Which Way Will You Walk?

A Meditation for 29 June 2016, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The meditation is based on 2 Kings 2: 1 – 2, 6 -14; Galatians 5: 1, 13 – 25; and Luke 9: 51 – 62.

This is about our legacy, that one thing that will be here after we are gone, our bones have turned to dust, and our soul is in Heaven. In the movie “A Man For All Seasons” Sir Thomas More suggests that Richard Rich should be a teacher.

Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.

Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?

Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.

These are simple times, times which define history. History is not determined by complicated issues but rather simple actions by everyday people.

And whether we like the idea or not, the decisions we make, no matter how insignificant they may seem, will have a lasting impact on what happens next.

Paul points out that God has called us to a new and free life. But this freedom comes with a price; it is not an excuse to do whatever we want because that only costs the very freedom we gained, and in the end, leads to our destruction.

I believe that there are perhaps four different types of people in this world: 1) those whose only intent is evil (and I hope that are not too many of these individuals), 2) those who see acts of evil as a manifestation of good, 3) those who perform acts of good but solely for their own benefit, and 4) those whose acts of good and kindness are for the benefit of all.

Admittedly, this is a very arbitrary scale and I don’t know how one fits onto it but, to be quite honest, there are people who do fit into the first three categories and those who are in the fourth category are in a distinct minority. I would presume that most individuals are in the third category who only do good when it is best for them to do so.

But it is quite clear that this is not the choice that Jesus demanded from those who choose to follow Him, either two thousand years ago or even today. As Paul wrote, it is not just what you think but what you do that counts.

There comes a time when each one of us has to make a decision about what we are going to do and the path we will walk. Time and time again, the prophets of the Old Testament pointed this out. The decision by Elisha to follow Elijah, to take his cloak and continue his work is the decision we are called to make today.

Will you walk your own path, knowing only that it does lead anywhere (no matter what you might think at this time)? Or shall you walk with Christ, knowing that it leads to total and complete freedom?

The Flags We Do Not Fly On Memorial Day

A Meditation for 29 May 2016, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). This is also the Memorial Day Sunday.

The meditation is based on 1 Kings 18: 20 – 21, (22 – 29), 30 – 39; Galatians 1: 1 – 12, and Luke 7: 1 – 10.

Monday, May 30th, is Memorial Day, the day that we are supposed to pause for a few moments and remember those who have died in service to the United States.

Memorial Day began as a remembrance of the Union dead of the War Between the States. Major General John A. Logan, head of the Grand Army of the Republic (an organization of Union veterans) picked the day of May 30th as Memorial Day since it was believed that flowers would be in bloom all over the country. General Logan’s orders for that day stated,

“We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.” (From http://www.appc1.va.gov/pubaff/mday/mdayorig.htm)

It was not until after World War I that the meaning of the day was expanded to honor all those who died in American Wars. In 1968, the United States Congress passed the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act” which moved Memorial Day from the traditional May 30th date to the last Monday of May, which this year is coincidentally the same date. This law took effect in 1971.

We have, in our family, two sets of flags. One set of flags is used on days such as Memorial Day. But we have another, far more important set of flags that were given to our family in grateful thanks for the service of Colonel Walter L. Mitchell, Sr., Major Robert J. Mitchell, Sergeant Walter L. Mitchell, Jr., Sergeant George Walker, and Sergeant Raymond Troutner. Our family was fortunate in that they all died during times of peace.

But some families are not so fortunate. Their loved ones, their fathers, brothers, sons, mothers, and daughters died during war, far away from home and sometimes for a cause long forgotten. They came home with little fanfare and late at night, with the hopes of those who sent them to die that no one would notice.

Now, this will sound just a bit sarcastic but those who have died seem to have been better treated than those who were injured or wounded. It seems that those who are wounded and injured are more often than not forgotten, as the tragedies of the Veterans Administration have shown.

This need not be a somber day but it should be a day of reflection and remembrance, for we must honor those who died to insure our freedom and the liberties that we have. But I am afraid that this is becoming a day of celebration of war, not a remembrance of war and what war does. We glorify that which we should abhor and we ignore the consequences of our actions.

I am reminded that Robert E. Lee once wrote to his wife,

“It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”

President Dwight Eisenhower said,

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

We see Memorial Day as a day of racing, parades, and the unofficial beginning of summer. For many students, Memorial Day is the marker that says school is almost over. It is hardly what we could call a day of memory and remembrance.

It is a day that says the gods of Baal, the gods of war and greed, are more important. Politicians, on both sides of the aisle, will speak in platitudes and cliches that glorify war and suggest that war is and will always be the answer to the problems of the world.

And these words will often be spoken by politicians and would-be politicians who have never served a day in the military, who are quite willing to send our youth, our future off to war but who have no concept of what war is or what it can do. And when the war ends (assuming that it ends), they do nothing to repair the damages and destruction caused by war. And then they wonder why war never ends.

And when politicians and would-be politicians raise up veterans, it is often for their own political and financial gain, not for the veterans.

In much the way Dante envisioned Sheol as a series of levels, I am sure that there is a special level for those who profit from war and the death and injuries of those they sent off to fight for them.

I also think there is a special place for those who proclaim to be Christian but who treat the words of Christ as words to be ignored. Personally, if one wants to declare war as the solution to the problem, that’s somewhat fine for me. But don’t say you are a Christian because nothing you say or do even remotely models the life of Christ.

In fact, when your focus is on these other gods and not Christ, you miss the point. But the Roman captain in Capernaum understood the difference.

Here was an officer in the Roman army, perhaps the greatest single military power in the history of the world, and he understood that none of that power, none of that military might was any good when he came to healing his servant. But he did understand that Jesus had the ability and power to do just that.

We are very much like the people of Israel when Elijah was the prophet and God’s spokesperson. The nation had begun following the gods of Baal and Elijah challenged the people to decide what they were going to do. Elijah arranged a demonstration to illustrate the inability of the gods of Baal when compared to the the true power of God. And when it was all done, the gods of Baal failed terribly in this very simple demonstration, even with the situation stacked in their favor.

I do not know what was going on in Galatia but it was clear from what Paul was writing that someone was offering an alternative view of the message that Paul presented. And it was also clear from what Paul wrote that this alternative message was clearly in opposition to the original message. Is not the message of some many so-called “Christians” the same version of that alternative message?

Where are we today? Do we accept the true Gospel, in which we help others, in which we care for others, and remove the causes of war, violence, and hatred? Or do we follow the false gospel of those who pronounce that we are to hate the outsiders and those who are different, who pronounce the power of war over the power of love, all while ignoring or transforming the words of Christ and the prophets of God?

There will be wars that we must fight. World War II was, unfortunately because of the anger and hatred that ended World War I, inevitable. But had justice over anger prevailed at the Versailles Conference in April, 1919, World War II may have been avoided. And many of the problems that have plagued our society since then would, perhaps could have been worked out in other ways.

Robert E. Lee also said,

“The war . . . was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.”

We also need to remember the words of George Washington,

My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.”

President John Kennedy pointed out,

“Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man.”

Two years earlier, he said,

“Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind. War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.”

On this Memorial Day, when we pause to remember those whose service and sacrifice allow us to live free, we also need to remember the words of Elijah as he demonstrated the false nature of the gods of Baal, we need to remember the words of Paul who showed the power of Christ, and the single Roman Captain who understood that the the power of war can never be greater than the power of true Christian love.

We are challenged this day to go out into the world, not to destroy the world, but to build the world so all people will live free.

Thoughts On Pentecost Sunday

A Meditation for 15 May 2016, Pentecost Sunday (Year C). The meditation is based on Acts 2: 1 – 21, Romans 8: 14 – 17, and John 14: 8 – 17 (25 – 27.

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the time when the Holy Spirit came to those gathered in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago. And on this Pentecost Sunday, 2016, representatives of the United Methodist Church are gathered in Portland, Oregon, for the 2016 General Conference. I cannot help but think that, from all that I have read and heard, what is taking place in Portland cannot be, in any sense of the thought, be comparable to what transpired in Jerusalem two thousands years ago.

On a day when those gathered were united by the Holy Spirit, why are we so intent on dividing the people? Are we, as it is written in Genesis, all created in the image of God? Why is it that some people, who insist that some people do not fit that definition.

And why, when the Holy Spirit opened both the minds and spirits of the people, are so many intent on closing minds and diminishing spirit?

Why, when Jesus pointed out that He was the fulfillment of the Law, are so many people intent on maintaining the law, even when it is clear that the law is both discriminatory and out-of-date.

On this date, when the church became the church, why does it look so clearly that the United Methodist Church is soon to be simply a footnote to history.

Is it more important to maintain what we have or is it more important that we look at how to make the Gospel message reality in today’s and tomorrow’s society? Shall we deny the reality of today simply to maintain an illusion of reality?

We who have answered the call of Christ to walk with Him and who have opened our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit are challenged today to not simply keep the Spirit that we celebrate today alive but to take it out into the world. Our task is not to shut the door on those unlike us but, as Jesus outlined it when He began the Galilean ministry is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help the stranger, the widow, the orphans and relieve the wants of the world.

A New Vision Of The World

A Meditation for 24 April 2016, the 5th Sunday of Easter (Year C). The meditation is based on Acts 11: 1 – 18, Revelation 21: 1 – 16, and John 13: 31 – 35.

Here are my thoughts for this past Sunday.  Got a little bit behind in my work and struggling to catch up.

Let’s begin by expanding on the thoughts behind Peter’s refusal to eat certain foods. Peter was undoubtedly an observant Jew so he had grown up obeying those dietary laws, rules, and regulations.

But it was very likely that he and everyone else at that time what those laws, rules, and regulations were the way they were. There were foods that you could not eat with other foods and there were foods that you could not eat at all and that was they way it was. The reason or reasons for these laws, rules, and regulations was lost in the passage of time but were based on the early days of the Exodus when food storage and preservation were at a premium. The people who began the Exodus understood this but this understanding got lost over time.

How many of us hold onto attitudes and behaviors that we grew up without understanding why we do? How many times do our actions towards others reflect “old” thinking?

The problem for so many people today is that they remain locked in this “old” way of thinking, often times without realizing it. There are those who read the words of John the Seer in the Book of Revelation and see a fulfillment of the past, of the actions of a vengeful and hateful God. But the Seer’s words are a new vision of the world, a new beginning, an opportunity to begin anew and not a continuation of the old. The Seer’s Revelation was never, as President John Kennedy said in the concluding part of his speech to the nation on 22 October 1962, a victory of might but a vindication of what was right. The Book of Revelation is not a justification of the old ways but the knowledge of the new ways.

But how do we achieve the Kingdom the Seer foresaw? How do we establish the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth as Christ so many times proclaimed He had come to establish?

Do we create military armies that will destroy our armies? Do we create laws, rules, and regulations that echo our prejudices and hatred, which reap vengeance on those we hate and despise?

Or do we do as Jesus told those who heard Him that day two thousand years ago that we are to love each other as He loved us? Are we to act in such a way that when others see us, they will see Christ?

It is very hard to throw away the old ideas, the old ways. We heard that in Peter’s thoughts written in the Book of Acts. But Peter understood what he had to do.

The assurance and presence of God through Christ gives us the same comfort and strength that Peter received so that we can cast aside the old and claim the new, so that we can have a new vision of the world.

Finding The Way For Ourselves And For Others

A Meditation for 17 April 2016, the 4th Sunday of Easter (Year C). The meditation is based on Acts 9: 36 – 43, Revelation 7 :9 – 17, and John 10: 22 – 30.

Two things to note – I am more and more convinced that modern Christianity has lost its focus, lost its way if you will. It seems, at least to me, that too many individuals today claim the mantle of Christianity without accepting the duties and responsibilities that come with the acceptance of the mantle of Christianity. In fact, and again this is my opinion, too many people claim to be Christians but whose thoughts about humanity expressed through their words, deeds, and actions are in complete opposition to what it was that Jesus said and did during His three year ministry.

And I also think that there are too many people who claim to be spiritual but not religious do not understand that it is through religion that one finds or clarifies their spirituality. I am aware, as a recent CBS story indicated that

Humans are spiritual beings before religious. Religion means to bind back (re-ligare). Religion is a method. Spirituality is inherent in our being. Religion teaches us how to access and guide our spirituality, by providing story and ritual that speaks to our whole person – mind and heart. It “binds us back” to our nature as spiritual beings in relationship with God and with each other. Religion and religious community are designed to help us integrate our mind – bodies – through spiritual awareness; our thinking, feeling and doing in balance and wellness. And this is the ideal goal of all authentic religions (http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/faith-spirituality-the-future/).

You many know that you are seeking some sort of spiritual level but without some sort of framework, you cannot reach any sort of spiritual level.

The church today is very much aware that there are those who seek Christ. As the Gospel reading for today points out, people have sought Christ from the very beginning of the Galilean ministry. And like those who sought Him then, many who seek Him today do not know who or what to look for. And when you don’t know what to look for, it is very hard to reach that spiritual level that something inside you, which for the lack of a better term we shall call your soul, is pushing you to find.

I will admit that I used to dread preaching or writing about the Revelation of John. There was a part of me that just couldn’t accept the idea that a world that began with hope and promise, a world in which God cared about what happened to His children, would end in death and destruction. But, as I read more about what John the Seer was writing and what was the basis for the apocalyptic vision that so many people utilize today, I could see that there was a difference in the visions offered.

But John the Seer wasn’t offering an end to the world but a new beginning. But if one is to see it as a beginning, the achievement of one’s spiritual quest, then one must know who Christ is, was, and will be.

And the only way that one can reach this ending, the only way we can help people find Christ in today’s world is to do what Peter and the other disciples did, show the work of Christ in the world. Granted this may be a little difficult to accomplish in a world where so many people work and live in a matter that says you can only find Christ if you walk on the same spiritual journey as they do.

Let us begin today to find the way. It requires that we first renew our commitment to Christ, to say that we will through our thoughts, words, deeds, and actions, live a life that shows Christ. It is a life that says that we have chosen a new way to walk and we invite others to walk with us. We understand that even though we all seek the same destination, each journey is unique and that we can only help others continue on their journey. And we help by showing them the way.

This is the greatest challenge because it forces us to open our minds, our hearts and our souls to see Christ in many ways. But when we see Christ, we can easily help others. And as we help others see Christ, we also see a new world, a new beginning.

That Particular Moment in Time

A Meditation for 13 April 2016, the 3rd Sunday of Easter (Year C). The meditation is based on Acts 9: 1 – 6, 7 – 20; Revelation 5: 11 – 14; and John 21: 1 – 19.

When I first began teaching chemistry back in 1971, I had only a rudimentary knowledge of how to teach. I knew the subject but I was still in the process of learning the nuances of teaching and I knew very little about how students learned chemistry. And to top it off, my first teaching assignment was not in a traditional setting.

Highland High School used a modular plan where each class had one or two periods of lecture, one or two periods of recitation, and one or two periods of laboratory work during on a six-day cycle (which was nice because the cycle kept going, even if there was a break in the regular routine).

But that meant that I had deal with something that didn’t really exist in the traditional Monday through Friday, five periods a day, school calendar and that was laboratory time. So it was that I had to begin developing laboratory experiments.

And like a lot of my colleagues, then and perhaps even now, I borrowed from what I knew from college. I would do the same experiments that I knew from college because I had copies of my notes so I knew what to expect and it was a lot easier to do it that way.

Now, some forty years or so later, I still don’t have the knack for creating experiments that one can use in a teaching laboratory. And what is done in the teaching laboratory today today needs to be done on what is called a micro-scale level and be “green” or environmentally friendly. Were I to be in a position to teach future chemical educators, this is one area that I would really be looking at, if for no other reason than it begins to give the educator an idea of how students learn.

Now, this is has nothing to do with the Scripture readings but since I am at this point, it needs to be said. Students learn best when they actually do the stuff one is talking about in class; you really cannot learn something simply by being in lecture all the time. If you don’t do the work, it never really gets understood.

Even Jesus understood that point. Remember that He sent 72 of his group out into the world while He was still in the three year period of ministry. He sent them out to do what He had been doing and to prepare them for what they were going to be doing when He left.

Now, back to the Scriptural train of thought. The other thing that happened during those first two years of teaching was that I developed an understanding of how students learn chemistry. It was, if you will, the beginning of my “aha!” moment (I first defined this idea in “The AHA Moment”; I expanded on this idea a bit in posts linked to that post).

Without realizing it, I was learning what Jean Piaget learned in the early 50s; that students go through a series of stages of learning. In chemistry, they come into the class at the concrete level, comfortable with what is before them and able to use those examples to find the answers to similar problems. But during the time frame in which they are taking chemistry, they are transitioning to a more abstract level, whereby they assimilate the information and are able to use it to solve new problems.

This is a critical point in today’s world. When faced with a problem, we are very apt to fall back on what we know as a way of solving the problem. In the days between the Resurrection and the Ascension, the disciples do just that.

They are certain about what to do, so they go back to doing what they know. And in the case of Peter, Andrew, James, and John, they go fishing. And as we read in today’s Gospel reading, there is that moment when Peter recognizes Christ. It is Peter’s “aha!” moment. And things change as a result. In the dialog that follows, Peter gets a better understanding of what the past three years have been about and what his life is to be in the coming years. Each disciple, each individual who encountered Christ in that period had, I am sure, a similar moment.

There are some who say that your “aha!” moment has to be a dramatic one, such as Paul’s encounter on the road to Damascus. And for some, that is probably the case. For many others, their moment is more like that of John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience, when you understand in your mind and heart what is happening.

In my collection of sayings is the following quote from the The Talmud, the Jewish commentary on the Torah,

In every age there comes a time when leadership suddenly comes forth to meet the needs of the hour. And so there is no man who does not find his time, and there is no hour that does not have its leader.”

Each of us has our own particular “aha!” moment. Though there may be some commonality between our own moment and the moments of our friends, there is no requirement that they be alike. And by the same token, we should not expect our moment to be an exact copy of our friends’ moments or that our friends’ moments should be an exact copy of ours.

The most critical thing about this experience is that it must be reinforced. You can have that moment but if you are not careful, you can lose it. You cannot simply say that you have had the moment and then move on; you must make sure that the moment has taken hold in your life. Perhaps that is why Paul’s moment was so dramatic and why he was blinded. He needed for that moment to take hold; Wesley’s understanding of his own moment came about because he had been preparing for it, though perhaps without understanding that was what he was doing.

But, and that is one of the most important roles of the church in today’s society, we can help each other to find that moment, that particular moment in time when we each come to Christ. In a world where Christianity has quickly become a negative term, the challenge is for those who have Christ in their hearts to find ways to express that experience.

Now, I realize that I do not espouse the traditional line that the mission of Christians is to make disciples of all the peoples of the world. I have had too many negative experiences with individuals who tried to force their encounter with Christ on me and who suggested that if I did not accept that idea that I was doomed.

In one aspect, and I have said this before, they may have been correct. If I do not accept Jesus Christ as my Savior and I choose no other path, then I am probably doomed. But that is my choice. On the other hand, if I understand that Christ’s command to teach those they encounter about Christ (which is what is means to make disciples), then I have to show them what it means to be a Christian and give them the opportunity to become one.

And when we think about that moment when Jesus stood up in his hometown synagogue and told those who were there that he had come to heal the sick, feed the hungry, help those oppressed and bring hope to the world, he outlined what it is that we need to be doing. Throughout His entire ministry, Jesus opened doors and offered opportunities to all who sought Him.

There is one particular moment in time when each one of us sought and found Him; there will be one particular moment in time when others will find Him. It is our task to help make that time a reality.

What Do I Do?

A Meditation for 6 April 2016, the 2nd Sunday of Easter (Year C). The meditation is based on Acts 5: 27 – 32, Revelation 1: 4 – 8 , and John 20: 19 – 31

I started this a few days ago but had to set aside because of some other things. So I didn’t get a chance to finish it this afternoon, which in itself was a good thing because I was able to get a new idea to help me close the piece.


I had written some notes about a new revival but felt that they echoed some of the stuff I have written earlier this year and in the past. But the revival that I am calling for is not the same revival so many public Christians would call for.

Let’s face it, many of those who call themselves Christian today are anything but Christian. Their actions, their thoughts, their words and their deeds are hardly representative of what Christ did. And fortunately, many people are beginning to realize that is the case. But many of that latter group are not joining churches or accepting the label as Christian, and in some sense, I don’t blame them.

Would you want to identify yourself with the same label as so many people whose words, thoughts, deeds, and actions work against the very idea of Christ?

A revival is needed to revive and restore what Christianity really means. And like Peter and the other disciples before the authorities, we who truly believe have to carry out the tasks we have been asked to do without worrying about what the religious and political authorities who have so co-opted the faith say is the right thing to do. How is that Jesus can say to Thomas that others will know the story if we do not tell it?

It may be that a revival is not exactly the thing we are looking for; rather, perhaps there is a need for a reformation, of a restating of what it means to be a Christian in today’s world.

One thing that I was reminded of this morning was what happened during the proceedings against Peter and the other disciples when the religious and political establishment argued against their preaching the Gospel message. If what they (Peter and the other disciples) said was not a true message from God, then the message they presented would literally run out of steam. On the other hand, if the message was from God, then those who would suppress the disciples were the ones that needed to be worried.

If our message is the true message then we have nothing really to worry about. And we know that those who propose a message that runs counter to the Gospel are only able to succeed when they limit what people hear or how people think, so how true can their message be?

So in the end, the new revival that I think must take place will occur when each one of us lives the life that shows Christ is alive in us, when we work to help the hungry get feed, when we help the sick get healthy, when we help to build homes for the homeless, and we seek justice for the oppressed. And when people ask why it is that we do this, we simply have to say it is because we are Christians who have decided to live the Gospel message to its fullest.

Our story is Christ’s story; our story is the story of the disciples and those who heard them, of those who have heard the story over the ages.

And each time a person hears or sees the story as it is meant to be heard or seen, the world changes just a little bit. But when you have a lot of these “little bits”, we have a whole lot of change.

Too often times we expect a major change to occur rather dramatically. But the reality is that the major change occurs very gradually. And it is quite easy to see that it will begin when we live the live as commanded by Christ, so that others will believe.

I do what I am asked, to live a life that allows others to see Christ. That is what I do and what we all need to do.