An Interesting Quote


“If you’ve come here to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

― Australian Aboriginal Elder Lilla Watson

And my thanks to Taylor Walters Denyer for posting the quote on her blog – see http://taylorwalters.blogspot.com/2013/07/conscience-laundering-and-mission-trip.html

 

My Schedule for the next few weeks


I was thinking of posting something lengthy concerning the changes in Lay Speaking but haven’t made up my mind yet whether I will or not.

The reason for posting that piece is that my district and conference are considering a plan where congregations will evaluate lay servants with regards to the message and presentation. Needless to say, I am not thrilled by that idea because I don’t think that it is appropriate or proper for congregations to evaluate the speaker and/or the pastor in this way. There are other ways that evaluations can take place.

I also don’t like the idea that I will not be the first to see any comments made by the reviewers. But I am not opposed to the idea of review or evaluation; I just think that it needs to be more peer-based.

So I am posting my schedule for the next few weeks and inviting you to either visit wherever I may be or comment on what I post relative to what I will say. Note that I am scheduled to give the message for Friday Vespers in the Garden, Grannie Annie’s Kitchen, and Sunday Vespers in the Garden. These are subject to change if other lay servant/speakers wish to present the message (if interested, feel free to contact me).

August 2ndGrace United Methodist Church – Friday Vespers in the Garden (7 pm) – “This New Life” (Colossians 3: 1 – 11 with references to Hosea 11: 1 – 12 and Luke 12: 13 – 21)

August 9thGrace United Methodist Church – Friday Vespers in the Garden (7 pm) – Message based in part on Isaiah 1: 1, 10 – 20; Hebrews 11: 1 – 3, 8 – 16; and Luke 12: 32 – 40

August 17thGrace United Methodist Church – Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (doors open at 8 am) – Message based in part on Isaiah 5: 1 – 7, Hebrews 11: 29 – 12: 2 and Luke 12: 49 – 56

August 18thGrace United Methodist Church – Sunday Vespers in the Garden (7 pm) – Message based in part on Isaiah 5: 1 – 7, Hebrews 11: 29 – 12: 2 and Luke 12: 49 – 56

August 23rdGrace United Methodist Church – Friday Vespers in the Garden (7 pm) – Message based in part on Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, Psalm 71: 1 – 6; Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, Luke 13: 10 – 17

August 24thGrace United Methodist Church – Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (doors open at 8 am) – Message based in part on Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, Psalm 71: 1 – 6; Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, Luke 13: 10 – 17

August 25thRowe United Methodist Church (Sunday service at 11 am) – “A New Calling” – Message based in part on Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, Psalm 71: 1 – 6; Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, Luke 13: 10 – 17

August 31stGrace United Methodist Church – Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (doors open at 8 am) – Message based in part on Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13, Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16 and Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14

September 1stFort Montgomery United Methodist Church (Sunday service at 9:30 am) – “Guess Who’s Coming For Breakfast” – Message based in part on Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13, Psalm 81: 1, 10 – 16; Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16; Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14

September 1stGrace United Methodist Church – Sunday Vespers in the Garden (7 pm) – Message based in part on Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13, Psalm 81: 1, 10 – 16; Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16; Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14

Administrative Notes


You will note some changes in the appearance of this blog. 

I also removed the pages containing my resume and publications lists.  The publications list hadn’t been updated in a couple of years and I know that the resume was probably just as old.

I originally posted the resume and publication list in hopes of generating some jobs but nothing really came of it. 

Publications are vital to the life of an academic but it doesn’t help when your publications are few and far between.

So I pulled those two pages.  If you are interested in what I have done professionally and what I have written, let me know and I will send you the information.

In the meantime, I hope that the readership of this blog keeps rising and that you find what I have to say interesting.

I haven’t given up hopes of some substantial work but think that it will be more in the line of lay preaching, other public speaking, and writing assignments.  If you have anything along those lines, feel free to contact me.

“I Am Not A Practicing Christian!”


I am at the Modena Memorial UMC this coming Sunday. Service starts at 10. The Scriptures for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost (C) are Amos 8: 1 – 12, Colossians 1: 15 – 28, and Luke 10: 38 – 42.

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I want to first thank you all for your generous donation to Grannie Annie’s Kitchen. It is and was appreciated.

It is interesting that I would be here on the Sunday when the Gospel reading involves Mary and Martha. In this very familiar reading, Martha is busy in the kitchen while Mary sits with the company and listens to Jesus teach. It must have been pretty hectic for Martha, who probably wanted to be out there with Mary, but needed to prepare the meal for the twenty or so guests that suddenly appeared at her door.

Those who have ever been at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen on a Saturday morning know how that is. The doors open at 8 and in the next ten minutes or so some thirty individuals will come in. They will get their coffee, juice, fruit, and cereal and take a seat in preparation for the morning worship.

That’s why we really appreciate those, such as Pastor Lynn, Kim, and Anthony, who come early and help meet the people and serve them. It means that everyone has the opportunity to sit and hear the words that feed the soul.

Now, you need to know that Grannie Annie’s Kitchen is not nor has it ever been a soup kitchen. Yes, it is a kitchen and yes, the soups that Ann makes are some of the finest in the area but Grannie Annie’s Kitchen was never intended to be a “soup kitchen.” Over the almost three years that it has been in existence, we have sought to make it a community and a part of Grace Church. True, there are individuals who come on Saturday morning expecting a “soup kitchen” with paper plates and plastic utensils. It is clear that they have never had a meal where they were served on plates with silverware. But if Jesus were to be a guest at your home, how would you serve Him? Is it no wonder that Mary was so busy in her kitchen?

I would have thought that some of the disciples, having had some experience feeding large groups, might have offered to help Martha but the purpose of the Gospel reading is to focus on hearing the word and not being distracted by other duties.

Now, at this point you are wondering what all this has to do with the title of this message. To do what we do every Saturday morning requires a little more of a commitment than many people realize.

One of the most common phrases heard today is “practicing Christian.” Neither Ann nor I are enamored with that that phrase, in part because of what we think it implies.

You have to know that I played in the band in junior high, high school, and my freshman year in college. I really liked playing in the band and being on the football field at half-time. But the one thing that I absolutely hated was practice and that is why I wasn’t a good musician. Understand that I didn’t consider attendance in band class practice; it was part of the assignment and going out onto the field to prepare for each week’s half-time show or concert wasn’t really practice but more of a rehearsal. Practice is that time that each individual spends working on technique or skills; musicians and many others will tell you that you must set aside 1 or 2 hours a day for individual practice if you wish to improve.

I think the problem in too many church’s today is that most people are “practicing Christians”. They come to church for one hour on Sunday and perhaps another hour during the week and they feel that they have meet their obligation to the church, Christ, and God. They give little concern to what is going on around them the rest of the time. Their lack of concern for others may not be as extreme as was set forth in the Old Testament reading for today but any lack of concern for another person is, in my opinion, too much.

If, as Paul writes, to the Colossians, in words that echo the opening verses of the Gospel of John, Christ is a part of this world and has been a part of this world from the very beginning, we cannot simply pick the time and place where we want to meet Him; we cannot pick the time and place to be a Christian.

The focus of your life has to be on Christ, as Jesus pointed out to Martha. In all you say and do, people need to see Christ. God’s anger with the people of Israel is because their lives were not focused on Him and being the Chosen People but other things, things that took them away from Him.

Being a Christian means more than practicing the tenets of your faith; it means living them out every day. Anyone can run a soup kitchen and give those who are hungry a simple meal. But if you are feeding others so that you feel good, you are simply practicing your faith. Would you serve such a meal to Jesus? Or would you bring out your finest linens, best china and silverware? How do you know that Jesus is not among those standing in line, waiting to be served?

Being a Christian needs to be more than just a label. I know of people, who having proclaimed themselves to be followers of Christ, will only buy their books at a Christian book store and the only music that they listen to is on the local Christian radio station. They will search far and near for Christian businesses so that they are not contaminated by non-Christians. But is that any sort of life?

Several years ago, when I was living in Memphis, a Christian restaurant opened up. My mother and I went because some friends of ours from church were playing that night. It was a nice restaurant, clean with a friendly staff, but it lacked the one thing that every restaurant must have in order to succeed. It did not have good food. No restaurant can expect to survive if it does not offer good food; no gimmick is going to entice customers to come back if the food is not good.

Ultimately, this restaurant closed and the owners blamed society, saying society was not ready for a Christian-based restaurant. Faith-based businesses will succeed if their product is better than the competition and not because it is a faith-based business. If one treats those who walk through the door as if they were Jesus Christ, their business will succeed.

No profession is lower than that of a prophet, priest, or king and one quickly discovers the beauty of being alive when you use your talents to serve God. But you can’t do that if you only practice being a Christian. Paul will write to the Colossians in chapter 3, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3: 23 – 24).

When I was a sophomore in college, I thought I had it all pegged but what sophomore in college doesn’t have it all figured out? I was getting ready to go back to Memphis for spring break but before I left Kirksville, I wanted to take communion. While I knew that communion would be part of the Sunday service at the Bartlett Methodist Church where my parents and siblings attended, something inside me said that I should find a way to take communion at the church were I was a member, 1st UMC of Kirksville.

My pastor, Marvin Fortel, was somewhat surprised by this request, in part because most of the students who attended 1st were not members. Still, he agreed to meet with me and we sat in the chapel at 1st and discussed the parts of the communion ritual. I still remember today, some 44 years later, asking why we were not worthy of sitting at the banquet table. Didn’t being a Christian give us the right to sit at God’s table?

In short, that day I began to learn, first about God’s grace and second, doing good does not automatically get you into heaven. I also learned that in accepting Christ and declaring that I was a Methodist meant that I needed to seek the perfection of Christ each day of my life. I probably will not reach that level but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try.

So I am not a practicing Christian but one who tries each day to live out his life to the best of the ability that God gave me. Sometimes I don’t do such a good job at it. At the end of the day, I thank God for what has transpired, apologize for what went wrong and ask that tomorrow be a better day.

And the opportunity is given to you today and each day that we gather together in worship and celebration to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. And the opportunity comes as well to allow the Holy Spirit to enter into your lives, to empower you to find the talents that you have deep within you that will allow you to live the life that you were meant to live.

I always loved being on the field during half-time; all that we did during the week was about to pay off. How many times have we heard the phrase that the service has ended and now service begins?

This is one of those times where our lives as Christians begins; the practice is over and life begins.

“Who Will Be The One?”


I am presenting the message at the combined services of the South Highlands UMC and Cold Springs UMC at 10 am Sunday, July 14th, at the Cold Spring UMC. Come and join in the worship if you happen to be in the area tomorrow. The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, are Amos 7: 7 – 17, Colossians 1: 1 – 14, and Luke 10: 25 – 31. I will be reading the Gospel reading for Dr. Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel, with his added commentary.

I will be at the Modena Memorial UMC next Sunday. Service starts at 10. The Scriptures for next Sunday are Amos 8: 1 – 12, Colossians 1: 15 – 28, and Luke 10: 38 – 42. The title of my message is “I Am Not A Practicing Christian!”

*GOSPEL LESSON:

Luke 10: 25 – 37 (as translated by Dr. Clarence Jordan in The Cotton Patch Gospels) with commentary

One day a teacher of an adult Bible class got up and tested him with this question: “Doctor, what does one do to be saved?

Jesus replied, “What does the Bible say? How do you interpret it?”

The teacher answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and will all your sould and with all your physical strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”

That is correct,” answered Jesus. “Make a habit of this and you’ll be saved.”
But the Sunday school teacher, trying to save face, asked, “But . . . er . . . but . . . just who is my neighbor?”

Then Jesus laid into him and said, “A man was going from Atlanta to Albany (GA) and some gangsters held him up. When they had robbed him of his wallet and brand-new suit, they beat him up and drove off in his car, leaving him unconscious on the shoulder of the highway.

Now it just so happened that a white preacher was going down the same highway. When he saw the fellow, he stepped on the gas and went scooting by.

Commentary by Dr. Jordan

Obviously his homiletical mind probably made the following outline:

  1. I do not know the man.
  2. I do not wish to get involved in any court proceedings.
  3. I don’t want to get blood on my new upholstering.
  4. The man’s lack of proper clothing would embarrass me upon my arrival in town.
  5. And finally, brethren, a minister must never be late for worship services.

Shortly afterwards a white Gospel song leader came down the road, and when he saw what had happened, he too stepped on the gas.

Commentary by Dr. Jordan

What his thoughts were we’ll never know but as he whizzed past, he may been whistling, “Brighten the corner, where you are.”

Then a black man traveling that way came upon the fellow, and what he saw moved him to tears. He stopped and bound up his wounds as best he could, drew some water from his water-jug to wipe away the blood and then laid him on the back seat.

Commentary by Dr. Jordan

All the while his thoughts may have been along tis line: “Somebody’s robbed you; yeah, I know about that, I been robbed too. And done beat you up bad; I know, I been beat up, too. And everybody just go right on by and leave you laying ere hurting. Yeah, I know. They pass me by, too.

He drove on into Albany and took him to the hospital and said to the nurse, ‘You all take good care of this white man I found on the highway. Here’s the only two dollars I got, but you all keep account of what he owes, and if he can’t pay it, I’ll settle up with you when I make a pay-day.’

Now if you had been the man held up by the gangsters, which of these three — the white preacher, the white song leader, or the black man — would you consider to have been your neighbor?

The teacher of the adult Bible class said, “Why, of course, the — I mean . . . er, well, er . . . the one who treated me kindly.”

Jesus said, “Well, then, you get going and start living like that!”

SERMON: “ Who Will Be The One?” – Dr. Tony Mitchell

After I had completed the major part of this message I thought that maybe a better title might be “Who Are Your Heroes?” But that actually doesn’t work because we tend to overplay the idea of heroes in today’s society and I am more interesting in knowing who is going to do the work that many people shun. In terms of the big picture though, perhaps those who do the work, be in terms of our secular world or for Christ, that others shun are our heroes.

In 2005 I needed to find a way to continue my writing on a regular basis. That’s when I discovered blogging. Blogging is a verb derived from web log, which can be consider a recording of observations or thoughts that one puts on the world wide web. When I started the blog, I thought only in terms of keeping to a regular schedule of studying the Scriptures and writing something related to those readings.(see http://locustsandhoney.blogspot.com/2005/12/methodist-blogger-profile-tony.html). Interestingly enough, one of the first pieces that I posted (“Isn’t This The 21st Century?”) was a combination of faith and science, the two areas that tend to be the markers of my own life.

I was aksed in an on-line interview conducted shortly after I began blogging “who are my spiritual heroes?” I listed Peter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dr. Meredith Eller, and Clarence Jordan and gave a brief explanation of why I chose those four individuals. The reasons, though, had to do more with the secular world than the spiritual world. But as you will hear this morning, sometimes there is not much difference in those two worlds and we can often find the strength we need to deal with the secular world through our spiritual foundations.

The choice of Peter as a spiritual hero probably had to do more with what we have in common from reading about him. I think that if I were to prepare this list today and keep one of the twelve disciples on it, I would probably pick Nathaniel Bartholomew. It isn’t that Peter has dropped off the list but I find perhaps more in common with Nathaniel at this time of my life.

Nathaniel Bartholomew was said to be the scholar of the group. Tradition has it that he went to Georgia with Thomas on his mission trip after Pentecost. While the Georgia that Nathaniel and Thomas traveled to is not the Georgia in my own life, it offers a connection, both in terms of spiritual heroes and in terms of Methodism, that is so much a part of my life today.

I chose the other individuals because their lives gave something for me to use in my own life. And again, those contributions were contributions in the daily secular world, not the spiritual world. But on reflection, those contributions showed me how the spiritual world, the world of faith, plays such an important part in our daily life.

In 2005, I saw spiritual heroes in terms of my academic life and the role religion and faith played in my life. That is not to say that there were others who played an important part in my life. During the spring of 1969, I struggled with my own faith and it’s role in my life. This is the one question that we all have to deal with at one time or another in our lives and just as we need spiritual heroes to show us how to live in an increasingly secular world, we also need those who can show us the direction that we must take.

For me, that individual was my pastor at 1st United Methodist Church in Kirksville, Marvin Fortell. His role was more personal and what he said and did had a lot to do with the direction my life would take that spring. But the congregation at 1st UMC did not like his involvement with either the anti-war or civil rights movement and, quite honestly, forced him to leave the pastorate at 1st for another United Methodist church.

And while I struggled to find where my faith was leading me, there were also the events of the mid 1960s, the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement, defining how I would live my life as well.

As a chemistry major in college, I was required to take a sequence of history courses. I ended up taking 2 – 1/3 courses with Dr. Eller and I came to admire him as a professor.

When some of my fellow students at Truman (when it was still known as Northeast Missouri State Teachers College) and I began organizing an on-campus anti-war organization, he agreed to be our advisor. Now this was a brave move on his part. This was 1969 and Truman was and is deep within the very conservative heartland of Missouri and America. The risks that we students took in stepping forth in our opposition to the Viet Nam war were perhaps minor when compared to the risks that Dr. Eller was taking, both professionally and personally.

Dr. Eller would later show me a possible path that I might walk at a time when there was some uncertainty in the direction of my life. It was my understanding that while he was a history professor at Truman State University, he was also an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. During one graduation ceremony I kidded him about his doctoral robes being a little less shiny than the other members of the faculty. That was because they were his preaching robes and he used them every week.

Perhaps Dr. Eller’s background of history and religion was a more natural combination than my own background of chemistry and religion but it did show that one’s life on Sunday was not necessarily separated from one’s life on Monday.

My own involvement with the anti-war movement on campus would introduce me to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I met him as a leading player in the underground anti-Nazi/anti-war movement in Germany before and during World War II. Later on, I would discover his writings on the nature of Christianity and our lives. Bonhoeffer’s writing focused on what it means to be a Christian in today’s world and what we, as Christians, expect and what is expected from us as Christians. He was opposed to the rise of Hitler and Nazism and their suppression of civil rights from the very onset. But what may have disturbed him more than anything else, and what gave rise to his thoughts on Christianity and its cost, was the quiet acceptance of the persecution of people and the oppression of civil rights by the churches of Germany. It is interesting to note how eerily similar what transpired in Germany in the 1930s is taking place in so many places today.

I hope that Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words, thoughts, and action still influence what I say about Christianity and how I live a life in Christ.

I came to know Dr. Clarence Jordan sometime in the early 1990s when I first heard a reading from The Cotton Patch Gospels. As Southern boy, to hear the word of God written in terms of the Georgia countryside gave new meaning and life to those words. And as you heard this morning, the viability and vitality of the Gospel has the same meaning and is perhaps better understood when written and spoken in one’s own languages. And now you understand why I perhaps can connect to Nathaniel Bartholomew and his Georgian connection.

As one who grew up in the South during the 1950s and 1960s and experienced, though not at the level of some, the discrimination so prevalent at that time, I could understand why Dr. Jordan would choose to speak out against those, especially in the church, who would preach discrimination and hatred in the name of Christ.

Each person that I have listed as a hero probably never intended on being one. No one sets out to be a hero and those who try to do so are more often likely to be failures rather than successes.

Each was called by God to complete a particular task, though perhaps not the task they perhaps had in mind. Throughout our history, there have been those called by God to change the direction of their lives and go to where God called them, even if they did not want to go that way.

We hear Moses say to God that he can’t take on the task because he cannot speak. We hear Sarai laugh when God says that she and Abram will become parents at the age of ninety.

We hear Amos saying that he wanted to be a farmer and not a prophet. But God called Amos to preach even if there were some who didn’t want the Word preached. And we read the opposition to that preaching in the early verses of the Old Testament reading.

How many of the prophets would much rather have done something else than go and preach the Word of God to an uninterested and apathetic populace?

I would think and believe that Nathaniel Bartholomew would have been very happy being the scholar and studying the scripture. And yet he took the Gospel message to Georgia where tradition says that he died a violent death.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer had the opportunity to take a faculty position at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. But his concern for the Gospel and the people of Germany living under Nazi oppression took him back home to work against Hitler and the Nazis. Arrested in 1944, he would be executed in Buchenwald just a few days before U. S. troops liberated that concentration camp.

And while Dr. Jordan died peacefully while working on his translation of the Gospel of John, he endured persecution and opposition for his belief in equality. On more than one occasion the Klan (all who professed belief in the Risen Christ) attacked the Koinonia Farm that stood for equality and freedom.

I know what you are going to say, your heroes were all religious scholars, each had an understanding of the Bible and God. But Amos was not a religious scholar and his knowledge of the Scriptures was probably limited to what he learned when he was a young man.

I am not a religious scholar nor is my understanding of either the Bible or God at the level of Nathaniel Bartholomew, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Clarence Jordan, or Meredith Eller. It would be quite easy for me to say that they are my heroes and then go about doing my own thing, whatever it may be and wherever it may lead me.

But somewhere along the line, I have heard the call from God. It was perhaps a subtle call, a quiet nudge that forced me to change direction. I know, in my own life and time, I have met Christ even if it were not in the manner of Moses and the burning bush or Paul and his encounter on the road to Damascus. It began in the spring of 1969 when I was challenged by Reverend Fortel to understand what my statement about Christ being my Savior meant and what I was to do about it.

So I turn to you all this morning and ask the question that I hope you are asking at this moment, how will we know that God is calling us? How will we know what to do when God calls us?

The story of the Good Samaritan, whether told in the traditional way or put in the patois of Southern life, reflects that moment of God’s call.

There isn’t a person who has not, at some point in time, been in the position of each individual in this story.

I would hope that none of us have ever been in the position of the victim in this story, beaten, robbed, and abandoned on the side of the road. But we have met them, perhaps more than we care to admit.

Most people, I think, chose, as did the preacher and the song leader, to just walk on and not get involved. They will proudly tell you that they are Christians but that Christianity is a personal thing, something between Christ and them. They feel that they need not share their Christianity with anyone. They forget that while it is a personal thing, it is most definitely not a private thing.

It is one thing, they believe, to be against poverty, injustice, or oppression. All you have to do is nod your head knowingly as the preacher hums along; it is a totally different thing to put your life and career on the line and work against poverty, injustice, and/or oppression. Besides, the church has no business being involved in such causes; it has more important things to think about.

I never met Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Clarence Jordan; I only know that they made a choice that went against the flow. My limited encounters with Dr. Eller and Reverend Fortel only gave me snippets of their thoughts but I know that they too made choices that went against the flow of common thought and most certainly at great professional risk.

But in all these cases and in every case where the choice of any individual was counter to God’s desires and plans, there was a power beyond themselves that decided the direction of their life. Things like this – and we are constantly reminded that they are constantly happening – should convince us that the overruling reality of life is the Will and Choice of a Spirit acting not in a mechanical way but living and personal way.

We should also see that a spiritual life does not consist of merely an individual’s betterment or an assiduous attention to one’s own soul but in a free and and unconditional response to the Spirit’s presence and call, whatever the cost may be (from The Spiritual Life by Evelyn Underhill)

Each of us must take responsibility for the beliefs we hold and must personally wrestle with life’s most fundamental questions. But once we have decided to follow Jesus, we cannot help but live out our personal beliefs in public ways. The demands of the gospel refuse us the option of a purely inward spirituality. (from Jim Wallis – e-mail note on 11 July 2013).

And that leaves us with the third choice, to help that person whom we have never met, whose cry for help has fallen on deaf ears and blind eyes. The Spirit has called us to not walk by but to stop and offer assistance.

Like so many before us, this challenge is one that we have difficulty responding to. There are many reasons why we would walk on by but there needs to be only one reason why we would stop and help someone we have never met. Here the words of Paul again,

We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.

Who will be the one that stops and helps? Who will be the one who sees to it that those in need find assistance?

Let me tell you about another person, perhaps a hero in the eyes of some. This person was my mother. Now I know that mothers do the tasks of heroes and never get that sort of recognition. And I know that my mother, like everyone else, would say that she was not and never was a hero. She just answered the call that God made. After she was seventy some years old, she decided that she would be a rock star and go and sing Gospel music to the seniors at the senior centers around Memphis. So my brothers, sister, and I prepared a CD of songs that she could sing to and off she went.

But before she settled into the sedentary life of a rock-and-roll star, she ventured into fields many would say she should have never entered. Her church, Good Shepherd UMC in Bartlett, TN, decided to undertake a mission trip to St. Vincent’s Island, a small island in the Caribbean. This was perhaps one of the first VIM trips the United Methodist Church organized.

Some of the people went to work on the local school and took their hammers, saws, and other carpentry tools. Solomon Christian, a member of Good Shepherd, was also a dentist so he gathered his dentistry tools and went to take care of the dental needs of the people, adults and children. Because of the various restrictions imposed by the travel from Memphis to the islands, the amount of medicine was limited. So much of Solomon’s dental work was done without anesthesia or pain killers. And that is why my mom went on the trip. While she was a fair carpenter, there were plenty of carpenters on the trip. And she wasn’t a nurse and her medical training was confined to the typical cuts and bruises four children encounter growing up. So she wasn’t going to be much help in the medical field.

But children hurting, especially after a dentist pulls a tooth without a pain killer, need someone to hold them, hug them, and love them. So my mom went as the team’s DH, designated hugger. Every child who had dental work got an abundant supply of hugs from my mom to comfort and ease the pain.

My wife Ann started Grannie Annie’s Kitchen in November, 2010, in response to a need for a breakfast on Saturdays in the community. Since that time, we have opened the doors of Grace UMC in Newburgh on Saturday from 8 to 10 to offer the people of Newburgh a nice home cooked breakfast and a short devotional. Since February we have had, on the average, 52 people come for breakfast and 8 individuals come to help serve. The high temperatures of the past few weeks suggest that perhaps we shouldn’t be doing this but I don’t recall a mention of the weather when the multitudes were fed. It isn’t about what you do; it’s about what others receive.

Who will be the one to answer the call? History has shown that it could be just about anyone. It isn’t defined by how young or old one is or whether they are a man or woman or what skills and abilities they have or do not have. It is how one responds to the situation before them; with blind indifference or with the love of Christ in their hearts, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Who will be the one to answer God’s call? The choice is yours today. There will come a moment in your life where you will encounter Christ. You can walk on by as if nothing happened or you can stop and answer the call; it is your choice.

Methodism and the Church Universal


This was the message given at the Goshen (NY) United Methodist Church on July 7th, 2013, by Bob Buice, a lay speaker in the United Methodist Church.  Bob uses his scholarly background to explore the history of Christianity and Methodism and offers classes in those areas to interested people in the district and area.  Hope you enjoy his thoughts on Methodism and the Church Universal.

Dr. Tony

METHODISM AND THE CHURCH UNIVERSAL

St. Paul frequently uses the word “church” to designate the entire body of Christians, & often refers to the church as “the body of Christ”.

From THE GOSPEL PROCLAMATION we heard, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

From the READING FROM THE EPISTLES we heard, “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”

The Body of Christ, which is the church

The Church was founded to continue Christ’s work in the world.

During the apostolic period, the first century, long before the New Testament books were written, the church existed & was carrying out a definite mission.

There are numerous NT references to the church

There are NT references to the appointment of bishops & the qualifications of bishops

In St. Paul’s Epistle to Titus, Chapter 1, Verses 7 – 9, we read:

7 Since a bishop is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless — not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

The church is well established in the NT writings

All books of the New Testament were written in Hellenistic Greek.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew 16:18.

The original Hellenistic Greek version is listed first on the front page of the bulletin.

I am not planning to bury you in linguistics, but I have a few points to make.

18 καγω δε σοι λεγω οτι συ ει πετρος (Peter) και επι ταυτη τη (this) πετρα (rock)
οικοδοµησω µου την (my) εκκλησιαν1 (church), και πυλαι αδου ου κατισχυσουσιν
αυτης.
Textus Receptus 2nd  Edition (Pubished 1519) ~ Translated by St Erasmus (1466-1536)
(Hellenistic Greek)

In the English NIV, we read

18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
The Holy Bible (NIV)

This is the first mention of the word “church” in the canonical scriptures, but it is mentioned many times after this.

Note that the word for ‘Peter” and the word for “rock” are the same. The endings differ, signifying that one is a proper name & one is an inanimate object.

Could Christ be saying, “You are Peter and around you I build my church”?

St. Peter was the first bishop of Rome & the Roman Catholic Church considers St. Peter the first pope.

18 καγω δε σοι λεγω οτι συ ει πετρος (Peter) και επι ταυτη τη (this) πετρα (rock)
οικοδοµησω µου την (my) εκκλησιαν (church), και πυλαι αδου ου κατισχυσουσιν
αυτης.
Textus Receptus 2nd  Edition (Pubished 1519)
~ Translated by St Erasmus (1466-1536)
(Hellenistic Greek)

Martin Luther’s “translated” the Textus Recepticus into the Early New High German of the Middle Ages.

The same verse in Luther’s “Die Bibel” is listed last on the front page of the bulletin.

18 Und ich sage dir auch: Du bist Petrus, und auf diesen Felsen (these rocks) will ich bauen meine Gemeinde (community) 2, und die Pforten der Hölle sollen sie nicht überwältigen.
(Die Bibel – Early New High German)
Personal Revision, Martin Luther’s Die Bibel
Translated from the Textus Receptus (1532)

I find it interesting that, inconsistent with the Greek, Luther says “diesen Felsen” which means “these rocks”. He pluralizes the term “rock”.

I am not sure why, but perhaps he is trying to get away from the medieval Roman Catholic concept of the “Rock of Peter”.

More importantly, he says that upon “these rocks” I will build my “Gemeinde”, which means “community”

In the Early New High German of Luther’s day & the Hochdeutsch or High German of today, the word for church is “Kirche” & the word “Gemeinde” means “community. Yet Luther uses “Gemeinde”, meaning “community”.

The word “Kirche”, meaning “church”, does not appear anywhere in the Luther Bible. Where other translations, including the original Greek, use “church”, Luther’s Bible uses “community”

Scholars can debate the reason for this. Perhaps it was because the word “church” referred to the worldwide body of Christians under the pope. Luther was trying to break away from this so he called his followers a community, rather than a church & worked this into his version of the Bible.

So, what is meant by the word “church”?

The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2008-2012 (p. 44)
(2009-01-01). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition

“Our unity is affirmed in the historic creeds as we confess one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”

The one holy, catholic, and apostolic church is this world-wide body of all Christians. The same body that St. Paul described as the Body of Christ

There is only one church.

According to the Gospel of St. Mathew, Christ said “…on this rock I will build my church”.

Note – He said, “I build My church”.

He didn’t say, “I build hundreds of churches who disagree with each other”.

He said, “I build My church”.

There is only one church. “Our unity is affirmed in the historic creeds as we confess one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”

Our theology, Methodism, recognizes that we are a part of this universal church.

Obviously there are disagreements within Christendom. Some theological, some political, some personal. Regardless of the reason, such disagreements led to the founding of numerous denominations. Denominations were human creations
– not scriptural.

So, what do we mean when we say we are Methodists?

If you saw the movie “42” about the career of Jackie Robinson, recall that Branch Rickey, GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 40s, was asked why he is so enthusiastic about Jackie Robinson. Rickey responded, “He’s Methodist, I’m Methodist, God is Methodist”.  All exaggerations aside, I do feel a certain pride in the United Methodist Church, its origin, its theology, & its accomplishments. I will discuss my reasons in the next few minutes.

In addition to John Wesley’s other talents, he authored a dictionary,

• Wesley’s Complete English Dictionary.

In this dictionary, he defines a Methodist as, and I quote

“A Methodist, one that lives according to the method laid down in the Bible.”
~ Wesley’s Complete English Dictionary

Rather vague, perhaps

John Wesley was an Anglican priest & he never intended to initiate a new denomination. He insisted all his life the he was an Anglican priest.

The Anglican Church of Wesley’s day was rigid it its polity. Only the wealthy & the royalty felt welcome in the Anglican Church.

Those who could not dress impressively or place large sums in the collection plate were not made to feel welcome.

Edmund Gibson, Bishop of London in the 18th  century, referred to the lower class as “rabble”

Bishop Gibson’s major criticism of “this group called Methodists”, was that they preached to large groups of “rabble” in the open air – Outside the church – Outside any parish

John Wesley & Methodists in general, appealed to those who did not feel welcome in the Anglican Church.

1. The original Methodism was opened to everyone

Not only the well-dressed, not only the wealthy, not only the upper class

Theologian Albert Outer said that Wesley was the founder of folk theology; a theology that could connect and resonate with the everyday man (person).

2. Methodism is an adaptable theology.

In Colonial times, Methodism spread by adapting to its environment. It has been described as a “clever parasite”.

The Church of England, with all of its sophistication, followed the English settlers in the New World.

Again, the Anglican Church was a church that focused on the wealthy both in England & in the Colonies.

Methodism picked up numerous members in each English colony from among those who did not feel welcome in the Anglican Church.

In each new location, Methodism adapted to the needs & desires of the local people, where the rigid Anglican Church wouldn’t bend.

Methodism still adapts to its environment.

If you attend a Methodist church at different locations around the United States, you will see vast differences from place to place.

3. Methodism is a flexible theology

The Evangelical United Brethren Church & the Methodist Church came together to form the United Methodist Church at the Uniting Conference (1968)

The uniting conference (1968) established a Theological Study Commission on Doctrine and Doctrinal Standards for the new church

The Commission recommended that the UMC not become a rigidly creedal church – A doctrinal statement endorsed “theological pluralism” – Diversity among UMC members was acknowledged.

The General Conference in 1972 adopted the report of the this Commission

(The Wesleyan Quadrilateral)

We do have a core Methodist theology (the Trinity, prevenient grace), but within that core, a degree of diversity is acceptable.

Our guide is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral – Scripture, Tradition, Experience, Reason.

Our theology does not suggest a literal interpretation of the scriptures.  Scripture might be interpreted with the help of tradition, confirmed by personal experienced, all tempered by reason.

It has been said that Methodism is the theology of a thinking person.

Some have referred to this as an “elastic theology”, others have called it an “anything goes” policy, which is certainly not the case.

However, a degree of diversity of opinion is acceptable

4. Methodism is theology of social & political activism

• Wesley believed that life on earth was more than just a period to be tolerated as we prepare for eternal life

“….. the ideal Christian life is one of ceaseless, cheerful activism
~ John Wesley

Wesley believed that when people are fighting simply to survive, fighting oppression of some kind, they were less likely to focus on faith.

Some see it differently – In times of trouble people turn to faith.

However, Wesley’s experience was that you can’t preach to people who are starving, those who are suffering from disease, or who are suffering under oppression.

Similar to the words of Robert Kennedy, “You can’t talk freedom to a starving man”.

Weslery saw social justice as an expression of his faith, declaring there is “no holiness, but social holiness”.

Yes, Wesley was definitely a political & social activist. Among his crusades were

• He wrote & preached against slavery in his home, Bristol, a major slave  trading port. He authored “Thoughts upon Slavery” (1772), an appeal for the abolition of the slavery industry
All of the early Methodists in the colonies strongly opposed slavery. In fact, the Methodists were the first religious group to oppose slavery.

• Wesley authored “A Calm Address to Our American Colonies” (Sep-1775), bitterly condemning the American Revolution.

“… he cannot love God if he does not love the King”
~ John Wesley

Wesley believed that the King’s power was from God & to attempt to overthrow the King’s authority was to attempt to usurp a God-giver power.

Many Colonial Methodists preached against the revolution. Methodists were  regarded as Loyalists & persecuted by Americans.

When the war began, Wesley called all of his clergy back to England.

The vast majority returned.

Francis Asbury was a Loyalist, but he said his loyalty was first to the church, second to the King

Asbury remained, & hid in the home of a friend, Judge Thomas White, near Dover, DE, until late in the war.

Cpt. Thomas Webb was a British officer, Methodist pastor, & founder of St. George’s United Methodist Church, Philadelphia, which is said to be America’s oldest United Methodist Church in continuous service.

Webb remained in the Colonies & became a spy for the King’s troops. He was arrested by the Colonials & deported back to England. I suspect that because he was a preacher, the Colonials did not hang him.

Another point about Methodism

During one of the Adult Class sessions, I read the following & asked how many would be a part of a denomination that took such a stand.

• We deplore war and urge the peaceful settlement of all disputes among nations.

• We reject national policies of enforced military service as incompatible with the gospel.

• We support and extend the ministry of the Church to those persons who  conscientiously oppose all war, or any particular war, and who therefore refuse to serve in the armed forces or to cooperate with systems of military conscription.
Actually, the above words appear in the United Methodist Book of Discipline p 127.  The Discipline goes on to condone war in very limited circumstances.

• We also respect those who support the use of force, but only in extreme situations and only when the need is clear beyond reasonable doubt, and through appropriate international organizations.

Prior to WWI & WWII the anti-war attitude of the church softened somewhat, but the policy of pacifism remained in place

Other issues

Methodism supported the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s

The 1972 General Conference, following a long debate, adopted a statement condemning the “immorality” of America’s involvement in Vietnam & called on  President Nixon to halt the bombing

In their 1986 Pastoral Letter, “In Defense of Creation – The Nuclear Crisis & a Just Peace”, the Council of Bishops affirmed “a clear & unconditioned ‘No’ to nuclear war & to any use of nuclear weapons”

• By this Pastoral Letter, the Council of Bishops opposed war, especially the use of nuclear weapons, & discussed means of maintaining peace

Methodism opposed the attacking of Iraq. Recall, we held a series of midweek services to pray that this attack might be avoided

Then, in 2007, the Council of Bishops issued a Resolution on the Iraq War, stating the Discipline, listing the cost of the war in personnel killed & wounded, & asking that the President
• To immediately withdraw all troops
• To establish no permanent military bases in Iraq
• To increase support for veterans
• To initiate and give strong support to a plan for the reconstruction of  Iraq, with high priority given to the humanitarian and social needs of the Iraqi people, such as healthcare, education and housing

There are many more recent social & political positions of the church that ost you already know about

Suffice it to say that Methodism is a theology of social & political activism

5. Methodism is a theology of prevenient grace

During John Wesley’s time – the 1700s – Protestant Christendom was almost universally Calvinist – the theology of John Calvin – The “Five Points of  Calvinism” are

1. Total depravity (Original Sin) – “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man being altogether averse from that good, & dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.”
2. Unconditional Election (God’s Election) “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men & angels are predestined unto everlasting life & others foreordained to everlasting death”.
3. Limited Atonement (Particular Redemption) The doctrine states that Jesus Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the cross is specifically designed for the elect only.
4. Irresistible Grace (Effectual Calling) – The saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom God has determined to save (the elect) &, in God’s timing, overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to faith in Christ.
5. Perseverance of the Saints “Once Saved, Always Saved”, is a Calvinist teaching that once persons are truly saved they can never lose their salvation.

An alternate theology was proposed in 1618 by a Dutch Reformed theologian, Jacobus Arminius.

• Arminius rejected the concept of Unconditional Election – Election is based  on the individual’s faith in Christ – It is not predestined by God
• Arminius rejected the concept of Limited Atonement – The atonement of Christ is offered to all people – not just the elect
• Arminius rejected the concept of Irresistible Grace – Grace is freely offered through Christ – It may be accepted or rejected
• Arminius rejected the concept of Perseverance of the Saints “Once Saved,  Always Saved” – Grace can be lost of the individual fails live a Christian life
Jacobus Arminius was persecuted by the Dutch Reformed Church for his radical new idea.

Wesley was introduced to Arminianism by his father, Samuel Wesley, also an Anglican Priest – Wesley eventually adopted Arminianism as his theology

Wesley simply could not accept the concept that God selected some to be saved & others to be lost.  Nor could he accept that salvation was permanent – cannot be lost

Arminianism became the basis of Wesley’s theology

Arminianism was a new revolutionary theology, considered something of a threat to Protestant Christendom of the time.

• A very prominent New England Puritan pastor, Jonathan Edwards, preached sermons warning of encroaching Arminianism.

• Wesley’s one-time colleague, George Whitefield, preached Calvinism

Arminianism is the core of present day Methodist theology

Wesley taught two distinct phases in the Christian experience

• During the first phase (first blessing), conversion, the believer accepts a  freely offered grace (prevenient grace) – receives forgiveness & becomes a Christian – The outcome is salvation

• During the second phase (second blessing), sanctification, the believer is  purified & made holy. – The Outcome is Christian Perfection

Wesley taught that sanctification could be an instantaneous experience & that it could be a gradual process

Overall

Methodism is a theology that is flexible & adaptable within reasonable limits.  We are not a rigidly creedal church – Our core theology is based on Arminianism & our guide is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral – Scripture, interpreted with the aid of tradition, confirmed by experience, & tempered by reason.

Methodism is a theology of social & political activism that has been influential in numerous social and political movements.

Finally, Methodism is a theology of prevenient grace – freely offered & freely accepted – to be followed by a life of Christian Perfection.

Amen

“It’s A Creative Thing”


These are my thoughts for the Sunday Evening “Vespers in the Garden” worship on 7 July 2013 at Grace UMC (Newburgh, NY).

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.

I am using the Scripture readings for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (C), 7 July 2013 – 2 Kings 5 – 14; Galatians 6: (1 – 6) 7 – 16; Luke 10: 1 – 11, 16 – 20.

I will be at the combined services of the Cold Spring UMC/South Highlands UMC next Sunday (“Who Will Be The One?”) and at Modena Memorial UMC on July 21st(“I Am Not A Practicing Christian!”).  I will have links to the messages and church information later in the week.

———————————————————————–

When I first read the Scriptures for this weekend, my first thoughts were on verse 1 of the New Testament reading from Galatians as it was translated in The Message, “Live creatively, friends.” Paul would later write, in verses 4 and 5, “ Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”

Doing the creative best that you can is one of the most challenging things we have facing us today. First, because we are not wiling to be creative; perhaps because we are somewhat afraid to venture into new areas of thought and activity.

But being creative does not necessarily mean that one has to be on the level of, say, an Albert Einstein or a Johann Sebastian Bach. It will require that you think about things in a different way.

This day, July 7th, has a special meaning for me in that it is the birth date of my oldest daughter Melanie. I am, of course, naturally proud of all that she has done but that was because I could see, even many years ago, how she would be successful in the endeavors she choose to undertake. When she was perhaps ten years old, we had a small father/daughter discussion that based on the fact that I was her father and she was my daughter and my decision perhaps carried more weight that her thoughts on the matter. At the end of the discussion, I said to her that she, who at the age was very tall, could tell me “no” when she could look me directly in the eye.

So, after perhaps a brief pause, she jumped on the bed so that she was now at more of an eye level and told me “no”. What could I do but acknowledge her refusal. (I do not know what her mother thought of this.)

To be creative is more of seeing beyond the moment; sometimes it can mean taking an ordinary task and doing it in a slightly different manner. Holding a worship service on a Friday or Sunday evening in the gardens of Grace Church would, I hope, be one such creative thought. Having a breakfast on Saturday mornings and serving the people with silverware and plates rather than plastic and paper would be perhaps another.

Yes, being creative can be a challenge! It means that you cannot accept the traditional path but sometimes follow a different idea. As Pastor Christy Thomas pointed out in a recent post, “Further Thoughts on the Texas Abortion Decision: Reframing the Question”, you can spend all of your time looking at a problem in traditional ways, i.e., “the bottom line”; or you can reframe the question in terms of what you are really trying to accomplish.  I also saw two other posts on the Methoblog that speak to thinking in different terms that speak to creative solutions.  Unfortunately, I forgot to write them down so I could put in the links.

Naaman, an important general in what we would called the Syrian army today, contracted leprosy. Of all the diseases, illnesses, and maladies that befell the people of the Bible, leprosy was perhaps the most feared because of the way it disfigured the body. Its victims were forced into exile, driven apart from contact with society. Its toil was more than just the physical aspects; in exile, one lost everything, power, prestige, position. So we can have some idea of what is going through Naaman’s mind when he knows what he has contracted. But what is his response?

His response is one of position, power, and prestige as if those items can somehow provide the cure. And response given by the king of Israel is also stated in terms of power, prestige, and position. He says that he doesn’t have the capability of providing what Naaman wants because he doesn’t have that same power, prestige, and position.

But Elisha suggests an alternative, one of course that Naaman doesn’t immediately accept for he, Naaman, still thinks in the traditional way that my power, prestige, and position will provide the cure.

Elisha offered a creative solution that required Naaman to see things differently. As one of Naaman’s servants pointed out, said, “Father, if the prophet had asked you to do something hard and heroic, wouldn’t you have done it? So why not this simple ‘wash and be clean’?”

I have always gotten a sense of rejoicing when I read about the return of the seventy from that very first mission trip that was the Gospel reading for today. It was not written but you have to get the sense that when they left they didn’t think that they could take on the task that Jesus was giving them.

But as Jesus pointed out, it really wasn’t the seventy who had achieved the great things that happened but rather God working through them. That they opened their hearts and minds to the power of the Holy Spirit enabled the work to be accomplished.

This is what Paul speaks of when he, I believe, speaks of the creative power of the Holy Spirit. If you are doing it for yourself or in the same old way, then failure is the only option. If you are doing it for others, then success will come.

Whether we are speaking of what we must do individually or collectively, we have to see that the same old ways, tried and true though they may be, no longer work. We see people looking for something, something more than can be found in the old pathways. We see people whose only thought is for themselves as if that will provide the answers.

And we hear others who say that Jesus is the answer, provided of course, that you do it their way. But when you do it their way, you are walking with them and not God. And it was only by walking with God that the seventy were able to be successful.

The creative thing only happens when you share what you have found with others and it starts with Christ. So we invite you all today to open your hearts and your minds to Christ, to let Him in so that the direction of your life, your walk changes. And in letting Christ into your life, you allow the Holy Spirit to empower you and embrace you and give you the ability to be creative.