Who Are Your Saints?

A Meditation for 1 November 2015, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), All Saints Day based on Wisdom of Solomon 3: 1 – 9 (or Isaiah 26: 6 – 10), Revelation 2: 1 – 8, and John 11: 29 – 44

Ordinarily I would be using the lectionary readings for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Ruth 1: 1 – 18, Hebrews 9: 11 – 14, and Mark 12: 28 – 34) but because this is also All Saints Day, I felt it more appropriate to use the lectionary readings for All Saints Days.

But why should we, as United Methodists and also Protestants, even celebrate All Saints Day? To a great extent, the celebration of saints is not a part of our heritage or even our tradition. This, I would think to lead John Wesley to caution the fledgling Methodist Church against holding saints in too high regard. In his Articles of Religion that he sent to Methodists in America in 1784 he included a statement against the “invocation of saints” (Article XIV – Of Purgatory, Book of Discipline ¶104) because he could not find any biblical evidence for the practice and argued against it.

But he also suggested that we should not disregard the saints altogether. In his journal for November 1, 1767, he wrote that All Saints Day was a “a festival that I truly love.” Twenty-one years later, he wrote “I always find this a comfortable day.” And one year later, in 1789, he wrote in his journal that All Saints Day was “a day that I peculiarly love.”

And we know from a reading of Hebrews 12 that we are asked to remember the “great cloud of witnesses” that surround us and encourage us, cheering us on in our daily lives. So this day, All Saints Day, gives us the opportunity celebrate our history and tradition by giving thanks to those who have gone before us in faith (adapted from “All Saints Day: A Holy Day John Wesley Loved.”).

Wesley also believed

that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason (The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline).”

And since I see my faith in living and real terms, it is better to describe the relationship between the elements in a 3-dimensional tetrahedral rather than a 2-dimensional square (hey, I’m a chemist, remember!).

Tetrahedron.gif (337×286)

Illustration 1: The Wesleyan Tetrahedron

And in addition to the tradition and history of the church, our own experiences play a strong and equal role in how we see this day.

Each one of us knows that our presence here is because there was someone in our lives who made sure that we had the opportunity to be here. Oh, we may have been brought here kicking and screaming and feeling that there may have been better ways to spend a Sunday morning or some event in the middle of the week. And we most certainly didn’t understand then what we know today.

I have said it before and written about those early moments when I felt that God was calling to me. Quite honestly, what I felt was my mother’s elbow in my ribs keeping me awake while the preacher droned on and on. The only way I was going to stop my mother from planting her elbow in my ribs was to go sit by myself in the sanctuary and hopefully not completely fall asleep (which I was able to do). But somewhere in proclaiming my independence to sit wherever I wanted to in the sanctuary, I began to sense God telling me to do more than just sit there.

And when we moved from Montgomery, Alabama, to Denver, Colorado, and I began attending the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church of Aurora, Colorado (now the 1st United Methodist Church of Aurora), I also began looking at earning my God & Country award in Boy Scouts. While some may argue that all of the awards in scouting are the choice of the individual, choosing to earn the God & Country award requires a far more internal commitment than the other awards simply because you have to make a commitment to God that changes your live more than one can know when they begin.

So it was that one year later, after having given up my Saturday mornings to be in study at the church with Gary Smith and Don Fisher, when I no longer could sleep late but had to be at church on Sunday morning to serve as one of the acolytes for the 8 am service, after having carried a cross and some small hymnals with me on the troop camping trips and lead short services in the foothills of the Rockies, I had earned the one award in scouting that means more to me than anything else. And I put it away so that I wouldn’t lose it.

But two things happened. First, ten members of my Boy Scout troop who, at first, were probably jealous that Gary and I got out of doing troop things around the church on Saturday mornings (Don was a member of another troop) decided that maybe studying about God and seeking His presence in their own lives wasn’t such a bad idea and the second God & Country class began.

And that is, I think how it works, As there has been someone in your life who pushed you to find God in your life, you will, through what you have done or will do, help someone else to find God in their life. As someone has been a saint to you, so to will you someday be a saint for someone else.

But the odds are that you will never know that this happened. I don’t know what happened to those ten guys who followed us but I trust that it went well.

The second thing that happened was that I found my life changing in ways that were not immediately clear. But one year after I completed my God & Country work, I began the other major journey in my life, the journey that would ultimately lead to my earning my doctorate.

And during the first summer at Kirksville, as a freshman in college at the age of 15, away from home, and with the opportunity at long last to sleep in late on a Sunday morning, I found that I couldn’t do it. I had to be in church on Sunday morning, even though it meant walking to the church as I did not have a car. And on the Sunday that I became a member of 1st United Methodist Church of Kirksville, Missouri, I met another Saint of the church, Dr. Meredith Eller.

When I joined 1st UMC, Dr. Eller and his wife stood there with me as my god-parents. A few weeks later, Dr. Eller would become my history professor and I would take all of my history classes with him. And while I was actually a chemistry major, Dr. Eller served as one of many mentors in my college life. And when I served as one of the junior class marshals for the 1970 commencement exercise, I discovered that Dr. Eller was not only an esteemed professor of history but an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church (which sort of explained why his doctoral robes were a little more faded than many of the other professors at Truman; while others may wear their doctoral robes once or twice a year for commencement and college activities, he wore his every week as a circuit riding preacher in the northeast corner of Missouri; part of my thoughts about Dr. Eller and other heroes/saints was first mentioned in “Guess Who’s Coming To Breakfast?” and in detail in “Methodist Blogger Profile: Tony Mitchell”.)

In 1984 I made a major move in my life and as a consequence of that move, I began to think about what I had done with what I had learned some twenty years before during that time when I earned my God and Country. At that point, I began to serve as a liturgist in my home church and paid special attention to remember the meaning of Boy Scout Sunday.

And then, in 1991, we find God again reminding me once again that I made a commitment to Him in 1965, and that all I had done, even though it was in chemistry, had prepared me to be a lay speaker and ultimately something of a circuit rider. And I think about those who I helped prepare for the ministry in those years and those who heard my words or read them on my blog and I know that someone will change the path of their life and I might have done something worthy of sainthood.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the other United Methodist preacher from my days and times in Kirksville, Reverend Marvin Fortel. In a conversation that we had in 1969, he changed the direction of my life, and as I pointed out in “The Changing Of Seasons”, neither one of us knew how that conversation would change our lives.

And that is the nature of being a saint. You do not know in the present who might be a saint in your life nor do you know if you are a saint in the life of someone else. You lead your life as it was intended to be lead; you met with people and simply talk with them. In your walk and in your talk, you might offer an alternative to what they are doing.

And yes, leading the life that Christ would have you lead is not always the easiest life and the rewards that one gets in the present time are sometimes few and limited.

But the Old Testament readings for today point out that those who suffered ultimately received their reward in Heaven. John the Seer wrote in his Revelation that the outcome of life for the believers was a good one. And Jesus pointed out when he brought Lazarus out of the tomb that God does know what we are doing and that we will triumph of the slavery of sin and death in the end.

So on this day, we pause to remember the saints in our lives, those individuals who, through example as well as word, pointed and guided us to victory. And we stop to think that there will be those who will hear our words and see what we do and their lives will change as a result.

So when we ask the question as to “who are your saints?” we are also asking “how will we be saints as well?”

One Phrase

A Meditation for 7 September, 2015, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), based on Proverbs 22: 1 – 2, 8 – 9, 22 – 23, James 2: 1 – 10, (11 – 13), 14 – 17, and Mark 7: 24 – 37.

I started this back at the first of September but never finished it.  Not wanting to leave things undone, I finished this afternoon.

I think that whenever one writes a sermon, a message or, in this case, a blog post, they do it for one of two reasons. The first reason is to teach something about the Scriptures. The second is offer encouragement or seek some sort of action based on the Scriptures. Often times, these two ideas overlap because true teaching only occurs when the students apply the lesson.

There are also two audiences to keep in mind for any piece or presentation. There are time when one is “preaching to the choir.” (And I might add that one Sunday several years ago, we had a guest choir of some fifty members come to our little church with its average attendance of twenty. That Sunday I truly preached to the choir!) The other audience is often times, especially with blogs in general and this blog in particular, directed towards people who are, for whatever reason, outside the church.

As much as I have always had a problem with seeing the mission of the church in terms of the Great Commission (Matthew 25: 18 – 20).

In the New International Version of the Bible, this passage reads,

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

But reread this passage as it translated in The Message,

Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally. Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

Note how Jesus’ command changes from “make” to “train”. To further show this, read how Clarence Jordan translated the same patch in his Cotton Patch Gospel translation of Matthew,

Well, the eleven students traveled to Alabama, to the mountain which Jesus had selected for them. When they saw him they accepted him as their Lord, but some couldn’t make up their minds. James came over to them and said, “Every right to rule in both the spiritual and physical realms has been given to me. As you travel, then, make students of all races and initiate them into the family of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to live by all that I outlined for you. And you know, I am right in there with you – all the time – until the last inning.”

I think it is important to notice that the emphasis was on teaching. Teaching cannot be accomplished (as we are finding out) by simply forcing people to learn things. We are finding out that many people who proclaim themselves Christians do not have a firm understanding of the Bible in terms of the words written or the meaning and context of the words (from “How Will They Know?”).

So it is that I see being a Christian in a different light than some of my contemporaries. But then again I have been a teacher for the majority of my professional life and I am of the opinion that unless a teacher’s students are prepared to implement the lessons they have been taught, the teaching was not very good.

But I have also been a Christian longer than I have been a teacher and one of the things that I learned early on in my Christian life was that there was more that life than just saying that I was a Christian.

And I know that part of that understanding comes from an incident in my life when I was a sophomore in college and it was based on a a phrase in the Gospel reading from Mark this week that strikes a deep chord in my soul and that is what the Syro-Phoenician woman said to Jesus when He first told her

Stand in line and take your turn. The children get fed first. If there’s any left over, the dogs get it.”

She said, “Of course, Master. But don’t dogs under the table get scraps dropped by the children?”

In the Prayer of Humble Access found on page 30 in the current United Methodist Hymnal is the line “We are not so much as to gather up the crumbs under the table.” I don’t know for certain but I am pretty sure that those words come from the conversation between Jesus and the women.

I know that Jesus originally intended the message to be for the people of Israel but when they began to turn away, and especially when others such as this women began to listen and pay attention, the focus of the ministry changed. But it was focus that had its foundation in other places in the Bible.

As the words from Proverbs tell us, when it comes right down to it, there is no difference between the rich and the poor (a thought that Paul would later echo). The writer of Proverbs also warned about using one’s position in life as a means to oppressing others.

Unfortunately, in too many cases today, those who proclaim that they are Christian or use Christianity to justify their life or lifestyle forget, if they ever knew, this simple words from Proverbs. And the life lessons that they were taught seemed to have been forgotten as well.

In his letter, James warns about saying one thing and doing another. If you profess your faith in Christ, then your actions must show that faith (from “Teach Your Children Well”).

If you do nothing but go through the motions then it will have all been for naught. Only when you have put what you have been taught into action will your faith mean anything.

And there will come a time and a place in your life where a phrase will be said that will change how you think or how you live or how you treat someone. It maybe a phrase that you say that causes someone to ask you a question; it may be an answer to a question someone asks you.

I cannot predict what that phrase might be. When I heard the phrase about the crumbs under the table I found myself questioning what was going on. And I was in a place and a time when I found out that what I understood was wrong. But in that place and time I believe my life changed.

And since one cannot predict what the phrase will be, who will say it or if it will be you who says it, then perhaps your life has to be the way it is supposed to be from the day you said that you believed. It is better to do it that way and be prepared to help others than to think you know what you will do when it does happen.

And this will allow you to be ready to help the person who is looking and seeking for they may have heard the phrase or asked it themselves but not know where to find the answer.

In the end, we are reminded that God loved and loves each of us so much that He sent His son to this earth to live and die so that we may live. And that is the phrase that we must remember.

“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?