“Do You See the Light?”

This is the message I gave for Laity Sunday, October 16, 1994, at Grace Memorial United Methodist Church (Independence, KS) and Sycamore United Methodist Church (Sycamore, KS). It was also the 20th Sunday after Pentecost (B) but I choose Acts 9: 3 – 9; 17 – 19 and John 9: 30 – 34 as my Scripture readings.

Caves are very interesting places. For early mankind, caves offered shelter from the weather. During times of trouble, caves offered places to hide. Many a prophet hid in caves when the people got angry. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves. Even today, they serve as places of entertainment. One thing that used to dominate the countryside, especially in this part of the county, were barns painted with advertising to come and view Meramec Caverns outside St. Louis. I am sure that many of you have seen such advertising.

If you have never taken a tour of a cave, you should. And inevitably, during the tour, after you have gone deep into the passages, the tour guide will have everyone stop and then he (or she) will turn off the lights. When that happens, you begin to get the feeling of what it is to be blind. Nothing else comes close. Even at night time, with no moon, there is still enough light to allow us to see. In a cave with no added lights, the statement “so dark you cannot see your hand in front of your face” comes true.

It is also at such times that we can understand the fear that Saul must have felt when he was blinded by the Holy Spirit.

Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.(Acts 9: 3 – 9)

The fortunate thing for Paul is that the blindness he suffered on the road to Damascus and the darkness we are surrounded by when we are in the caves is only temporary. Even while he struggled with his blindness, Paul knew that the God would take care of him. We know that the lights will come back on inside the cave.

Still, the thought of becoming blind is very frightening. Even in today’s enlighten times, it is hard for us to realize the limitations that society placed on the blind. During the 17 and 1800’s, the blind were often institutionalized. For others, though, blindness is not so temporary. It was perhaps even worse during Jesus’ time. The blind were looked upon with pity and sorrow for it was felt that, in someway, their blindness was due to some sin in their life. And if the person was born blind, as was the case of the individual in the passage we read in John, the sins were assumed to have been those of his parents.

Against the background of blindness and an indifferent society, the author of the three hymns we sing today, Fanny Crosby, triumphed. Most people are probably aware of the many traditional Methodist hymns written by Charles Wesley, John Wesley’s brother. However, I am sure that not many people are aware that over 1000 hymns Christians sing today were written by Fanny Crosby. She was born in 1820 and died in 1915, living most of her life in the New York area. And from the sixth week of her life, she was blind. The notes that accompany the United Methodist Hymnal point out that she spent most of her adult life working with other blind people and, of course, writing those wonderful hymns that we turn to in times of trouble and in times of joy.

Fanny Crosby was much like the blind man in John. Her presence and her song writing skills were to let others know what joy Jesus brings to our lives.

“As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, Neither this man nor his parents sinned, he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”(John 9: 1 – 5)

It was her faith in Jesus that gave Fanny Crosby the vision needed to write such powerful songs as “Blessed Assurance”. Through her faith, through the light provided by Jesus, she saw just as well as you or I, perhaps even better.

Today, as we begin looking to the coming new century, we hear a lot of talk about our country’s lack of vision. But why should we be surprised by our country’s lack of vision. What Abraham Lincoln said some one hundred and thirty years ago is still true today. Governments are of, by, and from the people. If the people are lost and confused, the government will be likewise. If the people do not have a vision of what they expect for the future, how can we expect the country to know where it is going? If the government is to have a firm sense of direction for the coming years, that direction must come from us, both as individuals and as the church.

Today is Laity Sunday. This is the day we honor all those who have worked for the church during the past year. It is also an opportunity to look at how we, the members of the church, can work for the betterment of the the church and society. I do not think that it is a coincidence that our observation of Laity Sunday comes at the same time as our national elections or the meeting of the Nominations Committee of the local church. This is the time when we set the direction we want our church and our country to take. Yet, at least on the national level, this direction is very, very confusing.

The tone of most political commercials today seems to be how bad the opponent will be for the country. During the last two presidential campaigns, there were a number of complaints about the negative nature of the advertising. It does not appear that much has changed in the past two years. I heard a political advertisement the other day as I was driving to Tulsa. In this commercial, the challenger stated that his opponent was out of touch with Oklahoma and then he went through all the bad things the opponent had done. For this candidate, the solution to the problem was for the voters of Oklahoma to vote for him. Yet, this challenger never did say what it was that he would do if he were elected. Kansas political ads appear to be no different.

But our political campaigns are merely a reflection of the way we have allowed our nation. Whether it is in politics or just everyday living, the majority in this country willingly let others tell them how to act, what to wear, and how to think. At the time when the world is at peace, when the Glory of God should be shining through, we have lost our direction. We stand at the brink of the greatest time of our lives and our direction is set by others, not by God.

We are like the Israelites standing before the Promised Land. We struggled for many years to reach this point and now we wait for the final report. In the case of the Israelites, it was a matter of sending in twelve spies, one from each of the tribes of Israel. You would have thought that, considering the time in the wilderness and all the difficulties that trip had to overcome, the people would have been overjoyed. Yet what did the spies report:

“We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we.” So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”(Numbers 13: 31 – 33)

And to this, the people cried

“Would that we have died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become booty; would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?”(Numbers 14: 2 – 3)

Every time during the Exodus when the Israelites ran into trouble, they cried out how Moses and Aaron had failed them and that they were going to die in the wilderness. Faced with the difficulties of traveling and living in the wilderness, knowing that the Promised Land was just inches away, the Israelites would have rather turned around and returned to the seemingly comfortable life of slavery in Egypt. Are we not like that today? Isn’t it much easier for us to complain about the present situation than to work towards improving our lot?

The turmoil in our lives today is directly related to the fact that we, both as a nation and individually, have lost our commitment to God. We have forgotten that with God, all things are possible. We no longer put God first in our lives and, as a result, have lost our spiritual direction. Like the Pharisees, we have become blind to the troubles of the world. In a world split by race, creed, and economic status, we see the problems these differences cause but we want others to solve them. Even though He has repeatedly told us that he would provide, we no longer have faith that God will do so.

It is admittedly not an easy task. But it was their faith in God that enabled the Israelites to leave slavery in Egypt and make the trip to the Promised Land in the first place. It was their faith in God that enabled them to conquer that land. Despite the negative report from ten of the spies, not all of the Israelites had lost their faith in God. Joshua and Caleb offered a different opinion of what was in the Promised Land.

And Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the Israelites, “The land that we went through as spies is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only, do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they are no more than bread for us; their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” But the whole congregation threatened to stone them. (Numbers 14: 6 – 10)

Joshua and Caleb put their faith in the Lord and were rewarded for their faith. When the Israelites reached the Promised Land after spending the extra time wandering, only Joshua and Caleb were still alive to enjoy the fruits of the Promised Land. Those who had lost their faith had died during the extra years in the wilderness.

It is the same for us. In these times of trial, all we have to do is return to God. As James wrote

“If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him; he will not resent it. But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to tell you, for a doubtful mind will be as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind; and every decision you then make will be uncertain, as you turn first this way, and then that. If you don’t ask with faith, don’t expect the Lord to give you any solid answer.”(James 1: 5 – 8)

When God sent the Israelites out of Egypt, he did not do so without providing them instruction. Even as they began that journey from the certain and safe surroundings of Egypt into the unknown wilderness they called the Promised Land, they still knew that it was God who guiding them.

The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. (Exodus 13: 17 – 22)

I have painted an admittedly dark picture of our and this country’s future. Yet, the pillar of fire which accompanied the Israelites by night and the pillar of cloud which accompanied them by day is still present today. Remember what Jesus said to his disciples in the passage from John, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”(John 9: 1 – 5)

Paul understood what it meant to see the world through the light of Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote in his second letter to Corinthians.

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of god. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is only veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of god. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”.(2 Corinthians 4: 1 – 6)

The light that shines in the darkness today is Jesus Christ, our Savior. It is that light which can guide each one of us. When we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, we will be like Saul regaining his sight and becoming Paul.

So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus,who has appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.(Acts 9: 17 – 19)

We are entering a world which is becoming increasingly dark and forbidding. We, you and I, must make a choice. We can live our lives in the total darkness of sin or we can live our lives in the light of the salvation of Jesus Christ. The question is ours to answer “Do you see the Light?”

Riders Wanted

This was the message I presented at Grace Memorial United Methodist Church (Independence, KS) and Sycamore (KS) United Methodist Church for Laity Sunday, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, 25 September 1995.  Grace Memorial was my home church at the time and it was a joint charge, so I gave the message at both services that morning.  I used Jeremiah 8: 18 – 19: 1 and Luke 16: 1 – 13 as the basis for the message.


We are a nation about to enter a new century. But while this should be a time of great adventure and promise, it almost seems like we are afraid to enter into that new century. Now, it is only natural to look at the future with uncertainty because, while we can make estimates, we have no means of really knowing what is actually going to happen. But today, the fear of tomorrow seems greater than ever before. And I would hazard a guess that this fear arises from our own insecurity, our own inability to cope with the problems of today.

It is almost like we see the future in front of us but slipping away from our grasp. Our country is becoming divided by politics, economy, and location. Each region, each group of people cry that they are being shut out and ignored. I sense in the political rhetoric today that some groups want to turn the clock back, feeling that will return the better times.

Instead of boldly going into the new century, it is almost as if we are being dragged there, kicking and screaming, by the slow march of time. The future offers us a wonderful present but instead of anticipating the day we get to open this present, we actually fear what is inside the wrapping.

The prophet Jeremiah saw the future for his country and cried out because he knew there would be destruction. The passage read earlier speaks of the heartbreak Jeremiah felt on the destruction and exile of the Israelites from the Promised Land. Jeremiah was moved to mourning and tears because of the certain destruction of Jerusalem. What God had intended for the people of Israel, what God had willed for Jerusalem and the Temple — all of it was about to fall before Nebuchadnezzar’s swords and torches. Later on, the people of Israel would also cry because they knew the pain of exile and that it had been foretold but they had not listened.

The Israelites were beset on account of their sins. Whatever hope there was in the bright days of summer had ended; there was no hope of salvation, nothing to save them from their certain end. The Lord was not in Zion; the king was not in her. The people cried to God, but it was too late. There was no balm in Gilead, no salve equal to the wound; no doctor, even to heal what ailed them. The poor people suffered and no one could help. (Thomas R. Steagald, The Abingdon Preaching Annual, 1995 Edition, page 317 – 318)

In telling the tale of the dishonest foreman, Jesus made one simple point. When you seek rewards by less than your best effort or through unethical means, the rewards you receive reflect what you put in. The people listening to Jesus that day must have asked themselves "How could the foreman expect his "friends" to help him when he had cheated his boss? What person is going to hire this person, knowing he cheated his previous employer? The last line in the story made it very clear, when you serve someone other than God, your rewards are limited to the present time.

And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters’ for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." (Luke 16: 10 – 13)

The same is true today. We clamor for things to be done right, we seek a return to a righteous status, we want what is right but we are not willing to pay the price. It seems like our solutions for today’s problems are like the foreman’s solutions in the Gospel reading today. Just like the foreman, we would rather cut our losses and hope that things come out for the better. Rather than trying to better our lives through our own actions and the use of our abilities, we seek to blame others for our difficulties.

We choose not to act like Solomon but like the other kings of Israel who sought power. Solomon, when faced with the immensity of tasks in front of him went to God and asked for wisdom.

Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, though I am a mere child, unskilled in leadership. Here I am in the midst of your people, the people of your choice, too many to be numbered or counted. Grant your servant, therefore, a heart with skill to listen, so that he may govern your people justly and distinguish good from evil. Otherwise who is equal to the task of governing this great people of yours?

The Lord was well pleased that this was what Solomon had asked for, and God said, "Because you have asked for this, and not for long life, or for wealth, or for the lives of your enemies, but have asked for discernment in administering justice, I grant your request; I give you a heart so wise and so understanding that there has been none like you before your time, nor will there be after you. What is more, I give you those things for which you did not ask, such wealth and glory as no king of your time can match. If you conform to my ways and observe my ordinances and commandments, as your father David did, I will also give you long life." (1 Kings 3: 7 – 14)

We know these words of Solomon and God’s reply to his request. But we have chosen not to listen but rather to take what seems the easy path. Our children have been told that they will never be successful unless they wear certain clothes. Television shows today sell an idea about success that is far from reality. We have come to the point where mediocrity is acceptable. Many political candidates, in an effort to get elected, use fear and intimidation as their primary means for getting votes. It seems that politicians prefer to blame the past rather than offer hopes for the future. And, in this environment, where critics cry about the moral decay of the country and blame the government and the media, let me point out that we have allowed this to occur.

There was another time in this nation’s past when the nation was split apart. But this split was more physical than spiritual. It too was a time of adventure. The west was opening up and the opportunities were countless. People saw the way west as a means to new hope and opportunities. The country had also grown faster than the technology of its time. There was no way for the people in the east to easily communicate with the people in California. There was a solution but it was one which required the utmost effort from all those involved, the Pony Express.

The Pony Express was created as a means of getting the mail from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California. It worked until it was replaced by a new technology, the telegraph. Potential riders of the Pony Express needed to be young, good horsemen, accustomed to outdoor life, able to endure severe hardship and fatigue, and fearless. The ideal age was set at twenty, but a number considerably younger actually were employed. Only those of good moral character, not addicted to drink, were eligible. Upon employment, each rider signed an oath of loyalty to the company and was given a Bible. (Saddles and Spurs – The Pony Express Saga, Raymond W. Settle and Mary Lund Settle, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1972, page 42)

There are voices crying out in the wilderness even today. We hear them every day. Jeremiah cried out in the wilderness for salvation. Jeremiah cried out for someone to heal the country. But he knew there was no one. Our country is split apart again. But the split in the country today is a spiritual one and riders are again needed.

Now, if you did not know better, you might have thought that what I just read was a description of Methodist circuit riders one hundred years earlier. Circuit riders, I believe, are unique to the history of this country and were the response by the churches in England to the cries of a people seeking the word of God.

From the Minutes of the Bristol Conference, 1771, we read

Our brethren in America call aloud for help. Who are willing to go over and help them?

Five were willing. The two appointed were Francis Asbury & Richard Wright.

We have been given the ultimate in gifts, the promise of everlasting life. We know that the future does offer hope. We know the promise God made to us is still true. Our life has been laid out in terms of what we must do. Paul wrote to Timothy of the great promise God holds for all humanity.

For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human who gave himself a ransom for all. Our prayers during worship please God because He desires all humanity to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth. In our acts of worshipful prayer, we truly become salt of the earth and light of the world. We become agents of God’s plan for reconciliation. (1 Timothy 2: 4)

It falls upon us, as it did Paul, to provide the leadership necessary for the coming times. We must at this time decide what we are going to do. Shall we seek to be the workers that God wants or shall we sit by and watch the world go its own way? The Gospel message today is very clear. Do we work to our ability, gaining the rewards that come or do we seek to just get by, hoping that in doing so, we will get enough to insure our survival?

We are not asked to be circuit riders; just workers for Christ. Today the song "There is a Balm in Gilead" is not the painful wail of Jeremiah but the cry of triumphant hope. In the verses of this hymn, we hear the answer to our prayers, what our role is to be. We do not have to preach like Peter, we do not have to pray like Paul; all we have to do is tell the love of Jesus and be witnesses to the fact that He died for us all. The advertisement may say "Riders Wanted" but the only qualifications for this position are that you hear Jesus calling you today and that you be willing to be a servant of the Lord.

How Do I Get To Twin Valley?

This was the last of the summer series I did for the Kansas East Conference in 1995.  The Scriptures for this 13th Sunday after Pentecost, 27 August 1995, were Jeremiah 28: 1 – 9, Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, and Luke 13: 22 – 30.


We are fast approaching the next century. And it is being done with a certain degree of fear. Last year, U. S. News and World Report reported that only 26% of Americans feel that the world will be a better place in the coming century. Forty-two percent (42%) felt that the world would be worse than it is today. (11 July 1994)

There are always unknowns to tomorrow but with the new century, these unknowns seem to have a greater impact. But the fear only comes because we do not know what the future holds. It is our lack of knowledge about the future that brings this fear.

The opening verses of the passage from Hebrews describe the initial contact between the people of Israel and God:

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that another word be spoken to them.

To the Israelites, God was someone to fear. Their fear came from their lack of knowledge about God.

Should we fear what comes with the new century? Historians tell us that people back in the year 999 truly feared the coming of the year 1000. In the area of computer technology, there is a certain fear about what will happen to all of our computer files when the year 2000 because the numbers 00 are associated with 1900, not 2000.

Now that may seem like a trivial reason but it does indicate that there are unknowns to this coming time. It does lead to some simple questions. Who do we turn to; which direction do we take?

I entitled this sermon "How Do I Get to Twin Valley?" because I needed to know the directions for getting here today. But what happens when the map falls apart or when our destination is a time and not a place? For us to accomplish all we want to do in life; to know where we are going and to do so with confidence and without fear, requires more than directions on a map. (When I gave the sermon I showed the map of Kansas that I had been using that summer; it was almost totally in shreds from all the folding and unfolding.)

To meet the challenges of the coming years, to face the unknown we must acknowledge that God must be a major part of our life.

The passage from Jeremiah illustrates that very point. This particular passage is the beginning of a narrative between two prophets claiming to speak for God.

Hananiah utters an oracle of salvation: the yoke of Babylon has been broken and within two years God will bring back to Jerusalem King Jehoiakim, the exiles of 597 BCE, and the sacred vessels stolen from the temple. Jeremiah, wearing a yoke to symbolize submission to Babylon, opposes Hananiah and his hopeful word. Indeed, he announces an oracle of judgment against Hananiah, a prophecy that comes to pass in his death that same year.

Can you imagine how the people of the court felt and what they said when Jeremiah issued his prophecy? "How dare Jeremiah! The good life is coming back, the exile will soon be over and we can return to Jerusalem with our king and our possessions and he has the audacity to say that Hananiah is going to die." But Jeremiah looked at the past and who was involved in this prophecy.

King Jeconiah was the king responsible for getting Israel taken over by Babylon in the first place. Jeconiah, as some of the kings before him, turned away from God. How could anyone expect things to get better if those responsible for the troubles in the first place were still running the kingdom? Still, Jeremiah did not abandon hope for the future. In the last verse of today’s passage,

As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of the prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.

Just as we worry about the coming century, the people gathered around Jesus as he is walking towards Jerusalem were worrying about their future. But their concern was more self-centered; they worried about who was going to be saved. Had they done all the "right" things? To some extent these people were still trapped in the old view, that eternal salvation could be gained by following a set of established rules. Yet, it was those rules that had made salvation impossible. Society at that time was so riddled with legalistic and unbearable regulations that it was impossible to have a loving relationship with God. If you view God with fear and try to follow rules in order to keep God from getting angry, you quickly find yourselves lost and confused.

The problem that one gets into by simply following the law is that you start limiting your actions and abilities. It would be the same as going through life with your fists clenched, unwilling to grab new opportunities as they pass by.

The people of Jesus’ time no longer heard a message of a Loving Father who cared for His children. The rules and regulations of the church at that time made it impossible for them to do so. Many people at that time probably didn’t even know that their God cared for them. It wasn’t that they had left their religion but that their religion had left them. No longer did they hear a message of hope or promise. The people with Jesus that day knew that He offered something special and different but they were not ready to open their hearts and mind as He was asking.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, addressing God as "Father." In doing so Jesus turned our relationship with our Father from one of fear to one of grace. When Jesus was crucified, the veil in the Temple was torn open, showing that there was now open access to the Father through Christ. No longer would it be necessary to follow the law in order for salvation to be gained.

"Yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law."

The message Jesus offered to the people of Israel, the message that He offers to us today is one of hope and promise. It is a message that removes the fear from our hearts. Turn to hymn #58 in your hymnal. These are the words to the hymn written by Charles Wesley in celebration of his coming to Christ in 1739. As you read these words, you can begin to understand what the acceptance of Jesus Christ into one’s own heart can do. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we take ourselves away from the earthly rules that hinder and bind us.

From my prayer devotion guide comes the following:

When we turn over our lives to Jesus, we are certain about the outcome of life. "Lord Jesus, I believe that thou art able and willing to deliver me from all the care and unrest and bondage of my Christian life. I believe thou didst die to set me free, not only in the future, but now and here. I believe thou art stronger than sin, and that thou canst keep me, even me, in my extreme of weakness, from falling into its snares or yielding obedience to its commands. And, Lord, I am going to trust thee to keep me. I have tried keeping myself, and have failed, and failed, most grievously. I am absolutely helpless. So now I will trust thee. I give myself to thee. I keep back no reserves. Body, soul, and spirit, I present myself to thee as a piece of clay, to be fashioned into anything thy love and thy wisdom shall choose. And now I am thine. I believe thou dost accept that which present to thee; I believe that this poor, weak, foolish heart has been taken possession of by thee, and that thou hast even at this very moment begun to work in me to will and to do of thy good pleasure. I trust thee utterly, and I trust thee now. (The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith).

Faith simply means trust. It begins with the knowledge that our own righteous does not God’s standard and we cannot ever get God to lower that standard. Faith is also not blind. It is based on fact, not mere speculation. We stake our lives on the outcome. We trust in Christ to prove His promise.

There are many things to fear as we come closer to the beginning of the next century. In the closing verse from today’s reading from Hebrews we gain a certainty about our future that no one on earth can offer.

See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven."

This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of what is shaken — that is, created things — so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12: 25 – 29)

The future can be frightening; it can cause us to be afraid. But the

One thing we owe to Our Lord is never to be afraid. To be afraid is doubly an injury to him. Firstly, it means that we forget him; we forget he is with us and is all powerful; secondly, it means that we are not conformed to his will; for since all that happens is willed or permitted by him, we ought to rejoice in all that happens to us and feel neither anxiety nor fear. Let us then have the faith that banishes fear. Our Lord is at our side, with us, upholding us." (Meditations of a Hermit by Charles de Foucauld)

With nothing to fear, we can see the directions to the Promised Land. We know the direction we need to take. As Jesus once commanded the fisherman so many years ago, so to today does he tell us "Follow me."

Boardwalk and Park Place

This was the third Sunday I was at the Mulberry and Arma United Methodist Churches.  The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost (6 August 1995) were 2 Kings 13: 14 – 20, Colossians 3: 1 – 11, and Luke 12: 13 – 21.


As I began working on this sermon, I thought about the opening scene from the movie "Citizen Kane". The opening scene of what some call the greatest movie ever made has Kane on his deathbed whispering the word "Rosebud." No one there knew the significance of this word or why such a singular word would be the last word of the great man. At the conclusion of the movie, as the possessions of this great man are destroyed, we see the sled that he played with as a young boy with the name "Rosebud" written on it.

We are in a time where it seems like we are fearful of the future. Our relationship to other people is tedious at best. I look to the coming presidential election with a wary eye because there are signs that this may be one of the most hateful, most dirty presidential elections of all times. And even more frightening is the fact that the hatred is not be directed at the other candidates but at people in this country. We have already seen the signs of such hatred. It would also seem that people are seeking wealth and material goods because it will be the only defense against the uncertainty of the future.

And while my background may be in chemistry, it seems to me and what I know of history that these are the same conditions that preceded the Great Depression. I have my grandfather’s diary that he wrote while in the military and his description of the country at the time of Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1933 was a very bleak description.

From the title of this sermon, you can guess that there is some sort of connection to the game of Monopoly. Monopoly is a product of the period in our history we call the Great Depression. As you may now, once you own all the properties of the same color group, you have a monopoly (hence the name of the game) and you are permitted to put houses and ultimately a hotel on the property. As the number of houses increases, so does the rent the other players must pay should they land on them.

Boardwalk and Park Place represent the two most expensive properties in the game. And, for many players, the ones most prized. Yet, serious players of the game of Monopoly will tell you that if you want to win the game, you should try to get the properties at the 2nd and 3rd corners, the reds and greens. You see, analysis has shown that people are more likely to land on those properties than they are to land on either Boardwalk or Park Place. If you concentrate on trying to get the two most expensive properties and then try to get the appropriate houses and hotels, you may find that you end up losing the game.

Monopoly is a game where success comes from the acquisition of property and money. And there are people who feel that is the only way to be in real life today. Our society seems enamored with wealth and encourages all to seek more. We are nothing if we don’t have everything. Still, I saw a tee-shirt the other day with one of those great sayings "He who dies with the most toys, still dies." After all, despite all his riches, Citizen Kane died a lonely and unhappy man, wanting only the one thing money truly cannot buy, the happiness of his youth.

It might seem at first glance that a paradox exists between the readings in the Old Testament and the Gospel today. In the Gospel reading today Jesus warned us that to solely relying on material possessions was folly. Yet, Elisha got mad at Jehoash because he didn’t stamp the arrows enough. On one hand, we are warned against the gathering of materials solely to have them yet when given the opportunity we might get criticized for not taking enough. But the paradox is in not what we have in terms of material goods, but the priorities that we place on life.

As Paul points out, when we accept Jesus Christ as our own personal savior, our relationship with God changes. No longer can we allow the material things to drive us. We must turn our around our direction and completely follow Christ.

Elisha was dying and in his final moments he sought desperately to insure the kingdom of Israel. Even as he was dying, Elisha tried to save the country he loved and worked for. Yet, they did not have the faith that God would provide for their safety and security. The power of victory over evil was given to the Israelites but they did not take advantage of it. Elisha was angry with Jehoash, not because he didn’t stamp the arrows enough times, but because he did not have faith in God and would not take all that God would give him.

Jesus tells that no matter how much our material wealth is, if we are poor in Spirit then we have nothing. Tying up our lives in material things leads to nothing. Consider what happen when God took the Israelites into the Promised Land. Every day, He provided the necessary food and water. And when some took more than their share, maggots infested their food. When it was the day before the Sabbath, the Israelites were told to take enough for two days. If they didn’t, they had to would have to wait until the day after the Sabbath. God provided.

The amazing thing about God’s provisions is that it goes beyond the simple needs of life. It also includes the skills needed. Go back at look at all the times that God called a leader to duty. Moses said that he couldn’t speak so how could lead the Israelites; Jeremiah claimed he was too young. Even Peter denied the Lord. It seems like every time we are asked by God to do something, we try to get out of it. Yet, God has never left anyone whom He has called alone and without the necessary skills. When God calls for you to work for him, will you hesitate or like the verses of Hymn #593, will you answer "Here I am Lord"?

We are in a society that is going to place extraordinary demands on people in the coming years. There are those who argue against the technological changes that are coming because they will remove the human aspect from life. I would say that, when you look at live today, it may be that we have already done so. Be it at work or at rest, we have taken the soul out of our live. We no longer talk about hope and we rely on the material goods to make it through life.

Viewed from an earthly viewpoint, life on this planet may look rather bleak. It is very difficult to talk about heaven, to believe that Christ is the answer we so desperately seek when the world around us is so tied up in the very ways of life that Paul told the Colossians to forgo.

But if we change our life as Paul suggested to the Colossians, that viewpoint will change. In accepting Christ, our life is no longer centered on the gain of material things but rather is centered in Christ. Our whole live changes; our viewpoint of life changes.

When I began working on this sermon, all I could think of was wealth and associated images. Needless to say, I struggled with the sermon. But, when we focus our lives on Christ, when we let Christ direct and guide us, then life takes on a whole new meaning.

Boardwalk and Park Place are nice properties to have when playing the game of Monopoly but acquiring the most expensive properties is not necessarily the way we want to live our daily lives. And we stop to remember, Jesus does have some real nice property that has been bought and paid for with his blood. Consider what Jesus told his disciples on the night of the Last Supper.

"Set your troubled hearts at rest. Trust in God always; trust also in me. There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house; if it were not so I should have told you; for I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I shall come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also; and you know the way I am taking." (John 14: 1 – 5)

Doesn’t the palace with the many rooms seem a better piece of property?

We Gather Together

This was the second of three Sundays that I was at Mulberry (KS) and Arma (KS) United Methodist Churches.  As I will allude to in the message, this was the Sunday following the completion of Vacation Bible School.  It wasn’t part of the “assignment” but since the church did not have a regularly assigned pastor (which is why I was there for three weeks), I spent the mornings at the Arma church helping where I could and leading the daily devotions.

Now, it turned out that one tradition of VBS there was that the children picked the Scripture readings for the Sunday service.  The Scripture readings that were selected were 1 Kings 19: 11 – 13, Matthew 14: 13 – 21, and John 20: 24 – 29.  Not quite the regular lectionary and I suppose if I had had more experience, I might have picked one of the three and focused on that particular scripture.  However, I was just beginning and I thought that you needed to use all three readings, and this Sunday, with the children having picked the verses, it was especially important that I use all three.

So here is the message for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, 30 July 1995.

(I would also add that I had the pleasure of meeting Rose Sims two years before while I was still living in Minnesota.  It turns out that we shared a common bond of having both gone to the University of Missouri and having John Voth as an teacher.)


I chose the title for this sermon, "We Gather Together", for three reasons. First, this particular hymn we sang as the prelude today has always been one of my favorites.

Second, it reminds us that Jesus will always be in our presence whenever two or more are gathered in his name.

And third, it helps us to answer the same question that God asked Elijah "What are you doing here, Elijah" (1 Kings 19: 11)

Today we celebrate the completion of a successful Vacation Bible School. Now to some, Vacation Bible School is simply a summer time activity the church puts on for its children and those in its community. But we should also realize that it is through Vacation Bible School that we honor in part the tradition of a bible-based education, one mark of the Methodist Church since its founding some two hundred and fifty years ago.

Jesus said "Let the children come to me; do not try to stop them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." (Mark 10: 14)

Throughout time, children have had little or no place in society. As we read in the last verse of the passage from Matthew, women and children weren’t counted. That makes the feeding of the multitude even more amazing because there may have been between 12,000 and 15,000 people feed. Jesus command to his disciples came because they, the disciples, still early in their own ministries, saw children as non-entities in society.

Even in the days of John Wesley and early 18th century England, children as young as 11 and 12 commonly put in 60-hour work weeks along side the parents and other adults in the mines and factories. For them to learn anything, it would have to take place on Sunday. John Wesley started the first Sunday School because it was the only way many children would get any education and to show them that God had not forgotten about them.

But the challenges facing children have changed much in today’s "enlightened " society. Consider the following report written in June, 1987 by Don McCrory for Eternity.

"In the next 30 minutes, 285 children will become victims of broken homes, 685 teenagers will take some form of narcotics and 57 kids will become runaways. The incident of divorce in the U. S. will likely remain the highest in the world (1986 Census Bureau Predictions). Of the 3.6 million U. S. children who began their formal school in the US last September (1986), 14% were born to unmarried parents’ 40% will live in broken homes before they reach the age of 18; as many as one-third are latchkey children with no one to greet them when they come home from school. Some 100,000 of America’s children are homeless on any given night, and that doesn’t include those who have run away from home or been kicked out by their parents. That National Academy of Sciences – not the church – called it a ‘national disgrace that must be treated with urgency that such a situation demands" (page 169, New Life For Dying Churches, Rose Sims)

When we hear facts like those, even some eight years later when the situation has not improved, we realize how important it is for us to have Jesus in our lives. This celebration of Vacation Bible School is not just for the children. It is also a celebration of Jesus’ presence in our own lives today as well. Remember that after summoning the children, He told the crowd and His disciples, "Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." (Mark 10: 15)

To the people of both Jesus and John Wesley’s times, it was almost as if God had forgotten them. The prophet Elijah was running from Queen Jezebel’s hired killers. Having defeated the priests of Baal, he was a marked man fearing for his life and on the run. He came to that cave after forty days of running, convinced that he was only believer of God left, convinced that God had left him.

God said to Elijah to go outside the cave and watch him pass by. But God was not in the "wind, earthquake, and "fire, the natural phenomena traditionally associated with God. It is that singular silence, the passage of the silence, "and after the fire a sound of sheer silence" (1 Kings 19: 13), that reminds us not to look for God in the wind or the earthquakes or the fire because He is always here with us.

Even in the worst times one can imagine, when one feels left all alone, there are still other believers. And that was the case in Israel at that time. If you read further on in that chapter you find out that about seven thousand believers left. Every time God struck down the people of Israel, he always left behind a core of true believers. And as long as the believers were there, so was God.

Today we look at the church and the impact it can have on a community. I believe that there were more children at VBS. this summer than every before and that many of the children were not from this church. In fact, that is one reason why we have Vacation Bible School, to reach out to those who do not know Jesus. Bishop Earl Hunt, who served as President of the United Methodist Council of Bishops spoke of the impact of the church in a community.

". . . whenever the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is turned loose in a community to help human beings and meet their needs and lift up the name of Jesus Christ, that church becomes indispensable in the community." (pages 173 – 174, New Life For Dying Churches, Rose Sims)

Can you imagine the impact the feeding of the multitudes, not once but twice, had on the community of Israel? The people of Israel were already hearing stories of the power of Jesus. And as more and more people heard, they came to hear him and be near him and be healed by him. The crowds had grown to the point that for Jesus to escape, He had to take to a boat and sail across the lake. It was to get away from the crowds that lead to the passage in Matthew that we read today. While very few people may have had a great understanding of who Jesus was or what his mission was, they did know that what he offered was far greater than anything they had received up to that time.

When Jesus died on the cross, some of his followers may have again felt like God had forsaken them once more. Many may have given up and gone home, convinced there was hope of being saved, of gaining the freedom they so long cherished. But just as Elijah was not alone, there were some who were not ready to stop believing. Those that believed in his resurrection kept the faith.

Still doubts remained. Thomas would not just accept the word of his friends as proof of the resurrection; he had to see the proof. Our world is much the same way today. There are those today who wonder if our society and country are headed in the right direction. We demand proof that Jesus is still here.

My friends, the proof is there. As Jesus told Thomas, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." (John 20: 29)

The effect of the first Bible School started by John Wesley can be seen in what happened to England at the time France was undergoing its bloody revolution. Changes occurred in England, changes which made society better without the cost of blood. We see it in the eyes of the children who came to Vacation Bible School every day; we see it in the eyes of people at Gentry House as the kids sang for them on Friday.

I believe because I have seen the Spirit of the Lord work to turn around a church from the point almost closing to closing the purchase of 5 acres of land for a newer and bigger church within three years of the ministry. The words that Bishop Hunt spoke were spoken at a small country church in Florida that a few years before it too was about to be closed. Hope for the presence of Christ in that community would have disappeared were it not for Rose Sims. She became the pastor of that church and with the assistance of the congregation turned it around and made it a force in that community.

The best description of her work with this church was written by a reporter for the Tampa Tribune, George Lane.

Once the rural church was the strength of America, and the Methodist Church in Trilby and hundreds of other towns like this are fertile soil for the church’s rebirth in Florida, America, and maybe the world. What is happening at the Trilby Methodist Church offers new hope. When the world is at its worst, that is when the church must be at its best." (New Life For Dying Churches, Dr. Rose Sims)

If you ask Dr. Sims how all of that was accomplished she will tell you it was because the work done at Trilby was done for Jesus. The secret behind the rebirth of the Trilby Church was that the preaching of the Gospel was accompanied by work in the community.

We gather here today to ask the Lord’s blessing because we know that through Jesus Christ, it becomes possible for us to answer God’s question to Elijah. And on that day when Jesus was uplifted into heaven, He told His disciples

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28: 19 – 20)

And while Vacation Bible School is through for the summer, our gathering here today in its celebration helps us to renew this great commission.

Are You Waiting For The Lord?

This was the first of three Sundays where I was at the Mulberry (KS) and Arma (KS) United Methodist Churches.  This was the 8th Sunday after Pentecost and I used 2 Kings 4: 8 – 17, Colossians 1: 21 – 29, and Luke 10: 38 – 42 as the Scriptures.


I was reminded of the story about the two vultures sitting in the tree where one vulture turns to the other and says, "I am tired of waiting; I’m going to do something." Waiting is part of life for vultures, for they could not survive otherwise.

But waiting is somehow not in our makeup. Occasionally, our lives are made enjoyable because we are impatient. The excitement of the Indiana Jones movies comes from the transition between scenes as Indy is caught in one predicament after another.

Still, for the most part, we do not find it convenient to wait. Our news and view of life is based on sound bites, short scripts that we can ingest. It is said that the average attention span is around 15 minutes. If a politician wants to make a point, it has to be done in less than 15 minutes or we lose interest. A great deal of time and money has gone into the "fast food" industry. If we are in a hurry to eat at home, we "zap" things in the microwave. And if our lives are rushed so much that we don’t have time to even microwave things, then there are businesses which will deliver a complete dinner to your door (though I don’t know such a business here in the Pittsburg area).

Our impatience even enters into our church life as well. Many a pastor is judged not on the content of his sermons but only on the length of the message. Fortunately for me, as one of my preacher cousins has told me, my sermons are just the right length. But sometimes in our own church services, we begin to watch the clock rather than listen to the words. And many times we find ourselves saying, "I can’t come to church today but I will be there in spirit." Sometimes we can’t come to church. We might be on the road traveling (though I would hope you go to church somewhere) and I don’t think a person who is physically exhausted should come to church. But too often, when we get up on Sunday morning, it is that little ache which keeps us from going to church.

We find ourselves trapped in a paradox. Society demands a pace that we often cannot maintain and we find ourselves seeking a moment of rest. Yet, while Sunday was meant to be a day of rest, it was also meant to be a day of celebration of God’s presence in our lives.

So while Sunday still serves as the day of rest, we find ourselves too weak to celebrate. And when we begin losing touch with those things that give life meaning and purpose, then all the work and pressure put on us by society begins to takes it tolls. Jesus asked to consider the pace of our lives when he said "What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?"(Luke 9: 25)

Consider the Gospel message for today. Martha is busy in the kitchen and dining room getting dinner ready. This is a formidable task because there was a few more guests than normal and she wanted to make a good impression. Wouldn’t we all, especially considering who was visiting.

But there was Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, along with the other disciples. Consider how Martha felt, trying to get everything done, with more things to do than there was time and what was her sister Mary doing just sitting there listening to Jesus.

No wonder Martha exclaims "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me."(Luke 10: 40)

But, what does Jesus tell her? "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10: 41)

Jesus’ message is that our relationship with God and the time we spend with him is more important than whatever else we might do. This message suggests that we change the way we behave in society.

Human nature in Jesus’ time was no different from human nature today. In our rush to get things done, we miss the important parts of life. The prophet Amos said to the people of Israel, "Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it." (Amos 8: 12)

I think that was what Paul was trying to tell the people at Colossae.

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. (Colossians 1: 21 – 22)

Even with their faith in Christ, they were having trouble understanding when the promise of a life in Christ would come. Paul was cautioning not to turn back to their previous live because they did not see immediate results and to never lose hope, even if it meant waiting for the Lord.

When we turn to God in prayer, we often find that our prayers are not answered immediately. Often times, we are not prepared to hear the answer. Perhaps we did not hear the answer because we were too busy. We must pause in our daily, not weekly, lives so that we can hear His answer. In the resource that I use for my daily devotions comes the following

Complete serenity of mind is a gift of God; but this serenity is not given without our own intense effort. You will achieve nothing by your own efforts alone; yet God will not give you anything, unless you work with all your strength. This is an unbreakable law. ”The Art of Prayer”

While we may not understand the time frame that the Lord works on and we may find it very hard to wait, we know that there are rewards for what we do. The Shunammite woman offered to help Elisha and the reward for her help was a son, even though she and her husband probably felt they would never have children. Her waiting was rewarded. It is hard to tell but if Martha had taken time to hear what Jesus was saying, when He was done, everyone there would probably have pitched afterwards and the dinner would have come out okay.

Now I will not be the first pastor who has ever said this, nor will I be the last to do so. And I know that there are those who already start each day dedicating the work of that day to the Lord. Still, I want to remind you, as you go through this week, to take a few moments to enter into prayer. And when life gets a little hectic, stop and ask yourself "Are you waiting for the Lord?"

Who Will Work For The Lord?

This was the last week that I was with the Elk Falls, Longton, and Elk City United Methodist Churches.  They received a new pastor and he began the next week.  I was asked to lead the Mulberry and Alma, Kansas, United Methodist Churches for three weeks starting on July 23, 1995.

It was during this five week assignment when I would leave my apartment at about 5:30 or so in the morning and drive across Kansas back roads to Elk Falls for the 8 am service, then drive to Longton for the 930 service, then drive to Elk City for the 11 service and then finally back home to Pittsburg (a total of 185 miles) that I began to think that maybe I could do something in the ministry.

As it turned out, it was not to the full-time ministry that I was called but rather to be something of a 21st century circuit rider, filling the pulpits of the various churches in this district during the summer.  (see “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” and “On The Road Again” for summaries of 2008 and 2009.)  I am in the midst of a five week series of assignments that began two weeks ago at the New Milford United Methodist Church (“What does It Take”) and continued on July 4th at a combined services of the Fort Montgomery United Methodist Church and the United Methodist Church of the Highlands (“The Problem With Change”).  I will be at the Cornwall United Methodist Church this coming Sunday, July 11th (“Drawing A Straight Line”) and Hankins United Methodist Church (“Are We Watching The Same Game?” on July 18th and "To Build A New Community" on July 25th).  On August 1st, I go back to Ridges/Roxbury United Methodist Church and The United Methodist Church of Springdale (“Time Has Come Today”).

After I originally posted this, I got the request to go to the Van Cortlandtville Community Church on August 8th (“The Answer To The Question”)

So I began working for the Lord back in 1995 and I continue to do so today.  Here is the message that I presented to the Elk Falls, Longton, and Elk City United Methodist Churches for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, 16 July 1995.  The Scriptures for this Sunday (from the New Common Lectionary) were 2 Kings 2: 1, 6 – 14, Colossians 1: 1 – 14, and Luke 10: 25 – 37.


The title to my sermon last week was "Are You Working for God?" I think that best represented what I was trying to say. The title of today’s sermon, which I feel best expresses the ideas brought forth in the script, is "Who Will Work for the Lord?"

In the passage from 2 Kings, we have the transition from Elijah to Elisha as prophet to Israel. The dramatic story of Elijah’s ascension to heaven in a storm constitutes the climax of the narratives about this mysterious figure. Of all of the acts of power associated with him, this is the one that has most intrigued readers and fueled speculation about the prophet’s character and eventual return. By the end of the OT period he had already been connected with the coming of the "day of the Lord", while later Jewish and Christian traditions associated him with the Messiah.

As we read some weeks ago, there were people in Jesus’ time who thought that Jesus was only Elijah returned to earth. But these people were thinking of Jesus in terms of the old church. Jesus was offering a vision of a new church, one not bound by the tradition of law but one responsive to the needs of the people.

And, the passage from Luke deals not only with the question that we as Christians must answer but with the question of how the church interacts with and in society. In teaching the lawyer about whom his neighbor was Jesus provided guidelines for how the church should continue.

A lawyer, or as some translations give it, a teacher of the law, engages Jesus in a scholarly dialogue. But the course of the dialogue changes from reaching eternal life to a question which is still with us today, "Who is my neighbor?"

In the first part of the dialogue and in the traditional sense, a neighbor is one who receives kindness, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself (my emphasis) (Luke 10: 27)

This is what the law required. But the law often times never told how one meets the requirements. That may be why the lawyer then asks "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10: 29)

The parable of the Good Samaritan points out that simply following the law does not always meet the requirements of the law. For while the two individuals who passed by the injured traveler did nothing wrong according to law which stated they should avoid contact with a half-dead person, they did nothing to help the individual. But the Samaritan, the one person that Jewish society shunned more than any one, was this person’s neighbor because he went beyond the law in providing aid to this individual.

In effect, Jesus was asking who did the work of the church. This, in itself, may be considered a revolutionary thought. No one had thought of the church in terms of reaching out to help their neighbors. Yet, in his message and in his actions, that is what Jesus tried to do throughout his entire ministry.

These were same questions that John Wesley struggled with for many years. He could not sit idly by and watch his church ignore the plight and conditions of the lower classes.

When you think of England in the 18th century, you might not be too sure that it is not America today. I have always wondered if Wesley were to come to America today if he might not thing it was England of his time. It was a time when more and more people were getting wealthy every day. Poverty in Wesley’s time was thought to be a reflection of one’s sinful life. If you were rich, it was because you had lead a good life. If you were poor, it was because you did not live the right kind of life. It wasn’t the church’s fault that people were hungry and homeless; that medical care for the lower classes was almost non-existent; that only the rich could afford to go to school. The conditions of the last few years have made me think that were Wesley to come back to America in the 1990’s, he would not see many differences. On the subject of poverty and one’s neighbors, Wesley said

"Has poverty nothing worse in it that this, that it makes men liable to be laughed at? … Is not want of food something worse than this? God pronounced it as a curse upon man, that he should earn it" by the sweat of his brow." But how many are there in this Christian country that toil, and labor, and sweat, and have it not at last, but struggle with weariness and hunger together? Is it not worse for one, after a hard day’s labor, to come back to a poor, cold, dirty, uncomfortable lodging, and to find there not even the food which is needful to repair his wasted strength? You that live at ease in the earth, that want nothing but eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand how well God hath dealt with you, is it not worse to seek bread day by day, and find none? Perhaps to find the comfort also of five or six children crying for what he has not to give! Were it not that he is restrained by an unseen hand, would he not soon "curse God and die"? O want of bread! Want of bread! Who can tell what this means, unless he hath felt it himself? I am astonished it occasions no more than heaviness even in them that believe." (From John Wesley’s sermon "Heaviness through Manifold Temptations")

John Wesley understood that a church and a nation which ignores members of its society could never expect to reach worldly success, let alone success in Heaven. Having accepted Christ as one’s personal Savior, you could not sit back and wait for the Glory of the Lord to come to you. You had to take the message of the Gospel, both in thought, word, and deed, out into the world.

It was through the Methodist Societies that Wesley and his followers that the first Sunday Schools were created. These schools, which became the foundation for our public school education, were offered on Sundays because it was the only time many children had the opportunity to come to school as they were working in the factories and mines the other six days. Here the Societies taught the Gospel and preached the Salvation of Jesus Christ.

What I have always found interesting in reading and following the development of the early Methodist Church is the reaction of the organized church, the Church of England. Instead of supporting the work of Wesley and his followers, the authorities barred them from using existing churches. This did not stop the Methodist Revival. Wesley and the other early Methodist ministers simply began preaching wherever they could find the space. If that meant preaching in the fields, they preached in the fields.

When we look at the world today, I sometimes think that we see much the same as Wesley did some two hundred and fifty years ago. The world is crying for a spiritual revolution. The actions of many people simply speak to a loss of direction.

Paul did not start the church in Colossians as he had other churches that he wrote to, but showed a great interest in what happened there.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians shows this personal interest in the people and is meant to warn them against falling back to their previous life style. He wrote that he and others were praying " that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1: 10)

William Barclay, the writer of many commentaries, wrote

"As Paul grew older, he came more and more to see that what matters is individual people. The church is people. The church is not a kind of vague abstract entity; it is individual men and women and children and as the years went on Paul began to think less and less of the church as a whole, and more and more of the church as individual women."

Today, people no longer see the church in those terms but one which no longer cares about people and is indifferent to society. If the church is to have an impact on today’s society in more positive terms, it must respond in the manner that Jesus showed us. Elton Trueblood wrote

Because we cannot reasonably expect to erect a constantly expanding structure of social activism upon a constantly diminishing foundation of faith, attention to the cultivation of the inner life is our first order of business, even in a period of rapid social change. The church, if it is to affect the world, must become a center from which new spiritual power emanates. While the church must be secular in the sense that it operates in the world, if it is only secular it will not have the desired effect upon the secular order which it is called to penetrate. With no diminution of concern for people, we can and must give new attention to the production of a trustworthy religious experience. (From The New Man for Our Time, Elton Trueblood)

The people of Jesus’ time no longer heard a message of a Loving Father who cared for His children. Many people at that time probably did not even know that their God cared for them. The rules and regulations of the church made it impossible for them to do so. It wasn’t that they had left their religion but that their religion had left them. The message they did hear held no promise or hope.

But with Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross, the church began anew. As Paul wrote in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians:

"He (speaking of Jesus) is the one who has helped us tell others about his new agreement to save them. We do not tell them that they must obey every law of God or die; but we tell them there is life for them for the Holy Spirit. The old way, trying to be saved by keeping the Ten Commandments, ends in death; in the new way, the Holy Spirit gives them life. (2 Corinthians 3: 6)

The problem that one gets into by simply following the law is that you start putting limits to your actions. It would be the same as going through life with your fists clenched, unwilling to grab new opportunities as they pass by. As I close today, I want us to consider that statement from Paul. Can we live up to this standard; are we working for the Lord?

What Cost Freedom?

This was the third in a six-week assignment with the Elk Falls, Longton, and Elk City United Methodist Churches.

As it came on the 4th of July weekend, I was faced with a dilemma, one that I think many ministers, preachers, and lay speakers have.  How do you speak of freedom in a political sense in a church?  The problem, that I didn’t sense fifteen years ago when I gave this message but which I think is far too common today, is that many pastors and too many laity put God at the head of our armed forces.  As one general said a couple of years ago, our God is better than their God.  The only problem with this statement is that their God is our God.

Freedom is more than political or military superiority.  I wonder when we are going to learn that?

So, here is the message that I presented on the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 2 July 1995.  The Scriptures (from the New Common Lectionary) are 1 Kings 19: 15 – 21, Galatians 5: 1, 13 – 25, and Luke 9: 51 – 62.


What is freedom? That may be one of the most difficult concepts man has ever been asked to define. Freedom could be considered one’s ability to choose and guide one’s own life. To a sixteen-year-old, freedom is a driver’s license. Freedom to worship at a church of one’s choosing, our very presence here today, was one of the reasons this country was founded. I really think that the political debates that we listen to over the course of the next few months, nor matter what is actually said, will center on a definition of freedom.  (As I noted in “Another One” where I related a story about my life, this story is one that I have used in the past as well.  This was the first time that I put the idea of freedom into the context of turning 16 and getting one’s driver’s license.  I expanded the story on other occasions.)

What is the cost of freedom? That is the hidden question. As we have discovered at some point in time, becoming freedom does not come cheap. To the sixteen-year old, having a driver’s license means nothing if there is no gas in the car, or for that matter, if there is no car. When we leave home and are finally free, we find out that we must still pay the rent and utilities.

I grew up on Air Force bases in the fifties and sixties and the price of freedom was seen by the B-52 bombers that flew from some of those bases. As long as those planes sat on the runway with the bomb bay doors open, we knew we were safe. For those planes were the alert planes, scheduled only to fly if we went to war with the Soviet Union. The cost of freedom in those days was eternal vigilance.

But today, I speak of a different freedom. What is it to live a life without sin? But what is the cost of that freedom? As Paul has written, in Christ we have our freedom from sin. But that freedom comes with a cost. To some, that cost and the freedom it gains is not worth the price. Faced with the perils and unknown of the wilderness in front of them and the Egyptian army behind them, the Israelites were willing to go back into slavery in Egypt rather than being free and becoming their own nation. In Exodus 14: 10 – 14 we read

When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they were in great fear. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord; and they said to Moses, "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness." And Moses said to the people, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today, for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still." (Exodus 14: 10 – 14)

Many people often think that being a Christian is dull and boring. In terms of early America, all we have to do is think of the Puritans and the seemingly humorless life they lead. Perhaps the Puritans, as we think of their lifestyle, overdid it the structure of life a bit. But we must realize that freedom without structure is a hollow freedom. In seeking the fruits of freedom without concern many people find out that their life is empty and without purpose. Without a structure, we allow sin to invade our lives. That is why the Israelites would have gone back to Egypt; there they had a familiar structure. It was the covenant that God offered them that provided the structure of freedom that they needed.

When we choose freedom, that is, when we choose to follow Christ, we choose a path from which we cannot turn back. In the passage from Luke, Jesus set his eyes on Jerusalem. We know that look; we have all seen it in others. It is the look of single-mindedness, of determination.

Jesus knew that his mission on this earth would only succeed when He went to Jerusalem and that nothing was going to stop him from that journey. Not even a village which ignored him.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence knew full well that signing that document put them on a single path. If the revolution was a success, they would have a new country. If the revolution failed, they would be hanged by the British as traitors. To them, freedom from England was well worth that price. And when the time came, there was no hesitation on their part to sign that document.

When Elijah came to Elisha and made him the offer to be his replacement, Elisha’s first response was hesitation. He thought that he would have time to say good-bye to his parents. That, of course, is the natural thing to do. Still, faced with the rebuke from Elijah, Elisha went forward. Elisha’s act of burning the yoke, killing his oxen, and using the fire to cook the food for his workers was as dramatic a step as the flourish John Hancock used when he signed the Declaration of Independence. Having destroyed all that was his previous life; Elisha could now go forward as Elijah’s successor.

William Barclay commented that "To Paul, a theology was not of the slightest use unless it could be lived out in the world." To John Wesley, your life had but one direction when you surrender it to Christ. That is why Jesus told the young man that he could not bury his father. He was not being callous or unconcerned about Jewish tradition. But if the young man was to follow Him, that path must be his first priority. When you choose to surrender your life to Christ, there is no other path you can follow; there is no other task that you can undertake.

The cost of freedom today is simple. Commit our lives to Christ. As Paul wrote some many times,

"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2: 20)

We are no longer slaves to sin; no longer are we prisoners to the sins of the flesh but our lives are centered on Christ and we can go forward knowing that our freedom is truly that. And a life in Christ serves us well in our work, be it the factory, the schoolroom, the desk, or the farm, and in our play. By living in Christ, God becomes a part of our everyday life and that is a reason to celebrate.

Another One

This was the second in a five-week assignment with the Elk Falls, Longton, and Elk City United Methodist Churches.

This was the message for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, 25 June 1999.  The Scriptures from the New Common Lectionary were 1 Kings 19: 9 – 14, Galatians 3: 23 – 29, Luke 9: 18 – 24.  And yes, I have used the story about my brothers and sister many times.  This would be the first time I related it to the Gospel reading.


I am the oldest of four children. When I graduated from high school in 1968, I immediately moved to Kirksville, Missouri, where I started (actually continued) my college studies. In 1980, when circumstances required it, I moved back to Memphis. In doing so, I surprised a lot of people who were not aware that Terry, Tim, and Tracey Mitchell had an older brother. Often times, when I would show up at a place with my brothers, the comment made was "You mean there’s another one!"

This response was often in surprise because no one expected there to be an older Mitchell brother. But I don’t think it was that type of response the disciples gave when Jesus asked them who people thought he was. I think that response was one more of resignation than surprise, "Oh yes, he is another prophet."

This apparent apathy from the general population also brought concern from other sources. When John the Baptist was in jail, he sent a message to Jesus. (Matthew 11: 2 – 3)

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him,” Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"

The people of Israel at that time were looking for a Messiah, one who could lead them out of their troubles. But the message Jesus brought to the people of Israel was not necessarily the message the people wanted to hear.

We often get confused when what we are looking for gets lost in the daily routine. Remember the last time you couldn’t find the house keys. The harder you tried to find them, the more frustrated you became. Consider Elijah. He is in a cave at the Mount of Horeb, having escaped Jezebel and the men hunting him down. Yet, when the Lord asks him why is there, his reply is one of confusion and depression. For all his work as a prophet, the people of Israel still left God for the gods of Baal. So God told him to stand on the mountain as He passed by. Yet though there was a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire, the Lord did not pass by.

Can you imagine what it was like when after the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, there was nothing but silence? To the writers of the Old Testament, the wind, earthquake, and fire were all signs of God; yet, in this passage, God was not in those signs. The message in the passage from 1 Kings is very clear. If our lives are not in focus when God is near, we can still miss him as he passes by.

The message that Jesus was trying to tell his disciples was very much the same message. Do not be looking for the apparent signs of fire, wind, and earthquakes but look around you at what is happening. As Jesus pointed out to John the Baptist,

…Go and tell John what you hear and see; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me. (Matthew 11: 4 – 6)

To Paul, the message was clear. Paul wrote in Galatians that the law had been our disciplinarian, our guide and protector. In the context of what Paul wrote, a disciplinarian was not a teacher but a slave who guarded and supervised children. Having accepted Christ through faith, we are no longer limited by the law but given a freedom through our faith in Jesus Christ. Through this freedom, we have the capabilities of going beyond the obvious. Our protection is still there but with a freedom never before known.

Therein lays our problem. We are used to the law and cannot see the freedom that Jesus offers. But we must realize what faith means and what it requires. Faith is a trust and it requires a complete commitment from us.

Are we prepared to follow Christ as He asked his followers? Turn with me to Mark 8: 34 – 38.

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8: 34 – 38)

This offer to follow Jesus offers us applies no matter who we are or what we are or who we would be. This message and offer was far different from anything the prophets might have said or done. It was also a message never given in the synagogue and it was accompanied by actions which showed there was a power behind the words. But instead of gloom, it was a message of hope and joy and a vision for the future.

What Paul wrote in Galatians, those verses that inspired Hymn #548 was the same message. When we come to Christ in faith, we all are one. This is not a statement of conformity but rather a statement that we are all in agreement about what we want our lives to be. The confusion that reined in the time of Jesus, the confusion that Elijah felt exits no longer when we allow Jesus to enter into our hearts.

We tell each other that Jesus loves us but do we show that love to others? Do we allow the Grace of Jesus Christ that is in our hearts, that warming of our souls, to be felt by others?

Today Jesus asks us the same questions he asked the disciples on the road to Caesarea Philippi: "But who do YOU say that I am?" (Mark 8: 29)

Hide And Seek

As I noted last week when I posted "Are You Working For God?”, this series of sermons that I preached at the Elk Falls, Longton, and Elk City United Methodist Churches were the first that I ever preached outside my home church.

This was the first in a five-week assignment while the conference sought to find a pastor for the churches.  One of the things that I did in this message/sermon was try and relate what was happening in the world today to what I found in the Scripture readings that I was using for that particular Sunday.

Scott O’Grady was the Air Force pilot that was shot done over Bosnia on June 2, 1995.  As I mentioned last week in my message “The Problem With Change”, if we do not find ways to make the passages of the Bible relevant to today’s world, then the Bible becomes a fixed document trapped in history.

So, here is the first message I gave in the role of long-term pulpit supply at the Elk Falls, Longton, and Elk City United Methodist Churches on the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 18 June 1995.  The Scriptures from the New Common Lectionary are 1 Kings 19: 1 – 8, Galatians 2: 15 – 21, and Luke 7: 36 – 8: 3.


I am sure that as a child or even perhaps as a parent playing with children, you have played hide and seek. For us, it is a pleasant game by which we can pass the time. For Captain Scott O’Grady, the game of hide and seek took on a little more serious meaning this last week. Shot down over Bosnia, he had to play hide and seek with the Bosnian Serbs who shot him down until such time that he could communicate with members of his combat air wing and arrange for his rescue. As has been noted by others all ready, the story of his rescue would make a very good movie-of-the-week.

What I found interesting about this rescue story was who Captain O’Grady thanked first when he came back to his airbase at Aviano, Italy. While he did thank the men and women of his wing for looking for him and to the Marines who went in to get him, the first person that he thanked was God, for giving him the strength to persevere.

The last point made at the Escape and Evasion school is that one should always keep the faith that he or she will be picked up. Captain O’Grady’s training provided him with the skills to survive but only through his faith were those skills of any use. For Captain O’Grady that faith was more than just a faith in the system but the knowledge that God would protect him, which is what he did. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, success comes not by living the law but by our faith in Jesus Christ. Only by our faith does following the law make living possible.

The passage from the Old Testament gives us another example of escape and evasion. In the passage from 1 Kings that we read, Elijah is fleeing from the queen Jezebel for having shown the prophets of Baal to be powerless against God and having killed them all. And now, as one might expect, Elijah is running for his life. But, as he seeks solace and security, Elijah also feels that he is not ready to be the servant of the Lord "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." (1 Kings 19: 4)

For a moment, his faith in God has lapsed and he is ready to die. But an angel of the Lord comes to him and provides him with enough food and water so that Elijah can travel to Horeb. In making this journey, Elijah retraces the path of the Israelites through the wilderness and comes to the place where Israel’s covenant with God was first made.

In effect God said to Elijah, "I am not done with you yet. You may feel that you are alone and helpless but I am still here and I will provide and protect you." That is the challenge that we face today. Do we have the faith that God will protect and provide for us? We need not be shot down behind enemy lines for this faith to be tested. How different would our lives be if we did not have faith in Jesus Christ?

Faith simply means trust. It begins with a conviction, knowledge that our righteous does not meet God’s standard. The law, as Paul tells us, helps us to discover this reality. Faith is not blind. It builds on authentic biblical facts, so it is not mere speculation. We stake our lives on the outcome. Faith is trusting Christ to prove his promise.

Look at verse 16 in Galatians again.

"Yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

That is a personal commitment to Jesus. We can actually run to Him for refuge and to seek mercy.

It took a great deal of courage for that woman in the passage from Luke to come to Jesus and even more courage for her to wash his feet. In society at that time, a woman with her reputation had no chance of being seen in the Pharisee’s house; but her love of Jesus and her understanding of what he could offer her overcame any resistance she might have had.

As was noted in one of the books which I used to prepare for this sermon, just as the people at the Pharisee’s house were watching that woman, other people are watching us as we go through our daily lives. Do we show our loving worship of Christ? Have we given our reputation to Him? Do our actions each day show that we love Christ, just as He loved us?

We see — and who does not? — the numberless follies and miseries of our fellow creatures. We see on every side either men of no religion at all or men of a lifeless, formal religion. We are grieved at the sight, and should greatly rejoice if, by any means, we might convince some that there is a better religion to be attained, a religion worthy of God that gave it. And this we conceived to be no other than love: the love of God and of all mankind; the loving God with all our heart and soul and strength, as having first loved us, as the fountain of all the good we have received and of all we ever hope to enjoy; and the loving every soul which God hath made, every man on earth, as our own soul.

Those comments come not from me, but from John Wesley some two hundred and fifty years ago. But those words still hold true today. For if we do not love God first and show this love in our actions each day, how will we ever change the world in which we live?

Where would Elijah have been if he had refused the offer of food and drink from the angel? Where would we be if we refused to acknowledge the presence of Christ in today’s world and the love that He has for us. Will we continue to play hide-and-seek with the Lord?