Possible responses

I anticipated some responses to my post for Sunday (The Spirit or the Letter) but didn’t receive any.  I am not sure if it is a consideration of what the truth is or problems with the Methoblog.  But, just in case some people have some problems with what I wrote about the spirit or the letter of the law, here are some possible responses.  This is clearly lifted from at least one other sight and has been used as a response to two other situations, so it is not original.

But it does get you to think.  Doesn’t it?


I have edited this since it was first posted (14 November 2007) and and some additional responses (they will be in italics).

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s law. I have learned a great deal from you, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Leviticus 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. How should I deal with this? Should I smite them?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as it suggests in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Leviticus 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Leviticus 25:44 states that I may buy slaves from the nations that are around us. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Leviticus 10:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

Leviticus 20:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear prescription glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including  the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly  forbidden by Lev. 19:27.  How should they die?

I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a  dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear  gloves?

My uncle has a farm.  He violates Lev.19:19  by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his  wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread  (cotton/polyester blend).  He also tends to curse and  blaspheme a lot.  Is it really necessary that we go to all  the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone  them? Lev.24:10-16.  Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a  private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with  their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

“The Values of Religion”

This is the message that I gave at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, 8 August 2004.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 1: 1, 10 – 20; Hebrews 11: 1 – 3, 8 – 16; and Luke 12: 32 – 40.


You will have to excuse me if this sermon sounds angry. But things have been said and done these past few months that make me, as a Christian and as one who believes in the power of the Gospel, angry. Actually I am as much confused as I am angry.

We call this country a Christian nation. We seem to think that a few drops of water on our heads at birth, a few grains of rice when we get married, and a handful of dirt thrown on our grave when we die make us Christian. (This was adapted from Faith in a Secular Age by Colin Williams, page 116)  All our words say we are Christians. We put the phrase "under God" in our Pledge of Allegiance to remind others; we put "in God we trust" on our money to remind others; and find a politician today who doesn’t end their speech with a rousing "God bless America!" We say that a reaffirmation of our Christian values will keep this country safe, strong, and free. But our actions belie our words.

We call for the return of prayer in school, saying that our country began to fall apart when it was taken out. I remember when we started each day in school with a prayer; but I also remember that the school where this happened was segregated. I also remember my parents having to buy my schoolbooks at a bookstore because the local school board did not want to buy books for the students, black and white, in the district. We may be a country where we invoke God’s name and say that all men are created equal. But our educational processes then were separate and hardly considered equal. And today, when segregation is supposedly a thing of the past, there are still schools that use Jesus and God as covers for segregation and racism.

Forty years ago, we had prayer in the schools but our schools were homogenous. Now, with our schools heterogeneous and diverse, it would be very difficult to offer a prayer that meets the requirements for all the Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus in our schools. How can any prayer be written that meets the needs of the students?

And with our God the same God that Jews and Muslims pray to, how can we explain the actions of some Christian churches who fired their ministers after they shared a community platform with Jewish rabbis and Muslim imans?

We have been told that we are stewards of this earth. But how does this allow us to pollute the air, the water, and eliminate for all times many species of plants and animals? To be a good steward is not to use it up but to keep it for all but there are those who say that God allows us to do so. Besides, who is going to miss a small sparrow that only lived in a ten square mile in the northwest? Does God not care for all His creatures, great and small?

As a Christian nation, we say that we accept the words of the Bible as the inherent words of God told to mankind? So why is it when the words of the Bible conflict with the laws of nature we condemn or kill those who point out the discrepancy? Is it that we forgot that God wrote the laws of nature just as he lead men to write the words of the Bible? As children of God, we are created in God’s own image and given the ability to reason and think. Yet, many Christian preachers seem to think that only they can do so and we are to blindly follow.

We have been taught and we have taught our children that there is no separation of people when it comes to faith. So why have we used the words of the Bible to prove that whites were the superior race? Jesus did not teach discrimination or separation. In a world where women were second class citizens and children given the status of dogs, Jesus removed the barriers that separated people. Yet, we still build barriers between people in the name of God because we do not like someone’s race, economic status, beliefs, or lifestyle. We have been shown that there is no difference in people simply because the color of their skin is different. So what shall we do if our other notions about human differences are proven false? What will happen if we find that there is life on other planets? Shall we treat these individuals any different; will we, in the name of God, claim superiority over them, just as the first explorers of this country did to the natives of this hemisphere?

And how can we, as Christians and as a Christian nation, accept the fact that there are homeless in this country. How can we accept the fact that there are those who go hungry for days, rather than the few hours between breakfast and dinner? How can we claim to be Christians when we allow oppression and discrimination to exist in this world? How can we claim to be Christians when our very actions drive wedges between people and drive people away from the church, not to it? How can we, those who proclaim once a year that the Son of God was born to be the Prince of Peace, even begin to think that war will do anything but make people more hungry, destroy their homes, and keep the oppressed in bondage.

How can we ever expect peace on this earth when we do not practice good will towards men? How is it that we, claiming to be Christian individuals, and this nation, claiming to be a Christian country, ever expect to remove terrorism from this world if our responses to terrorism are only in kind? Yes, in the Old Testament, the philosophy was an "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth"; to respond in kind to that which was inflicted upon you. But Jesus said that we should turn the other cheek, we should respond to violence with love and respect. How is it that we can remember the words of the Old Testament but forget the words of the New Testament?

We may say we are a Christian nation but our actions certainly do not reflect those beliefs. This is a time when vast, powerful forces sweep across the country bringing changes to our very doorstep.

Yet, instead of recognizing the opportunities such changes bring, churches close their doors to the opportunities and resist the change. Churches today seem afraid of what might be outside their doors.

Instead of true repentance and the acceptance of the Holy Spirit, evangelism is more a call for condemnation and judgment. Instead of seeking opportunities to bring the Gospel message to the people, churches today seem more interested in ways to build bigger buildings and have countless programs

But such activities, as God proclaimed through Isaiah, are doomed to fail. Those churches that put the gain of members before the presentation of the Gospel will die.(Adapted from comments by the Rev. Jane Middleton, printed in the July 30, 2004 issue of The Vision.)  Churches today have become churches of exclusion and privilege. Instead of preaching a Gospel message of love and openness, many churches preach division, exclusivity, and certainly no love for all.

The church the public sees seeks to impose its will on the people it should serve. Evangelism has come to mean condemnation and judgment. And for many, the church is no longer a place of haven or solace. It has become simply a place for baptisms, weddings, and funerals.

It is no wonder that people are turned off or driven away from the church. How can we ask people to be disciples of Christ if they cannot see Christ at work in this world? How can we call men and women to conversion without seeing that Christ calls us all to repent of our prejudices and to be open to the fullness of the life? We cannot practice Christianity and be a false witness; we cannot be evangelists while escaping from Christ’s demands ourselves.

We have to ask ourselves what it means to call people to Christ. The church’s sole purpose is to show the world, through word, deed, action and thought that God’s will is the best alternative to a materialistic or secular world.

Still, there is a vision of hope and promise. Just as John Wesley began the Methodist Revival when it appeared that the words and actions of the church were counter to the goals and outcomes of the Gospel, so too can we embark on a new revival. If there were ever a time for a church to embark on a course of evangelism and outreach, it is now. As Jesus points out in the Gospel message today, there is no time to wait; the hour of His coming is unknown and lost to those who wait.

Within the next six months we will meet as a church. We will vote to remove forty some individuals from the membership rolls of this church; we will say to these friends and children of the church that, because they have failed to be active and supportive members, they are no longer members.

I am not condemning these individuals; for the most part, I do not know who they are. But I can only presume that because they have chosen not to respond to our inquiries and mailings, they see their membership in terms of drops of water, grains of rice, and a handful of dirt rather than in terms of prayers, presence, gifts, and service. I know that some of these individuals have moved away but others are close by and they do not come. They choose not to come because something keeps them away.

It is about time that we, as practicing and professing Christians, do what Christians should do. Just as Jesus said that his mission was first to the lost sheep of Israel, so too must our first evangelistic outreach be to those who have strayed from this, their church home. We need to make one last major effort to reach out and bring them home.

And as we do this, we also need to reach out to those new residents of this area. We should do so, not for what they can bring to this church, but rather what this church can bring to them. In a world of despair and void of hope, this can be the source of hope and promise through the Gospel message.

These opportunities, to reach out and find our own lost sheep and bring in new members, are fleeting. But there is no time later and events in this world can force us into actions that we may not want to take. But if we act in accordance with the Gospel message, we may be able to dictate what those events will be.

We cannot rest on what we have done in the past nor can things that we have developed or created forestall the inevitable. God made it very plain that such an approach would not work. We cannot say that people should come to this church, simply because it is historic and been here for a long time; we can say that people should come because we have been presenting the Holy Spirit at this location for over 200 years. (This isn’t exactly what I said but I think it is close enough to it.)

What is acceptable to God is the exercise of one’s faith, a demonstration to others that God is truly our God. That means that God must be the centerpiece of our lives. God, today through the words of Isaiah, is telling us to show others who He is through what we say and do. And what we do, when we do it, must be for the benefit of others, not for ourselves.

What was it that brought success to Abraham? It certainly was not his abilities. But through his faith in God and his belief that God would give him the family that he had been promised, he received the family that he had been promised. We are told today by the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews that it was the faith of the saints, and not their actions that brought them success.

We are reminded today of the lengths that God will go to for us. We are reminded that we are able to come to this table today because Christ died for us and not for anything that we have done. This moment in time solidifies the relationship that exists between God and each of us. One of the basic tenets of faith for Methodists is that there is a relationship with God through Christ. It is a relationship that is intensely personal but also one that must be shared with others. It is a relationship founded on faith, a faith that is both informed and experienced. It is a faith that goes beyond our own personal boundaries through our concern for the spiritual, physical, and social conditions for all people.

Our heritage as Methodists is to evangelize, to take the words of Christ, the Gospel message, into the world. We are not charged with anything difficult or beyond our capabilities. We are only asked to do like the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus, to tell the story and what it means to us. Evangelism is nothing more than that; we are asked to neither condemn nor condone individuals but just tell the story of Jesus and what it means to us.

We are not going to change this country overnight. But it is not a question of changing this country; it is not even a question of whether or not this country remains or becomes a Christian nation. It is a question of whether or not we can show the presence of Christ in this world.

The words, actions, deeds, or thoughts of individuals who seek gain for themselves will not do this. Rather, it will be the words, actions, deeds or thoughts of those who have accepted Christ as their own personal savior and have allowed the Holy Spirit to guide and direct them in everything they do and say.

You may come to this table tired and worn out but you leave refreshed and renewed. You may come to this table devoid of hope for the future but you leave knowing that there is a future of hope and promise in Christ. You come to this table seeing a world and a church focused inward and selfish. Yet you come to this table knowing that Jesus gave of Himself so that we may have the hope and promise of eternal life. As you leave this table this morning, refreshed and renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit and cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, your values change.

As we eat the bread and drink the juice of the grape, we are reminded that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was for us. So how can we leave this place and not carry the Gospel message into the world? As you leave this table and this church this morning and go out into the world, what will you say and do this week to help others to find what you experienced today?

“What Good Is It?”

This is the message that I gave at Walker Valley United Methodist Church for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, 12 August 2001.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 1: 1, 10 – 20; Hebrews 11: 1 – 3, 8 – 16; and Luke 12: 32 – 40.


Last week I read a quote from an unnamed IBM engineer in 1968 concerning the newly invented microchip. Commenting on the microchip, this engineer with the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM asked "But what . . . is it good for?" Since computing up to that moment was based on large main-frame computers, essentially powered by vacuum tubes, it would have been very difficult to see how to use something that had taken the technology of the time and shrunk it down to fit on a single chip of silicon less than 1" wide. The inability to see how to use the microchip along with a steadfast reliance on mainframe computers probably cost IBM the chance to be a dominant player in today’s market.

The problem is that we tend to look at the future in terms of what we see today. And because we do, we often cannot see the future clearly. And we don’t want to go where we cannot see clearly.

In this world today, there are plenty of people who offer visions of the future, especially as it pertains to the church. There are literally hundreds of books on the market today written by individuals who claim to know what is going to happen, when Jesus will return and how He will do so.

But the Gospel passage for today does not offer a clear vision of the future. In Mark, Jesus says that neither he nor the angels in heaven know the hour or day of his return. In Acts 1, the disciples want to know when the kingdom will come. Jesus again tells them that only God knows that, and that should worry more about being empowered so that they can be God’s witnesses on earth.

In the Gospel reading for today Jesus says much the same. He reminds us through the parable that a servant who spends all of their time trying to guess their master’s return will not be doing the tasks the master has left for him to do. In fact, those servants who think they know exactly when and how the master will return will be the ones who are surprised, for the master comes at a time and in a way unexpected. We should be ready, not by standing by with our heads in the clouds or by listening to those who claim to know more than Jesus but to love, to work, to be about the tasks that have been left for us.

It is faith that provides us with the power by which we can wait. And it is faith that will provide us with the strength to take on the tasks that we have been asked to do. Faith is defined as the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.

The writer of Hebrews speaks of faith and the power it has to help people see into the future. Abraham was lauded for his faith, for taking his family and possession from a secure environment into an unknown territory, solely on the promise that he would be the father of a great nation.

Faith involves going where you can’t yet see. Faith involves living where you aren’t yet home. And faith involves accepting what you don’t have. Abraham’s faith journey began with open-ended travel plans. He did not know where his journey would end. The same is true for us. We do not know where our journey in faith will take us nor do we know when it will end. Faith is the sole act of being willing to follow god’s direction wherever it leads, even if we don’t know where that will be during the journey itself.

Abraham’s own faith journey was not a direct journey from Ur to the Promised Land. He detoured along the way. But when he was in some of those intermediate places, such as Egypt, God was able to teach him some of the most valuable lessons of faith. And as we move forward in our faith journey, there will be detours along the way. Some of these detours will be brief while others will be long and frustrating; some may even cause us to wonder if own journey has ended. But if we keep our eyes to God and his will for our lives, we can understand those times when we spend time in places that are not the ultimate end to the journey, not our ultimate home.

And no matter how futile the journey may seem, as long as we keep the faith that God will hold to his promise, our journey will always be fruitful. Surely Abraham and Sarah must have wondered about the promise God made to them that they would be the parents of a mighty nation, especially when Sarah was long passed child bearing age. Abraham was willing to accept God’s promise solely on faith, even if it seemed so impossible.

Today, it is the same for us. God wants us to do great things, even if Walker Valley doesn’t seem to be the vocal point of the universe. The question is "Are you willing to trust God with your future and follow him with faith?"

To follow God with faith is more than simply saying that you will do so, it is resolving to take action. And the actions that are taken must be directed by and towards one’s faith. Contrast how God rejects the actions of the Israelites of Isaiah’s time as being superficial attempts to fulfill the letter, but not the spirit of the law. "Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil…. Make justice your aim….Hear the orphan’s plea, defined the widow." (Isaiah 1: 16 – 17)

Justice and goodness alone suffice; to offer praise when "your hands are full of blood" is the exact opposite of faith. Verbal praise is an insult when it is contradicted by actions; rather our actions must magnify our living faith. The writer of Hebrews points out that many times those who died in faith never received what was promised. But they also died knowing that was promised may never have been gained here on earth; rather it was something that was to be gained in heaven.

Isaiah also pointed out that those who would do the will of God would receive true rewards, that they would eat the good of the land. But those that would refuse to serve God and rebel against Him would be destroyed. Even Jesus pointed out that those who did what was asked of them would get the chance to sit at the heavenly banquet.

It is by our faith that all is gained. It is by our faith that we know that what we do will be rewarded. I have already heard that some share my vision of what Walker Valley United Methodist Church can be tomorrow and in the coming years. And I think that a good number of people also share that vision. But know is the time to put your faith in action.

Have you taken the opportunity this summer to call someone who is a member of this church but hasn’t been here for some time. Do you know of someone who would come but doesn’t because no one asked? Have you thought of how you could help this church by taking on a more active role. Right now, we need someone to represent Walker Valley as the Lay Member to the Annual Conference. This position has been vacant for almost two years and it has meant that this church has not had a representative at Annual Conference. The Lay Leader position has also been vacant for the last two years as well. The Lay Leader represents the congregation of the church; this is not necessarily and should not be considered the same as the Chair of the Administrative Council.

We will need someone to serve as the Chair of the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee and someone to serve as Chair of the Witness Area of ministry. And we will need at least two people to serve three-year terms on the Board of Trustees, the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee, and the Committee on Lay Leadership.

There are also other areas of service. We would like to have some people serve in the Sunday School program as teachers and helpers. We have four meals scheduled for the coming months; this means that we need some people help plan these meals and we need to have some people help organize and clean up downstairs so that we can again use the fellowship hall as it was intended to be used.

Faith is more than simply words; it is also action. Jesus was not content to sit around reminiscing about what used to be. In fact, once he started teaching, he did not fail to create a word picture or two or three a day. And the end of the Gospel of John, John wrote that if someone wrote down everything that Jesus did, the world itself could not contain all the books that would have been written. (John 21: 25) And someone who only knew Jesus three years wrote this.

Jesus said, "My Father goes on working, and so do I." (John 5: 15 – 17)  He was always asking that his disciples and followers pray for more recruits because the fields were bursting and ripe for harvest. Things needed to be done, and as a leader he wanted them done — even when He knew that he would not be physically present to do so. In following Jesus, in holding to our faith, we are constantly asked to take action.

Jesus pushed his disciples to move away from the economic security that they so zealously guarded. He told us that faith puts us on the edge of life where we become concerned about all of life; where we become stewards and servants of the house and where we want to make sure that all is ready for the coming of the Master. We have to take care of the little things because (and excuse the terribly trite cliché), there are no little things.

Faith makes us responsible for the little things — the little people, the little injustices, the little immoralities, the little pollution, and the little evils. On the edge we see that the little things are not so little but rather as the cracks in the house’s foundation that will lead to its collapse.

Faith puts life on the edge by making each moment of life a possibility to encounter the Living God. Faith makes each moment the one when God might open up time and history and show grace and mercy to us again. Every moment because that moment when God’s providence moves in our lives.

We all walk on a journey of life. By our faith in Jesus Christ, we find that journey is not in the normal path. Faith gets us up and moving, out unto the edges of life where the little questions of life cannot be distinguished from the big ones and where every moment is both an opportunity to encounter the Living God and to bear witness to others of God’s love.

And as we come to the Communion Table this morning, we are reminded that the first step in our faith journey has already been taken. In Communion we are reminded that Christ died for our sins. In Communion we also celebrate that rewards that our journey in faith will bring.

The goodness of the faith comes not from what it was but rather what it will bring for us.

Boardwalk and Park Place

This was the third Sunday I was at the Mulberry and Arma United Methodist Churches.  The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost (6 August 1995) were 2 Kings 13: 14 – 20, Colossians 3: 1 – 11, and Luke 12: 13 – 21.


As I began working on this sermon, I thought about the opening scene from the movie "Citizen Kane". The opening scene of what some call the greatest movie ever made has Kane on his deathbed whispering the word "Rosebud." No one there knew the significance of this word or why such a singular word would be the last word of the great man. At the conclusion of the movie, as the possessions of this great man are destroyed, we see the sled that he played with as a young boy with the name "Rosebud" written on it.

We are in a time where it seems like we are fearful of the future. Our relationship to other people is tedious at best. I look to the coming presidential election with a wary eye because there are signs that this may be one of the most hateful, most dirty presidential elections of all times. And even more frightening is the fact that the hatred is not be directed at the other candidates but at people in this country. We have already seen the signs of such hatred. It would also seem that people are seeking wealth and material goods because it will be the only defense against the uncertainty of the future.

And while my background may be in chemistry, it seems to me and what I know of history that these are the same conditions that preceded the Great Depression. I have my grandfather’s diary that he wrote while in the military and his description of the country at the time of Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1933 was a very bleak description.

From the title of this sermon, you can guess that there is some sort of connection to the game of Monopoly. Monopoly is a product of the period in our history we call the Great Depression. As you may now, once you own all the properties of the same color group, you have a monopoly (hence the name of the game) and you are permitted to put houses and ultimately a hotel on the property. As the number of houses increases, so does the rent the other players must pay should they land on them.

Boardwalk and Park Place represent the two most expensive properties in the game. And, for many players, the ones most prized. Yet, serious players of the game of Monopoly will tell you that if you want to win the game, you should try to get the properties at the 2nd and 3rd corners, the reds and greens. You see, analysis has shown that people are more likely to land on those properties than they are to land on either Boardwalk or Park Place. If you concentrate on trying to get the two most expensive properties and then try to get the appropriate houses and hotels, you may find that you end up losing the game.

Monopoly is a game where success comes from the acquisition of property and money. And there are people who feel that is the only way to be in real life today. Our society seems enamored with wealth and encourages all to seek more. We are nothing if we don’t have everything. Still, I saw a tee-shirt the other day with one of those great sayings "He who dies with the most toys, still dies." After all, despite all his riches, Citizen Kane died a lonely and unhappy man, wanting only the one thing money truly cannot buy, the happiness of his youth.

It might seem at first glance that a paradox exists between the readings in the Old Testament and the Gospel today. In the Gospel reading today Jesus warned us that to solely relying on material possessions was folly. Yet, Elisha got mad at Jehoash because he didn’t stamp the arrows enough. On one hand, we are warned against the gathering of materials solely to have them yet when given the opportunity we might get criticized for not taking enough. But the paradox is in not what we have in terms of material goods, but the priorities that we place on life.

As Paul points out, when we accept Jesus Christ as our own personal savior, our relationship with God changes. No longer can we allow the material things to drive us. We must turn our around our direction and completely follow Christ.

Elisha was dying and in his final moments he sought desperately to insure the kingdom of Israel. Even as he was dying, Elisha tried to save the country he loved and worked for. Yet, they did not have the faith that God would provide for their safety and security. The power of victory over evil was given to the Israelites but they did not take advantage of it. Elisha was angry with Jehoash, not because he didn’t stamp the arrows enough times, but because he did not have faith in God and would not take all that God would give him.

Jesus tells that no matter how much our material wealth is, if we are poor in Spirit then we have nothing. Tying up our lives in material things leads to nothing. Consider what happen when God took the Israelites into the Promised Land. Every day, He provided the necessary food and water. And when some took more than their share, maggots infested their food. When it was the day before the Sabbath, the Israelites were told to take enough for two days. If they didn’t, they had to would have to wait until the day after the Sabbath. God provided.

The amazing thing about God’s provisions is that it goes beyond the simple needs of life. It also includes the skills needed. Go back at look at all the times that God called a leader to duty. Moses said that he couldn’t speak so how could lead the Israelites; Jeremiah claimed he was too young. Even Peter denied the Lord. It seems like every time we are asked by God to do something, we try to get out of it. Yet, God has never left anyone whom He has called alone and without the necessary skills. When God calls for you to work for him, will you hesitate or like the verses of Hymn #593, will you answer "Here I am Lord"?

We are in a society that is going to place extraordinary demands on people in the coming years. There are those who argue against the technological changes that are coming because they will remove the human aspect from life. I would say that, when you look at live today, it may be that we have already done so. Be it at work or at rest, we have taken the soul out of our live. We no longer talk about hope and we rely on the material goods to make it through life.

Viewed from an earthly viewpoint, life on this planet may look rather bleak. It is very difficult to talk about heaven, to believe that Christ is the answer we so desperately seek when the world around us is so tied up in the very ways of life that Paul told the Colossians to forgo.

But if we change our life as Paul suggested to the Colossians, that viewpoint will change. In accepting Christ, our life is no longer centered on the gain of material things but rather is centered in Christ. Our whole live changes; our viewpoint of life changes.

When I began working on this sermon, all I could think of was wealth and associated images. Needless to say, I struggled with the sermon. But, when we focus our lives on Christ, when we let Christ direct and guide us, then life takes on a whole new meaning.

Boardwalk and Park Place are nice properties to have when playing the game of Monopoly but acquiring the most expensive properties is not necessarily the way we want to live our daily lives. And we stop to remember, Jesus does have some real nice property that has been bought and paid for with his blood. Consider what Jesus told his disciples on the night of the Last Supper.

"Set your troubled hearts at rest. Trust in God always; trust also in me. There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house; if it were not so I should have told you; for I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I shall come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also; and you know the way I am taking." (John 14: 1 – 5)

Doesn’t the palace with the many rooms seem a better piece of property?

Finding The Truth

Here are my thoughts for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, 4 August 2007.  (This has been edited since it was first published.)

After reading the Gospel for today (Luke 12: 13 – 21 ), there is part of me that wants to scream. It is a scream of anguish or frustration more than anything else and it comes from knowing that the words that Luke recorded come from Christ, yet they seem to be words that people ignore.

Jesus is speaking about our relationship with others, especially those of our family and how we must guard against being greedy. In the parable of the rich man, we read of a man whose wealth has increased beyond measure and he has begun making plans to store and keep his extra riches. Yet, on the night that he begins making those plans, he finds out that God has other plans for him and he is called to his eternal home. It brings the question framed in Mark, “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”(Mark 8: 36 )

My scream comes from the fact that there are those in today’s society who claim to be messengers or prophets or ministers of God’s word who proclaim that it is perfectly alright to seek wealth and prosperity without fear of loss. There are those in today’s society who proclaim that God is our servant and whatever we ask, He will give to us. This so-called “prosperity gospel” is nowhere near what the Gospel says or even hinted at in the Bible. So I want to scream and cry out in anguish.

I also want to scream and cry out at those who listen to these words of misdirection and deceit. So many people today claim to be Christian and claim to follow the teachings of Jesus but they hold onto views that are in direct contradiction to what Jesus said and did. They are the type of people who say that “God helps those who help themselves” is found in the Bible without realizing that is a statement of Ben Franklin.

These contradictions are a result of what people think is in the Bible and what is actually in the Bible. It goes beyond the prosperity gospel and its get rich quick and without effort message. It extends into our knowledge of American history and real theology.

You hear so many so-called ministers proclaim that this country was founded on principles that come from the Bible. You hear so many so-called prophets of God claim that our founding fathers were God-fearing Christians. But you often do not hear that our founding fathers were in fact more deists than Christian; you often do not hear that being a member of a church and being identified with a particular congregation and/or denomination was done more out of political necessity and political requirements. You do not hear that Thomas Jefferson was so disenchanted with the Bible that he sought to write his own. You do not hear how Thomas Jefferson felt that the true church, true Christianity had been hijacked by the church. He thought that the teachings of Christ had been so distorted by organized churches that it made one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites (http://www.mindfully.org/Reform/2005/Jesus-Without-Miracles1dec05.htm). I would hope that the percentages are a little bit different today.

I scream, not because the church has been hijacked by those with their own selfish and personal interests but because it seems that because so many others have allowed it to occur. I began to understand the pain and anguish that Hosea writes about in the Old Testament reading for today (Hosea 11: 1 – 11 ).

The passage of Hosea is God’s cry that the people that he cared for and that he brought out of slavery and bondage in Egypt have turned away. It is God’s cry that His people are lost again in the wilderness without his protection. God does not exact vengeance against a select few in a nation; He exacts it against all people. Those who say that such-and-such a disaster was God’s judgment against a select few fail to realize that this judgment is against all. And God’s mercy is for all, not just for a select few.

If we want God’s mercy, we must seek it; it will not come to us. If we do not want God’s judgment to be against us, then we must work to do God’s will. In part, this is what Hosea writes today. God has not abandoned His people; His people have abandoned Him.

Evil is unjust but if we stand by and allow evil to persist, then our inaction is also unjust. If we allow ministers or preachers to preach a message that is not found in the Gospel, be it about prosperity or Armageddon, then we deserve the outcome that will come. The only reason that such individuals can preach these false words is because people allow them to be preached. We cannot stand on the brink of disaster and say that we will be saved when we had the opportunity to prevent the disaster.

God calls us to seek the truth. God calls us to listen to His son and respond in kind. The call comes in our repentance. It means not seeing wealth as an individual right but as something to be shared. It means insuring that everyone has sufficient resources. It means not violating the integrity of another nation solely because you seek vengeance.

Paul points out his letter to the Colossians (Colossians 3: 1- 11 ) that we must give up our personal ways. He writes that we are to put to death all those things that identify you with the earth and take up those things that identify you with Christ. We are to find a new life in Christ.

The task before us is a great one. There are so many people out there who profess to know the truth and to speak the truth that it has become almost impossible to discern “the wheat from the chaff”. But God gave us the ability to seek the truth; He sent His son so that the truth would be known. We are reminded that it will be the truth, the truth found in Christ that will set us free.

How will we know what is the truth? Look at those who claim to speak the truth but prevent you from questioning what they say. How can that be the truth? Listen to those who speak of and then deny access to the church for people because of their race, their caste, their lifestyle. How can that be the truth? Is there not a resistance in the church today to those who call for a change in the way that the church relates to the world around it?

There are those today who would forsake the world around them, claiming it to be evil and doomed. But the very same powers that might lead to that claim also allow us to make great and positive changes. The ability of man to master the world around him makes it possible for all to share in a creative life in this world. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to seek the truth in this new creative life. Is not the breaking of the chains of oppression a sign that we are growing in the unity that Paul wrote about in Colossians (Colossians 3: 11)?

Does this new creative life not allow us to seek Christ in new ways, to see Christ in the world around us? Does this new creative life found in Christ allow us to become free to know God in the immediacy of human life? Are we, through Christ, now free to serve God? Can we not see the possibility of witnessing that Christ is revealed to mankind as the one who came to set people free and not through some strange and mysterious theology only known to a select few?

Are we not at that same point as the disciples of John were when they came to Jesus and asked for a sign that He was the Messiah? Do we not see that the lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see, and the poor have the Good News preached to them (Taken from Luke 7: 22)?

We have a choice. We can allow others to tell us their version of the truth; we can let them go on and on misleading them. Or we can allow the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and open both our minds and hearts so that we can truly discern the truth. We can go on and allow others to tell us what to think and what to say and what to do. Or we can repent of our sins and our worldly ways, cast off that which ties us to this world and take up the mantle of Christ. And when we do this, when we accept Christ into our hearts and truly become His disciples, then we will know what the truth is and we will be truly free.


To Build a New Community

I am again at Hankins UMC this Sunday.  (Location of Hankins – the church is just past the intersection of NY 97 and NY Co 94 (on church road))  The service starts at 11 and you are welcome to attend.  The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, are Hosea 1: 2 – 10, Colossians 2: 6 – 19, and Luke 11: 1 – 13.


The other day, someone (“Kyle”) added a comment concerning the paradox I had placed into my piece/sermon, “Who Cuts the Barber’s Hair?” The paradox is a classic one invented by the mathematician and logician, Bertrand Russell. It states

A barber posts the following sign in his window, "I cut the hair of all those men in town, and only those men in town that do not cut their own hair."

This particular paradox was created to illustrate a problem in set theory and logic. It is related in part to the page in most legal documents that states “this page is intentionally blank.” Of course, there is writing on the page so it is obviously not blank. And that is a paradox; a statement or situation which seemingly defies logic.

The paradox in the Bertrand Russell problem is that if the barber cuts his own hair, then he belongs to that group of men who cut their own hair. But that is the one grouping of men whose hair the barber does not cut. If someone else cut’s the barber’s hair, then he does not cut his own hair and the sign says that he does. Either the sign is wrong or nobody, including the barber, can cut the barber’s hair.

Now, “Kyle” tried to make a big deal out of this problem by pointing out, among other things, that such a situation doesn’t occur in real life. I didn’t say that it did and I pointed out that it was a created problem to deal with a particular set of situations that we might encounter.

Now, as it happens, sitting on my desk is a book by the philosopher and economist, Charles Handy, entitled “The Age of Paradox.” It is a companion to his book “The Age of Unreason” and it speaks to the contradictions of society. I really hadn’t thought that I would be using it this week. But as I began to re-read the book, I encountered some interesting thoughts.

Handy pointed out that we live at a time where it seems that the more we know, the more confused we get. And as we increase our technological capacity, we also seem to become more powerless. And while we have developed some of the most sophisticated armaments in the history of the world, we can only watch impotently while parts of the world kill each other and we are entrapped in wars of our own making (italics added as my own thought). We grow more food than we need but we somehow cannot feed the starving. We can unravel the mysteries of the galaxies yet we cannot understand other humans.

We know that learning takes time but we demand immediate results from education. We call for quality education but we seem to think that funding education is wasteful. We call for an end to wars in this country yet we see the solution as more war. We call for an end to poverty but our solution is to allow the rich to keep their money but over the past few years the gap between the rich and the poor has increased, not decreased. We call for an end to hunger yet the solution of food pantries and food banks only seems to create more problems, such as diabetes. We say we are solving the problems but in doing so only create more problems.

We demand the truth and we will listen to any prophet who can tell us what the future holds. But prophets do not foretell the future. What they do is tell the truth as they see it; they warn of dangers ahead if the present course is not changed. They point out what they think is wrong, unjust or prejudiced. They offer a way to clarify and concentrate the mind.

But they cannot tell the people what to do, despite the fact that is what many people want them to do. It was Jesus who told us that we should seek the truth and the truth will set us free but we are afraid of that truth.

When Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, TN, on April 4, 1968, Robert Kennedy was in Indianapolis. There were those who feared that violence would erupt in that city when the news of Dr. King’s death was announced and that the city should be prepared to meet such violence should be met with additional force. These authorities also recommended that Senator Kennedy not go to a planned political rally that night, saying that they feared for his safety and that they could not provide the protection that he needed. It seems to me that the only ones who feared for their safety and unwilling to do their job were the authorities, the ones charged with keep the peace and insuring the safety.

On that night, when violence erupted in 76 cities across the United States, no violence erupted in Indianapolis. And I will always believe that it was because Robert Kennedy spoke the truth to the people that night, just as he had spoken the truth so many times during that ill-fated 1968 Presidential campaign. (See “A Quote from Bobby Kennedy” and “A Ripple of Hope”, a movie about that night in Indianapolis)

But what people probably don’t remember is a speech that he gave earlier that day at the Indiana University Medical School. It was a speech to a largely white audience and they were extremely uncomfortable hearing him speak of his vision for the future. Several students asked the same question, “where would the money for his programs come from?” And he replied, bluntly, “From you. I look around this room and I don’t see many black faces who will become doctors. Part of a civilized society is to let people go to medical school who come from ghettos. I don’t see many people coming here from the slums, or off of Indian reservations. You are the privileged ones here.” The students reacted by hissing and booing Kennedy. As one observer pointed out, only Senator Kennedy or perhaps Jimmy Stewart’s “Mr. Smith”, Robert Redford as Bill McKay in “The Candidate” or Warren Beatty as “Jay Bulworth” could have responded in such terms. (http://www.wsws.org/articles/2006/dec2006/bobb-d21.shtml, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-a-palermo/robert-f-kennedys-indiana_b_99363.html, and http://www.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/books/06/06/review.rfk/index.html) I cannot help but think that there isn’t a political candidate who would say what Senator Kennedy said on that day or would have said anything at all without first making sure that the polls agreed with his comments or that a focus group thought they were appropriate. We only want to hear the truth that we want to hear, not the truth that sets us free.

At a time when there should be great opportunities for personal fulfillment, society demands more and more of our time. We have gained many freedoms over the year but it seems that they come with less equality, more misery, and ultimately feeling that success comes with a highly disproportionate price.

Too many people today see themselves as cogs in someone else’s machine, hurtling God knows where, destined to be a nameless number on a payroll or the raw material for some sociologist’s or economist’s statistical report. We try to walk a path that leads somewhere but which ends up nowhere. What others may call progress only seems like an empty promise.

We hear the words of Jesus to ask and we shall receive but we don’t really know what to ask for. We are told to seek and we shall find but we don’t know where to look. We are told to knock and the door will be opened but we don’t know which door to knock.

These are the paradoxes of our age but to call them paradoxes only puts a label on the situation; it does little to solve the problems that have been created.

Could it be that in our search for our own well-being and comfort we have misplaced our priorities? Could it be that in our focus on our own lives we have failed to remember that we are a part of a community?

In re-reading Charles Handy’s thoughts, I discovered that Adam Smith, author of “The Wealth of Nations” was a professor of moral philosophy and not economics as one might presume. His theories on the nature of economics come from the basis of a moral community. Before he wrote the book that we most know about, he had written another book, “A Theory of Moral Sentiments, in which he argued that a stable society was based on “sympathy”, a moral duty to have regard for one’s fellow human beings. All financial markets are to do is provide a mechanism for separating the efficient from the inefficient; they are not a substitute for responsibility. (Adapted from “The Age of Paradox”, Charles Handy)

What is missing from the equation in this time and place is a sense of responsibility. Perhaps it would be better if I used Genesis 4: 1 – 8 as the Old Testament reading for today. (And for those who have forgotten, this is the story of Cain and Abel.) Are we our brother’s keeper? Do we not have some sort of responsibility to take care of other people? And perhaps I should have used the Gospel reading from two weeks ago and asked who we count as our neighbor?

What expectations do we have in this society today? Are we a community of people or just a collection of people living on the same planet?

If we think about it, the beginning and middle of the Gospel reading for today is about such a community, a community in which, no matter how we may feel, we have an obligation to take care of each other.

The first thing that Jesus did when He began His ministry was to form a community. To follow Jesus meant that one would be willing to share His life. At the beginning, many followed and were willing to join but as it became clear what was expected of them, many quit. And even when the authorities thought that they could disband the community through death and oppression, it continued to grow. We are reminded that the early church was actually a movement known as “The Way.”

It was an open community, known as a caring and sharing community, especially sensitive to the needs of the poor and the outcast. It was a community founded on a love for God, for each other, and for the oppressed. Their refusals to kill, to practice racial discrimination, and to bow down before imperial deities were a matter of public knowledge. Theirs was a life-style based on faith and a testimony to that faith. (Adapted from “The Call to Conversion”, Jim Wallis, 2005)

We see the beginning of that community in the Gospel reading for today. We may not like it when a neighbor knocks on our door late at night but if the request is a reasonable one, we are apt to respond favorably. What good would it do to give a scorpion if a person needed an egg? We would only do so if we were selfish and greedy. But, in the Kingdom of God, our care for others is as great as it is for each of us.

The words of Hosea become strangely prophetic today. We have to wonder what the people thought when Hosea married Gomer, a prostitute. And then he named his son Jezreel. Now, Jezreel was the name of a place and a town in Israel associated with the bloody violence of the power politics that the kings of Israel had used to gain the throne and power. It was to reinforce the message of God’s coming judgment. Similarly, by naming his daughter “Lo-Ruhamah” and his next son “Lo-Ammi”, Hosea was communicating to the people of Israel their loss of God.

Now, I know that there are some who relish in this prophecy; who see in Hosea’s prophecy a justification for their own pronouncement of judgment and vindication of their vision for the future of this country. But their vision runs counter to the vision offered in the Lord’s Prayer, of a community open to all. When we say “grant us” and “free us”, we are not speaking individually but as a community.

But the loss should not be seen as a permanent one because God has rejected His Children. The promise made to Abraham still remains in effect, provided that we respond. In Christ, we are reminded that there is a covenant between God and us. If we are to find our way in this world, we will find it through Christ. As I read Paul’s words to the Colossians, I am reminded that we are responsible for our own faith. We cannot nor should we expect others to tell us what to do or where to go.

Now, there is a fine line between living in a community where one presumes leadership means control and direction and one in which we work together. We live in a world where too many people want the former when what is needed is the latter. The former leads us to a life without direction, without meaning, and down a path to nowhere. It is a life without Christ and one in which, as Paul wrote, one in which we are dead.

But in Christ, we find a new life. And in this new life, we begin anew, to build a new community, a community in which people can find their direction, their purpose, and their life. It is not an easy task, to be sure, but one in which we are called upon to begin today with our acceptance of Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

“A Vision of the Future”

This is the message that I gave at Walker Valley United Methodist Church for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, 5 August 2001.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Hosea 11: 1 – 11, Colossians 3: 1 – 11, and Luke 12: 13 – 21.


It is always interesting to see how the future has been viewed by people of the past. And while there have been visionaries such as Jules Verne whose vision of the future through his novels have been remarkably accurate, the majority have not been so prophetic. Consider the following statements:

  1. "Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction." — Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872
  2. "The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon." — Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria, 1873
  3. "This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." — Western Union internal memo, 1876
  4. "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." — Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895
  5. "Everything that can be invented has been invented." — Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899 (see a note at the end of the post concerning this particular quote)
  6. "Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value." –Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre
  7. "The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?" — David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s
  8. "Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools." — 1921 New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard’s revolutionary rocket work
  9. "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" — H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927
  10. "Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau." — Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929
  11. I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper." — Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in "Gone With The Wind"
  12. "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
  13. "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons." — Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949
  14. "I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year." — The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957
  15. "We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." — Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962
  16. "But what … is it good for?" — Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip
  17. "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." — Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp. in 1977
  18. "640K ought to be enough for anybody." — Bill Gates, 1981

The probably with seeing the future is that it is seen with eyes centered on the present and based on values and methods set in the present.

  1. "Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy." — Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.
  2. "The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible." — A Yale Univ. management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)
  3. "A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make." — Response to Debbi Fields’ idea of starting Mrs. Fields’ Cookies
  4. "If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this." — Spencer Silver on work that led to the unique adhesives for 3-M "Post-It" Notepads
  5. "So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.’" — Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and H-P interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer.
  6. "You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development across all of your muscles? It can’t be done. It’s just a fact of life. You just have to accept inconsistent muscle development as an unalterable condition of weight training." — Response to Arthur Jones, who solved the "unsolvable" problem by inventing Nautilus

The point to be made is that the future can never be thought of in terms of what is present now but rather with an open eye to what might be. During the 1968 presidential primary campaign, Robert Kennedy repeatedly quoted George Bernard Shaw, "You see things; and say ‘why?’ But I dream of things that never were and say ‘why not?’" (George Bernard Shaw) Because the future is and will always be about what we can do, not what we can’t do.

If we want to know what the future holds, we must see beyond what the present offers. And that is a most difficult task. We are comfortable with the present and we want the future to be something we can be comfortable with as well.

Our culture is a "see it to believe" society. We want the tangible; we want to hold things, measure them, and examine them. We have little room in our lives for transcendental things, such as heaven or faith. Transcendence cannot be measured or examined; we cannot put heaven under a microscope. It makes us uneasy to talk about faith because we cannot hold it in our hands. The brother who came to Jesus asking (actually demanding) that He command his brother to share the inheritance was that way. The rich man in the parable that Jesus told was also.

Both wanted things that they could hold as a means of defining the future. But the future must be defined in terms of another plane, another way of seeing things. When we view the world as Paul suggests in his letter to the Colossians, then we are able to have that view.

When we speak of heaven and faith in terms such as Paul has written about, we talk about a hope that transcends material possessions. We speak of a joy that moves beyond shallow happiness. We speak of a faith that enables us to claim that which we cannot see. And we receive a grace that loves us unconditionally. The only problem is that none of that can be accomplished when we are fixed with our eyes on earth and our ways set in the present and based on society’s demands.

Some might have said that Paul was being a Pollyanna, offering an escapist theology when he wrote these words. But he definitely had an ethical motive in mind. Paul presumed that the behavior of the Colossians, and of all Christians, would be based on a behavior. Paul noted that in order to see the world with a new vision, the Colossians must get rid of their old ways. They must leave the life style they had and choose a new life style, motivated by the Love of Christ, not by earthly materials.

When our minds are set on things above us, our view of the world changes radically. Relationships are seen differently and we no longer treat people in the way we once did. Because our view of the world is different, our actions are different.

My vision for the future, at least as it pertains to Walker Valley United Methodist Church, is a simple one. It is that this church be here prepared to help those who seek Christ find Him, now, tomorrow, and for the next five years and beyond.

Admittedly, it is not much of a vision. There are no grandiose plans, no mission statement. It is a vision not designed by the most modern of church building techniques. All it assumes is that over the next five years, people will come to this area in ever increasing numbers. They will come because it is cheaper to live here while still working in the city and they will come because they seek to find a security and a peace that they have not been able to find at the present time.

You have heard me question the plans for evangelism that many churches today have developed. I don’t think you can build a church on an idea that there must be programs for everyone and every group. Yes, there must be programs but it is not programs that will build a church. If programs offered peace and security, then the Israelites might have found their peace with the gods of Baal and the gods of their neighbors so many years ago.

But the Israelites were driven to seek other gods because they had forgotten, as Hosea reminded them, Who it was that brought them out of Egypt, Who it was that gave them peace and security in the first place.

What is needed today are not programs but opportunities. Opportunities provide the chances for people to find Christ, not get lost in a maze of tasks. A couple of weeks ago I suggested that we open the sanctuary one or two nights a week. During this time, people will be given the opportunity to come into the sanctuary and sit quietly and pray or mediate. This time of discernment is to allow moments that block out the noise and distraction of the world so that you can hear to hear God calling to you. There will be no music playing in the background, there will be no one there to offer prayers or read the Bible with you or to you. It is simply a chance to sit and be with God.

That is not to say that people will not be in the church. While the sanctuary is open, so too will the education wing and we can have things going on in there at the same time. There are a number of people who like Bible study and they can meet at that time if they so desire. And I am certain that there are other things that can on while the sanctuary is open. This time of discernment must be a quiet time, not disturbed by everyday voices.

I also think that we need to bring the youth of the church back. At least one night a month (and may be more as it develops), we should have a youth night. This would be time for the youth to gather in a place of safety and security. It is not clear to me what the format for these gatherings will be, for I don’t know which youth will come. But it will be an opportunity for the youth to come knowing that the pressures of the everyday world will be lifted for a few moments.

This does present another problem. It has been privately pointed out that the meetings that we have already scheduled for the next few months along with such activities such as the youth gathering will require that we clean up the kitchen and the fellowship hall downstairs.

The first gathering of people to occur this fall should occur in the next few weeks and it should be for the express purpose of cleaning the kitchen and fellowship hall. Now the one thing that I have found out about Walker Valley is that such things can occur without much prodding. It has amazed me that when we have had church lunches, how easily things are planned and accomplished. I am hoping that this one task, necessary for future activities, will occur that way as well.

Lastly, there is a need to think about the leadership for the future. We need to think about whom will serve as the leaders of this church. This is not meant to be derogatory or insulting to the present leaders; for without their efforts we could not begin to even think about the future. But there is a need to bring others into the leadership and there are certainly opportunities for others to help with the leadership. You, whether you are a member of the Committee on Lay Leadership or not, are challenged to think about what you can do and you are challenged to help the Committee find individuals willing and able to serve.

A vision for the future defined by the present times is one that will lead to failure. It is a vision rooted in the everyday aspect of life and thus unable to go beyond today. Hosea came to the Israelites to remind them that their hope for the future was not in the present but in God. Paul told the Colossians that a life based on earthly standards could never reach the heights of heaven. And Jesus reminded his disciples that preparing for the future in terms of today’s standards would always end up as a failure.

Through Christ we are offered a vision of the future. We see what we can have. To achieve this vision of the future, we must look beyond the things of today, we must seek a higher plane with which to view life. This can be accomplished when we let Christ into our hearts and into our lives.

Concerning the quote attributed to Charles Duell about everything had been invented and that the US Patent Office could be shut down

From a note to the CHMINF list on 29 July 1999 by Grace Baysinger <graceb@STANFORD.EDU>

Hello, I have a patron who is interested in seeing the original text that contains the following quote:

Quote: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

Charles H. Duell who was the Commissioner of the US Patent Office in 1899 made this quote.

I searched the Quotations file on Dialog and in Academic Universe. Also searched SSCI to see if Duell had been cited (he had not).

Any suggestions on where to look next would be appreciated. Thanks!

Grace Baysinger

Stanford University


Date: Thu, 29 Jul 1999 11:14:42 -0400

From: Nancy Adams <Nancy_Adams@UMIT.MAINE.EDU>

Subject: Re: Reference Question – Help Needed


The book, “The Patent Office Pony: A History of the Early Patent Office “, written by Kenneth W. Dobyns, contains information about this quote. It was attributed to the first Commissioner of Patents, Henry Ellsworth. The actual sentence that he wrote in the 1843 Annual Report of the Patent Office was, “The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity, and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end.” This has evolved through the years to, “Everything that can be invented has been invented”, although he never actually said that. Dobyns also states that Richard Nixon, in his 1988 book, “Victory without War”, attributed the erroneous statement to Commissioner Charles H. Duell, who also never said it.


Nancy Adams

Nancy E. Adams, M.L.I.S.

Science and Engineering Center, Fogler Library

University of Maine

Orono, ME 04469

207-581-1678 FAX 207-581-1653 e-mail:



Date: Thu, 29 Jul 1999 11:18:33 -0400

From: Nancy Adams <Nancy_Adams@UMIT.MAINE.EDU>

Subject: Re: Reference Question – Help Needed

Grace: In my last message I forgot to add that the actual text of the correct quote is found on page 5 of the 1843 “Annual Report of Commissioner of Patents”. The report is House of Representatives Document No. 177, from the 28th Congress of the U.S., 1st Session.

· Nancy Adams

Nancy E. Adams, M.L.I.S.

Science and Engineering Center, Fogler Library

University of Maine

Orono, ME 04469

207-581-1678 FAX 207-581-1653 e-mail:



We Gather Together

This was the second of three Sundays that I was at Mulberry (KS) and Arma (KS) United Methodist Churches.  As I will allude to in the message, this was the Sunday following the completion of Vacation Bible School.  It wasn’t part of the “assignment” but since the church did not have a regularly assigned pastor (which is why I was there for three weeks), I spent the mornings at the Arma church helping where I could and leading the daily devotions.

Now, it turned out that one tradition of VBS there was that the children picked the Scripture readings for the Sunday service.  The Scripture readings that were selected were 1 Kings 19: 11 – 13, Matthew 14: 13 – 21, and John 20: 24 – 29.  Not quite the regular lectionary and I suppose if I had had more experience, I might have picked one of the three and focused on that particular scripture.  However, I was just beginning and I thought that you needed to use all three readings, and this Sunday, with the children having picked the verses, it was especially important that I use all three.

So here is the message for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, 30 July 1995.

(I would also add that I had the pleasure of meeting Rose Sims two years before while I was still living in Minnesota.  It turns out that we shared a common bond of having both gone to the University of Missouri and having John Voth as an teacher.)


I chose the title for this sermon, "We Gather Together", for three reasons. First, this particular hymn we sang as the prelude today has always been one of my favorites.

Second, it reminds us that Jesus will always be in our presence whenever two or more are gathered in his name.

And third, it helps us to answer the same question that God asked Elijah "What are you doing here, Elijah" (1 Kings 19: 11)

Today we celebrate the completion of a successful Vacation Bible School. Now to some, Vacation Bible School is simply a summer time activity the church puts on for its children and those in its community. But we should also realize that it is through Vacation Bible School that we honor in part the tradition of a bible-based education, one mark of the Methodist Church since its founding some two hundred and fifty years ago.

Jesus said "Let the children come to me; do not try to stop them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." (Mark 10: 14)

Throughout time, children have had little or no place in society. As we read in the last verse of the passage from Matthew, women and children weren’t counted. That makes the feeding of the multitude even more amazing because there may have been between 12,000 and 15,000 people feed. Jesus command to his disciples came because they, the disciples, still early in their own ministries, saw children as non-entities in society.

Even in the days of John Wesley and early 18th century England, children as young as 11 and 12 commonly put in 60-hour work weeks along side the parents and other adults in the mines and factories. For them to learn anything, it would have to take place on Sunday. John Wesley started the first Sunday School because it was the only way many children would get any education and to show them that God had not forgotten about them.

But the challenges facing children have changed much in today’s "enlightened " society. Consider the following report written in June, 1987 by Don McCrory for Eternity.

"In the next 30 minutes, 285 children will become victims of broken homes, 685 teenagers will take some form of narcotics and 57 kids will become runaways. The incident of divorce in the U. S. will likely remain the highest in the world (1986 Census Bureau Predictions). Of the 3.6 million U. S. children who began their formal school in the US last September (1986), 14% were born to unmarried parents’ 40% will live in broken homes before they reach the age of 18; as many as one-third are latchkey children with no one to greet them when they come home from school. Some 100,000 of America’s children are homeless on any given night, and that doesn’t include those who have run away from home or been kicked out by their parents. That National Academy of Sciences – not the church – called it a ‘national disgrace that must be treated with urgency that such a situation demands" (page 169, New Life For Dying Churches, Rose Sims)

When we hear facts like those, even some eight years later when the situation has not improved, we realize how important it is for us to have Jesus in our lives. This celebration of Vacation Bible School is not just for the children. It is also a celebration of Jesus’ presence in our own lives today as well. Remember that after summoning the children, He told the crowd and His disciples, "Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." (Mark 10: 15)

To the people of both Jesus and John Wesley’s times, it was almost as if God had forgotten them. The prophet Elijah was running from Queen Jezebel’s hired killers. Having defeated the priests of Baal, he was a marked man fearing for his life and on the run. He came to that cave after forty days of running, convinced that he was only believer of God left, convinced that God had left him.

God said to Elijah to go outside the cave and watch him pass by. But God was not in the "wind, earthquake, and "fire, the natural phenomena traditionally associated with God. It is that singular silence, the passage of the silence, "and after the fire a sound of sheer silence" (1 Kings 19: 13), that reminds us not to look for God in the wind or the earthquakes or the fire because He is always here with us.

Even in the worst times one can imagine, when one feels left all alone, there are still other believers. And that was the case in Israel at that time. If you read further on in that chapter you find out that about seven thousand believers left. Every time God struck down the people of Israel, he always left behind a core of true believers. And as long as the believers were there, so was God.

Today we look at the church and the impact it can have on a community. I believe that there were more children at VBS. this summer than every before and that many of the children were not from this church. In fact, that is one reason why we have Vacation Bible School, to reach out to those who do not know Jesus. Bishop Earl Hunt, who served as President of the United Methodist Council of Bishops spoke of the impact of the church in a community.

". . . whenever the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is turned loose in a community to help human beings and meet their needs and lift up the name of Jesus Christ, that church becomes indispensable in the community." (pages 173 – 174, New Life For Dying Churches, Rose Sims)

Can you imagine the impact the feeding of the multitudes, not once but twice, had on the community of Israel? The people of Israel were already hearing stories of the power of Jesus. And as more and more people heard, they came to hear him and be near him and be healed by him. The crowds had grown to the point that for Jesus to escape, He had to take to a boat and sail across the lake. It was to get away from the crowds that lead to the passage in Matthew that we read today. While very few people may have had a great understanding of who Jesus was or what his mission was, they did know that what he offered was far greater than anything they had received up to that time.

When Jesus died on the cross, some of his followers may have again felt like God had forsaken them once more. Many may have given up and gone home, convinced there was hope of being saved, of gaining the freedom they so long cherished. But just as Elijah was not alone, there were some who were not ready to stop believing. Those that believed in his resurrection kept the faith.

Still doubts remained. Thomas would not just accept the word of his friends as proof of the resurrection; he had to see the proof. Our world is much the same way today. There are those today who wonder if our society and country are headed in the right direction. We demand proof that Jesus is still here.

My friends, the proof is there. As Jesus told Thomas, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." (John 20: 29)

The effect of the first Bible School started by John Wesley can be seen in what happened to England at the time France was undergoing its bloody revolution. Changes occurred in England, changes which made society better without the cost of blood. We see it in the eyes of the children who came to Vacation Bible School every day; we see it in the eyes of people at Gentry House as the kids sang for them on Friday.

I believe because I have seen the Spirit of the Lord work to turn around a church from the point almost closing to closing the purchase of 5 acres of land for a newer and bigger church within three years of the ministry. The words that Bishop Hunt spoke were spoken at a small country church in Florida that a few years before it too was about to be closed. Hope for the presence of Christ in that community would have disappeared were it not for Rose Sims. She became the pastor of that church and with the assistance of the congregation turned it around and made it a force in that community.

The best description of her work with this church was written by a reporter for the Tampa Tribune, George Lane.

Once the rural church was the strength of America, and the Methodist Church in Trilby and hundreds of other towns like this are fertile soil for the church’s rebirth in Florida, America, and maybe the world. What is happening at the Trilby Methodist Church offers new hope. When the world is at its worst, that is when the church must be at its best." (New Life For Dying Churches, Dr. Rose Sims)

If you ask Dr. Sims how all of that was accomplished she will tell you it was because the work done at Trilby was done for Jesus. The secret behind the rebirth of the Trilby Church was that the preaching of the Gospel was accompanied by work in the community.

We gather here today to ask the Lord’s blessing because we know that through Jesus Christ, it becomes possible for us to answer God’s question to Elijah. And on that day when Jesus was uplifted into heaven, He told His disciples

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28: 19 – 20)

And while Vacation Bible School is through for the summer, our gathering here today in its celebration helps us to renew this great commission.

You Get What You Ask For

This is the message that I presented at Walker Valley UMC for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, 29 July 2001.  The Scriptures are Hosea 1: 2 – 10, Colossians 2: 6 – 19, and Luke 11: 1 – 13.  I also presented the message at the Stone Church in Cragsmoor, NY.


The title for this sermon is a two-edged statement. In some respect I see the Gospel reading in the sense of what Jesus said that day when he taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. "Ask and it shall be given."

But when you ask, be bold in asking and ask only for what is needed. Jesus used the boldness of the neighbor to see what was needed as example of the boldness one should use when asking God for something that is needed. But only ask for what is needed because we shall receive only that which is spiritually beneficial.

This parable also suggests, at least to me, that we can be the means by which other’s requests and prayers are answered. The passage in the Lord’s Prayer "do not lead us into temptation" is not meant to suggest that God leads us into sin as a test of our faith and loyalty but rather to suggest that to avoid sin, we must go where God leads us. And if that means that we must help others because they have requested help, so be it.

It is said that Eleanor Roosevelt personally supported a number of students financially. One student remembered getting a personal check for $75 monthly from her, even long after she ceased being First Lady.

It might have been a lot easier for her to refer him to some giant scholarship program and perhaps even write a nice recommendation letter. But because she was personally committed to education she supported students she felt worthy. More than twenty-five students received funds out of her personal account to meet their educational needs. She was the answer to their requests.

I have seen the reverse of this too many times to count. Whether it was in education or in private industry, I have seen people not do something because it wasn’t their job. If you say you are committed to a project then you must be willing to meet the demands of the project, not merely pass on the details to someone else.

I think that is why we have the Old Testament reading for today. The commentary on the chapter points out the Hosea quickly discovered that being a prophet was not easy task. More often than not, the Lord required His prophets to perform difficult and even humiliating object lessons as a compliment to their message. We read today that Hosea was told by God to marry a prostitute and to give his children names symbolic of the problems Israel was having at that time.

Hosea named his first born son Jezreel as a reminder of the atrocities that had occurred at that city. God was to judge Israel for these sins, apparently through a military defeat at that sin. If you will remember, every time Israel went into battle without the blessing of God, they suffered a terrible and humiliating defeat. Hosea was to name his second child, a daughter, Lo-Ruhamah, which meant "Not Loved." This was a sign that God was temporarily removed his love from Israel. The third child’s name was Lo-Ammi or "Not My People." This was God’s way of telling the people of Israel that their covenant was in danger of being broken.

I can imagine that Hosea must have said to himself that he didn’t ask for this. And I don’t think there is one of us who would disagree. The same is true today. We look at all that is around us and we wonder why it occurs, why God lets such bad things happen. But that is the same as the neighbor inside the building hearing his neighbor knock and asking for bread. What shall we do?

We must also remember that God never intended the punishment inflicted on Israel in Hosea’s time to be the final judgment. Hosea’s task was to show the people of Israel that they had been unfaithful in upholding their part of the covenant relationship with God. Through Hosea God announced that He would use severe judgment to free His people from the spiritual stupor and get their attention.

And while we might think that God intended to end the covenant relationship, we always know that has never been nor will it ever be the case. God’s intent is always to restore His people. When they repent of their sins, when they come to God and ask forgiveness, then life becomes better.

God loves us as His people and He will allow nothing to ruin this relationship and He will do everything to preserve it. Paul points out that Christ’s actions were solely to show this love and to maintain the relationship between God and us.

That is why the first thing that we should always ask for, the thing that God wanted from the Israelites in Hosea’s time, was forgiveness. The Israelites were told that if they repented their sins and turned away from their former ways, the glory of the kingdom of David would be returned to them.

Paul very vividly pointed out that everything Jesus did was so that all would be forgiven. What was expected of the people then and was expected of the people today was that we do God’s work, that we were to hold to the faith that has saved us.

But we must also remember that there are times when others ask and we are in turn asked by God. Sometimes the task that we are asked to do is not one we desire but in doing it, others will come to know Christ. As you go out this week, remember that you will get what you ask for. So ask for what you need and remember that you may be the means by which others get what they ask as well.

The art of Haiku applied to computer programming

I was reminded of these wonderful error messages as I was searching for a situation where an error in writing some code caused a failure in a space mission.



A file that big?
It might be very useful.
But now it is gone.

Yesterday it worked
Today it is not working
Windows is like that

Stay the patient course
Of little worth is your ire
The network is down

Three things are certain:
Death, taxes, and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.

You step in the stream,
but the water has moved on.
This page is not here.

Out of memory.
We wish to hold the whole sky,
But we never will.

Having been erased,
The document you’re seeking
Must now be retyped.

Rather than a beep
Or a rude error message,
These words: “File not found.”

Serious error.
All shortcuts have disappeared.
Screen. Mind. Both are blank.

The Web site you seek
cannot be located but
endless others exist

Chaos reigns within.
Reflect, repent, and reboot.
Order shall return.

ABORTED effort:
Close all that you have.
You ask way too much.

First snow, then silence.
This thousand dollar screen dies
so beautifully.

With searching comes loss
and the presence of absence:
“My Novel” not found.

The Tao that is seen
Is not the true Tao, until
You bring fresh toner.

Windows NT crashed.
I am the Blue Screen of Death.
No one hears your screams.

A crash reduces
your expensive computer
to a simple stone.

Error messages
cannot completely convey.
We now know shared loss.

These have been around for a long, long time (1998) – credit comes from “Haiku Error Messages”


As it turns out, the error that I was thinking about was not a coding problem but a conversion problem; the Mars Climate Observer was launched on December 11, 1998 but was lost sometime around September 23, 1999.  Examination of the records showed that one of the contractors had used English units in a calculation while other calculations were done with metric units.  As a result of the failure to convert miles to kilometers, a $125 million dollar satellite was lost.  (see “Math Mistakes in History: The Mars Climate Orbiter”)

Wikipedia has a note about Mariner 1 satellite and the role that computer software played in its lost.  The satellite was destroyed shortly after its launch on July 22, 1962, when it failed to respond to guidance commands.  It has been suggested that this failure to respond was due to errors in computer programming but the information to confirm this is ambiguous at best.

I expressed some thoughts on technology literacy, or rather, illiteracy in the piece “What Does It Mean To Be Ahead Of The Curve?”.  I will be adding additional thoughts with my message on Sunday (see “42”)