A Society of Laws


This is an interesting Sunday (at least for me) on the liturgical calendar. While this Sunday is the Baptism of the Lord, it can also be considered Epiphany Sunday.

If the Baptism of the Lord focuses on the relationship between God and society, then Epiphany Sunday is the relationship between science and society.

In the following thoughts, I have tried to addressed those two points, points that are critical to the future of society.


Ours is a society of laws. Some of these laws come from our understanding of nature; others come through interaction with others on this planet.

The laws that come from our understanding of nature come from a deliberate attempt to understand the world around us. The discovery and determination of these laws is often time laborious and difficult with the results often unintelligible to the untrained mind.

The basic premise of our human-based laws should be to do no harm or to prevent harm from coming to us. From the time that the Code of Hammurabi was first written, laws have been written to define relationships between people and groups of people.

The Ten Commandments given to Moses by God also outlined how the Israelites were to relate with God and others. From these basic tenets came some 600 or so other laws, some telling the people what they could do and others telling them what they could not do. Often, actions dictated by one law conflicted with actions dictated by other laws.

There are those today who would like to have a society based on “God’s law”, whatever such laws may be. But these laws merely seek to place one group of people in a position of power and superiority of others. And the implication of said laws is often done with a sort of discriminatory approach that borders on hypocrisy. Those who wish to have “God’s laws” in place would ban abortion, yet they are quite willing to support the death penalty for criminals and equally willing to go to war, even both of those actions violate the basic commandment that one shall not kill.

And in quoting biblical verses that one should seek an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, they ignore that such statements were never meant to be statements of vengeance and retaliation but rather limits for such action.

And such an approach, founded in a distorted view of the Old Testament, ignores the actions espoused by Jesus who often proposed an active opposition to tyranny and power.

And how do we, today, respond, to the imposition of rules and laws that are designed to discriminate and oppress? The answer comes from the same approach that Jesus used, active opposition to tyranny and power; it comes from the same processes that allowed us to discover the basic laws of nature – experimentation and examination and the use of free thought.

One must understand that this approach cannot tell you if something is good or evil. One cannot quantify good and evil like one can quantify the force of gravity or the speed of light. But if we understand the outcome of our work, we have a better understanding of what we can and cannot do.

We may see others as inferior or different from us but there is nothing in nature that supports that idea, so laws that treat people differently because someone fears the differences between them are unjust and illegal.

Our challenge today is very simple. Create a society in which we understand the world around us that allows us to understand those who share this same world. On this weekend when we celebrate the visit of the Magi, we are quietly saying that we want a world in which we seek the information that brings us to a better time.

What Season Is This?


One of the things that makes us human is our ability to discern the differences in things.  I would suspect that one of the reasons the Preacher was able to write “to everything there is a season” was that he could see the passage of time in the seasons of the year.

We know that this is the winter season because the signs of the world around us tell us that it is winter time.  The beginning of shorter days, colder temperatures, animals beginning to prepare for hibernation, etc., all are signs that winter is upon us.

In the same way, we know that this is the Christmas season.  Unfortunately, the signs of Christmas seem to be appearing earlier and earlier ever year and these signs seem to have taken on an almost apocalyptic overtone.

They speak of economic disaster if we do not buy Christmas presents, forgetting that the first Christmas presents were given to the Christ child, not received by those who came to see the new-born baby.

The signs of Christmas today speak more about who we are today and less and less about what we can be tomorrow.  There are those who speak of a “war on or against Christmas”, and to some extent, they are correct.  There are those whose idea of Christmas is limited to what they want and who seem to forget that the primary visitors to the new-born baby were societal outcasts and foreign nationals (and individuals who spent their lives seeking new answers rather than accepting as unchanging answers that possibly do not work).

In a world where power is measured by one’s economic and social status, it is hard to imagine a child born in the most minimal setting being the One and True King.  This child has no true power, no money, no retinue to do his bidding or will so how can he be the true King?

We speak of the Prince of Peace being born and yet we continue to live in a world where violence and warfare dominate.  We are so attuned to this world and this way of life that we fail to realize that its only conclusion is the destruction of the world in which we live.  We are so attuned to this world and its way of life that we fail to realize that allowing only a few people to have all the money and wealth can only create conditions where violence and warfare are the only solutions.

We live in a world where a small group seek to maintain control by keeping those with common interests from coming together.  When groups of individuals hate, or at the minimum, fear other groups of individuals, those in power remain in power.  And sooner or later, this too will lead to the destruction of the world.

The signs of Christmas do not bode well for the future.  And the signs that tell us what season it is are not good signs at all.

But, there is one good sign.  It is that a small child was born some two thousand years ago, in a non-descript setting in a backwater town that virtually no one even knew existed.  But it was enough of a birth to disturb the powerful.  And as this young child would grow into an adult, He would begin to change the world in ways that the world could not understand (and obviously does not understand today).

When asked one time how one should treat one’s neighbor, Jesus spoke of ways that ran counter to accepted social policies, “ask what you would want people to do for you and then do that for them.”  It works this way – just because there are people who feel that they have the right to treat others in negative ways does not give you the right to do the same in return.

He said to turn the other cheek when someone struck you, to give your second cloak when someone demands your first, to walk the extra mile when commanded to walk one mile.  Time and time again, His way was a different way of life.  Some got it, others didn’t; some came to understand it; others never will.

There are those who have taken the title “Christian” but have chosen to live a life of exclusion, hatred, and violence. That is not the Way and it never was. The hymn says that they will know we are Christians by our love, not our hatred.

I know that the coming months are going to be hard but I know that with Christ the central part of my life, I am going to stare directly into the face of hatred and evil, smile and say that God loves you no matter what.

I know that the traditional mission of the followers of Christ was to go out into the world and make disciples of all the people.  But that didn’t mean beat them over the head with a stick until they accepted Christ.

But how are we to do that, make disciples of everyone.  Since disciples can be taken to mean students, we are to teach them about Christ and what Christ did.  And it must be a lesson that is done outside the classroom, not inside.

When Jesus began His ministry, He spoke of bring sight to the blind, of feeding the hungry, of bringing aid and comfort to the sick and afflicted, and freeing the oppressed.  There is, if you will a concrete and an abstract view of this mission statement.  But you cannot achieve the abstract if you do not have the concrete.

Our task is to put the words of Christ into action.  This is a season of new hopes and new beginnings, it is a season that begins with us.

Peace to you, peace to all your friends, and peace for the season.

 

10 Minutes


A Meditation for 18 September 2016, the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The meditation is based on Jeremiah 8: 18 – 9: 1; 1 Timothy 2: 1 – 7; and Luke 16: 1 – 13.

The prophet Jeremiah cries out that it seems as if God is not to be found anywhere in Zion.  But, by the same token, it would appear that it is the people who are to be blamed for the disappearance of God.  And in that alternative Old Testament reading for this Sunday (Amos 8: 4 – 8), the prophet Amos puts the blame on those who ignore the lesser of society in favor of their own goals.

And then there is Paul telling Timothy that God wants everyone saved, not just a select few but everyone.  And Paul points out that there is only God.  Now, it would be nice if Paul had left the option open on how this was to be done but, in his view, the only way to God is through Jesus Christ.  And I realize that I am in the minority on this point but that in accepting Christ as my Savior I understand what Paul is writing.  But that doesn’t mean that I can make everyone accept that viewpoint and I happen to think that Paul understood that as well.  That’s why he told Timothy that you had to get the word out and explain how it works.  And “explain” is the operative word; not everyone is going to accept the idea and we have to accept that.

Maybe I am wrong but I see something ironic in those words being the first lessons for this week.  Because there are those who would say that their goals and their agendas are the primary goals and agendas of the church and that if you don’t accept what they say as the absolute and positive truth, then you are out.

But these people have made deals much like that of the dishonest manager in the Gospel lesson for this Sunday.  They have made deals that allow them to keep their power and their position, even it goes against what God intended.

The title of this post is blatantly taking from Reverend Jeremy Smith’s recent post, “10 Minutes after Progressives are Exiled from the #UMC”.  Reverend Jeremy outlines some of the things that may occur if conservatives in the Methodist Church are able to accomplish their goals of creating a new orthodox, Wesleyan denomination and a network of churches committed to changing the word through proclamation and ministry.

Now, Reverend Smith points out that 10 minutes after this is accomplished and progressives are forced from the United Methodist Church, the world as they know will come to an end (and that is my interpretation) for many people who have suffered and endured in the limiting environment of their own present denomination will find the voice to break free.

The goals of these conservatives is to maintain the legalistic and perhaps, in their own mind, theological correct order of life.  And their view of the world is a very fixed and complete world.

But I live in a world that seems to be changing and what seemed to have been true years ago is no longer true.  If you are a chemist and you know your chemical history, then you are perhaps vaguely familiar with the phlogiston theory.

This was the first attempt to explain the process of combustion and stated that there was a substance known as phlogiston that was released during the process of combustion.  The discovery of oxygen and the fact that materials gained mass during combustion lead to the demise of this theory.

Now it should be pointed out that even after this theory was discredited, there were some who struggled to make it work.

There are times when I see what happens in the church today in that way.  There are some basic underlying principles that have remained true from the very day that we became conscious and sentient beings but have become clearer each day because we know about what is transpiring around us.  As the philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus, noted, “Everything changes and nothing stands still.”  He also stated one “can never step in the same river twice.”

I have spoken and written about how I see the future of the United Methodist Church and I know this:

I cannot leave the United Methodist Church when it was the place where I found a safe and loving environment at times of personal and professional crisis.  I cannot leave the United Methodist Church where there were pastors who saw something in me that I didn’t see and pushed and prodded be to continue on my own journal of faith.  I cannot leave the United Methodist Church when there are those who today to find that environment that love, that safety, that opportunity.  I cannot leave the United Methodist Church but I fear that the United Methodist Church will leave.

Sadly, those who hold on to this static view of life will find themselves left behind.  But those who they would willing exclude will find a new, open and welcoming church.

10 minutes from the now, the world will have changed and there is no one thing you can do to keep that from happening.  The prophets knew this; Paul always encouraged Timothy to keep moving forward.  And the words that Jesus spoke some two thousand years ago pointed out the what we have today are the moments that stimulate creative and allow us to move forward.

The world 10 minutes from now can be a better world if you are willing to make it so.

God’s Wrath or Man’s Ignorance


A Meditation for 21 August 2016, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The meditation is based on Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, and Luke 13: 10 – 17.

There are quite a few comments floating around over the Internet rejoicing the fate of a right-wing religious person whose home was destroyed by the recent Louisiana floods.  Those who are rejoicing feel that this is either God’s retribution or something similarly appropriate for this individual’s previous rather hateful statements.

Now, maybe it is right that anyone who has spoken words of hatred and exclusion should feel the same pain that they themselves have brought unto others but I don’t believe that is, if you will, the Christian way.  And I would say that if this individual or his supporters feel that their proclamation of self-based Christianity make them somehow more worthy of support than others, then I would suggest that they go to the end of the line until the truly needed have been helped.

I have heard those kinds of statements of how natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes are signs of God’s Wrath.  But as I once pointed out, how do we interpret the fact that the one of the most likely targets for a lightning strike is a church steeple.  In an Internet search I did a few years ago, I find over 100,000 instances of lightning hitting a church steeple.  Are the people who make up the church doing things that have incurred God’s Wrath or is it more likely that the steeple is the highest point in the area and, thus, more likely to be struck by lightning (from “And What Will You Say?”)?

But the God that seeks to invoke wrath on a person is not the God of my faith tradition.  This may have been the God of the Old Testament but my own faith tradition includes the New Testament and the God of the New Testament cared enough for all the people on this planet to send His Son to save us from sin and death.  And this is my own thought but I think God is smart enough to realize that retribution and anger don’t work.

Besides, if God was really that angry at mankind, he could have wiped us off the map years ago (and we know that He did this once before; he also told Noah that the rainbow would be a sign that never again would He destroy the world).

I also think that those who want an angry God do so because that’s the God of their lives.  They have transformed the Bible into what they want it to be and what it actually is.

The theme throughout the Old and New Testament is not one of anger and hatred, of war and violence, but of openness and acceptance.  A second theme, and the one that may, in part, account for our problems with floods and fires and such, is that we are stewards of this planet.

From the very beginning, we have been tasked with being good stewards, of taking care of this planet, our home.  And when we don’t take care of the planet, we can expect to be in deep, deep trouble.

There are those who have been saying that the severe weather that we have been dealing with for the past few years are only the beginning and the result of failure to heed the warnings that we were doing unalterable damage to the environment.

God sent His Son because the people ignored the prophets.  If we are to ignore His Son, if we are to ignore the teachings given to us for so many years, then we can expect what is to come.  It will not be God’s Wrath that destroys us; it will be our own ignorance.

Lexington, North Carolina


As noted, this was a message I presented back in 2005.  I am reposting it because I described my own personal encounter with segregation when I was about 12 years old.


This is the message that I will present this morning at Vails Gate UMC (Vails Gate, NY). Please let me know what you think; also, if you want to use what I have written here, please let me know.  (This post was edited on 12 March 2008 to remove some programming errors)

Thanks!

In peace and with Christ – Tony Mitchell


When I began reading the Scriptures for today, my first thoughts were of my mother’s home town of Lexington, North Carolina, and the times we spent visiting there while growing up. Hence, that is the title for this sermon. But as I struggled with and worked on this sermon, my thoughts changed from the days past when I was growing up to the days present.

For me, growing up in the south, hurricanes are not just items on the evening news or something read about in the newspaper. So the impact of Katrina has hit me just a little harder than perhaps it did you. And the knowledge of what is happening in New Orleans has added to what I was thinking a few weeks ago.

The three scriptures that we have for today have two common points, fear and trust. While decided several years ago, it is quite evident that they are very appropriate and evident for today.

Very few people seem to be asking what sort of a spiritual impact this disaster will have, and whether we are going to let it affect our consciences and our collective soul. Shouldn’t we all be praying for a spiritual renewal, and for a new era of justice and love? To me, that is the sort of question we should be asking.

Having said this, I’m sure that the people who have been personally devastated by Katrina are dealing with these deeper issues, and I pray that they find the nearness of God like never before.

Our world today is filled with unknowns and fears. Not only have we had to deal with Hurricane Katrina, we read of forest fires in Portugal and the western United States, mudslides in the Alps, the continued violence, destruction, and despair in Iraq, and the on-going famine in Darfur.

Others fears, both real and imagined, gnaw at the back of many minds. We cannot begin a day without hearing what the color of the day is; we have been encouraged to view any stranger we encounter as a threat, either as a terrorist or as one who will steal our identify from us. It is no wonder then that the enthusiasm of the young is being stifled and gradually replaced with caution, reserve, and apathy. (Adapted from “Searching for the Mountaintop – Finding a purpose in a Time of Fear” by Johann Christoph Arnold)

Our politics have almost totally become politics of fear. Politicians no longer campaign on the good things they will do but rather on what terrible things their opponents will do.

I am the son and grandson of career military officers. It is quite likely that my grandfather passed through this region as his infantry regiment was transferred from Fort Meade, Maryland, to Plattsburgh, NY, in 1921. Because my father made his career as an Air Force officer, we moved around quite a bit.

Lexington, North Carolina, is my mother’s home and a place that we visited from time to time. It was the place where I was baptized, and as such, it is a place that I consider one of my hometowns.

One summer during the early 1960’s we were visiting my grandparents. While there my two brothers and I went to the movie theater in town. While trying to find a place to sit, we inadvertently wandered into what one would politely call the “colored” section. Even though the theater was a public theater, this was the south and it was still a time of segregation.

What I remember of that moment was that while it was easy to pass from the “whites only” section, it was very difficult to pass back. The gate that separated the two sections only swung one way. It was easy enough to figure out that you needed to pull the gate back rather than push it forward. But when you are in a darkened theater with two younger brothers, it is a frightening and uncomfortable situation. It is such a situation in which fear can quickly grow.

Unfortunately, the legacy of segregation and the fear that can come from that odious practice is still with us. The news coming out of New Orleans is just a hint of the decades of oppression and fear that was imposed on the minorities in this country.

It was also fear that drove Matthew to write down the words of the Gospel that we read this morning. In all of Jesus’ parables, he challenged the listeners to hear the Gospel of God’s love in different ways, through different experiences, and with different languages. This passage goes beyond anything we might comprehend; it goes beyond the tokenism of inclusiveness to a radical inclusivity where we take others seriously, listen to each other and dare trust that he or she belongs in God’s love as much as we do. (Adapted from “A Careful Read” by Deanna Langle, The Christian Century, August 23, 2005)

If you stop and think about it, these cannot be the words of Christ. As you read this passage, you have to be struck with the paradox posed. If you have a problem with a member of the church, meet with them in private. If there are still problems, then bring along some witnesses and try to work out the problem. If that fails, then they were to be expelled from the church.

Did Christ not seek all those who had been excluded from church? Did not Christ seek those who were expelled from society? So how could He say throw out those with whom you disagree?

There are those who feel that this passage from Matthew comes from the later church and not from Christ. How could Jesus have been speaking for the church when there was, at that time, no church? Would He really have said treat someone as a Gentile or a tax collector when His own actions ran counter to those words? Remember that on a number of occasions He healed Gentiles and even had dinner with Zaccaheus, a tax collector. Even Matthew (or Levi in some translations), one of the twelve was a tax collector. So there are problems with this passage. It is possible that these verses are the reflection and thoughts of the early church.

These words still have a meaning for this day and time, for this is a passage of patience and gentleness. When you feel that you have been wronged by someone, you should make the first approach. When you point out that fault that has produced the rift between the two of you, it is to be done in love and friendship. One should use such a visit as this for the purpose of regaining a lost brother or sister, not for humiliation or condemnation.

Even if this private visit fails, the individual should not be branded as anything publicly. Two or three others, chosen for their Christian grace, are to be told so that their urgings can be added. It is only if they fail that the whole congregation should be told but not so that they can thrust this individual from their company and compassion. Only the individual’s own actions can drive them from the church.

These passages offer us a glimpse into the problems of the early church. Even then, there were careless and wayward members; sometimes there were even open scandals. The epistles confirm this picture of the early church. When we re-read verse 18, we see that it has been fulfilled. The church sometimes determines what interpretations should be forbidden (bound) and which should be sanctioned (loosed). The church, both the early one and today’s varieties and versions, have not been as gentle in discipline as the Gospel reading proposed. The church many times has acted with cruel vigor. The curse and penalty discussed in 1 Corinthians 5:5 (“hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature (that his body; or that the flesh) may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5: 5) is not gentle and it has been carried far beyond Paul’s time.

Matthew has combined in this writing a call for Christian patience and a great yearning for unity in the church. (Adapted from The Interpreter’s Bible – a commentary in twelve volumes, Volume 7 – Abingdon Press, 1951)  There was truly a fear that there would be those whose work would destroy the building of the church and perhaps there was a need for such scripture. But fear should never drive what we do or we should we use fear to disenfranchise people.

We should never see the Bible as closed and only an answer book. To do so would be a grave error on our part. We will continue to use scripture to attack others and thus perpetuate violence against one another and justify harm in God’s name. When this is done, we limit God.

We must listen and read passages such as these very carefully and honor the questions and tensions that they raise in us. If we listen with “new ears” we always will hear something different from what we expect. What we should take from this passage is that we are encouraged to remove the divisions between people, not building up walls that divide. We are encouraged to unite people with Christian love and grace, not separate people through fear, hatred and condemnation. And do we not sing

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me….
I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now, I see.
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares we have already come.
T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…
and Grace will lead us home.

The Lord has promised good to me…
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be as long as life endures.

In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr., came to Memphis to help the garbage workers in the strike against the City of Memphis. On April 3rd, he spoke not knowing what would transpire the next day. On that night he said,

We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop…and I’ve seen the Promised Land…I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

On the next day, Dr. King was shot down on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Martin Luther King foresaw his death. He knew without a doubt that it was coming, and he had every right to be afraid. But he wasn’t. So why should we?

There can be no doubt that there was fear in the minds of the Israelites that first Passover night. What if the Angel of Death should not see the blood smeared on the door to their house? What if the Pharaoh would not heed this last warning from God and let them go? What were they going to find as they went out into the desert? There truly must have been fear in their minds. But they trusted God.

And just as they trusted God to lead them through the desert and to the Promised Land, so too must we trust in God. So too must we work to show others that God has not forgotten anyone. In the reading from Romans for today, Paul quiets our fears. We know that our future is secure through Christ’s death and sacrifice on the cross. The blood of the lamb smeared on the doors of the Israelite homes in Egypt is now the Blood of Christ soaked into the Cross on Calvary. With this, how can we be afraid of what might come before us.

We must, as Paul encouraged us from centuries past, to replace fear in this country with true Christian love. If we allow fear to control our lives, it will conquer our lives. And if fear conquers, it will breed anger; and anger will bring hate. We must bring, through our words, our deeds, our thoughts and prayers the light of the world that was brought in our lives when we first accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior.

In a time when disaster seems to bring out the worst and causes mankind to distrust mankind, we must work to bring out the best in people. In a world where people see disaster and question the very existence of a loving and kind God, we must use our skills and talents to show that God is a positive presence in every ones lives.

For me, Lexington is just one of many places that I call home. It is where I came to know Christ as a baptized infant. Though it was a place where I came to know one manner of fear that people used to control others, it was a place in which my journey with Christ also began. We each have such a place in our lives; we must work to make sure that others do so as well.

But I Don’t Know How


A Meditation for 10 July 2016, the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The meditation is based on Amos 7: 7 – 17, Colossians 1: 1 – 14, and Luke 10: 25 – 37.

We woke up this past Friday morning to another shooting, another act of senseless violence. Was this shooting just the act of a senseless madman or a response, rightly or wrongly, to an environment that sees violence as the only response to violence? Or was it both?

Are we a society that sees itself as one group with many parts or are we so diverse, divisive, and separated that we can never see ourselves as one group?

As I have stated in the past, I grew up in the South, perhaps at the worst possible time to be growing up in the South. Parts of the South were still segregated and the parts that were being integrated were doing so slowly and somewhat reluctantly. And I know that many of those who grew up during that time, some of them my classmates, probably haven’t accepted those changes.

And today, with the reluctance of many, we haven’t accepted the idea that the statement “all men are created equal” applies to all, men and women, people of all colors, people of all economic status, and independent of gender or gender identity.

For some, the idea that some person, whom your grandparents may have considered inferior (or worse), is your equal is still a hard pill to swallow. We still somehow want to think that we are better than anyone else and we rejoice when some politicians tell us that. We rebel when others want to claim the equality that we have taken for granted.

And the Christian church, once the hope of the oppressed and forgotten, once the source of moral strength and whose members stood up against injustice and with those cast aside by society, was among the first to build a wall and keep people out. The sanctuary in too many churches across this country have become a place that keeps society out and allows its members to hide; it is no longer a place that welcomes the outcast and the forgotten; it is slowly becoming a place that says we don’t care who you are, we don’t want you here.

But the good news is that there are those who see the inequality and the injustice and work to end the oppression. There are those who are like Amos, who would rather just do the normal jobs. But God is calling them to take on the task, of speaking out against injustice and oppression, of saying that hatred and violence will never work.

Amos also pointed out that those whose only interest was in their own well-being and maintenance of the status quo would lose in the end.

Jesus was asked by someone who probably wanted an excuse to ignore the problems of society who was his neighbor. But Jesus wouldn’t give him that opportunity but pointed out that everyone was everyone’s neighbor and that you could not ignore anyone just because they didn’t fit some notion of correctness.

Paul reminds us, as he reminded the Galatians, that the Gospel still remains true and that grows stronger every day. But it still remains for each one of us to continue the work that began two thousand years ago in the back roads of the Galilee.

We may not know how to rid this world of oppression and hatred; we may be afraid to even try.

But we do know how to bring peace and justice to this world because we know the love of Christ and we know what Christ did for each one of us.

Because God loved us enough to send His son to die on the Cross for our sins and to bring us into freedom, we know what to do. And when we take that love into the world, things will begin to change.

How Does One Find Freedom?


A Meditation for 3 July 2016, the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The meditation is based on 2 Kings 5: 1 – 14; Galatians 6: 1 – 6 (7 -16); and Luke 10: 1 – 11, 16 – 20.

It has been said that one finds the cost of freedom buried in the ground (courtesy of Crosby, Stills, and Nash).

And for part of my life, I was reminded that the freedom in which we all lived was maintained by the B-52 bombers that were parked on the ready ramp with their bomb bay doors open. As long as those bombers were there, we were at peace; if those bombers took off, it was the beginning of the final war on this planet. The purpose of those bombers was to attack targets in the Soviet Union and I suspect that those flight crews knew that once they took off they were not coming back.

But how do we find freedom? What steps must we take that will insure that we can and continue to live in freedom.

I was privy to a conversation given to Air Force families living in western Missouri during the height of the Cold War that basically stated that western Missouri (where Titan II missile sites, prime targets for Soviet missiles, were located) would be a dead and devastated wasteland within a week if there was an exchange of nuclear missiles between the US and the Soviet Union.

The doctrine that allowed freedom to be maintained during the Cold War was called the theory of mutually assured destruction or, in one of the most appropriate acronyms ever created, MAD. But at what cost was such freedom paid for?

What happens when the majority of money is spent on weapons of war and the maintenance of power? What happens to meeting the needs of individuals, both at home and abroad? Perhaps the solution to finding freedom comes when one looks at the problem differently.

Naaman was one of the most powerful men in Biblical times and he expected that his military power would be sufficient to find a cure for his leprosy. But the threat of military power and the promise of wealth were not sufficient to heal Naaman.

The message in the healing of Naaman is found in the words of his servants who pointed out that he would have willingly done something hard and heroic when all he had to do was simply bathing in the river Jordan.

Like everything else, large amounts of wealth and large amounts of power (political or military) tend to make it hard to find that it is rather easy to find freedom. What is needed is an open mind and a willingness to see other options.

And the only way that you will ever see options is if you have an open mind.

Consider what Jesus told those he sent out on that first mission. Go ahead and make the announcement about why you have come to town but don’t make a big deal about it. Give the people an option.

I am sure that there were those among the seventy who would have wanted to seek some sort of response to the refusal of some to ignore their mission.

But Jesus told them to brush the dust of the town off and continue on their mission, leaving it to history to decide the fate of those with closed minds. He did not tell them to loudly proclaim how they were all sinners and doomed to a life in Sheol, just move on. He did not tell them to call on the heavenly powers to destroy the town (as some of the disciples often wanted to do), just move on. The mission will succeed because there will be people who will listen.

Those who chose not to listen lost, for the moment, the chance at freedom that was being offered. But that is and will always be the case; when your mind is closed, your options for freedom are limited.

I think that is also what Paul wrote to the Galatians. There were those who wanted to force people to follow them because it seems far easier than actually doing the work that we have been asked to do. I find it interesting that Paul points out (at least in The Message translation) that those who would force belief don’t do as they demand others do. And while that perhaps was directed at others, there are those who proclaim Christianity loudly today who do not follow Christ today.

If we are to find freedom today, we have to understand that it will not come through military action first. There may be a need for military action but it will always have to be the last option, not the first.

If we are find freedom today, it will not be through what others tell us to do or think, for they are only interested in maintaining the status quo and their own status. They have their own agendas which don’t mean freedom for others.

To find freedom, we must seek it and we must work for it. Our freedom will come when we open our minds, first to the power of the Holy Spirit, and then to the empowerment that follows. And we will keep our freedom when we help others to find theirs.