Our Gifts

Here are my thoughts for the 1st Sunday in Lent.
Normally, during the season of Lent, we tend to give something up. The problem with is that when Lent is over, we too often take back what we gave up.

How many of us would say that we are giving up chocolate for Lent, knowing that the last bit that we took on Shrove Tuesday was the last bit we would ever eat? How many of us are willing to curtail our watching of television to one hour a day if our favorite college basketball team plays in a tournament.

If we are going to give up something for Lent, then we should really give it up and not take it back when the season of Lent is over. That would definitely be a challenge.

Are we really ready to give up something? Since we are probably going to take back that which we gave up for Lent, why not simply focus on what we have and work with the gifts and abilities that we have. Would it not be better to look at whom we are and what we have, and begin focusing on using what we have, our gifts and our talents, to make this world a better place?

That is the great challenge before us. Think about it. Each of us has been given some gift, some talent. But what are our gifts? What gifts has God given us that we may use them in this world? Paul wrote,

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teachers, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (1)

Do we use these gifts to bring people together or do we use them to keep people apart, choosing to exalt our own abilities above others? In perhaps his most famous chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, Paul wrote:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (2)

If we use the gifts that we have given that only benefit ourselves, then the gifts are useless. We must begin looking at new ways to utilize our gifts and our talents. The time of Lent is a time of repentance, to give up the old ways and seek the new. The time of Lent is a time of preparation, of preparing to accept the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

Part of the reason that Jesus went into the wilderness for those forty days was so that He could prepare for the ministry. In facing the devil and all the temptations that were put before Him, Jesus had to decide what path His ministry would take. For one thing, Jesus did not need the devil to remind Him of the powers that He held. Jesus fully knew that if He did have everything the devil suggested He would have compromised the very essence of His ministry.

By resisting the devil, Jesus showed that his allegiance was to God. He also showed that he would not operate independent of God. If Jesus had turned the stones in bread, as the devil suggested, then he would have shown a lack of dependence on the Father. Finally, if Jesus were to have taken the devils offer of all the kingdoms of the world, he would have taken the “easy way” to power but to do so would involve a detour around the Cross. And the Cross was always the goal.

Jesus knew what was ahead of Him; he knew what He had been given and He knew what he had to do in return. The result of Jesus’ ministry some two thousand years ago is the gift of freedom from sin and death, a gift of everlasting life. But with this gift comes the responsibility to help others receive that same gift.

May it is time that we did something. Paul pointed out that what we say with our lips would be what is in our hearts. If we believe that Jesus died to save us, if we believe that Jesus is our Savior, that is what we will say and what we will do. Truthfully, the gift was given without expectation and without any requirements. But, if we are to accept that gift in the spirit that it was given, we must help others to find that gift as well.

In today’s world, we have developed the attitude of getting something for nothing. Such an attitude mocks the Old Testament reading (3) for today as we try to manipulate both the giving and the receiving. We seek ways to get something for nothing or desire to have someone else do the work that we should undertake. The attitude of something for nothing is in direct conflict with biblical tradition of giving and receiving.

In the Old Testament reading for today, Moses instructed the Israelites on their responsibilities for having gotten the Promised Land from God. The Israelites had received the beautiful gift of land, the end result of many generations of patient waiting. The promise had finally come true and the people were ready to receive this most precious gift from God. But in this time of receiving, Moses took time to instruct them as to their response for receiving the gift.

This is a historical moment in the lives of God’s people as they lay claim to God’s promise. They represent a long history of generations that kept alive the idea of the Promised Land. This passage makes it clear that God’s gifts to us are received only when we respond and acknowledge such giving through our own sense of gratitude, symbolized by the sharing of the first fruits. It is not enough just to have the gift given; such giving demands some kind of response from us that we have received the gift with appreciation and joy.

God, through Moses, wanted those receiving the gift of the Promised Land to understand that an exchange between God and mankind was and is a sacred moment. Such an event in people’s lives demands a response of thanksgiving, joy, celebration, and a very sense of power of receiving the gift. To receive a gift and then do nothing demeans the gift, the giver of the gift, and certainly the one for whom the gift was given. The sharing of first fruits as a remembrance of the history of the sacred relationship to past generations centering on this promise of God is a most appropriate response by the people as a way of expressing joy, thanks, as well as responsibility, for this most cherished gift of land.

This is a time when our faith is tested. We see all sorts of temptations around us, temptations that lead us to abandon our faith. Like Jesus in the wilderness, we see chances to seemingly better ourselves. But these chances destroy our hopes of reconciliation with God. I fear that if we choose to use our gifts to protect or comfort ourselves, then we will not come closer to God but further away. I say this because I think this is the message many churches present today. It is a message of false hope that is designed to make one feel good but does little more.

If we respond to violence in this world with violence (and we most certainly have the talent and ability to do so), then violence will never go away. If we meet tyranny and oppression with tyranny and oppression (and we have), then there will always be tyranny and oppression. We may speak of loving our brothers and sisters here on earth but if we exclude some or mistreat others; if we treat others with disrespect, then racism and prejudice will never disappear.

Paul said that there was no distinction between Jew and Greek. All who believe shall be saved. But we still treat many people as second class citizens. And churches still exclude people from their services because of their race, their creed, their social standing, and their beliefs. So how can we say that we are using God’s gifts?

Too often, people turn away from the church because they don’t see the rewards that are offered. People are told that they will go to hell if they do not believe in Christ; that their life of sin will lead them only to death. But that is redundant; for a life in sin is a life in death and has no rewards. We should be telling people that a life in Christ is free from sin; that there is a greater reward beyond this earthly home. Ours should be a celebration of life, of community, knowing that there are responsibilities, the rewards are even greater.

We have been given many gifts. And now we are asked what we intend on doing with those gifts. Just as Jesus in the wilderness had to face the temptations that came with choosing between Satan and God, so too do we have to make the same choice. Will our gifts be used to further our goals or will our gifts be used to further God’s goals in this world?
(1) Romans 12: 6 – 8
(2) 1 Corinthians 13: 1 – 3
(3) Deuteronomy 26: 1 – 11

Congratulations are in order

For the past few years, I have received a newsletter called Connections from Barbara Wendland. Barbara writes as a member of the laity and offers her insight into the nature of today’s United Methodist Church. If innovation truly comes from the bottom up, then Barbara is one of the great innovators in the United Methodist Church today.

And I am not the only one to think this is true. She included the following note with the February issue of Connections and has allowed me to include in this little posting.

On March 9 and 10 I will be speaking at the annual Perkins Theological School for the Laity, a program of Perkins School of Theology (a United Methodist seminary, which is part of Southern Methodist University), in Dallas, Texas, on the S.M.U. campus. My talks will be part of a joint presentation with Dr. Joerg Rieger, a Perkins professor of systematic theology.

At a luncheon on Friday, March 9, I will speak about what I wrote in the December 2005 Connections-the responses to my having admitted I was often dismayed by worship services-and Dr. Rieger will speak about seeing similar reactions in many parts of the world, revealing what he calls “faithful Christians who can’t stand the church any more.”

In a Saturday, March 10, workshop, we and attendees will discuss different understandings of what being a Christian means, and the many different images of God-some mutually exclusive-that we hear regularly in church and in conversations with Christians. At a March 10 luncheon I will receive the annual laity award given by Perkins.

If you like to think about your beliefs, I think you’d enjoy these events as well as the other classes and talks that this program includes. For full information and registration, phone Perkins at 1-888-843-6564, ext. 4, or 214-768-2124, or see this web site-
Those of you in Dallas area should try to attend these meetings. I think that they will have an impact on your life.
If you are not a current subscriber to Connections, then I strongly suggest that you visit Barbara’s website and begin subscribing.

Encountering God

I am preaching at Dover United Methodist Church again this morning. Here are my thoughts for Transfiguration Sunday.
By now you know that I am a Southern boy. As the saying goes, I am Southern born and Southern bred and when I die, I will be Southern dead. But this doesn’t mean that I am a “good ole boy” or that I hold to what some might say are the traditional Southern ways of life. Long ago, I dissociated myself from such Southern ways.

Like Molly Ivins, the noted political commentator from Texas who died recently, and Clarence Jordan, whose versions of the Epistle and Gospel readings were used this morning, I saw the hypocrisy of the many who sang “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red or yellow, black or white, they are precious in his sight” on Sunday morning and worked the rest of the week to insure that the inequality of race and economic status remained the status quo.

I suppose that there are some who will view me a little different because I say I am Southern or because I talk with a different sort of accent. There are preconceived notions about what a Southerner is and does, just as there are preconceived notions in the South about New York and the North. But what I have concluded is that it is easier for me to say that I am a Southerner than it is for me to say that I am a Christian. And, if I should proclaim today that I am an Evangelical Christian, then one can only imagine the sorrow that will befall me. Today, if you say that you are an evangelical Christian today, you invite people to say that you are a ‘bigot’, ‘a homophobe’, ‘male chauvinist’, or a ‘reactionary’. But the same people who describe Evangelical Christians in those terms also describe Jesus as ‘caring, understanding, forgiving, kind, and sympathetic.” (1) This is a troubling dichotomy. It threatens the very nature of Christianity.

It speaks to our own personal encounter with God through Christ and how we relate that encounter to the people around us. So let me set the record straight in that regard. I am most emphatically an Evangelical Christian. I was baptized an Evangelical; I was confirmed an Evangelical; and I believe that I am an Evangelical Christian today.

By that I mean that I am committed to a strong global mission to share my Christian faith will all other people without prejudice or discrimination. I do this by either my own personal witness or by supporting others through my tithes, offering, or gifts. This belief is supported by Random House Dictionary of the English Language which says that an Evangelical “belongs to a Christian church that emphasizes the teachings and authority of the scriptures, especially of the New Testament, in opposition to the institutional authority of the church itself and stresses as paramount the tenet that salvation is achieved by personal conversion to faith in the atonement of Christ. It is interesting to note that an alternative definition indicates that evangelicals eschew or avoid the designation of fundamentalism. (2)

Yet, if you were to ask someone today, they would probably say that an evangelical is a fundamentalist. Jimmy Carter stated in his 2002 Nobel speech in Oslo, Norway, “the present era is a challenging and disturbing time for those whose lives are shaped by religious faith based on kindness towards each other.” President Carter further expanded on this statement by saying,

There is a remarkable trend toward fundamentalism in all religions — including the different denominations of Christianity as well as Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam. Increasing, true believers are inclined to begin a process of deciding: ‘Since I am aligned with God, I am superior and my beliefs should prevail, and anyone who disagrees with me is inherently wrong,’ and the next step is ‘inherently inferior.’ The ultimate step is ‘subhuman’, and then their lives are not significant.

He went on to describe how he felt that fundamentalists had distorted the vision of Christ in the world and the nature of Christianity. He noted that fundamentalism could be characterized by three words: rigidity, domination, and exclusion. (2)

These words are hardly the characteristics of Christ. Did not Christ seek to serve, not dominate? Did Christ allow all to come to him, not prevent them? How many times did Christ have to reprimand His disciples or the public authorities when they prevented people from coming to Him? How many times did Christ reprimand authorities who enforced the letter of the law without holding to the spirit of the law?

To be an evangelical Christian is to be one who takes the Gospel message out into the world. It means telling a message that brings hope to the poor; it means telling a message and taking action that will clothe the naked and feed the hungry; it is a message that gives a voice to the oppressed that are without a voice. It is also a message that speaks of the personal relationship with God that can be obtained through Jesus Christ. But it is not about forcing a message of any kind down the throats of others. It is not a message which excludes people because of their race, economic status, or lifestyle.

But the message of the Gospel is in danger of being lost to the voices and powers of fundamentalism. Our own denomination is threatened by these voices, who seek to bring in a rigidity and formalism far beyond the rigidity and formalism of John Wesley.

It appears that Christianity in America is a different sort of religion from what it was meant to be. It is one in which people can live their own lives, not one in which they seek the one given to us by Christ. The noted Baptist minister, Tony Campolo, noted that

… the last place where I can really quote Jesus these days is in American churches. They don’t want to hear ‘overcome evil with good.’ They don’t want to hear ‘those who live by the sword die by the sword.’ They don’t want to hear ‘if your enemy hurts you, do good, feed, clothe, minister to him.’ They don’t want to hear ‘blessed are the merciful.’ They don’t want to hear ‘love your enemies.’ (3)

I believe this is happening because most people today do not want to face God. As the people of the Old Testament reading for today (4) did, they want to see God through a veil, not directly. They are quite willing to let others tell them what to think and believe when it comes to having a personal relationship with God.

It was that personal relationship with God that caused Moses’ face to glow after every meeting he had with God. It is the same glow that surrounded Christ on the mountaintop in the Gospel reading for today (5). But there is a difference in the two situations.
As Paul explains in the Epistle reading for today (6), through Christ the veil has been removed. We are able to encounter God freely and without difficulty. Paul makes the point that the veil over Moses’ face hardened the minds of those who listened to him. They were so afraid of that glow that they would not listen to what he was saying.

But when Christ came the veil is lifted and, with the veil lifted, we are able to hear and understand. And, again as Paul wrote, we are able to see the glory of the Lord just as Peter, James, and John did and we are transformed. And through this transformation, through our own encounter with God, we able to take the Gospel message out into the world. Our encounter with God through Christ makes all the difference. We must realize that through Christ, we are able to do many things. Though many people today want Jesus to do the work for them, we must realize that we are now responsible to do His work.

When Jesus and the three disciples came down from the mountaintop, they encountered a father with a sick son. The father was distraught because the other disciples, despite all that Jesus had said to them and with the abilities that He had given them, were not able to heal the young boy. It wasn’t that they couldn’t do it; rather, it was that they were afraid to do it. Jesus’ rebuke in the final paragraph of today’s Gospel reading came because the disciples were unwilling to take the next step, not in their inability or lack of skill.

Our encounter with God through Christ changes things. Now, we are the instruments of His peace; we are the ones who must take the Gospel message out into the world.

We live in a world that needs to hear the true words of Christ. We live in a world that needs to encounter God as He truly is, not as some have said He will be or was. The God who sent His Son to this world did so because He loved us; He would not send a Son to set us apart and exclude others because of who they are or where they believe. It is not the color of one’s skin or the nature of one’s life that brings one to God’s Kingdom; it is the openness of the heart and the willingness to accept Jesus Christ as one’s personal Savior.

We hold communion today as a reminder that Christ is there for all who seek Him. Our table is open to all whose hearts are open and freely confess of their sins. I have observed pastors turn people away from the communion table, either because they were not members of the church or because they could not answer certain questions that would show their true belief. Communion is that time when you eat with Christ and when you encounter God. It should be an open table, open to all, not just those who know the “right answers” or belong to the right church. So it is that our table is open to all who seek the Lord.

We remember that Jesus open the doors of His ministry to all who came to Him. So too do we open the doors of our ministry so that all who seek Him will find Him. We have encountered God today; now we must help others to do the same.

We must remember what God told Peter, James, and John that day so many years ago on the mountaintop, “Listen to my son and do what He tells you.” We remember that Jesus spoke of healing the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the afflicted and freeing the oppressed.
(1) Adapted from Speaking My Mind by Tony Campolo
(2) Adapted from “Our Endangered Values” by Jimmy Carter
(3) Tony Campolo as quoted in Christian Week magazine and reported in SojoMail for 9/10/03
(4) Exodus 34: 29 – 35
(5) Luke 9: 28 – 36 (37 – 43a)
(6) 2 Corinthians 3: 12 – 4: 2

A Brief Discourse

These are my thoughts for the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany
A number of years ago I purchased the book “The Passover Plot” by Hugh J. Schonfield. I bought it because it seemed interesting and it was cheap (the latter reason was just as important a basis for buying it as was the first reason). I was in graduate school, attempting to complete a Master’s Degree in Chemistry and I was having a hard time doing it and with my life. Neither my faith nor my belief was strong. I don’t know if I bought the book thinking that it would help solve this quandary.

But, after reading it, I came to the conclusion that there was a Christ and that He died for my sins. Now, for those who are not familiar with this work, it is an attempt to disprove or discredit the Resurrection story. The essence of the story is that Jesus planned the whole event and worked out a way to fake his death on the cross. But the plot was messed up when the Roman soldier stuck his spear in the side of Jesus (1) and Jesus died before the other conspirators could complete the plot (the story of this sword is another interesting story).

The book was written by a skeptic seeking to disprove the nature of the Crucifixion. But after reading it, I was the skeptical one. Even some thirty years later, I am still a skeptic when one suggests that the Crucifixion was a plot. If science theory has taught me one thing, it is that the more complicated an explanation is, the more likely it is to be false. On the other hand, the simplest explanations are often the best explanations.

And the simplest explanation is that Jesus is, was, and will always be the Son of God and He died on the Cross so that I may live free from sin and death.

When it came out, I bought “The DaVinci Code” because it was intriguing (though most definitely not cheap). And, then I bought the book “Holy Blood, Holy Grail”, the work from which the “DaVinci Code” was based. Buried in this second book was a reference to that very book that started this discourse, “The Passover Plot.” It would seem that conspiracy theories never change, just reappear from time to time.

Since at least two of the documents upon which the “DaVinci Code” and “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” are based have been proved to be forgeries from the mid-1950’s, the whole concept of this conspiracy would seem to be false as well. Yet, it won’t go away.

And we are back to Paul’s words to the Corinthians for today (2). If the crucifixion is not true, then our faith is in vain. And if our faith is in vain, there isn’t much to hope for in this life. That is the problem today.

Too many people are willing to seek what seems to be an easy explanation, such as there is no God, Jesus was not the Messiah, and there is no hope after death. Some would say that it is much easier to put your faith in what you see and the evidence around you. It is much easier to preach a Gospel of wealth and fame than one that only offers hope. And the skeptics who hear the preachers extol the prosperity gospel cry out fraud and phony and suggest that it only offers more proof that there is no God. The skeptics cry out that it would be much, much easier to simply trust in the empirical evidence.

Now, I will agree that those who preach a gospel that offers wealth and fame to the righteous are frauds and phony. But their distortions of the Gospel message do not mean that there is no God. The fact that so many people over the last two thousand years have come to believe in Christ as Lord and Savior should say that there is proof of a God.

Yes, you cannot necessarily prove by empirical reasoning that there is a God. But that is why we have faith. Faith is never a substitute for logic and reason. Nor is logic or reason ever substitutes for faith. The two work together.

Those who would seek to substitute logic or empirical reasoning for faith must be aware of what Nehemiah was saying (3). If you put your trust in the world around you, you will be like a plant in the middle of a dry desert. Without the Living Water found through God, you will wither and die. And Jesus, in the Gospel reading for today (4) , points out that those who seek riches and glory now will be lacking when the time comes to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

A life without faith is an incomplete life. It is incomplete because our society encourages material well-being above spiritual well-being. It encourages the accumulation of wealth for one’s own purposes above the carrying for others. But the Gospel message speaks of what is to come, not what is now. And the Gospel message speaks of others before self. The Old Testament and Gospel readings for today tell us that those who seek first for themselves will be lacking when they are called to account for what they have done on earth.

Is there a God? Yes, there is a God. We see his presence in our lives through the beauty of the earth and sky and the wonders that come with such beauty. We also see God calling out to us to answer the call to help the sick, the needy and the oppressed. We know that Jesus came as His Son and as our Savior.

Jesus came to towns and villages through Galilee without announcement. Yet there were huge crowds waiting because they had heard what He could do. And they came knowing of the promise of hope that Jesus offered.

The same is true today. If the Crucifixion were false, then all that we believe is false and two thousand years of history is false. Our hope is also false. But the crucifixion was not false and our hope is not false. What we must do is make sure that people see, by our actions, by our words, by our thoughts, and by our deeds that no only is the Crucifixion not false but that Christ is still alive.

Those who proclaim a false gospel may have large crowds but when the truth of their message becomes clear, they will be the ones quickly left behind. Those who claim that there is no God will be lacking when their false system of belief cannot offer them hope and strength in time of need.

But for the false message to fail, the true message must be shown. How do you show your faith and belief? How do you show that Christ is alive in you? Do you live your life in accordance with the Gospel so that others may see the living Christ?

This is a discourse that may be brief but never ends. Each day is another day to show by thought, word, and deed that Christ is alive.
(1) John 19: 34
(2) 1 Corinthians 15: 12 – 20
(3) Jeremiah 17: 5 – 10
(4) Luke 6: 17 – 26

Thoughts for Scout Sunday

Today is Boy Scout Sunday and something of an anniversary for me. It was on this Sunday in 1965 that I took my first public steps in a lay ministry that has brought me to this time and place.

In September, 1964, Gary Smith, Don Fisher, and I began a course of study with Reverend George Edie that would lead to the God and Country award in Scouting and our confirmation as members of the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church of Aurora, Colorado (now the 1st United Methodist Church of Aurora).

On most Sundays, the three of us served as acolytes for the two morning services. When our troops (Gary and I were in the troop sponsored by the church; Don belonged to another troop) went camping, we prepared Sunday morning devotionals. But on this Sunday we assisted Reverend Edie with the entire service (letting other members of our troops serve as the acolytes). Thus it was that I began my journey with Christ and for Christ.

In May, 1965, we completed the course of study and received our God and Country awards and were confirmed as members in full connection. But, more importantly, through our examples of service and study, our thoughts, words, and deeds, ten other scouts heard the call that we had heard and they began their own study.

Who? Me!

This is a little late but here are my thoughts for last Sunday, the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany.
Last week’s demonstrations against the war in Iraq were somewhat reminiscent of the demonstrations against the war in Viet Nam some forty years ago. It almost seemed as if the same people who spoke out against the war in Viet Nam were there speaking out against the war in Iraq.

Of course, that wasn’t the case. While there were some for the days long past who spoke out, for the most part the organizers and speakers this time were new. It would have been nice if they had offered something new to the proceedings. It just seemed to me that there was no energy in the protests. It was almost as if someone had said that we need to protest because it is time for another protest.

Those who have read my writings know that I am opposed to war. I became opposed to the war in Viet Nam and I have been opposed to this war in Iraq from the beginning. But I have also stated that we need to offer a different vision. The present “war on terrorism” does nothing to end the causes the lead to terrorism. All it does is confirm that terrorism will be present any time violence is used as a response.

I think that the reason for the difference lies in the involvement. Back then, protesting the war in Viet Nam was also a protest against the draft and the inequity of such a system. Today, there is no draft so there is no threat to many individuals. Now, let me make it clear – I am not calling for a draft!

If we reinstated the draft, people would do like they did back then and find the loopholes that would allow them to avoid service. The draft was inequitable then and it would be inequitable now; so let us not have a discussion on reinstating the draft.

But let us have a talk; let us discuss; let us call for a new vision on how to deal with terrorism. Let us work to eliminate poverty and sickness; let us work to reduce and eliminate oppression; let us finally give hope to the hopeless and more than a promise that tomorrow will be better than today. It is almost as if God were calling to us today, just as He called Isaiah in the Old Testament reading for today (1), “Whom shall I send? Who will go for me?”

Are you the one God is calling today? Are you the one who is hearing God’s call to go and take the Gospel message with you? Are you afraid that you do not have the skills or the abilities that might be needed? Note what happened in the Gospel reading for today. (2) Christ did not call Peter, Andrew, James, or John to be his disciples without first teaching them and then showing them.

It is time that we hear the word of God as it is spoken, not as we would like it spoken. No longer should the message be about one’s self but rather about what we can be for others. Isaiah’s message was given to the overtly religious and arrogant but they chose not to listen or look at what was happening. And in the end, they were the ones who lost everything.

There are those today who say that all the troubles of the world are because of our sinful life but instead of working to remove sin, they seek to find blame. Those who find blame with others are the people who God said would hear but not listen; those who find blame with others are the people who look but not see; those who find blame are the people who cannot think.

Paul makes the note in his letter to the Corinthians for today (3) that he was not worthy of God’s grace. The grace of God is given without reservation by God so we cannot determine who will receive it. Therefore, we cannot blame others if we see the world around falling apart or crashing down in flames. But we can work to make this a better world, a world in which oppression is removed, where sickness is minimized, where the homeless have shelter, where the hungry are fed, and where those without hope are given hope and a chance for a better life.

Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s I thought I heard a saying. At first, I thought it was a statement from the Civil Rights movement; “If not me, who? If not now, when?” It appears that this statement has been around a lot longer than I thought. But whenever it was and who ever said it is not as important as is the fact that it is the question we must ask ourselves today.

It is noted that when Jesus asked Peter, Andrews, James and John to follow Him and become fishers of men, they left everything and did just that. No consultation with anyone, no questions asked as to where they were going; they just left everything and followed Him.

When God said to Noah, “I want you to build me an ark” Noah did not check his calendar to see if he was available to do so? He did not ask God to postpone the flood because he, Noah, wouldn’t be available? He did not even question whether it was possible for it to rain forty days and nights when he lived in an area that only received one inch of rain a year. We don’t know what Noah’s initial response was but we do know that he did what God asked him to do.

Moses was chosen by God to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land; but what did he do? He asked God to select someone else; “Who, me Lord? Can’t you find someone else?” God did not let Moses off the hook but He did give him some help in the form of his brother Aaron.

It isn’t that we don’t hear God speaking to us, but that we often don’t know that He is. When Samuel was young, he heard God calling to him but he did not know that it was God.

“the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down within the temple of the Lord, where the Ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ He said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. And the Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears.’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came and stood forth, calling as at other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for thy servant hears.’” (4)

But, Eli understood and provided Samuel with the necessary guidance. There have been others who have heard God speaking but, without guidance, could not respond. Many others have probably never heard the voice of God. Because of this, God sent His Son.

So it is for us today. We hear God calling to us; we have heard the message from Christ showing us the way. So what are we going to do? The questions are simple ones. God asks who shall go and we respond by saying “we shall go.” God asks when we shall go and we answer “today.”
(1) Isaiah 6: 1 – 6 (9 – 13)
(2) Luke 5: 1 – 11
(3) 1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 11
(4) 1 Samuel 3: 3 – 12

Three Women of Texas

Those who have read my “stuff” know that I am a Southern boy, with roots deep in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. But for two periods of my life, I lived in Texas (1956 to 1961 and 1989 to 1991). I don’t remember much about Texas from that first period and I cannot forget the last period of my life.

Explaining Texas is an interesting task. You cannot explain Texas to people from Texas because they already know everything about Texas (or think they do). And many people who have never been to Texas would certainly never believe what you might tell them. So explaining Texas is an interesting and almost impossible task. But I am going to try.

My first try in explaining Texas is to point out that it is in fact a big state. There are parts of the state where you can drive for over 300 miles in any direction and still be in the state of Texas. The weather in east Texas has no relationship to the weather in west Texas. And when serious ornithologists (bird watchers to others) needed a book for Texas, the Texas Game and Fish Commission had to commission Roger Tory Peterson to prepare a book. The books that might work in other states are not sufficient to cover the state of Texas.

But the one thing that I cannot do is explain the people of Texas. It is not because it is impossible but because you would not believe me if I tried. So, instead of explaining the people of Texas, I am going to tell you about three women of Texas.

The first of the three women that describe Texas to me is Barbara Jordan, former Representative from Texas. I never met Ms. Jordan but I heard her, as did many people, during the Nixon impeachment hearings back in the mid 1970’s. Her presence and the power of her soul were felt by many. It has been said that when she spoke it was like the voice of God. As a black woman, she endured discrimination on two fronts, as a black person and as a woman. But her personal perseverance, her integrity, and her intellect showed through the hatred and ignorance of many of those around her.

The night she spoke to the Congress in favor of impeaching Richard Nixon was also the last night of the Texas State legislature session. When she began speaking, the entire political business of the state of Texas came to a halt as all those in Austin who had worked with this elegant lady when she was a member of that same body watched her show the nation what she was made of. It is said that the legislature all stood and cheered that day as though they were watching the University of Texas beat Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.

When I lived in Odessa, Texas, during my second Texas period, two elementary schools in the area were named after prominent women of Texas named Barbara. The elementary school in Midland, Texas (the more affluent town in the Permian Basin portion of West Texas), was named after Barbara Bush, the wife of the first President Bush and former resident of Midland.

The elementary school in Odessa, Texas (where all those who work for the companies owned by the people who live in Midland live), was named after Barbara Jordan. This was done even though Barbara Jordan was from Houston. It says a lot about Texas. Barbara Jordan died in 1996 and she is missed.

The second woman of Texas was Governor Ann Richards. Governor Richards was elected governor in 1990 and served from 1991 to 1995. She was replaced, only in a political sense, by the current President Bush. I left Texas shortly after she became Governor so I cannot speak to her governance of the state. But I did get a chance to vote for her and that is what I did. It wasn’t that she was funny (she was but don’t ask either President Bush; it has been said by some that the reason that the son ran for Governor is because he was upset at what she had said about his father during the Democratic National Convention one year). It wasn’t that she was smart though she was. She knew people and she worked with them to get the best out of them. In a state where the Governor is not the most powerful politician (there are least five others who have more power than the Governor), she got the state headed in the right direction. Her successor and his successor have done a lot to turn the state backwards.

There is one story that speaks about the personality of this wonderful woman.

At a long-ago political do at Scholz Garten in Austin, everybody who was anybody was there meetin’ and greetin’ at a furious pace. A group of us got the tired feet and went to lean our butts against a table at the back wall of the bar. Perched like birds in a row were Bob Bullock, then state comptroller; moi; Charles Miles, the head of Bullock’s personnel department; and Ms. Ann Richards. Bullock, 20 years in Texas politics, knew every sorry, no good sumbitch in the entire state. Some old racist judge from East Texas came up to him: “Bob, my boy, how are you?”
Bullock said, “Judge, I’d like you to meet my friends: This is Molly Ivins with the Texas Observer.”
The judge peered up at me and said, “How yew, little lady?”
Bullock, “And this is Charles Miles, the head of my personnel department.” Miles, who is black, stuck out his hand, and the judge got an expression on his face as though he had just stepped into a fresh cowpie. He reached out and touched Charlie’s palm with one finger, while turning eagerly to the pretty, blond, blue-eyed Ann Richards. “And who is this lovely lady?”
Ann beamed and replied, “I am Mrs. Miles.”

That says a lot about the character and the nature of Ann Richards. Governor Richards died last September (September 13, 2006) and she will be missed.

The third woman of Texas is the one who told all the stories that no one, except those who have ever lived in Texas for an extended period of time, would ever believe, Molly Ivins.

I discovered Molly Ivins by chance many years ago and when I had the opportunity on September 11, 1995, to hear her speak, I grabbed the chance.

Molly Ivins was smart, she was funny, she was witty, and she was serious, often times at the same time. She spoke the truth; she was the one who pointed out that the emperor wore no clothes. She told you what she saw and many times if what she saw was wrong, she told you so. She was a political writer who politicians feared because they knew she would speak the truth, even when they were trying to hide the truth.

I should point out at this time that my stories about Barbara Jordan and the cheering of the Texas legislature and Ann Richards putting down a pompous, over-bearing Texas politician were written by Molly. Thanks, Molly!

I never got to meet Barbara Jordan; I never got to meet Ann Richards. But I did get the chance to meet Molly Ivins and it is a moment in time that I will never forget. That evening in 1995, the words that I had read gained a voice. And then, when I would read her later work, I could hear that voice calling us to do what is right, even when political expediency and cultural backgrounds say not to do so.

Molly Ivins died this week and like Barbara Jordan and Ann Richards, we have lost people who cannot be replaced. But, just as one cannot explain Texas, one shouldn’t try to replace someone like Barbara, Ann, or Molly. They have shown us the way and now it is up to us to walk that path and continue what they did, bringing hope to the little people and telling wanna-be emperors that they have no clothes.