The Ministry of Resources

Jay has some great words on the role of the finance committee in a local church!

Only Wonder Understands


A week or so ago I was asked by a colleague in ministry who is in a new appointment to come talk to his finance committee. He was new in ministry and his church had just reconstituted a functioning finance committee and languishing for several years. They were looking for training on what they needed to do, and for some reason it was suggested that I might have something to offer. So tonight, after bible study at my church, I hopped in the car and headed down the road to meet with this group about how to organize their work, an example of what connectionalism means in the United Methodist Church. Here is a bit of what I told them (although in a bit more scattered fashion)…

The most important thing that I can tell you is that you need to get out of your mind that your job…

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“Who Can I Turn To?”

This is the the message I gave at Alexander Chapel UMC (Brighton, TN) for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), 28 September 1997. The Scriptures were Esther 7: 1 – 6, 9 – 10; 9: 20 – 22,; James 5: 13 – 20, and Mark 9: 38 – 50.  (Edited to reflect proper liturgical date.)

Every day when I log into one the computers at work, I get a message telling me how many days are left until the year 2000. Now, I am not sure if this is just a programmer having fun or if it is a subtle reminder to the programmers of how many days they have left to fix the year 2000 problem.

The year 2000 represents a major problem to “big” computer users because, in early computer design, years were based on 2 digits, i.e., ’97, ’98, ’99, rather than 4 digits, i.e., 1997, 1998, and 1999. When the time comes, computers using the 2-digit program will think it is 1900 rather than 2000. And this will cause a great deal of trouble for companies who have not done anything.

The year 2000, or perhaps more appropriately the next millennium, also represents a challenge for many people who do not use computers but rather see the time as the Second Coming of Christ. When the year 999 turned to 1000, there were many people who felt that it was time prophesied in the Book of Revelations and prepared accordingly. There have been commentaries that the same thing will occur with the coming millennium.

Now, Christ told us that we would never know the exact time of his coming and that we should always be prepared for that time. So the changing of a calendar date should not be considered anything extraordinary. Still, it is interesting to note that every time there is a big event in world history, be it the new millennium or a war or famine, people have felt that it was the time of the second coming and have acted accordingly.

For us, this is a time to consider the place of the church in today’s society. For it was during a similar period in history, when all the events suggested that the end was near, that John Wesley started the Methodist Revival. But when the world around you is falling apart, especially when everyone else seems to be succeeding, what can you do? Who can you turn to?

When I read today’s scriptures, I got a sense of community, of the church’s place in society. Throughout his entire letter, James was speaking to the community, encouraging them to work together, to help each other.

The Old Testament reading for today comes from Esther. Esther was part of the Jewish community in Babylon during the Jewish exile but was married to the Babylonian king. At the time of the reading, a plot was being developed to kill all the Jews in Babylon, as one commentary suggests, as part of annual celebration which required a sacrifice to one of the Babylonian gods.

But when the king asked his wife, Esther, if there was anything she desired, she took the opportunity to ask for the freedom of her people, the captive Jews. Thus the plot to kill the Jews was stopped and the chief plotter was killed instead. The closing portion of the Old Testament reading spoke of what the community, having been saved, did in celebration.

Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

Contrast that to the actions of the disciples upon hearing that someone else was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. They were apparently in an angry mood because someone was doing something they felt that they only had the right to do. But Jesus told them not to complain when someone else did work in His name because such work was good. And as he noted in verse 39, having done good made it impossible for that person to speak ill of Jesus later.

For whatever reason, the disciples viewed their community as the twelve disciples and Jesus, yet Jesus knew that the community was much larger. As Jesus told his disciples, if someone was for the group, they could not be against the group. In verses 42 – 48 of the Gospel reading for today

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you stumble, cut it off; it is better for you toe enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off;’ it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where the worm never dies, and the fires is never quenched.

Jesus told us what would happen if we ignored the community around us. John Wesley saw a community downtrodden and forgotten, not only by the government but by the church as well. To him, action by the church was needed and it was by his actions, in starting that the Methodist revival that conditions improved.

“What can we do?” you ask. At this point, I remember a prayer that has the line “my ship is so small and the sea is so big.” But James told his community to consider prayer, and not just a simple request but rather prayers done in faith. The person that the disciples were upset about healed through his faith in Jesus. If he had healed through deceit or trickery, then the person who was sick would have not been healed, nor would Jesus have been as understanding.

Prayer is our means of communicating with God.

Norman Harrison in “His in a Life of Prayer” tells how Charles Inglis, while making the voyage to America a number of years ago, learned from the devout and godly captain of an experience which he had had but recently with George Miller of Bristol. It seems that they had encountered a very dense fog. Because of it the captain had remained on the bridge continuously for twenty-four hours, when Mr. Miller came to him and said, “Captain, I have come to tell you that I must be in Quebec on Saturday afternoon.” When informed that it was impossible, he replied: “Very well, if the ship cannot take me, God will find some other way. I have never broken an engagement for fifty-seven years. Let us go down into the chartroom and pray.”

The captain continues the story thus: “I looked at that man of God and thought to myself, ‘What lunatic asylum could that man have come from. I never heard such a thing as this. ‘Mr. Miller,’ I said, ‘do you know how dense this fog is?’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘my eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God, who controls every circumstance of my life.’ He knelt down and prayed one those simple prayers, and when he had finished I was going to pray’ but he put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to pray. ‘Firstly,’ he said, ‘because you do not believe God will, and secondly, I believe God has, there is no need whatever for you to pray about it.’ I looked at him, and George Miller said, ‘Captain, I have known my Lord for fifty-seven years, and there has never been a single day that I have failed to get an audience with the King. Get up and open the door, and you will find that the fog has gone.’ I got up and the fog was indeed gone. George Miller was in Quebec Saturday afternoon for his engagement.” “I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes” by Glenn Clark

Who can we turn to? When you pray, whether it be in your private daily devotions or as part of the church prayer each Sunday, from where do the prayers come? When we turn to God, when our prayers come from faith with our eyes turned to the Living God, then we know that our prayers will be answered.

“The Wisdom We Seek”

Here is the message that I gave at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church (Mason, TN) for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (B), 21 September 1997. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Proverbs 31: 10 – 31; James 3: 13 – 4: 3, 7 – 8; and Mark 9: 30 – 37 (changed the lectionary date from 17th to 18th Sunday after Pentecost on 31 August 2014)

I am sure that we all remember Benjamin Franklin’s dictum “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Wisdom has been something that we have looked for and cherished in our leaders and in ourselves. When we speak of a great leader, we often say he or she was a wise and just leaders.

I think that is part of the reason why the Old Testament readings for the last few Sundays have come from the Book of Proverbs. This collection of wise sayings was designed to offer ways of leadership to the people of Israel.

Of course today, when we view the actions and behavior of politicians, no matter if they are national, state, or local leaders, I think that the term “just plain dumb” comes to mind more readily. For it seems that our leaders and many people today have forgotten what true wisdom is and have sought success without wisdom.

Solomon knew that gaining wisdom was not the easy task. Faced with many difficult challenges, especially where the governing of Israel was concerned, he knew he could have trouble if his wisdom was lacking. So when God asked him what he wanted most, Solomon asked for wisdom.

Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today.

And now, O Lord my god, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life. (1 Kings 3: 3 – 14)

Now, it is interesting to note that Solomon, who could have asked for anything that he desired, asked for wisdom and in doing so, got everything else.

In the reading from the Letter of James today, James points out that there are two kinds of wisdom.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

As James points out, when our wisdom comes from above, when we turn to God, then the wisdom we gain can better our lives. That is what Solomon found out. But if our wisdom is driven from our earthly desires, then results we obain can never be successful.

Throughout the history of the Kingdom of Israel, the Israelites sought leaders who were as much wise men as they were powerful leaders. And when they were not wise but boastful, when they choose to leave God, failure was often the result. Both Solomon and David, at the end of their reigns found this out as well.

As Solomon found out, seeing wisdom first will lead to everything else. For if we do not have wisdom, if we cannot know how to make the right decision, then all that we do will be based on our earthly desires rather than on our heavenly goals. But God did give Solomon one instruction to go with the fame and fortune that would come with his wisdom. He (Solomon) had to follow in the path of God. If he left the path of God, he would find that everything he had would be lost.

The disciples are walking with Jesus to Capernaum but it must have not been a good walk for as the scripture notes,

. . . he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

It is easy to understand why they did not understand the nature of the resurrection because their wisdom, as James might say, came from the earth and was based on worldly experiences, not from God.

Jesus had been telling them about His coming death and resurrection but the disciples did not understand what he was talking about. For as the next part of the gospel reading tells us, the disciples were more interested in their place in the kingdom and who would be the greatest.

As Jesus tells his disciples, as He is telling us,

He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Who ever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

There are those who have trouble with this approach. For common wisdom, wisdom from the earth, if you will, says that we cannot be last. We cannot put others before us. Yet, what is that we most admire about Mother Theresa? That she forsake everything because those for whom she ministered had nothing. I found it very interesting to read that she would go to a banquet to accept an award but leave before the dinner was served because the banquet was more that what the people of her ministry were eating.

I find the following an interesting commentary on the nature of thought and wisdom.

The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors; that which it loves, and also that which it fears; it reaches the height of its cherished aspirations; it falls to the level of its unchastened desires, and circumstances are the means by which the soul receives its own.

Every thought-seed sown or allowed to fall into the mind, and to take root there, produces its own, blossoming sooner or later into act, and bearing its own fruitage of opportunity and circumstance. Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts bad fruit.

The outer world of circumstance shapes itself to the inner world of thought, and both pleasant and unpleasant external conditions are factors which make for the ultimate good of the individual. As the reaper of his own harvest, man learns both by suffering and bliss.

Following the inmost desires, aspirations, thoughts, by which one allows oneself to be dominated (pursuing the will-o’-the-wisps of impure imagining or steadfastly walking the highway of strong and high endeavor), a person at last arrives at their fruition and fulfillment in the outer condition of life. The laws of growth and adjustment everywhere obtain. (“As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen)

From where do our thoughts come from; from where do we gain our wisdom? The challenge we face today, the decision we must make today is from where shall our wisdom come from. It is an easy thing to look at the world from a worldly viewpoint but what will be gained? If we take Christ into our own heart, if we allow His presence in our lives each day, the wisdom we gain will provide us with the right direction in our lives and make the lives of others better as well. If we are to seek wisdom, then we must understand how we are to use that wisdom..

My own readings this week focused on being a wise steward, of understanding that what we have comes from God. If we think with the wisdom of the world around us, we can never understand what God wants us to do, we can never reach the Kingdom of Heaven. But when we accept Christ in our hearts, the wisdom we gain provides us with the riches we seek but can never have.

“A Survey on Surveys”

To all,
I am in the process of developing a survey dealing with a topic relevant to chemical education. There are a number of ways that I could disseminate the survey but I was wondering about the efficacy of an on-line survey.

1) What are your thoughts concerning the use of on-line surveys as a means of gathering data?
2) Are there some on-line survey setups better than others?
3) Any recommendations?
4) Would you respond to an on-line survey if the information was collected through a educational setting or a public setting?

Thanks for the assistance. Results will be published within two weeks.


“Who? Me!”

Here is the message that I gave for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, October 4, 1992 at Grace United Methodist Church (St. Cloud, MN) and served as Laity Sunday. I based the message on Genesis 6: 11 – 14 and Mark 1: 16 – 20 (as I have previously noted, this was before I began using the lectionary as the basis for my message). This was also the third sermon/message that I ever presented.

And the Lord said to Noah “I want you to build me an ark”. What was Noah’s response? Did Noah check his calendar to see if he was available that week? Did he ask God to postpone the flood because he, Noah, wouldn’t be available? Maybe he thought that some of his friends were playing a joke on him? Noah lived in an area that got about one inch of rain a year so what was he supposed to think when God told him that it was going to rain for forty days and nights? We don’t know what Noah’s initial response was but we do know that he did what God asked him to do.

It hasn’t always been easy to get people to listen to God.  Consider Moses.  Here was the man God selected to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land; but what did he do?  He asked God to select someone else; “Who, me Lord?  Can’t you find someone else?” (Exodus 4:10 – 13) God did not let Moses off the hook but He did give him some help in the form of his brother Aaron.

It isn’t that we don’t hear God speaking to us, but that we often don’t know that He is.  In I Samuel 3:3 – 12 we read

the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down within the temple of the Lord, where the Ark of God was.  Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel!  Samuel!’ He said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’  But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’  So he went and lay down.  And the Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’  And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’  But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’  Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  And the Lord called Samuel again the third time.  And he arose and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’  Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.  Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears.’  So Samuel went and lay down in his place.  And the Lord came and stood forth, calling as at other times, ‘Samuel!  Samuel!’  And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for thy servant hears.’”

Samuel heard a voice but did not know that it was God speaking.  Fortunately, Eli understood and provided Samuel with the necessary guidance.  There have been others who have heard God speaking but, without guidance, could not respond.  Many others have probably never heard the voice of God.  Because of this, God sent His Son.

How did the twelve disciples respond when Jesus said, as we heard in the New Testament reading, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. (Mark 1: 16 – 20) Why should these men leave their livlihoods and follow Jesus?  Especially, as it was stated in the New Testament reading, since they did it immediately.  It wasn’t really practical to get up and leave their jobs and families behind.  There wasn’t anywhere else to go.  Wouldn’t it have been easier to stay as fisherman and eke out what living they could.  Times were tough and this man from Nazareth was asking them to leave their jobs and work for him, not knowing if they would every be paid for their efforts.  But they did, simply because they believed in what Jesus was doing.

Does God speak to us today?  In his book A Walk Across America, Peter Jenkins describes his journey from upstate New York to New Orleans and his attempt to discover who he is.  During that journey, he was drawn to an old fashion church revival meeting where he discovered the Holy Spirit.  There it became clear why he was on his journey.  Later, in the second volume of his journey, The Walk West, Peter and his wife Barbara describe the events that lead up to their marriage.  While they were in love with each other, they still had some doubts. After all, Peter was not just asking Barbara to marry him; he was asking her to walk from New Orleans to Oregon through Texas.  As Sandra will tell you, west Texas is no place to take your brand new wife.  One evening, while at an evening church service, the preacher, referring to Ruth in the Old Testament, asked “Will you go with this man?”  To Peter and Barbara, this was the sign that all would be well.

Following God requires faith and commitment.  When we have faith and a commitment to God, we can do anything.  Without either, our life is lost.  Ask Noah, Samuel, or any of the disciples what faith meant to them.  Ask the early circuit riders of the Methodist Church in America.  Without their faith in God, their efforts would have been meaningless.  Could they have survived the weeks on the trail as they traveled from one town to another preaching the Gospel if it were not for faith?   Francis Asbury, the first Bishop of the Methodist Church in America, made it a point to emphasize the physical struggles that they, these early preachers, would have to endure on their circuit.  It was not for the weak of body or spirit.  But for these early circuit riders, the Methodist Church might not have survived.

But it should also be noted that these churches would not have survived without the support of the laity either.  Because there weren’t enough preachers for all of the churches, the laity had to do the work of the church during the weeks when the preacher was not there.  How did those early congregations survive if it were not for faith and a commitment to God? Were it not for faith in God and a commitment to His work by the members of Grace Church, would this present building have been built?  That it was is a testament to that faith and commitment to do God’s work in St. Cloud.

Grace Church has a rich and distinguished history.  That is what today is about.  On this day we celebrate the role of the laity in the United Methodist Church, both in the past and for the future.  In picking the twelve disciples, none of whom were traditionally trained in the church, Jesus made the statement that it was the laity upon whom His church would be built.  It was the laity upon whom the foundation of the Methodist Church was built and upon whom the success of future churches lies.  But a history alone does not insure a future.

Abraham Lincoln, in his second inaugural address, stated that “We must disenthrall ourselves with the past and then we will save our country.” (What I Saw At the Revolution, Peggy Noonan) Lincoln was not saying that the United States should forget its past but that, if the country was to overcome the trauma and division that the Civil War brought, and move forward, it could not continue as it had.

Today God calls Grace Church.  He isn’t asking us to do something dramatic, drastic or beyond our capabilities.  God as never asked anyone to do something that they could not do.  It is just that many people don’t believe they have the capability of doing what God asks of them.  Nor is He asking us to forget our past.  He is asking that we look to the future.  For any church’s future to have a meaning, its members must work for it today.

Are you involved in the work of the church or are you committed to the work of the church?  There is a difference.  I am sure you have heard the story about the difference between involvement and commitment.  It happens every time you eat a breakfast of ham and eggs.  While the hen was involved in the successful production of the breakfast, the hog was committed to its success.  (I want to thank Hugh Bunday for this; he in turn will thank Dorothy.)  Are you involved or are you committed?

When we joined the United Methodist Church and when others join the church, we, along with the other members of the church, vow to “uphold the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service.” (The United Methodist Hymnal, page 48 (1989).) What does this phrase mean? 

Do we meet our obligations to the church and the work of the church through our prayers?  Do you spend some time each day in prayer?  Will you pray for the success of next week’s Spiritual Renewal Mission?  There has been a sheet at the back of the sanctuary for the last four weeks asking people to sign up for one hour of prayer each day for the success of the Mission and for Grace Church.  Will you respond to the challenge by signing the sheet?

One month ago, John stood in this pulpit and told us how he prayed to  God for a sign that his ministry at Grace Church would be a success .  His prayers were answered.  He also asked for ten men to help rebuild the United Methodist Men’s organization here at Grace church.  Before he left church that Sunday he had six pledges.   This Saturday at 8:00, because of those six men and four others, we will be meeting to make that reorganization possible.

Next Sunday, Ken Krueger begins the Spiritual Renewal Mission.  Will you be here?  Will you come to each of the four evening services?  Will you bring a friend?  If everyone here today brought one friend, there would be more people in this sanctuary then have been in it for some 30 years.  IT CAN BE DONE!  But it requires a commitment.  Similar to the prayer clock, there is a sign up sheet for pew captains.  It is not necessary to be a captain for all five services; one is enough.  Will you take the challenge  put before you and sign up as a pew captain for one of those services?

What else can you do for the church?  Would you volunteer to serve as the lay reader one Sunday a month?  Would you sing in the choir?   Several members of this church, both old and young, new and long-time, have spoken to you about what Grace Church means to them.  I am sure that if you ask anyone of them, they would tell you that it can be very frightening to stand up here and say what is in your heart.  I am sure that everyone of them will also tell you that they did not come up here without first having spent some time praying and asking God for guidance and advice.  When the Holy Spirit is at your side, such things can be done.

Finally, our gifts.  We are currently in the midst of our Stewardship Campaign.  Two weeks from today is Stewardship Sunday.  On that day, we will ask you to make a financial commitment to Grace Church.  Between now and then, you will be receiving a note from the Stewardship Committee asking that you give serious thought to your financial commitment to Grace Church.  I realize that filling out pledge cards is a new thing for many in this church and that many will not return the pledge cards.  Grace Church struggled for many years but this year, because of the faith and commitment of the members of this church, is not one of them.  In returning the pledge card, you are making a commitment to insure that  the plans for Grace Church in the coming year are a success.

Commitment requires more than involvement.  Jesus could not have completed his task, his mission on earth, without a commitment to the cross.  His commitment to us was a total one.  Our commitment can never match his but we are never asked to do so.  We are asked to make a commitment so that others can understand the commitment Jesus made on the cross.

Today, God is calling Grace Church.  He is asking “Who will help me?; who will follow me?; who will do My work?”  Will your answer be “me?” or will it be “ME!”

“What Is A Vote Worth?”

What is a vote worth?

When you consider how many people in the world today actually get to freely vote and what the people of this country went through to get the vote, one cannot put a value on a vote.

I once wrote that voting was a political protest (“A Simple Act of Political Protest”) and that such a protest can only be done in a free country. So what value can you put on freedom?

In that same article I pointed out that I wasn’t thrilled by many of the candidates who were running for President and I am still not thrilled or impressed. At this point, I am considering which of the third party candidates I will vote for. Now, for some, this means that I am throwing away my vote.

I still remember the first time that I voted in a national election; it was the 1972 election and I voted by absentee ballot in Memphis so that I could vote for Al Gore, Sr. for senator from Tennessee. National Republicans had decided that Al Gore, Sr., did not properly represent the state of Tennessee and they targeted him for defeat. I had the opportunity to use my old address in Memphis (since my parents still lived there) to vote by absentee ballot and I did. Unfortunately, the beginnings of the Republican “southern strategy” prevailed and Gore lost.

There was one election where I did not vote, in part because I failed to register to vote, and I have regretted that decision ever since. One’s vote is a precious commodity and to not vote is the ultimate waste. Voting is very important to me and I propose that not voting is a waste, voting for a third party candidate is very much a protest.

This will not be the first time that I have voted for a third party candidate. In the 1980 election, I voted for John Anderson. I even had a bumper sticker on my car showing my support. Now, as it happened, when the vote totals for the community were published in the local paper, there was one vote for the Communist Party candidate and many people thought that I was that particular voter. One can only speculate why they thought it was me and not someone else is anyone’s guess.

Understand that my decision is based on the present situation. I am registered as a member of one of the two major parties, in part because changing one’s registration in New York is a little complicated (in other words, you can’t do it on-line; at least, when you get your driver’s license, you are registered to vote). But I remember something that George Wallace said when he ran for president in 1968.

It may seem strange that I would use a quote from Governor Wallace since those who read my blog know that my experiences with regards to him are not favorable by any means. I saw his 1968 and 1972 campaigns as a continuation of the policies and thoughts that brought him to prominence in the early 1960s. I still saw him as a segregationist and an avowed supporter of “states’ rights.” His 1968 campaign, though couched in populist terms, was one of the first campaigns in recent history to use ignorance, fear and hatred as integral parts of a campaign.

In one respect, if you did not know George Wallace, you might find it very, very easy to hate him. But if you understand that George Wallace was first and foremost a politician, then you have an understanding of how he thought.

When Wallace entered politics, he was probably a populist in the manner of Huey Long. But in the 1960s, simply being a populist wasn’t sufficient to get elected, especially if segregation and the life style that protected rich whites was being attacked. Wallace lost the 1960 governor’s election to an outright segregationist and he vowed that he would never let that happen again. When he won the governor’s election in 1962, he was more of a segregationist than any of the other candidates. This is the George Wallace that I encountered and it would be these memories that saw him in 1968 as the worst of the candidates and not a viable alternative to either Richard Nixon or Hubert Humphrey (not that it mattered, I couldn’t vote that year anyway).

To say that George Wallace had an epiphany would be an understatement but Arthur Bremer’s attempt to assassinate him in 1972 provided the impetus that would change his attitude. I think that he also saw that Alabama as a state was being harmed by the way people saw him and he began a slow but perceptible change. (For more on that change, read Peter Jenkin’s Walk Across America.)

But George Wallace’s characterization of the Republican and Democratic parties as “Tweedledee” and “Tweedledum” rings even more true today. I see two parties where the rhetoric may seem different but there are times when you cannot tell that there is a difference.

The following are my thoughts about the current political situation. I put them before you as a critique of the current situation and the basis for determining what I am looking for in a potential third party.

One party says that it is for the common person and the other isn’t but which one is and which one isn’t? Both parties chase rich and corporate donors and neither will ever seek any reform of campaign finances as long as they can get billions and billions of dollars from corporate donors. Both parties say that they are for the people yet neither party did anything when the Supreme Court ruled that corporations in effect had the same rights as individuals.

Poverty rates in this country have risen to their highest levels since 1965 – why is that? The gap between the rich and the rest of the world (forget the middle class; it is a group in name only) keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Can it be that neither major party really cares for the people, other than the rich and the powerful? Why have we not come to an understanding that the minimum wage does not lift the people out of poverty but merely insures that they will stay there? Where is the fight for the living wage?

Oh, I know that some will say that even raising the minimum wage hurts the small businessman or businesswoman but there has never been any definitive proof that it does. What we do know is that when people have the income, they will use it. In other words, they become consumers and can support small businesses. Tampa and Charlotte didn’t seek the national conventions because of the politics; they sought the conventions for the revenue that would come in.

Why is it that health care is discussed in terms of the health care business, a business run by insurance companies, and not in terms of the well-being of the people? Could it be, as I will suggest later, that we don’t understand and are unwilling to seek new solutions, especially if such solutions will take away from the rich and the powerful and give to the poor and needy?

We spend more in terms of destroying people and things than we do building things and helping people.

Neither party is particularly concerned about the loss of liberty and personal freedom in this country. We passed laws, supported by both parties, in 2011 which restrict the freedoms of individuals (interestingly enough, one of the provisions of these bills is that one is not to know that these freedoms have been restricted – can you say “Star Chamber”?).

The major political parties of this country have a very interesting concept of personal and individual liberty. Members of each party, no matter which side of the aisle they sit on or where they stand regarding political freedom will say that they are entitled to personal liberties and freedom but they have the right to tell you what to do, think, and say.

I would add at this point that faith, religion, and matters pertaining to and about God are not matters of political discussion. Yes, the word politics comes from the same root word that gives us people and politics are the people’s business, right, and choice. But such a right, such a choice does not give a national organization such as a political party the right to dictate what one believes or to say that one belief is better than another belief. Let’s face it, when you make a statement that your belief is better than mine, you are operating out of either sheer ignorance or sheer arrogance. Similarly, if you ridicule or belittle the faith of another, calling it superstition or magic, you are also operating out of either sheer ignorance or sheer arrogance. And when you use your faith or belief system to dictate what occurs in the public classroom, you are overstepping the boundaries of both faith and education.

There should be a priority on education in this country but neither major party wants to do that, unless it meets some other goal. We sent ten missions to the moon in the 60s and 70s and twelve men walked on the moon. Even though each of the Apollo missions that successfully landed on the moon did some scientific work, only the last Apollo mission (Apollo 17) could be considered a truly scientific expedition. The ulterior motive was not science but politics; when we beat the Soviet Union to the moon, our desire to go beyond earth’s atmosphere began to dwindle and when the cost of the Viet Nam war became too great, funding for NASA and scientific research in general began to get cut. That’s the way it has been in this country; we will fund destruction but not construction.

When we do fund construction, it is still in the form of traditional work, work which can and should be characterized as “pork barrel politics”. I am not saying that we should not maintain our roads and infra-structure though it is too often clear that we haven’t. But we only think in terms of the usual and not the new. There is very little funding in new means of communications or safe power transmission (how many times do we have to rebuild blown down power lines after a thunderstorm, tornado, or hurricane before we decide there are better ways of transmitting power?)

Neither party is truly willing to seek alternative energy systems. While they both say they want to end our dependence on foreign oil, their answer is utilize fossil fuels in this hemisphere. It really doesn’t matter whether we are looking at foreign or domestic sources of oil, the use of fossil fuels still generates CO2 and potentially SO2 and NOx, which means that we haven’t faced the issue of global climate change and acid rain. And we still use our military as a de facto police force overseas to insure the continuation of oil supplies. There is something drastically wrong with that picture.

And how much of what is spent on the military is actually spent for military personnel? I would make the argument that monies spent on the military-industrial complex do not actually go to the military but to contractors and individuals who support the elected officials who put the factories in their congressional districts. And that puts us back where this all started – the only people who elected officials think about are those who give them money.

And finally we come to the issue of taxes. I always love to hear those who say that their taxes are too high and we need to cut spending. But they will never cut all of the spending, only that which is spent on things that they, the speaker, find distasteful. They will not cut military or security spending, yet the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security are the two biggest parts of the Federal government budget. Those who argue for cuts in spending want to take it out of social spending and that means that it only hurts one group of people, the poor.

And we dare not raise the taxes on the rich, for they are the ones who create the jobs that will make this country great. We have been hearing that mantra for how many years now? When is that going to start working? It hasn’t worked so far.

So, I look at the two major parties and I wonder what can I do? As soon as I can easily do it (it still requires a paper form to change your party affliation in the state of New York), I am changing my party affliation. If nothing else, that will stop the phone calls and mailings from my present chosen party asking me for money; I guess they think it is possible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. In voting for a third party candidate and encouraging others to vote for a third party candidate, perhaps we can send a message to the major parties that their politics don’t work any more. But to effect change in this country will take more than voting in protest; it will take organization at the grass roots level and that will take years. But it has to be done.

If I understand history and what transpired in the 1960s when it came to politics, I know that such a change can be done, though it will take between eight and ten years to accomplish. In 1964, Barry Goldwater ran one of the most conservative presidential campaigns in the history of this country. His defeat in that contest was widely touted as the death of the Republican Party in this country. Obviously, that didn’t occur. But what it did was force those who saw themselves as the “true believers” to reorganize themselves at the grass root levels with the avowed goal of never letting that happen again. We see today the efforts of that grass roots organization; interestingly enough, those who are the beneficiaries of that work do not feel that Barry Goldwater is conservative enough. My, how times have changed.

And the Democratic Party, in light of all that has happened over the past forty years or so, has never seemed to grasp what they have to do, hoping and praying that the Republican Pary will do something to itself that will allow the Democrats to survive to live another year. So, any third party that wants to make a go of things must make a serious effort at grass roots organizing, not simply running an alternative candidate every four years.

At the beginning I asked what a vote is worth. My vote is worth my freedom and I shall vote to exercise my right and freedom. But to insure that others may have the same rights and same freedoms, I must also work to insure that those same rights and freedoms are maintained. My vote is worth nothing unless I follow through before and after each election.

“What Do We Do Next?”

This is the sermon that I presented at Pleasant Grove UMC, Brighton, TN, for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost (B), 7 September 1997. the Scriptures for this Sunday were Proverbs 22: 1-2, 8-9, 22-23; James 2: 1-10 (11-13), 14-17; and Mark 7: 24-37

The Gospel reading for today reminded me of the first time I ever considered what it meant to be a Christian.

When I was a college sophomore, during the spring of 1969, I went to the pastor of the church that I attended. Spring break was coming up, and while I was coming home to Memphis, I felt the need to take communion at the church that I attended in college since that was where I was a member.

(This is not the first time that this account has been posted to my blog. I first published my account of this conversation and what happened on that spring break trip home in “That First Baptism”; the details of the conversation itself were first published in “Our Father’s House”. But this is probably the first time that I spoke of this encounter in a message)

Now, Reverend Fortel was a little surprised by this request but he agreed to it anyway. So on the day before the break, we met at the church and went to the chapel for communion.

Now, instead of going through the ritual of the Sacrament, we discussed what communion was and I recall reading the prayer found on page 30 of our current hymnal

We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies.

We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.

But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.

Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to partake of this Sacrament of thy Son Jesus Christ, that we may walk in newness of life, may grow into his likeness, and may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen. (The United Methodist Hymnal, page 30)

I don’t recall my exact emotion but I do remember questioning the statement “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.”

I felt that, as a Christian, our worth was such that we could sit at God’s table as his equal. But Reverend Fortel pointed out that because of sin we had lost our place at God’s table, but because of His grace, God has restored our position.

The woman in the Gospel reading today was neither Jewish nor from Israel, yet she still sought Jesus. And when Jesus reminded her of her status, she point out that “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” to which Jesus acknowledged her faith.

It was because of her faith and not her status that she was saved. God’s grace is given to us all, no matter what our status.

Each of the Proverbs that are part of the Old Testament reading for today speak of the relationship between the parts of society and how each part should treat each other.

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.

The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail.

Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.

Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate;

For the Lord pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.

Yet, today, it seems as if status is everything. Even in Wesley’s time, being poor was considered the result of a sinful life. In the Epistle reading for today, James warns the reader against showing partiality because of a person’s status. On more than one occasion, Wesley pointed out that being poor was not something to be pitied.

Doing good works should never be and cannot be considered an accounting technique. We cannot say that we did so many good works and expect those works to take our sins. Much will be said about the good works done by Lady Diana and Mother Theresa. Many will see the works of Mother Theresa in terms of her job as a nun but nothing will be said about the faith of Lady Diana. I do not presume and will not make any judgements about these individuals. They showed the world through their lives and actions what can be done and that is all we can say.

It is what we do because we have come to Christ that matters. Good works are one of the responsibilities that we accepted when we came to Christ was to help those less fortunate than us so that they could find Christ in their lives. To Wesley, this was very important because the living conditions in England at his time made it very difficult for the poor to survive, let alone succeed. And when the day-to-day conditions make it impossible to live, a simple greeting to have faith is going to do little to reduce that individual’s burden.

It was inconceivable to Wesley how anyone could ignore the poor and their struggles. He remembered the words of Jame, “if a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs,” what is the good of that?

Having been saved by our faith, having been lifted up by God’s grace, how can we not help others? James told his readers that if you break one law, then you break all the laws. If you sin, it doesn’t matter how great or small the sin because you will have fallen from God’s grace.

It is our duty as a Christian and as a Methodist to work towards the life of Christian perfection. It is not an easy life but then no one said that it would ever be. It is a much easier live to not worry about others and simply seek God’s forgiveness when we sin. But there may come a day when we fail to seek forgiveness. What will we do then?

Think of the woman in the Gospel reading today whose faith in Christ brought her to Him. Though in the eyes of society, she may not have been worthy, by her faith and her actions, she was saved.

The last portion of the prayer that caused me to think concludes “. . .that we walk in the newness of life, may grow into his likeness, and may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.” Each day we renew the bond we have with Jesus, each day we seek to fulfill the redemption of our worth by our faith and our actions so that other may know of a life in Christ.

“One Life To Live”

This was the message I presented at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church (Bartlett, TN) for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost (B), 31 August 1997. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Song of Songs 2: 8-13; James 1: 17-27; and Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23.  (This has been edited since it was first published.  Not sure why I had it listed as the 14th Sunday after Pentecost but my records suggest that it should be the 15th Sunday.)

There have been a number of reports in the news recently about drivers affected with what has become known as “road rage.” You can tell who these drivers are; they are the ones who rapidly change lanes, who come up behind you on the interstate driving faster than everyone else and flash their lights at you so that you will get out of your way. In the most extreme cases, they will even use their cars as battering rams or pull out a gun and shoot you. While these reports focus on towns such as Los Angeles where the car has become a part of daily life; we, as drivers in Memphis, know all too well that this “disease” is a part of the driving process here as well. And while I would like to think that going to work at 5 in the morning and coming home at 3 in the afternoon, supposedly non-peak driving times, would offer refuge from such drivers, I have seen too many examples of this phenomenon.

I really do not see nor do I understand why people want to drive this way. But I do know that this lack of civility is not limited to just the roads. I have seen people at the airport become irritated by delays in their flight and then blame the airlines, yet the reasons for the delay could not be controlled by the airlines. And I am sure that you have encountered people in your work who get angry if you do not take care of their request at that very moment. It is almost has if they have never heard the words of James,

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

In our rush to gain a better life, I think we have forgotten how to live. One of my favorite passages from the old Testament is Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 8

  • 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 throw away stones, and a 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 throw away;
  • a time to tear, 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)This passage, along with the next verse “what gain have the workers for their toil?” (Ecclesiastes 3: 9), make even more sense when you know that the writer of Ecclesiastes, thought to be Solomon, wrote of the emptiness in his life even though his riches were seeming unlimited and he was widely acknowledged as the wisest man on earth.

Do we not feel the same way? We are seemingly forced by society into actions which leave us wanting but with no way to find solace in our long. With society’s demands on us, with the pressures of our peers to be like them, how can we continue being a Christian? This is perhaps the most difficult question facing Christians today. For as the church interacts with the secular world, it becomes more of the secular world and less of the spiritual world. What then, how can we exist in this world?

Do we pack up our bags and remove ourselves from society? Throughout history, there have been many cases of such decisions. Many monasteries were built as a means of providing the solitude and isolation from society the members of the community would need so that they could achieve a better spiritual life.

In our own American history, there are a number of instances where spiritual communities were built in an attempt to create an environment separate from contemporary society. The Amana colonies of Iowa are such an example.

Yet today, we know of the Amana colonies more for the quality of the appliances they built rather than the spiritual heritage that the colonies were built upon. While the appliances bearing the Amana name have longed been considered a good product, not many people know the history of the towns and the company that developed them. The same can be said for Shaker furniture. Shaker furniture is highly prized by antique dealers; yet the Shaker philosophy of simplicity is in direct contrast to the prices paid for the products of their work. So it is possible to be a Christian and gain wealth, but those who seek out Shaker furniture and Amana products probably know nothing of the Christian heritage that was behind those products. And that may be more of the problem than even we realize. We follow the ways of society without thinking about what society is demanding.

When the Pharisees criticized Jesus’ disciples, they were not criticizing their culinary procedures but their failure to follow age-old traditions. Now, those age-old traditions came from what we would call common sense. It does make sense to prepare your food so that it is clean and safe to eat (and with all the news recently about food safety, that is even more the case today). But tradition practiced without an explanation soon loses its meaning. The culinary practices that the Pharisees demanded as tradition had come about from the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness many years before. And while the tradition of being clean had been kept, the reasons for the traditions had not.

As Jesus told the Pharisees,

“Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
As James wrote,

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

How are we to live our life? I entitled my sermon “One Life to Live” not because I am a soap opera fan but because we do have only one life to live. Jesus told his disciples, in response to the Pharisees’ criticism

“Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'”.

“For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.'”

Our actions in the world today reflect that which is in us.

Do not merely listed to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what is says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what he says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. but the man who looks intently into perfect law that gives freedom, and he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does

This sermon should not be seen as an indictment of society even though both the Epistle and Gospel readings for today seemed to have a list of don’ts in them. There is a way to leave our lives that does lead to satisfaction. James started by telling us that.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

And I close with this thought

And you, too, youthful reader, will realize the Vision (not the idle wish) of your heart, be it base or beautiful, or a mixture of both, for you will always gravitate toward that which you, secretly, most love. Into your hands will be placed the exact results of your own thoughts; you will receive that which you earn; no more, no less. Whatever your present environment may be, you will fall, remain, or rise with your thoughts , your Vision, your Ideal. You will become as small as your controlling desire; a s great as your dominant aspiration . . .

In all human affairs there are “efforts”, and there are “results”, and the strength of the effort is the measure of the result. Chance is not. “Gifts”, powers, material, intellectual, and spiritual possessions are the fruits of efforts; they are thought completed, objects accomplished, visions realized.

The Vision that you glorify in your mind, the Ideal that you enthrone in your heart — this you will build your life by, this you will become. “As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen.

What will you become? What life will you live? As James said, we have been given a special gift, the gift of Jesus Christ. All we have to do to accept that gift is open our hears and allow Christ to reside within us.

“Tell Me the Truth, But . . .”

I was at the United Methodist Church of Purdys, North Salem, NY and First United Methodist Church of Brewster, Brewster, NY this morning as a last minute fill-in for their pastor. Services at Purdys start at 9; services at Brewster start at 11 and you are welcome to attend either service.

The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (B) were Song of Solomon 2: 8 – 13, James 1: 17 – 27 and Mark 7: 1 – 8, 14 – 15, and 21 – 23.

It is my habit to read the three scripture readings that constitute the lectionary readings for a particular Sunday and think of a title that somehow relates to the three readings. Sometimes this is easy to do; other times, like today; it is not so easy to do. The thing that makes it easy though is to understand and appreciate that that the Bible is a living and breathing document. It makes the readings especially easy to put into the context of the world around us.

So, in reading the three Scriptures and hearing Jesus and James call out the false leaders of their times, it wasn’t that hard to come up with the title. But the title for this message that you have been given, “Tell me the truth, but . . .”, is incomplete, if for no other reason than the entire title is a bit lengthy. The complete and full title is “Tell me the the truth but make sure it is my version of the truth.”

Of all the goals of humankind, the hardest to achieve is finding the truth. One could easily argue that the truth is subjective, dependent on time and place. We may, and many do, argue that the men whom Thomas Jefferson wrote about were a particular group of individuals and that today that group is a much broader, more inclusive group that goes beyond race and gender. It would be very difficult to apply a limited definition of equality in today’s day and age, though there are many throughout the world who would much rather do so with a straight face.

In the end, we are reminded of a very basic statement that Jesus Christ said to such a group that would seek to limit the freedom of others when he told them in John 8: 31 – 33, “seek the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Of course, those to whom that Jesus was speaking never considered themselves to be anything but free so it was difficult for them to realize that no matter how you may lead your life, slavery to sin and death is still slavery. And when you seek to impose your rules or your beliefs on others, as was the case of those who heard Jesus speak of truth and freedom, you seek to impose a degree of slavery on the people as well.

In these words that follow I seek to show you the truth, the truth as I see it. You may disagree with me on how I interpret what has been placed before me and that is your right. But I also hope that you will take on the challenge of finding out for yourself what the truth is.

I am the grandson of an Army officer and the son of an Air Force officer. This lineage gives me a slightly different view of the world than others may have. As the son of an active duty Air Force officer, I lived in four different localities before I began school and I attended five different elementary schools, two junior high schools, and one high school before my father retired in 1964. I would attend two other high schools from 1966 to 1968 as my father settled into post-service employment.

When I would mention this to my students sometimes, they sometimes saw me as some sort of trouble maker because they, truthfully, could not imagine someone moving practically every year of their life. But it was the life that I had and it is the life that has allowed me to do and see many things.

It was as a 7th grader in Montgomery, Alabama, that I would encounter the ubiquitous truth that schools could be separate but equal. What I remember about the first days of attendance at Bellingrath Junior High School was that my parents had to buy my books at a book store and the teachers were not going to give out the books on the first day of classes as I had experienced in previous years in previous schools in previous states. I did not know it at that time but tha was the way that the Montgomery, AL, school board dealt with the order that all schools had to be equal even if they were separated by the color of the students in the classes.

My exposure to the nature of racism and segregation wasn’t limited to attendance at an all-white school or having to buy my textbooks at a local book store. It also included a memorable encounter with the newly elected governor of Alabama, George Corley Wallace.

My grandmother had come to visit us from St. Louis and went to church with us on Sunday. As we left the church that Sunday morning, she somehow got separated from us. We, my two brothers and I, found her outside the church amongst the crowd and we asked how she got out. She pointed and said that she had been helped by that “nice young man over there.” To which we replied that that nice young man was the newly elected governor of Alabama, who had stood on the steps of the Alabama capital and defiantly announced that segregation would be the policy of the state of Alabama. A few months later, he would stand in the school house door and deny duly qualified black students the right to attend the University of Alabama. I might point out that this particular church was, in 1962, a Methodist church, and George Wallace was a Methodist.

We would move from Montgomery to the Denver area where I began studying for my God and Country award in Scouts and then from Denver to the St. Louis area. We would then make the move from Missouri to Memphis, Tennessee, and I would again encounter this idea of equality, perhaps a basic truth if you will, of education in southern states. There, the Shelby County Board of Education insured that students attending any school in the county received free textbooks. But the band and choral programs only received $50.00 for music, supplies and, if need be, repairs to the instruments. Other funds had to come from the Band Parent Organization that each school had. If your parents were in a high income group, your band was better equipped than those whose parents were less affluent, such as was the case with Bartlett or in lower social economic class, as much of Shelby County was back then

I could not help but begin to wonder why there was such a fundamental difference between the schools that I attended over the course of my junior high and high school years. It is entirely possible that there were other factors, factors perhaps that I was not aware of, but I encountered in those two years of high school in Memphis, Tennessee, many items that suggested that some individuals had a vision of the truth that conflicted with the vision of others. Let those who remember understand that I graduated from a high school in the Memphis, Tennessee, area in the spring of 1968, a spring that perhaps changed how we see our fellow man, both in this country and throughout the world.

And it would go beyond just high school and into the beginning of my college career. Before my family moved to Memphis in the summer of 1966 I began attending college at what was then called Northeast Missouri State Teachers College.

I do not know the exact conversation that took place between Wray Rieger, Dean of Students at Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Truman State University), and my parents after I was selected for the Honors Program at Truman and before I began attending college that summer of 1966. But I am certain that Dean Rieger or someone from Truman called and expressed some concern and worry to my parents that I would be rooming with a 19 year old Negro from Dallas, Texas. And while I was surprised when I met Al, I discovered that neither my mother nor my father were, having cleared this pairing in advance. That the college would call on this was a surprise but equally surprising was the fact that my parents were not bothered by this random assignment of individuals to share a dormitory room.

Three years later, my grandmother would frantically call my parents to tell them that she had seen me leading a sit-in of the administration building on the Kirksville campus protesting the lack of available off-campus housing for black students enrolled in school. But I wasn’t leading the protest; I was merely standing next to my first college roommate, Al, as he and other leaders of the Black Students Association protested the unfairness of the housing or rather lack of housing available to them off-campus. I was there because Al and others involved were my friends and I believed that their cause was just. (see “Side By Side” for more on this). It just happened that the way the video was shot, it appeared that I, with my rather Afro-style naturally curly hair, appeared to be one of the leaders.

A few years later, I would get a phone call from my mother asking the full and complete name of Al, my roommate and friend. I told her it was Alphonso Jackson and she replied that he had just been named Secretary of Housing and Urban Development by George W. Bush. Sadly, because of the paths that we have taken and the choices we have made, Al and I are no longer friends, in part because I questioned his view of the truth.

We are faced with one of the greatest dangers that we can imagine and how we respond will do as much to dictate the future of this planet as perhaps if some life form from another planet were to appear out of the blue and tell us that the planet Earth is in the middle of a planned interplanetary galactic highway and we have less than twenty four hours to find somewhere else to live before the planet is destroyed by the demolition team (and yes, for some of you, that is the beginning of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!)

We have lost and are losing our ability to think creatively and independently. We would much rather have others tell us what to think if we are to think at all. We are being told what to believe and that those who would speak differently are at the very least liars and at the very worst, in religious terms, blasphemers and agents of Satan. We hear others say that there is only one true translation of the Bible and that it is not subject to interpretation. Perhaps that is the case; in which case, my thought that the Bible is living and breathing is faulty. And if the Bible is not living and breathing, then it cannot be read in the context of today’s world and we are unable to solve the problems that face us.

That period of time from 1962 to 1968 was a period of time when I began to find out who I was, both spiritually and mentally. I was given the opportunity to see the world for myself and not have to accept the views and definitions of others, possibly as the truth. I look around, and because of technology am able to see, hear and read the views of some of those who graduated from Bartlett the same year that I did and see that their view of the world hasn’t changed that much. And when I began reading the Scriptures for this morning, I came to the conclusion that one thing that we must all do is seek the truth, not the truth of others but the truth that God has laid out before us.

To read the Book of Solomon without giggles and some sense of embarrassment is difficult for some today Our sense of love has been so compromised by the “outside world” that we may not even begin to understand what the Song of Solomon is about or how it fits within the Bible.

You see, among other things, there is very little mention of God in the Song of Solomon or the books of Proverbs, Esther, Ruth, or Job, the books in the revised common lectionary that will be the source of the Old Testament reading for the next few weeks (from “Forgotten Books”). These books are a bridge between the history and law portions of the Old Testament and the prophecies. Those who put together the Old Testament put these books in to illustrate an alternative view of wisdom and a different understanding of God. There is more to life than a framework of laws that must be rigorously followed. The only way that one gains from reading these books, the Song of Solomon, Proverbs, Esther, Ruth, and Job, is approach them on their terms, searching and mediatiting on its meaning (from “What Does It Mean?”).

And that means being involved in the process, not merely letting someone else tell you what to think or what to do. Part of the reason that I chose to read the Scriptures today is that I like the translation that The Message provides. As I noted, the manner in which Ephesians was translated means that the selection starts with verse 16, a statement from James that we are not to get thrown off course.

What we hear from the Letter from James today is that we must first hear the words and then we can act upon what we hear. We have been given a great gift and those who would seek to incite anger and hatred in us, especially when it is done in the name of the Lord, only seek to destroy that gift. When we fail to think about what we are hearing, we can find ourselves, like James wrote, wondering who we are and what we are doing. But if we pause for a moment to truly hear the word, then we begin to get a glimpse of the One True Word, the Word that God gave to us and we begin to sense the truth that we may seek.

The Pharisees and other scholars confronted Jesus about His disciples’ lack of observance of the appropriate and proper rituals. Now, we as children were told repeatedly by our parents and we as parents have echoed those same words that one must wash their hands before eating. In part, we are merely echoing, for good reasons, what was the practice, habit, and culture of Jesus’ time. But we know why it must be done; the reasons why it was part of the culture then were lost in the passage of time.

When you insist on doing something because “that’s they way it has been done since time immemorial” you have lost the reason why. If you tell me that we are trying to keep contagious infections down, then I will listen perhaps a little more carefully.

Jesus wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t wash our hands before dinner; he was merely pointing out that doing so out of habit contains no meaning. We will hear these words later, when Peter is hesitant to minister to the Gentiles for fear that he will violate any number of Jewish laws. It isn’t what you take in, it is what you put out that is the poison in this world.

I am like so many others who grew up in the South during the sixties. I sang the song, “Jesus loves the little children of the world” but lived in a world where the little children suffered because of the color of their skin. I encountered racism and segregation, sometimes subtely, other times overtly, all the while hearing from various pastors that God loved us enough that He sent His Son so that we might be saved. And yet, many of those who also heard those words back then and even today have chosen to hear a different set of truths.

We see it in many churches today, or rather we don’t see it in many of our churches today, because those that seek the truth do not come to the church to hear it because they don’t believe that the truth can be found in the church, in the one place where it is supposed to be told. What they see in many churches today is a place that holds onto a truth that is antiquated and favors the rich and the powerful, the very groups that Jesus spoke out against. How many times has some powerful clergy spoken out against everything that Jesus spoke out against in the closing words of the Gospel reading for today, “ obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness” (Mark 7: 21 – 23) while doing many of those acts themselves. Such individuals tell you the truth but it is their truth that they tell you and not the truth that you seek to know.

I grew up in a time and place where I came to understand that the truth that was told by religious and political leaders was not necessarily the Real Truth, the Truth of God. I will admit that I am still seeking the truth, much in the same way that John Wesley began to seek the truth in such a way that the Methodist Revival began. And I know that there will be some who hear my words or read them on my blog but who will scoff at what I say and what I write. But if perhaps one hears these words or reads these words and then begins to think and question, then they will begin the path to the truth that will set them free.

Each Sunday that we come to church, we are asked to make a choice, sometimes verbally, sometimes physically, sometimes in our minds, and sometimes in our heart. It is the choice to say in some way, by our words, our thoughts, our deeds, and our actions that we are truly followers of Christ, that we will in some way find the means to help others seek the truth and be set free.

The call is not to hear the truth that one wants to hear; the call is to hear the truth that will set you free. The call is not to simply say that you believe in Christ on Sunday but that you will believe in Christ when you leave this place. The call is to open your heart, your mind and your soul to Christ today and allow the Holy Spirit to come in, empower you and give you the strength to go forward from this place.