“The Value Of Wisdom”


A Meditation for 30 August, 2015, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), based on Song of Solomon 2: 8 – 13, James 1: 17 – 27, and Mark 7: 1 – 8, 14 – 15, 21 – 23

The other day, a blogging friend and colleague (Allan R. Bevere) posted a cartoon showing Jesus telling the four Gospel writers, “If you all don’t pay attention, we’re going to end up with four different versions of this miracle!” And on the side of the cartoon is a little boy holding a basket with 2 loaves of bread and 5 fish.

The catch in this cartoon is that, as best as we can figure, no one was taking notes about what transpired during the three years of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. Mark began his Gospel some forty years or so after the fact; Matthew and Luke borrowed heavily from what Mark wrote; and John wrote his Gospel much, much later. All four of the Gospels relied on what people had been saying over the years between the occurrence of the Gospels and when they were written.

Now, I knew that there were four versions of the feeding of the multitudes but I had found out when I began writing this piece that didn’t remember using John 6: 1 – 21 in any of the messages I have prepared over the past twenty years.

Now, before you frantically turn in your New Testament (you remember where you put it, I hope), this is John’s version of the feeding of the multitude. I think that because I focus so much on Matthew’s telling of the story and the fact that there are two stories in Matthew, I forgot that I have used the story in John on several occasions (five times in the past 15 years, including a couple of weeks ago). I also found out that is Luke’s version of the feeding that is not included in the lectionary.

Memory is a funny thing. If you don’t reinforce it, you are likely to forget what it is that you wanted to remember. I can, without much problem, give the first twenty elements of the periodic table in order. And I know most of the elements on the table, simply because it has been a part of my life for almost forty years now.

Even with all the work I have done preparing sermons, messages, and blog posts, chemistry is still my primary interest. So it is not surprising that I sometimes don’t remember what I have written with regards to the lectionary verses for each week. This single cartoon has reminded me that I need to pay just a little bit more attention to the lectionary verses each week and to be little more studious in the coming days.

One of the biggest problems we have today is our willingness to seek an immediate solution, without really understanding what the problem is. Our response to so many problems is something akin to the “old” saying, “A child with a hammer thinks everything looks like a nail” (from “A Collection Of Sayings”). We don’t stop to think about what the problem is and what has to be done to solve the problem.

Over the next few weeks, the Old Testament Reading will come from the section of the Old Testament knows as the “wisdom” section. In one sense, this is, for me, the best part of the Old Testament because it focuses on how we think. This section of the Old Testament bridges the history and law portions of the Old Testament with the prophecies. As you read the various books in this section, you are giving an alternative view to wisdom and an understanding of the nature of God. There is very little mention of God in the Song of Solomon or the books of Proverbs, Esther, Ruth, or Job, the books in the revised common lectionary that will be the source of the Old Testament reading for the next few weeks (from “Forgotten Books”).

Note added on 30 August – “James is a collection of early Jewish Christian wisdom materials.  As with the earlier wisdom writings, it emphasizes wisdom not so much as what one knows about God, but how one lives in response to God.”  (From (I believe) Ministry Matters)

This section shows that there is more to life than simply a framework of laws that must be rigorously followed. It also shows that there is a view of the world that does not necessarily end in tragedy and gloom.

The Song of Solomon reveals its treasures to the patient reader who approaches the book on its own terms, searching for and meditating on its meaning. (from “What Does It Mean?”)

Jesus challenges the Pharisees and religious scholars about their rigorous attention to the ritual hand-washing, almost to the point of ignoring the meal. Don’t get me wrong, there are some sound and very good scientific reasons for washing your hands before each meal (and you can hear every mother in this country saying, “see, I told you so.”).

I am sure that if we were to somehow trace the origin of this rule about washing one’s hands before a meal, we would find that is was developed for sanitary reasons. But, as is often the case, this reason got lost over the course of time. And when that happened, it lost its meaning. As Jesus pointed out, the ritual act of hand-washing is meaningless if what comes out of your mouth is dirty and polluted. It does little to wash the dirt and slime off your hands if your heart is not clean, for all that you touch will still be dirty.

Jesus’ point was that you had better understand what the act of washing was meant to do and then turn your life around. Paul, in the portion of his letter to the Ephesians that is part of the lectionary for today, points out that you have to act on what you hear. The catch here, of course, is that you have to distinguish between the Good and the evil. Paul also points out anyone can “talk a good game” but only through acting out your words can the true good be found.

In the end, we are tasked with knowing the Word and then acting out the Word. The closing words of the passage from Ephesians today remind us that our primary task in this world is to “reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against the corruption from the godless world.”

The value of wisdom is first remember that and then doing that.

“The Commitment Of A Lifetime”


A Meditation for 23 August, 2015, the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), based on 1 Kings 8: (1, 6, 10 – 11) 22 – 30, 41 – 43; Ephesians 6: 10 – 20; and John 6: 56 – 69


I wanted to focus on something else for the rest of the week so I went ahead and jotted down these thoughts for next Sunday.


Someone once said, I think, that there are teaching sermons and there are preaching sermons and that one has to be careful not to get the two mixed up. I also think that there are sermons that you write for those seeking Christ and sermons that you write for those who have found Him. And these two you definitely don’t want to get mixed up.

Because the person who is seeking Christ is apt to turn away if they know that the road that they wish to walk is going to be very, very rough and the person who has found Christ doesn’t really need to be reminded of that same fact.

How many individuals were there at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee? How many were there at the end? And how many people, having found Christ, are willing to help those still seeking Him? How many people, having found Christ, think that everything is complete and they don’t have to do anything?

I am not much of a theologian and I have always had a hard time with those who, having declared that they are Christian, do little or nothing afterwards; in fact, they only time that they seem to be a Christian is on a Sunday morning during worship or at a time of their own convenience.

And quite honestly, those seem to be the predominant Christians in today’s society. They have made the declaration and, for them, that is the end of the story, nothing else matters. They will do very little to understand the Bible, except when it suits their purpose; they will do very little to carry out what is proclaimed as the tasks of those who claim to be God’s people; and they most certainly would not recognize Jesus Christ if He should happen to appear at their doorstep one day.

And I will also be honest when I say that such Christians, giving them the benefit of the doubt, are the primary reason that 1) I almost left the church several years ago and 2) so many people are not willing to seek Christ today.

In the end, it is what Paul told the Ephesians and what Solomon said to God so many years ago. “Truth, righteousness, peace, and faith” are the way of God and those are the means, the tools by which we will show others what Christ is about.

Something I wrote and said a few years ago still remains true today:

  1. We must make sure that everyone understands what is in the Bible, what is not in the Bible, and what it all means.
  2. We must also make sure that what we say and do is based on what is in the Bible and the result of our study and understanding (with modification, from “First, Read The Manual; then . . . “)

And something that I have used on a number of occasions comes from Timothy Zimmer. In his book, “Letters of a C. O. from Prison,” he wrote,

We say, many of us, that such and such a condition is evil, that such and such a goal is good; this the spirit which binds us, not in commitment, but in the possibility of commitment. For it is what comes after the good and evil have been defined and agreed upon that determines the grain of activism. Do we practice what we preach? Or, do we, advocating peace, resort to violence in our advocacy? And advocating freedom, refuse to face the real threat to our security which freedom brings? And advocating love, hate the haters more than they hate us? . . . If we preach love and freedom and peace, we must first love, be free, be peaceful — or better yet not preach at all but let love and peace and freedom speak for themselves in our actions. (“Letters of a C. O. from Prison”, Timothy W. L. Zimmer (1969, The Judson Press), page 36 – 37)

And Solomon pointed out that as long as we live our lives with the commitment that we have made, God will also continue his commitment as well.

So we say to those who have made the commitment, who have chosen to walk with Christ, “Yes, this will be hard and it will not be easy at first. But it will get easier and there will be those who will benefit because we were there for them.”

For those who are seeking Christ we also say, “Yes, this is a hard road to walk but you don’t have to walk it. There are other alternatives but there is no guarantee that those alternatives will help you find what you seek. But when you choose to walk with Christ, in a commitment that lasts a lifetime, you do not walk alone, for we will be with you and Christ will be with all of us. And as we walk together, the world will know and the world will change.”

“Achieving Wisdom”


A Meditation for 16 August, 2015, the 12th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), based on 1 Kings 2: 10 – 12, 3: 3 – 14; Ephesians 5: 15 – 20; and John 6: 51 – 58

And there is Paul telling the Ephesians to wake up and climb out of their coffin. The last time that I used this reading (“What Does The Future Hold?”) I pointed out that this was a very interesting way to talk about thinking outside the box.

The first thing that Solomon asked for was wisdom; he knew that everything else would come if he had wisdom.

The powers that be could not understand what Jesus was saying. They were so hung up on the the current situation that it was almost impossible for them to see what was going on. And I am not entirely sure that they would have know what to do if they did know what was going on.

It is very much the same today. We focus on the present so much that we have no way of seeing or even envisioning what may take place tomorrow. We have been so concerned about our students not learning anything we have forgotten that the achievement of learning requires teaching them how to learn, not simply understanding untold number of facts.

And we as a society are quite willing to accept the words of a few self-appointed individuals as the truth and we do so without questioning or in face of the fact that what they are saying is not truth.

And quite honestly, many of those who espouse to be our religious leaders today, who tell us we need to live in a Christian society (while they themselves do not), would probably not recognize Jesus or would say that he doesn’t know what He is talking about, just as their 1st century counter-parts did.

And in the end, it does not matter what someone else tells you to think; it is what you decide to think that counts. But that means that you must study, you must seek, and you must be open to the whole world.

As I said, the first thing that Solomon sought when he became King was wisdom because that would give him the tools he needed to achieve other things.

How do we go about achieving that wisdom? It is by asking questions and seeking answers, not simply accepting what others tell you to say and/or do. Granted, if your teacher tells you early on that 1 and 1 is 2, it would be a good idea to accept that as the truth but you can always test the question but using a calculator to confirm the addition. Ultimately, of course, you have to do the calculations and trust the answers but that is part of the process of achieving wisdom.

Wisdom starts with some basic knowledge but to achieve wisdom you have to go beyond the basic information. Jesus gave everyone the same basic information and showed everyone how to get it; it was then and is now up to the individual to finish the task. We are pushed to think outside the box when we seek wisdom, the same wisdom that allowed Solomon to be one of the great Kings of Israel. But more than that, this gives us opportunities to further the Kingdom of God in ways that we may never know otherwise.

“The Hardest Thing In The World”


A Meditation for 9 August, 2015, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), based on 2 Samuel 18: 5 – 9, 31 – 33; Ephesians 4: 25 – 5: 2; and John 6: 35, 41 – 51

What is the hardest thing in the world to do? I was going to say that growing old may very well be one such thing but that is something that we cannot avoid doing. Still, accepting the challenge of growing old and keeping pace with the world can be very hard.

It is quite easy, I think, to stay with the ideas that you developed when you were young and life was easy. But life and society keeps on changing and the ideas of our youth may become quickly outdated. That doesn’t mean that we need to go with the flow, as it were, because it can be very difficult keeping up. But we also need to know that things do change.

This morning I was listening to the news and one analyst pointed out that the existence of Twitter had changed the political landscape. Were it not for Twitter, many of us would have waken on Saturday, August 8th, to hear the comments on one person. As it were, the use of Twitter took us past the initial comments and onto the reaction and action. Now, for the record, I don’t have a Twitter account though I do have a Facebook account (and I get as much news from my Facebook as I do from television and radio).

This is not to say that we all need a Twitter account nor do we need to get on Facebook but it does say that we need to realize that the world outside our own walls may be a little bit different from the world we live in. And this leads us to contradictions.

Michael Lerner, in his book “The Left Hand of God”, pointed out that we are constantly in conflict with what we perceive to be the values of society and our own values. At times, the two seem mutually exclusive and we do not know how we can be successful in society while at the same time maintaining our own core values. We seek a solution that will allow us to succeed in today’s society while holding onto our own values; we desperately want someone to show us a way to achieve success without sacrificing our souls (adapted from “The Vision Of Hope”).

We are quite willing to accept the ideas of others without questioning simply because what is said, truthful or not, fits within our view of the world. And we cannot understand what is happening in the world when it does not fit our view of world, especially when it has been reinforced by the words, thoughts, and actions of others.

The church today is not exempt from this struggle. Many people, if pressed, would say that they don’t understand what is happening to the church today but only because they still see the church in terms of what it was when they were younger. It is perhaps hard, if not difficult, to even think of the church being more than just a one or two hour event on Sunday with perhaps an occasional social event once a month. They cannot see that the church existing outside the walls of the building or allowing others to even enter “their” church. Those are things that are simply not done.

Those who heard Jesus speak of the Bread of Life and what that meant had a hard time understanding what He was saying because they saw Jesus only in terms of being Joseph’s son. They saw a carpenter’s son and carpenter’s sons were not capable of profound statements. And this carpenter’s son had a habit of being with the wrong people of society. Clearly, Jesus had no business proclaiming any sort of message about the meaning of life and our relationship with God.

Today, our problem isn’t that we that we don’t understand what Jesus said two thousand years ago; it is that we think that those words only applied two thousand years ago. The hardest thing in the world is to understand that is our view that needs to change; the message is still the same.

We cannot preach the Gospel message unless we are willing to understand that is a message for all the people. And we cannot force people to accept the message unless we are willing to live a life as the early church lived, one in which all are accepted. We cannot follow Christ if we are not willing to go out into the world. And that is the hardest thing in the world to do, to leave the life and world that we would like to be in and go out into the world that needs our presence.

“Which Path Will You Take?”


A Meditation for 2 August, 2015, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), based on 2 Samuel 11: 26 – 12: 13, Ephesians 4: 1 – 16, and John 6: 24 – 35

When the first “Cosmos” television series concluded, Carl Sagan suggested that society was at a crossroads. One path lead to the exploration of the universe and beyond; the other path lead to death and destruction through violence and war. At that time, we were still technically in the Cold War and President Reagan’s rhetoric did not help an image of some sort of nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Of course, shortly thereafter, the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and Soviet-style communism. Much to the dismay of many, I don’t think that we can create President Reagan for this outcome. Oh, I don’t doubt that he had a part in it but I don’t think that increasing military spending will ever be the answer because, sooner or later, you end up having to justify all that spending and that means going to war.

It is now some forty years later and we are again, I think, at another crossroads. And while one path perhaps leads to new discoveries, the other is still a path that leads to destruction. We are a society that still believes that the answer to violence is violence and we are becoming a society where concern for the other person is minimized. It seems to me that the rich and powerful will do whatever is necessary to hold onto what they have and to continue getting more, no matter what the consequences of their actions might be. And if we continue on this path, if we continue to hold onto the notion that we must hold onto what we have and gather more, then there will come a time, when there won’t be anything left.

Think about it; if one person gathered up all the resources in the world for themselves and allowed no one else to have anything, either nothing would get done or the other people would rise up in revolt.

The time is now to make a decision, not to try and gather everything we can for ourselves (and Jesus told at least parable about the outcome of such actions) but rather to insure that everyone has enough. And we have to realize that all the material stuff that you gather but will never use can never provide the solace and comfort that your spirit and soul needs.

And if your spirit and soul are not comfortable, there is no way that you can discover new things or seek new ideas.

Jesus spoke of the Bread of Life, the food that would feed your spirit. What we have to do is find ways to feed the spirit and soul of the people. We don’t have to lead them to Christ but show them the way. We cannot force people to follow Christ but we can show them the way.

So, as we come to these crossroads, we have to make a choice. One will give us a good life but it is a life that will be limited; the other choice will lead to a good life that goes beyond what we can see or envision. Which path do we take?

“The One Person”


A mediation for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), 26 July 2015 based on 2 Samuel 11: 1 – 15, Ephesians 3: 14 – 21, and John 6: 1 – 21.

A few years ago I found a thought by Willie Nelson, “one person could not change the world but one person with a message could.” But what perhaps is the message?

Uriah could have easily done what David wanted him to do and no one would have said anything. But Uriah knew that his men didn’t have the opportunity for the comforts that David was encouraging him to enjoy. I am sure that other generals and military leaders would have done exactly that. I think that leadership sometimes requires that leaders understand what is taking place in the field.

A number of years ago there was a movement in business to seek excellence. Two of the outcomes of this movement were 1) most innovations occur at the basic level and not in the upper levels of management and 2) good leaders managed by “walking around” and studying what was happening at the basic levels of the company. In one sense that is what Uriah is saying, “my men do not have these privileges so I will not enjoy them.”

Of course, in this particular case, Uriah’s insistence on holding onto his vision of what was right lead to his own death as David attempted to cover up his own problems. But David paid a penalty for his sins and errors in the cover-up and we need to keep that in mind.

In the Gospel reading for today, Philip (and probably the other disciples as well) does not immediately see the solution to the problem of feeding all the people on that hillside. Now, John the writer notes that Jesus already knew what He was going to do but He wanted Philip to begin to see the answer. And, of course, the answer was provided by the young man who had brought a lunch of bread and fish.

There seems to be a problem in society today. Faced with numerous problems, we tend to think in terms of traditional answers. And we bang our heads against the wall time and time again trying to make the traditional answer work. The traditional answer for Uriah would have been to take advantage of the benefits of his position but that would have done anything for his men. The traditional response for the disciples would have been to tell the people to get their own lunches but while that may have worked, it would not have not opened the minds and spirits of all the people, including the disciples, to what God can do in their lives.

I have said it before, your encounter with Christ is likely to change your life. You will see the world in a different way. In one sense, that is what Paul told the Ephesians. You cannot lead the same life you were living after you encounter Christ (as he well knew).

One person with a vision can change the world – I don’t know if Willie Nelson was thinking of Christ when he made the that comment but I do know that Jesus Christ saw the world in a different way and He worked to make that vision a possibility. Our response today is to hear the call that Christ is making and understand that in accepting it we can change the world.

“Finding A Sanctuary”


A Mediation for 19 July 2015, the 8th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) based on 2 Samuel 7: 1 – 14, Ephesians 2: 11 – 22, and Mark 6: 30 – 34, 53 – 56.

This is an incomplete mediation because I wasn’t sure how to end it. It sometimes seems to me that we seek sanctuary only for ourselves but we end up making it a fortress. We need to find ways of making the world a sanctuary and not a war zone.

There is an episode in MASH where a young soldier wants to get out of the Army and he seeks Father Mulcahy’s assistance. In this episode, Father Mulcahy invokes the role of the church as a sanctuary from war; but the problem is that Father Mulcahy’s church also happens to be the camp’s mess tent and there is a problem resolving the difference in those two roles. At the end of this episode, the young soldier grabs a gun and this causes Father Mulcahy to get very angry. As he points out, you cannot use a gun in a place in which you have sought sanctuary.

What is the role of the church and those who call it home in today’s society? Is a church a place of sanctuary from which one can seek protection for all that is wrong with the world? Does that mean that what goes on inside the walls of a church should insulate its members and protect them from whatever is going on outside the walls?

Or should a church be a sanctuary from which all people, not just the members, can find solace and peace, protection from those who would do them harm?

I think it is quite easy to build walls around us that block off the world and prevent us from seeing what is happening and call that a sanctuary. But when you build such walls, it becomes very difficult to make it so you cannot get it. In trying to keep the world from getting into your life, you make it very hard for you to get back into the world.

But there has to be a place where people can seek solace and peace, to find protection from those who would seek to do harm. In another MASH episode, Father Mulcahy notes that warring armies always left a particular monastery alone, recognizing that it was a sanctuary and place of peace.

So what is a sanctuary? Is it a place where one can feel safe and protected from the outside world? Or is it a place where the outside world can feel safe and protected? If the answer is the first one, then what happens to the world? And how does one accomplish anything if you are inside your sanctuary?

But we can’t make the world a sanctuary? Or can we? I was reminded the other day that hospitality in the Old Testament was a matter of making all people, strangers and friends alike, welcome in your home? The distance between places and the lack of things that we take for granted today made almost a requirement that you welcome the stranger into your home.