“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.

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“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.

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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.

Time Has Come Today


I am at Ridges/Roxbury UMC and the United Methodist Church of  Springdale (both in the Stamford, CT) area this Sunday.  The service at the Ridges/Roxbury church is at 9 and the service at the Springdale church is at 10:30.  You are welcome to attend.

The Scriptures for this Sunday are Hosea 11: 1 – 11, Colossians 3: 1 – 11; and Luke 12: 13 – 21.

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“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things: of shoes – and ships – and sealing wax – of cabbages – and kings – and why the sea is boiling hot – and whether pigs have wings.” (“The Walrus and the Carpenter”, from Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll, 1872)

Now, I am not entirely sure if this quote from the Walrus has any sort of allegorical meaning to it. Lewis Carroll, or rather, Charles Dodgson was a mathematician and logician as well as a writer and I am sure that many people have delved into the “true meaning” of these words. It might also be that because Dodgson was also an Anglican minister that there is some religious symbolism in his writing as well. I will save such discussions for other times and other places and perhaps let others speak to those points

For me, I use the quote because it relates to time. And time is an important part of the Bible, especially with regards to the Gospel reading for today. There are those who would call the passage from Luke an “End Times” reading and I would have to agree with them. It speaks to that point in time that we all will ultimately reach and how we will react to that moment. But I don’t hear too many people using this passage much when they speak of the “End Times.”

Perhaps it is because it runs counter to the notion that we have applied to Christianity today. I cannot help but think that those pastors and religious leaders who so loudly proclaim that these are the “End Times” are among some of the richest pastors in the world. They push very hard to say that sexual immorality is the cause of our country’s problems but I have yet to hear any of them say that greed is part of the problem.

And yet, while Paul does speak against such earthly sins, he puts greed on the list as well. And when you stop to think about it, I am not going to talk about who loves whom when so many people go hungry every day, when people are still losing their homes to foreclosure, and the gap between the rich and poor grows every day.

I have pointed this out before; there are quite a few people outside the church today who, no matter how hard you try and how often you invite them, simply will not come in. They know what Christ said on matters of war, violence, poverty, hunger, and personal relationships. They are among those who note that those who proclaim themselves judge and jury when it comes to moral behavior are strangely silent when it comes to matters of war, violence, poverty and hunger (or, if they say anything, it is to support war and justify violence and say that poverty and hunger are not issues for the church to be involved with). It is no wonder that those outside the church today have no desire to be a part of a church where the rhetoric inside the church hardly matches the words and actions of the early church.

Now, don’t get me wrong; immoral behavior of any kind is not good behavior. But to say that the destruction of the world will arise from only that behavior is a sad interpretation of the Bible. And a focus on such behavior ignores other problems, the impact of which has far greater ramifications than who loves whom.

Now, to me, the major theme of the Bible is our relationship with God. In the Old Testament, the major theme is idolatry and that makes sense. After all, practically every prophet spends most of his time warning the people about their insistence on worshiping other gods. Look again at the Old Testament reading for today and read how Hosea begins by pointing out that the people of Israel have left God for Baal and other gods.

The second most prominent theme in the Old Testament is poverty and social justice. The two are related because how you treat others reflects how you view God. And this theme is also reflected in the New Testament. One out of every sixteen verses in the New Testament is about the poor. It increases to one out of ten when you examine only the Gospels; in Luke it is one out of seven. In the Book of James, it is one out of five.

If you take the poor and how they are treated out of the Bible, the Bible will fall apart. Now, this isn’t a left-right, liberal-conservative thing. It is about what we, who say we are Christians, believe and do with and in our lives. The problem with the “End Times” mentality is that it offers no options; you are either saved already or you never will be saved. But, then again, I have never accepted that notion.

And I listen to what God said to the people through Hosea and I read what Paul wrote to the Colossians. These are the “End Times” if we do not change. But the end will come because of what we do, not what God will do. God’s love is still present, just as it was for the Israelites and He still loves them, even if they stray. It is up to the Israelites and thus it is up to us to return to God.

And we must cast off that which has caused the problem, the greed, the selfishness, the self-centeredness that is destroying the world. We must look to Christ and see in His actions, the actions that have saved us. We cannot live in a world where people are divided by class, economic status, culture, race, or creed. For in the end, we are all one people.

When I chose the name for this sermon, I remembered my fascination with a 1968 Chambers Brothers’ song, “Time Has Come Today”. My interest/fascination was probably because of the cadenza that increased the playing time from some 3 minutes to almost 11 minutes. It was one of many songs of that period that began to change the nature of rock and roll music. It was not by any means a Christian rock and roll song like “Are You Ready” by Pacific Gas & Electric was.

But throughout “Time Has Come Today” you hear sound effects that imitate a clock ticking and you get the impression that time is beginning to run out.

There are those who will say that we cannot come to the table this morning because we don’t meet some sort of pre-determined qualification test. But that test was passed a long time ago on a hill far away. When Christ gathered the people together for the Last Supper, it was to begin the New Kingdom. He made the choice so we would not have to. We come to the table this morning knowing that when we leave this place and this time and go out into the world that we must decide whether we shall live as the people of Christ or whether we shall live as the people of the earth. Time has come today, just as it came for the rich man. It is time to make a choice and despite what others might say, you have a choice, a choice that the rich man didn’t have.

“The Values of Religion”


This is the message that I gave at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, 8 August 2004.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 1: 1, 10 – 20; Hebrews 11: 1 – 3, 8 – 16; and Luke 12: 32 – 40.

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You will have to excuse me if this sermon sounds angry. But things have been said and done these past few months that make me, as a Christian and as one who believes in the power of the Gospel, angry. Actually I am as much confused as I am angry.

We call this country a Christian nation. We seem to think that a few drops of water on our heads at birth, a few grains of rice when we get married, and a handful of dirt thrown on our grave when we die make us Christian. (This was adapted from Faith in a Secular Age by Colin Williams, page 116)  All our words say we are Christians. We put the phrase "under God" in our Pledge of Allegiance to remind others; we put "in God we trust" on our money to remind others; and find a politician today who doesn’t end their speech with a rousing "God bless America!" We say that a reaffirmation of our Christian values will keep this country safe, strong, and free. But our actions belie our words.

We call for the return of prayer in school, saying that our country began to fall apart when it was taken out. I remember when we started each day in school with a prayer; but I also remember that the school where this happened was segregated. I also remember my parents having to buy my schoolbooks at a bookstore because the local school board did not want to buy books for the students, black and white, in the district. We may be a country where we invoke God’s name and say that all men are created equal. But our educational processes then were separate and hardly considered equal. And today, when segregation is supposedly a thing of the past, there are still schools that use Jesus and God as covers for segregation and racism.

Forty years ago, we had prayer in the schools but our schools were homogenous. Now, with our schools heterogeneous and diverse, it would be very difficult to offer a prayer that meets the requirements for all the Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus in our schools. How can any prayer be written that meets the needs of the students?

And with our God the same God that Jews and Muslims pray to, how can we explain the actions of some Christian churches who fired their ministers after they shared a community platform with Jewish rabbis and Muslim imans?

We have been told that we are stewards of this earth. But how does this allow us to pollute the air, the water, and eliminate for all times many species of plants and animals? To be a good steward is not to use it up but to keep it for all but there are those who say that God allows us to do so. Besides, who is going to miss a small sparrow that only lived in a ten square mile in the northwest? Does God not care for all His creatures, great and small?

As a Christian nation, we say that we accept the words of the Bible as the inherent words of God told to mankind? So why is it when the words of the Bible conflict with the laws of nature we condemn or kill those who point out the discrepancy? Is it that we forgot that God wrote the laws of nature just as he lead men to write the words of the Bible? As children of God, we are created in God’s own image and given the ability to reason and think. Yet, many Christian preachers seem to think that only they can do so and we are to blindly follow.

We have been taught and we have taught our children that there is no separation of people when it comes to faith. So why have we used the words of the Bible to prove that whites were the superior race? Jesus did not teach discrimination or separation. In a world where women were second class citizens and children given the status of dogs, Jesus removed the barriers that separated people. Yet, we still build barriers between people in the name of God because we do not like someone’s race, economic status, beliefs, or lifestyle. We have been shown that there is no difference in people simply because the color of their skin is different. So what shall we do if our other notions about human differences are proven false? What will happen if we find that there is life on other planets? Shall we treat these individuals any different; will we, in the name of God, claim superiority over them, just as the first explorers of this country did to the natives of this hemisphere?

And how can we, as Christians and as a Christian nation, accept the fact that there are homeless in this country. How can we accept the fact that there are those who go hungry for days, rather than the few hours between breakfast and dinner? How can we claim to be Christians when we allow oppression and discrimination to exist in this world? How can we claim to be Christians when our very actions drive wedges between people and drive people away from the church, not to it? How can we, those who proclaim once a year that the Son of God was born to be the Prince of Peace, even begin to think that war will do anything but make people more hungry, destroy their homes, and keep the oppressed in bondage.

How can we ever expect peace on this earth when we do not practice good will towards men? How is it that we, claiming to be Christian individuals, and this nation, claiming to be a Christian country, ever expect to remove terrorism from this world if our responses to terrorism are only in kind? Yes, in the Old Testament, the philosophy was an "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth"; to respond in kind to that which was inflicted upon you. But Jesus said that we should turn the other cheek, we should respond to violence with love and respect. How is it that we can remember the words of the Old Testament but forget the words of the New Testament?

We may say we are a Christian nation but our actions certainly do not reflect those beliefs. This is a time when vast, powerful forces sweep across the country bringing changes to our very doorstep.

Yet, instead of recognizing the opportunities such changes bring, churches close their doors to the opportunities and resist the change. Churches today seem afraid of what might be outside their doors.

Instead of true repentance and the acceptance of the Holy Spirit, evangelism is more a call for condemnation and judgment. Instead of seeking opportunities to bring the Gospel message to the people, churches today seem more interested in ways to build bigger buildings and have countless programs

But such activities, as God proclaimed through Isaiah, are doomed to fail. Those churches that put the gain of members before the presentation of the Gospel will die.(Adapted from comments by the Rev. Jane Middleton, printed in the July 30, 2004 issue of The Vision.)  Churches today have become churches of exclusion and privilege. Instead of preaching a Gospel message of love and openness, many churches preach division, exclusivity, and certainly no love for all.

The church the public sees seeks to impose its will on the people it should serve. Evangelism has come to mean condemnation and judgment. And for many, the church is no longer a place of haven or solace. It has become simply a place for baptisms, weddings, and funerals.

It is no wonder that people are turned off or driven away from the church. How can we ask people to be disciples of Christ if they cannot see Christ at work in this world? How can we call men and women to conversion without seeing that Christ calls us all to repent of our prejudices and to be open to the fullness of the life? We cannot practice Christianity and be a false witness; we cannot be evangelists while escaping from Christ’s demands ourselves.

We have to ask ourselves what it means to call people to Christ. The church’s sole purpose is to show the world, through word, deed, action and thought that God’s will is the best alternative to a materialistic or secular world.

Still, there is a vision of hope and promise. Just as John Wesley began the Methodist Revival when it appeared that the words and actions of the church were counter to the goals and outcomes of the Gospel, so too can we embark on a new revival. If there were ever a time for a church to embark on a course of evangelism and outreach, it is now. As Jesus points out in the Gospel message today, there is no time to wait; the hour of His coming is unknown and lost to those who wait.

Within the next six months we will meet as a church. We will vote to remove forty some individuals from the membership rolls of this church; we will say to these friends and children of the church that, because they have failed to be active and supportive members, they are no longer members.

I am not condemning these individuals; for the most part, I do not know who they are. But I can only presume that because they have chosen not to respond to our inquiries and mailings, they see their membership in terms of drops of water, grains of rice, and a handful of dirt rather than in terms of prayers, presence, gifts, and service. I know that some of these individuals have moved away but others are close by and they do not come. They choose not to come because something keeps them away.

It is about time that we, as practicing and professing Christians, do what Christians should do. Just as Jesus said that his mission was first to the lost sheep of Israel, so too must our first evangelistic outreach be to those who have strayed from this, their church home. We need to make one last major effort to reach out and bring them home.

And as we do this, we also need to reach out to those new residents of this area. We should do so, not for what they can bring to this church, but rather what this church can bring to them. In a world of despair and void of hope, this can be the source of hope and promise through the Gospel message.

These opportunities, to reach out and find our own lost sheep and bring in new members, are fleeting. But there is no time later and events in this world can force us into actions that we may not want to take. But if we act in accordance with the Gospel message, we may be able to dictate what those events will be.

We cannot rest on what we have done in the past nor can things that we have developed or created forestall the inevitable. God made it very plain that such an approach would not work. We cannot say that people should come to this church, simply because it is historic and been here for a long time; we can say that people should come because we have been presenting the Holy Spirit at this location for over 200 years. (This isn’t exactly what I said but I think it is close enough to it.)

What is acceptable to God is the exercise of one’s faith, a demonstration to others that God is truly our God. That means that God must be the centerpiece of our lives. God, today through the words of Isaiah, is telling us to show others who He is through what we say and do. And what we do, when we do it, must be for the benefit of others, not for ourselves.

What was it that brought success to Abraham? It certainly was not his abilities. But through his faith in God and his belief that God would give him the family that he had been promised, he received the family that he had been promised. We are told today by the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews that it was the faith of the saints, and not their actions that brought them success.

We are reminded today of the lengths that God will go to for us. We are reminded that we are able to come to this table today because Christ died for us and not for anything that we have done. This moment in time solidifies the relationship that exists between God and each of us. One of the basic tenets of faith for Methodists is that there is a relationship with God through Christ. It is a relationship that is intensely personal but also one that must be shared with others. It is a relationship founded on faith, a faith that is both informed and experienced. It is a faith that goes beyond our own personal boundaries through our concern for the spiritual, physical, and social conditions for all people.

Our heritage as Methodists is to evangelize, to take the words of Christ, the Gospel message, into the world. We are not charged with anything difficult or beyond our capabilities. We are only asked to do like the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus, to tell the story and what it means to us. Evangelism is nothing more than that; we are asked to neither condemn nor condone individuals but just tell the story of Jesus and what it means to us.

We are not going to change this country overnight. But it is not a question of changing this country; it is not even a question of whether or not this country remains or becomes a Christian nation. It is a question of whether or not we can show the presence of Christ in this world.

The words, actions, deeds, or thoughts of individuals who seek gain for themselves will not do this. Rather, it will be the words, actions, deeds or thoughts of those who have accepted Christ as their own personal savior and have allowed the Holy Spirit to guide and direct them in everything they do and say.

You may come to this table tired and worn out but you leave refreshed and renewed. You may come to this table devoid of hope for the future but you leave knowing that there is a future of hope and promise in Christ. You come to this table seeing a world and a church focused inward and selfish. Yet you come to this table knowing that Jesus gave of Himself so that we may have the hope and promise of eternal life. As you leave this table this morning, refreshed and renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit and cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, your values change.

As we eat the bread and drink the juice of the grape, we are reminded that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was for us. So how can we leave this place and not carry the Gospel message into the world? As you leave this table and this church this morning and go out into the world, what will you say and do this week to help others to find what you experienced today?


“What Good Is It?”


This is the message that I gave at Walker Valley United Methodist Church for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, 12 August 2001.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 1: 1, 10 – 20; Hebrews 11: 1 – 3, 8 – 16; and Luke 12: 32 – 40.

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Last week I read a quote from an unnamed IBM engineer in 1968 concerning the newly invented microchip. Commenting on the microchip, this engineer with the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM asked "But what . . . is it good for?" Since computing up to that moment was based on large main-frame computers, essentially powered by vacuum tubes, it would have been very difficult to see how to use something that had taken the technology of the time and shrunk it down to fit on a single chip of silicon less than 1" wide. The inability to see how to use the microchip along with a steadfast reliance on mainframe computers probably cost IBM the chance to be a dominant player in today’s market.

The problem is that we tend to look at the future in terms of what we see today. And because we do, we often cannot see the future clearly. And we don’t want to go where we cannot see clearly.

In this world today, there are plenty of people who offer visions of the future, especially as it pertains to the church. There are literally hundreds of books on the market today written by individuals who claim to know what is going to happen, when Jesus will return and how He will do so.

But the Gospel passage for today does not offer a clear vision of the future. In Mark, Jesus says that neither he nor the angels in heaven know the hour or day of his return. In Acts 1, the disciples want to know when the kingdom will come. Jesus again tells them that only God knows that, and that should worry more about being empowered so that they can be God’s witnesses on earth.

In the Gospel reading for today Jesus says much the same. He reminds us through the parable that a servant who spends all of their time trying to guess their master’s return will not be doing the tasks the master has left for him to do. In fact, those servants who think they know exactly when and how the master will return will be the ones who are surprised, for the master comes at a time and in a way unexpected. We should be ready, not by standing by with our heads in the clouds or by listening to those who claim to know more than Jesus but to love, to work, to be about the tasks that have been left for us.

It is faith that provides us with the power by which we can wait. And it is faith that will provide us with the strength to take on the tasks that we have been asked to do. Faith is defined as the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.

The writer of Hebrews speaks of faith and the power it has to help people see into the future. Abraham was lauded for his faith, for taking his family and possession from a secure environment into an unknown territory, solely on the promise that he would be the father of a great nation.

Faith involves going where you can’t yet see. Faith involves living where you aren’t yet home. And faith involves accepting what you don’t have. Abraham’s faith journey began with open-ended travel plans. He did not know where his journey would end. The same is true for us. We do not know where our journey in faith will take us nor do we know when it will end. Faith is the sole act of being willing to follow god’s direction wherever it leads, even if we don’t know where that will be during the journey itself.

Abraham’s own faith journey was not a direct journey from Ur to the Promised Land. He detoured along the way. But when he was in some of those intermediate places, such as Egypt, God was able to teach him some of the most valuable lessons of faith. And as we move forward in our faith journey, there will be detours along the way. Some of these detours will be brief while others will be long and frustrating; some may even cause us to wonder if own journey has ended. But if we keep our eyes to God and his will for our lives, we can understand those times when we spend time in places that are not the ultimate end to the journey, not our ultimate home.

And no matter how futile the journey may seem, as long as we keep the faith that God will hold to his promise, our journey will always be fruitful. Surely Abraham and Sarah must have wondered about the promise God made to them that they would be the parents of a mighty nation, especially when Sarah was long passed child bearing age. Abraham was willing to accept God’s promise solely on faith, even if it seemed so impossible.

Today, it is the same for us. God wants us to do great things, even if Walker Valley doesn’t seem to be the vocal point of the universe. The question is "Are you willing to trust God with your future and follow him with faith?"

To follow God with faith is more than simply saying that you will do so, it is resolving to take action. And the actions that are taken must be directed by and towards one’s faith. Contrast how God rejects the actions of the Israelites of Isaiah’s time as being superficial attempts to fulfill the letter, but not the spirit of the law. "Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil…. Make justice your aim….Hear the orphan’s plea, defined the widow." (Isaiah 1: 16 – 17)

Justice and goodness alone suffice; to offer praise when "your hands are full of blood" is the exact opposite of faith. Verbal praise is an insult when it is contradicted by actions; rather our actions must magnify our living faith. The writer of Hebrews points out that many times those who died in faith never received what was promised. But they also died knowing that was promised may never have been gained here on earth; rather it was something that was to be gained in heaven.

Isaiah also pointed out that those who would do the will of God would receive true rewards, that they would eat the good of the land. But those that would refuse to serve God and rebel against Him would be destroyed. Even Jesus pointed out that those who did what was asked of them would get the chance to sit at the heavenly banquet.

It is by our faith that all is gained. It is by our faith that we know that what we do will be rewarded. I have already heard that some share my vision of what Walker Valley United Methodist Church can be tomorrow and in the coming years. And I think that a good number of people also share that vision. But know is the time to put your faith in action.

Have you taken the opportunity this summer to call someone who is a member of this church but hasn’t been here for some time. Do you know of someone who would come but doesn’t because no one asked? Have you thought of how you could help this church by taking on a more active role. Right now, we need someone to represent Walker Valley as the Lay Member to the Annual Conference. This position has been vacant for almost two years and it has meant that this church has not had a representative at Annual Conference. The Lay Leader position has also been vacant for the last two years as well. The Lay Leader represents the congregation of the church; this is not necessarily and should not be considered the same as the Chair of the Administrative Council.

We will need someone to serve as the Chair of the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee and someone to serve as Chair of the Witness Area of ministry. And we will need at least two people to serve three-year terms on the Board of Trustees, the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee, and the Committee on Lay Leadership.

There are also other areas of service. We would like to have some people serve in the Sunday School program as teachers and helpers. We have four meals scheduled for the coming months; this means that we need some people help plan these meals and we need to have some people help organize and clean up downstairs so that we can again use the fellowship hall as it was intended to be used.

Faith is more than simply words; it is also action. Jesus was not content to sit around reminiscing about what used to be. In fact, once he started teaching, he did not fail to create a word picture or two or three a day. And the end of the Gospel of John, John wrote that if someone wrote down everything that Jesus did, the world itself could not contain all the books that would have been written. (John 21: 25) And someone who only knew Jesus three years wrote this.

Jesus said, "My Father goes on working, and so do I." (John 5: 15 – 17)  He was always asking that his disciples and followers pray for more recruits because the fields were bursting and ripe for harvest. Things needed to be done, and as a leader he wanted them done — even when He knew that he would not be physically present to do so. In following Jesus, in holding to our faith, we are constantly asked to take action.

Jesus pushed his disciples to move away from the economic security that they so zealously guarded. He told us that faith puts us on the edge of life where we become concerned about all of life; where we become stewards and servants of the house and where we want to make sure that all is ready for the coming of the Master. We have to take care of the little things because (and excuse the terribly trite cliché), there are no little things.

Faith makes us responsible for the little things — the little people, the little injustices, the little immoralities, the little pollution, and the little evils. On the edge we see that the little things are not so little but rather as the cracks in the house’s foundation that will lead to its collapse.

Faith puts life on the edge by making each moment of life a possibility to encounter the Living God. Faith makes each moment the one when God might open up time and history and show grace and mercy to us again. Every moment because that moment when God’s providence moves in our lives.

We all walk on a journey of life. By our faith in Jesus Christ, we find that journey is not in the normal path. Faith gets us up and moving, out unto the edges of life where the little questions of life cannot be distinguished from the big ones and where every moment is both an opportunity to encounter the Living God and to bear witness to others of God’s love.

And as we come to the Communion Table this morning, we are reminded that the first step in our faith journey has already been taken. In Communion we are reminded that Christ died for our sins. In Communion we also celebrate that rewards that our journey in faith will bring.

The goodness of the faith comes not from what it was but rather what it will bring for us.


Boardwalk and Park Place


This was the third Sunday I was at the Mulberry and Arma United Methodist Churches.  The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost (6 August 1995) were 2 Kings 13: 14 – 20, Colossians 3: 1 – 11, and Luke 12: 13 – 21.

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As I began working on this sermon, I thought about the opening scene from the movie "Citizen Kane". The opening scene of what some call the greatest movie ever made has Kane on his deathbed whispering the word "Rosebud." No one there knew the significance of this word or why such a singular word would be the last word of the great man. At the conclusion of the movie, as the possessions of this great man are destroyed, we see the sled that he played with as a young boy with the name "Rosebud" written on it.

We are in a time where it seems like we are fearful of the future. Our relationship to other people is tedious at best. I look to the coming presidential election with a wary eye because there are signs that this may be one of the most hateful, most dirty presidential elections of all times. And even more frightening is the fact that the hatred is not be directed at the other candidates but at people in this country. We have already seen the signs of such hatred. It would also seem that people are seeking wealth and material goods because it will be the only defense against the uncertainty of the future.

And while my background may be in chemistry, it seems to me and what I know of history that these are the same conditions that preceded the Great Depression. I have my grandfather’s diary that he wrote while in the military and his description of the country at the time of Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1933 was a very bleak description.

From the title of this sermon, you can guess that there is some sort of connection to the game of Monopoly. Monopoly is a product of the period in our history we call the Great Depression. As you may now, once you own all the properties of the same color group, you have a monopoly (hence the name of the game) and you are permitted to put houses and ultimately a hotel on the property. As the number of houses increases, so does the rent the other players must pay should they land on them.

Boardwalk and Park Place represent the two most expensive properties in the game. And, for many players, the ones most prized. Yet, serious players of the game of Monopoly will tell you that if you want to win the game, you should try to get the properties at the 2nd and 3rd corners, the reds and greens. You see, analysis has shown that people are more likely to land on those properties than they are to land on either Boardwalk or Park Place. If you concentrate on trying to get the two most expensive properties and then try to get the appropriate houses and hotels, you may find that you end up losing the game.

Monopoly is a game where success comes from the acquisition of property and money. And there are people who feel that is the only way to be in real life today. Our society seems enamored with wealth and encourages all to seek more. We are nothing if we don’t have everything. Still, I saw a tee-shirt the other day with one of those great sayings "He who dies with the most toys, still dies." After all, despite all his riches, Citizen Kane died a lonely and unhappy man, wanting only the one thing money truly cannot buy, the happiness of his youth.

It might seem at first glance that a paradox exists between the readings in the Old Testament and the Gospel today. In the Gospel reading today Jesus warned us that to solely relying on material possessions was folly. Yet, Elisha got mad at Jehoash because he didn’t stamp the arrows enough. On one hand, we are warned against the gathering of materials solely to have them yet when given the opportunity we might get criticized for not taking enough. But the paradox is in not what we have in terms of material goods, but the priorities that we place on life.

As Paul points out, when we accept Jesus Christ as our own personal savior, our relationship with God changes. No longer can we allow the material things to drive us. We must turn our around our direction and completely follow Christ.

Elisha was dying and in his final moments he sought desperately to insure the kingdom of Israel. Even as he was dying, Elisha tried to save the country he loved and worked for. Yet, they did not have the faith that God would provide for their safety and security. The power of victory over evil was given to the Israelites but they did not take advantage of it. Elisha was angry with Jehoash, not because he didn’t stamp the arrows enough times, but because he did not have faith in God and would not take all that God would give him.

Jesus tells that no matter how much our material wealth is, if we are poor in Spirit then we have nothing. Tying up our lives in material things leads to nothing. Consider what happen when God took the Israelites into the Promised Land. Every day, He provided the necessary food and water. And when some took more than their share, maggots infested their food. When it was the day before the Sabbath, the Israelites were told to take enough for two days. If they didn’t, they had to would have to wait until the day after the Sabbath. God provided.

The amazing thing about God’s provisions is that it goes beyond the simple needs of life. It also includes the skills needed. Go back at look at all the times that God called a leader to duty. Moses said that he couldn’t speak so how could lead the Israelites; Jeremiah claimed he was too young. Even Peter denied the Lord. It seems like every time we are asked by God to do something, we try to get out of it. Yet, God has never left anyone whom He has called alone and without the necessary skills. When God calls for you to work for him, will you hesitate or like the verses of Hymn #593, will you answer "Here I am Lord"?

We are in a society that is going to place extraordinary demands on people in the coming years. There are those who argue against the technological changes that are coming because they will remove the human aspect from life. I would say that, when you look at live today, it may be that we have already done so. Be it at work or at rest, we have taken the soul out of our live. We no longer talk about hope and we rely on the material goods to make it through life.

Viewed from an earthly viewpoint, life on this planet may look rather bleak. It is very difficult to talk about heaven, to believe that Christ is the answer we so desperately seek when the world around us is so tied up in the very ways of life that Paul told the Colossians to forgo.

But if we change our life as Paul suggested to the Colossians, that viewpoint will change. In accepting Christ, our life is no longer centered on the gain of material things but rather is centered in Christ. Our whole live changes; our viewpoint of life changes.

When I began working on this sermon, all I could think of was wealth and associated images. Needless to say, I struggled with the sermon. But, when we focus our lives on Christ, when we let Christ direct and guide us, then life takes on a whole new meaning.

Boardwalk and Park Place are nice properties to have when playing the game of Monopoly but acquiring the most expensive properties is not necessarily the way we want to live our daily lives. And we stop to remember, Jesus does have some real nice property that has been bought and paid for with his blood. Consider what Jesus told his disciples on the night of the Last Supper.

"Set your troubled hearts at rest. Trust in God always; trust also in me. There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house; if it were not so I should have told you; for I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I shall come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also; and you know the way I am taking." (John 14: 1 – 5)

Doesn’t the palace with the many rooms seem a better piece of property?

Finding The Truth


Here are my thoughts for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, 4 August 2007.  (This has been edited since it was first published.)


After reading the Gospel for today (Luke 12: 13 – 21 ), there is part of me that wants to scream. It is a scream of anguish or frustration more than anything else and it comes from knowing that the words that Luke recorded come from Christ, yet they seem to be words that people ignore.

Jesus is speaking about our relationship with others, especially those of our family and how we must guard against being greedy. In the parable of the rich man, we read of a man whose wealth has increased beyond measure and he has begun making plans to store and keep his extra riches. Yet, on the night that he begins making those plans, he finds out that God has other plans for him and he is called to his eternal home. It brings the question framed in Mark, “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”(Mark 8: 36 )

My scream comes from the fact that there are those in today’s society who claim to be messengers or prophets or ministers of God’s word who proclaim that it is perfectly alright to seek wealth and prosperity without fear of loss. There are those in today’s society who proclaim that God is our servant and whatever we ask, He will give to us. This so-called “prosperity gospel” is nowhere near what the Gospel says or even hinted at in the Bible. So I want to scream and cry out in anguish.

I also want to scream and cry out at those who listen to these words of misdirection and deceit. So many people today claim to be Christian and claim to follow the teachings of Jesus but they hold onto views that are in direct contradiction to what Jesus said and did. They are the type of people who say that “God helps those who help themselves” is found in the Bible without realizing that is a statement of Ben Franklin.

These contradictions are a result of what people think is in the Bible and what is actually in the Bible. It goes beyond the prosperity gospel and its get rich quick and without effort message. It extends into our knowledge of American history and real theology.

You hear so many so-called ministers proclaim that this country was founded on principles that come from the Bible. You hear so many so-called prophets of God claim that our founding fathers were God-fearing Christians. But you often do not hear that our founding fathers were in fact more deists than Christian; you often do not hear that being a member of a church and being identified with a particular congregation and/or denomination was done more out of political necessity and political requirements. You do not hear that Thomas Jefferson was so disenchanted with the Bible that he sought to write his own. You do not hear how Thomas Jefferson felt that the true church, true Christianity had been hijacked by the church. He thought that the teachings of Christ had been so distorted by organized churches that it made one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites (http://www.mindfully.org/Reform/2005/Jesus-Without-Miracles1dec05.htm). I would hope that the percentages are a little bit different today.

I scream, not because the church has been hijacked by those with their own selfish and personal interests but because it seems that because so many others have allowed it to occur. I began to understand the pain and anguish that Hosea writes about in the Old Testament reading for today (Hosea 11: 1 – 11 ).

The passage of Hosea is God’s cry that the people that he cared for and that he brought out of slavery and bondage in Egypt have turned away. It is God’s cry that His people are lost again in the wilderness without his protection. God does not exact vengeance against a select few in a nation; He exacts it against all people. Those who say that such-and-such a disaster was God’s judgment against a select few fail to realize that this judgment is against all. And God’s mercy is for all, not just for a select few.

If we want God’s mercy, we must seek it; it will not come to us. If we do not want God’s judgment to be against us, then we must work to do God’s will. In part, this is what Hosea writes today. God has not abandoned His people; His people have abandoned Him.

Evil is unjust but if we stand by and allow evil to persist, then our inaction is also unjust. If we allow ministers or preachers to preach a message that is not found in the Gospel, be it about prosperity or Armageddon, then we deserve the outcome that will come. The only reason that such individuals can preach these false words is because people allow them to be preached. We cannot stand on the brink of disaster and say that we will be saved when we had the opportunity to prevent the disaster.

God calls us to seek the truth. God calls us to listen to His son and respond in kind. The call comes in our repentance. It means not seeing wealth as an individual right but as something to be shared. It means insuring that everyone has sufficient resources. It means not violating the integrity of another nation solely because you seek vengeance.

Paul points out his letter to the Colossians (Colossians 3: 1- 11 ) that we must give up our personal ways. He writes that we are to put to death all those things that identify you with the earth and take up those things that identify you with Christ. We are to find a new life in Christ.

The task before us is a great one. There are so many people out there who profess to know the truth and to speak the truth that it has become almost impossible to discern “the wheat from the chaff”. But God gave us the ability to seek the truth; He sent His son so that the truth would be known. We are reminded that it will be the truth, the truth found in Christ that will set us free.

How will we know what is the truth? Look at those who claim to speak the truth but prevent you from questioning what they say. How can that be the truth? Listen to those who speak of and then deny access to the church for people because of their race, their caste, their lifestyle. How can that be the truth? Is there not a resistance in the church today to those who call for a change in the way that the church relates to the world around it?

There are those today who would forsake the world around them, claiming it to be evil and doomed. But the very same powers that might lead to that claim also allow us to make great and positive changes. The ability of man to master the world around him makes it possible for all to share in a creative life in this world. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to seek the truth in this new creative life. Is not the breaking of the chains of oppression a sign that we are growing in the unity that Paul wrote about in Colossians (Colossians 3: 11)?

Does this new creative life not allow us to seek Christ in new ways, to see Christ in the world around us? Does this new creative life found in Christ allow us to become free to know God in the immediacy of human life? Are we, through Christ, now free to serve God? Can we not see the possibility of witnessing that Christ is revealed to mankind as the one who came to set people free and not through some strange and mysterious theology only known to a select few?

Are we not at that same point as the disciples of John were when they came to Jesus and asked for a sign that He was the Messiah? Do we not see that the lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see, and the poor have the Good News preached to them (Taken from Luke 7: 22)?

We have a choice. We can allow others to tell us their version of the truth; we can let them go on and on misleading them. Or we can allow the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and open both our minds and hearts so that we can truly discern the truth. We can go on and allow others to tell us what to think and what to say and what to do. Or we can repent of our sins and our worldly ways, cast off that which ties us to this world and take up the mantle of Christ. And when we do this, when we accept Christ into our hearts and truly become His disciples, then we will know what the truth is and we will be truly free.