Crossing The River

This is the message I presented at Tompkins Corners UMC on the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, November 3, 2002.  The Scriptures were Joshua 3: 7 – 17, 1 Thessalonians 2: 9 – 13, and Matthew 23: 1 – 12.


Last week I spoke of how the Hudson River at Beacon gives me a connection back to the Mississippi River. If there has been one constant in my life, it has been the Mississippi River. Though I grew up in many different parts of this country, it always seems like I return to “Old Man River.” Be it through my grandparents living less than five miles from the river in St. Louis, my going to school in northeast Missouri, my home in Memphis, or teaching positions in Illinois and Minnesota, it always seemed that the Mississippi River was somewhere in my own backyard.

And just like many other parts of this country, the Mississippi River of one section is radically different from other sections. In the north, from its headwaters in Itasca, Minnesota, to Minneapolis, the River is a narrow stream that one can walk across in the winter when the ice cover is thick and deep. In fact, when the river freezes over, it often freezes over all the way down to the Missouri and Illinois sections. When the Mormons living in Nauvoo, Illinois, were forced into the exile that would lead them to Utah, they crossed the frozen Mississippi in one of the coldest winters known.

Between Minneapolis and St. Louis, the river is dominated by the locks and dams built by the Army Corps of Engineers during the 1930’s and 1940’s to combat the floods that once were a plague and fixture of the farms along the river. Below St. Louis, the river is the one Samuel Clemens wrote about as Mark Twain. As it flows slowly down to New Orleans, it changes into the delta country that gave birth to the “Blues” that drifted north to Chicago and the sounds of jazz that came out of New Orleans. At New Orleans, the Mississippi turns into the alluvial flood plain spreading out into the Gulf of Mexico. At Memphis, the Mississippi is about three miles wide. On a good day in the summer, just like a good day in a Minnesota winter, you can walk across the river.

I can imagine how it must have felt to settlers traveling west when they first stood on the eastern banks of the Mississippi, looking at all that was on the western shore and wondering how they would get across. Those who sought commerce on the river were at the mercy of the river, able to only transport goods downstream and having to find ingenious ways to go upstream.

But when the technology of the time enabled them, they built engines to power the steamboats that gave birth to the stories of Mark Twain and later enabled them to build the bridges that crossed the river at St. Louis, Memphis, and Vicksburg.

The Israelites must have had the same feeling as they stood on the banks of the River Jordan, looking across its waters into the Promised Land. But rather than any particular technology, the Israelites had the Ark of the Covenant, the vessel in which they carried the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Hardly the secret weapon that Indiana Jones attempted to obtain, it was the physical embodiment of the Holy Spirit and represented the connection, the bridge, between God and the Israelites.

With the Ark preceding them into the river, just as Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea with his staff, the waters of the River Jordan parted and the tribes of Israel triumphantly entered the Promised Land, claiming the ancient homeland once again. It is important to note that in any battle the Israelite army entered into, if the Ark of the Covenant led them into battle, the army was undefeated. When they Israelite army was too proud and confident in its own abilities and left the Ark behind, they were defeated. The Ark of the Covenant served as a reminder of the connection that existed between the people of Israel and God.

I think this was one of the reasons for Jesus’ anger being directed at the Pharisees and leaders of Israel in the Gospel reading for today. Through their roles as leaders and guides, they served as the bridge, the connection between God and the people. Yet they were more interested in their own appearances than they were in keeping the connection open.

The breadth of their appearance was about as wide as the Mississippi is wide at the bridge crossing in Memphis. It’s just that the faith of the leaders was also just about as shallow. It is one thing to make an effort to show your righteousness but without action, such a show is meaningless.

Instead of being the connection, the bridge that the people needed, the leaders were more often barriers, keeping the people away from God through their rules and interpretations of the Law. And, in putting up barriers, they took away the initiative of the people to seek God. Each rule, each barrier pushed the people further and further from God. As they moved further from God, they became lost once again.

Jesus sought to be the bridge between the people and God, a task that many leaders had forgotten. We are constantly reminded in the Gospels that Jesus came to restore the connection between the people and God, to make it easier to close the gap that existed.

One might think that would be the end of it but we have seen over the years a repeat of that very situation, of leaders who put great importance in their own appearance and less in helping others to find and hold onto the connection with God. It was this “lukewarm” Christianity that Wesley so visibly hated; it was this reliance on show rather than on action that lead him to seek a better way.

Wesley was one to quickly point out that we are not perfect and that perfection is a very difficult, if not impossible, thing to obtain. But, having accepted Christ as our Savior, it is our duty to seek perfection through our actions. It is almost a necessity that we put into action what we say.

In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul pointed out that he continued to work as a tent maker in order to provide for his own well being and in order not to be a burden on his converts. His main point in the section of the letter that we read today is show that his ministry was motivated by a desire to spread the Gospel and not for any riches or glory that might come to him for his works. In the closing passage of this section of the letter, Paul points out that the work of the Thessalonians also served as a bridge to those lost in the secular world seeking to find solace and peace. Their work also served to contrast the love and grace of God to the legalism of the Jewish religion of the time.

There comes a time when we each face a river. Perhaps it a real river like the Mississippi or the Hudson, but more often it is a crisis in life that cannot be described in any physical dimension. We are reminded that in order to cross such a river we need assistance. Crossing the Mississippi proved to be easy for the early settlers of this country who first used flatboats or steamships and later bridges. But such bridges or means of crossing the river don’t help when it is the depths of our soul that must be crossed.

Then, our only hope can be found in the one who came to close that gap, Jesus Christ. Through him, we are promised access to God, to salvation and freedom from sin and death. And once we have crossed that river, once we have reached the other side, then it becomes a part of us to help us find their way across. We are reminded that our faith is not so much show but more a cause for action. That we, having taken on the job of being Christ’s servant in this world, must help others cross the river.

You Have To Get Your Feet Wet

This is the message I presented at Modena Memorial UMC on Reformation Sunday, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, October 31, 1999.  I exchanged pulpits that Sunday as their pastor was at Walker Valley UMC.  The Scriptures were Joshua 3: 7 – 17, 1 Thessalonians 2: 9 – 13, and Matthew 23: 1 – 12.


When I first read the Scriptures for today, I could not help but think of the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” In that movie, the first of the Indiana Jones movies, Indiana Jones takes on the task of finding the lost Ark of the Covenant and in the process fighting the Nazis for its possession. The Nazis wanted the Ark because they saw its usefulness as a weapon of war that would bring them victory. Now, there may be some truth to that because whenever the Israelite army went into battle with the Ark in front of them, they seldom lost the battle.

But it was not with the Ark used as a death ray as suggested in the movie. Rather, the Ark contained the tablets of stone upon which the Ten Commandments were carved. The Ark was the embodiment of God and when the Israelites followed God, they were an invincible army. It was only when the army failed to believe in God and trusted in the “magic” of the Ark, such as when they fought the Philistines in 1 Samuel 4 – 6 that they lost the battle and the Ark. However, the Philistines were stricken with such horrible plagues that they quickly returned the Ark to Israel.

In the Old Testament reading for today, the Israelites are about to cross the river Jordan into the Promised Land. God tells Joshua to pick twelve priests, one from every tribe of Israel to carry the Ark. When these twelve touch the waters of the river, the river will stop flowing and a path across the river will be made clear so that the nation of Israel can cross over on relatively dry land.

I grew up as a second-generation military brat, the son of an Air Force Major and the grandson of an Army Colonel. If I had been given the opportunity I would have jumped at the chance to attend the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. But my vision prevented that.

The primary function of the service academies is to prepare individuals to serve this country as its military leaders. As such, part of the training the cadets and midshipman received is designed so that they will understand that there are men and women who must ultimately carry out the orders that their leaders give.

The college where I did do my undergraduate studies is not far from the birthplace of Omar Bradley. It was said that Bradley was a soldier’s soldier, a general who understood that there were men who must carry out his orders. The soldiers liked General Bradley because he understood them.

And though I use a military analogy, the same is true in private industry. Good leaders in business today understand what they are asking their workers to do. That is the point of the Old Testament reading today; the leaders of Israel were the ones who got their feet wet so that the nation could walk across the river Jordan.

And I think that is part of the exasperation that Jesus must have felt in the Gospel reading for today concerning the leaders of society. They sat in positions of authority, accepting the accolades that went with the position but were not willing to get involved in the heavy work that went with leadership.

And we all now people in business or elsewhere who are like that. They like the trappings of power but make impossible demands on the workers or refuse to give the workers anything that will make the job easier. Companies with this type of structure find themselves quickly in trouble.

In the Epistle reading for today, Paul noted his conduct while he preached the Gospel in Thessalonica. He stated that though he was a messenger of God, that position gave him no special status or power. As the messenger, it is also important to note that he “urged and encouraged” rather than “demanded” that the Thessalonians lead a life of God.

The point expressed by Paul and Jesus in the Gospel reading is simply. If you wish the respect that comes with leadership, you must earn it; it does not simply come with the position. And my friends, this does not apply to just a select few among us who are the designated leaders. It applies to each and every one of us.

The challenges we face in today’s society are seemingly insurmountable. The divisions between us because of race, social status, or economic status will not go away because of who our leaders are now or who want to be our leaders. They will go away when we, as individuals guided by Christ, do His work. In the last of the Gospel reading for today, Jesus notes that there is only one teacher and one Messiah and we are all His students.

There is no way that we can call persons to Christ if we ignore what is going on in the world around us. John Wesley was not the first preacher to preach against the inequities of society in 18th century England. Other preachers did so as well but Wesley was perhaps the first preacher who called upon his parishioners, the founders of what is now our United Methodist Church, to take action.

Someone once asked me to define the differences between Methodism and other Christian denominations. Since all Christian denominations have in common the belief that by our faith in Christ, we are saved by the grace of God, what is it that makes us Methodists? Quite simply, for Methodists, the question is “Having been saved, what shall you do next?”

We can never be perfect and, even as saved individuals, we will never approach perfection. But that should not stop us from trying to reach perfection, of reaching a better state of grace. And that requires that we do, as John Wesley stated, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the time you can, to all the people you can and as long as you can.” (John Wesley quoted in the The 365-Day Devotional Commentary, p. 671)

Jesus pointed out in Matthew 23: 11 “The greatest among you will become servants” and in verse 12, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” If we are to be good leaders, we must first be good servants.

Our lives as Christians must be more than hearing the Gospel preached on Sunday. Auguste Sabetier wrote

Merely to reproduce his words is not to continue his work’ we must reproduce his life, passion and death. He desires to live again in each one of his disciples in order that he may continue to suffer, to bestow himself, and to labor in and through them towards the redemption of humanity, until all prodigal and lost children be found and brought back to their Father’s house. Thus it is that, instead of being removed far from human history, the life and death of Christ one more take their place in history, setting forth the law that governs it, and, by ceaselessly increasing the power of redemptive sacrifice, transform and govern it, and direct it towards its divine end. (From “The Atonement” by Auguste Sabetier as quoted in The Double Search by Rufus M. Jones)

If we are to be Christ’s disciples in this world, we must continue His work. Sometimes it feels like a hopeless cause and we desperately wish to have the Ark of the Covenant preceding us in battle, as it did for the Israelites as they took over the Promised Land. But no one knows where the Ark of the Covenant is today. At the conclusion of “The Raiders of the Lost Ark,” we see a government working putting the crate holding the Ark away in some obscure government warehouse. There is a legend among some Middle East Christian sects that the Ark is in a church somewhere in Ethiopia. But there is no sure way to determine if that is true or not.

Paul wrote the Thessalonians,

When you received the word of God, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in what you believe.

By our faith and acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior, God’s word takes on a newer meaning. The word of God is embodied in Christ and when we accepted him, it is as if the Word of God precedes us each day.

We stand on the banks of the river Jordan, looking across at the Promised Land. But to get there, we have to get our feet wet. We have to accept Christ as our Savior and we have to then let His presence in our lives show us the way that we must go. We cannot sit back and let others do it for us. The invitation to you today is that simple, shall you get your feet wet?

Who Shall Enter The Promised Land?

Here are my thoughts for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Deuteronomy 34: 1 – 12, 1 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 8, and Matthew 22: 34 – 46.


When looking at the Old Testament reading for this Sunday, my first temptation was not to do what I had done in the past (see “What’s Next” and “What Is the Promise?”). But after watching a show on the History Channel about Moses and the journey from Egypt to Mount Nebo, I had second thoughts.

In this particular show, one of the commentators mentioned that it was very difficult not think of Martin Luther King’s “Mountaintop Speech” any time you read of Moses standing on the slopes of Mount Nebo and looking over the Promised Land.

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. (

As readers of this blog should know by now, Memphis is my home and I was a senior in high school that spring. So it is only natural that I should think about Dr. King and the words he spoke the night before he was assassinated.

But during these times when the economy is so mixed up and there are those who see the makings of another Great Depression (which almost makes me wish I had kept the term paper I had written that spring on that moment in American History), perhaps we need to review just exactly why it was that Dr. King came to Memphis and what that fateful trip some forty years ago means for us today.

During a heavy rainstorm in Memphis on February 1, 1968, two black sanitation workers were crushed to death when the compactor mechanism of the trash truck was accidentally triggered. On the same day in a separate incident also related to the inclement weather, 22 black sewer workers had been sent home without pay while their white supervisors were retained for the day with pay. (

On February 12th 1,375 workers (mostly sanitation workers but with other Department of Public Works employees) went out on strike for job safety, better wages and benefits, and union recognition. At the time of the strike, workers were paid $1.70 per hour and were asking for $2.35 per hour; the city’s offer was a 5% (or 8-1/2 cents) raise.

Dr. King was invited to Memphis to aid in the effort to bring about reconciliation between the workers and the city as well as bring attention to the disparity between classes. It should be noted that not many people outside of Memphis were aware of this strike. When this strike began a similar strike by sanitation workers in New York City had just ended. Even the respected New York Times did not consider a similar strike in a town of just 500,000 people to be newsworthy. The city of Memphis was able to keep the problem below “crisis-level” and out of the public’s eye.

So it was that on April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before a gathering of strikers and supporters at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee and gave what has become known as his “Mountaintop” speech. This speech, which in part outlined the history of the civil rights struggle, concluded with the words that described what he saw as the future of this country.

Sadly, his vision that he would not complete the journey came true the next day and I have to wonder if, in the forty years since that day, we have decided that it is not worth the effort to complete the journey ourselves.

Interestingly enough, it has been forty years since Martin Luther King stood on his mountaintop and saw into the Promised Land of equality and freedom. For it was forty years between the time the people of Israel first saw their Promised Land and the time that they were allowed to enter it. Remember that the Israelites had the opportunity some forty years before the Old Testament reading but their fears and lack of faith in God kept them out.

In Chapter 2 of the Book of Numbers we read how they arrived at the edge of the Promised Land (verses 12 – 14) and sent spies into the land. In Chapter 13, the spies returned with their report that the land indeed flowed with milk and honey. But they also exaggerated the power of the people who lived in the land. While two of the spies (Caleb and Joshua) would report the truth and indicate that they could enter without difficulty, the others quickly supported the initial report.

In Numbers 14: 34, God punishes the people for their rebellion and lack of faith by having them continue their wandering for another forty years, one year for each of the forty days that the spies were in the land. Forty years of wandering as one generation died and another generation took its place. It has been forty years since Martin Luther King stood at the mountaintop and saw the Promised Land. It has been forty years but what do we see today?

No longer is it just a journey down the mountaintop and across the plains of Jordan to the Jordan River. For it seems that there is a chasm between where we stand on the mountaintop and the Promised Land; a chasm that once was a little crack but now appears to be a wide and impassable canyon.

In a report last Wednesday in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it was stated that the gap between the rich and poorer continues to increase. The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development indicated that the income for the top 10% continues to increase and is leaving the middle and lower classes behind as the incomes for those two groups stagnate. In the United States, the richest 10% earn an average of $93,000, while the poorest 10% earn an average of $5,800. The other point noted in this study (conducted over a twenty year period from 1985 to 2005) was that social mobility was lowest in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Italy. It also pointed out that the highest inequality and poverty were highest in the United States, Mexico, and Turkey. Finally, as other reports have noted, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened since 2000.

This report comes at a time when our political discussion is about whose taxes will be cut and whose will not; about whether money will be taken from the rich and given to the poor or whether those who have the most should be expected to pay a more equitable share.

It only seems fair that the rich and the powerful should be the ones to enter the Promised Land; after all, they have twisted and turned the words of the Bible to justify everything they have done, from destroying this planet’s environment to denying human rights to selected classes and groups of people. They have taken words of the Bible that call for fairness, equality, and concern for the less fortunate and turned them into words against fairness, equality, and concern.

I am not going to comment on the validity of the tax plans offered by either Senator Obama or Senator McCain; suffice to say which ever plan becomes the law of the land will have sufficient loopholes and considerations for special interests so that not much will be different from what it is now. But the words that we hear echo across our country should not surprise us, for we have heard them before.

When Susan Hamill proposed a new tax code based on Judeo-Christian ethics for the State of Alabama in 2003, it was the Christian Coalition and the conservatives of the state who opposed the plan (See “Do as I Say? Or Do As I Do?”). The mantra of the lower taxes crowd, it seems, is that we want lower taxes but we do not want equality nor do we want people to pay their fair share.

What good is opportunity for all if we treat one person with less respect than we demand for ourselves? What good does it do us to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and end with the pronouncement that our Republic stands for liberty and justice for all if we are going to deny liberty and justice to some people.

There were those among the Israelites who told the truth about the Promised Land but they were denied the opportunity to enter because it was their people who rebelled against God, not individuals. So too does it seem that our completion of the journey must be the journey of a nation, not just a few select souls.

In the Gospel reading for today Jesus reminds us that we are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and then love our neighbors as ourselves. What does it say about what is in our hearts and our minds and our souls if our words are full of hatred and we show no respect for our neighbors? What does it say if we are far more concerned with our own well-being than we are with the well-being of others?

Do I help someone who has the ability to help themselves but doesn’t do anything? Of course not; after all, even God refused to do that. When the children of God were wandering in the wilderness, God made sure that they had sufficient food to eat each day. Those who took more found out that the extra spoiled. And on the day before the Sabbath, when God commanded the people to take two portions to get them through the Sabbath, those who did not quickly found out that there was nothing for them to eat that day. The covenant between the people and God works two-ways; both parties have to be involved.

But what if the person is unable to take care of themselves; what if they are a new-born baby or an elderly person? Do we ignore them just because they cannot do the work? What if we pass laws that restrict the ability of a person to do things (in the state of New York, they teach felons how to be a barber; yet, the licensing laws prevent felons from obtaining the proper license to cut hair)?

When I was a senior in high school in Memphis, Tennessee, there were laws and regulations designed to limit the ability of people to get a better education. Remember “separate but equal?” The laws and regulations of the city limited the ability of people to earn enough money to feed and clothe their families. Are we to say that things are better now?

I believe in the social component of Christianity. While there is a need for an individual to come to Christ, there is also a need to reach out to others in the name of Christ. And to be truthful, I read and hear the words of many who claim the name of Christ but do not live the life of Christ.

I read Paul’s words to the church of Thessalonica and I read about the words of a man who gave up the good life so that others could have it as well. He didn’t do it for profit or for selfish reasons; he did it because he was called to do so.

We stand on the mountaintop and we see the Promised Land. But between where we stand and where we want to go is no longer the River Jordan. Now, it is a big, wide chasm that grows because we do not love our neighbor as we love ourselves. It is a big, wide chasm that grows each day because too many of us are more concerned with what we have and what we might lose than we are with what others don’t have and what others have already lost.

The question of the moment is not necessarily who shall enter the Promised Land but rather will we ever enter the Promised Land? We can but we need to change our tune.

As I was finishing this, I was thinking of the words “the River Jordan is deep and wide”, words from “Michael, row the boat ashore.” But in my search, I found this hymn which I think is more appropriate.

River of Jordan (Peter, Paul, and Mary)

I traveled the banks of the River of Jordan to find where it flows to the sea. I looked in the eyes of the cold and the hungry and I saw I was looking at me. I wanted to know if life had a purpose and what it all means in the end. In the silence I listened to voices inside me and they told me again and again.

There is only one river. There is only one sea. And it flows through you, and it flows through me. There is only one people. We are one and the same. We are all one spirit. We are all one name. We are the father, mother, daughter and son. From the dawn of creation, we are one. We are one.

Every blade of grass on the mountain, every drop in the sea, every cry of a newborn baby, every prayer to be free, every hope at the end of a rainbow, every song ever sung is a part of the family of woman and man and that means everyone.

We are only one river. We are only one sea. And it flows through you, and it flows through me. We are only one people. We are one and the same. We are all one spirit. We are all one name. We are the father, mother, daughter and son from the dawn of creation, we are one. We are one.

The Trial of Science

Let me start this off by first noting that I graduated from a Tennessee high school in 1968. I also never took biology in high school and only took one course which could be considered biology in college (it was a course that focused on evolution, though exactly how and in what way I do not remember – the year I took the course was a year I try hard to forget). When I write about evolution and creation, it is from the framework of what science is and how we teach science.

But for many people what is taught is science class is a direct assault on what they believe and they do not want anything taught that threatens their beliefs. There have been several times in our past where governments, sectarian or secular, have stifled the exploration of new ideas because such ideas were a direct threat to established beliefs. A belief system which must rely on oppression in order to survive is not a very good belief system.

Having said all that, there was a trial at Northern Kentucky University. (See Debating Ideas vs. Legitimizing Falsehoods) It is admittedly a mock trial. It will be about a teacher who is fired for teaching creationism in a biology class. The audience will be vote on the verdict. The likelihood is that the audience will vote that the teacher should be reinstated.

And when I read the premise of the trial, I could not help but think of another trial, a trial in my home state of Tennessee, which in part set the tenor of the debate for tonight’s mock trial at Northern Kentucky University.

In 1929, the state of Tennessee passed legislation that banned the teaching of evolution in the classroom. The passage of this law, supported by William Jennings Bryan and others, was as much a battle of cultures as it was a battle of thought and belief. Other states also wrote similar laws.

Those who supported the anti-evolution laws then saw the teaching of evolution as part of the process that was undermining the social constructs and traditional values of that time. It was a time when social patterns where in chaos. Traditionalists were worried that anything of value was being lost. Modernists no longer sought the approval of society for their behavior but only that their behavior was in line with their intellect. Intellectual experimentation was flourishing. Whatever form 1920 modernism took (be it in the music of the Jazz Age, the development of abstract art, or the contempt for the prohibition of alcohol), a new wave of revivalism was developing, especially in the American South. The question of the day and the age was “who would triumph; the modernists or the traditionalists?” Adapted from State v. John Scopes (“The Monkey Trial”)

Except for the fact that it was the evolutionist who was tried (and found guilty), there is much different between the Scopes Trial of 1929 and this mock trial of 2008.

The trial itself was a “show” trial, conceived for the sole purpose of bringing publicity to the town of Dayton, Tennessee. John Scopes was recruited to be the defendant in the trial and everyone in the town essentially what the outcome of the trial was going to be. Scopes was guilty if for no other reason than the state-approved textbook contained material about evolution in it, a fact that was in direct conflict with the law.

The trial was more a battle of culture than anything else. Bryan, the crusader for equality and the defender of the common man, saw evolution as a threat to the traditional values, values that he had defended since his rise to prominence in the late 19th century. Clarence Darrow was John Scopes’ attorney more because William Jennings Bryan was the state of Tennessee’s attorney than for reasons dealing with the law.

The trial itself was relatively short and best remembered for the interplay and exchange between Darrow and Bryan at the end of the trial. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100.00. The verdict was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court on technical grounds (depriving Darrow and the defense team the opportunity to test the constitutionality of the law). However, the Tennessee Supreme Court also ordered that there should be no further prosecutions based on this law.

The law itself remained on the books until 1967 and the constitutionality of such statues was not considered until 1968 when the United States Supreme Court ruled in Epperson vs. Arkansas that such laws were unconstitutional.

The original laws were overturned because it was clear that the attempt to define what could and could not be taught was outside the realm of teaching science.

From one standpoint (and I have expressed my thoughts on that before – see “The Challenge Of Education”) the issue is not about creationism or evolution; it is about the right of an instructor to teach in a manner which is appropriate for his or her beliefs. But what happens when those beliefs contradict what is being taught or are in conflict with societal values and norms?

What happens when it is the subject that is being taught that becomes the issue and not the fact that it was taught. If you look at the comments for the Inside Higher Education article, you will see that shift taking place.

But the outcome of the trial, whether mock or otherwise, will have an impact on the teaching of science in this country. Though this event is apparently designed to foster a discussion on what is taught in science and the need for public policy to deal with such issues, it begs the question as to whether scientific theory, if properly taught, can be subject to public debate and discussion.

If there is to be a public debate on science and the teaching of scientific theory, the debate should be on why what is taught is so woefully inadequate. If we taught science as it should be taught, then such discussions would not be necessary.

If we allow the teaching of science to become dependent on public debate, without the benefit of thought, then we will put into reality such absurdities as a state legislature passing a law defining the value of pi as 3.0.


The Simple Act of Political Protest

(This has been edited)

In two weeks, it will be Election Day and I am planning on voting. I shall not tell you who I am voting for but I will tell you why I am voting.

I vote because it is my right. It was a right that I was given through efforts of others, some who died for this country on fields of battle and some who died seeking equality in this country. If I don’t vote, I forfeit my right to my freedom.

Governments and individuals may try to take away my right to speak; governments and individuals may try to take away my right to protest. But when governments and individuals try to take away my right to vote, they are taking away what freedom is about. And I shall resist. In the meantime, I vote. I vote because I believe it is the single, most defiant act of liberty one could imagine.

I vote because there are those who cannot vote, who do not have a voice in the affairs of this country or in other countries. I vote so that generations to come have the same rights and privileges that I have and enjoy.

I cannot tell you whom to vote for nor do I want you to tell me whom to vote for. Do not use scare tactics or fear to get my vote. Tell me the truth; tell me what you want to do and how you propose to do it. Let me decide how I shall vote.

Do not treat me in a manner that you wouldn’t want to be treated. Do not try to explain what your opponent said or didn’t say; I hear the words and I can think, so I can figure it out.

Do not presume that I will vote for a particular candidate because I am a Christian and an evangelical. Being a Christian and an evangelical is not about automatic votes; it is about being for others as much as you are for yourself. It is not the issues that define what a Christian believes; it is what a Christian believes that defines the issues. And a Christian has an obligation to mankind first, not to politicians and the political process.

When I was 18 and participating against the war in Viet Nam, I remember people crying out, “America, my country, right or wrong.” But I also remember that most people don’t know the entire statement,

“The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, “My country, right or wrong.” In one sense I say so too. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” (By Carl Schurz, 1872)

Patriots do question what their government says and does. Patriots challenge the government, its leaders and the politicians who wish to be the leaders to do the right thing. I will not nor have I knowingly voted for a candidate who has questioned my patriotism.

Patriotism isn’t about not blindly parroting what others tell you to say; it is about speaking out. Do not question my patriotism because of whom I support or in what I believe. Do not question my patriotism because I do not wear an American flag on my coat lapel but that doesn’t make me any less an American.

Putting a flag in your lapel is a fashion statement, not a political statement. And if people really want to know, there is flag by our door that we fly on national holidays and there are two American flags in my bookcase that remind us that we do not need to wear a flag to know what America is about. There are two tombstones in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery and a plaque in St. Joachim’s Cemetery to remind me what freedom is and why we vote.

Patriotism isn’t about what you wear; it is about what you believe.

I believe that our country should not go into a war without thinking first. War is far too serious to be done without thinking. We need to think about the cost and the impact; we need to think about the outcome. It is clear that we haven’t done that.

I believe that this country stands for opportunity. I believe that this country should give everyone the opportunity. I am not against people getting rich but when the salary of upper management are grossly out of line with what the workers make, there is a problem with the concept of opportunity. We have seen too many cases where companies are going bankrupt or being taken over by the government while upper management are getting bonuses far beyond what any of the workers for that company would have earned in their lifetime. Earn all you can but do not do it on the backs of the workers.

I believe that all people should be treated fairly and equally

Tell me what you want to do and how you propose to do. Do not tell me what your opponent is going to do; that’s their responsibility.

Now, come November 4th, I will vote. To vote is the single most defiant act of liberty imagined. Governments may try to silence the masses and the easiest way to do that is to take away the vote. So I vote in defiance of those who would seek to take away my voice and my liberties; I vote because it is one act that states I am a person who can think and make intelligent decisions.

Others have worked to make sure that I have the right to vote; I shall not let them down. I will vote so that justice and opportunity are possible for all people. I am a patriot and I will vote.


The Promise of Tomorrow

This is a sermon/message that I presented at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, 27 October 2002.  This was also Reformation Sunday.  The Scriptures are Deuteronomy 34: 1 – 12, 1 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 8, and Matthew 22: 33 -46.


When I first moved to New York some three years ago from the hills of eastern Kentucky, most of the people I knew wondered why. “Why,” they asked, “would I want to leave the hill country for all that concrete and steel?”

So it was that I had to explain that Beacon and the area where I would live was much live the eastern slope of the Appalachian Mountains with broad valleys. And that the Hudson River at this point, though deeper, was a lot like the Mississippi River north of Davenport, IA, where I once lived.

We all have preconceived notions about the various parts of this country. And of all the places in this country, the one place that I think defies our notions about what it is like is Texas. Much is made, sometimes in jest, about the size of Texas. Now, Texas is not the biggest state in the Union; Alaska holds that honor. But it is the size of Texas that probably defines what it is. And if the size of Texas defines what it is, can you imagine what that means for Alaska?

From where I lived in Odessa, Texas, which is in the western part of the state just north of the Big Bend country, it is possible to drive over 300 miles and still be in Texas. And in the one direction that you can drive and leave Texas, you end up in another time zone.

For orthinologists, Texas presents a challenge. There are five major flyways, routes birds take during migration. Three of these highways in the sky pass through Texas. Until Roger Tory Peterson wrote “The Birds of Texas” for the Texas Wildlife & Game Commission in the early 60’s, most “birders” had to carry two or more bird books in the field for identification.

The geology of Texas also confounds people. In the 1930’s, the first big oil boom in the country was in the oil fields of east Texas. From a geological standpoint, the rock formations where the oil was found were much like the oil fields of Pennsylvania and it was thought that this type of rock formation was necessary in order to find oil. But at least one geologist looked at the rock formations and felt that there was oil in the Permian layers of rock deep below the stark landscape of west Texas. Most people were of the opinion that the only oil to be found was in east Texas, believing that the barren and stark landscape of west Texas was a reflection of a lack of resources below ground. But this one geologist, whose name escapes me now, urged the state of Texas to buy up the mineral rights to the land in west Texas.

And some seventy years later, his judgement about what was beneath the rocks of west Texas has continued to be correct as the oil pumped from the Permian Basin continues to fund the educational coffers of the University of Texas and Texas A & M systems. In fact, most of the oil in the world today is in the Permian rocks, not in the Pennsylvanian rocks as so many people thought.

Standing on the Edwards Plateau, the dominant geological landform of west central Texas, one cannot see that riches buried beneath the ground. No view from the mountaintop will ever show you what is deep within the valleys below.

It must have been frustrating for Moses in those last days of his life to be standing on the mountain overlooking the land to which he had lead his people. It must have been frustrating to have spent all that time in the wilderness knowing he would never see the Promised Land and that it could have been different.

For some forty years before, the nation of Israel stood poised to enter the Promised Land, just as they did in the Old Testament reading for today. It seemed as if they had learned nothing about trusting the Lord. Throughout the Exodus, the people of Israel continued to show a distinct lack of faith that the Lord would provide and on the verge of entering their ancestral homelands, they could not trust in the Lord. They felt it necessary to send in spies to make sure that it would be safe to enter.

Twelve spies, one for each tribe of Israel, choose a representative to see what promises, what riches were hidden in this land they had just spent forty years to reach. Ten of the spies came back with tales of terror and fears, claiming the inhabitants were superior in strength and incapable of defeat. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, came back with the promises of a land filled with milk and honey, of promises that the inhabitants could be defeated as long as they trusted in the Lord.

But the people of Israel choose to accept the tales of fear and terror from the ten rather the hopes and promises of the two. And the penalty was that the nation of Israel would wander in the wilderness for another forty years, a time when all those over twenty would die and leave the Promised Land for the next generation. Only Joshua and Caleb, because they trusted in the Lord, would live to see the entry into the Promised Land.

I find it interesting that we still use tales of fear and terror even today. We try to take advantage of every situation for our own good. Rather than seek the future and what it holds, we try to stay in the present. Look at the election ads that are running now. Most, if not all, tend to focus on negative things, on why the opponent cannot do the job. And very seldom do you see an ad that focus on the promises of tomorrow, that offers a vision of what can be. There may be fleeting visions or statements but they are quickly removed by attacks on the opponent’s views.

A lawyer comes to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, seeking to test Jesus’ knowledge of the Law. But the answer he seeks is not one of edification but rather of justification. Does Jesus’ knowledge match his own?

The answer to the lawyer’s question is from the great Jewish confession of faith, the Shema. The confession is called this because it begins with the Hebrew word shema meaning “hear”. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” And then Jesus follows this with the statement that one should love others as one loves themselves. Because we want the best for ourselves, we should want the best for others. We look at the Ten Commandments, we are reminded that we need to love God first and then love others second.

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is directed toward those who criticized his ministry. Those who felt threatened by his ministry did so because Paul challenged their beliefs. Their criticisms were meant to show that all that Paul did, he did for himself and his own gain. Paul’s rebuttal was that he neither sought nor wanted glory and gain for himself but rather that all glory and honor should go to the Lord. Paul reminded those who would criticize him that God was the witness to his actions and that he was God’s servant.

For the ten spies the entry into the Promised Land was a threat to their own safety, not to the safety of their people. So they were not allowed to enter into the Promised Land. The Pharisees, the Sadducees, the scribes all saw Jesus as a threat to their lives, to their way of living. And it should be a threat for they were doing nothing to insure that others gained, only themselves.

Much like Moses, we stand on top of the mountain looking into the Promised Land. It is easy to stand on the mountaintop and not see anything or not be sure what you are seeing. That makes it easy to be fearful, that makes it easy to turn away and keep what you have close to the vest. When Daniel Boone first stood above the Cumberland Gap, the broad passage between North Carolina and Kentucky, the great opening of the west to the people seeking new lands and the promise of a new life, he must have wondered what was out there. The Cumberland Gap is just south of where I lived in Kentucky and there were many days when the valleys of that area were shrouded in clouds, making it impossible to see what lie on the ground below.

But Daniel Boone chose to go forward, leaving a safe established life for a future in Kentucky and later in Missouri. Moses stood on the mountaintop, knowing that there was a promise in the land that lie below his feet and though he would not get the chance to go to do so, those that trusted in the Lord would reap the rewards.

We stand on a mountaintop, perhaps not one as tall as the one Moses stood on, but still one that gives a great vision of the future. Shall we, like the people of Israel some forty years before, not trust in the Lord and only in ourselves or shall we trust in the Lord as the additional years of wandering had taught them to do? If we fail to trust in the Lord, we will die, like the elders of the tribes. But if we trust in the Lord, then the promise of tomorrow will be a good one and one in which we can hold. That choice is ours.

What’s Next

This is a sermon/message that I presented at Walker Valley United Methodist Church for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, 24 October 1999.  The Scriptures are Deuteronomy 34: 1 – 12, 1 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 8, and Matthew 22: 33 -46.


There are moments in each person’s life that always stick in your memories. July of 1973 and June of 1976 are such times for me because that is when my two daughters were born. The summer of 1999, when I married Ann and came here to Walker Valley, is another such time.

But the spring of 1968 will also be one of those times, although not necessarily for the good things that happened. The spring of 1968 was the time of my graduation from high school in Memphis. Such was a good time because it marked the end of my high school education and meant that I could return to Kirksville and finish my freshman year of college at Truman State University, then known as Northeast Missouri State Teachers College, something I had started some two summers before.

But it was also the spring when Martin Luther King was assassinated. Now, a little over thirty years later, I admit I paid little attention to the sanitation workers’ strike that brought Dr. King to Memphis. We didn’t live in Memphis proper and so the strike was of little to concern to my family or I; besides my mind was on senior things and getting back to Kirksville. But I realize know the profound indifference that we showed a group of men who did work that no one else would do and for which the hours were long, the pay low, and benefits non-existent.

And though it was 1968, for all one could tell back then, it might as well have been 1868 for all the concern the white government showed its black employees.

Dr. King came to Memphis to help publicize the strike and point out the inequities that existed not just between workers of different races in that city, something hardly unique to Memphis back then and perhaps even now, but between rich and poor throughout the country.

And on the night he was killed, Dr. King borrowed from the Old Testament reading for today to say that he too had been to the mountaintop and he had seen the Promised Land. He, like Moses, said that he might not get there and I have never known where he was being prophetic or not with that comment coming less than 24 hours before he would be shot.

But Dr. King’s presence that spring did a lot to change Memphis. I cannot say if it was the good of all or not. But Memphis is no long the sleepy little Delta river town it was before he came.

Today, like Moses, we stand at the mountaintop and see the Promised Land. But, unlike Moses, we have a chance not just to see the Promised Land but to enter it as well.

Moses does not get to enter the Promised Land because of what had happened to the Israelite people some forty years before. Still, for all he had done, God allowed Moses to see the Promised Land before he died.

But this was not the first time that the Israelites had prepared to enter the Promised Land. In the Book of Numbers, chapter2 12 through 14, we can read about their arrival at that edge of the Promised Land and how they sent spies into the Land to see what was there. In Numbers 13: 26 – 29, we read that the first part of the spies’ report was truthful (the land was rich and flowing with milk and honey) but the goodness of the land was offset in their fearful eyes by the power peoples who lived there. In verse 30, only Caleb and Joshua gave a report prompted by faith in God.

In verses 32 and 33, the other spies quickly distort what they have found, showing a lack in faith in the power of God. God punishes the Israelites, in 14: 34 by having them continue their wanderings in the desert for forty years; one year of every one of the 40 days of the travels of the spies became the numerical pattern for their suffering. For 40 years they would recount their misjudgment, and for 40 years the people 20 years old or more would be dying, so that only the young generation might enter the land. Significantly, Israel’s refusal to carry out the Lord’s commission to conquer his land is the climactic act of rebellion for which God condemns Israel to die in the desert.

Because they refused to trust in the Lord, the same Lord who had brought them out of Egypt and destroyed the Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea, the same Lord who fed them every day of their journey and gave them water to drink when it seemed that there was none; they were punished.

Now, today we stand on the mountaintop looking into the Promised Land but our vision is not so clear. The mists of time cover the valley and make the future fuzzy and unclear. What can we do to make it clearer?

In the Gospel reading for today, we read

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

When we love God with the total commitment of heart and soul and mind, as Jesus said, we put God first in our lives. The writer and theologian, C. S. Lewis, wrote

All our merely natural activities will be accepted, if they are offered to God, even the humblest: and all of them, even the noblest, will be sinful if they are not. Christianity does not simply replace our natural life and substitute a new one: it is rather a new organization which exploits, its own supernatural ends, these natural materials. No doubt, in a given situation, it demands the surrender of some, or all, our merely human pursuits: it is better to be saved with one eye, than having two, to be cast into Gehenna. But it does this, in a sense, per accidens – because, in those special circumstances, it has ceased to be possible to practice this or that activity to the glory of God. There is no essential quarrel between the spiritual life and the human activities as such. Thus the omnipresence of obedience to God in a Christian’s life is, in a way, analogous to the omnipresence of God in space. God does not fill space as a body fills it, in the sense that parts of him are in different parts of space, excluding other objects from them. Yet he is everywhere – totally present at every point of space – according to good theologians. (From From the The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis)

If we love God with all our soul, our heart, and our mind, then all that we have gets put to use in a better way than were we to try to do it ourselves. Jesus also said that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. For whatever the future may be, we will not be able to survive in it if we treat others with hatred and mistrust.

I know that one reason that I feel the way that I do and why I see the church as an agency for change in the coming years is because I saw church leaders involved in the changes of society in the 60’s. It is interesting to note how the involvement of the church in today’s society is met with cynicism and distrust. Yet, what church leaders and members did in the 60’s wasn’t met with overwhelming acceptance either. Many of the pastors who I knew in Kirksville who fought for social justice in that sleepy Missouri farm town paid the price for their actions, both professionally and socially.

Those who opposed the actions of the church then, and perhaps now, see the church as something done on Sundays only with the rest of the week devoted to other things. When you leave God at the door of the church on Sunday, you are not trusting God to help guide you through the week, and a faith such as that will die. A church whose actions stop on Sunday with Sunday School and worship service will not live long.

But the opposite will not work either. The world that Jesus came into was a world of laws and regulations, so strict and encumbering that one could not breathe. It was impossible to relate to God personally. I do not want a future where my relationship with Jesus is one dictated by rules and regulations. Jesus pointed out that out when he said that the two commandments summed up the law and the prophets. Our relationship with God, through Jesus, is an individual one, not dictated by what others tell us.

By our actions, and they can be the simple actions of daily life, we can show others what Christ means to us. Not everyone is capable of preaching a sermon but then not everyone is asked to preach a sermon. We are asked to work for the church as a group, not as individuals.

There are some that work for the church and want to quit. Remember what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians

You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed – God is our witness. We are not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.

As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.

Paul understood and tried to tell others that the work of presenting the Gospel message was not an easy one to do. But he also pointed out that the reasons why the message is presented must come from God, not from our own motives. If your work is true in that sense, then you have nothing to fear.

There are some that will not work for the church, saying that they do not wish to endure the hardship and trouble that will surely come if they do. For them, they need to remember why the Israelites saw the Promised Land for the second time.

So we stand at the mountaintop, looking into the future that is the Promised Land. We can fear the future but this only means that will continue wandering in the wilderness. Or we can choose to open our hearts and hear the Gospel message of the grace of God and salvation through Christ. Doing so doesn’t mean that we give up our talents; it means that we can use our talents to better ends. What’s next?


A New Model For The Church

On this 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, I was at Dover United Methodist Church in Dover Plains, NY (Location of church).  The service starts at 11.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Exodus 33: 12 – 23, 1 Thessalonians 1: 1 – 10, and Matthew 22: 15 – 22.

I will be at Dover again on November 2nd and at Lake Mahopac UMC (location of church)on November 9th and 23rd (services start at 10).

I have edited this piece since it was posted.


This is about the church. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about the local church, the denomination or the church universal. It is about the fact that the church, at whatever level, is a church in crisis. It is a crisis that involves the body and soul of the church. The body of the church is dying but unless the soul of the church is healed, no amount of healing will save the body.

And despite my own aversion to the use of business models in church settings, it will be what happens at the local church that decides the health and future of the denomination and the church universal. For, despite all the visions and ideas that change can come from the top, the most successful changes in any organization are the changes that occurred at the bottom first.

This crisis of body and soul has come because we (and here I mean the majority of those who call themselves Christian) have forgotten what it means when you say you are a Christian.

We are faced with an ever growing population, both church and unchurched, who seek answers to difficult questions, questions that come from the soul and from society. These individuals feel that possibly the church does know and can offer answers.  But they quickly find that the church does not know the answers or offers answers which are limited in scope or even confusing.

They see a church that preaches hatred, exclusion, and condemnation. They see and hear people who say they are followers of the Prince of Peace but use words of hatred and violence or who incite hatred and violence. They remember when the church stood up for civil rights and against war but now preach exclusion and support war.

Is it because we have forgotten who we are? Have we forgotten how we got to this place? In the Old Testament reading for today, Moses and the Israelites are unwilling to move further and come closer to the Promised Land unless they have some indication that God is going to be there with them. The problem is that today we have continued on but have left God at the mountain.

In a 2004 interview Tony Campolo noted

I think that Christianity has two emphases. One is a social emphasis to impart the values of the kingdom of God in society-to relieve the sufferings of the poor, to stand up for the oppressed, to be a voice for those who have no voice. The other emphasis is to bring people into a personal, transforming relationship with Christ, where they feel the joy and the love of God in their lives. That they manifest what the fifth chapter of Galatians calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” Fundamentalism has emphasized the latter, mainline churches have emphasized the former. We cannot neglect the one for the other. (from ‘Evangelical Christianity Has Been Hijacked’: An Interview with Tony Campolo)

I would say that while fundamentalists have emphasized the latter part of Christianity, they do not feel like sharing the fruits of the Spirit. As President Jimmy Carter noted in his 2002 Nobel Peace Prize speech, “the present era is a challenging and disturbing time for those whose lives are shaped by religious faith based on kindness towards each other.” He 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. (From Our Endangered Values)

That is not to say that those who would be characterized as liberal and emphasize the social portion of Christianity are blameless. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted that the weak point of liberal theology was that while it recognized Christ as a part of the world, it gives him a place but in disputes between the church and the world, it accepted the dictates of the world. (Adapted from Faith In A Secular Age)

You cannot live a life that is entirely guided by religious rules and regulation. If you lead a life of private faith, you create a world separate from the real world and it is impossible to bring the two together. It was this separation of church and state that lead the German church of the 1930’s to acquiesce to the false worldly values of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.

Nor can you lead a life that is entirely in the secular world. By the very definition of the word “secular”, you are without the church. For Bonhoeffer, there was a desire to see a world that cuts through the sacred-secular dichotomy and would dispense with outward religiosity in order to free itself for the real world of human existence. But this relationship had to also be redemptive in its commitment to the true and costly transcendence of God expressed in Christ’s life of complete self-giving — in the suffering life of the One who was wholly ‘for others.’

We have to understand that Christ shows us God, not as the Omnipotent One who stands outside the word, a God that is God only in some religious world separate from our lives, but as the one who comes to us in our weaknesses and suffering, the One who comes to us by the roadside in the daily affairs of life.

The classic definition of the encounter between the Pharisees and Jesus in today’s Gospel reading shows us that relationship. The Pharisees are again seeking a way to trap Jesus into some statement in which he will either denounce Caesar or denounce God. It is the dilemma we often find ourselves in. We accept the secular world and ignore God, or we totally follow God and ignore the world around us. Neither works. The coin has no value if it has only one side and it cannot be used if it sits on the table with one showing. Evelyn Underhill wrote (in The Spiritual Life)

For a spiritual life is simply a life in which all that we do comes from the center, where we are anchored in God: a life soaked through and through by a sense of his reality and claim, and self-given to the great movement of his will.

Most of our conflicts and difficulties come from trying to deal with the spiritual and practical aspects of our life separately instead of realizing them as parts of one whole. If our practical life is centered on our own interests, cluttered up by our possessions, distracted by ambitions, passions, wants and worries, beset by a sense of our own rights and importance, or anxieties for our own future, or longings for our own success, we need not expect that our spiritual life will be a contrast to all this. The soul’s house is not built on such a convenient plan: there are few soundproof partitions in it.

So we must build a new model for the church, a model which emphasizes the need of the individual to find the answers the questions of life while reaching out to the community in which the church resides. A model which emphasizes one over the other will die. The coin has two sides and is incomplete without both sides. As Elton Trueblood wrote (in The New Man for Our Time)

Because we cannot reasonably expect to erect a constantly expanding structure of social activism upon a constantly diminishing foundation of faith, attention to the cultivation of the inner life is our first order of business, even in a period of rapid social change. The church, if it is to affect the world, must become a center from which new spiritual power emanates. While the church must be secular in the sense that it operates in the world, if it is only secular it will not have the desired effect upon the secular order which it is called upon to penetrate. With no diminution of concern for people, we can and must give new attention to the production of a trustworthy religious experience.

We are called today to build a new church. We are called to build a church that reaches out, not just to the members of the church, but also to the people of the community. We are called to build a church that says to the people “we care”, not “go away, you are not wanted here.” We are called to build a church that reaches beyond age, income, race, creed, or lifestyle.

We are called to be like, among other churches, Grace UMC in Salisbury, MD.

Let’s hear it for Grace UMC in Salisbury, MD! Unlike many former downtown churches that have either closed or pulled up stakes, 142-member Grace UMC has “dug in its heels” to serve the surrounding neighborhood now plagued by drugs, prostitution and gangs, according to DelmarvaNow writer Bruce Stump. Through a partnership with several local agencies, Grace offers a feeding program that served 200 people on a recent Saturday. The church also provides housing help, scholarships, a Christmas outreach and other services. What’s more, it has grown 10 percent in the past three years and sent six members into the ordained ministry. Said member Anne Anderson: “It is easy not to look at places that have crime and social issues, but if we don’t make this place better, everybody suffers, the whole city suffers.” Laughed Grace’s pastor, the Rev. David Weber (who officially works only 20 hours a week): “All this is ‘typical good,’ but for a small church, we are kickin’ butt.” Amen! (From United Methodist Nexus for 10/15/2008)

In other words, we are called to build a church that once was the church, the church that Paul lauds in his letter to the Thessalonians that we read today. It was a church known for what it had done and was doing.

It speaks to the courage of the members of that church that they would be identified as Christian. It was a time when being a Christian was neither popular nor essentially healthy; yet, Paul speaks of the church in Thessalonica as being known far and wide. It can only be because of what the church and its members were doing and what they were doing was reaching out to the community, not keeping the community away.

It will take some doing to accomplish this. We are used to our present model; we are used to the comfortable in an environment where, for a couple of hours on Sunday, we can lock out the world around us. There will always be resistance to changes that call for the church to go beyond its own self-imposed boundaries, to witness in word and life for the true hope revealed in Christ.

We see the old ways collapsing so we need to find a new way to find Christ revealed, not hidden in some strange and dark theology, but as the One who has come to set us free. We are reminded that He told His disciples to tell others what they had seen and heard. There was once a time when the church said to the people, “in the world there is nothing for you but despair and exclusion; but in the community of the church you will receive the acceptance that the world refuses you, the dignity that the world denies you, and the spiritual guidance and community that will be for you a foretaste of the life in the Kingdom of God for which you were created.” It is time that the church says that again.

And while the church is calling out to the people, Christ is calling to the church, “in your years of despair, I called you out from the world to fashion for myself a people who know my grace and are formed from love; I call you know to join me in the midst of the struggle, interpreting that hope, struggling to keep it free, and helping people to know me as their Lord and Savior in the midst of their daily lives.

We are called today for an evangelism that calls for decision for Christ which is related to calls for decision in Christ. We are called to create a new model of the church, where preaching points to what God is doing in the world, where the fellowship of the church reveals to the world that we are all one in God’s eyes and where the sacraments are a celebration of God’s redeeming work in Christ.

As we come to the table today, we join with others who celebrate the presence of Christ in their lives. As we come to the table today, we celebrate the beginning of the community two thousand years ago that brought Christianity into the world. As we come to the table today, we begin building that new model that will celebrate the rebirth and renewal of the church.

How Hot Is It In Hell?

This is another one that has made the rounds of the ether; Supposedly it is a true story but we have to wonder.  But since my chemistry students are beginning a study of thermodynamics, I thought it was appropriate to post it again.  And before anyone gets terribly bent out of shape, it is a joke, not theology.  And I wasn’t the student, either.


A thermodynamics professor had written a take-home exam for his graduate students.  It had one question: “Is Hell exothermic (i.e., gives off heat) or endothermic (i.e., absorbs heat)?  Support your answer with a proof.”

Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle’s Law (gas cools off when it expands and heats up when it is compressed) or some variant.  One student, however, wrote the following:

First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing over time.  So, we need to know the rate that souls are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are leaving.  I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave.  Therefore, no souls are leaving.

As for how many souls are entering Hell, let’s look at the different religions that exist in the world today.  Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, then you will go to Hell.

Since there are more than one of these religions and since most people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all people and all souls go to Hell.  With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially.

Second, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle’s Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand as souls are added.

This gives two possibilities:

#1:  If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all hell breaks loose.

#2:  Of course, if Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

So which is it?  If we accept the postulate given to me by Ms. Theresa Banyan during my freshman year that, “It will be a cold night in Hell before I sleep with you” and take into account that I have not done so, then #2 cannot be true, and so Hell is exothermic.

The student got the only A.

Misplaced Values

I am at 1st United Methodist Church in Newburgh, NY, this Sunday (location of church).  The Scriptures for this 22nd Sunday after Pentecost are Exodus 32: 1 – 14, Philippians 4: 1 – 9, and Matthew 22: 1 – 14.


Last Sunday I was at Lake Mahopac United Methodist Church (“The Basic Rules”) and as was the case the last time I visited there (“What Exactly Is Freedom?”), I had the opportunity to hear the mass from Fordham University (see “There Is A Choice”) on WFUV-FM radio. As I said before, to hear the mass, even though I am not Catholic, puts a wonderful ending to a morning of worship and service. In this case, I did not hear the entire homily but only the latter part in which Father Currie (I believe that was who was officiating) mentioned Chapters 3 – 5 of Isaiah (Isaiah 3 – (The Message translation)).

After I got home last Sunday, I went and read those passages. What I found interesting were verses 13 – 15 in Chapter 3 and verses 8-10 in Chapter 5

God enters the courtroom.
He takes his place at the bench to judge his people.
God calls for order in the court, hauls the leaders of his people into the dock: “You’ve played havoc with this country.
Your houses are stuffed with what you’ve stolen from the poor.
What is this anyway? Stomping on my people, grinding the faces of the poor into the dirt?”
That’s what the Master, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, says. (Isaiah 3: 13 – 15)

Doom to you who buy up all the houses and grab all the land for yourselves –evicting the old owners, posting no trespassing signs, taking over the country, leaving everyone homeless and landless.
I overheard God-of-the-Angel-Armies say: “Those mighty houses will end up empty. Those extravagant estates will be deserted.
A ten-acre vineyard will produce a pint of wine, a fifty-pound sack of seed, a quart of grain.” (Isaiah 5: 8 – 10)

Now, I don’t see these verses as prophecy for our time because they were written and spoken to address the problems of Israel at that time. But the passages ring true today when you read of the oppression of the poor and the taking of lands and houses by the rich from the poor. It also goes to the problems that this country is experiencing today, both in terms of what we are doing and what we are not doing. As the title of my sermon suggests, I think the values of this country are highly misplaced.

And whether or not we are rich, it is the actions of all the people which has lead this country to the crisis that it faces and will be facing for many years to come. Like the people in the desert, we have exchanged God for the golden calf of materialism. We are not willing to have a God whom we can’t see; like the people of Israel wandering in the desert, we seek a god we can hold and touch, a god that we have made that makes us feel good. And not only do we want a god that we can touch, hold, and control, we want the benefits of this god for ourselves; we flat out do not want to share in whatever we will gain.

Everything in the Bible, from the beginning in Genesis to the end of Revelations is about the relationship between God and the people and the relationship between people. What we remember and what those who have never heard or read the Bible seem to think is that God seems to be, at times, vindictive and mean. There are those today who push that very idea of a mean, vindictive, sour and dour old man, angry at His creation. But their reasons for doing so are not God’s reasons, even if they say they are.

Still, why shouldn’t He be angry at His creation? Read the words that God spoke to Moses that day some three thousand years ago. God had every right to be mad; He had every right to be angry and I can easily see why He would want to wipe the Israelites off the face of the earth. As soon as Moses left their company, the people literally reverted to their old ways, to the ways of the worship that they probably had observed and maybe even been involved with while they were in Egypt. Miracle after miracle had brought them to the foot of Mount Sinai and yet they reverted to the old ways.

Even in Jesus’ time, the people sought tangible evidence of God’s presence in their lives. They were unwilling to work for God, expecting God to come to them through a fulfillment of rules and regulations. And, in the opinion of those who made the rules and regulations, those who cannot meet the rules and regulations had no right to enter God’s House. We see that today. We see magnificent houses of worship that are virtually off-limits to the poor, the hungry, the down-trodden, and the oppressed. But it is more than churches that are no longer the house of God; it is the people who say that they are God’s children but refuse to acknowledge by their prayers, their presence, their gifts and their actions that God is their father.

Oh, they will say that Jesus is Lord; they will act Godly and Christian-like. But their bearing, their words, their deeds, and their actions do not speak of Christ in their lives. The actions of our leaders last week was not about saving the people of this country or this world; it was about saving their own skins. It was about protecting their savings and their homes and their jobs, not about saving the homes and the jobs of the people. I recall reading once that Christians could be political conservatives and I am still trying to figure that one out. Perhaps you can be politically conservative and a Christian but if you are unwilling to fight for the rights of others to enjoy the benefits that you claim for yourself, then I don’t think you can be conservative and Christian. This isn’t a statement about social programs or welfare or anything of that nature; this is a flat statement that if you say you are a Christian, if you say that you lead a Biblical life, then you must care for the others in this world without regard to their race, their creed, their lifestyle, or their economic or social status. And, quite frankly, in my mind, too many people say they are Christians on Sunday but something entirely different the rest of the week.

Albert Edward Day, in his book The Captivating Presence, wrote

I came to a new understanding why Jesus passed up the religious establishment of his day, the economically secure, the socially prestigious, and sought the poor, the outcast, the sinner, the broken, the sick, the lonely. He felt, as we often do not feel, their sorrow. He was acquainted, as we too seldom are, their grief. On Calvary he died of a broken heart. But that heart was broken long before Black Friday, by the desolation of the common people. “In all afflictions he was afflicted.”

Most of the time we are not. We seem to have quite a different conception of life. We avoid as much as possible the unpleasant. We shun the suffering of others. We shrink from any burdens except those which life itself inescapably thrusts upon us. We seek arduously the wealth and power that will enable us to secure ourselves against that possibility of being involved with another’s affliction. Lazarus sometimes makes his way to our door step. We toss him a coin and go our own way. We give our charities but we do not give our selves. We build our charitable institutions but we do not build ourselves into other’s lives.

You cannot be a follower of God through Christ or otherwise if you are not willing to give up your claim to everything you own in your life. This is not to say that Christians must be homeless or without but if your basic view of life is that the more stuff you have the closer to heaven you get, then you had better think again.

This isn’t solely about materialism but rather the accumulation and the seeking of such. Sadly, what people often seek are the trappings and the looks of the rich and the powerful. To paraphrase Spike Lee, it has to be the shoes that make you rich and famous. Let’s not forget, though, that the particular person wearing those shoes was 6’ 6” and remarkably talented and that he worked to keep his talent above the level of all the other players. And for the record, look at Michael Jordan’s high school record; he wasn’t all that good. So what do we do?

Jesus told the disciples to take only what they needed and nothing more. He told the rich young ruler to sell everything and follow me. The rich young ruler couldn’t get past the first part that he had to sell everything. By the same token, there are those today who think that because they are poor, homeless, or somehow disenfranchised, they are entitled to certain perks and benefits.

Jesus threw the beggars out of the wedding feast, not because they were poor but because they were not willing to put on the new clothes that a wedding required. This passage seems to run counter to the idea that all are welcome in God’s house. But entrance into God’s House requires a change of heart and mind; you cannot continue to lead the same life that you were before you came to God through Christ. If you are unwilling to change, no matter who you are, you will not be welcome. The good news is that those who are willing to change their heart, their soul, and their mind will find this place quicker that those who are unwilling to give up what they have. It isn’t about what you have or don’t have; it isn’t about what you think you need or what you think you are owed. It is whether or not you want to find a better life.

Here the words of David in Psalm 15

God, who gets invited to dinner at your place? How do we get on your guest list?

“Walk straight, act right, tell the truth.

“Don’t hurt your friend, don’t blame your neighbor; despise the despicable.

“Keep your word even when it costs you, make an honest living, never take a bribe.

“You’ll never get blacklisted if you live like this.”

If wouldn’t hurt us to hear the words of Paul once again.

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

There are those today who say that these are the end times, that God will invoke His wrath and destroy the world. The words of God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai seem to echo in the words of these modern day prophets. These modern day prophets say that those who have faithfully followed God will be taken up and those who have led a life of sin will be left behind. But their definition of a faithful follower often sounds to me like a description of the establishment that Jesus worked against.

But we don’t need God to destroy the world; we are doing a pretty good job of it ourselves. If you say that you are a follower of Christ but do little to improve the condition of this world, if you ignore your neighbors, if you plunder the environment or gather up riches for yourselves and say that you do in the name of God, you will be among those left behind.

Yes, we are a hard-headed and stubborn people. Yes, we have been given signs and there have been times when God has let our enemies be victorious. But each time, He has given His people the chance to redeem themselves and start anew. God sent His Son, not to destroy this world, but to save it.

If we are who we say we are, both as Christians and as United Methodists, then we have the responsibility to take the Gospel message out into the world and work to make this a better place, not just for ourselves but for all. It will require that we begin anew, that we cast off the clothes of our old life and put on new clothes.

When Moses was leading the privileged life, he saw his kinsman being persecuted and abused. His actions to protect a kinsman led to his exile in the wilderness and his encounter with God. And even when his kinsman turned against God and the covenant made at Mount Sinai, he fought for them. We are in the same position today.

There is time for this society, this country, and this world. While there are those who will tell you that these are the end times and that there is no hope; we are reminded that there is hope but we cannot gain this hope through the values that have lead us to this time and place. We have to cast away our old values, like old clothes, and put on the new clothes that come through Christ. Then we will be invited into His House and to the great wedding. If we hold onto our misplaced values, we will cry in pain. If we regain the values that are ours through Christ, we will cry out in joy and celebration. But we must first hear the call of Christ; we must open our hearts and our minds to His Call.