An Encounter on a Dusty Road

Here are my thoughts for last Sunday, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (28 August 2011). The Scriptures for this Sunday were Exodus 3: 1 – 15, Romans 12: 9 – 21, and Matthew 16: 21 – 28.

I was supposed to be at Drew UMC (Carmel, NY) for their Saturday evening worship service but Hurricane Irene sort of messed up those plans.

I will be at Drew on September 24. They have a potluck/BBQ starting at 5 with the service at 7 so, if you can, make plans to be there for the meal and stay for the worship. They are having a special service to mark the 1 year anniversary of their Saturday services on the 17th with Bishop Park of the New York Annual Conference giving the message. If you can make it to that or any of their Saturday services, you are more than welcome.

I will return to Dover Plains UMC on September 4th. The message is entitled “A New Beginning” and is based on Sunday’s Lectionary readings – Exodus 12: 1 – 14, Romans 13: 8 – 14, and Matthew 18: 15 – 20.

My initial thoughts about this piece focused on our use of technology in our lives, most notably GPS or “global position systems.” As you may note, when I go to another church, I will add the location of the church in the beginning notes. Originally, I looked up the location of the church so that I would be able to get to where I needed to be.

But I have found that over the course of the past few years some of the locations are just a bit off. I don’t know how systems such as Google maps or car-based GPS systems work but there have been some instances where the instructions lead you in the wrong direction.

The first time that I went to the Hankins United Methodist Church, the instructions lead me to the parking lot of an Assemblies of God church parking lot. I was close to where I needed to be but still about ½ mile away. Fortunately, I had some back up instructions and I got to the church on time.

There is an inherent error in the location of the Lake Mahopac United Methodist Church that I believe is based on the number of the church. If you are coming from I-84 into Mahopac, the instructions (both from Google Maps and an in-car system) have you turning left to get to the church. But the church is on the right hand side of the road, not the left.

And there was a United Methodist Church in Connecticut that I was trying to locate. The only problem was that when I used the Google maps function of “find-a-church” I was directed towards a United Methodist Church in Kentucky. That problem has been fixed but sure had a few people confused for a while.

By the way, do you know about the “find-a-church” feature at It is a great feature and I think every United Methodist Church is listed in the database. But the information is not always up-to-date or even correct. May I suggest that you take the time to visit (find a church is in the lower right) and see what you can find out about your church and its location?

And technology of another kind was nice to have because it allowed us to see Hurricane Irene coming up the coast. Having lived the better part of my growing up years in the South, hurricanes are a part of my life. I can still remember living in Wichita Falls, Texas, in 1961 and hearing naval aircraft fly over my elementary school and land at Sheppard AFB. When you grow up on an Air Force Base, you grow accustomed to certain sounds and airplanes flying in and out. But that day was different, maybe because the sounds were different or it was a different time of day. But you could see that the planes bore Navy markings and that was different.

It turned out that the Navy was flying all of their planes out of the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station in advance of Carla’s landfall. And that is how we became aware that Carla was coming. Back then, satellite observations were just beginning so the predication of path and intensity was not as precise as it is today.

In 1969, I was living in Memphis and experienced the rainfall of Hurricane Camille. We knew well in advance that Camille was coming our way but that didn’t stop the rain from falling. And believe me it fell.

We still are working on the prediction of the path and intensity of a hurricane. All through Friday and Saturday there were expectations that Irene would be a far greater storm than it turned out to be. And I will be honest; I have a feeling that it wasn’t going to be a gentle visit. I have lived in the New York for going on twelve years now and I am still not sure that this part of the country truly understands what it means to be struck by a hurricane.

In the end, Irene was a very strong tropical storm when it came into New York but that didn’t stop it from raining and raining for most of Saturday night and Sunday morning. The winds were not as bad as was expected but it still did enough damage that we lost power around 5:30 Sunday morning. We were lucky in that our power was restored that evening. It is my understanding that there are other parts of this area that are still without power and will be so through the weekend.

And then on Monday, we lost our cable. In itself, that wasn’t so bad but I use the cable for landline telephone and internet service. I have a backup system for the internet but it is not the preferred alternative.

And then the rains came and the flash floods followed and parts of Vermont and New Hampshire became separated from the rest of their respective states. Here again, I don’t think that people were entirely prepared for this. And these flash floods are making it that much harder because of the damage to the roads and the access ways.

There are those who will say that God directed Irene to the East Coast, to drown the politicians in Washington, D. C., or at least send a message to them. That may be well and good but the politicians were on vacation and very few of them were in Washington. And while I am not entirely upset that multi-million dollar homes built on the seashore may have been damaged, I had to worry about those who have no homes or don’t have the funds to repair any damage to their homes. We had made the decision to not serve breakfast at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen on Sunday because we were certain how bad the weather would be or if we would be able to cross the Hudson River. The decision had been announced that if the winds from Irene approached 60 mph, the Hudson River Bridges from New York City to north of Poughkeepsie would be closed. Also, there was a state of emergency declared in Newburgh so we couldn’t have gotten to the church anyway. Ours is a limited ministry so we were not able to provide those who came on Saturday with extra food stuffs for Sunday. And as at least one other blogger noted, while we may have been safe and sound, albeit without power on Sunday, how did those who had no shelter survive a night of continuous rain and wind?

I would hope that the events of this past weekend have opened the eyes of the people to the world around them. We are now faced with the possibility that many conservative politicians are going to demand that more cuts be made in the social programs of this country in order to fund the recovery efforts that we must make. And we are already seeing promises made to the heartland of this country, to the people of Joplin, Missouri, that they would receive funds to recover and rebuild are being stripped to fund the recovery and rebuilding efforts in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

But, at the same time, we still spend how many billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan? When conservative politicians decry the waste in Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and other social programs, why do they not yell as loud or louder about the waste and loss of funds in the money we send to support our war effort?

Peter did not like it when Jesus spoke of having to go to Jerusalem. We don’t seem to like it when we are called to do things for the least of our citizens. And yet when we say we are Christians we are saying that we are prepared to make that walk to Jerusalem. Paul, in writing to the Romans, wrote of the things that we need to be doing and the things that we need not be doing. The reading concluded with Paul telling us that we see our enemies hungry we should feed them. And if they are thirsty, then we need to get them something to drink.

And if we are to do that for those we hate, what are we supposed to be doing for those we profess to love? Shall we only worry about those whom we would rather be like or do we need to worry about those whom we would prefer to not to know even exist?

When Moses encountered the burning bush that day so long ago, he heard God say that He, God, had heard the cry of His children and it was time to bring them home. And then God said to Moses that it would be Moses who led them home. And Moses could only offer excuses as to why he was not the best choice. We know how that story turns out – Moses will lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and bring them to the Promised Land.

From that encounter on a dusty road came the beginnings of a new nation. And from that nation and what would develop began part of our heritage. It certainly wasn’t dusty and the winds and the rains have pretty well taken away the roads but it is possible that we have encountered God this past weekend. It is an encounter which calls to question not what the politicians are doing but what we are doing. It is an encounter that calls on us to make sure that all people are taken care of and not just a select few. It is an encounter that calls on each one of us to examine the road we are walking and making sure that it is the same road that Jesus is walking. We can be like Peter was in this passage and seek to turn away from that path. Or we can like Peter will become, the leader, and begin the walk.

Consider what has transpired these past few days and consider where you will walk in the coming days. Just has Saul encountered Jesus on a dusty road to Damascus, just as Moses encountered God on a dusty road in Midian and just as Peter encountered the Christ on the road to Jerusalem so too have we each encountered Jesus. What shall you do?

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