“A Matter of Integrity”


I was at the New Milford (NY)/Edenville United Methodist Church in Warwick, NY, Sunday morning, October 7, 2012. The Scriptures for this morning, the 20th Sunday after Pentecost (B), are Job 1:1, 2: 1 – 10; Hebrews 1: 1 – 4; 2: 5 – 12; and Mark 10: 2 – 16. Their services now start at 10 am with Sunday School at 9 and you are welcome to attend.

Ann told me that she thought this might be a bit more intellectual that some of my sermons, as if most of my sermons are not. But in this case, perhaps that is the case.

But when you are basing your message in part on one of the wisdom books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs or Song of Solomon; the Apocrypha also contains the Book of Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach), the message will be somewhat intellectual. Such messages are the most challenging to write for they demand one think it through to the end. That’s not to say that every message or sermon that is written does make the same demand but when you are using something from the wisdom literature, it requires a little bit more than usual. I hope and pray that I have that challenge and that when it is done, you will be challenged to seek more information for yourself as well.

I have always been amazed at how the topics that dominate the news are always matched by the Scriptures that have been designated for that particular week of the year. In this case, the Gospel reading from Mark deals with the Pharisees questioning Jesus about the subject of divorce. And two weeks ago, there was an announcement that a fragment of papyrus had been discovered that suggested that Jesus had a wife. Of course, a week later, it was announced that this papyrus fragment was a forgery and not a very good one at that.

Now, why would someone want to make a forgery like this? What motive was there in doing so? Of course, from my point of view, I also had to wonder why it was such a poor forgery in the first place. There is, after all, a curiosity about the life of Jesus, in part because of Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code, and its plot that Jesus not only had a wife but a child as well and that child’s descendants can be traced through the blood lines of European families. Now, The Da Vinci Code is clearly a work of fiction but because of the nature of the topic, there were a lot of people who believed that there was some degree of truth behind it. After all, there is the notion that every myth has some element of truth in it. And since we know so little about the life of Jesus between the time He was 12 and engaging the Pharisees, scribes, and scholars in the temple and when He was thirty and He embarked on His mission, it becomes quite easy to imagine just about anything we want. And someone looking to make a few extra dollars can quite easily do so by creating a story that fits within the framework of what we want to believe.

There will be some who hear or read these words and feel that I have just given them justification for not believing in Jesus as the Risen Savior. To many people today, Jesus Christ is a myth. But who concocted this myth? And why?

That we are here today means that there is a degree of truth to the story of Christ, even if there are gaps in the story. And that the story of Christ has been told over the years across all of the continents should suggest that there is an element of truth to the story as well.

So, how we react to the story that Jesus may have had a wife and whether we choose to believe or not is a measure of the integrity or strength of our faith. How well can we stand up to the pressure of being questioned about our faith? How strong is our faith in our day-to-day life?

The Old Testament reading for today tells us of the story of Job, a seemingly rich and powerful resident of Uz. Job is characterized as an upright and blameless man who feared God and avoided evil. But in the first chapter of Job, he loses everything he has – his children, his servants, his flocks – only his wife remained.

The sad part about this is that we know someone who has suffered such a loss; perhaps we have suffered such a loss ourselves. And how did our friends, how did we handle this? Did we curse God and question why He would allow this to occur? And if God did allow this to occur, what does that make Him? What sort of god (and notice that I used a lower case god) would allow one of his beings, someone that was created in his image, to suffer as Job did in Chapter 1.

It is critical that we understand that one of the things that occurred in this reading still occurs today. When something goes wrong, when we suffer, we often presume that we have done something wrong. Listen over the next few weeks to the friends of Job as they make that same assumption; that Job’s suffering is a consequence of his having done something terribly, terribly wrong. But Job always asks, “what is it that I have done so wrong as to warrant such punishment?”

Others will argue that they want no part of a God that would allow a believer to suffer like Job. They would argue that such suffering and the level of evil in this world are perpetrated or permitted to go unchecked because faithful adherents to religion accept the notion that it is “god’s will”.

But the patience of Job is neither a rejection of God nor blind acceptance of what is happening. Rather it is done with the notion that something will transpire that will bring sense to it all. Job will never curse God but He will demand that God show up to defend His actions. Job will do what his wife and friends will ask him to not do, “persevere in his integrity.”

Much has been made about divorce and marriage and what Jesus said and did not say. I think it important to note the differences between Mark’s recording of this encounter and Matthew’s recording. But what I think we need to understand is why the Pharisees questioned Jesus about this matter in the first place (and I don’t think it had to do with whether or not Jesus had a wife).

Keep in mind that John the Baptist was executed in part for his denouncing Herod’s marriage to his sister-in-law Herodias as a violation of Old Testament law. There is commentary by the Jewish historian Josephus that Herod was also afraid of the growing political and religious movement John was leading and his arrest and execution, for whatever reason, was an attempt to put an end to that movement.

The encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees occurs in part of the territory controlled by Herod. We know that the Pharisees were beginning to see Jesus as a threat much in the same manner as John the Baptist and they, the Pharisees, probably felt that if they could get Jesus to make some sort of pronouncement similar to John’s, the same results would occur.

For me, the Pharisees saw themselves as keepers of the faith though it was more that they were keepers of the religion. Religion may be seen as how we reach out to God; faith is God reaching out to us. At times, the two will be in direct opposition to each other. Religion is the interposition of our thoughts onto God, making God what we want Him to be, not what He is. Faith is that which may be termed spiritual and is separate from religion.

I would rather not have such distinctions but unfortunately I have meet too many people for whom their religion is their faith. They are not interested in what one believes as much as they are in maintaining what is currently there. The Old Testament prophets sought to deliver the people from an idolatrous trust in their own religion with its shrines, both mental and physical so that they could be delivered into faith with its trust in the living free God who comes to us in the moving events of history.

How we see God says a lot about the integrity of our faith. If we see God as being on the edges of our lives, there when things go wrong, then I would make the argument that our faith is weak; its integrity low. For me, the Pharisees saw Jesus as a threat because He challenged their faith and they were unable to respond.

For me, there are too many people today who have such an attitude. Jesus has a place in their lives but it is only on Sunday mornings, between 8 am and 12 noon. When they leave church on Sunday, they quietly but quickly put God on the shelf in the closet where He can’t be hurt and they go about their business for the rest of the week. Such a faith cannot stand to be questioned and such individuals will not allow such questioning to take place.

But if you see God as part of the day-to-day occurrences of life, as One who comes at points of confidence and strength as well as points of weakness and uncertainty, then the integrity of your faith cannot be questioned. And if it is questioned, you can answer with both word and action and you see the opportunity to bring Jesus Christ to those who seek Him.

Ask yourself this, how do I see Jesus today? On his blog, “Irreverend Mike” wrote,

The issue is this – we tend to treat Jesus like he’s a fact to believe rather than a person in whom we place all our faith. This is what Christianity is about. It’s not a truth we believe in like we believe that 2+2=4, or that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. It is about Jesus, who is the truth, who tells us “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6). Being a Christian means having a relationship with this Jesus – following his way so that we may truly live with God.

When we forget this – and Jesus becomes to us just another thing that we can think and say is true – then we do not truly know Jesus. Not only this – but when Jesus becomes a thing to us in our minds, we begin to shape him into something he is not. We create an “imaginary Jesus”.

Your imaginary Jesus tends to think like you, agree with you and never challenges you. And this imaginary Jesus is nice! He gives you the assurance of eternal life and unconditional love – and you really don’t have to do anything. It’s a good deal. That is – if this was the real Jesus. Which it is not.

The real Jesus isn’t like us. He is perfect and holy and filled with so much love – that we can’t handle it. The real Jesus isn’t content to leave you where you are in your sin, brokenness and failings. The real Jesus beckons you to follow him to do hard things and love people you don’t want to love. The real Jesus asks you for nothing less than your whole life, because after all – he gave his for you. (from http://irreverendmike.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/will-the-real-jesus-please-stand-up/

There comes a point when one must make a choice. We are reminded in the reading from Hebrews exactly why it was that Jesus began His mission in the Galilee and why He comes to this place and time today. Our salvation is found through Christ; His death on the Cross was so that we would be set free from sin and death. And having been set free from sin and death, we have the opportunity to find a new path in life and help others seek what we have found.

I find myself drawn more and more to the thoughts and words of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. During the 30s he was living in America and had the opportunity to stay in America when Hitler came to power. But to do so would have been too easy and he returned to Germany because he saw a church, his church, turning a blind eye to the horrors that engulfed his country. He began to feel that to religion was becoming separate from the world and that, in its silence, let the horrors of the Nazism grow and fester. A pacifist, Bonhoeffer would ultimately join the underground resistance against Hitler and lose his life just days before the concentration camp in which he had been a prisoner was liberated.

I have never understood, until perhaps today, why he would do that. But he thought that if one was to be truly Christian, there had to be a reliance on the Grace of Christ because it was only through that Grace that we could be free from self-concern and doubt and be freed to show a truly worldly concern for others. Being a Christian was, in Bonhoeffer’s thought, not merely an acceptance but an act of being in the world. It was more than what one did on Sunday but what one did throughout the week.

We are never asked to make a sacrifice such as the one Bonhoeffer made or even the one that Christ made. We are asked only to let Jesus into our hearts, our minds, and our souls.

Are we prepared to open up and let Jesus into our lives, not just on Sunday mornings but all day Sunday and then through out the week? Or will you be like the disciples who, despite what Jesus taught them, still tried to deny the children access to Jesus? We are all children of God and Jesus said to let the children come to Him.

But how many times has someone told another child of God that they could not come into the church because they were somehow different. Perhaps they were too loud, as a two-year-old might be; perhaps they were unclean, as Job became. And as Job became unclean, his friends deserted him.

I have not neglected the reading from Hebrews that comes with the passages from Job and Mark. It concludes by noting that Jesus Himself trusted in God and that He was and is with us, the children of God. And if He is with us, how can we deny others that same right?

I begin by suggesting that our faith is being questioned, in part by the “discovery” of the “Jesus’ wife papyrus fragment”, and how we might answer that. There was a time long ago when I felt that my faith was being challenged. I was enduring a series of setbacks and I could only conclude that perhaps I was a pawn in some game being played by individuals or beings outside the realm of my consciousness. I didn’t care that I was a pawn; I just wanted to know what the rules of the game were.

Amidst all of this, I obtained a book entitled The Passover Plot in which the author hypothesized that Jesus faked His death on the Cross. After reading it, I could only conclude that if someone was willing to undergo what has been acknowledged as the most gruesome form of torture ever devised by man, then there must be something to what He believed. Over the years I have come to see Christ in my life in ways that are not always easy to describe. But I have come to think that because others have believed and that belief has remained strong over the years then what I know in my heart is true. And if what is in my heart is true, then I am obligated to help others know that as well.

Perhaps this is not the best way to think about the integrity of one’s faith but consider this. I cannot say I am a Christian if I do not believe it in my heart and live it with my words. I cannot say that I am a Christian if I say to you that you must believe as I do. I cannot say that I am a Christian because I go to church on Sunday but ignore the hungry, the homeless, the needy, or the oppressed. I cannot say that I am a Christian if I say that I am saved but do little to help you find your salvation.

If there is to be any integrity in what we believe, what we say, and what we do, it has to begin with us accepting Jesus’ invitation to let the children come to Him. In this case the invitation is to each one of us to allow Jesus into our hearts. And then, after we have let Jesus into our hearts, our souls, and our minds, then we must go out into the world, not just telling people about Jesus but showing them how Jesus changes lives and offers hope. The integrity of our souls is at stake if we do otherwise.

“Notes for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost”


Here is a list of my sermons, messages, and posts for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost.

This list was originally posted last year as part of the post of “To Finish the Journey” but only listed the posts for Year A as well as those posts that were based on the Scriptures. I have edited that post to be just the sermon and added a couple of posts to this list.

As I complete this particular year of posts, I anticipate shifting from the Sunday to the Scripture readings (since they are actually tied to the calendar and not necessarily the liturgical calendar) at the beginning of the new liturgical calendar year. But in the meantime, here are the messages/sermons/posts that I gave for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost.

Sunday, October 03, 1999 (A), Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY, “The Rules We Play By”

Sunday, October 22, 2000 (B), Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY, “Ask Not What Your Church Can Do”

Sunday, October 14, 2001 (C), World Communion Sunday, Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY, “Saying Thank You”

Sunday, September 29, 2002 (A), Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, Putnam Valley, NY, “How did we get this far?”

Sunday, October 19, 2003 (B), Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, Putnam Valley, NY, “Serving the Lord”

Sunday, October 10, 2004 (C), World Communion Sunday, Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, Putnam Valley, NY, Lay Speaker

Sunday, September 25, 2005 (A), Poughquag United Methodist Church, Poughquag, NY, “Who Goes First?”

Sunday, October 15, 2006 (B), Dover United Methodist Church, Dover Plains, NY, “Finding God”

Sunday, October 07, 2007 (C), What Are We Supposed To Do?

Sunday, September 21, 2008 (A), Dover United Methodist Church, Dover Plains, NY, “What Do We Need?”

Sunday, October 11, 2009 (B), Ridges/Roxbury & Springdale United Methodist Churches, Stamford, CT, “Can You?”

Sunday, October 03, 2010 (C), “What I See”

Sunday, October 16, 2011 (A) – Dover UMC, Dover Plains, NY, “Who Shall Feed My Sheep?”

Sunday, October 7, 2012 (B) – New Milford UMC, “A Matter of Integrity”

Luke 17: 5 – 10

“Notes for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost”


Here is a list of my sermons, messages, and posts for the 18thSunday after Pentecost.

This list was originally posted last year as part of the post of “Who Shall Feed My Sheep?” but only listed the posts for Year A as well as those posts that were based on the Scriptures. I have edited that post to be just the sermon and added a couple of posts to this list. To be honest, I had forgotten that I started off listing my notes for a particular Sunday as part of the post for that Sunday and that I had included a list of posts for the readings.

As I complete this particular year of posts, I anticipate shifting from the Sunday to the Scripture readings (since they are actually tied to the calendar and not necessarily the liturgical calendar) at the beginning of the new liturgical calendar year. But in the meantime, here are the messages/sermons/posts that I gave for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost.

Who Can I Turn To?” – a sermon given at Alexander Chapel UMC on September 28, 1997 (Year B)

The Final Exam”a sermon given at Walker Valley UMC on September 26, 1999 (Year A)

Who Shall Serve?”- a sermon given at Walker Valley UMC on October 15, 2000 (Year B)

“Meeting the Challenge”- a sermon given at Walker Valley UMC on October 7, 2001 (Year C)

“A Sense of Reward”- sermon given at Tompkins Corners UMC on September 22, 2002 (Year A)

Fair and Balanced”- a sermon given at Tompkins Corners UMC on October 12, 2003 (Year B)

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow”- a sermon given at Tompkins Corners UMC on October 3, 2004 (Year C)

“What Is A Person Worth?”- posted on September 18, 2005 (Year A)

What Do We Say?” – a sermon given at New Milford UMC on October 8, 2006 (Year B)

The Good Life” – posted on September 30, 2007 (Year C)

“The Words We Use”- posted on September 14, 2008 (Year A)

A New Set of Rules” – posted on October 4, 2009 (Year B)

What Is Going To Happen?” – posted on September 26, 2010 (Year C) 

In the original draft of this piece I listed a piece for October 16, 2011 as being on the 18th Sunday after Pentecost.  Actually that piece (a sermon given at Dover UMC) was on the 19th Sunday after Pentecost.  The 18th Sunday after Pentecost in 2011 was October 9th and I am not sure what I posted that day.

“Notes for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost”


Here are my thoughts/messages/sermons for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost:

Sunday, August 27, 1995 (Year C), Altoona (KS), High Prairie, and Buffalo (KS) United Methodist Churches, “How Do I Get To Twin Valley?”

Sunday, August 25, 1996 (Year A), Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, Memphis, TN, “To Boldly Go”

Sunday, August 24, 1997 (Year B), Alexander Chapel United Methodist Church, Mason, TN, “You Knew The Job was Dangerous When You Took It!”

Sunday, August 22, 1999 (Year A), Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY, “How Will You Know?”

Sunday, September 10, 2000 (Year B), Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY, “Teach Your Children Well”

Sunday, September 02, 2001 (Year C), Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY, “Choose Wisely”

Sunday, August 18, 2002 (Year A) – not on file

Sunday, September 07, 2003 (Year B), Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, Putnam Valley, NY, “A Cake Without Baking Powder”

Sunday, August 29, 2004 (Year C), Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, Putnam Valley, NY, “Who Will You Invite?”

Sunday, August 14, 2005 (Year A), “What Do You See?”

Sunday, September 03, 2006 (Year B), “What Does It Mean?”

Sunday, August 26, 2007 (Year C), Dover United Methodist Church, Dover Plains, NY, “Rocking The Boat”

Sunday, August 10, 2008 (Year A), Bellvale United Methodist Church and Sugarloaf United Methodist Church, “Which Way Will You Go?”

Sunday, August 30, 2009 (Year B), “Forgotten Books”

Sunday, August 22, 2010 (Year C), “But Where Does It Start?”

Sunday, September 11, 2011 (Year A), “This Day – 9 – 11 – 2011″

Sunday, August 26, 2012 (Year B), New Milford United Methodist Church, Warwick, NY, “What’s the Purpose?”

“What Is The Purpose?”


I am again at the New Milford (NY)/Edenville United Methodist Church in Warwick, NY, this morning. Their services start at 9:30 and you are welcome to attend. The Scriptures for this morning, the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, are 1 Kings 8: (1, 6, 10 – 11), 22 – 30, 41 – 43; Ephesians 6: 10 – 20; and John 6: 56 – 69.

In 1924 someone asked George Mallory why he continued trying to climb Mount Everest after having failed in two previous attempts. It has been said that his reply was “because it is there.” Mallory and a climbing companion would disappear on what was to have been the third attempt and their bodies would not be found until some 75 years later. Even today, it is not clear whether they had been successful in making the summit of Everest. In 1953 Edmund Hillary (now Sir Edmund Hillary) and Tenzing Norgay would be the first to successfully reach the summit and return to base camp.

Mallory’s comment about doing something because of the challenge it presented has been used numerous times since he first made that remark not quite 100 years ago. It was the allusion that President Kennedy sought to invoke when he spoke before a crowd at Rice University in 1961 and laid out the rationale for a manned space program and the goal of reaching the moon before 1970.

He spoke of the challenges and the dangers that were inherent in such a task. He also asked a question often either overlooked in rememberances of that speech. President Kennedy asked, “Why does Rice play Texas?” Those assembled that day in Houston knew that Rice played Texas every year in football and did so because it was a conference game and with the knowledge that, at that time, Texas would probably win. Still Rice played Texas each year with the hope that success would be theirs one year. If one were to face only those challenges that one could overcome, they would not be challenges; they would be commonplace occurrences.

It is ironic that I choose to use President Kennedy’s remarks on the same weekend that we learned that Neil Armstrong, the first to walk on the moon, died. Mr. Armstrong was a test pilot, chosen for the Gemini and Apollo missions because he had the ability to see the challenges and make the right decisions at the right times.

You may recall his Gemini 8 mission where a thruster rocket misfired and caused his spacecraft to wildly gyrate in space, at rates that threatened the safety of the crew. This mission was the first time this country learned of the dangers and hazards of space. Somewhere along the line, space travel became routine and blasé instead of challenging with risks of danger. The Challenger and Columbia disasters would remind us that space travel is neither routine nor blasé.

It would seem to me that we as a society today no longer seek the challenges before us. We are quite content with the present, hoping and preparing for tomorrow as if tomorrow will be no different than today. One report indicates that our children can expect a life no better than the present; that despite the fact that their parents’ incomes were substantially better than their grand-parents, their incomes will be no better than their parents. It is as if the Red Queen’s comment to Alice, “My dear, here we must run twice as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that” in “Alice in Wonderland” has become a reality of life instead of a line in a fictional story.

Faced with that sort of outcome, we hold onto very tightly to the present, so much so that we cannot even begin to wonder how it was that we got here in the first place and how we will get anywhere in the future. And if we cannot get anywhere, no matter where that may be, then we have to begin wondering what our purpose is for life.

And, of course, that is the reason and the rationale for the title of this message. What is the purpose? Why have we gathered here this morning? What is it that we hope to gain? One could answer with the words from the hymn, “We Gather Together” (Hymn #131). We have gathered here to ask the Lord’s blessing on us; we have gathered here to worship Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

But I am afraid that many, while agreeing with those ideas, may also have forgotten what was the rationale for the beginning of the church and what the mission of the church was and should be. They forget that those who formed the early church, the church before the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity acceptable and legal, often times gathered in fear, fear that their neighbors would turn them into the Roman authorities as enemies of the state. We forget that the symbol of the fish that we sometimes use to symbolize Christ and Christianity is an acroynm derived from the Greek letters ΙχθΥΣ, which meant “Jesus Christ, God’s Savior, Son” and was used so that Christians could identify each other.

We see the church today in a completely different light, one that does not shine well on what it is supposed to be and what it should be. Instead of being the place of refuge for the weak and the needy, it has become a sanctuary for those who wish to escape the fear and turmoil of the world.

We hear the words of Solomon dedicating the temple and announcing that people will come from far and away because they have heard about the God, the One True God, who is now a part of the lives of the Israelite community. And yet today, when our churches are to be open to the community, in honor of this pledge made so many years ago, our churches are often closed to those who are in need, both spiritually and physically..

Just as the early disciples did, we hear the words of Jesus. And it is quite apparent that many of those today who have heard those words today have also chosen not to follow them, choosing instead to build a church that is a temple to themselves more often than it is a place of worship for God.

I have said it before and probably from this pulpit but it is always interesting going from town to town, village to village, in this part of the country and seeing all the Methodist churchs. One can begin to imagine the 18th century circuit rider going from church to church bringing the Good News of Christ to the people. Sometimes he rode to a place and called upon those gathered together but most of the time the circuit rider came to places where believers had gathered. For some Jesse Lee is the name of two churches in Connecticut but I would hope that for others he is one of the circuit riders who along with Francis Asbury and Freeborn Garrettson, brought the Gospel message to these parts. This church, along with so many others in the Hudson Valley, has its roots in the efforts of the circuit riders and the early American Methodist movement to bring the Good News to a thirsty and hungry population, a population that could not necessarily meet in the established Anglican churches of 18th century America. We sometimes forget that being a Methodist at that time made one an outcast in society.

Several years ago, there was a church that was quite known for its support of the Native American community and of its many social activities. It was one of those churches formed from the efforts of the early settlers and the circuit riders. But it had a history that often was forgotten in the course of the church’s day to day existence.

People would come from miles around to be a part of these activities. And while the people would gather on the grounds of the church in friendship and fellowship, very seldom did anyone ever ventured into the church. And no one asked if the church was ever open. The people came for the food and the fellowship but not to worship. And the people who belonged to the church saw the events, not as part of the worship of the church, but as a means of keeping the building open. No invitations were ever made to those who came to the events to return for worship on Sunday and ultimately the church closed. And now, as it sits on the side of the road and cars roar by, it is a monument to days past.

It is a daunting challenge to keep a church open; it is an even more daunting challenge to meet the purpose of the church, the purpose first formed some two thousand years ago when people gathered in secret and in fear in order that they might worship Christ. And even after they were able to meet openly, there was still a fear. I can be like some and read the words of Paul to the Ephesians for today as a call to arms and war; it would only be natural to do so when Paul tells the people of Ephesus to put on the armor of God. And there are those who see daily life as a battle between good and evil, between God and Satan. I am not saying that life should not be seen in those terms but if we say that Christ is the Prince of Peace, how can we use warfare to defeat evil, in whatever form it may take? On the other hand, if as Paul wrote, our weapons are truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation, then God’s armor gives us that single added dimension that will allow us to prevail.

We have gathered here today, in part to be refreshed, in part to be inspired. We are like those who have gathered at this spot so many times in the past. We have to wonder what purpose there is jn our gathering. We have to wonder, as so many others did, two thousand years ago, what path we will take when we leave here. We can be like many, hearing the words of Jesus and realizing that the challenge is too great, that what Jesus is asking us to do is to great a task. Or we can also hear the words of Peter that we are committed to the task that Jesus sets before us, knowing that the purpose of our life comes in that commitment. And we know that from Christ will come that which we need to meet the challenges, whatever they may be, wherever they may lead, in the coming days.

“Notes for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost”


Here are my messages, sermons, and thoughts for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost:

Sunday, August 08, 1999 (Year A), Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY, “WYSIWYG”

Sunday, August 27, 2000 (Year B), Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY, “So We Built It. Now What Do We Do?”

Sunday, August 19, 2001, (Year C),Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY, lay speaker

Sunday, August 04, 2002 (Year A), nothing on file

Sunday, August 24, 2003 (Year B),Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, Putnam Valley, NY, “The Call to Duty”

Sunday, August 15, 2004 (Year C),Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, Putnam Valley, NY, “What Does the Future Hold?”

Sunday, July 31, 2005 (Year A), “This Is The Place”

Sunday, August 20, 2006,(Year B), “What Have We Learned?”

Sunday, August 12, 2007 (Year C), “Listening Carefully”

Sunday, July 27, 2008 (Year A), Red Hook United Methodist Church, Red Hook, NY, “Know The Rules”

Sunday, August 16, 2009 (Year B), Dover United Methodist Church, Dover Plains, NY, “Wisdom, Power, and the Way of Life”

Sunday, August 08, 2010 (Year C), Van Cortlandtville Community Church (Cortlandt Manor), “The Answer to the Question”

Sunday, August 28, 2011 (Year A), Drew United Methodist Church, Carmel, NY (Saturday evening), “An Encounter on a Dusty Road”

Sunday, August 12, 2012 (Year B),New Milford United Methodist Church, Warwick, NY, “What’s the Next Step?”

“What’s The Next Step?”


I am preaching at New Milford/Edenville United Methodist Church this morning. The service is at 9:30 am and you are welcome to attend. The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) are 2 Samuel 18: 5 – 9, 15, 31 – 33; Ephesians 4: 25 – 5: 2; and John 6: 35, 41 – 51.

From the time I took a long-term assignment as a lay speaker way back in 1995 (the Chattaqua Parish in Kansas – see “Hide and Seek”) I have followed the lectionary as the source for my Scripture readings. For those who are not familiar with this term, the lectionary is a set of three readings, generally one from the Old Testament, one from the Letters of the New Testament and one from the Gospel readings. If one follows the lectionary, one can, in a three-year period, cover the entire Bible. We happen to be in Year B of the three-year cycle.

And while we are familiar with the lectionary readings for a particular Sunday, it is my understanding that these readings also encompass the rest of the week and Sunday school as well (which is nice because many of our favorite stories are not in the selections for Sunday services).

Some lay speakers will use certain Scriptures that they are comfortable with but when I found it necessary to prepare a message for a series of weeks that method didn’t work well for me. Now, as it happens, the lectionary that I followed back in 1995 was the Common Lectionary; the scriptures for today are from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem but in addition to preparing this message I am also working on a message for next Sunday at the Fishkill United Methodist Church and a message for the Vespers in the Garden series on Sunday evening at Grace UMC in Newburgh. The Vespers message is special because we are also dedicating a cross that was given to the church back in September in memory of 9/11. I hope that you will be able to come up to Grace for this important moment in church and town history.

For the Vespers series, we have always used the Common Lectionary and there are subtle differences in the Common and Revised Common Lectionary. One is that part of the Old Testament reading for next Sunday is the concluding part of the Old Testament reading for today. And that leads me to the title for today’s message.

In theory one can travel back in time and in writing these three sermons I am traveling, at least in thought from next Sunday evening to next Sunday morning to today. So, if by chance, I sound like I don’t know if I am coming or going, at least you will know why. But I hope that you can come up to Newburgh next Sunday, knowing that in part what I say Sunday night comes from what I am saying today.

There are some who believe that the Bible is a fixed and unchanging document; one that we should just leave alone. But such a document quickly becomes something that we read when we have time and interest. But if you feel, as I do, that the Bible is a living document then one can find one’s own passions, desires, thoughts, and feelings in the passages.

That would, I think, be the case in reading the Old Testament passage for today. There are very few people today who cannot relate to David’s cry of anguish when informed that his son Absalom had died. And David’s cry is even more painful when we know that David had specifically told his troops that they were not to harm Absalom, even though Absalom had instigated the rebellion against David. We are not told in the reading for today but it was Joab, one of David’s commanders, who killed Absalom and that he did so because he was sometimes at odds with what David wanted to do.

The death of Absalom effectively ends the rebellion and peace, as it were, is restored to the kingdom. But one has to ask how there can there be peace in a country recently divided. It is a question that has haunted this country for over one hundred years and one for which the Bible doesn’t always provide a clear answer. Or does it?

We are a nation that is still split, not just along racial lines but economic lines and cultural lines. We see war as the penultimate solution and are unwilling to do that which will prevent future wars. We lead lives that are counter to the examples that are given in the Bible for us to follow.

Paul writes to the Ephesians and speaks of changing the way one lives. Paul says that it is perfectly acceptable to be angry but don’t let that anger serve as fuel for revenge. And yet, when we are attacked, when we are slighted or wrong, our thoughts are to seek revenge. Paul speaks of getting an honest job so that we can help others who can’t work; yet we often express the thought that everyone is on their own when it comes to work and success. When President Kennedy spoke before the press following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, he spoke of victory and success having a thousand fathers but failure was an orphan. We have taken that statement and made success the product of individualism and those who do not succeed as failures.

We have taken the very notion of Christ’s love, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, as unconditional and made it conditional. We expect something, much if one listens to many of the television preachers, in return for our acknowledgment of God’s love.

We ignore Jesus’ words about who is in charge and expect that we, mere mortals, are capable of discerning what God is thinking. And we will not allow others to have any thoughts about Jesus, God, Christianity, or religion unless they are exact carbon copies of our own thoughts and beliefs.

We are at a point in time, a place in history, where we must make a choice. We know the numbers, we know the prediction that tell us that unless something is done and done soon, the United Methodist Church will be, quite literally, extinct within twenty-five years. There are those today who believe that religion will die out in that time frame as well.

Yet, those who predict the demise of religion offer nothing better as an alternative. At least the prophets in the Old Testament offered an alternative, even if the people often times ignored them. I would agree that any religion which speaks with more of a human voice or which offers alternatives that are different from the scriptures that they claim to derive their authority from probably deserves to die.

Jesus pointed out that the religious authorities of His day were not the one’s in charge, even if that was what they told the people. Christ came to this world, not to follow His own will or do what we would have Him do, but to do God’s will..

We cannot begin to discern God’s will if we are bickering amongst ourselves or relying on others to direct our path. The one problem that I have with current thoughts in the United Methodist Church is that those who lead the church have an absolute and true understanding of what must be done to revitalize the denomination.

I also know that one statement will get me into more hot water than anything else I may say. I can hear the voices of my mother in one ear and my father in the other saying, “Tony, don’t rock the boat. Go with the flow and don’t cause trouble.” But if Jesus had not rocked the boat some two thousand years ago; if Jesus had not challenged common opinion about the poor, the sick, the forgotten people, and the oppressed, where would we be today.

If John Wesley had merely taken the assignment as an Anglican priest and just did his parish work, would we even have a Methodist Church today? I wrote a piece the other day that I hope gets published. In it, I used the quote that Edward Kennedy used when he eulogized his brother Robert, “he saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”

I am reminded that John Wesley’s answer to the lack of health care in 18th century England was the establishment of a health clinic and the publication of a book of medical cures. He saw people in debtors’ prisons because they could not pay their debts (something which is returning to this country today) and he established the first credit union. He saw the need for children to be educated and he helped begin the first Sunday School. And when there was a cry for people to bring the Word of God to the colonies, he sent men over to lead the ministry.

The answer to the crisis before us lies, to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, not in the stars but in us. We must look around and where we are today and ask what it is that we can do, no matter how many or how few we may be, to bring the Word of God to the people of this community. We must look around and ask what are the needs of this community and how can we, individually or collectively, as one group or with others, provide the solution.

I heard a quote the other day that intrigued me: “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” Part of the intrigue was that I misunderstood who said it. I thought it was Arthur C. Clarke but I determined, with the aid of modern technology, that is was an individual named Joel A. Barker. I have never heard of this individual but I discovered that his claim to fame is that he took the notion of the paradigm shift, first proposed by Thomas Kuhn in relation to the idea of scientific ideas, and applied it to business models.

While I find that idea interesting, I also know that many individuals use the term “paradigm shift” without knowing what it means or involves. What I do know is that Jesus Christ offers a radical new idea, a paradigm shift if you will, to those who are willing to follow Him.

He speaks of the Bread of Life, of the sustenance that leads to eternal life. He offers each and everyone who takes of this Bread the opportunity for eternal life. This is the penultimate paradigm shift; it transforms our lives from a mere day-to-day existence to one that can change the world.

Some will hear this offer and ignore it. Some will hear this offer and say that one person can never change the world. But Jesus was one person and he did in fact change the world. That we are here this morning is proof of that. There is a proverb that basically states that life is a journey that begins with a single step. What shall your next step be? You can choose not to follow Jesus today. It is the safe bet because you know that the world will not change and what was out there when you came here this morning will be there when you leave.

Accepting Christ, choosing to follow Him down whatever road it may lead, does not meant that world outside changes. But you will have changed, changed in a way that others will see. In your words, your thoughts, your deeds, and your actions, people will see that Christ is a part of your life. They will see the love that God has for each one of us and they will want to be a part of that. When you care for someone because they are in trouble or need and not for your own gain, the world will begin to change. So we begin with a step; what is your next step?

Notes for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost


Here is a compilation of my messages/sermons/posts for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost:

 

Sunday, June 25, 1995, 4th Sunday after Pentecost (C), Elk Falls (KS), Longton (KS), and Elk City (KS) United Methodist Churches, “Another One”

 

Sunday, July 09, 2000, 4th Sunday after Pentecost (B), Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY, “Playing in the All-Star Game”

 

Sunday, July 01, 2001, 4th Sunday after Pentecost (C), Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY, “The Cost of Freedom (2001)”

 

Sunday, June 16, 2002, 4th Sunday after Pentecost (A), Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY, not on file

 

Sunday, July 06, 2003, 4th Sunday after Pentecost (B), Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, Putnam Valley, NY, “Leading Into the Future”

 

Sunday, June 27, 2004, 4th Sunday after Pentecost (C), Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, Putnam Valley, NY, “What Would You Do?”

 

Sunday, June 12, 2005, 4th Sunday after Pentecost (A), Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, Putnam Valley, NY, Lay speaker

 

Sunday, July 02, 2006, 4th Sunday after Pentecost (B), “Study War No More”

 

Sunday, June 24, 2007, 4th Sunday after Pentecost (C), Stevens Memorial United Methodist Church, South Salem, NY, “Which Way Will You Go?”

 

Sunday, June 08, 2008, 4th Sunday after Pentecost (A), “A Crisis In Faith”

 

Sunday, June 28, 2009, 4th Sunday after Pentecost (B), Mountainville United Methodist Church, Mountainville, NY, “The State of Faith”

 

Sunday, June 20, 2010, 4th Sunday after Pentecost (C), “Where Is God?”

 

Sunday, July 10, 2011, 4th Sunday after Pentecost (A), New Milford United Methodist Church, Warwick, NY, “Dealing With Our Struggles”

 

Sunday, June 24, 2012, 4th Sunday after Pentecost (B), Grace UMC, Newburgh, NY – I will be presenting the message for the Sunday Vespers in the Garden series.  The Vespers start at 7 on Fridays and Sundays in the children’s garden of Grace.  Bring a friend and enjoy an evening of music and word.

Dealing with Our Struggles


Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, 10 July 2011. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Genesis 25: 19 – 24, Romans 8: 1 – 11, and Matthew 8: 1 – 9, 18 – 23.

I am at the New Milford/Edenville United Methodist Church (Location of Church) again this morning. Summer services start at 9:30 and you are always welcome there.

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I think that I mentioned last week that I have two daughters, born three years apart, and of course, I am exceedingly proud of them. When I think back to the days when their mother was pregnant I remember how we could feel them moving about, anxious to leave the womb and get on with life. There isn’t much that I would trade for those experiences and the birth of each of my daughters.

I found out a few years later that twins are a natural occurrence on both sides of the family. There is some folklore that says that when there are twins in your family, they will appear in every other generation. And it was my generation’s turn to have twins but it wasn’t to be so perhaps when my grandchildren have children of their own, the trait of twins will appear. Still, I can only imagine what it might have been like to have the doctor come out and tell me that I was the father of twins.

That is what is so important about the reading from the Old Testament for today. As any parent will attest, there is something unique when you feel that young child begin to move inside the womb. We would like to think that Rachel was overjoyed to feel the twins moving inside of her but we also know, from our reading of the Old Testament today, that the struggle between Esau and Jacob that began in the womb would continue long after they grew up. And this would have naturally given her concern.

It should be natural for siblings to struggle, to strive and compete against each other. But it should be friendly and competitive. I didn’t play football when I was growing up; actually, I was involved in something more important, band. It is not often that a parent can watch their children compete against each other and be able to root equally for each of them. But both of my brothers played football and there is the memorable game in our family history when Raleigh-Egypt High School played Bartlett High School. The uniqueness of this game was that my brother Terry played halfback on the Bartlett offense and my brother Tim was playing for the Raleigh-Egypt defense at the same time.

But there are times when the prophecy of Esau and Jacob comes true for other families as well; times when the struggle is serious and deadly. With this being the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we are reminded of the struggle that engulfed this country and tore families apart and pitted brother against brother.

But the greatest struggle that each one of us face each day is an understanding of who we are and what our purpose in this world might be. We find ourselves struggling with questions of why does hunger, sickness, famine, and war exist in this world? We struggle with questions about poverty and wealth and who is truly favored in God’s eyes. We know that there are answers to these questions and we expect our church to be the one place where we might find those answers.

We want a certain degree of structure in our lives; we want our laws to be firm and fast, clear and concise. We hear so many people today say that if our society was a true Christian society, based on Judeo-Christian law, then we wouldn’t have all these problems. The only problem with this particular logic is that most people don’t know what the law they are referring to actually says. This is the image of the church, of a fixed and inflexible institution, out of touch with today and insisting on an adherence to a set of laws that perhaps don’t even exist in the Bible.

Against this backdrop we see individuals leaving the church, not singularly but in groups. They look at the church today and wonder how it came to be and why it cannot answer the questions that make up the meaning of life, even when that is often the unstated reason for the church.

Barrett Owen has written an interesting article entitled “Why Millennials Rarely Connect with Churches?” The Millennial Generation is that generation born in the period from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s; they are the children of the Baby Boom Generation. It is a generation that is leaving the church and there are many that cannot understand why.

It is a migration that goes beyond moving from home to college and onto their own lives; it is a migration from the church itself. It is a migration that confounds many parents and church authorities alike. And many experts would say that if we understood this generation, then we might be able to “save the church.”

And though we should be careful when we make generalizations about a collective group, be they Millennials, Generation X, or Baby Boomers, if we understand what they are thinking, perhaps we can understand what we have to do. First, let me say that creating a list of solutions based on these ideas is called marketing and marketing the church will never work.

So, with that caveat, here are some thoughts on the Millennial Generation:

  • They do not care about the institutional church. They do not tithe and have rejected traditional church offerings. They will refuse, reject, and rebuff denominational loyalty if it means causing separation, marginalization, or ostracizing an individual or a group of individuals.
  • Words such as “community”, “intentionality”, and “ecumenism” are mentioned long before words such as “doctrine”, “controversy”, or “resurgence.”
  • They are finding alternative and creative forms of giving.
  • They are building foundational beliefs about faith and morality that are based on experiential truths as opposed to doctrinal or creedal statements. This is not your normal Sunday school lesson they are learning and developing!
  • They will say that Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s love but they will also say that it is not the only expression. They will say that they are spiritual but not religious. They will seek to find God and they are not necessarily looking in the traditional places.
  • They have a lot to offer; they have optimism and a need for reconciliation which is desperately needed in this world today. They are motivated, not offended; they care about creation, people, worldviews, religions, art, creativity and beauty.
  • Faith, for millennials, is less about doctrine or institutional fellowship and more about experiential learning. Beliefs that speak of wholeness over segregation and separation, love over hate, commonalities over discrepancies, activism over bitterness, shared stories over division and missional engagement over doctrinal supremacy have become their heart’s cry.

Owen wondered if all this adds up to the death knell of today’s church. As Owen put it, “Giving up on financially supporting denominational bodies or larger institutions is a risky hope. It’s a hope that something new will emerge. But since this group doesn’t like division, corporate advancement or institutions, I wonder what could ever create enough momentum to have longevity?”

And then Jesus spoke of the sower sowing his seeds in the garden. Some of the seeds landed on rocky ground, where they withered and died. Some landed amongst the weeds and while they grew for a while, they too eventually died, choked by the other plant growth that stole the nutrients. But some landed on fertile soil, where they flourished and grew. And there was a good harvest amongst those that landed on the fertile soil.

What type of church do you have? Is it one filled with rocks and boulders, one where seeds planted have no chance to grow? Or is it one filled with weeds and other plants that choke off the growth of the other plants? Or is it the one with the fertile soil that gives growth to new ideas and plans?

I have seen some churches where this latter field exists. But I have also seen many churches that are rocky and nothing grows as well as many churches that have much growth but most of the growth is in the form of weeds that choke off the growth of the good flowers. And I know that you can turn a church that is filled with rocks or one with weeds into one with fertile ground. It is a matter of whether or not the church members wanted to get involved and get their hands dirty. I doubt that many today who long for such a church, a church where faith is more than a word, even know that such a church once existed.

The early church was an experiential church; it was church, not of words but of deeds. Experiential learning does not take place in the classroom; it takes place in the field. And the church of two thousand years ago bears little resemblance to the church of today. The churches that Paul wrote about met in people’s houses and not specifically built sanctuaries. In fact, when many gathered together to read the letter that Paul had recently written them, they probably gathered in secret because there was the fear of persecution. The structured church, with denominations and doctrines, is a product of the post-Constantine era, the period when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the de-facto state religion. If we were more like those early churches, or even more like the early Methodist churches, perhaps we wouldn’t be struggling as much today.

Paul points out that if Christ is a part of our life today, the struggles we face are minimal. Our own self becomes secondary when Christ is the center-piece of our life. Somewhere along the line we became convinced that the church was about us and not Jesus or God. And when that happened we started to become the church that now either scares away or drives away those who offer much hope. Pastor Owen is right that the Millennial Generation will not find what it seeks if it runs away from what it fears; the same is true for us and sometimes all we have to do is look around and know how true that is. But we can deal with our struggles if we quit dealing with our struggles and begin doing the work of God. The challenge is there and the call is there. If we do not answer the call, our struggles will continue for we will continue seeking answers. But if we answer the call, if we accept Christ into our heart and soul, then we can quit dealing with our struggles. And if we begin to make the church what it once was, then we will help others to deal with their struggles as well.

Last week, I used “Be Thou My Vision” as a preparation hymn, to prepare you for the message. Today, I use it as the invitational hymn, to invite you to vision the world that lies before you. Shall it be a world of rocks and weeds, a world of struggle and strife, or will it be a world of wonderful growth and wonderful harvests?

This Thing Called Freedom


This Sunday was at the New Milford/Edenville United Methodist Church (Location of Church).  Summer services start at 9:30 and you are always welcome there.  The Scriptures for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost are Genesis 24: 34 – 38, 42 – 49, 58 – 67; Romans 7: 15 – 25; and Matthew 11: 16 – 19, 25 – 30.

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This has always been an interesting Sunday for me. Growing up as I did, a 2nd generation military brat, living much of my early life on Air Force Bases, I have one sense of what this day means. But, over the years, as I have looked at this day/weekend from the standpoint of the Scriptures and a conscious and public acceptance of Jesus Christ, I have come to appreciate a different, perhaps deeper meaning for today.

Clearly, this is a weekend to discuss freedom and what it means. But I think that we have to do so with an understanding that there is more to it than the public discussion. We understand and we appreciate those words that Thomas Jefferson wrote, “that all men are created equal”, yet we fail to understand that when Jefferson wrote those words in 1776 it applied to only men, and only men, who owned property. If you were a man but did not own property, a woman, or a minority, then the words of the Declaration of Independence were simply words on a piece of parchment, words without meaning to you. It may have been that this was how Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers were able to justify the contradictions in their own personal and public lives.

Over the course of history we have heeded the words of Jesus when he spoke to the Pharisees in John 8:31 – 32, “seek the truth and the truth will set you free.” When we speak of all men being equal we mean everyone and not a select few.

It has always struck me that most of the discussions Jesus had with the Pharisees and the other establishment figures was how freedom transcended the law. For the Pharisees, the law was the limit; it was what defined a person and determined what they could and could not do. Jesus was always pushing the limit of the law, going beyond the law to the spirit of the law and its true meaning.

It is the establishment that criticized John the Baptizer for his words and his actions; it was the establishment that Jesus pointed out criticized Him when He ate with sinners. The establishment viewed such engagements as outside the boundaries of the law and, thus, actions that needed to be limited. Yet, the intent of the very laws that the establishment used to justify such limitations were never meant to do that. God’s kingdom was never meant to be exclusive; it was meant to be inclusive. The laws that God gave to the Israelites were to define the relationships in the kingdom. But the Ten Commandments quickly became some 600 laws with over ½ of them telling people what they could not do.

And we know from our own experience that the moment someone tells us that we cannot do something that is the very thing we want to do. We tell our children not to do this or not to do that and then we have to spend all of our time making sure that they don’t do it. But sooner or later a child finds out what hot or sharp means and we have to do something different.

We understand that there are things that we need to do and must do but we are so tempted by the “freedom” that sin offers, we turn away from God. We really would like to do those things that we know we shouldn’t, even if it is something trivial like have a second helping of pie for dessert, if for no other reason than there is that momentary satisfaction of feeling good.

I sense this struggle in what Paul is writing. He recognizes that there is a “freedom” outside the law, a “freedom” that we all at one time or another seek to enjoy. What was it that Paul said in the passage from Romans for today, “part of me wants to rebel?” But Paul goes one step further. This lure of “freedom” is nothing more than sin trying to steal us away from God and what God would have us do.

It is very hard for us sometimes to know what God would have us do in terms of freedom. We still see God in a strict, legalistic sense. We see God as deterministic, deciding the outcome of all decisions long before we enter into the picture. This is not the picture of freedom that we would like to see.

When I first read the Old Testament passage for today, I wondered how it would fit into any discussion of freedom. Let’s face it; the story doesn’t have much in the way of freedom in it for either Isaac or Rebekah. Did Isaac have any say in the sending of the servant to his ancient homeland? Did Isaac even know that his father was getting him a wife? Did Rebekah have any say in the decisions of her father and relatives when it came to the discussion between Abraham’s servant and them regarding the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah? Maybe Isaac wanted to marry a local girl? Maybe Rebekah wanted to marry a local boy? When you read the story, you get the impression that neither Isaac nor Rebekah was given much in the way of a choice. And Isaac doesn’t even get to meet Rebekah face to face.

On the face of things, this story goes against everything that one can say about freedom. But does it? By this point in his life, Isaac had to have known the story of his parents traveling from the ancient homeland to what will become Israel. Isaac clearly knew the story behind his trip to Mount Moriah. And though I am not aware of any passages in the Bible, surely Isaac and Abraham talked about God’s plan and how they fit within it.

Understanding God’s plan and where anyone fits in it is not a simple thing to do. It requires far more than maintaining a certain collection of laws. It requires understanding what we are being asked to do in this world. It is not something that is automatic or complete in one step; what did Jesus say in the second part of the Gospel reading for today – “I am willing to go over it line by line to whomever is willing to listen.”

In the end, what we might call freedom may very well be nothing more that slavery with fancy trimmings. We get trapped by laws or our desire to not be trapped by laws. We seek to achieve something that we cannot achieve because we are so certain that we must do it in one way and one way only.

The invitation today comes from Jesus Himself – are you tired, worn out, burned out with religion. Do you seek a new life, one that is free? Perhaps the solution is Christ because Christ sets us free from the slavery found in a life of laws and regulations. We are invited to follow Christ and find true freedom. You know, the interesting thing is that we don’t have to follow Christ. That freedom was also given to us.

But the freedom not to follow leaves us where we are now and that does not appear to be a good alternative. In following Christ, we find a freedom that allows us to expand our boundaries and find ourselves.

This thing called freedom is an elusive thing. Some will search and never find it; others will see it in front of them and never know it. You are given the invitation to find freedom through Christ today. It is yours for the asking. What will you do?