to go out into the world and tell the world of the Good News proclaimed in the Gospel.

The Star Wars saga came to a conclusion this week, though it ends in the middle. We now know how things began and we know how things will end; it is the order that has us confused. In Kansas, there is an attempt to close the world and end the story of life. There are still questions about life that we need to ask but this proposal will not allow us to ask them. This is not the way the story of Genesis should end.

Genesis is a story about beginning, the beginning of the world and our own beginnings. It is not a story that ends with the Resurrection of Christ neither at Easter nor with His return to Heaven. Rather, it ends like so many action/adventure movies, with “. . . to be continued.”

Pentecost can be seen as the preparation for the Great Commission that we are given today. God calls us today to continue the story, to bring the Good News to the people of the world. Let us hear God calling us today and continue the story.


If you would like to use my thoughts, please contact me first (Dr. Tony). There are some footnotes that go with this document that didn’t make into this copy. I would not want you to get into trouble because you printed something without my permission or if you missed proper credit for a citation. Continue reading

Just what is thing called freedom?

Over the past ten years or so, I have had the opportunity to think and write about this thing that we call freedom. What is this thing that we call freedom? Why should we care what freedom is and how precious it really is?

Freedom, it seems, has a different meaning for each of us. For a sixteen-year old, freedom means getting their driver’s license. It is the first opportunity they have to move beyond the boundaries of the household and explore the world on their own. But shortly after getting their license, many young people find what we eventually learn. With freedom come responsibilities. In the case of the car and the driver’s license, they find that now they must buy gas and take care of the car.

The thing that I think we have forgotten over the years is just that; with freedom come responsibilities. We fail to remember the struggles this country went through, not just in the beginning days of the American Revolution but in the early years of the country as well, in order to insure that we remained free.

It seems to some that our freedom is pretty well secure. The Soviet Union is no longer the great danger that it seemed when I was growing up and we are supposed to be winning the war against terrorism. But is the death of so many of our soldiers the price we must pay? At what point will we see that the death of our youth brings hardship and grief, not joy and celebration?

Paraphrasing the ancient historian Herodotus, “Nobody is stupid enough to prefer war to peace. Because in times of peace children bury their parents, whereas, on the contrary, in times of war parents bury their children. Our children and the youth of this country are the future, yet we are willing to sacrifice our future for the present. Do we buy our freedom for the moment just to lose in the future?

We must also remember that even the most professional soldier views war as a last resort. Robert E. Lee, commander of the southern armies in the Civil War, once commented that “it is fortunate that war is so ugly, for we could grow very fond of it.”

We use war and violence in an effort to gain freedom. But in doing so, we lose our freedom. Similarly, when we allow others to dictate the course of our lives, all in the name of preserving freedom, we quickly find that we lose our freedom.

Freedom, no matter what we might individually think, is not an individual thing. For if there is one who is oppressed, then we are all oppressed. But you say that you are free to do whatever you please. And to some extent, you might be. But your freedom to do whatever you desire stops when it prevents or impedes my freedom. At some point, we find freedom together.

So, what is this thing called freedom? How do we gain our freedom? We gain our freedom when we help others to gain theirs. In a world of violence, oppression, and injustice, we need to find non-violent means to accomplish our tasks. We have found out that violence only brings more violence and no one is free. We should be working in this world to insure that oppression and injustice no longer have a place in this world. Until we do that, we will never really know what freedom is.

But I would close by encouraging you to think about the freedom that you cherish. Will you stand back and let others take away your freedoms? Or are you willing to seek ways that will help others to find the freedom you have grown accustomed to?