Happy New Year!

Here are my thoughts for today, Christ the King Sunday.

I am writing this on Saturday, November 25, 2006. But, depending on what particular calendar you might be using (1):

  1. it is Day 329 of current year
  2. on the Julian calendar, it is November 12, 2006
  3. on the ISO Calendar, it is Day 6 of Week 47 of Year 2006
  4. on the Hebrew Calendar, it is 4 Kislev 5767
  5. on the Islamic Calendar, it is Shawwal 33, 1427
  6. on the Mayan Calendars
  1. by the long count, it is
  2. on the Haab (Civil) calendar, 13 Ceh
  3. on the Tzolkin (Religious), it is 7 Ahau
  • on the French Revolutionary calendar, it is Décade I, Quintidi de Frimaire de l’Année 215 de la Révolution
  • on the Coptic calendar, it is Hatur 16, 1723
  • on the Ethiopic, it is Khedar 16, 1999
  • on the Persian calendar, it is Azar 04, 1385
  • on the Baha’I calendar, it is 3rd day of Speech, B.E. 163
  • How we tell time is a matter of preference and culture. When we start the year and when it finishes all depends upon the calendar that we choose to use. With that in mind, let me wish everyone a “Happy New Year.” Tomorrow, November 26th, is the last day of the current liturgical year so it is, in effect, New Year’s Eve. With November 27th, we start the new liturgical year and we begin celebrating the season of Advent on December 3rd.

    For some, tomorrow is just the last Sunday in Ordinary Time or the last Sunday after Pentecost. For others, it is called Christ the King Sunday and the three readings for the common lectionary reflect that name.

    What I found out is that the naming of this particular Sunday, the last Sunday before the start of Advent, as Christ the King Sunday is not an old tradition of the church but rather a relative newcomer to the calendar. It does not bear the history of many long-held church traditions such as All Saints or Christmas or Easter and does not possess the deep and traditional biblical backing of these celebrations. Pope Pius XI brought Christ the King Sunday into the church’s liturgical year in 1925. He was attempting to do several things, but mainly to advance the message of God in Christ over and against that of the political forces moving in the world at that time–people like Mussolini and Hitler (2).

    What I find interesting in this is that many of the denominations of that time were falling into line with the prevailing nationalism of the time, giving the political power of the nation over to the spiritual power of Christ. As I noted in my posting for 30 July (3), the German churches of that time frame were more interested in supporting the German nationalism movement and they had in effect turned a blind eye to the plight of the people. The churches then turned from Christ as King to Christ as an afterthought.

    And what do we see when we read about the churches and many of the religious leaders of today? How many religious leaders today have not been tempted and corrupted by the power found in the political process. The problem is that we see political power as the means to the end, yet political power is often riddled with hubris and illusion. This is not to say that political power is not inherently evil. It was the moral power and authority exercised by Nelson Mandela to free South Africa from the tyranny of apartheid and it was the moral power and authority exercised by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others used to challenge the very nature of human and civil rights in the 1960’s.

    But it should be noted that the political changes that were brought about through the fight for civil and human rights were done from the ground up. The cries for “moral values” today are more often driven by those who seek to gain personal power or status. Like society’s leaders in Jesus’ time, those who cry out the loudest today jostle with each other for the prominent places at the banquet table, instead of giving those seats to the less fortunate.

    When Pilate asks Jesus if He is the King of the Jews, it is not a question based on spiritual leadership or the Kingdom of God (4). It is a question couched in the terms of current politics. But, if His Kingdom were of this world, nothing that Pilate or the religious authorities who opposed Jesus did would be able to stop him.

    I think that those who opposed Jesus knew what would be the outcome if they allowed Him to complete His mission on earth; they would lose their prominent places, they would lose their status and power. They, perhaps more than anyone else, understood the call to be a servant that Jesus laid out as the basis for his Kingdom. And it was a call that they were not willing to answer; others could not answer it because they did not understand what the call meant. Nor would they understand what it meant until the Resurrection came.

    In the Old Testament reading for today, we hear David’s final words (5). These are words that remind us that we must be servants before we can be king. We are reminded that those who choose otherwise will be cast aside.

    As the liturgical year comes to an end, as we read John the Revealer’s words of God being the Alpha and the Omega, we are reminded that the King is truly coming. But those who long for a powerful, earthly king will be severely disappointed because the King that comes will come as a child, born in an obscure town to ordinary parents. Even as John was writing of the coming of Christ in all His glory, he understood that there must be a beginning as well as an end (6).

    That is what today represents. One year is coming to an end but another is beginning. We celebrate the presence of Christ as King, leading us first as a servant. And now we celebrate the beginning of the New Year with our preparation for the coming of Christ as the child born in Bethlehem. So let us end this day and this year with a rousing cry of “Happy New Year”. Let us end this day by celebrating that Christ is King and let us rejoice that He is coming.


    (1) I found this information at http://craig.copi.org/events/today.html.

    (2) http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0MDO/is_5_32/ai_n15858753

    (3) https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2006/07/30/what-if/

    (4) John 18: 33 – 37

    (5) 2 Samuel 23: 1 – 7

    (6) Revelation 1: 4b – 8

    Thanksgiving, 2006

    In his seminal piece, “Alice’s Restaurant”, Arlo Guthrie sings of eating a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat. Of course, the whole point of the song was not the dinner that Alice cooked but the troubles that Arlo got into when he and his friends volunteered to clear up the mess that such a wonderful meal created.

    Eleven years ago, I had such a Thanksgiving dinner. It wasn’t at a plush restaurant nor was it cooked at my family’s house. It wasn’t one of the times that I have cooked a turkey myself but rather was a simple meal that only cost me $5.00 or so. It was given by a church in the small Kansas town where I lived and it was the church’s contribution to the town. I had been unemployed for some time and the future, such as it was, seemed rather bleak. But this simple meal, offered to all who came to the church offered hope at a time when I really needed it.

    Today, my church is serving Thanksgiving dinner for some three hundred people in the community, people who would otherwise not have a meal to eat today. In a community where hope is not often found, such a meal offers a chance to see that there is hope. It is truly a day to give thanks.

    I trust that on this day of turkey, parades, and football, when our attention is often diverted by year-end financial statements that often require our participation and we seemingly are stuck in traffic as we travel to our families and friends, we will think about those who cannot do what we take for granted. Perhaps this will be the year you will help someone enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner that can’t be beat and they will find hope so that next year they are able to help someone else.

    A Rock And Roll Revival

    As a follow-up to what I wrote for Sunday, I have been thinking about the order of worship if I were to do a revival and utilize modern music.

    How does this sound?

    Opening song – “Jesus is Just Alright” by the Doobie Brothers

    Old Testament Reading – “Turn, Turn, Turn” by The Byrds

    New Testament Reading – “Good Shepherd” by Jefferson Airplane

    Offertory – “Signs” by the Five Man Electric Band

    Invitation – “Are You Ready?” by Pacific Gas & Electric

    What do you think?

    Are You Ready

    These are my thoughts for this Sunday, the 24th Sunday after Pentecost.

    For some reason, a few weeks ago, someone said something that caused me to think of an old 60’s song from the group Pacific Gas & Electric. The song was entitled “Are You Ready?” and it was one of the first pieces of music that could be called “Jesus Rock.”

    It was a song that carried a very subtle Christian message. I really don’t think that too many people at that time understood the connection between the music and the message. And I was one of them. I heard a good song with a good beat. But between the conversation a couple of weeks ago and the reading for the Gospel today (1), the connection comes back.

    Peter, James, John, and Andrew are asking Jesus about the end times, the times when God’s Kingdom will come on earth. Jesus answers in terms of rumors of wars and nations rising up against nations, earthquakes and famines.

    For us today, there are those who speak of these days being those times. They point to the conflicts in the Middle East as a coming sign that Jesus will be returning soon. The only thing that bothers me about such connections is that the people who claim that these are the times Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel are actively encouraging war. Somehow they think that if they encourage war and discord, especially in the Middle East, Jesus’ return will be hastened.

    It is very clear that Jesus is speaking of a time when God’s Kingdom will be here on earth and I think that we should be ready for that moment. But I also do not think that we should work to make that moment a possibility by seeking war and other signs of discord. To do so would work against the very nature of the Gospel which commands us to heal the sick, help the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, give sight to the blind, and bring freedom and hope to the oppressed. Encouraging war and seeking destruction, ignoring famine just because it is a sign of the end times hardly seems logical in those terms.

    And when we read from Hebrews for today that we are to consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds (2), then what are we to do? If God’s Kingdom comes through war and destruction, is that not a sign that we have not done that which we should have done? Do we really think that Jesus will return if we are encouraging war and division? If God’s Kingdom comes when nations turn against nation and we stand by and let war engulf regions, how can we say that we are able to enter into His Kingdom?

    The words of Matthew 25 echo the contradiction. We are to be ready for Jesus’ return; but when He does return, we will be asked what we have done on this earth. Did we help the poor and needy, did we give assistance to the downtrodden, did we visit those alone and forgotten? Or did we just stand by?

    The words of Jesus, given to us in Mark, tell us to be ready. The words of Hebrew tell us that we cannot stand back but must act in our readiness. If we look at the Old Testament reading for today (3), we are introduced to Hannah, the mother of Samuel.

    The passage opens with Hannah lamenting that she has no children. And in a society where the number of children that a woman has is a marker of her success in life and her social status, Hannah is justified in lament. Yet, we read that Elkanah, her husband, loves her as much or more than he loves Penninah, his second wife. There is every indication that Penninah holds it over Hannah that she has been fruitful in bearing children while Hannah has not.

    But in her despair and grief, Hannah continues to pray to God that God will offer a solution. Year after year, she pleads with God to give her a son. If God grants her prayer, she will raise him to a life of service to God. And eventually God does grant Hannah’s prayer and Hannah gives birth to Samuel. And Samuel will serve God all his life.

    Samuel will become the judge who will launch the long liberation of Israel from foreign rule. His birth and the joy of Hannah parallel the joy of Mary when she is told that she will be the mother of Jesus the Christ child. As we read of the birth of Samuel today, we are being foretold of the birth of Christ, who will free us from a life of tyranny through sin and death.

    But we cannot stand back and wait for Christ to come. We cannot stand back and allow the world to self-destruct just so we can rejoice in the coming of the Lord. Rather, we must take the steps that will ensure that all are able to rejoice and welcome Christ when He returns again. For Hannah, it was a quiet and humble prayer that allowed her life to have meaning. In her rejoicing, Hannah sings of the Lord bringing home to the poor; in her rejoicing, Hannah sings of the new vision of the world. (4)

    The writer of Hebrews encourages us to not neglect others as we prepare for the coming of Christ. The Gospel message tells us that the care of the poor, the sick, and the needy will be a sign of our preparation. If we neglect those who are less fortunate than us, how can we expect to be ready?

    Are you ready for the coming of the Lord? Do you not see the signs? As the days grow shorter and we awake each day in darkness, do you not see the signs of the coming of the Lord? Though we are still in the days following Pentecost, Advent and our preparation for the coming of the Lord are just a few weeks away. Are you ready?

    (1) Mark 13: 1 – 8

    (2) Hebrews 10: 24

    (3) 1 Samuel 1: 4 – 20

    (4) 1 Samuel 2: 1- 10

    A Cancer in the Church

    These are not my thoughts for this Sunday but thoughts about a problem I think we have to face.

    On March 21, 1973, John Dean told Richard Nixon that there was a cancer growing in the presidency and it threatened to kill the presidency. Dean’s efforts were to save both the Presidency and Richard Nixon, to whom he was still loyal to at the time. Later, when it became apparent that President Nixon had been involved in the Watergate affair from the very beginning, Dean became his chief accuser.

    A couple of weeks ago I posted a comment to a pastor’s blog in which I stated I believed that there was a cancer present in that pastor’s congregation. I did so because of on my own experiences.

    I also wrote that I felt it was up to the congregation to remove that cancer. The only I didn’t write was how does a congregation remove a cancer from its midst that is threatening to kill the congregation?

    Over the course of my lay ministry, I have been involved in a number of situations that threatened the health and life of the church. I do not claim to have the answer but certain things are apparent. In every instance that I am aware of, the issue that allows the cancer to grow is power. Who has the power and who should have the power are the reasons that a cancer grows in any organization, be it the Presidency of the United States or a small Methodist Congregation in the United States.

    The church where I first started as a lay speaker was originally dominated by two individuals, both with considerable political power in the congregation, who sat at the front door of the sanctuary. It was their unstated purpose to intimidate all those who enter. It was a way of telling the members who was in control of the church. For visitors, their stares and gruff mannerisms insured that the visitor would not come back. It was all about power and it was their intention to make sure that the new pastor understood who had the power in the church.

    This approach didn’t work for me because, quite frankly, I ignored them. I was looking for a church and what I found in the pastor, the place, and the people matched what my family needed at the time.

    I do not recall when I started it but I soon began to greet people at the front door of the church. This one step effectively negated what these two men were doing just inside. And over time, as the failures of their leadership became evident, the people of the church began to ignore them and move on to more important things, such as the revitalizing of the church. This, revitalization was quite successful and the church is now more alive than it ever was.

    When I made the move that brought me to where I now live, I was asked to take over a church that was struggling. There were a number of theological questions being raised in the church and several individuals in the church were convinced that their answers to the questions were the correct and only true answers. This obviously resulted in a spiritual divide in the church and one that threatened to destroy the church.

    I came into the church with an open mind, not favoring one side or the other. I tried to understand what had brought the church to this particular point in time. My early sermons in that church were attempts to formalize and visualize the problems of the church but I sensed an incompleteness in what I was writing and saying; I also sensed that I was not making the impact that needed to be done.

    Some of the individuals were very forceful in their insistence that they alone held the right answer. And they wanted the services to reflect their thoughts. But when it became evident that it was not the Gospel but their own power that drove them, they were quickly cast aside. Again, it was the failure of their own leadership that proved their undoing.

    There was also a change in the political leadership of the church as well. Those who held the “right” answers were still given the opportunity to voice their thoughts but not at the expense of other people’s thoughts.

    As in the previous example, the people of the congregation began to see the futility of the plans of those that were most vocal. In the end, this vocal minority chose to leave the church on their own accord. Interestingly enough, they never gave up their positions of authority but quit attending. I was told that when I left, the leader of this splinter group attended a PPRC meeting for the first time in two years in order to meet the new pastor and apparently try to start her “campaign for spiritual awakening” all over again. Unfortunately, the new pastor was only new to the church, not the area, and was well aware of this individual and her plans. It is said that she sat meekly during the meeting, realizing that nothing she said was going to make a difference.

    That assignment took almost three years and I left because I felt that I had achieved what I was asked to do. After a rough start and to remove the theological division that had begun, I focused on the Gospel and used John Wesley as my guide. There were changes in the political structure of the church that gave freedom to all without fear of the repercussions that had so dominated the church before my arrival.

    This church has recovered from the trauma of the divisions that threatened to kill it and is now a part of a viable and larger church community.

    I wish that I could say the same was true for my last assignment. When I left that assignment, I was planning on taking a year off before “volunteering” again. However, after six weeks, I felt God’s call to get back to work. My e-mail to my district superintendent came into his in-box just after he had received an e-mail from a newly appointed pastor quitting after six weeks.

    The D. S. asked if I would take the challenge and I said that I would. This was an entirely different situation. It was not a theological challenge and it went beyond simple church politics. It was more about who “owned” the church. It wasn’t just a matter of current ownership; it was an argument that went back several generations. It wasn’t one family’s argument of ownership but rather two families, each claiming they had to right to decide what the church should and should not do.

    I continued to focus on the Gospel for the preparation of my sermons. There were those who understood what I was saying in the sermon each Sunday as it pertained to the church but there were others who did not (or at least never gave any indication that they understood).

    In the end, the changes in the political leadership that might have begun the turn-around could not be made. More and more families were leaving because of the in-house gossiping and back-biting. I saw a solution but it required some very radical moves on my part; I chose to leave. Though some felt that this move was coming and inevitable, it still came as quite a shock when I announced that I was leaving the church.

    I brought in a Conference Crisis Intervention Team in an effort to resolve the issues that existed between the various factions but it was too late. But as I feared, blood literally ran on the floor during one of the meetings of the congregation with the team and another family quit. The church is still open but it now only meets on a part-time basis and is served by a minister from another church in the district on a part-time basis. The cancer that was in the congregation has spread and nothing will stop; this church will die.

    Right now, I get the impression that there are several other churches that have the signs of this type of cancer. The problem with being a lay speaker is that you are not always privy to the information as to why a church does not have a full-time or regular pastor. But some of what I hear or found out on my own tells me that there are cancer cells present.

    One pastor whose attempts to resolve the problem within their congregation, now has to deal with medical problems brought about by the stress of the conflict. I think that one pastor in my area has left the ministry because of their inability to handle or resolve similar problems within their congregation. In fact, the frustrations with my last assignment were threatening to disrupt my own life. One can only speculate as to what might have happened if I had elected to continue. I saw a need to walk away and I worked out a plan that I thought would save the congregation. I just wished it had worked out better.

    So what are we to do when one person’s actions threaten the life of the church? It should be noted that in the three situations that I have described, the problem existed before I became involved. Each situation had gone on too long and unless things were done quickly, extreme measures were going to be required. And such measures are often beyond the capability of the pastor.

    But what if the problem is just beginning? It should not be up to the pastor but the congregation who steps up and seeks an earlier resolution. In Matthew 18: 15 – 17 the following (I am using Clarence Jordan’s Cotton patch version) we read:

    If your brother does you wrong, go talk it out privately between the two of you. If he sees your point, you’ve won your brother. But if he won’t see your side of it, take one or two others, since every fact, in order to stand, must have two or three witnesses. If he will pay them no mind, bring it up before the church. If he won’t pay attention to them, chalk him up as a hopeless case.

    In some versions of this passage, the church is told to cast out this person.

    In all of Jesus’ parables, Jesus challenged the listeners to hear the Gospel of God’s love in different ways, through different experiences, and with different languages. But this passage from Matthew goes beyond anything we might comprehend; it goes beyond the tokenism of inclusiveness to a radical inclusivity where we take others seriously, listen to each other and dare trust that he or she belongs in God’s love as much as we do. (1)

    If you stop and think about it, the words that Matthew put into this passage cannot be the words of Christ. As you read this passage, you have to be struck with the paradox posed.

    There is no problem with the first two parts of the conversation. If you have a problem with a member of the church, meet with them in private. If there are still problems, then bring along some witnesses and try to work out the problem.

    It is the third part that is the paradox. If all attempts at reconciliation fail, then the offending party is to be ignored, expelled, or cast out from the church. I have a hard time with this solution. First, it cuts out the person or persons who probably need the Gospel the most. And it does nothing to soften their heart. As long as their hearts are hardened, they will never hear the true Word and that is a shame. Finally, this rather harsh treatment goes against everything Jesus had said, was saying, and would continue say?

    Did Christ not seek all those who had been excluded from church? Did not Christ seek those who were expelled from society? So how could He say throw out those with whom you disagree? Some feel that this passage from Matthew comes from the later church and not from Christ. How could Jesus have been speaking for the church when there was, at that time, no church? Would He really have said treat someone as a Gentile or a tax collector when His own actions ran counter to those words? Remember that on a number of occasions He healed Gentiles and even had dinner with Zaccaheus, a tax collector. Even Matthew (or Levi in some translations), one of the twelve was a tax collector. So there are problems with this passage. It is possible that these verses are the reflection and thoughts of the early church.

    These words still have a meaning for this day and time, for this is a passage of patience and gentleness. When you feel that you have been wronged by someone, you should make the first approach. When you point out that fault that has produced the rift between the two of you, it is to be done in love and friendship. One should use such a visit as this for the purpose of regaining a lost brother or sister, not for humiliation or condemnation.

    Even if this private visit fails, the individual should not be branded as anything publicly. Two or three others, chosen for their Christian grace, are to be told so that their urgings can be added. It is only if they fail that the whole congregation should be told but not so that they can thrust this individual from their company and compassion. Only the individual’s own actions can drive them from the church.

    This passage from Matthew offers us a glimpse into the problems of the early church. Even then, there were careless and wayward members; sometimes there were even open scandals. The epistles confirm this picture of the early church. When we re-read Matthew 18: 18, we see that it has been fulfilled. The church sometimes determines what interpretations should be forbidden (bound) and which should be sanctioned (loosed). The church, both the early one and today’s varieties and versions, have not been as gentle in discipline as the Gospel reading proposed. The church many times has acted with cruel vigor. The curse and penalty discussed in 1 Corinthians 5:5 (“hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature (Or that his body; or that the flesh) may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord”) is not gentle and it has been carried far beyond Paul’s time.

    Matthew has combined in this writing a call for Christian patience and a great yearning for unity in the church. (2) There was truly a fear that there would be those whose work would destroy the building of the church and perhaps there was a need for such scripture. But fear should never drive what we do or we should we use fear to disenfranchise people. (3)

    Treatment should not be vengeful but it has to be done. And the districts and the conferences need to be more helpful. It shouldn’t be that hard to identify the churches that show the symptoms and it shouldn’t be that hard to help the pastors of those congregations. The District Superintendent who gave me that first assignment told me what to expect and supported me in what I did; he also told me what to expect in my second assignment but I don’t think he understood the complexity and depth of the problem.

    I wasn’t aware of the resources that were available within the conference (I suppose that being a lay speaker had a lot to do with that; I was not always privy to the same informational resources that ministers got). If I had known about the Congregational Crisis Intervention Team sooner, I might have been able to achieve a different outcome.

    It is a shame that this would happen in any church. We tend to think of churches as being places of Christian good, not places where workplace politics and gossip rule. But too often, instead of taking the church out into the secular world, people bring the secular world with them into the church and expect the church to react in the same way that the outside world does. There are others who have written on this same issue but I think the message is always the same; if we hold to the Gospel and preach the love that is found in Christ, we can solve the problems that threaten to tear apart our churches.

    I would hope and pray that there are no cancers in your church. But we know that at the first signs of trouble in our body, we are to seek help. The same is true when there is trouble in the congregation. There may have been fear in the minds of the early Christian church, especially with all that was going outside the walls of the church. They knew that the solidarity of the church required action before things worked against them. In this world where the church today is the one hope that many people have, it still is true what Matthew wrote and it is still what we must do in order to keep the cancer from killing the church.

    (1) Adapted from “A Careful Read” by Deanna Langle, The Christian Century, August 23, 2005

    (2) Adapted from The Interpreter’s Bible – a commentary in twelve volumes, Volume 7 – Abingdon Press, 1951)

    (3) I am used part of the message (“Lexington, North Carolina”)that I gave at Vails Gate United Methodist Church (Vails Gate, NY) on 4 September 2005 in this message.

    Security in Today’s World

    Here are my thoughts for tomorrow, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost.

    For those who are not aware, I am the son of a career Air Force officer and the grandson of a career Army officer. I do not know much about my grandfather, as he died when I was five years old. What I know about him comes from “tales” told to me by my parents and the diary that he wrote while in combat in France during World War I.

    His entry for the month of November reads

    At the beginning of November, 1918, the 2nd Army was preparing for a major attack on the section of the Hindenburg Line in the Metz area. The attacks were scheduled for November 10th and 11th. At the beginning of the month, the 14th Brigade had been withdrawn from the front line and replaced with the 13th Brigade. While ostensibly a move to give the 14th Brigade time for additional training, it appears that this move also facilitated moving the 14th to its intended position of the planned series of attacks. The 34th Regiment found itself scattered throughout the section.

    During the period 9 – 11 November, the Division executed local attacks and gained temporary occupation of a hill west of Preny (9 November), Hill 323 (1 km southeast of Rembercourt) on 10 November, and established a line from 310.2 to 287.1 in the Bois de Grand-Fontaine, captured the quarry near 278.7 west of Rembercourt, and the small woods .25 km south of Mon Plaisir Fme. on November 11th.

    November 9, 1918

    On way to front again. We are to attack tomorrow. Men have been hiking all day & night, then to go in an attack will sure be hell.

    November 10, 1918

    Attack held up by very strong machine gun fire and a cannon barrage by “Fritz”.


    November 11, 1918

    A great day. The armistice was signed today. We were to resume our attack at 2 p.m. in case it was not signed. Slept in a German dugout last night.

    From the second diary – Was in German dugout at points 242.4 & 365 (on the Thiaucourt 1 to 50,000 maps) on the day Armistice was signed. 34th Infantry Regiment captured 1 German officer, 32 enlisted personnel, and 3 machine guns during tour; advance the outpost line .75 kilometers to include Hills 311.2, 310.2, and 312.

    Nothing in what my grandfather wrote tells me anything about his feelings on war. Any mention of death or destruction in the diary is rather simple. I think that this was because he used his diary as a drafting board. As the Adjutant for the 34th Infantry Regiment, one of his duties was to prepare the daily reports. Those daily reports, recorded in the unit history, are almost the same things I read in the diary. Still, it was what he wrote on the front page of the diary that tells me he saw war for what it was and what it could be.

    If I should fall, will the finder of this take it on him or herself to see that gets to my wife, Mrs. Walter L. Mitchell, 4150 A Detonty Street, St. Louis, MO., USA? By doing so, they were conferring a favor upon Walter L. Mitchell, Captain, 34th US Infantry, American Expeditionary Forces, France.

    We can have a great big discussion about the nature of war and whether war is inevitable or the best solution to a bad problem. The United States entered both World War I and World War II because of necessity, not of desire. If the world had been a little more attuned to the nature of the world, it might have avoided both wars.

    In the 50’s and 60’s, we fought wars in Asia not out of human necessity but rather out of political expediency. As we look at the Viet Nam War today, we see a war that we entered because we supported a colonial power at a time when nationalism was on the rise. How ironic it is that we fought a war of independence to free ourselves from a colonial power, yet some two hundred years later, we supported colonial powers and did little to alleviate the suffering of third world countries dominated by colonialism. Again, what would have happened if the United States had been true to its own roots of opposing colonialism?

    And now, on this 88th anniversary of the first Armistice Day, we have turned war into a reason, not a reaction. We have turned in what was the announcement of peace into a celebration of economic progress. The day that was originally known as Armistice Day, in commemoration of the cessation of hostilities, is now nothing more than a day for sales and shopping. It should be a day to honor those who gave their lives, yet very few people know what this day is about. And, even though our politicians and leaders give great lip service to the service of veterans, the treatment of veterans after they return home leaves much to be desired.

    We have turned war into a reason; we say that we must fight in order to ensure our security. Yet, not too many people think we are safer or more secure today as compared to a few years ago. We see terrorists around every corner; we have bought into the argument that we must give up our rights and freedoms so that we can control terrorism.

    Yet terrorism grows in the presence of fear. Terrorism grows in the slums of the worlds, where those without the basic necessities of life are taught to hate those who have them. And we do nothing to remove that cycle of violence and hate. Our security is not found through the barrel of a gun; it is found through economic progress for all, not just a select few.

    The Old Testament reading for today (1) is about economic security. Ruth is a widow at a time when widows were the lowest persons in society. Her survival in the world was dependent on others and others were not always willing to take on that burden. Naomi counsels Ruth to be with Boaz because Boaz is a member of Naomi’s family and marriage to Boaz will grant Ruth economic security. This is what happens; of course, as we read in the conclusion of the story for today (2), a son is born and is named Obed. Obed is the father of Jesse and Jesse is the father of David. The lineage that will lead to the birth of Jesus is now established.

    Jesus also speaks out against economic hardship in the reading from the Gospel for today (3). Jesus speaks out against those whose wealth and power comes at the expense of those who have little power or wealth. He also points out that many of the rich give only in terms of what is expected of them, not what they could possible do. The widow in the story from Mark gives everything, signifying a trust in the Lord. Those that only give what is required of them through the law trust more in earthly power.

    We live in a time when we think more in terms of earthly power, placing our trust on that which we can put into the bank or which we can hold in our hands. Our policies and our plans seem to be based more on keeping what we have rather than sharing with others. How can we expect to gain security of any kind in this world with that approach?

    Over the past few weeks, the writer of Hebrews has pointed out that the earthly priests who performed sacrifices in the temple were tainted by sin. Much of what they had to do each day was remove that taint so that they could make offerings for the other people. Our reliance on other means for security in this world is similar; our drives and passions for earthly gains at the expense of others can only block what needs to be done in the world, not assist.

    But, as the writer of Hebrews points out today (4), since Christ Himself took the place of the earthly priests through His sacrifice on the Cross, we are freed from the penalty of sin. No longer do sin and its resultant cost of our life control us; no longer are we dictated by what the earth requires of us in order to gain security in this world. Through Christ, we have gained the power over sin and death; through Christ, we are in a position to reach out and welcome others into His Kingdom.

    As we pause this weekend to think about those whose sacrifices on the battlefields ensured our freedom, let us also pause and reflect on the role of Christ in our lives. If we are so tied up in the realm of the world, have we allowed Christ to come into our lives? And if we have allowed Christ to come into our hearts and our souls, have we allowed the power of the Holy Spirit to work through us so that true security, true peace is found in this world?

    (1) Ruth 3: 1 – 5; 4: 13 -17

    (2) Ruth 4: 17

    (3) Mark 12: 38 – 44

    (4)Hebrews 9: 24 – 28

    And Who Is My Neighbor?


    I am preaching again at Dover UMC in Dover Plains, NY. Here are my thoughts for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost.

    A few years ago, I was in Billings, Montana. I was receiving an award that had a quite of bit of significance for me and so, I wanted my mother to be there. After I flew into the Billings airport, I waited for her to fly in from Memphis. The next afternoon, before the ceremony, we went out to the Little Big Horn National Monument.

    To say that the view was impressive would be an understatement. You are on the high northern plains and the view is seemingly endless. There is literally nothing to obscure your vision as you scan the entire horizon and you have no concept of the distance to the horizon. As my mother and I drove from the Monument entrance, where the military cemetery in which the 7th Calvary soldiers killed in the battle are buried and the visitor’s center are located, to the edge of the monument area where the battle began, we found it impossible to visualize the distance and the immensity of the battle.

    There on the high plains of the western United States we observed this wonderful portion of God’s creation in all its wonder and we stood in awe of the beauty of which we were a part. I could not help but think how it easy it might be to reach out and possibly touch some part of New York, so vast was the expanse of the horizon.

    Then my cell phone rang.

    The person who was covering my church assignment for me that weekend was calling with some last minute questions concerning the service scheduled for the next day. And if that wasn’t enough, as we were preparing to leave the parking lot to head back to Billings, an individual with Tennessee license plates pulled into the parking slot next to us. And it wasn’t just somebody from Tennessee, it was somebody from Shelby County (Tennessee license plates include a county listing). This individual was on his way to Alaska to begin a new job and wanted to stop at the Little Big Horn monument as he drove north.

    Here we were, some 2100 miles from my home in New York and some 1600 miles from where I grew up, and yet those two neighborhoods were right there.

    It has been said more times that one can count that technology has shrunk the world around us. My cell phone number is for the Beacon area but I can be reached at that number, even when I am not in the immediate vicinity. It was just a coincidence that we met someone from the same area where I grew up and where my mother lives (though later that day, I would be reunited with friends I have known for over twenty years who came from Tennessee, Michigan and New Mexico). It is possible with the proper technology, the right application of skill and a little bit of luck to be in contact with your home no matter where you might be.

    The neighborhood that we grew up in is no longer the few blocks around the house but is almost the whole world. Yet, even the technology that brings the whole world into our neighborhood is a little annoying. When I am commuting back to Beacon from working in New York City, it is extremely irritating when someone carries on a conversation on their cell phone and talks so loud that everyone on train is privy to the conversation.

    We have come to learn through technology that our neighborhood boundaries have expanded and no longer are contained by city limits, county lines, state boundaries, or national boundaries. Our neighborhoods cross all boundaries and everyone is now, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, our neighbor. It gives new meaning to the question that Jesus was asked in today’s Gospel reading, “And who is my neighbor?” (1)

    The story given in Mark is the beginning of the story of the Good Samaritan told in Luke. (2) It is a story in which Jesus chooses the most foreign of outsiders to play the hero so that He can ask the question about who one’s neighbor really is. It is a story that demands that we see beyond the boundaries of time and place, just as Jesus reached across boundaries of time and place. It requires that we get close, so close that we are asked to share and take responsibility for each other’s pain and struggle.

    And that is the problem when the neighborhood in which we live expands beyond the traditional boundaries. We are all human and what we are asked to do involves relationships that are often difficult to establish, let alone accept. Yet, the payoff for such a relationship is often very significant. It leads to a better understanding of the human condition; it helps us better understand ourselves.

    Everything about who we are in the United States today works against this radical nature of “neighbor.” If we choose to practice the kind of radical hospitality that Jesus insists upon in the story of the Good Samaritan, we will at best be called idealistic and naïve; it is even possible that we will be told that we are traitors, supporters of terrorism, and unpatriotic. It is clear, however, that there has never been a more important time to redefine “neighbor” using Gospel values.

    In the end, answering the question “Who is my neighbor?” hinges on allegiance. To whom do I owe care and concern? Whom will I invite into my community? How far will I go in my notion of a church that follows Jesus Christ into the world to seek out neighbors like the man who was left beaten for dead beside the road? (3)

    The Old Testament readings for the next two weeks come from the Book of Ruth. This is important because it establishes the line that will lead to David and thus to the birth of Christ. But for today, it is a matter of neighborhoods and who is one’s neighbor that is the focus of today’s reading. (4)

    We read of Elimelech and his family moving from Bethlehem to Moab because of a famine in the land and the problems that his family faced. The major problem was that Naomi and her daughters-in-law were widows. In the culture of that day, a widow had to depend on her husband’s family for support. This is what precipitates Naomi moving back to Bethlehem and encouraging Orpah and Ruth to go their own ways. Elimelech’s family in Bethlehem can take care of Naomi but there is no one who can take care of Orpah or Ruth. And since Naomi has no other sons and, as she points out, she is not likely to have any more sons who can care after Orpah or Ruth, she encourages them both to seek new lives on their own. These are the rules of the neighborhood and, at that time, universally the same among the various societies of the Middle East.

    While Orpah accepts the decision and returns to her own homeland, Ruth declines. Rather than go to her neighborhood, Ruth goes into a new neighborhood. Just as Abraham forsake his family and his homeland in response to God’s command in Genesis 12: 1 and 12: 4, so too does Ruth move into a new neighborhood. It is not that Ruth is necessarily defying society but rather that, in accepting the God of Israel as her God, the definition of a new neighborhood is formed. All those who follow God are part of the neighborhood regardless of whom they are or where they live. The writer of Hebrews makes the same point when he points out that Christ made the one sacrifice for all. (5)

    The writer of Hebrews also commands us, the readers of the word today, to free their conscience from the regulations of Mosaic Law and turn to Christ for cleansing. Those who do so truly serve the Living God and not dead works.

    We are reminded of the neighborhood in which we live through the Communion that we celebrate today. As a Lay Speaker, I do not possess the ecclesiastical authority to sanctify the communion. In other words, I cannot do communion on my own. Without an elder in the church to sanctify the elements and I could not bring them here for the celebration. That is what has happened today. Reverend Evelyn McDonald of Grace United Methodist Church has blessed these elements at the first service at Grace this morning, thus allowing us to celebrate communion just as Grace Church is celebrating communion this morning.

    Because our neighborhood does not end at the boundaries of Dover Plains but extends beyond, it is possible for us to celebrate communion. We are members of the United Methodist Church, which means our neighborhood extends beyond the boundary of Dutchess County and the Hudson River. It is a neighborhood without boundaries.

    While travel from one country to another often requires a passport or some other official documentation, our neighborhood is one that is open to all who accept Jesus Christ in their hearts. We do not ask nor do we make demands on those who come to our table in terms of who they are or where they live or what they believe. Those who come to this table this morning must make the declaration of belief in their hearts and they must answer the questions that Christ puts before them.

    As we come to the table this morning, we are reminded that Christ was the one who broke free from the ghetto of religious law and cultic regularity in which the faith of that time was so imprisoned. He did so in order to be free for the needs of the outcast, the hopeless, and the helpless. Christ warned us that we must be free to respond to the unexpected need that we may find by the roadside.

    Instead of building walls that close in our neighborhood, we are encouraged to tear down the walls that keep others out. If we live in a world where the light of Christ is kept inside the safe boundaries of our neighborhood, it can never be seen. But when we respond to Christ’s call, when we take the light of Christ beyond the walls of the neighborhood, the light is seen by all.

    Through Christ, the neighborhood was changed and became open to the world. Our call today is to witness the openness of God’s kingdom for all who seek entrance; our call today is to say that all are our neighbors, from the person that lives next door to the person that lives on the other side of the globe. Many of us have heard the famous statement made by John Wesley, “the world is my parish.” Wesley wrote it in response to criticism that he was not staying within parish boundaries or in church but was preaching the Gospel to anyone, anywhere who would listen. Interestingly, Wesley’s bold claim was a response to an attack upon the early Methodists for not toeing the line with regard to how things had always been done in Anglicanism. Smudged coal miners were not welcome in proper churches of Wesley’s day. Yet there is where Wesley felt the need to be. Just as Wesley saw the world as his neighborhood, so too should we.

    Instead of being the one who asks “Who is my neighbor?” we are the ones being asked the same question. Shall we build walls that keep others out or shall we be the ones who see all as our neighbors?

    (1) Mark 12: 28 -34

    (2) Luke 10:25 – 37

    (3) Adapted from “Who Is My Neighbor? Reflections on Our Changing Neighborhood in the Global Economy” by Rick Ufford-Chase in Getting the Message – Challenging the Christian Right from the Heart of the Gospel (Rev. Peter Laarman, Editor) 

    (4) Ruth 1: 1 – 18

    (5) Hebrews 9: 12