Here are my thoughts for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Exodus 17: 1 – 17, Philippians 2: 1 -13, and Matthew 21: 23 – 32. This was edited on 25 September 2011.
I will be at Drew UMC (Carmel, NY) for their Saturday evening worship service. There is lobster and chicken dinner from 4 to 8 with the service at 7 so, if you can, make plans to be there for the meal and stay for the worship. <Contact information>
There are choices and there are choices. Do I go with the lobster or do I go with the chicken? Actually, in my case, there is no choice. I am allergic to shell fish and I would rather not risk an allergic reaction, so I go with the chicken.
But, even if I couldn’t make the choice, it does illustrate something about making choices. You have to know what is involved if you are going to make any sort of choice. Sometimes you don’t have all the information; sometimes you do.
For me the problem is that we are a society that really doesn’t want to know what lies around the corner or over the horizon. We are like the society in the days before Columbus where everyone thought that the world was flat and that if you ventured far enough away from the safety of your home, you would fall off.
However, I really think that this image of a “flat earth” was a myth. There is enough evidence to suggest that people as far back as 240 BCE knew that the earth was a sphere (“Was Eratosthenes Correct? A Multi-Class Science Project”).
However, with the destruction of the Library of Alexandria it is quite possible that this information was lost. We know that many other writings, such as Democritus’ original work on the nature of the atom were “lost” in this way. There were enough fragments of Democritus’ work surviving to allow Isaac Newton to develop his ideas on optics and give John Dalton the impetus he needed to begin the first atomic theory.
So why would we even think that the earth might be flat? Because our initial impression tells us that things disappear over the horizon and since we don’t know what is over “there”, we create an answer that we can understand. And unless we do something to test that answer, we are apt to keep that answer in our minds long after we know the correct answer. Consider that most adults today will tell you that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects, even when they learned in school that they fall at the same rate. (See the discussion on this in “A New Vision (Part 1)” and “The World “Out There””.)
If we hold onto beliefs that have been shown to be outdated or incomplete, then it should not be a surprise that we tend to fear the unknown.
I will be honest; I think this is one of the major problems with the church and Christianity today. You see it in the opposition to the teaching of evolution. Now, this isn’t about whether or not God created the heavens and the earth; I happen to think He did. I also think that it was done in such a way that just begs for us to explore the whole concept.
But there are a number of individuals who would have us accept the first two chapters of Genesis as the truth and nothing but the truth. And it is to be accepted without question. But when you do that, when you put something out there and tell inquisitive minds that it cannot be explored, you are just asking for trouble.
And when powers that be say that is the way it is going to be, then you are also asking for trouble. And that is the problem with the church today. There are many in today’s churches who hold on to points of view that are in conflict with the world around them but they say that their points of view are the only ones that count. People will leave any organization when they are told what to think, what to say, and given no other options.
In the end, any organization, be it a church or some other group, that is not capable of adapting to the times risks death. Now, I am not saying that the beliefs of the organization have to change (unless, of course, time and evidence prove them incorrect. Nor am I saying that a church must adapt its message to the culture in which it exists. Too many people are doing that and all it does is send an additional message of hypocrisy to a population that would like to have some decent answers for the questions that bother them.
The message that the people today hear is either one that that is old and out of touch with them or is the product of some very interesting marketing techniques. It is a message that says that the sanctuary is there to protect them from the world and all that goes on in the world. It is a message that says that the church is there for each one of them, to allow them to achieve greatness while others may suffer.
The sanctuary, this place we are in tonight, is meant not to protect us from the world but to give us a place where we can find protection with the Saving Grace of Christ. It is meant to give us a place to recharge and regroup after we have done the business and the work of the church and of Christ.
Paul wrote to the Philippians and said to keep doing the things that you are doing. And what are those things? They are the things that Christ taught us, to care for the sick and the hungry, to work towards building homes and giving comfort to the people of the community, no matter who they might be and even if they may not be a member of the church. Those who came last week spoke of the meaning of this church and its people in their own lives and it gave credence to the words of Bishop Park.
The problem facing the United Methodist Church, as Bishop Park noted last week, is that we are an aging church. But before we say that we cannot do anything because we are an aging church, remember how old Abraham was when he and Sarah had their sons. Remember how old Moses was when he was told to bring the people out of Egypt.
Age is a point in time on a calendar somewhere. I have seen too many people whose calendar age is far less than mine but who are old in ways and desires. I have seen many whose calendar age is greater than mine but who are so young in mind and spirit.
The Pharisees were challenged by Jesus. It was a challenge that they were afraid to answer because it would show that they were as old in mind and spirit as they were in body. Their church and religion were suffering from a fixed viewpoint, one that would not allow questions, one that feared the unknown.
Jesus offers us a new vision, one that renews the mind and spirit and gives life to old bones. It is one that allows us to not fear the unknown.
We know where the walk with Jesus will lead us. There are some who are like the second son who act and talk as if they were devout and pious but who will not take that walk. There are those who are like the first son, whose lives are not the best, but who know that the only path that they can walk is the one that leads to the Cross.
We have never been asked to die on the Cross; Jesus Christ did that for us. But we must be prepared to go to the Cross, not just sit back and admire it from afar. At this point in the message I told the story of Clarence Jordan and his brother Robert and how Robert stated that he would go to the cross but that he wouldn’t be on the cross. Clarence challenged him as to how much of a Christian he really was. The first time that I told this story was in “What Do We Say?”. We must make a choice tonight; shall we be like the one son who says that he believes but does little? Or shall we be like the one son who may hesitate at first but does the work of Christ when called upon to do so?