The State of Faith


I will be at Mountainville United Methodist Church (Mountainville, NY) on Sunday, June 14th; the service starts at 10 and everyone is welcome. 

The Scriptures are 1 Samuel 17: 1, 17 – 27, 2 Corinthians 8: 7 – 15, and Mark 5: 21 – 43.

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I wrote the following a couple of years ago:

I have decided to start my own church. I am going to start on the Internet and after the contributions and donations start to roll in, I will begin televising the services. Maybe we will pull in enough to even buy an old auditorium or arena and turn into a worship center.

The name of my church is going to be the “1st Internet Worship Center of the Gospel of Prosperity.” We aren’t going to call it a church because that will scare away the customers (oops, sorry; I meant to say congregants). I probably will decorate the web site and the church with a dove and, since this will be a world-wide ministry, most definitely a globe. Don’t go looking for a cross or any references to Jesus; market research has indicated those things tend to make people uncomfortable.

Since it is an Internet site, you can come anytime; we will be open 24/7 and the attire is informal. That’s good because it seems that the dress code for preachers today is blue jeans and Hawaiian shirts. For right now, I will settle for t-shirts and sport shirts. Maybe when we start televising the services, I will have enough money to buy a few Armani suits.

Ours will be a Biblical ministry but each sermon will be decided by input from focus groups. People want their churches to be biblical in nature but they want their pastors to avoid mentioning the Bible. By using focus groups, we can accommodate the wishes of the people.

Most certainly, since this is a church of the gospel of prosperity, we are going to focus on how one can use God to become wealthy and prosperous. We believe that poverty is a product of sin and wealth is a sign of a righteous life.

Ours will be a church (oops, sorry – meant to say worship center) that celebrates life. Ours will be a celebration of family values, so if you are not part of a traditional family you will have to go some place else.

If by now you haven’t figured it out, the above paragraphs were written with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. They come from impressions of many of the churches that are on television and the Internet today. They are what people are looking for because it gives them what they are looking for. But is that what a church (and I mean church) is supposed to do? (From “What Are We Supposed To Do?”)

If the church today is more what the people want it to be than it is what it should be, then those who profess its demise will be prophets after the fact. For many people today, the church is a period of time on Sunday morning and only Sunday morning. It is a time that is protected from the outside world and the problems of the world can be ignored.

I have jokingly said but with some degree of seriousness that the measure of a United Methodist pastor in the Memphis, Tennessee area (my hometown) is his or her ability to get the service over in time for the congregation to get to the Shoney’s before the Baptists get out. And pity the pastor, no matter where they might be, who calls the congregation to task for their failure to lead a Christian life.

The church two thousand years ago was a community of believers, bound together in common belief and for a common goal. It was a community that was open to all. Somewhere along the line we stopped being such a community.

The Gospel reading for today is reminder of the problems that many people had with the church in Jesus’ time and the problem they have today. The woman in the passage has been bleeding for twelve years and none of the physicians she went to were able to help her. What you have to keep in mind is that in her condition, she was considered ritually unclean and thus denied access to the temple. And anyone who might come into contact with her would also be considered unclean and denied access to the temple until they could be “cleansed.” Even today, we find reasons to tell people that they are not welcome in our churches, deeming them to be “unclean” in the eyes of society.

And while we may speak of Jesus as welcoming all and denying no one, our history as a church, written and unwritten, suggests that we still use the Bible justify separation and repression.

In 2002, Susan Pace Hamill, a professor of law at the University of Alabama law school and a member of the Trinity United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa, was on sabbatical at Samford University to complete her master’s degree in theology. Her thesis was entitled “An Argument for Tax Reform Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics” and stated that the Alabama tax code placed an unfair burden on the poor while benefiting the middle- and upper-income taxpayers. For Dr. Hamill, to say one is Christian is to accept a moral obligation to support tax reform. Furthermore, as a Christian, one has a higher calling to seek justice for the poor and the oppressed. (http://www.ethicsdaily.com/news.php?viewStory=2424)

Yet, the loudest opposition to this interesting attempt at tax reform (and I use the term attempt because it failed) came from the Alabama Christian Coalition. First, they tried to say that it was not the responsibility of individuals to take care of the people in the state but that of the church. When that didn’t work, they tried to slander Dr. Hamill. (http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&issue=soj0404&article=040410) They made the argument that low taxes are good for families but when you see how much food and similar items are taxed you have to wonder whose families benefit from such low taxes.

The problem in reading the passage from 2nd Corinthians for today is that we read only part of the story. There are those within the Corinthian church who are challenging Paul’s personal integrity and his authority as an apostle. They have accused him of taking the money raised for the church in Jerusalem for his own benefit. The collection for the Jerusalem church had begun the year before and it was intended not only to address the economic problems of the Jerusalem church but also to stress the unity of the believers that formed the early church.

Paul advocates the ideals of self-sufficiency and fair balance, of having enough for one’s own needs while sharing the excess with others. And it should be noted that those who have received are obligated to reciprocate when the time and opportunity present themselves. The last part of what we read this morning reminds us of the people during the Exodus where the aged and weak might have collected less manna while others collected more, yet there was an equal distribution so that the excess of some ministered to the deficiency of others.

In today’s society, such words are revolutionary, radical, and to some, down right dangerous. That we should share the wealth that we worked so hard to get is, if nothing else, a dangerous thought. But, as I pointed out, this distribution came with the codicil that the recipients would some day be the donor and the donors would be the recipients. What was happening was happening to a community but the sense of community that is present in these writings and in what was the early church is missing in today’s discussion.

Now, I am not calling, as some might say, for a redistribution of wealth. But I am saying that we need to consider the growing differences in wealth, a long documented statistics. And it should be remembered that John Wesley had no qualms with persons earning a large salary; he was, of course, one of the highest paid people in England. But he had also determined what it would take to live in his world and society and everything above that amount was given away.

John Wesley encouraged people to earn as much as they could but not to do it on the backs of the working class. And having earned all one could, he encouraged everyone to save as much as they could (something society in America is loathe to do) and to give as much as they could. It is interesting to note that on a per capita basis, those with incomes below $20,000 give a higher percentage of their earnings than any other income group (http://www.portfolio.com/news-markets/national-news/portfolio/2008/02/19/Poor-Give-More-to-Charity and http://www.mcclatchydc.com/328/story/68456.html). Is it because it is an expression of how a community bands together, a reflection of what we once were?

We no longer have the concept of community that Paul was writing to the Corinthians about and any discussion of community often evolves into an “us versus them” mentality and there is very little discussion about equal opportunities. And unless we begin thinking about the community that we say we belong to, the community of Christians, we are headed for trouble.

The Old Testament reading for today is David’s lament on the loss of Saul and Jonathan. It is not only a personal loss of a friend, but a loss for the community. It also contains a warning; David tells the nation of Israel not to give Israel’s enemies reason to rejoice. We have been given a warning as well. We see it in the health of the church and there are many today who see the church in the same state as the young daughter of Jairus. They said that she was dead and there was no hope. Yet Jesus told him to believe and have faith.

Too many people today, both in the church and outside the church, will laugh at such a pronouncement. There is no hope in this world and even if it is there, it cannot be found in the church of today. Perhaps such skeptics are correct but I see a church that once spoke for all the people that bandied together so that all would have the opportunity to live and succeed and can do so again.

I had an opportunity two weeks ago to attend our Annual Conference and a seminar on Evangelism led by Kwasi Kena, Director of Evangelism for the General Board of Discipleship. It was an interesting seminar in that it ran counter to the current thoughts on the subject of evangelism and it gave me hope that the church as an institution, as a denomination, and individually can be saved.

Now, for too many people today, evangelism is getting people to proclaim Christ as their Savior and it is almost a forced process; either you follow Christ as we have described Him or you are doomed to a life outside the gates of Heaven. But as Dr. Kena pointed out, evangelism is more than just getting people to follow Christ; it is also teaching people about Christ and living the life that you preach and that Christ taught us to live. If the church (be it the institution, the denomination, or any particular individual church) continues as it has been for the past few years, believing more in the letter of the law rather than the Spirit of the law; as long as the church today reflects the behavior of the church two thousand years ago when Jesus walked the back roads of the Galilee, then this will be a dying church.

But, if we begin doing what was done some two thousand years ago, as members of a community of the local level and expanding outwards, then there can be and will be hope. Individually and collectively, we must say that now is the time to rise up from the dead and to begin once again to speak and act the word of God.

It is not enough to get people to follow Christ if they do not know who Christ is; they must be shown by word, thought, deed and action that Christ is alive and living in each of us. The question for you today is very simple, “What state is your faith in? Are you sleeping like the young girl? Or are you seeking Christ?”

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3 thoughts on “The State of Faith

  1. Pingback: On The Road Again « Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

  2. Pingback: A Different Sense of Community « Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

  3. Pingback: “Some Contrarian Christian Ideas On Taxes” | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

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