Knowing God

Here are my thoughts for this Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Easter and Native American Ministries Sunday.  The Scriptures for today are Acts 3: 12 – 19, 1 John 3: 1 – 7, Luke 24: 36 – 48.  (Changes in the format were made on 26 February 2008.)

Over the past three years I have had the privilege to hear Eddie Stephenson, an elder of the Ojibwa Algonquin People, present the message on this Sunday, Native American Ministries Sunday. His message was a presentation of the Seven Fires Prophecy and I could not help but make the connection between the traditional prophecies of Native Americans and the prophecy John made in the Book of Revelations.

I may be the only one who sees any sort of parallel between the traditions of the tribes of this land and what John the Seer saw in his prophetic visions while living on the land of Patmos. But it is not the only connection between cultures that I have come across in my career.

Most people are aware of the megalithic stone structure called Stonehenge that stands on Salisbury Plain in southern England. There are many people who relate this structure with the Druids but Stonehenge had been standing on the long before there were Druids in England. This structure was built around 5000 years ago, sometime around 2900 B.C.E. and was built as an observatory, to mark the passage of the sun and the moon through the various cycles and seasons.

What was interesting to me is that on the northern plains of this country and the southern plains of Canada are circles of stone similar in structure (at least horizontally) to that of Stonehenge. A recent news report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch indicated that a similar structure was found in Peru (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 25 April 2006).

It has been suggested that Stonehenge, the medicine wheels of the northern plains, and this stone temple in Peru all served the same purpose of helping its designers and builders monitor the movement of the sun, the moon, and the stars. It would only be natural that early mankind would look to the stars, the moon and the sun in order to ask basic questions about life and why we are here. That distinctly different cultures would independently develop similar solutions suggests to me that there is just one God, even if He moves in different ways.

That there is one true God is also apparent when we look at the cultures so dominant in our own lives today. Whether we are discussing Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, we need to be aware that though they are three separate and distinct religions, they all have the same God in common. The messages of each religion may be different but the commonality of each religion in tradition and belief is clear.

Now some will say that there is no commonality between Islam and Christianity, since our God is a God of peace and Allah is a god of war. But a study of Islam shows that Allah is our God and is the God of Israel. In fact, many people forget that Ishmael, the first son of Abraham, was the founder of the Muslim nations. Those who would say that we each pray to a different God do not understand the nature of each religion.

But if we say that we pray to a different God, it is because we hold different beliefs and we are not willing to see the connections that exist. This inability to not see the connections extends into the realm of Christianity as well. The troubles of Northern Ireland over the past two hundred years and before are due in part to a lack of understanding of how Protestant denominations developed over the years. To say that the Catholic Church is not a true church is to say that the Protestant Church, which developed from the Catholic Church, is also not a true church. Again, it is what mankind does, not what God intends.

For the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ time, it was that way. They clearly did not see Jesus in the same way that we see Him today. Rather, they saw Him as a threat and as a danger. For them, religion was something that they could control; access to God was on their terms and if they did not want you to have the access, they made sure that there were barriers in your way. Jesus took away that control and made access to God available to all.

The challenge that Jesus put before us requires that we know why God sent His Son and what the Gospel message is all about. If we ignore the Gospel message and see God’s presence in our lives as only some way to enhance our own lives, then we have missed the meaning of the Gospel and we do not understand why Jesus came to this earth to be a part of our lives.

People are desperately trying to find God and the answers to the questions of life and its meaning in today’s world. People look around them and see signs that the world is a corrupt and evil place; people want to know how to live in such a world. They are asking how it is possible for there to be a God who allows such violence, corruption and evil to exist. They are willing to try new religions or embrace modified versions of the Gospel in order to answer the questions that perplex, confound and confuse them. People today are quite willing to embrace a theology that focuses on obtaining individuals riches while at the same time decrying a society that encourages wealth building at the expense of the soul. Sooner or later, the answers that they receive will prove to be just as perplexing or confusing as the questions they were initially asking. Sooner or later, they will find that solutions that initially fit into the logic of the mind will not fit into the nature of the heart.

This message of prosperity through God’s grace has reverberated through history. But it was the message that John Wesley revolted against and caused him to begin the Methodist Revival.

We are not asked today to take up a new type of religion or embrace other forms of spirituality. Rather, we are asked to look around us and open our minds to the nature of God and what God can do. For if our minds are closed, how can our hearts ever be open?

The message being presented to too many people today is not a message of the Gospel; it is not a message of love, hope, and promise. It is a message of fear and ignorance. As Peter told those assembled before him, many heard the words of Jesus. But they did not understand what Jesus was saying. They could not see that helping others overcome poverty, sickness, oppression and ignorance, they were helping themselves. Their reactions were acts of ignorance and fear. Those that opposed Jesus, those that sought to arrest and crucify Jesus could not see that giving up power and glory was better than holding on. Those that arrested Jesus and crucified Him felt that power on earth was greater than a place in Heaven; they felt that those who had no power or wealth only brought it on themselves through their sins and the sins of their forbearers.

John, in his letter to the congregation (1 John 3: 1 – 7), points out that we may not know what it is that we are to do. But this is not something to be feared. As God’s children, we have been promised an inheritance that cannot be taken away. But we must proceed in faith; we must proceed through our heart if we are to receive this inheritance. As John writes, in our heart and in our mind, we know what is right so we should not be deceived by those who would say otherwise.

In responding to Thomas, Jesus noted that there would be many who would believe through faith rather than through the experience of touching Jesus. Today, in the Gospel reading (Luke 24: 36 – 48), Jesus showed the disciples and followers that He was alive. Jesus showed them that the knowledge that had been theirs before, the words and actions of the prophets, of Moses and Abraham, were fulfilled in the Resurrection. We need not see the Risen Christ Himself to know this is true, for we know it in our heart. But those who seek to find God in this world will not see the Risen Christ unless they see Him in our lives, in our words, in our actions, and in our thoughts.

Mankind has been searching for God throughout the years of existence. In turning to the stars, the Sun and the moon, they sought answers to questions about life and its regularities. These answers brought into play questions about God and our relationship with Him. These questions were answered by Jesus. Now in this day and age, when questions about life still resound through our daily existence, we need to be reminded that the truthful answer is found in Christ. “Seek the truth and the truth will set you free”, Christ told the disciples. To find the truth, we need to open our minds and our hearts. Many out there in the world are looking for Christ because they do not know Him. Our challenge is to show Christ in our lives so that those who seek Him can come to know Him.

Looking for the evidence

Here are my thoughts for this coming Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Easter and Heritage Sunday in the United Methodist Church.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 4:  32 – 35, 1 John 1: 1 – 2: 2, and John 20: 19 – 31.  (Changes were made to the format on 26 February 2008).


When you are teaching any type of science the first thing that you want to get across to the students is the difference between facts and theories. Facts are the pieces of information that one gathers through experimentation; one uses all the senses to determine the facts. Theories are the result of looking at the facts gathered and attempting to determine what relationships exist between the facts and what possible facts may arise from further study of the situation in question.

But too often, we do not spend enough time on the very fundamental nature of science, i.e. experimentation and the development of facts. For convenience more than for learning, experiments done in teaching laboratories tend to favor confirmation of lecture information rather than the discovery of facts. While it is sometimes necessary to confirm what is presented in the lecture, it is often better for students to discover things that can be discussed or utilized in the lecture phase of their instruction. This approach yields a better understanding of how theories are developed.

What transpires from the confirmation process of experimentation is that theories are taught more as facts than as explanations. And, in the end, theories become facts. In today’s context, it is understandable then that many people do not understand 1) the differences between theories and facts and 2) the differences between theories presented in a scientific setting and those theories or explanations that are presented in a cultural setting. One primary example of this would be the development of the heliocentric (or sun-centered) model for the solar system.

This model places the sun at the center of the solar system and the earth and the other planets orbiting the sun. But, as anyone can tell, during the day, it is the sun that clearly moves across the sky. So how is it that we say that it is the earth that is moving when our senses tell us otherwise?

It is not until we expand our references that we are able to see what changes must be made in theories such as the solar system. As long as we did not try to fit other planets or astronomical evidence into the geocentric model of the solar system, it worked fine. But when we looked at the other evidence, such as the movement of Mars, we saw that any theory that places the earth in the center of the solar system had flaws in it. To that end, it became necessary to modify the model. Many models were developed that kept the Earth in the center but they did not work well and failed to suggest or predict future events in terms of planetary motion. Only when the old model of the earth in the center was “trashed” and a new model of the sun in the center created was mankind able to move forward in the study of the stars and the planets.

These changes came with tremendous opposition from the established church and lead to the persecution of Galileo. The church, for a variety of reasons, wanted the earth to be the center of the solar system and was not readily amenable to such revolutionary ideas. And even now, some five hundred years later, it is still apparent that there are some in the churches of today who are not willing to accept scientific evidence as real evidence in light of Biblical scriptures.

Part of our human problem is that we still don’t get the idea that faith and science are two separate ideas. Rabbi Michael Lerner adapted a section from his recent book, “The Left Hand of God,” for an article in The Nation (Science and the religious progressives (From “The Daily Dose” (Science & Theology News) for Wednesday, April 12, 2006)  In one passage, the rabbi focuses on the relationship between science and liberal forms of spirituality on the American sociopolitical landscape.

“Science, however, is not the same as scientism — the belief that the only things that are real or can be known are those that can be empirically observed and measured. As a religious person, I don’t rely on science to tell me what is right and wrong or what love means or why my life is important. I understand that such questions cannot be answered through empirical observations. Claims about God, ethics, beauty and any other face of human experience that is not subject to empirical verification — all these spiritual dimensions of life — are dismissed by the ‘scientistic’ worldview as inherently unknowable and hence meaningless.”

From the viewpoint of a religious liberal, Lerner agrees with others — including supporters of intelligent design — who argue that science at times has overstepped its bounds:

“Scientism thus extends far beyond an understanding and appreciation of the role of science in society. It has become the religion of the secular consciousness. Why do I say it’s a religion? Because it is a belief system that has no more scientific foundation than any other belief system. The view that that which is real and knowable is that which can be empirically verified or measured is a view that itself cannot be empirically measured or verified and thus by its own criterion is unreal or unknowable. It is a religious belief system with powerful adherents. Spiritual progressives, therefore, insist on the importance of distinguishing between our strong support for science and our opposition to scientism.

“So why has the [political and religious] left become so attached to scientism? The left emerged as part of the broad movement against the feudal order, which taught that God had appointed people to their place in the hierarchical economic and political order for the good of the greater whole. Our current economic system, capitalism, was created by challenging the church’s role in organizing social life, and empirical observation and rational thought became the battering ram the merchant class used to weaken the church’s authority. Many of Marx’s followers thought they were merely drawing out the full implications of their new worldview when they adopted a scientistic approach that not only dismissed God and spirit as being without empirical foundation but also reduced all ethical and aesthetic judgments to little more than reflections of class interests.”

In opposing scientism there is perhaps an opportunity for healing among the various religious and political factions in the United States. But there is also the risk that greater opposition to scientism will encourage those in the United States who wish to take on the entire edifice of modern science.

So we must balance science and faith. Any attempt to have one replace the other can only result in the failure of both. This doesn’t mean that we should reject science totally. After all, to do so would be to deny the existence of the evidence that provided us with the knowledge of the Resurrection.

And that poses the question for today? It is a question that evolves from the Gospel reading for today and Thomas’ insistence that he will not accept the evidence of the resurrection until he can touch the wounds of Jesus. What is the status of our faith?

As Methodists, our faith is based on four factors: Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. These later two are the evidence that we seek to support what we know from tradition and our reading of the Scripture. It provides the balance that we need in order to understand why we need not be like Thomas.

If we reject the evidence that we see or hear because it conflicts with a Biblical interpretation, then we limit our knowledge as much as we would if we used science to limit our faith.

The Bible is the foundation of our faith; it guides and tells us why we are here. We should never see the Bible as closed and only an answer book. We must listen and read the Bible very carefully and honor the questions and tensions that arise in us. If we listen with “new ears” we always will hear something different from what we expect. To do so would be a grave error on our part. If we hold that the Bible is fixed and unchanging, it becomes quite easy for us to use it as a means to attack others and thus perpetuate violence against one another and justify harm in God’s name. When this is done, we limit God.

Shall we demand physical evidence when there is none? Shall we insist that what has been written must be accepted as the truth and such truths are not to be changed? Or shall we live our lives knowing, as Jesus told Thomas, “we believe though we have not seen?”

In his first letter to the disciples, John writes about the fact the he and the other disciples had seen the resurrection. There was no doubt about what they had seen and there was corroboration by others those first days after the Resurrection. There was no need for each succeeding generation to relive it; it had occurred and it had meaning. But it is what we do with our “newfound knowledge” that changes how we believe and how we live. It is clear from what Luke wrote in Acts that this meaning was more than just thought but rather was action as well.

It wasn’t just those first communities in the early days of the church in the Middle East that led to this denomination, the United Methodist Church, being here today. The Methodist Church united with the Evangelical United Brethren Church in April, 1968 (which is why this is Heritage Sunday). Now, I come to this time and place as one who was confirmed in the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Like the Methodist Church, the EUB church has its roots in colonial America. The EUB church itself is the union of several smaller denominations that formed among the German speaking immigrants that settled in the middle colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. There was, in those early days of this country, much interaction between the Methodists and the various churches that became the EUB church. Martin Boehm, one of the first bishops of the denomination, gave land to the Methodists on which to build a chapel. This chapel is still in use today.

But, most importantly, it was knowledge that the faith that each member of each branch of what was to become the EUB church was the same as the other members. Philip Otterbein, upon hearing Martin Boehm preach, proclaimed, “We are brethren”, meaning that each one’s faith was the same. It may have taken some 250 years to bring the various branches of the modern day United Methodist Church together but it was done because it was clear that each member of the denominations involved shared the same common faith. This could only be because the evidence through sight and sound was clear.

The meaning of the resurrection changed the lives of the people it touched. No longer were there poor or needy amongst the believers. All who believed came together in one community. It was clear that there was something happening to make the Gospel message come true.

But is it still true today? We live in a world where there are poor, where there are people hungry, and we are in a world where the view of some are repressed by those in power. It does not appear that much has changed since the early days of Jesus’ ministry. Yet, this is a time when we claim to follow Christ.

Perhaps we need to be like Thomas and demand the evidence that Christ is alive. Perhaps now is the time that we need to say, “are the poor taken care of, have the hungry been freed, have the oppressed been set free?” If we are to accept the Gospel message in our hearts, then our actions, our words, our deeds, and our thoughts must be in place. There are people in the world today who are like Thomas, who demand to see proof of the Resurrection. And we must be that proof! We must show that the Resurrection is true because Christ is alive in us.

It is now one week since the Resurrection. How has your life changed? Can others see in you the changes the world saw in the early church, where lives and the world were changed? Or are you living the same life as before? There is an opportunity to change before you today; there is an opportunity to see the Resurrection as truth by the way you live and act. But you must open your hearts and allow Christ to come in; you must open your heart and mind and let the Holy Spirit guide and direct you, just as it did the early disciples.

There is no longer a need to look for the evidence of the Resurrection; it is right there in front of you. You have the chance to be that evidence.

Our Father’s House

Here are my thoughts for Easter Sunday.

There are certain times of the year when I will be in certain places. The fourth weekend of May, normally Memorial Day weekend, finds me at the USBC Open Championships. This is a bowling tournament that I have participated in for the past 28 years. This year, my 29th tournament, my four teams and I will be in Corpus Christi, Texas. Plans have been made for my 30th tournament which will be the same weekend next year but in Reno, Nevada. I would like to make 50 tournaments but that is a little bit too far down the road to even consider.

Over the years, there are certain other places that I have wanted to be at certain times of the year. For many years I wanted to be in Memphis for Thanksgiving, to be with my mother, brothers, and sister. Christmas was to be with my own family. Some years, the two were reversed with Christmas being the time to be with my mother and siblings while Thanksgiving was with my family.

And that leads me to Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday was a time that I don’t particularly like to travel for I have always felt the need to be in my church that Sunday. By “my church” I mean the church in which I held my membership. Over the past few years, it has been the church that I was serving. But it was a Sunday that I wanted to be in “my Father’s house” rather than my own.

It started, I think, back in 1969. Then I was a precocious 18-year old college sophomore. In many ways, it had not been a good year. I was not doing well in school and there was the specter of the draft looming over me. I was, like so many individuals, searching for a meaning to what was transpiring in my life. And because of the political currents of that particular time in our country’s history, I was also trying to figure out how we could have a world of war and hatred, of poverty and ignorance. How did the Gospel message of hope and freedom fit into this scheme of things?

Against this background was my scheduled trip from Kirksville, MO (where I was in college) back to Memphis, TN, for spring break. While Memphis was my home, my home church was in Kirksville and I could not see missing Easter services or communion at First United Methodist Church in Kirksville. Yes, I knew that there was the possibility of communion at Bartlett United Methodist Church, the church where my parents were members and which I attended while in high school. But it was not my home church and there was a feeling in me at the time that I needed to somehow take communion before I left for the break.

To that end, I approached Marvin Fortel, then the minister at First Church, about taking communion before leaving. He was a little taken back by the request, because most of the students who attended the services were members of churches in their hometown and only attended out of obligation to their parents. But he agreed to my request and we met in the chapel of the church before I was to leave.

It was not a normal communion but rather a chance to talk about the process of communion and what it meant. When I left the chapel that day, I left with a better understanding of what communion meant and what it meant to be both a Methodist and a Christian. More than any other communion that I have taken, this one day changed how I viewed who I was and what Christ meant for me.

What I learned that day in the chapel and have come to understand over the years is that no matter who I am or what I am, Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross opened the door to God’s House for me. No matter what the problems of the world may be or are, there is a place in which I can find shelter and solace. I came away from the church understanding that, having come to Christ, I needed to work for Christ so that others could have the same opportunity.

On this Easter Sunday, we need to stop and think about what Christ means for each one of us. It is not just that Christ died on the Cross so that we could live. It is what our relationship with God became. When Jesus began his ministry, God was a distant part of many people’s lives. God, for them, was something mysterious, forbidden, and distant, only accessible through the observance of myriad laws and regulations. These laws and regulations were so rigorous that many people did not even try to find God.

But Jesus came to them, in the most complete expression of love any father had for his children, and offered the hope and promise of life eternal. Jesus broke down the barriers that the establishment of the day had built that kept God away from people’s lives. Jesus showed the people that God had not forgotten them.

Jesus was persecuted because the establishment, both religious and political, feared the message that he presented and the implications it had for their future. Those in power, who had reached that position by oppression and intimidation, understood that before God they were no better than those they tried to rule. It was in their interests to remove Jesus from the scene.

And for two days at the end of that first Holy Week, they felt that they had accomplished what they wanted, the removal of the most serious threat to their political and religious power. They had used a “show trial” worthy of any dictatorship to justify the crucifixion of Jesus and they had used the most horrible source of punishment every conceived by the human mind to kill Jesus. Jesus was buried in the tomb; the tomb was sealed and guarded. These people believed that the movement that brought Jesus into Jerusalem one week earlier and had proclaimed him king would not survive.

Even those who had followed Jesus over the past three years feared that the movement was crushed and dead. Many saw their futures only in terms of what they had been doing before they left everything to follow Jesus. Many perhaps wondered why they had even thought that the message of feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and freeing the oppressed would be able to succeed. Jesus had been crucified and was buried, no longer a threat to the forces they thought they could defeat.

And so it was on that first Easter morning the women came to the tomb, hoping to complete the task of preparing the body for burial. There had not been time to do so on the Friday before and, even with the hopes of the ministry seemingly crushed, these women still hoped to prepare the body of their friend and teacher, according to the customs of the day.

But we know that they found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. But the tomb cannot be empty unless someone had stolen the body. And there was no reason to steal the body. The grief of the weekend was compounded and the confusion about the mission was increased. But then Jesus spoke to Mary and the world changed.

The statements prophets had made long ago had come true. Christ had risen from the dead, in triumph over sin and death. The hope and promise of the Gospel message did not fade but rather was made clear and better understood. As Mary told the disciples and the disciples saw for themselves, the pain and grief turned to joy and happiness. And as the pain and grief disappeared, it became clear that the hope and promise of the Gospel message was still there and still alive. In joy and happiness, the disciples told others and the word spread.

Today, there are those who are seeking God, trying to find answers to the questions that the world poses before them. They see violence, death, hatred and ignorance in the world around them. They are questioning the values of this world and wondering how there can be a God. On this day, as we have gathered in our Father’s house, we are challenged to take the message of the Gospel out into the world. In a world which slams doors shut and prevents access to hope and promise, the stone before the tomb has been rolled away and the victory of Christ over sin and death tells us that our Father’s house is open to us all.

Those that sought to kill Jesus and silence the message want the stone to block the entrance to the tomb. For that gives them the control that they desire; that gives them the desire to say who can enter their house. But the stone has been rolled away, because all who follow Christ, no matter who they are, are entitled to enter their Father’s house. The stone has been rolled away because Christ conquered sin and death. The Gospel message is still alive.

It is up to us today to carry that word, just as the first disciples did some two thousand years ago, out into the world, proclaiming that Christ is alive and the Gospel message is indeed the Good News.

Running With the Crowd

Here are my thoughts for Palm Sunday.

As you probably know by now, I am a Southern boy, born in the South and raised by a Southern momma. To repeat the traditional saying, I am Southern born, Southern bred and when I die I will be Southern dead. But just because I grew up in the South doesn’t mean that I held onto to the traditions of the South.

Segregation was still the tradition and the rule when I was in the seventh grade in Alabama and when I was a junior and senior in high school in Tennessee. I was in school in Colorado and Missouri the years between since my father was in the Air Force at the time. So I was affected by the rules and traditions but I also saw other ways of living as well.

It used to be a tradition that one stood during the playing of “Dixie”, especially during football games (football has its own set of traditions in the South but we won’t go into them today). “Dixie” is an interesting song in that everyone thinks it is a Southern song but it was written by a Yankee in New York City and, during the Civil War, it was apt to be sung by both sides of the fight. During those first few times that it was played, I stood primarily because everyone else stood. But as this was repeated in other games, I was very uncomfortable doing so, because it wasn’t out of homesickness or loneliness that the song was played (as was the case one hundred years before); rather, it was often played out of defiance and I had to question the justification of acting in defiance because you didn’t like someone changing traditions, such as segregation. But it wasn’t easy not standing, as anyone who has gone against the crowd or popular notion can tell you.

To some extent, that is how some people celebrate Palm Sunday. There is a celebration at the beginning of the week as Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph but there is no celebration and the cheering is replaced by jeers by the end of the week. I think that Christianity is very much like that at times. We want the celebration of the kingdom but we do not want to face what entering into the kingdom is all about.

Though I may have said it and written it in the past, I am not sure that everyone who cheered on Sunday was in the crowd at the end of the week who called for Christ’s crucifixion. But many of those on Sunday undoubtedly were in that Friday crowd and were among those who called for Christ’s crucifixion. It is the nature of people to go with the crowd. And if some of the crowd is cheering, then most of the crowd will do likewise. If some in the crowd are jeering, then the rest of the crowd will probably do the same. It is only natural.

Did some of the people cheer Jesus that first Palm Sunday because he went against the traditions of the time? Did they cheer because he went against the crowd? I would hope so. As Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, Jesus took the form of man even though He was in the form of God. (1)  And in the human form, He took on the role of slave, humbling Himself on the Cross. How can that not be going against tradition? How can that not be going against the crowd?

There were those who did not want to see Jesus succeed, among them the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They were the ones who feared that people would see the truth; that the way to salvation and freedom from sin and death came through Christ and not through the rigidity of society that they fought so hard to maintain and control. There are those today who do the same; they do not want you or me to go against the crowd and see the truth. They would rather that you let them lead you, rather than let you travel your own way.

It is clear that some in the crowd that first Good Friday were there to incite the crowd, to get them to demand the release of Barabbas rather than Jesus. It is clear today that many of our modern Pharisees and Sadducees feel the same as their ancient counterparts. Too many churches today go with the flow, accepting the negative views of the world and offering nothing that remotely resembles the Gospel message that Jesus gave us two thousand years ago.

The message of today’s society is very clear. Follow the crowd, cheer when the crowd cheers, and jeer when the crowd jeers. It is okay to think you are an individual, just as long as what you think as an individual is the same as everyone else thinks.

I do not know how many of those who cheered on that first Palm Sunday cried on Good Friday when the crowd called for Jesus’ crucifixion. I do not know how many of the crowd cried when the Roman soldiers pounded the nails into His hands and feet. Some certainly did, for Jesus gave them hope, Jesus told them that tomorrow would be different.

We have to make a choice this Palm Sunday. It is alright to cheer today but that is because we know how this week will turn out. But many who cheered that Palm Sunday some two thousand years ago wanted an earthly kingdom, a promise that riches and glory would be theirs. They were the ones who called for crucifixion on Friday; they are the ones who called for Barabbas to be set free. They are the ones who cheer today but will finish the week in sadness and grief. Their hopes and dreams die on the cross.

Where will you be? Will you walk away, saying “He saved others but He could not save Himself?” Will you walk away, turning your back on the hopes and promises that the Cross means? Or will you be there when they crucified Christ, when they drove the nails into His hands and feet? Will you be there at the tomb next Sunday morning, celebrating the ultimate victory over sin and death? Or will you wonder what the celebration is all about?

Sometimes, it is nice to be with the crowd. I am sure that the crowd on Palm Sunday was a happy and joyous one. It is a crowd we all want to be a part of. And I don’t think that anyone of us wants to be a part of the crowd that gathered outside the palace of Pontius Pilate and called for Jesus to be crucified. But we can easily be swayed by the crowd around us. We already know that there won’t be much of a crowd next Sunday crowded around to see if He is still there. But that is where we should be and it doesn’t matter if the crowd we are with today is there or not. Will we be a part of the crowd that cheers on Palm Sunday and jeers on Good Friday? Or we will be part of the crowd that cheers on Easter? That is the choice we have this week.


Philippians 2: 5 – 6

Are You Ready?

Here are my thoughts for this, the 5th Sunday in Lent.

The opening lines of the Old Testament reading tell us that the “days are coming.” Now, if you are a “true believer” in the End Times, you think that these are those days. But I have to wonder. Is it possible that these will be the days when our failings and the consequences of our actions will be called to task?

I noticed in one of the news magazines last year a note about the need to improve mathematics and science education in this country. The problem is that this is not a new problem but a problem that has been a part of our society for almost fifty years. In November, 2007, we will remember the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1. And perhaps we will remember the cry that came about that science and mathematics education was failing.

Much money was put into upgrading those processes back then but after the successes of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, the money started to trickle out and less concern was made about the nature of education, be it mathematics, science or otherwise.

Then in the middle 1980’s, there was again a large cry about the failings of our educational processes, especially in science and mathematics. And studies were made and papers were published that outlined what made good programs and what needed to be done to insure that science and mathematics were not forgotten in the process of learning.

So, to hear that our science and mathematics education programs need to be revitalized and examined tells me that we have forgotten what we have already learned but not implemented. It tells me that any program that we have needs to be considered from the long-term and not the short, something this country has a hard time doing.

We have also forgotten, if we ever learned, that terrorism can never be fought with violence. We have forgotten that unless the sources of terrorism, poverty, sickness, and oppression, are removed, we will never remove terrorism. And we must have failed to realize that removing the sources of terrorism are the same goals that Jesus had when he established his ministry and set forth the basic tenets of the Gospel.

Did not Jesus say that it was His goal to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and free the oppressed? Did not Jesus go out of his way to make sure that the forgotten individuals of society were remembered? Why is it that this country, which calls itself a Christian nation, and the politicians that lead this country, who have allied themselves with the conservative and fundamentalist aspects of Christianity, can’t seem to remember this?

Congress is in the process of passing legislation that would make it illegal for anyone of us to assist someone who is in this country illegally. And it is my understanding that this includes those times when we assist without knowing the immigration status of those individuals. We are to ask if they are properly documented before giving a cup of water or a crust of bread to a hungry and thirsty individual. As others have noted, the very nature of the act would put the Good Samaritan in jail were he to perform the same acts today as he did 2000 years ago. Much of what Jesus said and did is also considered illegal.

Congress has also passed a budget that cuts food programs, housing programs, and aid to the least of this country. But it continues to yield to the rich and the powerful and it continues to fund a war that should never have been fought for reasons that have more to do with personal gain than the preservation of freedom and nothing to do with removing oppression. We have set forth a new version of oppression, both here in this country and abroad, in the name of freedom and democracy. Where is Christ in these acts, passed by men who claim allegiance to Christ? Why are not those who claim to be God’s messenger in this world, those who preach a gospel of prosperity and wealth, of fundamental beliefs in the Bible, not among the loudest when it comes to pointing out the inequities of life in today’s society?

Can it be that these are the days that Jeremiah is speaking about? Can it be that these are the days in which God will call us to account for our actions and our beliefs? The covenants that God made with Noah, Abraham, and Moses were covenants made with nations, not individuals. But the New Covenant of which Jeremiah speaks is a covenant that God makes with each one of us, individually.

So, it is our actions, not the actions of our country or our leaders that are called into account. We are the ones who have heard the call of Jesus but ignored it. We have allowed our own self-interests to dictate the nature of society. We think that we are the ones who have not allowed the law to be written on our hearts, as Jeremiah proclaims. We claim to follow Christ but if we are to follow Christ we must serve Him. And we cannot serve Him if we ignore the least of our society; we cannot serve Him if we seek war and violence, if we seek to oppress others.

In those days before the entry into Jerusalem, people sought Jesus and He did not turn them away. How can we turn people away when they seek a new and better life? In those days before the entry into Jerusalem, Jesus prayed and gave comfort to those who sought Him. How can we not do the same in this day?

One week from today, the crowds will line the road into Jerusalem and cheer the entrance of the new king. But they will forget, just as so many people have done today, where the kingdom of this new king will be. The same people will stand outside the balcony of the governor’s palace and demand that Christ be crucified so that the self-interests of the powers of society can be maintained. Those who called for the crucifixion of Christ out of their own self-interests or because of a blind obedience to an earthly political power will quickly find that their kingdom will not last.

Those who sought the crucifixion of Christ will find the tomb empty and they will be afraid. For they know that the days have come and their actions will be called to task.

Each one of us has two weeks to get ready for that moment. Each one of us has two weeks to prepare for that moment in which our actions, our thoughts, and all that we have done will be called to task. But, we also have two weeks to get ready and to open our hearts and acknowledge that because the tomb is empty our lives begin anew. There is that moment when God says to each one of us, “I sent my Son to die on the cross so that you may live. I sent my Son to take away your sins and I will forgive you for all time.”

These are the days. Are you ready?

“Are You Ready?” by Bob Dylan —