“Seeing Around the Corner”


This will be the Back Page for the 13 August 2017 (10th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A) bulletin at  Fishkill United Methodist Church.  It is based on the lectionary readings for this Sunday.


There is a common misconception that our ancestors thought the earth was flat.  After all, as early at 240 B. C., the circumference of the earth had been measured (with a remarkable accuracy).  But there was something about watching a ship disappear over the horizon into unknown territory (often written on maps as “Terra incognito”).

Even today, we seem more secure in holding onto what we have and are less certain about moving into the future.  Even though Joseph offers a promising vision of the future, it is one that his brothers cannot accept.

Peter is given a vision of great promise but his inability to focus on the vision and his grasp of the present sends him flaying about in the water.

We have been offered a great promise of the future but to reach it requires that we do things that we are not necessarily willing to do. There was a point in John Wesley’s ministry when he, John Wesley, didn’t think he had the ability to go on.  He was advised to preach about faith until he had it, and then because he had faith, he would be able to be able to preach faith.  This was the beginning of a ministry that looked around the corner and allowed Wesley to do extraordinary works for God.

As Paul points out, it is our faith that allows us to see around the corner, to peer into the future without fear.  So, because of our faith in God and His Son, we can not only see around the corner but venture around it into the future as well.

“Who Do You See?”


This will be the “Back Page” of the Fishkill United Methodist Church bulletin for 6 August 2017 (9th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A).  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Genesis 32: 22 – 31, Romans 9: 1 – 5, and Matthew 14: 13 – 21.

This is a continuation of the idea that I wrote last week.  Each of today’s Scripture readings has one thing in common and it is perhaps something you didn’t realize was a need of life.

John Wesley recognized that there were certain basic needs of life – a place to stay, food to eat, and adequate healthcare among them.  If these basic needs are not met, then the Gospel message has no meaning.  These needs are discussed in the Old Testament and Gospel readings for today.

But each of the readings for today also discusses the need for one’s own identity.  It is quite clear that Jacob wanted his own identity and it is quite clear that Paul worried about the split between the Jews and Gentiles and the acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  And we know that there were at least 20,000 people eating the meal that Jesus blessed that day.  In the society of Jesus’ day, not everyone was counted.  Some 15,000 individuals were invisible to society that day.

But they were not invisible to Jesus and they have never been invisible to God.  Jesus constantly went out of His way to make visible the invisible, to give identity to those without identity.

Ours has become the society of the invisible and the visible and some people are quite happy with that.  But what does it say when we see, or rather do not see, groups of people?  Who are we like when we do this?

“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 Path That We Walk”


The title for this message comes from my initial thoughts after reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians encouraging them to get out and walk on the road that God has called. For most people this is and can be a very daunting task; the road that God calls for you to walk may not be the road that you want to walk. The road that God calls for you to walk may not a smooth paved road but one filled with unknown dangers. And it is entirely possible that you will not even know the destination that lies at the end of the road that you will walk.

As we gather tonight, the Mars rover, “Curiosity”, is preparing to land on Mars. It is a special landing because there is a camera on board the rover and we should get video of the actual landing. There is danger in this because we are not controlling the landing, relying on computers to accurately guide the rover to a landing somewhere on Mars. There is a time lag of some 14 minutes so we are not able to immediately make changes in the path of descent. The only other alternative would be to have send humans on this flight but we have sort of decided that no human will go beyond the orbit of the moon for some time to come.

Our history of sending spacecraft to Mars is a checkered one to say the least. In the history of space exploration, our ability to successfully land a spacecraft on Mars has proven to not be very good. We have lost more spacecrafts than we have landed, so each attempt at landing is risky at best. And many times we don’t know why the landing failed; though I sometimes wonder if those who might live on Mars don’t want us bothering them. 🙂

I am looking forward to watching the video of the landing when I get back home, on the assumption that “Curiosity” landed safely and we are able to see videos of the landing. But I truly fear that if this landing is a failure, there will be cries from many that we need to stop wasting our money on such foolish projects. There are some who have voiced their opinion that, no matter whether the landing is successful or not, it is a waste of money.

I cannot help but wonder why, when the subject of government waste arises, it is always the social and scientific programs that are cut and not the military and defense expenditures. If we do not explore other worlds, if we do not stretch our imagination, it will be very difficult to walk a path other than one that only leads to death and destruction.

To say that you are not the least bit interested in what lies around the corner and down the road a bit is to say that you wish to go nowhere. Perhaps you are happy with the status quo but look around and tell me if what you see when you leave this place is what you want for the years to come.

Still, we do not have to leave home and travel to another planet to walk another path. It is quite easy to do so right here, for all we have to do is stretch our minds and open our imagination. It is common to quote Proverbs 29: 18 (without vision, the people perish) in times like these but perhaps it would be better if we though of Jeremiah 6: 16 instead.

Go stand at the crossroads and look around. Ask for directions to the old road, the tried-and-true road. Then take it. Discover the right route for your souls. But the people said, “nothing doing. We aren’t going that way.”

Now, this is one of those readings where you have to know something about what was going on before interpreting the passage. The people of Israel had once again veered from the path of God and Jeremiah was warning them that trouble lied in the direction they were headed. God’s message was to return to the true path, the correct path, the path towards God. And the people would not have it. It was too much work to follow God. And later on God will say through Jeremiah that the people of Israel have nothing but contempt for God’s teaching. And contempt for teaching, for me at least, is the sign of a closed mind and a lack of vision.

The people came to Jesus seeking food and that is what He offered them but it was not the food that they wanted. They were unwilling to see beyond the loaves of bread and fishes that fed the multitudes and see the Bread of Life that was being offered to them. Oh, some will begin to understand, others will know later on but too many of those who followed Jesus that day didn’t want to veer from the path that they were walking.

Time and time again, Jesus offered a new path and yet the people wanted to stay on the same one. We read over and over again in the Gospels of how the people came in multitudes at the beginning but dropped out as they became aware of what was being asked of them.

But it is possible to see the new path. In the Old Testament reading for today, David mourns the loss of his child, the result of a rather ill-conceived union with Bathsheba. Because of his adultery and his lack of attention to his own duties, God has told him that this child would die. And David sought mercy from God, hoping against hope that God would save the child.

And when the child had died, David began his life again but this time the path he walked was a little different. He understood what had transpired and though the scriptures don’t necessarily say so, he decided to walk another path, one that would lead to the birth of Solomon

When John wrote his Gospel two thousand years ago because he thought that it was important for others to know what Jesus said. I would think that he was aware of what Paul was doing and his travels, travails, and punishment. So John wrote his Gospel in part to support the work of Paul.

But John didn’t write those words for Paul; he wrote them for those who would encounter Christ later. He wrote them so that we would know that, no matter what might happen when we walk with Christ, there would be provisions to support our efforts.

Just as we begin a new exploration of the planet Mars and hopefully venture into unknown parts of the solar system, so too do we have the opportunity for new ministries, new ways of making the Gospel message more than just words.

To change the world requires that we change the path that we walk, to walk with God and not away from Him. To walk this path, to change the direction of one’s life, means accepting Christ. And then, having accepted Christ, allowing one’s heart and mind to be opened so that the Holy Spirit can empower you. We have been given the Bread of Life so that we can walk this path. Let us rejoice in that and proceed.

“The Results of Our Work”


This is the message that I gave at the Bethel Home on 28 July 2002 (the 10th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A). The Scriptures were Genesis 29: 15 – 28, Romans 8: 26 – 39 (which I didn’t use because of the time frame for the service), and Matthew 13: 31 – 33, 44 -52.

Jacob loved Rachel. This is one of the basic ideas of the Old Testament, one that is used to illustrate the reason for Joseph being sold into slavery. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son because Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife. In the Old Testament lesson for today we find out that Jacob worked seven years for Rachel’s father Laban in order to marry her. But when the wedding feast was over, Jacob found out that he had married Leah, Rachel’s older sister.

As Laban explained it to Jacob, he could not marry Rachel until Leah, the older sister had been married. This was the custom of the time. So it was that Jacob, the trickster had been tricked. Most commentary points out the irony of this. For Jacob had tricked his older brother Esau and then his father Isaac in order to gain the birthright and inheritance that came with it. It is only fitting that the trickster gets tricked when the time came. But Jacob loved Rachel enough that married Leah and worked another seven years in order to marry Rachel.

I am not sure if Jesus was thinking of Jacob when he taught his followers the parables that were the Gospel reading for today. But the points that he made in the lesson could be related to what happened to Jacob. If our focus is on the immediate results of our work, we can easily lose track of what we seek.

What good does it do for us to sell all that we have just so that we can get the one pearl of value? How shall we get anything else? The treasures might be in the field that we buy but they are still buried and beyond our reach.

The mustard seed is small and almost impossible to see but the rewards gained when it is planted and allowed to grow are incomparable. The value of the yeast is not in what it is now but in what it does to the loaves of bread.

In the parables we heard today, Jesus pointed out that the keys to the kingdom of heaven were not in the things we do today. He made it clear time and time again that there was only one way to gain that entrance.

It is not always that easy. The things around us can easily sidetrack us from what we seek. But when we have made Christ the center of our life, when we let Christ be our guide, then our work takes on a different meaning. Instead of rewards gained now on earth, our rewards are the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

And at times when we might feel weak, at times when it seems like we cannot gain that reward, we are reminded that Jesus died so that the keys to heaven were guaranteed. The results of our work may never be enough, but if our focus is on Christ and his presence in our lives, then like the mustard seed which grows beyond what it is, then our work goes beyond the immediate and the keys to heaven become our reward.

“Doing the Right Thing”


I am preaching at Long Ridge United Methodist Church (Danbury, CT) and Georgetown United Methodist Church (Wilton, CT) on Sunday, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Exodus 1: 8 – 2: 10, Romans 12: 1 – 8, and Matthew 16: 13 – 20. The service at Long Ridge starts at 9:15; the service at Georgetown begins at 11. You are welcome to attend.

I began preparing this message a little over a month ago. When I began looking at the three Scripture readings for today, I came to the conclusion that the title of the message should be “Doing the Right Thing.” In the passage from Exodus that is part of the lectionary for this morning, we are told that the Pharaoh has commanded that all new born baby boys be killed. The mid-wives are more afraid of what God might say than they are what the Pharaoh could ever do, so they create a story that explains their failure to follow the Pharaoh’s orders.

Later in the same passage, we read of the birth of Moses and his adoption by the Pharaoh’s daughter. And thus begins the story of the return of the Israelites to the Promised Land. From a historical standpoint, the mid-wives did the right thing. But how do the actions of some mid-wives some three thousand or so years ago pertain to us today?

Paul, in writing to the Romans, writes of what it is we are to do as followers of Christ. And, at least for me, this is where it becomes interesting.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to the Henderson Settlement in Kentucky. I accompanied another adult and four of the youth from my home church for a week of volunteer work. Ours was one of three groups, one from the Ohio area and the other from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Each group worked on a number of assignments, generally fixing or repairing homes and buildings within the area of the Settlement. Some of the work was on the Settlement property; other assignments were in the surrounding countryside.

The Henderson Settlement is part of the Red Bird Missionary Conference. I would think that many people are aware of the Red Bird Mission, which is part of this unique conference of the United Methodist Church. I don’t have all the details with me but the work of the Missionary Conference is, I believe, supported in part by our apportionments. But much of the funding for the Conference, the Red Bird Mission itself, and the Henderson Settlement comes from individual gifts and tithes. In addition, much of the work done in and around the Settlement and elsewhere through the Conference is done by volunteer work.

The interesting thing is that some years ago I lived about two hours from Henderson and, while I knew of the Red Bird Mission, I knew nothing about the Red Bird Missionary Conference or even the existence of Henderson. But while I may not have been aware of either the Henderson Settlement, the Red Bird Mission, or the Red Bird Missionary Conference as they were, I was aware that the three counties of southeast Kentucky (Bell, Cumberland, and Letcher) are among some of the poorest counties in this country (the poverty line for a family of two adults and two children in Bell County where Henderson is located is $21,000 and the median income for the area is $22,000; you do the math.)

If for no other reason than to say to the individuals of that area of this country that they are not forgotten, there is a need for the presence of the United Methodist Church in that area of this country. Sometimes the way that you tell someone that they are not forgotten is to help them do things that they cannot always do on their own. And that is why I went to Henderson two weeks ago.

This was not a vacation trip nor was it done so that I could revisit a part of the country where I lived and served a lay minister. It was an opportunity to put into practice during the week the words said so many times on Sunday.

It was not a vacation by any means. If anything, it provided the opportunity for many individuals, both youth and adult, to experience what I have come to call “working Christianity”, of putting the words taught in church on Sunday into practice on Monday. And this was before I began to consider the words that I would put down for this message today.

While I was there in Henderson I had the opportunity to lead the morning devotions on Monday and Tuesday. Devotions at Henderson are held on the side of a hill overlooking a valley and three crosses (pictures of which are on the Henderson Settlement page on Facebook). On Monday, with those three crosses and the valley as a backdrop, I spoke of the 72 who were sent out on mission trips by Jesus and how they came back jubilant at what they had done.

I have seen that type of expression in the youth and adults who have gone on similar mission trips in the past few years. To go on a mission trip, to work for Christ and not get paid, to give up a week’s vacation time and know that it was not wasted has to have an impact on one’s life.

But when I have read the passage in the past from Mark about the 72, I always thought that the 12 disciples were part of that group. That meant that there were some 60 individuals who went on a mission trip, came back with the glow of success but were never heard from again. What did they do between that passage in Mark and the Resurrection? Did they continue the work that they did in their home town and region? I pointed out to the fifty or so adults and youth that were there on Monday morning that they too would go home and I hoped that they would continue the mission work that they began in the hills of Kentucky during a week in August (“Thoughts for a week in August”).

On Tuesday, I offered a story that I have told many times before. It was a story that caused me to think about who I was when I was a college student, what I was doing at that time and what it meant to say that I was a Christian.

When I was a college sophomore, I was active in the anti-war and civil rights movements on campus. I participated because I thought that it was the right thing to do. But I also thought that my participation in these activities, which I felt were for the common good of the people, would be the key to my getting into heaven. Marvin Fortel, my pastor at that time, pointed out doing good things, in whatever form they may take, will not guarantee my entry into heaven.

Only a true and honest acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s personal Savior will allow the doors of heaven to open up. Now, I suppose this is why we have so many individuals who profess to be Christian but whose actions, words, thoughts, and deeds belie that very idea. They have professed an acceptance of Jesus Christ and therefore expect that the doors of heaven will swing wide open upon their arrival. But the manner in which they have made this profession, often times very publically, belie their actions. They are the ones that John the Baptist and Jesus Himself would call hypocrites. Their actions do not speak of the act of repentance that must also come. You cannot profess Jesus Christ on Sunday and then go out into the world on Monday and forget what you said the day before.

My trip to Henderson also confirmed something that I had long suspected was true. When I was 12, I lived in Montgomery, Alabama. One Sunday, my grandmother, who had come down from St. Louis to visit with us, went to church with us. We attended St. James Methodist Church (this was in 1963 before the merger). Somehow, as we were leaving the church that Sunday morning, Grandma Mitchell got separated from us. When we found her outside the church, we asked her how she got out and she pointed over to a gentleman and said, “That nice young man over there helped me.”

Our response was that that particular young man was the Governor of Alabama, George Wallace. For those who do not know, George Wallace was elected the Governor of Alabama as a staunch and defiant segregationist, and as I found out while in Henderson, a member of St. James Methodist Church. At that time, he had proudly and defiantly announced what the policies of the state of Alabama would be with regards to civil rights and equality in the state. If you did not understand where he stood politically then, I suppose you could say that he was a nice young man. But it was very hard for me, even at the age of 12, to see him as nice.

I will say this; to his credit, Governor Wallace repented of his words and actions and sought to make right the wrongs he once so proudly supported.

I will also say this; it was at that time that I made one of several decisions that would lead me to this particular place and time. I did not know what it meant to be a Christian in 1963; I had very little understanding of what the Methodist Church stood for. But I began a walk that year that I still continue to this day, learning and working about Christ and what it means to say that I am a Christian and a United Methodist.

But it didn’t sit right in my twelve-year heart then to hear a Methodist Governor preach hatred and exclusion, to say, in public, words that run counter to the very expression of what it means to be a United Methodist. There is no doubt that those words, along with the actions of the political establishment of that time, did a lot to push me in the direction I would walk a few years later.

To say that you were a Methodist back then or a member of the United Methodist church today means that you have accepted Christ as your Savior. You have acknowledged, along with Simon Peter, that Christ is your Messiah. And when you make the decision to follow Christ; when you acknowledge Him as your own Savior and you make that commitment to follow Him, your life changes. Your name may not change as it did for Peter or as is it did for Paul on the road to Damascus but your life will change.

And like I learned that spring day in Kirksville, Missouri, some forty-two years ago, when you make the announcement that you are a Christian and a Methodist, you are making the announcement that you understand that you fall short of the perfection of Christ. But, even in falling short, you are willing to work to reach the perfection of Christ, to go out and do as Paul suggests to the Romans:

Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.

It is admittedly a very difficult task, to do something for others when you want so much to take all the credit for it. Our whole society is predicated on the notion that we do things for ourselves and that we seek wealth, fame, riches, and glory because those are the way we will be measured in this world. We live in a world where the words that we say are more important that what we do.

I went to Henderson really not knowing what I would be doing. I found myself doing things and using skills that I hadn’t used in some thirty years. I came back to the dormitory for lunch and dinner with my tee-shirts soaked to the point that they were still not dry the next day. And yet, it didn’t bother me. I was asked to go down and I expected to work, so I did. And I think that is the same feeling that all that came down from Newburgh and those who came from Ohio and New Jersey also felt.

But more importantly, there was something about being there, in the hills of Kentucky that allowed me to remember who I am and what I am. Over the past few months I have seen my ministry evolve from simply pulpit supply to one of caring. It has been a challenge as a small group of people have gone from strangers to part of a Christian community in Newburgh. Many of those in this community are perhaps not Christian but, then again, many of those in the first Christian communities two thousand years ago did not know who Christ was either. But those who did know Christ let them in and supported them in the ways that they had been taught.

As I said to those on the hillside that Monday morning now two weeks ago, I hoped that those who had come to Henderson that week would, like the 60, go home after that first mission trip and continue working for Christ. It is very easy to go home after a mission trip like Henderson, Red Bird, Biloxi, or Haiti and tell everyone about it and then do nothing until next year’s trip. Please excuse me if I sound blunt but when you do that, when you engage in mission work for a week and then rest for 51 weeks, you are doing it for yourself, not Christ. And that is not the right thing to do.

There are many challenges in this area. In response, my wife and I offer a worship ministry on Fridays and Sundays called “Vespers in the Garden”. It is a simple worship service but I have had the opportunity this summer to watch an individual grow in Christ and take on tasks that a few months ago he was only dreaming about. It also gives some individuals the opportunity to hear the Word of God and sing songs of praises in a peaceful setting that offers protection from the world outside. It is often the only worship they get because many of the churches in Newburgh have found a way to shut their doors to them because they are homeless and unemployed.

Our food banks are stressed to the limit and each week more and more people come looking for assistance. On Saturday mornings and Sunday mornings my wife and I host “Grannie Annie’s Kitchen”, which is sponsored by our church. We open the doors of the fellowship hall and offer a breakfast to those who might be hungry. We don’t ask what their situation might be; we do have some guidelines in place so that all may share of the limited bounty that we have. I wish it weren’t the case; I wish that there was a way to do this more often and for more people. We do not do it for glory or honor; we do it because Christ came to feed the hungry and heal the sick and find homes for the homeless. We do what we can with what we have and we praise God that we are able to do a small part. This is not a “feel-good” ministry; it is hard and sometimes burdensome. But it is, I think you will agree, the right thing to do. If you are up to it, I invite you to be a part of this ministry.

There is, in Orange County, a project called “Methodist and Friends Build” which works with Habitat for Humanity to build affordable housing for families that cannot, even in the best of times, afford to buy a home. There is also a project, called “Family Promise”, which is trying to help families who are homeless. You would be surprised how many families there are in this area, this state, and across the country who cannot afford housing, even though both parents are working. These programs offer opportunities and alternatives.

And yet there are those who profess Christ as their Savior on Sunday and then wonder why we allow the homeless, the hungry, the sick, to come to our church. There are those who would say that the hungry, the homeless, the sick or the destitute have no business being in the church at all. They brought their problems on themselves; let them fix them themselves.

And when Jesus ate with the sinners, the religious and political establishment questioned his ministry. What is the right thing to do?

I would encourage you to consider what you might do. Each community is different; each community has different things it can offer. You may not be able to go to Henderson or Biloxi or Haiti or Mozambique but you can do something. It may be that you can help fund a youth trip or something similar. You may wish to support the Red Bird Missionary Conference or parts of it in addition to your regular tithing and support here in the New York Annual Conference. But don’t say that you can’t do something; my mother went on a Volunteer in Mission trip to the Caribbean when she was in her mid-sixties.

But don’t go or give expecting some great reward for your effort. God doesn’t want that nor do the people who you would be helping. And I don’t think you would gain much either. No longer do you work for yourself, expecting riches, fame, and glory for your efforts. You, having proclaimed Christ as your Savior, now do the right thing and work for God.

“This Is the Place”


This is the message I presented at the Walker Valley United Methodist Church in Walker Valley, NY, for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, August 1, 1999.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Genesis 32: 22 – 31, Romans 9: 1 – 5, and Matthew 14: 13 – 21.  The significance of this message is that this was the Sunday that I began serving this church.  I would lead this church until 2002.  It started off a little rough but I think that it was a good three years.

—————————————————————

When he first viewed the Great Salt Lake and the surrounding valley, Brigham Young was supposed to have said, “This is the place.” By this he meant the place where the Mormons could be safe from the persecution that had driven them from Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois.

There will always be places that we hold dear in our hearts; the place or places we grew up, the place where we got married, the place we wish to return to time and again. Perhaps privately we even give names to these places, much like the early Israelites gave names to the places where they encountered God. That is why Jacob named the place where he wrestled with God Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

The Old Testament reading today is about a place, a place where Jacob struggled with who he was and what he was to be. I think there are times when we are a lot like Jacob, struggling to know God in our life and struggling to find out what we are to be. The thing that we know is that such struggles, no matter how much we may think they are ours alone, are common to the history of the church.

As much as places are important in our lives, so are times in which we live. While reading The Making of a President, 1960, I came across a statement from the Talmud

"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." (The Talmud)

Such a time and place was some one hundred years before the Mormons saw the Great Salt Lake when John Wesley and the Bishop of Bristol had the following conversation regarding where he, Wesley, would begin his ministry.

Butler – “You have no business here. You are not commissioned to preach in this diocese. Therefore I advise you to go hence.”

Wesley – “My lord, my business on earth is do what good I can. Wherever therefore I think I can do most good, there must I stay so long as I think so. At present I think I can do most good here. Therefore here I stay.“ (Frank Baker, “John Wesley and Bishop Butler: A Fragment of John Wesley’s Manuscript Journal)

There are a number of times and places that I will always cherish. The dates June 7, 1973 and July 7, 1976 are special because they are the birthdates of my daughters, Melanie and Meara. And July 17th is a special date for me as it is my wedding anniversary. I will always remember the summer of 1995 when I served as the chief supply pastor for the Parsons District of the Kansas East conference. It was that summer that I began to feel that I could be a preacher. And I will remember today, August 1st, 1999, as the day I began my ministry at Walker Valley.

Just as Jacob struggled with who he was, it may be said that Paul struggled with the idea of being the apostle to the Gentiles. It is possible that had he been given the choice, Paul would have chosen to be a clever and appreciated young Jewish scholar.

In the Epistle for today, Paul is expressing the frustration in his soul that he would rather be cursed and cut off from Christ if it would save others. The notes for this passage say that the Greek word for cursed is anathema, which means delivered over to the wrath of God for eternal destruction. To the commentator, this was an indication of Paul’s love for his fellow Jews.

I don’t see this as a condemnation of the Jews or any other group of people, but an expression of the frustration that he must have felt. While he, Paul, was to preach to the Gentiles, there were others whom he could not reach. That is why Wesley’s statement was so profound and powerful. He was supposed to be somewhere else but Bristol was where God wanted him to be.

As I was working on this particular passage, I could not help but remember a pastor with whom I served who didn’t want to be a pastor like his father and grandfather before him. Rather he chose to be a lawyer. Yet when he was done with law school and had begun a successful career as a prosecuting attorney, he still found that life would not be complete until he answered the call of God.

Prior to the time of today’s Gospel reading, Jesus had heard the news that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been executed. As was his custom, he wanted to withdraw from the people for a few moments of private mediation and privacy. But this time, the people followed him. And while he may have wanted to be alone in his grief, as the scripture said, “he had compassion on them and healed the sick.”

And so it was that it got late in the day. Like a lot of us might today, the disciples saw only a remote place far away from food and drink. So it should not be surprising that the disciples inclination was to send the people away. But the opportunity to meet God is never a planned moment in time or place. Nor is it determined by convenience or by us being in the right place at the right time.

Jesus told his disciples to give the people something to eat. I think we can all imagine how the disciples must have felt when they heard their teacher telling them to do this. And you have to realize that the crowd Jesus was telling the disciple to feed was closer to 15,000 people than the 5,000 that only represented the men presented.

We may look around at where we are and wonder if this is the time or place for us. Too often, we struggle like Jacob, trying to understand what our life is to be. Many times we are like Paul, frustrated and afraid that the task before us is too great and impossible for us to complete.

Many times we, like the disciples, insist that there is nothing we can do and that we are in the wrong place. But all that changes when we give our lives over to Christ, when we let Christ be our guide.

Before John Wesley came to Bristol, he had come to America with his brother Charles to be missionaries in Georgia. Their experiences there were such that when they returned to England in 1738, they were convinced that their lives were failures. Prepared as they were with the understanding that one cannot find peace in life outside Christ, neither man felt that they had truly found the Peace of Christ. Despite their training, despite their background, neither Wesley could say that they trusted the Lord. But at the place known as Aldersgate, John Wesley came to know Christ as his own personal Savior.

When Wesley accepted Christ, he began to understand the direction his life would take. When Wesley accepted Christ as his Savior, he gained the confidence and courage that he would need to insure the success of the Methodist revival. For Jacob, the blessing God gave him after they wrestled enabled him to become Israel, the father of a mighty nation. In trusting Jesus, the disciples were able to feed the multitude. And such was their trust in Jesus that there were enough leftovers to fill twelve baskets.

When we come to trust Christ as our own personal Savior, when we accept Him in our hearts, we come to know the blessing that God has given us, to see beyond the frustrations of the day and know that we can accomplish great things.

And on this day, in this place, you are invited to come to Christ’s Table, to join in the celebration of Christ’s victory of death, of our being a part of Christ’s Holy Church.