I am at the Henderson Settlement in Kentucky this week (7 August – 13 August) with my home church’s youth group.
The Sunday blog
I didn’t get a chance to post my normal Sunday thoughts because of the trip preparation so I figured that I would do so now. A colleague was basing her sermon for Sunday in part on the passage from Romans. Here are some of the thoughts I put down for her when she asked for my thoughts.
As to the passage from Romans, consider Paul’s question. If one does not know of Christ and/or God, how then will they ever get into heaven? There is a philosophical argument that says that if you know nothing of sin, you cannot be a sinner. But once you become aware of sin, then you find that you are a sinner.
I don’t necessarily think that Paul is stating that one must go through Christ to get into heaven. A devout Jew has a path separate from ours but if they deviate from their path, then they are in deep trouble (this is why I think Paul is referring to Moses at the beginning of the passage). For us, Christ was sent as alternative and is the One whom we can trust to be there in times of need.
If I were writing a sermon, I would point out that Joseph’s brothers did not like him, let alone trust him and they had no use for the prophecies that came out of his dream. They felt that Joseph had the good life and they had to do all the hard work. No one likes a visionary who does not work.
Of course, we can look to the next few chapters and know how that comes out.
And there are times when our faith is tested to the max, when our eyes are no longer on Christ and we find ourselves slipping fast in the ocean of despair. Who did Peter call on when he began to sink into the Sea of Galilee? Whom shall we call on?
Those were my thoughts in part on the passage from Romans and how I saw the passages from Genesis and Matthew relating to it. I probably would have entitled the sermon “Trust is a Must”, a portion of a saying from the Hall of Famer bowler Billy Welu (trust is a must or your game is bust).
Notes on Henderson Settlement and the surrounding area
For those that don’t know, the Henderson Settlement is part of the Red Bird Missionary Conference of the United Methodist Church. It is located just outside Middlesboro, Kentucky in the southeast corner of Kentucky. But in one sense it is another part of the world. Cell phones don’t work in these hills and unless you have a reliable wireless network for the internet, communication is limited to regular phone lines.
In a country where the poverty line for a family of two adults and two children is set at about $21,000, the median income for this county is $22,000. There are two population centers where there is work so they raise the income but when you get outside those centers, the average income drops rather dramatically. And the poverty of the area is not limited to just this one county. The county where I lived when I was preaching at Neon UMC is about two hours north of here and its income numbers are very similar to the ones for this area.
For the youth of this area, there isn’t much hope. The only jobs are in the coal industry and we aren’t using as much coal as we did once upon a time. But using coal brings with it a variety of problems. To get to the coal, you must strip the mountain tops which destroy the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. And you have to deal with one of the most insidious diseases ever discovered, black lung disease. Let’s just say that this disease is appropriately named and you can imagine what it does and has done to many a miner.
Those who can only imagine why it is so important to fight for the unions in this country need only look to Appalachia and the fights that went on between the miners and the mine owners.
So the youth of this area stay in the area and work in the mines or they try to get out. I was told today that this area ranks in the top ten for prescription drug abuse among teenagers in the country.
Against this backdrop that is vaguely similar to the times of John Wesley and England in the early 18th century stands the church, especially the United Methodist Church, offering hope and a promise.
It is the promise that the people of this area will not be alone and that there are people who care enough to give of their time and resources to spend a week helping the people of the area. Some of this work involves building and repairing the houses of the people; other times it involves work on the settlement property (our youth did renovation work on the community pool and completed some other tasks that earlier groups had begun but were unable to complete).
For many of the youth, this trip is a life-changing experience. We often see poverty in abstract terms and we often tend to overlook the existence of poverty in own neighborhoods. But when one travels to another part of the same country and discovers conditions that one only can imagine happening in 3rd world countries, it changes one’s perspective.
This week, besides our group, there was group from New Jersey and one from Ohio. The Ohio group first came several years ago and returned each year since that original trip. I think that many of those in the New Jersey group are repeaters. I was the only one in our group that had never been here before.
It is not an easy time and if you think of it as a vacation, relaxing in the sun and swimming in the pool, don’t plan on coming. Each day starts at 7 with vespers (more on this in a moment) and then breakfast at 7:30. The work starts at 8 and you work until 11:15 when you get a break for lunch. The afternoon shift is from 1 to 4 or thereabouts. Dinner is at 5:30 so the time between the afternoon shift and dinner is used for cleaning up. (By the way, the cooks are a great bunch and they are to be applauded for the work they do preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day!)
There is a group meeting on Monday nights to give everyone some of the history of the settlement and the work done at the settlement. On Tuesday, a local bluegrass band offers up some traditional mountain music. This Thursday we will go to the local United Methodist Church for an ice cream social to support the church’s (Hope United Methodist Church, Frakes, KY) youth ministry. Friday will be a closing worship at Hope and then Saturday morning the long drive home.
I will be honest. We often toss around the idea of doing mission work without ever understanding what it is that we are speaking about. The trip to Henderson is part of the Volunteer in Mission program (or I think it is) and should be a part of every church’s plans. Maybe your church doesn’t have enough individuals to come down alone but you could always pair up with another church.
The plans for my home church next year involve staying at a United Methodist Church about ½ way down so that the drive is split into two parts. This way, the connections between Methodist churches is shown.
Giving to Henderson Settlement can be done in a number of ways and are listed on their website. We speak of supporting the church with our prayers, our tithes, our gifts, and our support. This is one way to do it.
As we gathered together on Sunday evening for the orientation, each group was asked which morning vesper/devotion they would like to do (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday). Our group chose Tuesday. Since no one chose Monday, I volunteered to do it.
The theme for this week was “Open Doors.”
I chose as my Scripture Luke 10: 1 – 24. I looked at the fact that 72 were sent out to do mission work. And I wondered what happened to the 60 (I assumed that 12 of the group were the 12 disciples) after they came back. I can only imagine that those 60 others went to their home and continued the work that began when they went on that first mission trip. Doors were opened for them and they had great opportunities in front of them.
And as I stood on the hillside that morning, looking at some fifty people I had never meet, I spoke of the doors that were opening for them as well as my own group and me this week. Will we go home and close those doors or we will seek the opportunities that lie before us?
For Tuesday’s vespers, I chose Mark 10: 13 – 16 as my scripture. In this passage, Jesus tells the disciples to let the children come to Him. I reminded those that were there of the Gospel reading from a couple of weeks ago where Matthew recorded that only 5000 were fed and how that was only the number of adult men that were present. Too often we forget that women and children were also there (how does the story go? That a child offered his lunch?)
I pointed out that many times that we marginalize the efforts of the youth in our churches and yet it is the youth that is the hope and future of the church. I also pointed out that we do this work, both at Henderson and at our own church, not for what we might gain but because it is part of our reaching for the perfection of Christ.
When we say that we are Christians, what does that mean? Does it mean that we have some sort of guarantee or does it mean that we may have to work just a little bit harder? What does it mean that we say that we are Methodists? Is it just another title or is there substance behind what we do?
I hope that I offered a challenge to those who heard my words on Monday and Tuesday and I hope that you will ponder the ways that you can full the statement that says, “why yes, I am a Christian. I am also a United Methodist!”