Baptism or Christening?

I don’t know if this is a theological question, a denominational question, semantics, or how one was raised.

But are baptism and christening the same thing? Most of the on-line sources imply that they are but I have it in my mind (which means that it is subject to change) that they are different. It may be that because I grew up in the South I think there is a difference.

And for the record, I was baptised as an infant and I have always considered it a valid baptism. We will save the question of who can be baptized for another time.

What are your thoughts on this?

Vespers in the Garden – 24 June 2012

During the summer at Grace UMC in Newburgh, we hold a short worship service on Fridays and Sundays at 7.  After running and coordinating this ministry for the past three years, I have turned it over to another Lay Speaker, George Love of Trinity UMP in Newburgh.  George has a calling for this type of open ministry and he has truly grown with this ministry.  Please keep George in your prayers as well as all of those who come to the Vespers.

The following are my thoughts on the theme “Our Weakness and God’s Strength”.  I used 2 Corinthians 5: 18 – 6: 2 and Mark 4: 35- 41 as the Scripture readings.


And the winds came and the boat rocked and the disciples were afraid and not just afraid but afraid that they were going to die.  Perhaps I am putting too much into this reading from Mark but it is noted somewhere that the Sea of Galilee was not a quiet little lake but rather susceptible to quick and violent storms that could easily sink small fishing boats.  And as fisherman, Peter, Andrew, James and John had probably encountered such storms and well aware of what they could do.  So, if they were scared, they had good reason to be scared.  Of course, it didn’t help the disciples’ state of mind that Jesus was over in the corner sound asleep.

We would probably feel the same way if we were on a boat going through the narrow passage on the Hudson below Bannerman’s Island and a sudden storm were to come up.

The timelessness of the Gospel is illustrated in this passage.  We wait until the storms of life arise and raging all around us before we seek Christ.  And we get upset when it seems as if He does not seem to care or is aware of our problems.

Of course, He is well aware of what is happening to us but we are so busy in this world trying to solve problems by ourselves that we do not see Him standing next to us.  Ours is a society in which all of answers seemingly come from this world.  We only turn to God when we seek answers that are the ultimate points of life – the source of meaning, the place of guilt in our lives and at the frontier of death.

But if God only appears to us at the extremities of life, when we are at our lowest and He cannot be found in the midst of life when we are strong, what manner of God is God?

What good is any god that waits until we are cornered and in trouble but of otherwise no earthly use?  If this god of the universe is only there at the beginning and the end, what good is he?  Wouldn’t it be better to find our answers somewhere else, in the manner and shape of the world around us?

What we are discovering is that the important answers cannot necessarily be found in the world.  We cannot simply brush aside the bad things and evil in this world nor can we simply find the answer to guilt in some psychological evaluation.  And in choosing death as the end and inevitable, we find ourselves still searching for meaning in this world.

We all know the opening words to Ecclesiastes 3, “to everything there is a season”.  Our lives, though, are expressed in verses 9 – 13, when the Preacher wrote,

But in the end, does it really make a difference what anyone does? I’ve had a good look at what God has given us to do—busywork, mostly. True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time—but he’s left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he’s coming or going. I’ve decided that there’s nothing better to do than go ahead and have a good time and get the most we can out of life. That’s it—eat, drink, and make the most of your job. It’s God’s gift.

And our lives end and we wonder what happened.  We hope that there will be time, as there was for the penitent thief, to repent of our ways and received God’s mercy.  But too often we are like the other thief crucified alongside Jesus who mocked Him.

The problem is that we may not know when our time will come and we will not have the opportunity to repent and ask for forgiveness.  Remember the story that Jesus told about the rich man who died and was thrown in Sheol?

All his life, the rich man had thought that he would be going to heaven; after all, he was a rich man and the rich only gain their wealth if they lead a righteous life.  But he had ignored Lazarus, the beggar who sat outside his house begging for food and mercy.

I am constantly drawn to the works and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian who gave up a safe and secure life in America to fight the horrors of Nazi Germany and who died some three weeks before the concentration camp in which he was housed was liberated.

We can be like the rich man, expecting that our richness and good life will be the keys to opening the doors of heaven.  But as Paul pointed out, it is not what is on the outside that tells the story.  The outside is what Bonhoeffer called “religious clothing” and it caused him great uneasiness.

Bonhoeffer would write,

I often ask myself why a Christian instinct frequently draws me more to the religionless man than to the religious, by which I mean not with any intention of evangelizing them, but rather, I might almost say, in ‘brotherhood’.  While I often shrink with religious people from speaking of God by name – because that Name somehow seems to me here not to ring true, and I strike myself as rather dishonest (it is especially bad when others start talking in religious jargon: then I dry up completely and feel somehow oppressed and ill at ease) – with people who have no religion I am able on occasion to speak of God quite openly and as it were naturally.  Religious people speak of God when human perception is (often just from laziness) at an end, or human resources fail: it is really always the Deux ex machina they call to their aid, either for the so-called solving of insoluble problems or as support in human failure – always, that is to say, helping out human weakness or at the borders of human existence.

Bonhoeffer insisted that to be a Christian was not be religious but human.  To be truly human is to be open to the full breadth of the human existence that Christ revealed.  But the Christian way demands real tension with the way of the world; a tension revealed in the Cross of Christ.

The trouble is that discipleship means an estrangement from the world.  It also leads to attempting to acquiring faith by leading a holy life.  It was the same thing that John Wesley tried to do – lead a holy life in hopes that it would gain him the faith that he sought.

For Bonhoeffer, the attempt to keep the church and the world apart lead to the church’s acquiescence of the false worldly values of Hitlerism.  So Bonhoeffer thought a non-religious life was more genuine because it was the life revealed to us in Christ.  In Christ we see God not as the omnipotent one standing outside the world, a God of the religious world as a separate realm but rather a God coming to us in weakness and suffering and allowing Christ to be edged out of life on to the cross.

When we see God as something that we can put in the closet or on the shelf, to bring out only when we need Him, we fall into the trap that is this world.  We must see God not as a God who waits for us at the edges of our lifes in our weakness and extremity but as the Lord who comes to us in the midst of the secular life at points of our confidence and strength as well as the points of weakness.  It is a life that transcends our ordinary life because it is a life that is wholly ‘for others’.

Paul will write to the Corinthians that the life in Christ that they seek will not always be an easy one.  And while Jesus can calm the waters, it doesn’t mean that the problems of the world will go away.  But the world around is is not easy, when the way of the world gets tough, Jesus will be right there with us.

Thanks a lot, Henry!

Many years ago, while I was a graduate student at the University of Iowa, I wrote a letter to the Editor of Science in response to a letter about reformation of science education. I drafted a response and showed it to my graduate school colleagues and some of the faculty, including my advisor, Robert Yager. Everyone agreed that it was a well-reasoned and thoughtful response to this particular gentleman’s plan for reforming science education in the 1990s.

Then the fun began. Letters to the Editor of Science undergo peer review and I wasn’t able to get my thoughts published. It apparently didn’t help that 1) I was a graduate student and the individual who wrote the original letter was a distinguished professor or 2) that he was a biologist (i.e., a real scientist) and I was in education (where we really don’t do real science). So in the end, my response was never printed.

A couple of years later, I was able to post a response to an individual’s thoughts on the reformation of chemical education in Chemical & Engineering News – see “The Crisis in Science and Mathematics (1990)”.

Over the past few years, I have written about the crisis in science and mathematics and the declining ability of individuals to think critically and analytically, prompted in part by my wife’s thoughts and words. And it is just not in science and mathematics but in our understanding of the Bible as well (let’s not go into how well the average American knows the Bible at this time).

Of course, I am just a lowly blogger so my thoughts on problems with the American educational system don’t matter. This is all prompted by a piece by the noted educational theorist and writer, Henry Giroux, “Beyond the Politics of the Big Lie: The Education Deficit and the New Authoritarianism”. Henry’s thoughts will get all the attention but there are those of us who have been trying to do something about the problem for some time.

So, thanks Henry. Of course, you are a few years late but maybe this time people will pay attention.

Faith of Our Fathers

This was my Father’s Day message for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 23 June 2002, at Walker Valley (NY) UMC. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Genesis 21: 8 – 21, Romans 6: 1 – 11, and Matthew 10: 24 – 39.

It would be highly appropriate for me, on this Father’s Day, to speak in glowing and favorable words about my own father. But to do so would gloss over his relationship with me and with his family. Though he was a man of vision and many of his ideas had a great impact, he was like many fathers we have heard about, aloof and distant from his family. Immensely proud of his children’s accomplishments, he often failed to let us know of his pride in us.

Still, at the end of his life, I knew how proud he was that I had received my doctorate and how proud he was of my then fledging career in the ministry of the United Methodist Church. I also knew that, despite his initial objections to this choice, he had come to understand that it was a choice made in my heart. It was a choice that he accepted and endorsed. For he knew that the path in ministry that I was beginning to walk was a path shared by others in our extended family, the Schüessler family from whom my grandmother and his mother came. He was proud of that choice and was working to make my path a little bit easier.

I also knew that at the end of his life, he had come back to that same foundation and faith in which he was raised.

That is the way it is for each of us here today. We walk a path of our own choosing, guided by our wisdom and made in our heart. But it is a path made easier by our fathers and their fathers before them, our mothers and their mothers before them, by all those in our family, both close and extended who have traveled this path before us.

The challenge for us then is to move forward, to expand the path so that those that follow us have the same and perhaps greater opportunities than we did. But I see in today’s society people unwilling to move forward. I see in today’s society people who feel that the good days are the ones behind us; that there is no hope for the future and what we have today is the best that it will ever be. We have become a society unwilling or unable to go beyond the bend in the path before us, fearful of what might lie there.

We are a society that has accepted the here and now as the norm; we don’t look to the future; we are afraid to take risks. If our own political founding fathers had been unwilling to move into the unknown, then we might still be a colony of Great Britain today. But there were those in the small towns and villages of this country who saw the road to Independence for what it was, the only path to take, and so we moved forward. Beginning with the visionary and radical document we know as the “Declaration of Independence”, this nation has moved into the future. The question is whether we can continue to do so.

I am not sure that the spirit that led us to cheer when we heard that all men were created equal still exists today. I am not sure that we are a nation willing to put the values expressed then into practice today. We are not interested in long-term solutions any more. We want an answer now, no matter what might happen tomorrow. We react immediately and without thought. I will not minimize what happened on September 11, 2001. It was an act that defies belief and can only be explained in seemingly irrational terms.

But have our responses since that day solved the problems that caused the attack. Have the forces of evil that feed on ignorance, hatred, and injustice been removed from today’s society? Or, have each of our own violent responses been met with more violence? We must seek justice in this world but it must be within the boundaries of what we believe. We have repeatedly told the world that we are a Christian nation, so we hold to the Gospel message presented in the New Testament. Yet, we have stated that we are a people of the New Testament; as such, our responses seem to be more a rephrasing of the old Mosaic Law of an eye for an eye. The fact is that when violence is answered by more violence, there will never be peace.

The roots of hatred and violence run deep in this world. And in a world where self-interests seemingly come first, such roots are not easily removed. But if we would simply stop and think for a few moments about how we should respond, we could create a peace-based, non-aggressive response that would meet our goal while not portraying us as weak or inept. This is difficult to do, especially in a time when society demands violent responses and victory at all costs and belittles all those who do seek alternatives. But, in light of the Gospel before us today, we should not be surprised. For the Gospel message for today tells us that society is not often open to the liberating thoughts alternative solutions might possess.

Jesus is passing through the town and area of Gerasa. There He encounters a man possessed by seven demons. Because of this possession, this man has been driven from his home and forced to live among the tombs of the town cemetery. Society’s actions and condemnation have declared him dead and unfit to be in the real world.

He recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and his Savior. He begs to be healed and saved from that which is tormenting him. Not only does Jesus heal him, he elevates him to a status above those how who have scorned and condemned him. But what do the townspeople do?

Instead of rejoicing in this man’s healing and literal return from the dead, they are angry with Jesus. As we read in the Gospel for today, Jesus placed the demons that had tormented the man in a herd of pigs nearby, causing the pigs to jump over a cliff and fall to their death in the sea. The people were angry with Jesus for doing this.

It is very interesting that this was their response. For as devout Jews, the townspeople could not eat pork. So these pigs were not for local consumption. Rather, the people raised the pigs to feed the Roman soldiers garrisoned nearby. The anger comes from the fact that Jesus, in saving one person, has disrupted the ways of society; Jesus has disrupted the status quo.

Yet, the status quo served to keep the people of the area enslaved. Jesus comes as a liberator, offering an alternative. But He was rejected and cast aside by the very people that He came to free because His solution was not acceptable to them. Those caught up in the ways of the secular world are often not willing to accept liberation, especially if it interferes with the easy life of the status quo.

But you cannot liberate an enslaved people using the methods that enslaved them in the first place. There must be alternatives. Jesus offered an alternative then and today. Are we willing to look at the alternatives or shall we continue with the status quo?

John Wesley saw people trapped by poverty and societal indifference. English society in his day believed, as some in today’s society still believe, that poverty was a direct result of a sinful life. If you were poor, it was because you were a sinner. If you were rich and prosperous, then God must have smiled on you and granted the blessings of life. It did not matter if your riches came from the enslavement, abuse, and oppression of others; if you were rich, God was on your side.

Historians tell us that the England of John Wesley’s time was ripe for the same violent and bloody revolution that swept through France some fifty years later. They also tell us that one of the reasons why England did not have such a bloody revolution was because of the work of John Wesley and the early Methodists.

The early Methodists fought to improve the conditions that condoned child abuse and sent children as young as twelve into England’s mines and factories. The fought against the drug and alcohol abuse prevalent in society and, which for some was the only escape available. The early Methodists tried to change a society that found it convenient to throw people in jail for owing others money and keeping them in jail until the debt was paid. People in proverty were made to feel ashamed because they were poor; people were made to feel that God had forgotten them.

Instead of repression and humiliation, instead of making it impossible to better ones life, the early Methodists show people that they had not been forgotten, that God loved them as much as anyone else. More importantly, the poor and lower classes were given hope, the same hope promised in the Gospel message. And slowly but surely, the early Methodists changed the minds that looked inward first and caused to look around them and see what the world really was.

Do you remember the story of John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace” and a number of other powerful Methodist hymns? His life changed when he saw that the source of his wealth was the enslavement of others. Faced with the irony that by selling people into slavery was the cause of his own spiritual enslavement, he chose to walk away and seek a new life. Through his hymns and ministry, he helped bring about the quiet revolution in England.

This is the power of the Gospel; that is the power of faith in Christ. Jesus gave new life to a man condemned by society. John Wesley gave hope to people forgotten by society.

It is the same for us. Through Christ, we have been given the opportunity of life without slavery to sin and death. Salvation is ours through the power of the Gospel. And like the man in the Gospel message today, we are challenged by Jesus to take the Gospel message into the world, bringing others to Jesus.

But it requires that we change. It requires that we have that life-changing experience that the man in tombs underwent. It requires a change in one’s thinking and direction of life, as it was for John Newton.

We cannot simply rearrange the present in hopes of making the future better. The Galatians were one of the first Christian churches but like some many others, they were reluctant to change their thinking. They still saw themselves in terms of the old ways of life, using the law as a way of exclusion. Paul reminded them it was their faith that united them in a radical equality. Paul told them to cast away the old identities of Greek and Jew, slave and free and see themselves in the light of Christ and their faith in Christ.

You will tell me that this is all well and good but it will not work in today’s world. To live and preach the Gospel message will only bring ridicule and embarrassment. You will tell me that you cannot take on the world’s problems by yourself. What would you have done if faced with thousands of refugees who will die if you do not take action?

At the last P. A. P. A. (Peekskill Area Pastor’s Association) it was resolved that we would remember Aristides de Sousa Mendes this week. You may not have ever heard of this gentleman and he probably would have liked it this way. He was the General Consul of Portugal in Bordeaux, France during the spring of 1940.

At that time, the Nazi blitzkrieg had breached the French armies’ defenses and refugees of different nationalities, including thousands of Jews, were coming to Bordeaux in hopes of avoiding death by obtaining a transit visa to Portugal and from there to ports in South America. The Portuguese dictator, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, was a Fascist and supported Adolf Hitler personally even though Portugal remained neutral throughout World War II. Premier Salazar gave orders to all Portuguese diplomats forbidding them from extending visas to refuges and to Jews who had been expelled from their country of origin.

In spite of this, Sousa Mendes issued thousands of transit permits to refugees in Bordeaux, Bayonne, and Hendaye (a town on the Spanish border with France). It is believed that because of his actions 30,000 refugees, including 10,000 Jews, were saved from death in the Third Reich’s death camps.

On June 16, 1940, Sousa Mendes faced the crowd and said,

“I cannot allow you to die. Most of you are Jewish and our Constitution established that neither religion nor political beliefs can be used as an excuse to reject the staying in Portugal.”

“I will give a visa to whoever needs it, either he/she can pay for it or not. I will act according to what my Christian conscience tells me to do,” he used to say.

For his defiance of his country’s leader he was expelled from the Portuguese Foreign Service and lost all benefits. The utterance of his name was prohibited for decades and he lived the rest of his life as an outcast, homeless and in poverty until his death in 1954. In 1987, President Mario Soares posthumously awarded him the Order of Liberty and publicly asked his relatives for forgiveness for the injustices that had taken place.

In a letter sent to the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (another individual whose conscience dictated actions that were counter to public sentiment and who paid the ultimate price for his action), Francisco Sousa Mendes, the consul’s grandson, wrote “Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a diplomat. As such, he knew that he was a public official, somebody who should serve the people and, in no way could he take advantage of his position for personal benefit. But, even more important, more than a public official, my grandfather was loyal to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, particularly the one that prescribes us to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

When faced with the choice of doing what was right in the eyes of his people and what was right in the eyes of the Lord, Aristides de Sousa Mendes choose to follow the Lord, no matter what the cost it would be to him.

The prophet Elijah could relate to what happened to Sousa Mendes. Elijah took on the establishment, challenging the prophets of Baal and in direct confrontation with Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab. In showing these prophets to be fools and charlatans, Elijah embarrassed and enraged Jezebel, to the point that she put a bounty on his life.

In the wilderness, Elijah is convinced that he is alone, that there is no one who believes in God as he does. He believes that he will die in the wilderness, alone as the last of God’s witnesses. He is also convinced that God has forgotten him. Yet, God showed that he was neither forgotten nor alone. God showed Elijah that there are others and that there will always be others who believe in God and act in the same manner as Elijah.

You may see yourself alone in the battle but look around you. There are others whose presence today tells you their paths have crossed yours and the faith of their fathers is still present, as is yours.

Today, we are reminded that our fathers, like their fathers before them, worked to make our paths a little easier to tread. We are reminded that Jesus came to liberate and save us from sin and death. We are reminded, as our fathers before us and their fathers before them that the Gospel message is to be taken from this place and into the world. We are reminded again, in the words of the old Methodist hymn that the faith of our fathers lives on today.


“Giving Your All”

This was the message I gave at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 29 June 1997. The Scriptures for this Sunday were 2 Samuel 1: 1, 17 – 27; 2 Corinthians 8: 7 – 15, and Mark 5: 21 – 43.

– note – this was the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), not the 5th. –

It is during this week that the willingness of individual to give of themselves is probably more evident than any other time of the year. For it was this week some two hundred and twenty one years ago that fifty men put their signatures to the Declaration of Independence. Not all of them signed with the flourish that John Hancock did but sign it they did. And as each man signed this most important document in our country’s history, they knew that if the Revolution was a failure, that what they were signing was not a Declaration of Independence but rather their death warrant. For if the Revolution failed, the British would hunt each of the individuals down and hang them for treason.

In the reading from the Old Testament, David laments the death of Saul and Jonathan. He does so not because of who they are but for what they were doing at the time of their deaths. After all, Saul had been trying to kill David prior to the battle in which he lost his live but David knew that Saul’s death was a blow to the country. And that made the loss of Jonathan every more of a blow because of he was like a brother to David.

This week, we celebrate our country’s independence, but today we celebrate our independence, our freedom from sin. But to do that, we must first enter a new relationship with Christ.

It is not what you are nor what you have been that God sees with his all-merciful eyes, but what you desire to be. St. Gregory declares that

“all holy desires heighten in intensity with the delay of fulfillment, and desire which fades with delay was never holy desire at all.” For if you experience less and less joy when you discover anew the sudden presence of great desires you had formerly pursued, your first desire was not holy desire. Possibly you felt a natural tendency toward the good but this should not be confused with holy desire. St. Augustine explains what I mean by holy desire when he says that “the entire life of a good Christian is nothing less than holy desire.” (The Cloud of Unknowing)

That is the step that Jarius had to take. As Jarius was the leader of the local synagogue, he knew that what he was about to, seek out Jesus and ask Jesus to save his daughter, could possibly lead to his disgrace in the community. But he also knew that the only hope for his daughter lie with Jesus and, knowing that this act could lead to further difficulties for him in society, he still came to Jesus.

The saving grace of Jesus is there for everyone but it requires that everyone make some sort of step towards overcoming the barriers that they have put up. And Jesus also showed that he would put up no barriers.

While Jesus is with Jarius, a woman comes up from behind to touch his robe. For this woman, coming to Jesus represents her last hope. Because of her twelve-year illness, this woman has been effectively banished from society. Deemed unclean, no one can help her and she has nowhere to turn to. She cannot even go to the synagogue to pray for help because, as an unclean person, she is not allowed to enter. She has nowhere else to turn to when she makes the decision to come to Christ.

Jesus’ reaction to the woman touching his robe shocked his disciples because they did not yet understand how much Jesus knows about each one of us. That woman was lost to society and yet Jesus knew she was there and he stopped everything he was doing to find her. Jesus gives us his all, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

It was not Jarius’ position as the leader of the synagogue which saved his daughter but rather his faith. Not everyone believed as Jarius did. When Jesus, Jarius, and the three disciples came to Jarius house, friends came to say that Jarius’ daughter was dead. All Jesus said was to keep the faith and all would turn out okay. His friends just laughed at this suggestion.

Only when he came to Jesus was he able to achieve what he was seeking. Jesus did not look at the woman’s illness or her standing in the community as a barrier to her being saved either.

And that is the same with us today. If we choose to look upon our lives in terms of what we now have, we will gain nothing. But if we give up such things and allow Jesus to come into our hearts, then we will hear Jesus say to us, just as he said to Jarius and the women, “Go in peace”, knowing that we are saved.

All week long, as I have worked on this sermon, I have thought of a song which has the words, “What can I give him?” This is a song which I have sung around Christmas time and it, as I recall, is the dilemma of what to the give the new born Jesus. The three wise men gave gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh because they were gifts appropriate for a new-born King.

But for us today, all Jesus is asking is that we give wholly and freely of ourselves. As Paul writes in the beginning of the Epistle today

But just as you excel in everything, in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in our love for us — see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

Such giving knows no boundaries, is not limited by who you are or what you do yet is offers unlimited rewards.

The Challenge We Face

This was the message that I gave at Grace UMC (St. Cloud, MN) for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 27 June 1993. This was the fifth message of my lay speaking career and I was using the format that my pastor, John Praetorius used. The Scriptures that I used were Hebrews 11: 33 – 35 and James 1: 5 – 8.    

In May of 1961, President John Kennedy presented to a joint session of Congress what some consider the greatest scientific challenge of this generation’s lifetime:

“First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind or more important for the long-range exploration of space. And none will be more difficult or expensive to accomplish.” (We Reach The Moon, John Noble Wilford, Bantam Books, 1969)

This challenge was made as a response to the actions taken by the Soviet Union in successfully orbiting Yuri Gagarin. President Kennedy recognized that a quick and decisive response was needed, even in the face of the difficulties that our space program was undergoing at that time. As those who grew up in the late 50’s and early 60’s might remember, the United States space program seemed more a comedy of errors than a precisely run scientific effort. One cannot forget the number of launches that ended with the rocket exploding on the launch pad rather than sending a satellite into orbit. If we could not launch a relatively simple rocket, how were we going to be able to launch a rocket carrying men?

There were also skeptics who felt it was impossible to land a man on the moon because, as one theory suggested, the surface of the moon was covered by a thick layer of dust. As such, any landing craft attempting to land on the moon would be swallowed up. But nothing had been done to prove or disprove this theory. It was not until the Ranger series of satellites crash landed on the moon and the Surveyor series soft landed on the moon that this theory was shown incorrect. Had we chosen to accept the theory without obtaining the facts, we would have never landed on the moon.

Today this nation faces another challenge. It is a challenge which cannot be resolved through a nationwide commitment of resources, talent, and technology. It must be resolved in our hearts and in our souls. We have forgotten to put God first in our lives and, in doing so, have lost our spiritual direction.

Our society is split by race, creed, and economic status. We see the problems these differences cause but we want others to solve them. We willingly let others tell us how we should act, what we should wear, how we should think.

Because we have no commitment to God, because we receive so many conflicting directions, our lives are in constant turmoil. And this is because we do not have faith that God will provide us with the direction we should take and the protection we need, despite the fact that He has repeatedly promised to do so. If our faith in God is strong, our accomplishments will reflect the Glory of God. If our faith is weak, then we will struggle. As James wrote

“If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him; he will not resent it. But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to tell you, for a doubtful mind will be as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind; and every decision you then make will be uncertain, as you turn first this way, and then that. If you don’t ask with faith, don’t expect the Lord to give you any solid answer.” (James 1: 5 – 8)

Peter Jenkins was a college student who questioned the direction his life was taking. His inner turmoil led him on a journey which has been chronicled in his books Walk Across America and The Walk West. His walk from New York to New Orleans was highlighted by his acceptance of Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. But what impact did this acceptance have on his life?

When he discussed the journey and the resulting story with the editors of National Geographic, they asked him what he felt was the major point of the whole journey. To their amazement, he said that it was his acceptance of Christ as his Savior. It was to the editors’ credit that this part of the story was kept in the article so that others could read about the power of the Lord. Later, during a train ride in China, far from his home and family, and unable to openly worship God, Jenkins became aware of just how dependent his life and the direction it took was upon his relationship with Jesus Christ. He wrote:

“And I wrote down that I really missed God. I didn’t expect Him to come and sit down beside me, but I missed what He was in my life. He was my ultimate security. He was my guide through life and my main source of discipline. He was my friend, more faithful than any person, the most faithful presence on earth. He was profound wisdom and pure love. I yearned for His arms of love to hold me. But He seemed so far away.

I knew He was here, but I felt so lonely just the same. And there was no one around to fellowship with. Lying on that bunk I realized more clearly than ever before how important my relationship with God was.”(The Road Unseen, Peter and Barbara Jenkins, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985, page 5)

How important is a strong relationship with God? All we have to do is look at the Israelites as they left Egypt for the Promised Land. Every time the Israelites faced a crisis, they sought a return to the seemingly secure life of slavery in Egypt. What did the Israelites do when they faced the Red Sea with the Egyptian army coming after them? Did they rejoice that God would protect them? In Exodus 14: 10 – 14 we read

“When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them; and they were in great fear. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord; and they said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” (Exodus 14: 10 – 14)

Yet, even as they watched God drown the Egyptians in the Red Sea, the Israelites still had a hard time accepting the idea that all they had to do was follow the Lord.

It must have been tough on the Israelites moving from the security of Egypt to the uncertainty of the Promised Land. How did they react as they crossed the wilderness without sufficient provisions? In Exodus 16: 2 – 8 we read

“And the whole congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness and said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.’ So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, ‘At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your murmurings against the Lord. For what are we, that you murmur against us?’ And Moses said, ‘When the Lord gives you evening flesh and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your murmurings which you murmur against him – what are we? Your murmurings are not against us but against the Lord.” (Exodus 16: 2 – 8)

Consider their actions while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 32 we read of the people going to Aaron and asking him to make them a false idol. Later, in Numbers 13 and 14, we read of the spies Moses sent into the Promised Land lying about what was there and how the people cried to return to Egypt where they were safe and secure. Time and time again during this journey, we hear the Israelites crying to return to Egypt and the security of their slavery; all because their faith in God was weak. How many times have we encountered this journey from the wilderness to the Promised Land? How many times have we doubted our own faith? Don’t we feel lost and without direction when we have ignored God’s presence in our lives?

Even our own John Wesley struggled with the idea of what God wanted him to do. Sent to Georgia as a missionary along with his brother Charles, he returned to England in 1738 feeling that he had failed. Prepared as he and his brother were with the understanding that one cannot find peace in life outside Christ, neither man felt that they had truly found the Peace of Christ. Despite their training, despite their background, neither Wesley was willing to say they trusted the Lord.

Only after that moment in his life, which we call the Aldersgate moment, could Wesley write

“I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Only by accepting Christ as his personal Savior was John Wesley able to understand what direction his life was to take. It was only through trusting Christ that Wesley gained the confidence needed to make the Methodist revival possible. The writer of Hebrews 11: 33 – 35 also points out that every great leader of our Christian heritage also trusted in God completely and followed Him faithfully:

“These people all trusted God and as a result won battles, overthrew kingdoms, ruled their people well, and received what God had promised them; they were kept from harm in a den of lions, and in a fiery furnace. Some, through their faith, escaped death by the sword. Some were made strong again after they had been weak or sick. Others were given great power in battle; they made whole armies turn and run away. And some women, through faith, received their loved ones back again from death. But others trusted God and were beaten to death, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free – trusting that they would rise to a better life afterwards.” (Hebrews 11: 33 – 35)

Our challenge today is the single most difficult task we will ever face. Yet it is the easiest to accomplish. It is difficult because it forces us away from the comfort zone our life in sin has created. However, while we may feel free, a life in the slavery of sin is not freedom. The direction our life takes, the choices we make, the things we want to do, all are chosen by others. Had the Israelites chosen slavery in Egypt rather than to follow God, they would have never reached the Promised Land.

John Kennedy concluded his challenge to make the trip to the moon by saying that the mission would require a complete commitment of the nation’s resources and by us. He knew that was the only way the challenge would be met.

So it is for us. By making a complete and total acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior, we too can forsake a life in the slavery of sin and make that trip to the Promised Land.

Determining Your Community – Comments requested

I always want comments to my posts but this time I really want them; for it will be the comments that complete what this post is about.

Yesterday, I was at Rowe UMC in Milan, NY. The title of my message was “A Different Sense of Community” and I talked about getting a sense of the community in which the church lies. Too many times, we give a solution to a problem that works in one locality and we imply that solution will work in other localities as well. If your locality is like mine, then what works for me will work for you. But the odds are that we do not share the same demographics and so my solution will not always work for you.

At the end of the service yesterday the question was raised about how a particular church finds out what the needs of an area might be. While I mentioned Family Promise in my message and tried to describe what it does, especially since last night was the first night that my home church was serving at the host, I was not aware of how the other churches in the area became involved. So I have to follow up with the Rowe Church about getting them involved in the area Family Promise program.

Some questions and the reason for requesting comments:

  • How do you determine what your community is or might be?
  • How do you determine what needs to be done in your area?
  • How do you let people know that this is what you are doing?

What other questions might arise as we try to develop a different sense of community?

A Different Sense of Community

I was at Rowe United Methodist Church (Milan, NY) on Sunday. The Scripture readings for this Sunday (the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year B) were 1 Samuel 8: 4 – 20 (11: 14 – 15), 2 Corinthians 4: 13 – 5: 1, Mark 3: 20 – 35. Services start at 9:30 a.m. and you are welcome to attend.

And then His mother and brothers sent Jesus a message that they wanted to talk with Him. And Jesus responded to the messenger, “Who do you think are my mother and brothers?” Looking around, taking in everyone seated around him, He said, “Right here, right in front of you – my mother and my brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

There are some who said Jesus rejected His family in this exchange that we read this morning. But it is more likely that Jesus expanded the concept of family and brought a new meaning to the definition of a community.

Now, Jesus said that those who obeyed God’s will would be His brothers and sisters. What does it meant to obey God’s will? Is it how we live or are we to create a separate community apart from the world? This nation is dotted with towns, some which still exist today, where people gathered as a community to follow God’s will. Or is it how we live our lives?

The meaning of community and our obligations within a community are ideas/concepts that have perplexed us from the day Cain asked God if he were his brother’s keeper. It is a thought echoed in the question asked by the lawyer in Luke when Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, “Who is my neighbor?” It is also the question that John Wesley looked at his world in 18th century England. How we respond today will say a lot about our future as a society and as a church.

I had the opportunity two years ago to go to Annual Conference and hear Kwasi Kena, Director of Evangelism for the General Board of Discipleship. I thought that it was an interesting seminar because the ideas that Dr. Kena expressed ran counter to the current thoughts on the subject of evangelism and it gave me hope that the church as an institution, as a denomination, and individually can be saved.

Now, for too many people today, evangelism is getting people to proclaim Christ as their Savior and it is almost a forced process; either you follow Christ as we have described Him or you are doomed to a life outside the gates of Heaven. But as Dr. Kena pointed out, evangelism is more than just getting people to follow Christ; it is also teaching people about Christ and living the life that you preach and that Christ taught us to live.

But if the church (be it the institution in general, the denomination, or any individual church group) operates more on the letter of the law rather than the Spirit of the Law, as long as the church today reflects the behavior and attitudes of the church authorities of two thousand years ago, when Jesus walked the back roads of the Galilee, then it will and is a dying church. (Adapted from “The State of Faith“)

Paul offers us, through his words to the Corinthian church, hope. One response to the need to live a biblical based life, one that illustrated and lifted up Christ’s teaching is the Koinonia Farm in Georgia, found by Clarence Jordan in the years following World War II. Clarence Jordan was a Southern Baptist preacher and Greek scholar. Dr. Jordan began the farm as a way of showing God’s love for all and an illustration of Jesus’ teaching. The farm was integrated and pacifist, ideas that were not well received in Georgia during the 50s and 60s. To say that Dr. Jordan and those who helped on the farm rattled the cages of the political and religious establishment of the time would be an understatement.

As a Greek scholar, Dr. Jordan took time to write the Cotton Patch Gospels, a translation of the New Testament from the original Greek into English, using as best as he could locations in Georgia to make the reading more relevant. So Paul’s letters to the Corinthians become letters to Atlanta Christians.

In his translation of 2 Corinthians, Dr. Jordan writes “I acted, then I talked” where the palmist wrote “I believed it, so I said it.” In 2 Corinthians 5: 1, Dr. Jordan wrote “For example, we are sure that if our external framework of God’s dwelling is pulled down, we still have a house built by God, a house that’s not man-made but spiritual and eternal.” In his notes for 2 Corinthians 5: 1, he noted that “dwelling” or “house” seems to refer to Christian fellowship and not to the individual body. Our community is wherever it may be in whatever form it may be; if we limit the form, we may find ourselves limiting ourselves as well.

What did the church authorities two thousand years ago do when Jesus was healing the sick and offering Good News to the people? They pronounced Him to be an agent of Satan. Many times, what Jesus did was in direct opposition to the rules and laws set down by the religious authorities but well within the scope of the Holy Scriptures. They could not counter His teachings with better examples of their own so they resorted to discredit him by saying He worked for Satan.

But as Jesus said, how could he be working for the Satan when what he did worked against Satan? I also have to imagine what the people, especially the people who were healed, who found hope in what Jesus taught, must have felt. Remember, sickness and disease were thought to be signs of sin and here Jesus was removing sin so how could he have been Satan?

There are too many people today who hold to that idea, that disease and poverty are sinful and those who are sick, homeless, and unemployed are somehow not worthy of God’s grace and should not be allowed in a church. But who did Jesus associate with and who found Jesus’ actions unacceptable? And we wonder why our churches are dying.

The Old Testament reading for today begins a story of what happened to the people of Israel when they decided not to follow God and obey His will. The history of Israel, as told in the history and writings of the Old Testament, tells us that the when the people followed God, things went well. But when they choose to go their own way, to be like the rest of the world as it where, then bad things happen.

The period of history that precedes the Old Testament reading is the period of judges, individuals (men and women) who offer counsel and leadership for the nation. The plan worked when the judges and the people followed God; it failed when they did not.

Now, there are some who would have us return to a Biblical style of government. Do they want us to follow the style as described in Judges and the beginning of Samuel? Or would they have us follow the style of the kings that follow in the history of the nation?

The one thing that a government by a king does offer is the opportunity for individuals to not do anything. The king listens to no one who does not agree with them and makes all the decisions himself. There are a lot of people today who wouldn’t mind it if someone made all the decisions for them. It is very interesting to hear Samuel’s warning to the people, especially in the context of today’s political climate.

Israel will get their king and they will try to be like all the countries around them. But they will lose the essence of their existence. Yes, Saul will give the bold leadership; David will give the nation of Israel credibility and Solomon will offer a new meaning for wisdom and build the First Temple to house the Ark of the Covenant. But each will succumb to the temptation of power and glory and their reigns will end in essentially failure. Each king that follows will lead the nation of Israel farther and farther from God, into despair, desolation, and ultimately into the Babylonian exile.

I am sure that that is not the direction that we want to head, nor do I think we need a government or a community that is based on a strict interpretation of the laws that others might suggest. To repeat the past in hopes of improving the future seems rather futile. But that does leave us in a quandary, doesn’t it? How shall we build our community? Who will be a part of our community?

We remember that John Wesley saw people who were disenfranchised by the church but who needed to hear the Word of God. So he went into the factories, the mines, and the prisons. He not only took the Word but the help that was needed. It came in the form of health clinics and credit unions, schools and other forms of assistance. Wesley and those helped begin the Methodist Revival of the 18th century understood that no one will understand or even appreciate the meaning of God’s Word if they were hungry or sick or faced with prison because of their financial problems. So they built schools and credit unions and health clinics and then they preached the Word.

In a sermon I gave several years ago I spoke of the members of the Clifton Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, who felt the need to respond to the issue of homelessness in their local community. From the simple beginning of offering a few homeless individuals a place to stay for the night, it has become a shelter and home where some 30 individuals at a time find a way out of their homeless and back into society. The interesting thing was that the Clifton Presbyterian Church no longer exists; the congregation voted to disband and become parts of other Presbyterian churches in the area. But the ministry of the homeless stayed in the building that once was the church, continuing the ministry that was begun by the congregation.

There was also the story of the woman who wanted to help local high school students and during a high school assembly gave the students the church’s phone number. If the student wanted to talk with someone about a problem they might be having, all they had to do was call the church and someone would be there to listen. The next day, the church had over 300 calls from local students. (Adapted from “What Do We Need?” – The link to the story about the Clifton Presbyterian Church in my post is no longer working but you can go to “Clifton Sanctuary Ministries” to find out more about this ministry.)

Bishop Will Willimon told the story about two ladies who started a prison minister in North Alabama that began when two ladies went to visit one of the ladies’ grandsons. From a single visit came reading classes, Bible studies, and health care. Some of the ladies from this United Methodist Church in North Alabama aren’t able to visit the youth prison so they bake cookies for the others to take. (Adapted from “Who Goes First?”)

At this point, I mentioned Project VIVID, an community-based undertaking at Old Hickory UMC – I didn’t have a chance to put the details about the project into the manuscript I normally follow but here is a link to a description of the project – “Project VIVID

You have heard me speak of Grannie Annie’s Kitchen. Today, Grace UMC begins another ministry, Family Promise. It is a ministry that allows up to five homeless families shelter during the week while the parents work and the children go to school. When we speak of the homeless, it is often in terms of individuals. Yet the number of families without homes is growing every day. The families that will come to Grace Church tonight are working families who have lost their homes. The process by which they enter the program is very rigorous. At the end of the week, these families will go to the next church in the network. While in the network, they will receive counseling and aid so that they can get back to a place of their own. And the children will remain in their own school.

Each church in the network provides volunteers to prepare a dinner meal each day. Other volunteers will spend the night in the church. This will be the second time that I have been involved with this ministry and I am still amazed by the number of people who are fearful of what this means. I am not certain if they do not trust strangers or if it is that they do not want to see certain aspects of society.

The stories that one could tell abound but they all center on the fact that each individual or group of individuals had a different sense of community. It wasn’t about the building or the property but the people. And it wasn’t just the people of the church; it was the people of the community around the church.

The past few months, with the Arab Spring of 2011, have shown that we can no longer see ourselves as a community, small and isolated from the world. But then again, we were never supposed to be isolated from the world. Jesus looked at those who were with him that day and said that these are my brothers and sisters.

Churches today need not ask who are the brothers and sisters but rather how it, the church, can reach out. It is not about the resources but where the Spirit moves the church to respond. What some churches can do, others cannot. But in the manner of Paul, each church has its own unique set of gifts and from those gifts will come the means by which to reach out to the community.

The community was defined for us many years ago. How we reach out was defined as well. We are charged this day reaching out to the community so that all we encounter will know who Christ was and is and will be.

Society’s Goals

According to my records, this was actually the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost.

This was the message that I gave at Alexander Chapel UMC (Mason, TN) for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (8 June 1997). The Scriptures for this Sunday were 1 Samuel 8: 4 – 20 (11: 14 – 15), 2 Corinthians 4: 13 – 5: 1, and Mark 3: 20 – 35.

Society today presents us with two contradictory goals. First, we are told that we are better off waniting what others have. But, second, we are also told that we are better off staying with what we already have. These contradictory goals come about because we, as a society, have forgotten where we have come from and how our goals should be set.

We are encouraged through the advertisements we see on television, hear on the radio, and read in the newspaper to seek what others have, no matter if what they have is what is best for us. These ads often imply that our lives will be better with these particular products. There is even a company that tries to determine what is “cool” so advertisers and manufacturers will know what to make and sell in the coming day.

On the other hand,, while we want what others have, we are not willing to let go of what we already have. Change comes difficult to society today. No matter the time or place, people get set in their ways. You should see the look on people’s faces when they find out that I hold a Ph. D. and have taught college but now want to be a preacher. To these people, I cannot be a preacher because my training and background are not of the church. Once you have set your career, you are not supposedly allowed to change.

Even Jesus’ own family had a problem with his ministry. As noted in the Gospel reading, Jesus’ mother and brothers came to take him home, convinced that he was crazy.

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

I won’t tell you what my brothers and sister said.

The reading from the Old Testament today shows us that the desire to have what others have is not a new phenomenon but one that has been with us for a long time. The elders of Israel come before Samuel and ask him to appoint a king to lead them. As stated in the commentary accompanying the scripture, this request is made in part because Samuel’s sons, who were the judges of that time, were corrupt and inept. Were that the only reason, then I think Samuel would have obliged and appointed a new king. But, the Israelites wanted a king so that they could be like the other nations in that area.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

The conversation between Samuel and God at that time tells us a great deal about how we live our lives today.

And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as the their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.

As God told him to do, Samuel told the Israelites what God had said and what this new king would do.

Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maid servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

You can almost hear the Israelites crying like little children, “But Daddy! Everyone else has one. Why can’t we?” Are we not like that today? Do we not seek something that we believe will make us better but, in the long run, will lead us to ruin? Do we remember from where all our riches come from? Why do we seek in the material world around us that which we actually get from God?

Now it should also be pointed out that “going with the flow” as its own problems as well. Those in the “cool” business are quick to point out that what is “cool” today may not be so tomorrow so that it is possible that what you bought to be part of the “in crowd” today will make you part of the “out” crowd tomorrow.

There is the desire to make sure that we are comfortable with our lives. Anything which disturbs that comfort will always be met with resistance.

That was the case with the scribes and Pharisees in the Gospel reading today. They knew of all the miracles that Jesus was doing, healing the sick, curing the lame, helping the blind to see, and the deaf to hear, but they were not will to believe that such things could occur. After all, Jesus was doing things that they had been telling the people were impossible. So, instead of believing, they choose to defame Jesus’ character.

And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub. By the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.”

In response to his acts, the scribes and Pharisees attributed his power to Satan. But Jesus, speaking in parables, asked the Pharisees and scribes how he could be an agent of the devil if he were casting out the same agents.

“How can Satan drive Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whosoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”

He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.”

In his parable about someone breaking into the strong man’s house, Jesus pointed out that you must tie up the strong man first. And the only one with the power to overcome Satan was the Holy Spirit, so how could Jesus be of Satan?

The problem for the scribes and Pharisees was that they had forgotten what God had promised. The scribes and Pharisees saw Jesus as a danger to them because they were not willing to see Jesus as a fulfillment of the law.

That is the same for us today. The contradiction of today’s society, the demands society puts on us each day come from our viewing society from within. The one thing that Jesus did was to change that viewpoint, to view life and society from a totally different viewpoint.

So what should our goals for living in today’s society be? The contradictions in society’s goals come because we view society from within. Jesus asked us to change that viewpoint. Remember that His mother and brothers came looking for him.

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

Some say that Jesus’ response to their search was a rejection

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

But what Jesus was doing was expanding the definition of a family.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and my sister and mother.”

If we come to Jesus in body and spirit, if we do God’s will as Jesus asks us to do, then we become a part of the heavenly family. We know that Jesus’ mother was present at his crucifixion and that his brother James, the author of the Letter of James, became a leader in the latter church so we know that they did understand what Jesus was doing.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians of the difficulty in keeping the Christian life. Yes, the road is tough, the life is hard but the rewards can be worth the struggle.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building form God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Paul told the Corinthians; Paul is telling us today that the struggles that we encounter today are worth it if our goal goes beyond the limits of today’s society. Our frustrations in life today will never go away when all we try to do is hold on tightly to that which we have now or if we try to achieve things that cannot be ours anyway. But, if we accept Jesus Christ as our personal savior; if we understand that Jesus died to save us from our sins, then we understand, as Paul did, that nothing on this earth can ever be worthy of what we will gain in heaven.

Nothing we have will ever match that which Jesus did for us. The hymn “Just As I Am” tells us that we are accepted into heaven as we are, not as we would like to be. Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins so that we could be accepted into heaven.

All that He asks is that we accept Him into our hearts fully and without condition.