The State and Meaning of Thanksgiving – 2013

I begin these thoughts on the meaning or state of thanksgiving in 2013 by looking at the world around us.

I am not sure that we, today, understand the true story of the first Thanksgiving so many years ago or how it has come to be institutionalized and commercialized. We want our turkey, our football, our parades, and our sales. We don’t want to be bothered by the problems of the country or the world.

So I can’t help but think that there isn’t a whole lot to be thankful for this morning. I can’t help but think that the world is not in that great a shape right now. For every move towards peace, there seems to be at least one and sometimes two moves away from peace.

I can’t help but think that the United Methodist Church, a denomination that was one of those agencies of peace some two hundred and fifty years ago, is about to tear itself apart because the thinking of so many people is lost in time between then and now.

I see a society that is beginning to lose its ability to think creatively and analytically. We have so over-tested our children that there will be no hope of ever sparking creativity in them. And then there will be no one able to solve the problems we face, both that we know about and those that haven’t even appeared yet.

And we are going to have to make some hard decisions about how we treat this world we live in and on pretty soon; otherwise we are going to reach a point where all of the decisions that we have made in the past will not be correctable. We will have polluted the air and the water so much that it will be impossible to clean them; we will added so much carbon dioxide to the atmosphere that even those who deny climate change can occur will be forced to admit that the climate has changed. But then it will be too late.

We still have people who feel that power is gained through the gun and/or economic status, who will do whatever it takes to insure that they never loose that power. I am thankful that there are those like Pope Francis who quietly and gently point out that is not the walk of Christ. Perhaps in the coming days, more people will begin to speak out as he has and more people will begin to listen and society will begin to change. And that gives me hope.

And so, on this Thanksgiving, 2013, as I look forward to a thanksgiving day dinner that can’t be beat (and perhaps listen to Arlo Guthrie tell the story of “Alice’s Restaurant” one more time), I have a lot to be thankful for.

I look at where my family and I are today and where we have been for the past few years. To put it bluntly, we discovered a eleventh level of Sheol. Yes, I know Dante only wrote about ten levels but that is how bad it has been.

We are not where we need to be but we are moving up and for that I am extremely thankful. There are still some issues of health and finances that have to be resolved but things are a little bit better and I hope that they improve over the coming months.

I am thankful that there are creative people out there in the world, who understand the gifts that they have been given by their Creator and are using them in the manner that they are intended, for good and to seek peace, justice, and equality. This is perhaps the toughest task we as a civilization face because there are so many people who are willing to accept mediocrity as the best that can be achieved and who are unwilling but not unable to do more.

As long as there is one spark of hope in a world of darkness, there is always the chance that change can occur. As long as there is one little little glowing in the darkness, the message of peace will shine.

I would hope that today, as you pause to give thanks, that you will pause and begin to think about how you what you can to do to work toward peace, justice, and equality. That way, the thanks that you give next year will be greater and the world will say thanks as well.

This Is Our Witness?

We sing that people will know that we are Christians by our love but somehow I don’t think that is what people sometimes here. We have to begin thinking about what we are doint.


My oldest grandchild texted me this link a couple of days ago. “Take a look at this,” she wrote, “and tell me what you think when you get a chance.” The link opens an article about the church trial of United Methodist pastor  Frank Schaefer for officiating at his gay son’s wedding six years ago. His action violated the denomination’s clear prohibition of clergy performing same-sex marriages.  Rev. Schaefer was found guilty of violating the policy and suspended for thirty days. At the end of his suspension he must either agree to follow all provisions of the United Methodist Book of Discipline (the denomination’s law book) or surrender his ministerial orders.

This whole affair was news to my granddaughter. She’s not a United Methodist, so she hasn’t followed our internal conflict closely. She’s been raised Catholic, and has grown into an intelligent, curious young adult with intense curiosity about a…

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“Which One Are You?”

Here are my thoughts for Christ the King Sunday (Year C). The Scriptures for this Sunday are Jeremiah 23: 1 – 6, Colossians 1: 11 – 20, and Luke 23: 33 – 43.

Some opening thoughts about this piece. When we are instructing/teaching/preparing people to give a sermon or a message, we often tell them to make their references relevant to the audience. I know that a couple of months ago I gave a message and one person commented that they did not a single individual who I referred to (though the list included Isaac Newton) and I have a habit of using songs from the 60s and I have absolutely no knowledge of today’s music.

So this piece comes with a caveat; it may be that you had to have been born before 1950 to truly understand some of what I have written. Those born after 1960 will have no memory or idea has to how this words came to be and those born between 1950 and 1960 will have some knowledge but not the exact knowledge that those ten years older might have.

As it happens, I am in that bracket of those born between 1950 and 1960. I have a memory of what transpired but it is not a very clear one. During the past few days, as we have watched countless shows about what transpired 50 years ago in Dallas, we have heard people talk about where they were when they were told that President Kennedy was dead. I know that I was somewhere in North Junior High School in Aurora, Colorado. I know that I sat with my parents, brothers and sister for much of that weekend watching all the events that took place. But I don’t remember what class I was in at North, nor do I have any recollection of what my parents might have thought or said.

That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t affected by all that transpired those four days. In fact, everything that took place from 1960 to 1963 had a direct effect on my life and the lives of my classmates and counterparts.

I was coming of age in 1963 and would, over the course of the next eighteen months, carry out the decision to seek the God and Country award in the Boy Scouts. It would be that decision that let me begin part of the journey that I take today.

Because it was the early 1960s, there was a great deal of emphasis on mathematics and science education and, with the space race opening before our eyes, I saw a career in the sciences as a possibility. In the spring of 1965 I would create a science fair project based on Newton’s Law of Gravitation and a trip to the moon in an Apollo space craft (one that was eerily prophetic when the fuel cell exploded on Apollo 13).

We who grew up during those later days of the 1960s were beneficiaries of the vision and thought of John Kennedy. We were taught and encouraged to see outside the box of traditional thought.

We grew up seeing opportunities to go beyond the boundaries of our land and outside the atmosphere of this planet, to see beyond the moon and planets and to the stars. We were beginning to since new opportunities here in this country and around the world.

Equality was beginning to have the meaning it was meant to have when Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We holds these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The threat of nuclear war and the total destruction of the world was still present but opportunities to seek peace were growing, both at home and abroad.

There was a struggle to find answers but there was a hope that “New Frontier” that John Kennedy spoke of was going to be reached. There was a hope that no one would go hungry or be sick or be homeless.

Some might say that those dreams, those visions, that hope died at 1 p. m. Central Standard Time on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. I am not sure that is true. There were still opportunities to see and fulfill the dreams and visions of those days. But I think that over the course of the next few years, it became harder and harder to do so.

By 1968, when I graduated from high school, the answer to so many problems was not peace but war. And the cost of teaching and thinking creatively was driving it out of the schools. And while true equality for all was the law of the land, its enforcement and acceptance was still difficult.

And now, some fifty years later, we no longer see beyond the boundaries of earth’s atmosphere, we no longer have vision of voyages to the stars as something other than science fiction.

As a society, we still measure equality in terms economic status, the color of their skin, their sexuality and their gender. We say to those who are somehow different that they do not have the same rights and privileges that we have nor do they deserve to somehow think that they should. We tell those whom we consider less worthy than us that they can have the rights and privileges that we have provided that they become like us and yet we seldom give them the opportunity to achieve that outcome.

In our apathy and ineptitude, we have sown the seeds of our own destruction. We, as a society, say that we are Christians and that we believe in the Bible. Yet, as a society, we have no clue what are the words of the Bible or what they mean and we are as apt to use some sort of Old Testament thinking and say it represents the words of Christ.

We take the words of a 17th century bishop and make them the words of the Bible and the age of the earth and mankind. We take the words of a 19th century pastor who offered a vision of the end of the world and make them the words of a 3rd century evangelist. And we do not allow our children to question either of these errors.

We no longer are capable of thinking outside the box because we don’t want to live outside the box. We see a world in which yesterday was better than today and we have no interest in even knowing what tomorrow will bring. We ask no questions for we fear the answers.

The title for this piece comes from the passage from Luke. Three men were crucified on Golgotha that day that we have called Good Friday. Our focus needs to be, of course, on the one in the middle, Jesus Christ, for it was His death that evening that means everything to us.

I think that there is a point in time in our lives where we are faced with the situation that the two men who suffered alongside Jesus. It may not be the life and/or death situation that each of them faced but there is a point where we have to make a decision, a decision that both of those men had to face. And so, the question arises as to which one are you?

But we have to decide which of the other two men that were by His side that day we are. Are we like the one who ridiculed Jesus, who asked, as did so many others, why He did not call out the army of God to save Him? Or are we like the other individual, who understood why he hung from a cross as well, but also understood that Jesus offered a new vision, a new promise, a new hope, even in the last minutes of his own life?

The words from Jeremiah for today (Jeremiah 23: 1 – 6) easily speak to each one of us today. Some will hear those words and know that they have answered the call; others will hear those words and think that they apply to others but not them. Those who hear but do not listen are like the first man on the cross, unable to see or understand the vision and promise of the Gospel.

There are those in Jeremiah’s prophecy that live today. They are the ones who see tomorrow, who understand what it means to have Christ in their lives. They may be the ones who getting “dirty” helping others. They see the role of the church as more than a meeting in a fancy building for one hour on Sunday. They have put Christ in their lives and, as Paul writes to the Colossians, are learning and do the work of Christ.

Yes, this is hard work and sometimes we get tired of doing it. And in a world that sees today as the best it is ever going to be, that sees divisions and inequality as the norm, it is not easy to keep doing Christ’s work.

We are at a point where we must make a decision. Some say that we no longer have the luxury of time; that if we don’t make some decisions at this time, we will never have the time to correct the errors of our ways. Instead of Sheol in the afterlife, it will be in the present. We will, in our own stubborn way, made Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit” a reality.

But, as Paul points out, there is another option and that is to follow Christ and continue the work that was begun some two thousand years ago.

So, on this day, when our focus begins to change to the coming of Christ, we have to ask ourselves where our vision might be. Are we like the one who could not see the Hope in Christ and who died that night on the Cross? Or are we like the one, who in those last moments of his own life, found Paradise in Christ?

We have that singular opportunity. Which of the two are you?

“The Final Victory”

This was to be the devotional for Saturday, November 9th (25th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (Grace UMC, Newburgh). However, circumstances have forced us to suspend the operation of the Kitchen for the time being. It may be that we will resume operations in a few months but other factors suggest otherwise.

The Scriptures for this Sunday were Haggai 1: 15- 2: 9; 2 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 5, 13 – 17; and Luke 20: 27 – 38. I focused primarily on the passages from 2 Thessalonians and Haggai but some of what was in Luke was in this piece as well.

Monday is an important day, at least for me. No, it’s not my birthday (that was back in September) and it’s not my anniversary (that’s in July). It has nothing to do with Grannie Annie or this Kitchen (that was last week). But it has all to do with who we are as a country and as a people and as a society. And yet, for all that Monday represents, we, in our wonderful manner, have reduced it to a blip on the calendar.

It has to be an important day because it is a national holiday though I doubt that many people could tell you why it is such a day. Today is Veteran’s Day and it is the day that we set aside so that we can completely and fully honor all those individuals who have served this country in war and peace throughout the years. Still, when we consider how many veterans of this country are treated when they come home, perhaps it would be better if we didn’t celebrate it all.

I sometimes think that we focus on celebrating such things in hopes that it will bring us the ultimate, the final victory. We have changed the name of this holiday from an indication that we had stopped fighting to one that suggests honoring all those who have fallen. And yet, when our veterans come home, we do little to honor them.

Now, do not think that I am opposed to honoring those who have served this country. If anything, we haven’t done enough to honor them. But I think that we, as a society, really don’t care about those who serve. We are more interested in who won the war, not how much it cost or what toll it takes on families, both here and in the countries where we fought. And what is worse, most people have probably forgotten how this day came about and what it meant.

The original name for November 11th was Armistice Day, for it was on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 at 11 in the morning that the shooting and killing in what we have come to call World War I ended. The war itself would not end for several months, until the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty.

The importance of this that I have my grandfather’s diary from that time in his life. It was a recording of the military action of the 34th Regiment of the 7th Division of the United States Army while fighting in France during 1918. In this diary, on 9 November 1918, he wrote

On way to front again. We are to attack tomorrow. Men have been hiking all day & night, then to go in an attack will sure be hell.

Two days later, 11 November 1918, he wrote

A great day. The armistice was signed today. We were to resume our attack at 2 p. m. in case it was not signed. Slept in a German dugout last night.

That’s all he wrote. Nothing he wrote in this diary ever gave me a hint of his feelings about war, death or destruction. But there is a note at the beginning of the diary that, in the event of his death on the battlefield, that the finder of the diary find a way to get it to his wife, my grandmother. I think that for all that was not in the diary there was an understanding that death was always a possibility. For the record, my grandfather died some 37 years later, in peacetime and at home, among family and friends. Of course not everyone was so lucky as the words on so many marble head stones in the many national cemeteries throughout this country show us.

We have to realize that at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the shooting stopped. This was not the end to the “War to end all wars” but merely a cessation of combat activities.

There was a distinct possibility that combat action might resume, as the notes in my Grandfather’s diary suggest, if the various parties did not sign the agreement.

Over the years, we have forgotten the war did not officially end until the signing of the Versailles treaty in April, 1919. And while I am not a historian, I would hazard a guess that many historians will tell you that the unofficial beginning of World War II began at that moment.

As I have watched the various shows about World War I that appear on the various cable channels, I have been continually amazed about what we don’t know about what happened then. The one thing that has always struck me was the vindictiveness of the French and English in setting the terms for the treaty of Versailles. If there was ever a clear cut cause for World War II, it can be found in that single document.

The conditions imposed by that treaty would set the stage for the rise to power of Adolph Hitler. I sometimes wonder if we are not doing the same thing with our various wars today. And yet, we keep on sending people off to war, in hopes of achieving that final, elusive victory.

We as a society want a finality to things; we don’t want things to drag on. But we are unwilling to work for the finality; we are unwilling, and perhaps unable, to find a way to remove the causes that bring about war and violence.

Paul’s warning to the people of Thessalonica is very clear. Be wary of the false preachers, the ones who proclaim these are the End Times, the time of Christ’s final victory. Paul is very clear in his words that while Christ’s time reaches into the the past and is clearly in the present, it also reaches into the future. If we think that these are the End Times, Paul would tell you that you had better think again.

Some might say that the reading from the Gospel about the widow and the seven brothers might not apply to these thoughts today. But I think they just might. Jesus rebukes the authorities for the blindness in seeking a solution to a hypothetical situation through the laws of society. (It may not be all that hypothetical; I have a cousin who married two of three sisters but that’s another story for another time).

Can we see beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law? Or do we get so caught up in staying within the constraints of the law, we fail to see what might happen?

In the passage for Haggai, we read about the people rebuilding the Temple after its destruction. It is not a time for vindictiveness but a time for rebuilding, a time to begin again.

As long as we are more concerned with who won the war, we are never going to be in a position to rebuild and restart. Jesus did not come to enforce the law but to go beyond the law, to restore the connection between the people and God.

I think that, on this day, when we honor those who have served this country, as we plant flags on the white marble headstones, we can do one of two things. We can remain locked up in the legalistic and limited view of the world that says the answer to war is more war. If this is what we think, then we need to get more land because there will be more dead to bury.

Or we can think about the love of God for all of his people and work to make sure that love is expressed in every language in every nation by every person today, tomorrow and for the days to come. That will be the final victory.