“That One Line”


This will be the back page for the August 20, 2017 bulletin at Fishkill United Methodist Church.  It is based on the lectionary readings for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A.


Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will. A paraphrase of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s principles by Eric Metaxas, his biographer.

If there was one line in the Bible that defines my life, it is Matthew 15: 27.  Oh, there are other lines that have meaning but this verse defines my life.

In 1969, I met with my pastor for communion before going home for spring break.  This was not the formal communion of Sunday morning but more of a conversation between a young student and his pastor.  

In our conversation, I expressed an objection to the words which are found on page 12 of our hymnal, “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table”, words that echo the words of the Canaanite woman whose faith was rewarded that day.

I came into the chapel that day with an understanding of faith but not of God’s grace.  But when I left, I understood what God’s grace meant and what that meant for me as a Christian and an United Methodist.

What I do with my life does not get my God’s grace or mercy but are the duties of a citizen of God’s Kingdom.

By God’s grace and mercy and through faith, we have been given a great gift.  It is what we do with that gift that will define who we are.

“Who Do You See?”


This will be the “Back Page” of the Fishkill United Methodist Church bulletin for 6 August 2017 (9th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A).  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Genesis 32: 22 – 31, Romans 9: 1 – 5, and Matthew 14: 13 – 21.

This is a continuation of the idea that I wrote last week.  Each of today’s Scripture readings has one thing in common and it is perhaps something you didn’t realize was a need of life.

John Wesley recognized that there were certain basic needs of life – a place to stay, food to eat, and adequate healthcare among them.  If these basic needs are not met, then the Gospel message has no meaning.  These needs are discussed in the Old Testament and Gospel readings for today.

But each of the readings for today also discusses the need for one’s own identity.  It is quite clear that Jacob wanted his own identity and it is quite clear that Paul worried about the split between the Jews and Gentiles and the acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  And we know that there were at least 20,000 people eating the meal that Jesus blessed that day.  In the society of Jesus’ day, not everyone was counted.  Some 15,000 individuals were invisible to society that day.

But they were not invisible to Jesus and they have never been invisible to God.  Jesus constantly went out of His way to make visible the invisible, to give identity to those without identity.

Ours has become the society of the invisible and the visible and some people are quite happy with that.  But what does it say when we see, or rather do not see, groups of people?  Who are we like when we do this?

“Preparing the Soil”


This will be the back page for the 30 July 2017 (8th Sunday after Pentecost, year A) bulletin of Fishkill United Methodist Church.


I suppose it is because of the work Ann and I did with a church garden a few years ago but I see the parable of the sower more in terms of the ground on which the seeds fell than on the seeds that landed on the ground.

Only the seeds that feel on the good soil grew.  But what do we do about the rocky ground and the ground with the weeds.  Do we just forget about those seeds and focus only on the good seeds?

In the sense of the work of the church, do we focus on the ones that grow under the optimal conditions (which probably don’t exist anyway) or do we go out and improve the soil by removing the weeds and clearing out the stones.

One of the things the John Wesley understood was that people would not be receptive to the Gospel message if they were sick, hungry, or struggling with their finances.  The first schools, first health clinics, and the first credit union were efforts by Wesley and the Methodists to remove that which took away the ability to hear the Gospel message.

That challenge still exists today.  What is the church, or perhaps what are the people of the church doing to make the ground fertile so that people will be able to hear and live the Gospel?

 

“What Is An Ebenezer?”


This will be the back page for the 23 July 2017 (7th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A) bulletin of Fishkill United Methodist Church.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 32:1-3, 16-20, 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, 23, 31, and Matthew 16: 13 – 20.


When we sing “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” we sing “here I raise my Ebeneezer.”  This refers to a place called “Eben-Ezer” where Samuel built a stone monument to serve as a reminder to the people of God’s help in a time of stress and strife, of God’s faithfulness and His eternal covenant with the people of Israel.  It also represented the beginning of a new life after a period of sadness and trouble.

Stone monuments are not seen by just a few people, they are seen by everyone.  So, everyone near Eben-Ezer saw this monument and knew of God’s faithfulness and help and the opportunity to begin again and renew their lives.

But stone monuments do not stand the test of time; they tend to erode and disappear over time.  But God’s presence and promise does not; it lives through Christ and in our hearts, minds, and soul.

We come to this place today because this is our “Eben-Ezer”, our place of safety and sanctuary.  It is where we are recharged and renewed.  But this “Eben-Ezer”, just like its predecessor 2000 years ago, is also seen by all.  We have raised our Ebeneezer so that everyone can find safety and sanctuary, of being recharged and renewed.

“Who Built Your Road?”


This will be the back page for the 16 July 2017 (6th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A) bulletin of Fishkill United Methodist Church.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 30: 18 – 29, Romans 9: 30 – 33, and Matthew 16: 13 – 20.


It has been said that one reason for Paul’s success as an evangelist was the roads the Romans built throughout their empire.  Using stones and other local materials, these were roads carefully planned to facilitate military traffic between Rome and the provinces to keep the Pax Romana.

Some of these roads still exist today, providing paths for many people to walk.  Now, whether they were intended or not, the existence of these roads made it very easy for Paul to achieve his goal of spreading the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire, in effect working against why the roads were built (but that is for another time).

Our journey with Jesus is never an easy one.  But when we take the rocks that we often stumble over and make them part of the road on which we walk, the journey becomes a little easier.

Today, we need to consider two very simple questions, “Who cleared the path and laid the rocks so that your journey would be smoother?  Who built the roads on which you took your journey?”

And then there is another set of questions, “Are you helping build roads for others?  Are you doing the things that build the roads that help make the journey for others a bit smoother?”

“What Does It Take?”


This will be on the back page of the Fishkill UMC bulletin tomorrow, 18 June 2017 – the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A).

Genesis 18: 1 – 15, (21: 1 – 7), Romans 5: 1 – 8, Matthew 9: 35 – 10: 8 (9 – 23)

One of the ethos of desert living was that one never turned away a stranger, even if that stranger might be an enemy.  The desert was far crueler than any individual or group of individuals might be and there was an understanding that you helped those traveling in the desert and they would in turn help you.

That runs very much against human nature.  We do not want to help our enemies or those who seek to do us harm.  As Jesus pointed out to the Disciples in today’s Gospel reading, people were going to find fault with them because the message the Disciples presented was often in contrast to accepted beliefs.  But Jesus told them to just do what they could do and let those results show the people the future.

This can be difficult, if for no other reason that it is so often in opposition to the “get it now” mantra of society.  Put as Paul wrote, the key is patience – do what is expected of you and you will receive the rewards at the proper time.

“A New Start”


This will be the back page for the Fishkill United Methodist Church bulletin on 11 June 2017, “Trinity Sunday (Year A).  This is also Peace and Justice Sunday.


The key point about Genesis, at least for me, is not how God created the world but why He created it.  The book of Genesis, in fact the entire Bible, is about our relationship with God and our relationship with others.

It would be worth considering the words of today’s Gospel reading.  Often called the “Great Commission”, Jesus commands the disciples to go and make disciples of all the people.  But in the Cotton Patch Gospel and the Message, this passage speaks of the disciples teaching people in the ways that they were taught.

We are called to begin anew, to teach others what we have been taught, and to work for a world of peace and justice.  In the words of Senator Cory Booker,

Don’t speak to me about your religion; first show it to me in how you treat other people. Don’t tell me how much you love your God; show me in how much you love all her children. Don’t preach to me your passion for your faith; teach me through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give.

In a world where people view confrontation and conflict as the solution, we need a new beginning.  We need to seek opportunities to seek justice in new and peaceful ways.  Today can be that day.