“Where Are You Going?”

Here is the message I gave for the morning worship at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (Grace UMC, Newburgh) on Saturday, February 23, 2013. I based this message on the Scriptures for the 2nd Sunday in Lent (Genesis 15:1-12, 17-21; Philippians 3:17-4:1; and Luke 13:31-35. I emphasized the reading from Philippians.

Writing these Saturday messages is interesting. The people who come are not always interested in the message, desiring more the food that is offered. They perhaps have only a basic understanding of the Bible, Christianity, and Methodism; there is also the possibility that they have rejected the church, both the traditional and non-traditional forms. To preach the same message that one would preach to a Sunday morning service doesn’t always work. It may very similar to what transpired for John Wesley when he moved from the prepared multi-hour sermon of the Anglican church to the extemporaneous sermon of the fields and factories.

If you are interested in giving the message some Sunday morning, let me know (either through my regular e-mail – TonyMitchellPhD “at” optimum.net or on Facebook). Dates in March are still open and I will be opening up April in a couple of weeks. We open the Kitchen (and please do not even think of this as a traditional or typical “soup kitchen” because it is most definitely not that) at 8. After everyone has settled in, we offer this worship and then begin serving. We will serve until around 9:45 or when we run out of food. We close the doors at 10.

To me, this time of Lent is a time of a journey; of a change sometimes in place that we are but most definitely a change in who we are. Many people are uncomfortable with those changes, never wanting to move from where they are and, most definitely, never wanting to change who they are.

Perhaps that is why we have this season called Lent and why it takes some forty days to prepare for Easter. To change who we are is not always an overnight thing but one that requires time and focus. Paul writes the Philippians and tells them that those who are more concerned with the material world or life on easy street are headed in the wrong direction.

As I read those words that Paul wrote, I wondered about who he was talking about. Most of the people I know would tell you that life is nowhere near an easy street and that life is a struggle. But I know many people who will tell you that you have to grab everything that you can because you don’t have too many chances in life. And it is what you have that, in the end, counts the most.

We all know people like this. Interestingly enough, it is a broad spectrum of individuals. It is the individual who stole a radio out of my car many years ago. I don’t know what drove him to do it but I am pretty sure that the word desperate would have been involved. For this individual did it between 2 and 5 in the morning on a night when it was something like -20o F. And, yes, when I went out to my car that morning to go to work and school, I was mad and angry. But I also had to smile a little bit because I am not sure what that individual was going to get for his efforts; I know that he probably took it to a pawn shop somewhere but how much was he going to get for a tape player that didn’t work? For all his efforts, this individual probably didn’t get much in return.

But is also those individuals who say that they are Christian but who are unwilling to do the things that come with saying that they believe. I haven’t quite figured out how to respond to these individuals but I should because there are so many of them. They have no desire to come close to the Cross because it means to them that they must give up everything that they have gathered together. How are they any different from the people Paul writes about who are only interested in their bellies and their appetites?

But what is that you have “in the end?” Paul also wrote, to the effect, that if you have everything but your soul is empty then you have absolutely nothing.

That’s why Paul also speaks of one’s life in Christ. Paul does not want people to follow him but to follow Christ because in doing so, their lives are transformed from the mundane and boring to the beautiful and exciting.

I was introduced to a saying yesterday that goes like this, “Christ is in each one of us; we just have to recognize Him.”

When Ann opened up “Grannie Annie’s Kitchen” it was with the purpose of feeding people. But it was to be more than just a quick breakfast. Some people come here on Saturday morning expecting something entirely different from what they get. But that is because of how we see this kitchen and how we see our lives in Christ.

How you see this kitchen depends on where you are in this journey called Lent and in your own life. You can see this place as a good place to get food on a Saturday morning and that is fine. But we hope that you see this place as a place where not only your physical body but your soul is feed as well.

How you see others depends on how you see yourself. You have the opportunity this day to decide which way you want to go in your own personal journey. You have the opportunity this day to decide that you want to change your life.

Next Saturday, as you are preparing to come to this place once again, someone may ask where you are going. I know that many of you will say that you are going to get a good breakfast at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen; but I would also hope that you are saying that you are going to a fellowship of people gathered together to find and know Christ.

Where are you going this day? Where are you going tomorrow? That is what this journey is about.

The Odd Vernon Johns

Add your http://jesseleeproject.org/2013/02/16/the-odd-vernon-johns/#reblogthoughts here… (optional) Friends, this is an awesome piece and one that truly explains the power of the Gospel


I would like to introduce – or reintroduce you if the case may be – to a rather peculiar man named Vernon Johns.    He was a man who few know of, but for those who do; a man certainly unlikely to be forgotten.   Vernon Johns was an odd bird, yet his story deserves retelling.

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The Journey Begins

On Sunday, I will be at Grace United Methodist Church in Slate Hill, NY. Service is at 10 am and you are invited to attend.

And then on Sunday afternoon, I will be at Grace United Methodist Church in Newburgh, NY, to begin the Lenten School. I have served as the Lenten School Coordinator for the past six years and this will be my last year in the position. For myself, it has been an interesting journey but one that must end; hopefully, someone will answer the call and begin their own journey in this position.

The Lenten School will start each Sunday during Lent with “soup and sandwiches” at 4 and classes that run to 7:30. The meal will be provided by “Grannie Annie’s Kitchen”. If you are interested in taking the Basic Lay Servant Ministry course or courses in sermon planning, spiritual gifts, leading in prayer, leading small groups, or the history and polity of the United Methodist Church, this is a good place and a good time to do so. One can still register at the beginning of the course.

The Scriptures for this Sunday are Deuteronomy 26: 1 – 11, Romans 10: 8 – 13, and Luke 4: 1 – 3.

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to travel across this country back in the mid 19th century, when the west was just opening up and people were moving from the east and mid-west to the new territories of California and Oregon? What must have it felt like to leave practically everything you owned behind as you gathered together the provisions for a four or five and possibly six month journey across the central plains of this country?

And what must have it felt like to be walking and walking as the wagon train you were a part of traveled westward with the terrain that you walked on looking the same day after day? And how would you have felt as you approached the Front Range of the Rockies and saw that there were even higher mountains behind them and you knew that you had all of that to cross before you could even think of arriving at your destination?

From my own experiences, I know that the plains of Kansas are not necessarily flat but you can literally see almost to the horizon and there is nothing in between.

Several years ago, I was in Billings, Montana, and my mother and I went out to see the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. And there on the high plains of the west, I got the impression that one could see almost all the way to New York. And then my cell phone rang and it was the lay speaker covering for me at my church asking a question about the service on Sunday.

Even Ann, my wife, will tell you that she couldn’t tell the difference between the corn fields of Iowa and Nebraska or the wheat fields of Nebraska and Kansas; it just seemed to go on and on and on. Even the home movies (ah, remember the good old days of Super 8 film) that her dad insisted on taking and showing made everyone car sick.

So you can begin to imagine how the Israelites must have felt when, after forty years of wandering in the trackless desert that we call the Sinai, they crossed the River Jordan into the Promised Land.

Ours is a journey in life, sometimes in place and most definitely in time. We can take the attitude of the Preacher, the one who wrote Ecclesiastes and live each day for the moment, not worrying about the outcome. Or we can realize that in our journey, we are apt to encounter individuals and experience events that will change our lives and that individuals who encounter us will find their lives change as well.

What we have to realize, as we begin this 2013 season of Lent, is that part of our journey ends on Easter and that a new part of that journey begins.

There are two themes, I believe, in the Bible; themes that run throughout the pages of both the Old and New Testament. The first, and most definitely, the major theme is our relationship with God and the people we meet each day. To borrow an idea from Jim Wallis, if you took out the passages in the Bible that deal with the relationship between God and us and those passages that deal with our relationship with others, there would be virtually nothing left. It would be filled with holes and it would fall apart.

The second theme that is expressed throughout the Bible is one of a journey. Sometimes it is not the best of all journeys, as in the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden or the Babylonian Captivity. Sometimes it is a journey of exploration, as Abram journeying to the land that God directed him.

There is the journey of Joseph to Egypt and the journey of his brothers a few years later. It was this journey that set the stage for today’s Old Testament Reading.

We have the journey of Jesus across and around the Galilee; in six weeks, we will begin the journey into Jerusalem.

The season of Lent is a season of preparation, of preparing not only for Easter but what comes after Easter. What we must understand, what we must realize is that we are preparing for the most wonderful change in our lives. We have the benefit of knowing that Easter brings the Resurrection and in the Resurrection, we gain the victory over sin and death. But the journey does not and never has ended on Easter.

There is the journey of Paul around the Mediterranean telling people about Christ and building churches. There is the journey of the disciples to places beyond their home country, to take the Word to far-off lands, to places beyond the hills of the Galilee and perhaps never imagined.

Many people began the journey with Christ some two thousand years ago but they fell to the wayside when the effort became too great. When you stop to think about it, those that began the journey but quit probably understood what the cost of the journey would be and how it would change them and they didn’t want to change. They liked their old life; they had adapted to the life of trouble and strife that so marked their daily lives.

I am afraid that happens even today. Too many people, I am afraid, will say that they have given up something for Lent, perhaps they will not watch so much television or they will quit eating chocolate or something similar, but when Easter comes, they return to the old ways, of watching their favorite television shows or eating chocolate.

It is easy to understand why that is the case. There are only two instances in the Bible where we know that Jesus is tempted. Of course, today’s Gospel reading is the first time that we know that Jesus was tempted. But as he was growing up, would he not have experienced the same sort of things that we have experienced? And on that night when He knew what was to come, would it have been just as easy to invoke the same powers that Satan tempted Him with and rebuke not only the Romans but the Pharisees and Sadducees as well? Temptations do not leave us just because we deliberately set them aside for a short period. Temptations come to us in many forms, some we often don’t recognize.

Ben Gosden, on his blog, wrote about an individual who was faced with a choice. This individual had an opportunity to take a job which would provide the financial security that he needed to take care of his family but it would take him away from his family for 4 – 5 days a week. What was this individual to do? (From “Journeying to the Cross: The Power of Temptation”)

As Pastor Gosden wrote, Lent is a time, a season that reminds us of our priorities and the temptations that inevitably follow. There must be a deliberate effort made to make sure that we don’t fall to the temptations that confront us and this we can only do when we change our lives.

The Israelites spent forty years wandering around before entering the Promised Land. They did so because they weren’t prepared to enter the Promised Land when they first arrived. But I wonder how prepared they were when they discovered what was now required of them once they entered the Promised Land.

Did they not understand that their lives had changed and one of the things that they had to do was recognize how it was that they had arrived at their destination? So too is it for us. If our lives do not change during these next few weeks, how can we even think to continue this journey?

Yes, it is going to be tough. Jesus told the twelve that only one would live to an old age but even that individual, John, was in prison when he died. Each of the other disciples would in fact die in the course of their mission work, far from their home land but never far from Christ.

John Wesley and the other early Methodist preachers could probably tell you about the struggles they endured with the beginning of the Methodist Revival. Francis Asbury made it very clear that the life of a circuit rider was not and was never going to be easy. I am not so sure that it is that much easier today.  The temptations that people face each day, sometimes without the support of the church, in its various forms, often make it easier not to think about Christ.

But we take the words of Paul to heart. Ours is a life not found in the strict interpretation of the word but in living in the faith and trusting in God. As Jesus hung in agony and pain on the Cross that fateful Friday afternoon some two thousand years ago, he trusted in God to comfort and guide him.

We will, I trust, never be asked to endure that type of torment but I also trust that we are able to trust in God to guide, direct, and support us in whatever we face as we undertake this journey. Paul would write to the Corinthians

No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; Jesus will never let you be pushed past your limit; The Spirit will always be there to help you come through it. (1 Corinthians 10: 13)

Let us not worry about what lies around the bend or the next corner or even on the other side of the mountains that seemingly block our way. Let us take heed of all those who have gone before us; let us go to the Cross and let us go beyond.

Let the journey begin.

“Rut Ro Raggy!”

This is the message that Maria Busse of the Monroe United Methodist Church will present at this Saturday’s (February 16th) morning worship at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen. We open the doors at 8, begin with the worship and then serve what some say is the best breakfast in Newburgh. You are welcome to come for the worship and the breakfast.

After hearing those verses I am sure that some of you out there are sitting there squirming just a bit…I know I squirmed when I read them myself. Immediately what came to mind was that old cartoon “Scooby-Doo, Where are You?” with the voice of Scooby speaking in dog talk to his pal Shaggy – “Rut Ro Raggy!”(meaning-Uh-Oh, Shaggy!) which surely meant that trouble was coming.

I am also sure that some of you now are thinking- “Great, now I have to sit here and listen about all the things I am doing wrong because of my sin to my flesh…Couldn’t she have picked another set of verses that won’t make me feel guilty about how I live my life? The excuses we make to ourselves may now be forming a list in your head and growing so rapidly that you are not hearing me even now. I’m here to tell you now…RELAX… because just like anyone in this room and for that matter anyone who has ever walked this Earth besides Jesus is guilty of misdeeds to the body.

So very quickly let’s get the list out of the way so that we can put it up on the shelf to be worked on at another time. Let’s all be bold and fill in the blank. In your minds I would like you complete the following statement- “When it comes to sins of the flesh-what I need to put to death is my addiction to_______.” In my research for this sermon I needed to answer my own curiosity (an addiction in itself) about how many different types of addiction there are out there. I can’t and won’t read the list now…it would take waaay too long! Here are a few I came across: Body building, applause, self-help books, coin collecting, husbands, people pleasing, X-Box and even prayer without action. I bet you thought I was going to read the usual suspects didn’t you?

Put plainly – anything that we overly do is in itself an addiction. Why? Because all addictions simply block positive energy flow to the body. Even something as harmless as coin collecting can become an obsession that leads to other negative behaviors for example- stealing to buy a rare and much sought after coin that has come on the market. ALL addictions usually start with a positive result but end up becoming a commitment in themselves. Chocolate cake? Very yummy, but if you are eating it morning, noon, night and in between, going to sleep dreaming of it- that is what we can say is overdoing it.

Paul says this in verses 10 and 11:

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

In these verses Paul says if we believe that Christ is in us then our bodies are righteous beings, living a life that is right with God. That the Spirit of God lives in our earthly bodies.

So why do we sin? Why do we sin to the flesh especially? Is it about control or is it about situations we can’t control? We try to cover bitterness in our lives with any and everything out there that might take it away. Be it drinking or smoking or overeating or promiscuity…these separate us from those around us who we don’t want to hear anyway or get no answers from. And they separate us from God who in our own self righteous need for control are not listening to anyway. There is a saying that goes like this: “If God seems far away…who moved?”

Michael Jackson, with all his afflictions, sang a song called ‘The Man In the Mirror‘. One line in it says; “I’ve been a victim of a selfish kinda love.” When we sin against the flesh that is just what we are-selfish. We think only of ourselves and forget how much God truly loves us. We forget how wonderfully we were made to be everything that our Father wants and means for us to be. We separate ourselves and forget to trust in something else Paul taught us later in Chapter 8 of The Message Bible, states it as so; and I am paraphrasing…

Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worse sins listed in scripture….None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us…Absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our master has embraced us.

Paul says that we have an ‘obligation’. That if we live to the flesh surely we will die. But if we live by the Spirit we will live. This can be a very easy thing to do when we are around those whose opinions we value and care about. But when we are alone and those old or even new, what I like to call demons show up-What do we do?

We all have what is called ‘good face’ and ‘bad face’. Good face is the bright and shining one we show to our loved ones, to our friends and family and to those in the public life who can enhance our own lives. This public face for the most part is easy to show because it gives value to our lives and uplifts us in one way or another be it love, friendship or even a paycheck. 

Bad face though turns it’s ugly face on us inward. It, through our own self-vision does not see the beauty in ourselves. It only sees our doubt, confusion, rage and frustration…leaving us defenseless, willing and able to do anything not to see what we perceive to be our true hearts. This view is not seen through rose colored glasses but with spectacles that are tarnished by hurt, self hate and low self esteem. Bad face also has a voice. This voice tells us it is O.K. to try anything that will fix our hurt. This is when the separation of our souls from God begins.

What can we do when those voices start their whispering; perhaps even building to a loud roaring voice that tears us away from those we love and most important- a God who loves us? First and foremost-pray.

Reach out and up to the God who has loved you so much since before you were born. Reach out to others to stop the isolation. Be it a trusted friend or family member. Remember- you are not alone, even if you think you are. Do all in your power, to as Pink Floyd once sang about, turn away. Turn away from the feeling that you are all alone, turn away from the coldness inside.

Lastly, I would like to leave you with the words of another song called The Words I Would Say by Sidewalk Prophets. I hope that these words fill you with hope and the realization of the Spirit of the one who lives in you. “Be strong in the Lord and never give up hope. You’re going to do great things, I already know. God’s got his hands on you so don’t live life in fear. Forgive and forget, but don’t forget while you’re here – Take your time and pray. These are the words I would say.


Catching up and planning ahead (perhaps?)

I finally posted “Removing the veil” this morning. Sorry for the delay but it got hectic over the weekend. You cannot imagine what several inches of snow does to your time frame. 🙂

This is going to be a busy week. We will be at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen this Saturday, unless, of course, the weather doesn’t allow us to do so. Maria Irish from the Monroe UMC will be presenting the message “Rut Ro Raggy!”.

On Sunday, I will be at Grace United Methodist Church in Slate Hill, NY. Service is at 10 am and you are invited to attend. The title of my message is “The Journey Begins”.

At 4 pm on Sunday, we begin the 2013 Lenten School. We will be offering courses in Basic Lay Servant Ministries and advanced courses in sermon planning, leading small groups, leading prayer, spiritual gifts, and the history and polity of the United Methodist Church. The early registration fee is $35.00; registration on the 17th is $40.00. Ann will again provide the afternoon meal (4:00 to 4:30 each Sunday) during the school. We open the school with a worship service from ~4:30 to 5:00 and I will present the message, using some of the same thoughts from my morning message.

Registration information can be found at NY/CT District – 2013 Lay Servant Lenten School; if you have any questions, leave a comment and I will try to answer them.

“Removing the Veil”

This was originally entitled “A New Vision” but as I worked on it and I kept focusing on the veil that Moses wore and that one that Paul tells us that Christ removed, that title didn’t seem to work. And in light of the focus of this piece in conjunction with Evolution Weekend and Boy Scout Sunday, it made sense to talk about removing the veil so that one can see.

Corollary thoughts may be found at Ponderings on a Faith Journey: Science, Faith and the Pursuit of Truth.

Evolution Weekend is the weekend that coincides with Charles Darwin’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Chuck!) and focuses on the interaction of faith, religion, and science. I have participated in this observance, either through a sermon or a blog post since 2009.

And because it is the 2nd Sunday in February, it is Boy Scout Sunday and it represents for me the day that I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.

I am not certain that it has always been on Transfiguration Sunday as it this weekend but it is perhaps a good connection between what transpired for Jesus and the disciples and what must transpire in our minds and soul when we encounter Christ in our own lives.

Now, for some, there can be no discussion of the interaction of any sort between religion, faith, and science. Both sides of this “debate” or “issue” see the other group as the enemy, dedicated to the reduction of the other to virtual and actual nothingness.

Richard Dawkins once stated,

Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence. . . Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion. (Page 4, The Language of God, Francis S. Collins)

My first thought on this is that this is an incomplete thought; perhaps an expression that science can answer all questions and one needs to place their “faith” in science. To me, this strikes as nothing more than scientism, a belief system based on science. (See “A Particular Moment in Time” for links to discussion on this idea.)

Francis Collins, from whose book The Language of God I got the quote from Richard Dawkins, also quoted the noted creationist Henry Morris,

Evolution’s lie permeates and dominates modern thought in every field. That being the case, it follows inevitably that evolutionary thought is basically responsible for the lethally ominous political developments, and the chaotic moral and social disintegrations that have been accelerating everywhere. . . When science and the Bible differ, science has obviously misinterpreted its data. (Page 5, The Language of God, Francis S. Collins)

And just as I think that what Dawkins said was incomplete, so too do I believe that what Morris said was also incomplete. There are numerous examples of where Darwin’s notions about the evolution of life have been misused but that should not be considered the fault of the theory behind evolution.

It is interesting that Morris would say that science misinterprets the data and I would like to know how it is that he came up with that statement. Actually, I think I know how it is that he did and, for someone who claimed to operating under the framework of science, there was a major flaw in his thinking process.

You can never interpret the data in terms of a preconceived conclusion, which is the case for so many people who think that the Genesis creation story is the absolute truth. For among other things, they find themselves having to adjust the data, experimentally determined, to fit their model. Quoting Sherlock Holmes in my post “A Dialogue of Science and Faith”, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence.” Neither can you make the evidence fit the theory; the theory must come from the evidence. This doesn’t mean that your interpretation will be correct.

I noted in the “Dialogue” that Tycho Brahe had the evidence that suggested stars were a long way away from the earth but because he did not believe that the stars could be as far away from the earth as his observations suggested, he concluded that the earth was motionless and at the center of the universe. Again, he forced the data to fit his model.

I find many people who understand the concept of radioactivity and its use in dating ancient objects but who then “fiddle” with the data so as to keep their chosen model in place. I posted a piece two years ago about radiometric dating (“How Old Is Old?”) because of the number of individuals who have decided that the age of the earth is 10,000 years and the data that suggests otherwise. As it happens, in my own piece I refer to a more detailed explanation of this issue at “Radiometric Dating – A Christian Perspective” by Dr. Roger C. Wiens. Dr. Wiens also provided rebuttals for the critics of these techniques.

But my question to those who suggest that the data that we observe has somehow been altered by some supernatural deity is, “Why should I believe in a god that would manipulate the data and then expect me to believe in him, her, or it?”

Do I believe in the words of the Bible? Yes, I do, for they tell me a lot about the people whose faith system is the foundation of what we believe today. Do I believe that they knew as much as about the world that we do today? No. But the Bible wasn’t written to tell me about the world; it was written to tell me about the people and their relationship with God, a relationship that exists today. It is a story that speaks volumes if we would listen and think about what it said.

Am I to simply accept the statements of a few individuals that the world is less than 10,000 years old (a figure that, by the way, is not found in the Bible). What am I do to with the data that tells me otherwise? Should I change my data to fit the words of Genesis simply because a group of pastors in the late 19th century decided that they were the words of truth?

Too many people today simply want don’t want to think about the words or what they mean. Because to think means that they must be involved and they do not want to be involved.

And for those who see science as the answer to all questions (again, invoking the notion of scientism rather than science) I would ask, “Where is that good and evil come from? Are they parts of our bodies, encoded somehow into our DNA? If one has denied religion and faith, one cannot then say that good and evil are parts of our soul, for the soul is not part of physical body. So good and evil are inherent parts of our bodies and that opens a box that even Pandora would not want to open.

On the other hand, if we acknowledge that there is something or someone “out there” that had a hand in our creation, then we have to have some sort of faith system in our lives.

It is entirely possible that I could or would have come to Christ without having been a Boy Scout but that is clearly a question for another time and place. Besides finding a path to God through the God and Country award, I also began to develop an appreciation for the world around us. I cannot call myself an environmentalist but clearly, having seen the beauty of the Rocky Mountains when camping with my troop and seeing the physical wonders of this country and then seeing the awesome view of galaxies far away, I know that there is a Creator out there. And if there is not a Creator, then how was this all done?

Can I use the skills that God gave me (allowing me to use other words from Genesis that state that you and I were created in His image) and begin to work out the mysteries of the universe, from the moment of the Big Bang to the present day and perhaps far into the future?

My participation in Evolution Weekend comes because I cannot stand aside and let two groups, both whose minds appear to be closed to new ideas, destroy the fabric and nature of science, all in the name of the truth as they see it.

I have stated it before that I perhaps don’t have to be involved in this because I am a chemist and chemical educator who never took biology. I never took biology because I had the opportunity to skip it when I was in high school and I could take alternative courses to traditional biology when I was in college (though at least one of my college classmates offered the thought once that the course that we both took provided the impetus for his accepting the Genesis creation as the true story of creation.)

In a Rod Stewart moment (“if I had known then what I know now”), if I had known that I was going to really be involved in chemistry and especially bio-inorganic chemistry, it would have been beneficial to have taken biology sometime in my life. Quite honestly, you can be successful in biochemistry without having taken a biology course but it does help. But, it does not matter whether or not I have taken biology at any time in my life. As a chemical and science educator, I have made a commitment to help individuals think and the attack being made on evolution today must be met.

We have created a society in which knowledge is feared, not respected and certainly not to be gained. We began a space race in 1957, not because we were interested in the cosmos or what might lie beyond the stars but because we perceived that there was a major threat to our way of life and we could not envision a world where the Soviet Union and its Communist philosophy was better and capable of launching a satelite while our country could not. Our response was a massive science and mathematics revolution but it was a fleeting one at best and one whose effects are long forgotten.

We stopped sending people to the moon, not because we had answered all of our questions, but because we had won the political race with the Soviet Union. And as the cost of the Viet Nam war took away our resources (both our youth and our money), we found ourselves unable to do the things that would develop our resources.

And the result is that today we are probably incapable of responding in the manner that we responded in 1957. Let us hope that any problems that develop in the coming years have solutions in the back of the book, because that is what we are teaching our children today.

Some will say that the problem lies in our leadership but I fear that the problem lies somewhere between what Pogo (of comic strip fame) said in 1970, “We have met the enemy and he is us”, and what Cassius said to Brutus in Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar”, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

Society is often like the Israelites demanding that Moses put on a veil because they were afraid of the glow that cover Moses’ face after his encounters with God. And if they were not afraid of the change that had taken place in Moses, they were certainly unsure as to what was happening and they were ill-prepared to respond.

The problem is that too many leaders are quite willing to put the veil on and hide the knowledge, knowing that it allows them to control the people. If there is a veil between the people and the truth, the people cannot see the truth and must accept whatever it is that their leaders tell them, even if, they know in their own minds that what is being said is not always truthful.

Paul tells the Corinthians that Christ removed the veil so that we could know for ourselves who God was and what God has done for us and what He wants us to do.

And I go back to my original statement; if we are created in God’s image, are we not to seek more information?

Several years ago I encountered a piece in which the author postulated that Isaac Newton would have opposed Charles Darwin’s thoughts and ideas on the nature of evolution (“A Dialogue of Science and Faith”). In writing my piece I discovered that my path of faith and science was somewhat similar to that of two early chemists, Robert Boyle and Joseph Priestly. I also had the opportunity to re-read a biography of Isaac Newton that I owned. Each man was both a man of science and a man of faith; each man wanted to know more about how God had created this world in which we live.

Could we live in this world if it were not for Georges Lemaître, who first postulated the Big Bang, or Gregor Mendel, who first postulated the mechanisms of genetics? Probably, but our knowledge of this world would be somewhat limited. Both were Catholic priests yet both were willing to look beyond the written word to see what God had done.

The beginning of Francis Collins’ book describes the ceremony at which human genome, the sequence of DNA that defines our bodies, was first unveiled. He offered a quote by President Bill Clinton,

Today we are learning the language in which God created life. We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, and the wonder of God’s most divine and sacred gift.

Some would have us simply say that the human genome was the product of some entity and are so complex as to be beyond our understanding? But any time we are presented with a question that asks us how, we are challenged to find an answer. It was once said that the answer to a single question may be two more questions but that is the nature of life at times.

If we live a life where the truth is hidden by a veil and we are unwilling to seek that truth, then perhaps we deserve a life of ignorance. For in ignorance there is no hope. But that is not why Christ came to this world, that is not why Christ walked among us and taught us and healed us and helped us in so many ways. He offered a chance to see beyond the veil, to remove our reliance on those whose own interests were more self-serving than God-serving. Christ gives us the opportunity to remove the veil of ignorance that keeps us from the truth.

On this day when Peter, James, and John began to understand just what it was that was about to happen, it is also a day that we can open not only our heart and soul but our minds to Christ. For our lives are not just our heart and soul or our mind alone but all three. Opening our hearts, our minds, and our souls to Christ allows the veil of ignorance to be lifted and the truth to shine.

An Question On Sermon Effectiveness

I am trying very diligently to post the remainder of “Removing the veil” but I find myself having to deal with other things as well.

As the title of this piece suggests, I am having to deal with the effectiveness (my term) of a sermon. In part, we are trying to determine how to evaluation a lay speaker/servant’s presentation/sermon/message to a church.

I know that some individuals in my conference want to create a rubric that will allow anyone to evaluate a lay speaker/servant. But I have a problem with that sort of approach, if for no other reason than works for one person may not necessarily work for another. And not every person gives a traditional sermon. I have, on occasion, inserted music into my message, following the example of one of my pastors. On other occasions, I have opted for more of a story format, playing the role of Nathaniel Bartholomew, again following the example of a local pastor. So a single rubric doesn’t seem to work.

On a number of occasions, I have used the following as an expression of how we can measure our own effectiveness. In the movie “A Man for All Seasons”, there is the following interchange between Thomas More and Richard Rich.

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

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

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

Perhaps that is what we need to be thinking of when we begin discussions of effectiveness. Who will know how well we did.

So, I came up with the following statement, “Did the lay servant/speaker move your soul to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior?” I am sure that it is similar to a John Wesley quote or something that is asked of pastors in their BOOM paperwork.

I did write the question with a certain degree of sarcasm, simply because of what I was given as potential evaluation form. But there is also a certain degree of sincerity in this statement. I think that any time I set foot in the pulpit or stand before an altar to give the Gospel message, that is the goal I have set for myself.; I just haven’t figured out a way to make it fit the current plans of denomination.

So, as we begin the preparation for Lent, perhaps we need to be asking this question. It does not matter if one is an ordained elder, a local pastor, a certified lay speaker, or a local lay speaker, how do you measure your effectiveness in the pulpit?