Did They Think He Was Joking?

This was the message I gave for the Holy Week Services in Whitesburg, Kentucky, on April 1, 1999. The message was based on John 13: 1 – 17.

Today is April 1st, known throughout the world as April’s Fool Day. It is a day dedicated to playing practical jokes on people and just having fun; though I think that for many today, the events in Europe and the world are not much of a laughing matter.

The origin for this day is actually tied to our celebration of Easter. Because the Julian calendar caused problems with the celebration of Easter in the springtime, Pope Gregory determined to modify the calendar and bring Easter back in line into the spring. The calendar, known as the Gregorian calendar, is essentially the calendar we used today.

Prior to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, the New Year was celebrated on April 1st. With the new calendar, several countries decided that it was better to celebrate the New Year on January 1st. But, like many things, there were still those who choose to celebrate the New Year on April 1st. Those who clung to the old celebration were called “April Fools” and sent fake party invitations and funny gifts by those who used the newer calendar.

But Jesus and his disciples were not celebrating April Fool’s Day this Thursday some 2000 years ago. They had gathered in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover Feast, a far more serious event.

The Passover Feast was the celebration of the night the Angel of Death passed over Egypt, killing the first born of every living thing, and ultimately freeing the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. The Israelites who put the blood of a lamb on their door were spared this, the most devastating of the plagues.

“On that night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn – both men and animals – and I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

This is the day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord – a lasting ordinance. (Exodus 12: 12 – 14)

But I think that the disciples must have thought that Jesus was pulling some type of joke on them when Jesus, as John wrote,

“got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”

After all, a Lord does not wash the feet of his servants. To some extent, that is why Peter at first refused to let Jesus wash his feet.

We probably would respond the same way were Jesus to appear before us and offer to perform this act of superb humility. I think that the most difficult think for us to accept, as it was for His disciples, is the idea that Jesus came to be our servant, that He would die to save us. Yet that is exactly why He came.

For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22: 27)

The washing of a guest’s feet was supposed to be done by the host’s servants, not the host, when the guest arrived. But for some reason, it was not done that way this evening. Whatever the reason, by performing the washing during the meal, Jesus sought to emphasize the point of humility and selfless service.

All through his work, Jesus emphasized that He had come to serve the people and that His disciples should do likewise. And while Peter’s rebuke shows that he understood the point of humility, for he (Peter) could not allow his Lord to wash his feet, it was also a matter of pride that he could not let Jesus perform this task.

Peter knew that he was a sinner and that he was not worthy of having his feet washed by Jesus. But, like all of us, his pride wanted to dictate what Jesus could do and could not do for him.

It is our pride that stands between Jesus and us. We, like the disciples that evening, have trouble understanding Jesus’ act of servitude. And like Peter, we put up barriers that keep Jesus from us. But, as Jesus told Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part of me.” If we do not allow Jesus to be our servant, if we do not understand the sense of servitude and humility that was part of his message to us, we can never have Christ as our Savior.

On that first Passover, God protected those that He loved but they had to put the blood of a lamb on the door to their dwelling or they would be killed. When Jesus gave his life so that we could live, He did so out of His and His Father’s love for us. Yet, unless we allow Jesus to be our Savior, his sacrifice on the cross is meaningless. And if we pay no attention to what he said to the disciples that evening, “no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them”; we will not have heard his message.

The message of loving one as Jesus loved us takes on a more serious meaning today as we hear of the tragedies taking place in Kosovo. How can we stand by and say it isn’t our problem or in our interest when Jesus died to save us when we hadn’t be born yet.

We might be like the disciples and think that Jesus was joking but we know that their attitude quickly changed as the events of that evening transpired.

If God loved us enough to send His Son to be our servant and Savior, can we, like Jesus asked his disciples, show that same type of love as we go into the world?

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

His commandment that we love others as He loves us is very much true today. The events that occur in the world, both today and those that happened some 2000 years ago, are not a joke and the world is not laughing this morning. Jesus asked us to be servants to the world, to love others as He loved us. That is the challenge that we take into the world today.

Continuing thoughts on emerging technical problems

Back in 2010, I posted some thoughts on emerging technical problems, mostly dealing with “funny” mail from friends with Yahoo e-mail accounts (see “An Emerging Technical Problem”). I have never found out what exactly was going on with these accounts (nor with mail from friends with Hotmail and/or Gmail accounts either) but it still happens.

From where I sit, it would appear that someone has gained access to the e-mail accounts at the server level and then sent the messages out to e-mail addresses stored on line. Now, one can do one of two things about this.

One is to do nothing and let the problem go away. That may be a reasonable plan. The other is to modify your e-mail address and let all your friends know what has happened and what you have done. The nice thing about free e-mail accounts is that they are free and you can probably create as many as you want. I would strongly encourage you, though, to put your e-mail service on your own computer (using Eudora, Outlook, or Thunderbird) so that your files are behind your firewall.

You do have a firewall in place, don’t you?

Technology can be both a blessing and a curse; it allows us to do things that we could not have done several years ago but it requires that we keep a handle on where we are. It requires things like having an adequate security system on our computers; making sure that our wireless networks are secure and that we don’t put our own personal information in places where others may find it.

I bring this up because of a piece that Randy Willis posted on his own blog – “Site Hacked for the Third Time”. Note that he uses WordPress.org while my blog is on WordPress.com; it is a subtle difference but an important one.

I am not saying that you should avoid technology but know that you can’t do it half-heartedly. If you do, you may find yourself with more problems that you anticipate.

“This Is the Time”

Here is the message that I gave for the 5th Sunday in Lent, April 9, 2000, at Walker Valley (NY) UMC. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Jeremiah 31: 31 – 34, Hebrews 5: 5 – 10, and John 12: 20 – 33.

The Old Testament reading for today speaks of the covenant that God will make with his people. The main difference between this covenant and the others before it are that God initiates it. In doing so, God is assuring its effectiveness. This is also the prophecy that predicts Jesus’ birth and ministry.

And as Jesus pointed out to his disciples in the Gospel reading for today, the time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. The time has come to set the covenant into action.

Like all the covenants of the Old Testament, this is an agreement between two parties, In this case the two parties are God and us. As Jesus tells us in the Gospel reading for today, if the covenant is to be fulfilled, we must follow Him. In verses 25 and 26, Jesus points out that

“He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father, will honor. (John 12: 25 – 26)

When I got home Wednesday, Ann told me that I had received a note from my mother telling me of the death of someone. At first, I could not identify who the person was and initially thought it was one of the older members of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church. But when I read the article that my mom sent, I realized that it was a classmate of mine from high school who had died rather unexpectedly.

I do not grieve for the loss of this friend of mine from thirty years ago. I know that she led a good life and it was a life in Christ so I do not worry. But death has a way of making us think about our lives and about what Jesus asks us to do in giving up our life.

Only very late do we learn the price of the risk of believing, because only very late do we face up to the idea of death.

This is what is difficult: believing truly means dying. Dying to everything: to our reasoning, to our plans, to our past, to our childhood dreams, to our attachment to earth, and sometimes even to the sunlight, as at the moment of our physical death.

That is why faith is so difficult. It is so difficult to hear from Jesus a cry of anguish for us and our difficulties in believing, “Oh, if only you could believe!”

Because not even he can take our place in the leap of Faith; it is up to us. It is like dying! It is up to us, and no one is able to take our place.

This mature act of faith is terribly, uniquely personal. Its risk involves us down to the core. (From The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto)

The phrase that Jesus used, “loves his life”, describes those who serve only themselves. Shortly after he spoke these words, he gave his disciples the opportunity to identify this problem in their own lives. This was when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples prior to the Feast of the Passover. The phrase “hates his life” involves serving Christ. Each believer must establish his or her own priorities. We cannot give ourselves fully to a life on earth and yet be committed to the life that is to come. To follow Christ is to follow Jesus example of self-sacrifice when He, the teacher, washed the feet of His disciples. Jesus set the example of “hating” His life in this world so that He could accomplish eternal purposes.

The world needs more than the secret holiness of individual awareness. It needs more than sacred sentiments and good intentions. God asks for the heart because He needs the lives. It is by lives that the world will be redeemed, by lives that beat in concordance with God, by deed that outbeat the finite charity of the human heart.

Man’s power of action is less vague than his power of intention. And an action has intrinsic meaning; its value to the world is independent of what it means to the person performing it. The act of giving food to a helpless child is meaningful regardless of whether or not the moral intention is present. God asks for the heart, and we must spell our answer in terms of deeds.

It would be a device of conceit, if not presumption, to insist that purity of heart is the exclusive test of piety. Perfect purity is something we rarely know how to obtain or how to retain. No one can claim to have purged all the dross even from his finest desire. The self is finite, but selfishness is infinite. God asks for the heart, but the heart is oppressed with uncertainty in its own twilight. God asks for faith, and the heart is not sure of its own faith. It is good that there is a dawn of decision for the sight of the heart; deeds to objectify faith, definite forms to verify belief.

The heart is often a lonely voice in the marketplace of living. Man may entertain lofty ideals and behave like the ass that, as the saying goes, “carries gold and eats thistles.” The problem of the soul is how to live nobly in an animal environment; how to persuade and train the tongue and the senses to behave in agreement with the insights of the soul.

The integrity of life is not exclusively a thing of the heart; it implies more than consciousness of the moral law. The innermost chamber must be guarded at the uttermost outposts. Religion is not the same as spiritualism; what man does in his concrete, physical existence is directly relevant to the divine. Spirituality is the goal, not the way of man. In this world music is played on physical instruments, and to the Jew the mitsvot are the instruments on which the holy is carried out. If man were only mind, worship in thought would be the form in which to commune with God. But man is body and soul, and his goal is to live that both “his heart and his flesh should sing to the living God..” (From God in Search of Man by Abraham Joseph Heschel)

That is why we find it so hard to give up everything and to follow Jesus. But if we are to be successful in the coming years, if we are to be His servants, then we need to understand this point. Too often, evangelism is presented as simply bringing people to Christ. Evangelism is about breaking down the barriers that mankind has erected over the years. It is about overcoming prejudice, poverty, political irresponsibility, and international tribalism. Yes, evangelism means to bring people to Christ. That will always be the first and most important part of the job. But we must also be aware that a call for a decision for Christ must be related to a call for a decision in Christ, a call to show Christ working in this world.

The events of the last week reminded me of what the Preacher wrote in Ecclesiastes 3.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to rend, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 8)

There is a time and a season for everything. And for us this day, the time is now.

There is a time to be born, a time to die. As it turns out, Sunday, April 30th, when we celebrate the baptism of four children, will also be the day that every United Methodist Church celebrates each heritage. Normally, Heritage Sunday would be celebrated on April 23rd, the day in 1968 when the Methodist Church united with the Evangelical United Brethren Church. But with Easter on the 23rd this year, the celebration of our heritage will be celebrated on the 30th. And what better way to celebrate such a heritage than to baptize those four children and bring new members into the church.

This is also a time to build up. I received a note from Reverend Winkleblack telling me that Walker Valley United Methodist Church will receive the $22,000 that it requested. The good news is that $4,000 will be in the form of a grant, meaning that the total loan will only be $18,000. That is why the Finance Committee will be meeting on April 30th. Though the Trustees will undertake the majority of the work being covered by this loan, having this loan means that we can do other things as well. And those we must make the appropriate plans through the Finance Committee.

The prophet Zechariah wrote,

“The Lord of Hosts says, ‘Get on with the job and finish it! You have been listening long enough! For since you began laying the foundation of the Temple, the prophets have been telling you about the blessings that await you when it’s finished. Before the work began there were no jobs, no wages, no security; if you left the city, there was no assurance you would ever return, for crime was rampant. But it is all so different now! For I am sowing peace and prosperity among you. Your crops will prosper; the grapevines will be weighted down with fruit; the ground will be fertile, with plenty of rain; all these blessings will be given to the people left in the land. ‘May you be as poor as Judah,’ the heathen used to say to those they cursed! But no longer! For now ‘Judah’ is a word of blessing, not a curse. ‘May you be as prosperous and happy as Judah is,’ they’ll say. So don’t be afraid or discouraged! Get on with the rebuilding the Temple! If you do, I will certainly bless you.” (Zechariah 8: 1 – 14)

God, through Zechariah, speaks of a great future, one that renews the covenant that God made through the prophet Jeremiah. Our celebration of communion this day marks our acceptance of that same covenant, the one that Christ offered to us so many years ago. As he told his disciples, as we drink from the cup, we drink of the new covenant. This is the time that we begin this new covenant. It is a time to celebrate those being born; it is a time to mourn the passing of those who died. It is a time to build up; it is a time to break down. It is a time to accept Christ in our hearts and by our acts and actions show others the presence of Christ in this world. Christ’s actions were to move us forward, to a better life. It is up to us at this time to close the covenant.

“To Feed The Spirit As Well As The Body”

With the 1st Sunday of Lent comes the opening of the Lenten School. I serve as the coordinator for the school, getting the courses and instructors, sending out the notices, and keeping the records. I took on this role a few years ago when no one else wanted to do it and I hope that someone will step up to take the leadership roles for next year’s school as I plan on stepping down at the end of this year.

This year, we have a basic course in lay speaking (taught by Jim Schoonmaker, a lay speaker, and Reverend Kent Jackson), a course in sermon planning (Reverend Bob Milsom), a course in prayer (Peg Van Siclen, lay speaker), a course in the history of Christianity (Robert Buice, lay speaker), a course in Christian Education (Lauriston Avery, lay speaker) and the Safe Sanctuary course (Cassandra Negri, lay speaker); my thanks to each one of them for leading these courses.

We changed the order of the school this year. In the past, we had some soup, salad, and sandwiches followed by a short worship service and then the classes. This year, the soup, salad, and sandwiches are still offered though in a little different manner with an opening worship service and then the classes. For the next four weeks, the classes will follow the meal and on the final Sunday of the school (April 1), we will have a closing worship service lead by the District Superintendent at which time those who complete the basic course will be commissioned as lay speakers.

Because we began with the meal before the worship service, instead of using the lectionary readings for this Sunday, I choose as my scripture lesson Matthew 15: 29 – 39, what I call “the forgotten meal.” As I was reading this passage, I displayed on the wall the mural that is painted on the back wall of the Dover Plains United Methodist Church (see “What I See”).

A meditation on the reading from Matthew – “To feed the spirit as well as the body”

By now, I am sure you have heard of the United Methodist Call to Action and that conversation that it has generated concerning the hopes, dreams and future of the United Methodist Church. From the initial study of the church has come the Vital Congregations initiative, an effort to translate what was gathered in the Call to Action study into measurable, quantitative practices.

But there are some who see what is transpiring as lacking, as being well-intentioned but falling short of defining the mission of the church. From these concerns has come “A Missional Manifesto for the People Called United Methodists“, a response and an answer to the call that speaks to who we are when we say we are United Methodists.

Now, I do not if your heritage and roots lie in the Methodist Church or if they lie, as mine does, in the Evangelical United Brethren Church or if you have always been a United Methodist and perhaps wondered why we are United Methodists. (We have a class for that by the way.)

But our unique and combined heritage is more than simply meeting in a church somewhere on a Sunday; it is a heritage of being in the field, of being involved with the people, of being God’s representative here on earth at this time and place. As United Methodists we believe that we are saved by grace alone through faith, and we are saved so that we can do good works. All that we do follows as a response to the radical grace of God.

Some come to the school today to begin a journey as a lay speaker, others continue on by learning how to plan a message or perhaps be better equipped to pray and help others to pray. Some have come to learn more about whom we are when we say we are Christians. Others have come to learn how to make their church a safe haven for those seeking shelter from the ravages of a hostile world and others will come later in the school to learn how to teach children about Christ.

We have all come to this place because our spirit is hungry and we seek to have that hunger fed.

But our responsibility cannot end when the school ends. We cannot simply take the certificate that we receive and place it with our other certificates on a shelf or a wall, to dust them off for the occasional visitor.

For to do so is to ignore the heritage that we claim, to do so is to ignore the others out in the world who are also hungry and seeking Christ. Whereas we know where to find Christ, they do not. Whereas we have found Christ, since they do not know where to find Him, they cannot.

Ours is a heritage of evangelism, not the evangelism of today which seeks to control the human spirit and tell others the right and wrong way to do things. Ours is an evangelism based on what Jesus did and what John Wesley did. Ours is the evangelism that brings the Good News to the people so that they can find Jesus for themselves.

I am a Southern boy and the evangelical tradition of the Methodist, EUB, and United Methodist Church is almost second nature to me. It has led me to find ways that are perhaps not in the mainstream of the church. As I mentioned when I read from Matthew earlier, I used the word student instead of disciple. That’s because the translation of the word “disciple” means more than a follower; it also means to be a student. And to be a student means to put what you learned in class into practice.

Early in my lay speaking I encountered Clarence Jordan, a Southern Baptist preacher from Georgia, who went against the grain of society in leading the fight for integration in the South in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

In terms of evangelism, he saw that the most important feature of Jesus’ ministry was His ability to communicate directly with other men. This led him to write the “Cotton Patch Gospels”, an effort to put the words of the New Testament into the language and nuances of the South. He wanted people to be “participants in the faith, not merely spectators.” It is a thought that is echoed by John Wesley, that having been saved we need to be out “there” working.

It is up to us to bring the Good News to the people whom we meet. It isn’t about the order of worship that we use; it isn’t about the music that we sing. It is about telling people what Christ means to us. And using what we have been taught in many ways so that our faith is our life and our life is our faith.

Once many years ago, I suggested using the song “Good Shepherd” by Jefferson Airplane in a worship service. No one ever said I couldn’t do it but I know some people thought I was a little crazy for even suggesting. But the words of the song, to feed my sheep, always intrigued me.

And at a time when I was perhaps away from the church, the words of this song sounded strangely Biblical. And then when I had the opportunity, I looked at the history of the song.

Jorma Kaukonen, the guitarist for Jefferson Airplane who wrote the arrangement that Jefferson Airplane sings, was introduced to a variant of the song in the late 1960s. It had evolved from a 19th century Gospel hymn into a mid-20th century blues-based folk song. But what was interesting, at least for me, was that the roots of this song come from an early 1800s hymn written by John Adam Grande, a Methodist preacher from Tennessee.

Now, I cannot speak to what others hear when the song is played or if they even see the connection to the Gospel passage that it is based on. But Kaukonen and others continue to find a meaning in the song and other such songs where religion is celebrated in one context or another without preaching. Kaukonen has said this material has given him a doorway into the scripture: “I guess you could say I loved the Bible without even knowing it. The spiritual message is always uplifting.” (Adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Shepherd_(song); see http://mtdalton2.blogspot.com/2008/02/good-shepherd-jefferson-airplane.html for additional thoughts on this song.)

That is the task that lies before us. To take what we learn in the next few weeks and take that knowledge out into the world. When we leave this place, we will I hope seek to find ways to help others feed their souls. It has long been documented that many in today’s society are spiritually hungry.

Some of you may have recognized the mural that I used as a backdrop to the reading from Matthew this evening.

For those who did not, it is the mural on the back wall of the sanctuary at the Dover Plains United Methodist Church. It should serve as a reminder that people came to Jesus that day because they were searching for cures for their illnesses, for answers to the questions that lay on their souls. And when Jesus had cured them and feed their spirits, he feed their bodies.

Now, we have feed our bodies and it is time to feed our souls. Let us enter this Lenten School seeking to find the answers that we seek. And then, when we leave this place, let us help others to find the answers that they seek.

And just in case you need to be reminded this is what the people of Dover see as reminder of the goal that we all seek


“Visions or Dreams?”

This is one of the first messages I ever gave in my lay speaking career. I had come down to Tennessee for a seminar and conference at Vanderbilt University so I arranged my flights so I could spend the weekend in Memphis with my family. (Besides, flying down over the weekend was cheaper than flying straight to Nashville for a Monday and Tuesday meeting.)

This was the 1st Sunday in Lent but I was still “picking and choosing my scriptures instead of using the lectionary as I do now (I don’t think that I was even aware of the lectionary readings at that time). So my starting scriptures for this message were 1 Samuel 17: 46 and Luke 23: 39 – 43.

As I was preparing this sermon, I was also preparing a chemical education seminar for presentation to the Chemistry Department at Vanderbilt University tomorrow and another talk dealing with computers, communication, and education for presentation on Wednesday. I hope to keep them straight, but if you learn anything about chemistry or computers today, count it as a bonus.

On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry rose before the Virginia Convention and gave a speech that we may have read and perhaps even memorized. He closed that speech with these lines:

Gentlemen may cry peace, peace –– but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms. Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it the gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me … give me liberty or give me death! (Patrick Henry, A Biography, Richard R. Beeman, 1974

With these words, Patrick Henry provided the spark that brought Virginia into the Revolutionary War. What was Patrick Henry thinking of as he spoke these inspiring words? What vision was before him that might have given him the power to speak them? From the available evidence, it appears that Patrick Henry’s wife was very mentally ill. While we have a somewhat enlightened attitude about mental illness today, the same was not true in the late 1700’s, when those who were mentally ill were locked away as criminals. Henry could have placed his wife in a mental institution but he chose to keep her at home, though locked away in the basement. This image of his beloved wife locked away in the basement of their plantation was probably the inspiration and vision that allowed him to speak the words “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?”

Similarly, on another continent, another vision of freedom led to the following interchange between Joseph Butler, Bishop of Bristol, and John Wesley:

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

Wesley – My lord, my business on earth is 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 most good here. Therefore here I stay. (Frank Baker, John Wesley and Bishop Butler: A Fragment of John Wesley’s Manuscript, August, 1739)

With these words, John Wesley began the preaching which eventually would lead to the formation of what is now the United Methodist Church. The vision that inspired Wesley to begin his ministry related to what was happening to the people of England during the Industrial Revolution, and what the Church of England, his church, was doing about it. Or rather what it was not doing.

At that time, only those who were members of the upper class were immune to the problems of long hours, limited health care, and the lack of education that the working class and poor had to contend with every day. Like Henry’s wife, these people were locked in the basement of society and not even the Church had an interest in feeding their souls.

For Wesley, the inaction and lack of compassion shown by the Church of England toward the poor was not what the Gospel was about. To him, the Gospel was more than a collection of words one read on Sunday and then forgot the next day. Nor was it reserved for one class of society. Rather, the Gospel was alive and something you lived every day. And it was available for all people. To Wesley and his early followers, if you had accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then your life and behavior reflected that acceptance. One way that was done was in how you treated individuals; even those of a lower class than your own. Were it not for the work of Wesley and the Methodist Revival in seeking to correct the many social problems of that period and the changing of many hearts by the Gospel message he (and others) preached, England would have undergone a far more violent social change than it.

Visions have long been a part of our heritage. We are all familiar with the story of Joseph in Egypt. The Pharaoh had a series of dreams which neither he nor his advisors were able to understand. Only Joseph was able to transform those dreams into a vision of the future and take action.

On more than one occasion Jesus Himself gave us a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God on earth was to be like. We find one such vision in John 1:42 where we read, “He [Andrew] brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephus (which means Peter – in Aramaic & Greek the rock.” In renaming Simon Peter, Jesus showed us the volatile, wishy–washy fellow who was to become the rock upon which He would build the Church.

What is our vision for the church today? Is our church built, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13, on love? Is the mission of our church the one given to Peter? From Acts 1:3 – 18, we read

“…saying ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ But Peter began and explained to them in order: I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance, I saw a vision, something descending, like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came down to me. Looking at it closely I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter, kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘No, Lord: for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up to heaven. At that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brethren also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we first believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God? When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God.

Then so to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life. (Acts 10:3 – 1)

In this vision, Peter was shown that the Gospel is for everyone. Yet today, in a society split by race, creed, and economic status, is our church a beacon of hope and love for all those who seek Jesus? Does our church today reflect the concern for society and the well–being of its members that was expressed by both Jesus and John Wesley? We may have answers to these difficult questions but unless action is taken, these answers may only be our dreams. But today’s problems, generated by fear and hatred, will not go away by dreaming or even if we just ignore them.

Robert Kennedy, during that fateful presidential campaign in 1968, often quoted George Bernard Shaw, “You see things and say ‘why?’ I see things that never were and ask ‘Why not?’ We must transform our dreams about what the church is into a vision of what the church should be and can do.

But from where will the power come to make our vision reality? Where can we turn to find the power to deal with today’s problems? The Gospel still has the power to meet the problems we now face. But the Gospel alone will not make today’s problems go away. The only way we can solve these problems and transform ourselves and our church into the vision shown to us by Jesus is through action. Not just any action, but action powered by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Consider David as he prepared for battle with Goliath:

“Then Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a helmet of bronze on his head, and clothed him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword over his armor, and he tried in vain to go, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot go with these; for I am not used to them.’ And David put them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in his shepherd’s bag or wallet; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near the Philistine.

And the Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield–bearer in front of him. And when the Philistine looked, and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, ruddy and comely in appearance. And the Philistine said to David, ‘am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.’

Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand. (Samuel 17:38 – 47)

David, armed only with a slingshot and his faith in God, could stand before Goliath while all the armies of Israel ran away. But it wasn’t David who defeated Goliath; it was the Holy Spirit. You can take all the armies in the world and they will still be defeated by the Holy Spirit.

It was the Holy Spirit which gave Jesus the wisdom to answer the questions in the temple when he was just a boy of twelve.

After three days they [Joseph and Mary] found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. (Luke 2:41 – 52)

Today is the First Sunday in Lent. This is our time of preparation for the walk to Calvary; a time to reflect on how we live. It also that time when we can allow the Holy Spirit to come into our lives.

The Pharisees sought to get rid of Jesus because they were not prepared for the Holy Spirit nor were they ready for the new church. The disciples were instructed to wait in Jerusalem until they received the power of the Holy Spirit, and then they were to go out and preach. A dream or vision not supported by the Holy Spirit is doomed to failure. How powerful is the Holy Spirit? It continually offers hope to all, even on the cross.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying,

‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man had done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.’

And He said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ (Luke 23:39 – 43)

Wesley’s spirit was ignited by the flame of the Holy Spirit and with the Holy Spirit came the power to preach the Gospel and revitalize the people, the church and the nation.

So too can it be for us. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Holy Savior in our hearts and allow the Holy Spirit to fill our lives, the dreams we have become visions, and we gain the power to turn those visions into reality.