Notes on Transfiguration Sunday


Here is a compilation of my sermons/messages/posts for Transfiguration Sunday, as well as some thoughts for what I would have said this Sunday.

February 14, 1999 – Year A – Neon (KY) UMC – “A Scout is Reverent” – (This was also Boy Scout Sunday – see Boy Scout Sunday)

March 4, 2000 – Year B – Walker Valley (NY) UMC – not on file

March 25, 2001 – Year C – Walker Valley (NY) UMC – “The Mountain Top”

February 25, 2002 – Year A – Walker Valley (NY) UMC – not on file

March 2, 2003 – Year B – Tompkins Corners (NY) UMC – “That Moment in Time”

February 22, 2004 – Year C – Tompkins Corners (NY) UMC – “Mornings in Whitesburg”

February 6, 2005 – Year A – Tompkins Corners (NY) UMC – “The Mountaintop Experience” – (This was also Boy Scout Sunday – see Boy Scout Sunday)

February 26, 2006 – Year B – “Let Us Tell The Story”

February 18, 2007 – Year C – Dover Plains (NY) UMC – “Encountering God” (sermon)

February 3, 2008 – Year A – “Transformation Sunday”

February 22, 2009 – Year B – “The View From The Mountaintop”

February 14, 2010 – Year C – “That Transforming Moment”– (This was also Boy Scout Sunday – see Boy Scout Sunday and Evolution Weekend – see Evolution Weekend)

March 6, 2011 – Year A – United Methodist Church of the Highlands (NY) – Seeing Through The Clouds

February 19, 2012 – Year B

As I was preparing this list, I got a note that I might be needed at a local church. It was one of those situations where the call would come at the last minute. This has happened twice in my career; once when I was just beginning (see “What Do You Do?”); then a few years ago (see “Hearing God’s Call”). As it turned out, I wasn’t needed this Sunday so I didn’t finish what I was writing.

But had I presented the message, it would have been entitled “A Lasting Monument”. I thought about how Peter wanted to build a stone monument to the moment of Jesus being transfigured and how we have turned so many of churches into empty stone monuments celebrating the past accomplishments of individuals who are long gone and perhaps forgotten. Do you have any knowledge of why your church has the name it does?

I thought about what Paul wrote and how translated into the actions and deeds of today’s churches. And I thought about what we are being asked to do in the United Methodist Church today. What needs to be our response to the “Call to Action”? In part, I think we need to find ways to answer that call and I wanted the “Missional Manifest for the United Methodist Church” that John Meunier and Jay Voorhees created – my link to their efforts is at https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/missional-manifesto-for-the-umc/

And finally I thought about the transition from Elijah to Elisha and how that applies to each one of us in today’s church. It is reflected in the dialogue between Sir Thomas More and Richard Rich in the play, “A Man For All Seasons.”

Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.

Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?

Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.

We do not need monuments of stone that stand in quiet remembrance of something that happened a long, long time ago. Nor do we need monuments that are in memory of someone no one knows or who did something that no one can recall. What we need people who will continue to do God’s work and spread the message that Christ gave to us. That will be the best and most lasting monument.

Missional Manifesto for the UMC


I have found that the easiest way to keep abreast of what is going on in the Methoblogosphere is to subscribe to the blogs of a few people. Among those whom I subscribe to is John Meunier. Last week he posted a note about something Jay Voorhees had done (with John’s help) entitled “Missional Manifesto for the People called United Methodists”. Then I received a note from Jay that in response to his original posting he had placed it on a site of its own – http://missionalmethodist.org/

I encourage you to go there and become a part of this movement. It is not a counter response to the Bishop’s Call to Action but rather a means by which the call can be answered.

What Do You Do?


This was the message that I gave on 24 October 1993 at Grace UMC in St. Cloud, MN as part of Laity Sunday. While this was the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, it was still early in my lay speaking career and I was still “picking and choosing” my Scripture readings instead of following the lectionary as I do today.

I wasn’t supposed to give the message this year. Though it was only October, I knew that I would be moving to Kansas after the current school year was completed and I wanted to begin a transition from “leader” to “observer”. I had organized the previous two Laity Sunday services and felt that others should begin getting involved. But on the Saturday afternoon before this Sunday, the person scheduled to give the message called and told me he was unable to be in church on Sunday and I would need to fill in. As this was early in my career, I wasn’t quite ready to do so but when you are a lay speaker you have said that you would answer the call when it is made and that is what I did. Because of the time frame of preparation, I liberally borrowed from messages I had given elsewhere figuring that no one present at Grace had been present at the places in Missouri and Tennessee where I had preached earlier. Unfortunately I forgot that one of those messages had been videotaped and I had shared that tape with some of the congregation. J

I based my thoughts for this message on 2 Corinthians 4: 1 – 6 and Matthew 15: 24 – 25.

One of the churches where I have been a member is large enough to have a senior pastor and an associate pastor. During the Sunday worship, the associate pastor takes care of the lectionary readings, the prayers of the congregation, and the offering. There is also a youth minister to take care of the “Children’s Moment”. This leaves the senior pastor to concentrate on the sermon. At this church it is the custom for the children, following the “Children’s Moment”, to go to another area of the church where they have a Children’s service. One Sunday, as one young girl walked by the pulpit, she looked at the senior pastor and asked “What do you do?” For you see, every Sunday this child saw the associate pastor lead the congregation in prayer and other activities. She would go up to the altar to be with the Youth Minister for the “Children’s Moment”. But all she saw the other man do was sit in his chair because she, along with the other children, left before he preached. In answer to her question, the senior pastor did the “Children’s Moment” the next week.

“What do you do” has been a question for the church for a number of years. As we look at the world around us today, we have to ask ourselves “What do we do to change the direction of the world from its path of sin and desolation?” What do we do when society around us is intolerant of poverty and shows no concern for its less fortunate members? These questions are not unique to our generation; they have been with us since Jesus began His ministry.

John Wesley struggled with these questions for many years. He could not sit idly by and watch his church ignore the plight and conditions of the lower classes. In an exchange with Joseph Butler, the Bishop of Bristol, Wesley made it clear what he felt he must do.

Bishop Butler — “You have no business here. You are not commissioned to preach in this diocese. Therefore I advise you to go hence.”

John Wesley — “My lord, my business on earth is to do what good I can. Wherever therefore I think I can do most good, there must I stay so long as I think so. At present I think I can do the most good here. Therefore here I stay.” (Frank Baker, “John Wesley and Bishop Butler: A Fragment of John Wesley’s Manuscript Journal”, 16th to 24th August, 1739.)

John Wesley understood that a church and a nation which ignores members of its society can never expect worldly success, let alone success in Heaven. Having accepted Christ as one’s personal Savior, you could not sit back and wait for the Glory of the Lord to come to you. You had to take the message of the Gospel out into the world, both in thought, word and deed. To the elders of the Church of England, this call for action was unconscionable. How dare a pastor call for such radical action. This was a time when more and more people were getting wealthy every day so it was permissible to ignore those few who were not quite so fortunate. Remember poverty in Wesley’s time was thought to be a reflection of one’s sinful life. If you were rich, it was because you had lead a good life. If you were poor, it was because you were not living the right kind of life. It wasn’t the church’s fault that people were homeless and hungry; that medical care for the lower classes was almost non-existent; that only the rich could afford to go to school. Wesley would have felt right at home in the United States these last few years when concern for one’s own well-being was more important than a concern for members of society.

John Wesley understood that the church must present a message people understand. But the message must also be accompanied by actions. To Wesley, preaching the Gospel was more than a Sunday experience; it was a daily occurrence. Preaching the Gospel alone is not enough when people are hungry, homeless, or suppressed by an indifferent society; you must help people overcome such barriers. If people are hungry, they must be feed; if people are sick, they must be healed; if the people seek to improve their lives through education, there need to be schools. If the church is to be a vital and living part of the community today, it must offer the hope and promise of the Gospel message to all who seek it.

Yet, instead of supporting the work of Wesley and his followers, people in the Church of England barred them from preaching in the churches. Yet this did not stop the Methodist Revival. Wesley and the other early Methodist ministers simply began to preach wherever they could find the space. If that meant preaching in fields, then they preached in the fields.

When conditions cry for revolution, there will be a revolution. Many historians have looked at the conditions in England, both economic and social, and wondered why England did not undergo a violent revolution like that of France at much the same time. The difference between the revolution in England and the revolution in France can be attributed to the nature of the Methodist revival. Wesley and the early members of the Methodist Revival, by working to bring the Gospel to the people of England and changing the conditions of society, removed the threat of a violent revolution.

It was the same for Jesus. There was a need for a revolution in his country. Not the political revolution many people sought but a spiritual revolution. For people no longer heard a message of a Loving Father who cared for His children. Many people at that time probably did not even know that their God cared for them. The rules and regulations of the church made it impossible for them to do so. It wasn’t that they had left their religion but that their religion had left them. The message they did hear held no promise or hope. As Paul wrote in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians,

“He (speaking of Jesus) is the one who has helped us tell others about his new agreement to save them. We do not tell them that they must obey every law of God or die; but we tell them there is life for them for the Holy Spirit. The old way, trying to be saved by keeping the Ten Commandments, ends in death; in the new way, the Holy Spirit gives them life. (2 Corinthians 3: 6)

In his message and in his actions, Jesus sought to bring people back to God; to show them that their Father in Heaven did care for them and did truly love them.

The same thing is true today. The world is crying for a spiritual revolution. People are leaving the church today because they see a church which no longer cares about them and is indifferent to the needs of society. Today churches are seeking ways to bring back that generation we call the “baby boomers”. And, whatever actions are taken, they must be taken quickly because we could lose the next two generations, the “baby busters” and the children of the baby boomers. The church’s actions must reflect its mission. Such actions must also reflect the genuine compassion that Jesus felt for those who sought Him. Elton Trueblood offers the following thought:

“Because we cannot reasonably expect to erect a constantly expanding structure of social activism upon a constantly diminishing foundation of faith, attention to the cultivation of the inner life is our first order of business, even in a period of rapid social change. The Church, if it is to affect the world, must become a center from which new spiritual power emanates. While the Church must be secular in the sense that it operates in the world, if it is only secular it will not have the desired effect upon the secular order which it is called upon to penetrate. With no diminution of concern for people, we can and must give new attention to the production of a trustworthy religious experience.” (From The New Man for Our Time by Elton Trueblood)

When Jesus began to preach the Gospel, the message He gave was for everyone, not just a select few. Jesus never turned away anyone who sought His ministry. His ministry was open to all who sought Him. Jesus took his ministry to the people so that the people could come to Him.

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” And he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Sending her away, for she is crying after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me”. And he answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”. She said, “Yes, Lord: yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” An her daughter was healed instantly. And Jesus went on from there and passed along the Sea of Galilee. and he went up on the mountain, and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the dumb, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the throng wondered, when they saw the dumb speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.” (Matthew 15: 21 – 31)

The salvation we gain by accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior is not a two-way path. There is no way for us to gain salvation without going to Jesus Christ. But, if people are to come to Jesus, there must be a path available. Consider the desire of people who truly want to come to Jesus. In Mark 2 we read

“And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay.” (Mark 2: 1 – 4)

This man and his friends did what it took to get to Jesus. But not all people have such capability. If the path to Jesus is blocked, the people will turn away.

Every time we look around today, we see more reasons why the Church should be a part of society. Today, numerous studies tell churches how to revitalize their congregations, how to bring life back into dying congregations. Every time, the same answer comes through back. It is the members of the congregation which must do the work. That is what today is about. Laity Sunday honors the work of all those who do the work of the church. It also points out the role the laity has in bringing the Gospel message to the world.

Today Jesus is calling you. He is asking you to be a part of His community; to do His work. What will you do? Samuel heard God calling him and answered “Here I am Lord.” The disciples dropped what they were doing when asked by Jesus to follow Him. Paul did not want to become the missionary to the world; he wanted to put a stop to the mission of Jesus. As Saul, he saw Jesus and his followers as a threat to a way of life. Yet, after encountering the Holy Spirit on the road to Damascus, Paul understood what a life in Jesus Christ meant.

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of god. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is only veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world (meaning Satan) has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of god. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”. (2 Corinthians 4: 1 – 6)

Today, Jesus asks us the same question the little girl asked the senior pastor, “What do you do?” How will you answer him?

Another One


This was the message that I gave at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Bartlett, TN, on 29 August 1993. This was the 12th Sunday after Pentecost but I used Mark 8: 27 – 37 as my Scripture reading and the basis for my message. This was the 7th message I gave in my career and I was still exploring how I was going to do things. I would begin following the common lectionary two years later when I served the churches of the Chattaqua Parish in Kansas (see “Hide and Seek”) and begin using the revised common lectionary when I moved onto Memphis in 1996.

Also, this was still early in the adaptation of technology to preaching, so you will find references to scripture readings instead of the reading itself. The pulpit was very crowded that Sunday as I had my printed notes and my Bible marked with pages to turn to when I needed to read the passage.

Good Shepherd was my mother’s church (hence the references within) and it would become my church when I moved from Kansas to Memphis.

When you read the text upon which this sermon is based, Mark 8: 27 – 28, you begin to wonder how the disciples phrased their answer. I don’t think that the disciples were surprised when people said that Jesus was another of the prophets. Now people are often surprised when they find out that I am Jenny LeBouef’s oldest son.

Now they know of her son Terry, who often plays guitar here at Good Shepherd, and possibly of Tim, a fireman here in Memphis and they know of Tracey, her daughter. But when they find out that she has an third, older son, their response is often “You mean there’s another one!”

I don’t think that the people used the term “another one” in disgust either. The story is often told about an early Methodist circuit rider named Nolley who

“. . . approached a settler unloading his wagon at a new homestead in Mississippi. When Nolley told the settler who he was, the settler exclaimed, ‘Another Methodist preacher! I left Virginia for Georgia to get clear of them. There they got my wife and daughter and I came here and here’s one before I got my wagon unloaded.’

Nolley replied, ‘My friend, if you get to Heaven, you will find Methodist preachers there, and if you go to Hell, I am afraid you will find some there; and you see how it is on earth, so you had better make terms with us and be at peace.'” (E. G. Watts, We Are United Methodists, Graded Press, 1987, page 31)

No, I don’t think it was with disgust either. On the whole, I think that, if you were to have asked people of that time who Jesus was, they probably would have answered “Oh, he’s just another prophet; we’ve heard them before.”

But Jesus wasn’t another prophet. The message he gave was far different from anything the prophets might have said or done. It was also a message never given in the synagogue and it was accompanied by actions which showed there was a power behind the words. Instead of gloom, it was a message of hope and joy and a vision for the future.

That this was an entirely different message is shown by the size of the crowds who came to hear Jesus, as we can read in Matthew 4:23 to 5:1. That this was a different message is also shown by the fact that people broke down age old differences and prejudices to seek out Jesus.

The Canaanite women        –    Matthew 15: 21 – 28

The women in the crowd        –    Mark 5: 25 – 34

Zaccaheus, the tax collector    –    Luke 19: 1 – 5

Today, our church faces a similar challenge. It must find ways to take the Gospel message outside the church walls; it must help those who have turned away to come back to Jesus.

I am speaking primarily of that generation we call the “baby boomers”, adults who during the 60’s turned away from the church and who are now seeking to return. I am also speaking of the children of this generation, known as the “baby busters”, who are now just making their own spiritual decisions. And close behind is another generation, the “baby boomlets”, whose spiritual well-being the church must concern itself with.

We hear and read that, in order to bring these groups into the church fold, the church must change. But too often churches change the message when it is the approach which must change.

The message Jesus gave us is still valid today but it cannot be presented in a language no one understands. The actions supporting the message must also reflect the message. “Boomers” left the church in the early 60’s in larger numbers than any other generation before in part because they no longer trusted the church. The message given by the church offered no hope or peace at a time when the country was torn apart.

The “boomers” went looking for a spiritual home but found a church whose message was as slick and superficial as the society they lived in. If we are not careful, the church today will lose the “busters” and the “boomlets” for the same reasons.

John Wesley understood the need for the church to present a message the people understood. A church blind to the needs of its members or its community cannot do its work. You cannot preach of the power of the Saving Grace of Jesus Christ when people are hungry, homeless, or suppressed by an indifferent society. John Wesley also understood that an individual, having accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior, had the responsibility to show that he had done so. This meant helping the community

Now, English law prevented Wesley and the other early Methodist preachers from preaching in established churches and the law also made it difficult for their followers to build their own churches. This forced the Methodist Revival into the countryside. While this may have been intended to hold the movement down, it had the opposite effect because it took the Gospel message to the people. In taking the Gospel to the people, it became possible to put the Gospel into action.

A church which seeks to grow today, a church which feels the need to do more than exist from Sunday to Sunday must do two things. First, it must offer to all who seek it a chance to enter into that loving relationship with Jesus. Second, it must take its activities beyond the church walls.

Jesus never turned away anyone who sought His ministry. His disciples might have wished that he had ignored the Canaanite women but Jesus told her to come to Him. The scribes and Pharisees surely spoke ill of this man who would dare to eat with Zaccaheus, the tax collector and sinner. But Jesus’ ministry was not limited to a select few; it was open to all.

The Church of England in John Wesley’s time may have turned its back on the poor and lower classes but John Wesley knew that he could not do so.

Those who seek a spiritual home, those who are making that most important spiritual decision are all looking for that loving relationship that the church can provide. Will they find it?

The answer lies not with the pastor but with the people. The same studies that tell the church it must change if it is to grow also tell us that an individual returns to a church a second time if someone other than the pastor greeted them the first time they visited them.

We tell each other that Jesus loves us but do we show that love to others? Do we allow the Grace of Jesus Christ that is in our hearts, that warming of our souls, to be felt by others?

Today Jesus asks us the same questions he asked the disciples on the road to Caesarea Philippi: “But who do YOU say that I am?”
(Mark 8: 29)

Are we prepared to follow Christ as He asked in verses 34 – 38 of Mark 8?

When John the Baptist was in jail, he became concerned over the stories his followers told of this man from Galilee. – a reading from Matthew 11: 2 – 6

Could we respond the same way today?

She Did It Again!


The “she” in the title is my Congresswoman, Nan Hayworth. And she actually didn’t do again; she has kept on doing it. The “it” was a phone call inviting my wife and I to participate in a telephone town hall conversation. The only problem was that our caller id identified the caller as “unidentified” and the phone number as “unavailable.”

I first reported this last year with “A Letter to my Congresswoman.” As I noted then, I sent a copy of that post to her office in anticipation of an answer but I never received one. Of course, I did say in that earlier note not to send me a canned reply so that may be why I didn’t receive a response. (I am very leery of sending notes to my Representative or Senator; many times the content of their response bears no relationship to what I submitted.)

I suppose that Congresswoman Hayworth can take pride in her efforts to reach out to her constituents. I am sure that there is some sort of statistical software that allows her to say that she has contacted by phone every constituent in the district. But such software isn’t necessarily going to say that everyone responded or ignored the phone call. One of the reasons that caller id was created was so that you would know who called and allow you to screen the calls. Calls that come into our house that have no identity are not answered.

Congresswoman Hayworth, it is one thing to say that you are reaching out to contact every individual in your district. It is another thing to say that you are in touch and talking with them. You are fulfilling the first but failing in the second. There were reports that your staffers were removing unkind comments from your web page and Facebook page. Again, having a web page and a Facebook page indicate a willingness to be in touch with your constituents but only having positive comments suggests that you are not willing to listen.

You may feel that you are representing this district but I believe that you are only representing the top 1% and that you are not willing to listen to anyone else. You may say that you are technology innovative but I believe that you use that technology to keep from being innovative. When was the last time that you meet with the people on a street corner in one of the towns in your district? Oh that’s right, you called and left me a message to say you would be somewhere but I didn’t get the call in time because I didn’t know that you were calling.

If I have not said or written it before, let me say it now. I do not plan on voting for you in the coming election; you do not represent me nor do I believe that you represent the majority of individuals who live in your district. You do a wonderful job of representing those who are greedy and selfish, those who would deny the basic tenets of life, liberty and happiness because they neither have the wealth or the ability to gain wealth. You are true conservative, to be sure. You want to keep the status quo so that what you and those with wealth who support you may keep all that you have.

You look to the past and wonder why things aren’t like they used to be but you are blind to the present and cannot see the future. You do a wonderful job of representing the Republican Party and all that it stands for; it is just that what this represents is the past and not the future for this country. For that I cannot and will not support you.

It may seem like a little thing but having your identity and phone number blocked on a call tells me what you think of my views. Now, you know mine and so do others.

In peace,

Dr. Tony Mitchell

To Leave the World a Better Place


This is a day of double significance for me. First, as it is Boy Scout Sunday, it marks day that I was confirmed in the church. It is, if you will, my Christian Birthday, and it sounds a lot better to say that I am 47 than 61.

Second, this is also the anniversary weekend of Charles Darwin’s birth. As such, there are a number of pastors and lay speakers participating in Evolution Weekend events. I happen to be one of those participating. This is an outgrowth of the Clergy Letter Project which is an endeavor that demonstrates that science and religion are compatible and is designed to elevate the quality of debate on this topic.

To quote from “The Clergy Letter Project” web page,

Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. One important goal is to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic – to move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith. Finally, as with The Clergy Letters themselves, which have now been signed by more than 13,000 members of the clergy in the United States, Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.

As it happens, I come from a chemistry background, and as I have said on a number of occasions, I could easily avoid the debate. My areas of interest and research are in the nature of introductory and freshman chemistry and far from the realm of biology. But my doctorate is in science education and I am concerned, both from a professional standpoint and as a parent and a grandparent, that our science education process is threatened when we purposefully dictate the nature of science instruction in this country.

I am not alone in this thought. Many years ago, when I was teaching chemistry in a high school in Missouri, the Missouri state legislature was thinking of passing a bill mandating the teaching of intelligent design in the biology classroom (legislation similar to what was recently passed by the Indiana state legislature). Now, as a chemistry teacher, I was not affected directly by this proposed legislation. But it was legislation that was designed to circumvent restrictions in place that prevented the introduction of religious topics into the science classroom under the disguise of scientific theory. Intelligent design is not a scientific theory though its proponents would have you think that it is.

Early on in my education and my professional career I had to make a decision. Shall I accept the physical evidence about the world in which I live or shall I accept the notion that the earth was created in seven days? Did God not create me in His image and does that not mean that I look at the world around me with open eyes? I have come to the conclusion that God is demanding that I seek an explanation that matches the evidence that is laid out before me.

Now, to underscore all of this, let me state without hesitation and very clearly, that I do believe that God did create this universe. But the evidence concerning the age of the universe tells me that He did it some 14 billion years ago. What does it say when others say that God made it seem like the world is very old. Is the God that cares for me a liar and a trickster?

I wrote back in 2010,

As Dr. Watke pointed out, if we deny the reality of the physical world, we are denying the truth of God in this world and that ultimately means that we deny truth and we deny God.

If you believe as I do, you can see the Hand of God in the fossil records and the cosmology of the universe. The complexity of such geological history and the wonder of the stars demands an explanation, an explanation that goes beyond an equation where two protons are forced together under intense pressure and extremely high temperatures to form a helium atom and release an extremely large amount of energy. It is more than simply an explanation of the physical processes; it is an explanation of why we are here as well. What I see is a world in which God has challenged us to find Him and understand what He has done and is doing.

It seems to me that those who oppose the teaching of evolution do so out of fear. They fear that open thinking will lead to a loss of control, of being able to dictate what people can think and say. We have been created in God’s image; yet, it strikes me that those who seek to continue to control what is taught have made God in their image.

If we are to understand God and how we fit within the scheme of things, we must explore this world and this universe. We must ask questions, even if we are afraid of the answers. If we do not use our abilities to their fullest, as God would have us do, then we fail ourselves and God. (The World “Out There”

In April, 1997, Dr. Sheldon Gottlieb noted that

. . . when fundamentalist creationists claim that fossils were placed on earth by God to test man’s faith, they are denying a major principle of science, the principle of causality. And they do so without a shred of evidence to substantiate their claim.

If humans cannot trust the evidence provided by the universe, then all science becomes futile; the search for objective knowledge becomes futile; and no scientific knowledge gathered to date can be true.

This religious stance that certain natural phenomena are distorted to give false clues to test human faith is the ultimate denial of science. As Einstein once said, “God does not play dice with the universe.”

Thus, (a) belief system in which a God behaves according to whim and caprice means that we humans can only live in a world of perpetual ignorance. Fundamentalist religion, especially its derivative, creationism, is anti-intellectual, and it prefers that humans live in perpetual ignorance. (adapted from http://www.theharbinger.org/articles/rel_sci/gottlieb.html)

If we were, as it is written later in Genesis, created in God’s image then we have the ability to look at the world around us and ask questions about that world. I believe that those questions that lead to the writing of Genesis in the first place. If we are not asking questions about this world and our place in this world, then I truly believe that we are not living up to the standards that God has placed before us. (And when I read and hear some of the stuff in politics and just in general, I am convinced that we are not even close.)

Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.

I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.

To me, Paul is saying that you have to give your best all the time. And while I may no longer be associated with the Boy Scouts, I still live by the oath that I took when I was a scout over forty years ago.

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

Everything in that oath echoes the sentiment that Paul expressed in his words to the Corinthians. To me, it means that I must go, if you will, beyond the walls of our present existence; we must think outside the box that we live in. We do not need to be scientists in the same way that I pursued a degree in chemistry but we do need to have an open and inquiring mind.

And that is what science is about, the pursuit of knowledge, to find answers to questions asked and unasked. It is about going into new territory, both physically and mentally. Yes, it can be frightening; yes, we may not like the answers that we gain in our search. But is our life better if we refuse to find the answers that we do not like?

In the Old Testament reading for today (2 Kings 5:1-14) we read of Naaman being diagnosed with leprosy. His response was, at first, probably anger because this disease can and is one of the most disfiguring diseases one could think of. And unless he could be cured, he was doomed to a life outside society, a society that feared the person as much as the disease.

And though he was told that there was a possible cure, his approach was one of intimidation and fear as if he could force the cure. He had no appreciation for God’s power or what might happen if he opened his mind to other possibilities.

We live in a world dominated by fear and ignorance. It is ignorance not only of the world around us but of our mind and what we can and cannot do.

We seem to think that we can achieve better results through intimidation. Our solution for so many problems today is the same solution that Naaman proposed. And, just like Naaman, we are often unwilling and unable to accept alternative solutions. We are quite willing to accept the actions of charlatans and false prophets as the truth because they cloak their actions in the name of God and often times what they say and do fit into what we think is the truth.

What was it that Jesus once said, “seek the truth and the truth will set you free”? When you are willing to live within the constraints of what society dictates; when you are willing to accept the pronouncements of others as the truth willingly and blindly, you are not free but enslaved. It is when you begin to question, when you begin to explore that one becomes free. Some may say that science is the enemy of religion; sometime it is when religion is based on falsehoods or demands for total obedience to an individual and not to God. But I also know or believe that you must have both science and religion together in order for the truth to set you free.

What made the leper come to Jesus that day described in today’s Gospel reading? Was it in desperation or was in full knowledge that there was hope? I would think he came because he knew what Jesus had done. Either he had heard or seen the results so he knew that his hope was in Jesus. Yes, it was his faith that brought him to Jesus and it was his faith that was the catalysis for his healing. But Jesus also required that he have the healing confirmed (which too many of today’s “faith healers” do not do). Science will not accept a discovery until it has been confirmed.

And while Jesus may not have wanted the healing announced to the world, what was the leper to do? His friends were sure to ask him how it was that he had been cured and he would have had to tell them. And the freedom that he felt and enjoyed would only make him want to tell others, just as the woman at the well told others what Jesus had done for her.

When I would go camping as Boy Scout, the leaders would always remind us to leave the campsite and the area a better place than what it was when we came. When we come to Christ, be it as a child or an adult, we find a new freedom. And like the leper in Mark, this new freedom cannot be hidden; it has to be told.

We have been a great opportunity this day, to use the skills and powers that God gave us, to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ, to leave this world a better place. It is a great challenge and a great opportunity. How will you respond this day?

Following the Rules


This is the message that I gave at Tompkins Corners UMC for the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C), 15 February 2004. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Jeremiah 17: 5 – 10, 1 Corinthians 15: 12 -20, and Luke 6: 17 – 26.

I believe in my heart and with all my soul that Jesus was a radical and revolutionary. Unfortunately, this view has gotten me into a lot of trouble, especially in my own family.

Some years ago, in one of my very first sermons, I suggested this very idea. That particular Sunday, one of my cousins was visiting. Paul is the patriarch of the Schüessler family, the oldest son of the oldest son of my maternal great-great grandfather. He, along with his father and two brothers, is a Lutheran minister, one of many that dominate the heritage of our family. After the service that Sunday, he commented that I really should not have portrayed Jesus in such a manner. Yet, a year later, in a sermon preached to the entire Schüessler clan, he raised the image of Jesus as a revolutionary. He did acknowledge that this view of our Lord and Savior came in part from what I had said the year before.

One of the reasons that I see Christ in these terms is that He challenged the status quo, He challenged the notions that people had about their relationship with God. The problem then and even now is that much of our understanding comes from what others have said or written. We willingly let others define what Christ should be for us when it should be up to us to make that definition.

When you get home, carefully reread the words of Jeremiah. He is warning us about relying on the thoughts of others to determine what our own thoughts should be. He starts by quoting the beginning of Psalm 1. But the Psalmist was emphasizing that a good life, the keys to blessing came from avoiding the wicked and studying the Torah. Jeremiah emphasized that the keys to a good life and well-being were found through trust in the Lord.

The “tree of life” that Jeremiah speaks of is the symbol of wisdom. Wisdom is meant to be the ability to perceive the order of God in creation, the intelligence to act in accordance with God’s order, and the moral behavior that leads to well being. Wisdom was not necessarily found in the hearts of mankind.

Jeremiah felt that you could not trust in both God and man. If you turned to one, you would turn away from the other. If we were to turn where our heart would lead us, than we are apt to turn away from where God is leading us or where God would have us go.

That might have been the rationale or reason for Paul writing about the resurrection in his letter to the Corinthians. There were those in Corinth who argued against the actual occurrence of the resurrection. Among the arguments presented was that it was not a physical resurrection but rather a spiritual one that we all go through.

But, and this is the central point to Paul’s rebuttal, if there is no resurrection, if Christ was not raised from the dead, then there is no hope in our faith, there is no promise in what we do. Even today, there are those in the Christian community who would argue that the basic tenets of our faith are no longer valid. They argue that science and the progress of civilization have made many of our statements of faith meaningless and mute. How can there be a loving God if there is war, violence, and repression in the world? If God so loved this world that He would send His only Son, how is it that we have sickness and death?

But wars are the consequences of mankind’s behavior, not God’s. God gave us the wisdom and the ability to act. If there are wars or violence, if there is hatred or repression in this world, it is because we have failed to be God’s servants, not because God has abandoned us. In sending His son, God said to us that He would never abandon us. Our own propensity for war or violence, repression and hatred; our own desires to put our thoughts first, to make the decision about what we are to do merely indicates that we perhaps have abandoned God. This is a world in which there is a lot to fear but putting the blame on an insensitive God does not remove or take away the fear.

When Jesus stood on the plain that day he knew the fears of the people gathered before Him. They were a people living under a tyrannical and repressive foreign government. The taxes imposed by Rome and their own leaders were so burdensome that there was virtually no middle class. Their own leaders worked hand-in-hand with the foreign governor, compromising their own values solely to survive.

Many felt that life was hopeless and adopted a cavalier, laziez faire, “what difference does it make” attitude. Some felt that it was necessary to fight back, to use the same weapons of violence as were used on them. And the Pharisees felt that only by slavish devotion to the countless, myriad, and often-contradictory laws was salvation possible.

This was the world in which Jesus lived; these were the people who gathered before Him that day. The Beatitudes, whether we speak of the traditional text found in Matthew or the shortened version that Luke wrote about in today’s Gospel reading, were not simply a collection of simple statements designed to comfort different groups of people. And they could not be read alone.

Think about the first time you read the Beatitudes and how you may have viewed them as individual statements. They seemed rather contradictory.

How can the meek inherit the world? Shouldn’t it be the ones that have the spirit in their lives who inherit the kingdom of heaven? But that is our thinking being applied to Jesus’ words. We fail to see the commitment that He put before us in order for us to reach the kingdom of Heaven.

Rather, they were meant to identify the stages of experience each person would go through in order to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus spoke of the poor but he was not speaking to the financially poor. Some may feel that he was offering pity to those that lacked resources for there were certainly many that did, but that would only give credence to their poverty. Rather he was speaking about those that lacked spirit and acknowledged that they were poor in spirit would find the ultimate in riches. Those were the ones who were more apt to find what they are looking for.

Some might have been hungry but it was not food that would satisfy their hunger. It was a hunger for righteousness in this world and the hunger would be gone when there was no injustice.

When Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God on earth, he was not offering to make the people more comfortable in their sins. He was calling them to a new life in the Spirit, to a citizenship in His beloved community. The peace that they sought could be found in this community; it was a community that could bring peace to the world. Each of the Beatitudes was a step in the path towards that citizenship.

Each step was not merely an acknowledgement of what they lacked or what they sought; rather, it was a called to action. You cannot be a peacemaker simply by changing the environment; you must also change your heart.

To those whose loyalties lie with this world, those who are citizens of God’s kingdom are subversive agents, dangerous enemies that cannot be tolerated. They must be persecuted, ridiculed, ignored, or removed.

But Jesus warned those who make such citizenship an act of martyrdom to be carefully as well. It was not our task to go out into the work and deliberately seek persecution. To seek abuse in the name of God is hardly what the Word of God is about. That would, again, be our thinking; that would be our telling God what to do.

What Jesus told us to do then and what tells us to do now is to preach the Word and lead a life in great contrast to the world around us. Look at what Jesus said in the next passage in Luke. When we are struck on the check, we should turn the other check. When we find someone naked and cold, we should give that person the coat off our back.

We have a hard time with this approach because they are new rules and they are rules to a game that we may not want to play. They are not simply rules to follow, they are words of action. And it requires that we see the world in new terms, terms that we do not define.

God did not mean our lives to be solitary devoid of human contact. If others cannot see us, we are just as well hidden from God. Jesus’ words this day are a call to action, to do more than just listen. No matter what the cost might be, the words that Jesus spoke are how we should live. It is not simply a matter of course to preach the words; rather, we must demonstrate that we are living the words.

The Pharisees put forth a series of rules that defined each day. But in defining each day, they thought nothing of tomorrow. Jesus gave a set of rules to follow that would give us much more than today, following his rules gave us eternal life. Which set of rules do you wish to follow?