“Two Roads”

These are my thoughts for the Friday evening “Vespers in the Garden” worship and Saturday morning worship service at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen at Grace UMC (Newburgh, NY).

This is the fourth year that we have held the “Vespers in the Garden” series on Fridays and the third year that we will hold the service on Sundays. The gardens at Grace are an interesting place as they offer an interesting counterpart to the street scene of Newburgh. And on a hot summer day, there is more often than not a cool breeze passing through the garden.

Vespers in the Garden start at 7 on Fridays and Sundays and will run through Labor Day. Come on over if you get the chance and let me know if you might be interested in presenting the message one time or providing the music.

We open the doors of Grannie Annie’s Kitchen at 8 am on Saturday morning, have a brief worship service at 8:10 and then serve breakfast at 8:30. Generally, we stop serving at 9:45. Everyone is welcome to come and be a part of this Saturday morning community.

I am using the Scripture readings for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (C), 30 June 2013 – 2 Kings 2: 1 – 2, 6 – 14; Galatians 5: 1, 13 – 25; Luke 9: 51 – 62.


It is always interesting to see how the lectionary, a collection of readings formed by a committee many years ago, always offers the right words for the right time. There are, of course, many ways that one could look at why this is and perhaps one day we might do that.

But that would, I think, turn into academic discussion of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin (see “Quantum Gravity Treatment of the Angel Density Problem”). Such discussions are perhaps best left for the quiet solitude of some ivory-covered tower though I did discover that currently safety standards impose a 4-angel limit because Congress passed the Angel Safety Law which also requires that the pin be inspected for structural defects twice a year.

Still, if the the words contained in the Bible are to have any meaning in and for today’s society, they must speak to the moment at hand. If they do not, the Bible quickly becomes a tired old book of history languishing on someone’s bookshelf. And that is what the readings for this weekend do; they speak to the moment at hand what we must do at this moment and in this place and time.

And in looking at the Old Testament reading I thought of the Robert Frost poem which gives me the title for the message, “The Road Not Taken.” And while the poem speaks of the author leaving, it is perhaps the scene of the two roads that diverge that is appropriate for this time and place.

I knew, when I first looked at the Scripture readings for this weekend that this would be Pastor Frank’s last weekend at Grace, though I did not know where he was going nor did I know who was coming to continue the work of the ministry that has been in this place for so many years. I also did not know at that time that this would also be Pastor Mike’s last weekend.

And so, on a weekend where there is a transfer of power and leadership in so many United Methodist Churches, the Old Testament reading today talks about the transfer of power and leadership from Elijah to Elisha. There is, perhaps, a certain degree of fear in Elisha’s voice as he insists on going with Elijah, even when he does not know where Elijah is going. And Elijah knows that Elisha really can’t go with him.

But Elisha insists on tagging along until he receives some token of Elijah’s life. When Elijah asks him, Elisha says that he wants Elijah’s life repeated in his.

Pastor Frank and Pastor Mike, each in their own way and manner, had done that, provided something in leadership, wisdom, and guidance that takes the ministry of Grace (Newburgh) to the next level. They have provided a sound foundation for Pastor Hooker to take Grace where it needs to go, even if that destination is still unknown.

The impetus for this Saturday worship came from Pastor Frank and when we gather together next Saturday and each Saturday after that, our gathering will be a reflection of the ministry that he brought to Grace when he came last September. And each one of us, whether we have worked with Pastor Frank and/or Pastor Mike or just visited and talked with them, will know that they have had some influence in the path we know must walk.

And as they walk their own paths, their encounters and their work with each one of us will have some influence on where they walk and how they work with their new congregations.

But it isn’t just a matter of Pastor Frank and Pastor Mike walking down some road, leaving us standing at a crossroads not knowing which way to go or hoping that Pastor Jeff has a road map. It is about where each one of us is headed.

Do we go home and resume our regular lives, as if nothing happened? Or has something happened here and now that says perhaps we need to walk down a different path, a different road?

Susan Engle, Paducah (KY) District Lay Resource Leader (Memphis Conference), wrote the following about what the laity of the United Methodist Church needs to think about in the coming days and discussion about the life and vital of the local church:

Worship on Sunday is not entertainment, and we are not the audience. Worship is a time for us to gather, hear God’s word, get filled up, and go in the power of the Spirit to change the world. If you go home and nothing changes, in you or in your world, it’s time to stop and consider where you are disconnecting. Where there is life, there is growth. If all of your God stories are from years ago, it might be time to take your spiritual pulse. “Things for the United Methodist laity to unlearn – from a lay person’s POV”

Worship, be it on a Friday or Sunday evening in the garden, a Saturday morning in the Fellowship Hall, or a Sunday morning in the sanctuary, is meant to be a time of connection with God. But you cannot leave that connection behind.

It is easy, I know, to let our life get in the way that we want to walk. Sometimes it it is the mundane things; sometimes it is the extraordinary things. But whatever the reason, we quickly see our walk with Christ as a secondary thought, something that is done after all the other stuff is taken care of and as long as it doesn’t get in the way.

Paul speaks of legalism, of using the law to justify what one does. For some it was the law that gave them the power and authority to tell others what to say and do. But such laws bind one to a life of slavery, not freedom. Even today, people create laws to divide society, to say who can do what, who has the power, or how one can live.

And we, individually, create our own internal laws, saying that we can only do this or we can’t do that, if only to justify that which we do each day. We spend so much time trying to justify our present condition and life that we cannot see how trapped we have become. We speak of our freedom and yet we live as a slave.

Paul points out that we have a choice in how we live. It is very interesting that what some would call freedom, Paul says is slavery. And he, very pointedly, points out the difference between the two.

I don’t know if Paul was thinking of the future when he wrote his letters to the early churches and gatherings. Someone once said that if he was doing that he should have been more careful in what he wrote. We know that he was writing to a group of people in a specific time and place and yet his words apply very much to this time and place. That may speak to our own inabilities and not his ability to see the future.

Our society is very much a selfish, self-centered society. It is very much what is best for the individual and how society can help the individual. Paul points out that the free spirit is very incompatible with this selfishness, this self-centeredness. Your energies are wasted when focused inwardly on your self; they multiply when they focus outwards, to helping others

So we come to this time and place, a crossroads not only in the life of this church but in our own lives. In a few days, Pastor Mike and Pastor Frank will be with their new churches and our new pastor will begin the process of settling in to his role.

And there we will stand, contemplating which road we must walk. We can choose to walk the road that is the same road we have walked each day, convinced that nothing we do can change our lives.

Or we can choose to walk that road that Jesus is walking, leaving behind all of our baggage and all that has burdened us and kept us enslaved.

The choice to walk the road with Jesus is our choice and our choice alone. We cannot force others to walk with us nor should others force us to walk with them. As much as some of the disciples wanted to bring wrath and destruction down on those who refused to walk with Jesus (and how many times have we heard that in today’s society), Jesus just said leave them alone and just continue the walk.

Some will not like the uncertainty of that walk, favoring to continue their own private walk that keeps them entangled in slavery.

But others will begin to understand that to walk with Jesus is a chance to be free from slavery to sin and death and, as Paul pointed out, a chance to open up and express the freedom of the spirit.

Each of us has come to that crossroad, that intersection of two roads. Which path will you take?

“Where Are You Headed?”

I am at Sloatsburg United Methodist Church again this Sunday, the 5th Sunday after Pentecost. Services there start at 10:30 and you are welcome to attend. The Scriptures for this Sunday are 1 Kings 19: 1 – 15, Galatians 3: 23 – 29, and Luke 8: 26 – 39.


Maybe I should have entitled this message “What are you doing here?” because that’s the question God asks Elijah. But I am, personally perhaps, more interested in the question implied in God’s question but not recorded, “Elijah, where are you going?” There is also another question implied, “And what are you going to do when you get there?”

When I look at the world around us today; when I read of the changes taking place all over the globe, and how people are reacting to those changes, I cannot help but think of what Elijah did.

Review the past few weeks – Elijah has challenged and brought to shame the authority of the leadership of Israel. For his efforts, proper and done in the name of God, he is now on the run for his life and wanting to die. I always get the feeling when I read this passage that Elijah is absolutely convinced that he has been abandoned, that there are no other believers left in the nation of Israel and no matter how good his work or how true to God he might be, it is all in vain.

And how much does that resonate in today’s world? Now, it is probable that the title of my message is more rhetorical than physical. I presume that you will be going home after church and to school or work tomorrow. But I also wonder and worry about where you might be going with your life.

I do not wish the following statement to be hyperbole nor do I wish to make it sound like a tired, worn-out cliché but this civilization, this society, collectively and individually may very well be headed in the wrong direction. And I fear that, under the present conditions, there is nothing that can truly change that direction.

 Our direction is based on what we perceive to be the state of the world and the state of the world is a question for the soul, not the body. I have become convinced that politics, the expression of the body, can no longer provide an acceptable answer.

 And if the body politic cannot provide an acceptable answer, then the answer must come from the soul. I have no direct evidence but I think that number of people who seek such answers, answers to question that come from the soul, is increasing. A portion of the population is appropriately named “the seekers” because they are seeking answers and they are, in my opinion, not finding them or not finding adequate answers.

 And it does not help that the one place, the one location where such questions can be answered is the church and yet the numbers tell us that each year, churches die. We are staring at a situation where the United Methodist Church as a denomination will be dead within the next twenty-five years.

 Now, I do not know about you but I am neither prepared for that nor do I wish to see it happen. What the United Methodist Church means to me is more than just a few hours on a Sunday and an opportunity to stand in various pulpits throughout the New York/Connecticut District of the New York Annual Conference. I like doing that but I do it because it is part of an unstated commitment I made many years ago. If the United Methodist Church had not been a part of my life when I was 18, when I was seeking answers to the question of the soul, the odds are very good that I would not be in this pulpit today and my soul would not have the certainty of Christ. I cannot speak to my physical presence but my spiritual presence would almost certainly have been lost.

 So where will those today who seek answers to the same sorts of questions that I had some forty-five years ago find their answers, where will they find Christ in their future if there is no church, if there is no gathered group of believers?

 How can I not work to make sure that there is a United Methodist Church beyond 2040, even if I am no longer a part of this world? And perhaps the rebel in me says that I have to do what I think God has called me to do and not what others may say or suggest?

To see the future, to know where, in those terms, one is going, we may very well need to remember where we have been. It is not so much, as the philosopher George Santayana once said, that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it but rather if we remember where we were headed perhaps we can determine how it is that we lost our way.

When I was in high school from 1963 to 1968, this country and this whole world were focused on going to the moon. Granted, most people saw this effort as a political race between the United States and the Soviet Union and it was as much as measure of the relative nature/worth of each form of government but it was also a scientific endeavor based on our own human nature to explore the boundaries of our world.

And while we were pushing the limits of knowledge from here on earth to beyond the moon and towards the stars, we were also pushing and refining the meaning of equality among people. We began to see the world and our relationship with others in a new way.

There are many who say that is when we lost our direction and began to move away from God. But was it not God who gave us the ability and the insight to find a path to the moon and beyond? Was it not God from Whom we got our sense of wonder and creativity and ability to ask questions and find answers?

Where did our sense of equality come from, if not from God?

But as the Viet Nam war took more and more of our resources, both in material and human terms, we moved further and further away from exploration.

And today, as we are engaged in another war in a faraway land, a war which continues to drain our resources and takes away the young, we are seeing the efforts to build equality fifty years ago stripped away by those who are happy with a status quo not unlike society was when Jesus walked the back roads of the Galilee.

There are those who seek the status quo, who proclaim poverty as the sign of sin and wealth a sign of righteousness, who seek to enact laws that tell us what to think and what to do and what to say, all in the name of God and security.

They would and are gladly turning our schools in factories where students graduate with only the ability to complete mindless tasks without question but are incapable of seeing into the future and questioning the state of things today. And sadly too many people today are quite willing to accept that type of society and the notion that it represents freedom.

When you accept that sort of society, when you allow others to tell you what to say and what to think and how to act each day, it does not matter whether it is today or two thousand years ago for it is slavery no matter how you look at it.

Paul told the Galatians that they were no longer children protected by their tutors and the law but adults free to move beyond the the boundaries of the law. I read Paul saying that there are great opportunities for the people of Galatia because they have found Christ. As Christ pointed out, he had come to fulfill the law and that gives us great opportunities.

John Kennedy, speaking in 1959, said that “when written in Chinese, the word crisis has two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.” There are many great opportunities and yet when we look to the future, when we see change, we see danger and refuse to go.

A few years ago, in preparation for using today’s Gospel reading, I read about the contradiction included in it. Jesus healed the man and drove the demons out of him and into some hogs, which then stampeded over a cliff. The people, instead of rejoicing that one of the friends had been cured were angry that the hogs had been destroyed and their income lost.

Why would they be angry at the lost of some hogs? Now, as a graduate of the University of Iowa and having grown up in the Midwest, I know several farmers who would be that way. But Jews do not eat pork, so why were they angry? Because, evidence suggests that the buyers of the hogs were the soldiers in the Roman garrison located in that town. And the main job of those soldiers was to enforce the Pax Romana by military power and the suppression of the people. I cannot speak for others but it boggles my mind that the Jews of this town would sell stuff to the very people charged with keeping them in slavery. Oh, I know some will tell me that those who raised the hogs were probably making a very good profit and that countered the oppression that they lived under.

I am also reminded of the time when Curt Flood was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies. According to the baseball rules of the time, he had to either accept the trade or retire; there were no other options available. Flood was making, I believe, something on the order of $90,000 per year, an exceptionally good salary in 1969 But he did not have the opportunity to negotiate his salary or decide on his place of employment. In one sense, he was a slave to the owners of the ball club. Most sportswriters at the time attacked his assertion that the reserve clause made him feel like a slave. When Howard Cosell asked him how someone earning $90,000 a year, one of the top salaries in the game at the time, could feel like a slave, he responded, “A well-paid slave is nonetheless a slave.” (http://money.cnn.com/2006/11/20/commentary/sportsbiz/)

The people in the town may have been well compensated for feeding the Roman troops but that did not give them their freedom. And we have too many people today who are quite willing to accept that same sort of situation because they believe it gives them their freedom. But look around and tell me if what is transpiring in this world is truly freedom, or merely a maintenance of the status quo and an enrichment of the ruling classes.

There is presently a discussion, perhaps an academic one, about the nature of Christianity and the seeming lack of a liberal Christian viewpoint. Now, if you haven’t figured out yet, I do not see how one can say that one is a Christian and a conservative. I have yet to meet a conservative Christian who would be willing to give up everything they have, including their life, for Christ. Their answers to an problem are to let someone else do it or that the people who are seeking help do not deserve the help or just looking for a handout.

I know that there are those who seek the handout but if that was true for all the poor, the homeless, the economically distressed, and the oppressed, why did Paul say to the Galatians that there was no difference between people in God’s eyes? Why did Jesus take pity on so many individuals that had been cast aside and thrown away by the society of his day, the man in today’s Gospel reading being a prime example.

I know that it is not fashionable to use the liberal word today but that is because it is so abused. And those who call themselves liberals are often no better than than those who call themselves conservative. But one thing is clear, a Gospel message that speaks of helping the homeless, the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, and the oppressed can hardly be conservative. A Gospel message that speaks of reaching out to all people and bringing them to the Kingdom of God cannot be called conservative.

I know that this is not a popular idea; as a society, we still cling to our 17th century belief about poverty. At least we don’t throw our mentally ill people into prisons for the criminally insane. But to preach the Gospel message that Jesus came for all and all who come to Jesus are saved is not a popular message. When one challenges the status quo, as Elijah did and as Jesus did, one risks running for one’s life as Elijah did or dying as Jesus did.

There are many who are not willing to go down that path. How about you? Shall we take the path that says that by following Christ, we can change the world? That is what we, the people called Methodists, have done and it is what we, the people called Methodists should be doing today.

I will conclude with idea presented by Dr. David Watson of the United Theological Seminary,

To be clear, as a Wesleyan, I am thoroughly committed to the Church’s role in transforming society. . . . Our work in society, however, must be grounded in a full-bodied conception of the nature and work of the Holy Trinity.” (“Issues-based Christianity”)

Three thousands years ago, Elijah was headed in the wrong direction, truly believing that there was no hope in the world. In a world that believed in the mighty and powerful, he found God in the small and the quiet things. And he turned around, went to Damascus, found a group of souls who hadn’t surrended to the world and changed the order of life.

Forty-five years ago, I was probably headed in the wrong direction, truly believing that what I was doing would get me into heaven. But my concerns for good works probably blinded me to the true path. Fortunately, I had a minister who cared enough about where I was headed and he helped me change the direction I was headed.

We have the opportunity and the challenge to change the direction that this society, this civilization, and this denomination are headed provided we listed to the directions from God, provided that we are grounded in the full-bodied concept of the nature and work of the Holy Trinity. It begins when we recognize that Christ is our Savior; it begins when we open our heart and our mind to the Power of the Holy Spirit and it begins today.

We may be headed home today; I will be going back to Grace UMC, Newburgh, to say good bye to our pastor Frank Windom (I will also be doing so at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen with the message “Two Roads”) but, if we have heard the call from God, we will go where He calls us and we will engage in the work that He calls us to do.

“Have You Read The Discipline?”

Here is a very simple question – have you read the Book of Discipline lately? I would think that if you were to read this interesting book, you might find out things that will enhance your life and could go a long way to revitalizing the church.

Yes, I know that reading the Discipline can be very tedious. It is the only book that I know of where page references are to paragraph numbers and not the actual page numbers. It is one of those books only the most retentive of people will find enjoyable but if you really needed to get a good night’s sleep, reading the Discipline will do the trick.

And my question about reading this book is not about the major issues that threaten to divide and destroy the United Methodist Church (but if you haven’t looked at those paragraphs, you might want to do so).

I am more concerned with some of the more mundane (if that’s the proper word) aspects of the organization of the United Methodist Church. It is just my opinion but many of the internal problems of a local church might not happen if people knew how things were supposed to work. One of the first pastors that I worked with as a lay speaker happened to have been a lawyer in a prior life and he always insisted that pastors and laity alike would save them a lot of trouble if they read the Discipline.

I don’t necessarily like rules and/or procedures but if you don’t have a sense of what you can and cannot do, it can be very hard to accomplish things.

Two points to consider –

As you may know from reading this blog, I am a certified lay servant in the United Methodist Church. This is a relatively new title for something that I have been doing for the past twenty years or so. But were you aware that if you so desire to become a certified lay servant, you first must have the Staff-Parish Relations Committee’s approval? You would be surprised how many annual reports that I received when I was the Registrar for our District where the particular individual had failed to get the first step approved.

Were you aware that each committee of the church has to have a certain number of women and youth? Enforcing this rule at your next charge conference will certainly enliven the proceedings, especially if the youth of the church are in the 45 – 50 age range.

The other day, John Meunier reposted a piece about how the Southern Baptist Convention could save itself from its impending doom. One of the three things that Jonathan Merrit, the author of the original piece, suggested would turn around and save the denomination was to give the youth a greater voice in the operation of the local church. That’s part of our Discipline but I wonder how many churches actually do that?

So have you read the Discipline recently?

What is the Lectionary? An Explanation

I found this an interesting piece, if for no other reason that I do know a number of people who have asked the very question about what is the lectionary. Thanks Bob and go Cardinals!

A Grace-Filled Life

I will warn you that this is a long post but it contains a lot of information if you have ever wondered why some churches stick to a defined system of Scripture readings for their Sunday services. I have shamelessly taken the following from the blog of Pastor Paul McCain, of Concordia Publishing House, and I will let him lead us through this explanation of a lectionary (I did not include links to everything in the following and if you are interested, please go to Pastor McCain’s blog, Cyberbrethren):

The other day a person asked us here at Concordia Publishing House where, exactly, did the lectionary systems Lutherans use today come from. Great question! My colleague, Rev. Scot Kinnaman, prepared a very helpful summary history that I thought I would pass along here. I added just a bit to it here and there. As Scot notes elsewhere when he…

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“Three Impossible Things”

This is the message that I gave at Lake Mahopac UMC Sunday, June 9th, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (C); the Scripture readings for today are 1 Kings 17: 8 – 24, Galatians 1: 11 – 24, and Luke 7: 11 – 17. Services start at 10 and you are welcome to attend.

Updated to correct link on 5 September 2020

This is about stories and change, of what is and what will be, of what we want and what we need. It is about where we have been and where we are going. Sometimes it seems as if the stories are improbable; sometimes it seems if we are asked to do the impossible. But if we understand what has happened, the stories don’t seem so improbable and what we are asked to do doesn’t seem so impossible.

I started planning this message with a thought about impossible things. But I quickly found out that such an idea was probably one of those three impossible things.

This thought about impossible things had its genesis in the knowledge that there are many people today who feel that the miracles described in the Old and New Testament are either impossible, improbable, or hallmarks of superstition and mythology.

Even today, there are those who say that Jesus is and was nothing more than a myth or legend.

But if Jesus is a myth or a legend, how is it that this story still resonates today? Did those who died during the Roman persecution two thousand years ago die for a myth? Have those who have defended the poor, the homeless, the oppressed countless times over the years done so in the name of a legend? I want to make note of a blog that I read the other day about a pastor in North Carolina who felt that his call to the ministry required that he take part in a civil disobidence protest (see my link to the post, “Why I Stayed”). How was it that he could be true to who he was if he did not speak out, in the name of Christ, for those who seem to have been forgotten by the rich and the powerful? How could he not speak out when that is what Christ did two thousand years ago?

I know that there are other myths and legends, every society has them. For the most part, we have identified them as such and they are no longer an integral part of our life. But we cannot for some reason seem to get rid of the notion that there is a God in our lives and He somehow plays a role.

And for all those who say that religion is some form of superstition or nothing more than mythology on a complex scale, what can you offer in return? What can you offer as a rationale for doing good in this world? What causes evil in this world? And be very careful how you answer this because you either have to have a god of some sort or it has to be a part of humankind. And I particularly don’t want to go down the path that says good and evil are integral parts of humankind’s makeup.

But is religion nothing more than some sort of advanced form of superstition? Is it nothing more than mythology on some complex scale?

The noted philosopher Joseph Campbell once pointed out that there is a bit of truth in every myth. Somewhere way back in time, something happened that ultimately lead to the myths and legends we have today. (“Understanding Mythology with Joseph Campbell” – original link no longer works – new link – “Understanding Mythology with Joseph Campbell”)

Christianity still resonates today because there is an element of truth to it and I would like to offer two reasons for why.

The first way that I know that there is an element of truth to the story of Christ and what transpired on those dusty backroads of the Galilee some two thousand years ago and even further back in time with the prophets and the beginnings of the Jewish people is that it was written down.

As some of you know that I am a chemist by training. One thing about chemistry is that you have to spend time in the laboratory, whether it was a teaching lab or a research lab. And that’s where the fun is! The basic rule of lab work is that if you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen. One could do world-class, Nobel Prize winning research but if you don’t write it down, it doesn’t mean a thing.

That Elijah’s encounter with the widow is in the 1st Book of Kings means that something happened and it was written as best as the writer could describe it. The same is true for the encounter of Jesus with the funeral process in today’s Gospel reading; someone told Luke about this and he felt it important enough to be included in his writings.

And what were the last words written in the Gospel of John,

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21: 25 – The Message)

So the stories were recorded and we can presume that there is some degree of truth to the stories. And we need to be telling the stories again and again. And therein, as Shakespeare might have written, lies the challenge.

We as a church and a denomination have truly failed to tell the story and when we do tell it, it is often in our own terms and not God’s. Remember what Paul told the Galatians,

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

We tell a very confusing story. We speak certain words that reflect the Bible but actions do not reflect those same words.

We hear that we are a Christian nation but when we look at this nation of ours, we often see a nation devoid of compassion and caring, a nation that divides the people instead of uniting them. We see a nation that pronounces that poverty, homelessness, sickness, and death are products of sin; that riches and wealth, good health and long life are the products of a righteous life. We argue for the order and law found in the Old Testament while claiming to be a New Testament people.

We read of the acceptance of Christ for all people, yet, often behind closed and locked doors, we are unwilling to share the Good News with those who are different in some way from us.

The reading from 1 Kings for today tells us two things. First, God’s grace is for all, not just a select few. The widow whom Elijah came to was a non-Israelite. While the nation of Israel was straying from God and suffering from an intolerable drought, God was supplying the daily necessities to a non-Israelite who gave comfort to one of His prophets.

But she also believed that it was her sins that caused the death of her son. No matter that her flour bin was never empty and her oil supply never ran dry, her belief in God was only confirmed at the time of her greatest despair.

The truth of this story can be found in the fact that it reflects our life in so many ways. We often fail to see God’s hand in what we do each day and only turn to Him in times of our greatest despair. And when someone gives thanks to God for their success, we often ridicule them. We expect God to be there for the bad times so why shouldn’t we expect God to be there in the good times as well.

The importance of the reading from 1 Kings today is to point out the value of personal trust in God, even in the hardest of times, that God will be there and provide. The widow could only see the “value” of God in her anguish but not in her good times.

This is very much what is happening today. As a people and as a society, we are faced first and foremost was a drought of spirit. There is no spirit in our lives, there is no vision of the future. We are unwilling to put our trust in God.

There is, within our modern theology, a notion from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that we have come to call “cheap grace.” It is the grace that we feel is ours but it is not the grace that God offers us. We want God’s grace but are unwilling to pay for it with more than a few moments in church once a week. Others feel that they have a right to ask for anything from a church and it will be given to them (and they often get very angry when we ask that they make a commitment in return).

But the grace that we truly need comes with a price, the price of the cross and that simply is a price we are not often willing to pay. Christ gave His life so that we would be free, so that sin and death could never encumber and entangle us. Our freedom is found not in simply listening to the words of Christ but understanding that what Christ taught is what we must do.

The price that we have to pay is that we are called to follow Christ, to walk with Him to the Cross and go beyond it. Those that saw Jesus bring the young man back to life did not just sit there and say “wow!” They went out and told others. It was what drove Paul to go beyond the boundaries of his life and into new worlds. It was what drove the twelve beyond their homeland and into new and uncharged worlds.

It is what we need to be doing in our churches today. We need to be building the community that our church is a part of, not closing the doors to the church and letting the world go by.

If Jesus had not been a part of the world, at least in the Gospel reading for today, he would not have brought the young man back from the dead. We can do little if we stay inside the walls of the church.

It is, I know, very difficult to put your trust in God that things will work out. It is very difficult to put your trust in God and go into places that you would never have gone before. It is very difficult to take on tasks that others say are impossible. The circuit rider, the Methodist clergy and laity who rode from town to town, often never knew what they might find on the road or in the next town. They hoped that there would be a warm bed and a place out of the rain; they hoped that there would be a gathering of believers eager to hear the Word.

But they still went on trusting in the Lord and empowered by the life-changing nature of the Holy Spirit.

And we must do the same; we must go out into the world and tell the people we meet about the stories. And not just tell the stories but show how those stories are a part of our lives and how our lives have been changed by the stories as well. Words by themselves mean nothing if our actions do not speak the same words.

And that is the second piece of the evidence that there is a truth to the story enters. We know the power of the Holy Spirit, its presence in our lives, and its ability to change lives. Throughout our history, we have recorded instances of the Holy Spirit impacting on the lives of individuals and changing the direction that they were headed. We know of Saul from Tarsus encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus and becoming Paul. We read in the Epistle reading for today Paul’s own words about this tranformation.

We know that John Wesley’s own life and the life of the Methodist Church was turned around when his heart was strangely warmed in the Aldersgate Chapel some two hundred and fifty years ago.

Perhaps you have experienced something similar at some point in your life. Perhaps it was as subtle as the heart-warming experience of John Wesley, perhaps it was as dramatic as Paul’s encounter with Christ. But, most certainly, at sometime in your life, you, as I, have had, experienced the knowledge that Holy Spirit is a part of your life.

Perhaps you are not aware that you have had this experience, perhaps it was not nothing more than a fleeting moment in time but it was there and it was enough to bring you here today, seeking answers to questions deep within your soul.

The answers for those questions that lie deep within your soul can be found if one opens one’s heart and soul to Christ. It need not be as dramatic as Saul’s encounter on the road to Damascus, an encounter that left him blind but gave him a new life and a new name. It may very well be a subtle one such as the heart-warming experience that John Wesley had but the impact of that experience was enough to empower the first great Methodist revival.

Part of the story that has been told over the years is that there were those who heard the story and yet did nothing and told no one. But enough people did hear the story and it changed their lives and they told others and the story continued.

I cannot say what will happen to your life if you accept Christ other than to say that it will change. I do not know what world-changing things will happen when you open your heart and soul to Christ and let the Holy Spirit to empower your life.

But I do know that your life will change and you will tell others about the story that changed your life. And that my friends is not an impossible thing!

Why I Stayed

I am at at Lake Mahopac UMC (http://maps.google.com/maps?f=d&hl=en&geocode=914904451455961745,41.372340,-73.730150&saddr=41.37234,-73.73015&daddr=&mra=pr&sll=41.374103,-73.730471&sspn=0.0599,0.142136&ie=UTF8&ll=41.374103,-73.730471&spn=0.0599,0.142136&source=embed) this Sunday, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (C); the Scripture readings for today are 1 Kings 17: 8 – 24, Galatians 1: 11 – 24, and Luke 7: 11 – 17. Services start at 10 and you are welcome to attend. One of the questions I will be asking is how could people help the poor, the homeless, or the oppressed if Jesus was a myth or a legend? (I will have the full message posted later this evening). What this piece that I am reblogging tells us that when you know that Jesus is not a myth or a legend but a real person who showed concerned for others and whose death on the Cross gave us freedom and that we need to be as responsive to the needs of the people as He was for us. David, we may not be there with you but we are with you in the Spirit of the Lord. I hope and pray that your actions and the actions of your friends speak volumes to the North Carolina state legislature and that their actions will be reversed quickly.
In peace and with Christ,
Tony MItchell

Pacifist Pirate

I’ve had a lot of memorable “firsts” in my life.

I remember my first dance. My first kiss. My first car. My first car crash. My first time snowboarding. My first open water dive. My first ride on a motorcycle. My first time swimming in the crater of an active volcano.

Having  graduated from divinity school less than a month ago, I have spent some time reflecting on other important “firsts” I have experienced over the past three and a half years: The first time I felt affirmed in reading the Bible against the grain of popular interpretation. The first time I was able to see the God-breathed beauty of the messiness that is our sacred scripture, and our living tradition. The first time I felt my bones crushed by the responsibility of speaking a faithful word from the pulpit. The first time I spent the night in a hospital…

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