“The Cries of the People”


This will be the “back page” for the bulletin at Fishkill UMC this coming Sunday, August 12, 2018 (12th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B).


David’s cry of “Absalom, Absalom” in the Old Testament reading is a cry of pain and anguish.  It is also a cry created by and through anger.

Paul points out that we must be careful when we are angry; that words said in anger may result in something we may not want.  Paul didn’t say that we couldn’t be angry; he just said that it shouldn’t devour your life.  Anger moves our focus away from God and what God desires.

The whole idea that Jesus represented the Bread of Life and that it was available to all who sought Him angered some people.  And that anger prevented them from envisioning the new vision Jesus offered.  It is an anger that is still present today.  It prevents us from hearing the cry of anguish from those in pain or who are lost, forgotten, or excluded.

Until we put the anger away and let Christ truly into our life, we will never be whom we are called to be.

~~ Tony Mitchell

“What Do You Want to Be?”


This is scheduled to be the “back page” for the bulletin at Fishkill United Methodist Church for Sunday, August 5, 2018 (11th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B).


In my opinion, we as humans and as a society have been given two great gifts, creativity and God’s grace.  The hardest thing that we must realize is that we haven’t been given those gifts solely for our benefit.  We have been given them to share with others. (from “The Gifts We Have Been Given.”)

I am not saying that you shouldn’t try to be the best you can be, but if you don’t share them, how will others know what you can do?  You may have the skills of leadership and ministry but unless you are in the lector rotation, who knows what you can do?  You may sing like an angel but only heaven knows if you don’t sing in public (choir rehearsals are on Sunday at 9 am).  You may write like Shakespeare but if the words are not published, they have no meaning (that’s a hint, by the way – 😊 ).

David was given the gift of creativity and it was evident in his leadership and his ability to compose poems and songs. Yet, he used his creativity to abuse the power of his position and, in the end, he paid the price for his greed and arrogance. (from “What Do You Do With The Gifts You Have Been Given?”)

To borrow from George Bernard Shaw, ours is to see things that never were and say why not.  Whatever it is that we want to be, the results will be magnified when we use our gifts so that others come to know Christ.                                                       ~Tony Mitchell

“The Hardest Thing In The World”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s The Next Step?”


I am preaching at New Milford/Edenville United Methodist Church this morning. The service is at 9:30 am and you are welcome to attend. The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) are 2 Samuel 18: 5 – 9, 15, 31 – 33; Ephesians 4: 25 – 5: 2; and John 6: 35, 41 – 51.

From the time I took a long-term assignment as a lay speaker way back in 1995 (the Chattaqua Parish in Kansas – see “Hide and Seek”) I have followed the lectionary as the source for my Scripture readings. For those who are not familiar with this term, the lectionary is a set of three readings, generally one from the Old Testament, one from the Letters of the New Testament and one from the Gospel readings. If one follows the lectionary, one can, in a three-year period, cover the entire Bible. We happen to be in Year B of the three-year cycle.

And while we are familiar with the lectionary readings for a particular Sunday, it is my understanding that these readings also encompass the rest of the week and Sunday school as well (which is nice because many of our favorite stories are not in the selections for Sunday services).

Some lay speakers will use certain Scriptures that they are comfortable with but when I found it necessary to prepare a message for a series of weeks that method didn’t work well for me. Now, as it happens, the lectionary that I followed back in 1995 was the Common Lectionary; the scriptures for today are from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem but in addition to preparing this message I am also working on a message for next Sunday at the Fishkill United Methodist Church and a message for the Vespers in the Garden series on Sunday evening at Grace UMC in Newburgh. The Vespers message is special because we are also dedicating a cross that was given to the church back in September in memory of 9/11. I hope that you will be able to come up to Grace for this important moment in church and town history.

For the Vespers series, we have always used the Common Lectionary and there are subtle differences in the Common and Revised Common Lectionary. One is that part of the Old Testament reading for next Sunday is the concluding part of the Old Testament reading for today. And that leads me to the title for today’s message.

In theory one can travel back in time and in writing these three sermons I am traveling, at least in thought from next Sunday evening to next Sunday morning to today. So, if by chance, I sound like I don’t know if I am coming or going, at least you will know why. But I hope that you can come up to Newburgh next Sunday, knowing that in part what I say Sunday night comes from what I am saying today.

There are some who believe that the Bible is a fixed and unchanging document; one that we should just leave alone. But such a document quickly becomes something that we read when we have time and interest. But if you feel, as I do, that the Bible is a living document then one can find one’s own passions, desires, thoughts, and feelings in the passages.

That would, I think, be the case in reading the Old Testament passage for today. There are very few people today who cannot relate to David’s cry of anguish when informed that his son Absalom had died. And David’s cry is even more painful when we know that David had specifically told his troops that they were not to harm Absalom, even though Absalom had instigated the rebellion against David. We are not told in the reading for today but it was Joab, one of David’s commanders, who killed Absalom and that he did so because he was sometimes at odds with what David wanted to do.

The death of Absalom effectively ends the rebellion and peace, as it were, is restored to the kingdom. But one has to ask how there can there be peace in a country recently divided. It is a question that has haunted this country for over one hundred years and one for which the Bible doesn’t always provide a clear answer. Or does it?

We are a nation that is still split, not just along racial lines but economic lines and cultural lines. We see war as the penultimate solution and are unwilling to do that which will prevent future wars. We lead lives that are counter to the examples that are given in the Bible for us to follow.

Paul writes to the Ephesians and speaks of changing the way one lives. Paul says that it is perfectly acceptable to be angry but don’t let that anger serve as fuel for revenge. And yet, when we are attacked, when we are slighted or wrong, our thoughts are to seek revenge. Paul speaks of getting an honest job so that we can help others who can’t work; yet we often express the thought that everyone is on their own when it comes to work and success. When President Kennedy spoke before the press following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, he spoke of victory and success having a thousand fathers but failure was an orphan. We have taken that statement and made success the product of individualism and those who do not succeed as failures.

We have taken the very notion of Christ’s love, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, as unconditional and made it conditional. We expect something, much if one listens to many of the television preachers, in return for our acknowledgment of God’s love.

We ignore Jesus’ words about who is in charge and expect that we, mere mortals, are capable of discerning what God is thinking. And we will not allow others to have any thoughts about Jesus, God, Christianity, or religion unless they are exact carbon copies of our own thoughts and beliefs.

We are at a point in time, a place in history, where we must make a choice. We know the numbers, we know the prediction that tell us that unless something is done and done soon, the United Methodist Church will be, quite literally, extinct within twenty-five years. There are those today who believe that religion will die out in that time frame as well.

Yet, those who predict the demise of religion offer nothing better as an alternative. At least the prophets in the Old Testament offered an alternative, even if the people often times ignored them. I would agree that any religion which speaks with more of a human voice or which offers alternatives that are different from the scriptures that they claim to derive their authority from probably deserves to die.

Jesus pointed out that the religious authorities of His day were not the one’s in charge, even if that was what they told the people. Christ came to this world, not to follow His own will or do what we would have Him do, but to do God’s will..

We cannot begin to discern God’s will if we are bickering amongst ourselves or relying on others to direct our path. The one problem that I have with current thoughts in the United Methodist Church is that those who lead the church have an absolute and true understanding of what must be done to revitalize the denomination.

I also know that one statement will get me into more hot water than anything else I may say. I can hear the voices of my mother in one ear and my father in the other saying, “Tony, don’t rock the boat. Go with the flow and don’t cause trouble.” But if Jesus had not rocked the boat some two thousand years ago; if Jesus had not challenged common opinion about the poor, the sick, the forgotten people, and the oppressed, where would we be today.

If John Wesley had merely taken the assignment as an Anglican priest and just did his parish work, would we even have a Methodist Church today? I wrote a piece the other day that I hope gets published. In it, I used the quote that Edward Kennedy used when he eulogized his brother Robert, “he saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”

I am reminded that John Wesley’s answer to the lack of health care in 18th century England was the establishment of a health clinic and the publication of a book of medical cures. He saw people in debtors’ prisons because they could not pay their debts (something which is returning to this country today) and he established the first credit union. He saw the need for children to be educated and he helped begin the first Sunday School. And when there was a cry for people to bring the Word of God to the colonies, he sent men over to lead the ministry.

The answer to the crisis before us lies, to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, not in the stars but in us. We must look around and where we are today and ask what it is that we can do, no matter how many or how few we may be, to bring the Word of God to the people of this community. We must look around and ask what are the needs of this community and how can we, individually or collectively, as one group or with others, provide the solution.

I heard a quote the other day that intrigued me: “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” Part of the intrigue was that I misunderstood who said it. I thought it was Arthur C. Clarke but I determined, with the aid of modern technology, that is was an individual named Joel A. Barker. I have never heard of this individual but I discovered that his claim to fame is that he took the notion of the paradigm shift, first proposed by Thomas Kuhn in relation to the idea of scientific ideas, and applied it to business models.

While I find that idea interesting, I also know that many individuals use the term “paradigm shift” without knowing what it means or involves. What I do know is that Jesus Christ offers a radical new idea, a paradigm shift if you will, to those who are willing to follow Him.

He speaks of the Bread of Life, of the sustenance that leads to eternal life. He offers each and everyone who takes of this Bread the opportunity for eternal life. This is the penultimate paradigm shift; it transforms our lives from a mere day-to-day existence to one that can change the world.

Some will hear this offer and ignore it. Some will hear this offer and say that one person can never change the world. But Jesus was one person and he did in fact change the world. That we are here this morning is proof of that. There is a proverb that basically states that life is a journey that begins with a single step. What shall your next step be? You can choose not to follow Jesus today. It is the safe bet because you know that the world will not change and what was out there when you came here this morning will be there when you leave.

Accepting Christ, choosing to follow Him down whatever road it may lead, does not meant that world outside changes. But you will have changed, changed in a way that others will see. In your words, your thoughts, your deeds, and your actions, people will see that Christ is a part of your life. They will see the love that God has for each one of us and they will want to be a part of that. When you care for someone because they are in trouble or need and not for your own gain, the world will begin to change. So we begin with a step; what is your next step?

“Signs (1997)”


This was the message I gave at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church (Brighton, TN) for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), 3 August 1997. I am pretty sure that I used 2 Samuel 11: 26 – 12: 13, Ephesians 4: 1 – 16, and John 6: 24 – 35 as the Scriptures for this Sunday. 

Note – in editing my files I see that I had posted this as the 10th Sunday after Pentecost but have it listed in my preaching record as the 11th Sunday.

When I first read the scriptures for this Sunday and the comments by the people to Jesus about seeing more signs, I thought about a song from the 70’s entitled “Signs” by the Five-Man Electric Band. In the song, the opening lines are “signs, signs, signs, everywhere there are signs.” And as we drove up to Pleasant Grove this Sunday I thought about all the signs that we saw along the side of the road, including the various signs churches has.

In the song, one of the signs is about keeping trespassers out and the second sign mentions that “long-haired freaking people need not apply”.

In response to this second sign, the lead singer sticks his hair up under his cap and goes into apply for the job. The owner of the business indicates that the job is his because he looks like a fine-upstanding young man; to which the singer pulls off his cap and exposes the business owner for a hypocrite.

Each day we see a lot of signs, signs that tell us which direction to take, when to stop, when to go. We see signs in stores telling us what the prices of various goods are. Of course, some of these signs are also designed to get us to buy certain products.

And in a broader sense, that is the way our life is today. We see signs but the meaning that we read into them may not be what the sign is all about. Last week, there was a TV show about the prophecies of Nostradamus and how they could come true in the year 2000. The broadcast was last Wednesday because there were 1000 days until the next millennium. As each day brings us closer to the year 2000, we hear more about the coming millennium.

But this is also an example of how we can misread signs. The next millennium does not start on January 1, 2000, but one year later on January 1, 2001. So every one who puts stock in reading the signs is going to be off by one year. As Paul points out in his letter to the Ephesians, we must be careful and avoid the trickery and deceit of others.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.

Now I am not saying that those who think the next century starts in 2000 are deceitful or otherwise; it is just that their information is wrong and we must be careful about what we do with false information. For those who feel that the end times are approaching, Christ himself told us that we should always be prepared for His coming because we cannot know when He might come again.

The prophet Nathan came to him and told David a story about two men.

The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he come to him, he said, “There were two men, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.”

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his won sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

Instead of selecting a lamb from his own flock, the rich man took the only lamb of the poor man. David saw the injustice in such an action and demanded to know the name of the rich man so that he could be justly punished.

David saw the signs but did not know what they meant. Can you imagine David’s shock when Nathan pointed out the he, David, the King of Israel and Judah, was the guilty man for having stolen the wife of Uriah from Uriah and then ordering Uriah to lead his men into battle knowing that Uriah was certain to die.

“You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, say: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

Nathan made it very clear to David that his punishment would be as severe as what David proposed for the rich man in the parable.

To the people seeking Jesus that day in Capernaum, the miracles they had witnessed, the feeding of the multitudes, the healing of the sick were all signs that Jesus was the king they longed for to lead them out of the oppressive Roman rule. Yet, the people did not understand what those signs represented.

The people of Israel saw Jesus feeding the multitudes in the same way that they remember Moses feeding their ancestors during the Exodus from Egypt. But like those who see the year 2000 as the beginning of the next century, the people of Israel had forgotten who it was that provided the manna each day of their wanderings. Because they didn’t understand what they saw and because they had forgotten their history, Jesus pointed out that they weren’t ready to do His work.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous sings but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the father has placed his seal of approval.

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

We ask that same question each day.

How are we to know, or find out, what the Will of God is? I do not think that any general answer can be given to this. In clear moral or political issues, we must surely judge and act by the great truths and demands of Christianity; and if we have the pluck to do this, then, as we act, more and more we shall perceive the direction of the Will. That choice, cause, or action, which is least tainted by self-interest, which makes for the increase of happiness – health – beauty – peace – cleanses and harmonizes life, must always be in accordance with the Will of the Spirit which is drawing life towards perfection. The difficulty comes when there is a conflict of loyalties, or a choice between two apparent gods. At such points many people feel unaware of any guidance, unable to discern or understand the signals of God: not because the signals are not given, but because the mind is too troubled, clouded and hurried to receive them. “He who is in a hurry,” said St. Vincent de Paul, “delays the things of God.” But when those who are at least attempting to live the life of the Spirit, and have consequently become more or less sensitive to its movements to have no clear light, they will often become aware, if they will wait in quietness, of a subtle yet insistent pressure in favour of the path which they should take. The early Friends were accustomed to trust implicitly in indications of this kind, and were usually justified. When there is no such pressure, then our conduct should be decided by charity and common sense; qualities which are given to us by God in order that they may be used.

We have to read the signs, not with our own view of the world but with the view that God wants us to have. Yes, this may be difficult.

Are we able to meet the challenges this world presents to us each day? Can we change what seem to be signs of gloom into hopes for the future? All we have to do is see the signs that are in front of us. By his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus reclaimed us from sin and as Paul wrote

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says” “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

With all the troubles in the world today, there are those who are certain that it is the end time and that God again has forgotten his people. But just as the people of Israel forgot who provided the manna that fed them each day in the wilderness, so too have people forgotten that Jesus told us we would never know the time of His return and that we should always be prepared. But the situation, no matter how grim it might seem, is not what it seems. We have been given the gift of God’s grace, if only we accept what Jesus told us so many years ago,

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Can we do the works of God?

Christian ministry is more than doing good. Ministry is an act of service performed either consciously or unconsciously in the name of Christ. Ministry is Jesus Christ expressing his life through us. It is born, therefore, not in activity, but in solitude, where through the spirit we experience the power of life from within. No one becomes a “minister.” Rather in trust we so open ourselves to the Spirit that Jesus Christ can express his ministry through us. Prayer and ministry, therefore, are indissoluable. In the stillness of meditative prayer we are confronted by God’s loving claim upon us – the most intense intimacy a human being can experience. To know this intimacy we have only to let go. Instead of relying on our own initiative, where we are in control, we discover that we are participating in what God has already initiated within us.

So we have been given the signs, the gifts we need to make this world a better place. And it makes the last verse of the song I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon even more appropriate now. For at the end of the singer’s journey, he came to a sign which said “Everyone welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray.” And to this the singer made his own sign “Thank you God for thinking about me; I’m alive and doing fine.”

The signs are there and you don’t have to look very far to know that God is present.

Wisdom, Power, and the Way of Life


This Sunday, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, I am  at Dover United Methodist Church in Dover Plains, NY (Location of church).  The service starts at 11 and you are welcome to attend.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are 1 Kings 2: 10 – 12; 3: 3 – 14; Ephesians 5: 15 – 20; and John 6: 51 – 58

(I have edited this piece since it was first posted)

——————————————————————-

As I listen to the news each day, when I hear of town hall meetings where there is only shouting and very little discussion takes place, when I read the misinformation that passes across through and around the various forms of media, I cannot help but think of the song “For What It’s Worth” that was written by Stephen Stills in January, 1967, when he was with the group Buffalo Springfield.

For What It’s Worth by Stephen Stills

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
I think it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away
We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, now, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

While it was the opening lines of the song that are going through my mind, the story behind the song is also an illustration of how we need to be constantly checking our information. Many people think this song, known more for the first line in the song rather than its title was written about the Kent State shootings. But the Kent State shootings occurred some three years after the song was written and record. Others think it was written as a response to the Viet Nam war and it has achieved something of an iconic status in that regard. But Stephen Still wrote the song in response to escalating unrest between Los Angeles police and young people reacting to the closure of a club on Sunset Strip in late 1966. The confusion about the reason for the song and the clear disconnect in time is an illustration of what bothers me about what is going on today.

There is a clear gap between what we know and what we think. We have allowed our emotions to rule our intellect instead of seeking a balance between the two. I am not arguing for a “Mr. Spock”, Vulcan-type lifestyle where emotion has been completely erased (even though there is a moment every year in each Vulcan’s life where they must combat the emotions hidden deep within their psyche); rather I am saying that we need to stop, look around, and think about what we are saying and what we are doing. We have allowed our emotions to drive our fears; we have allowed our fears to accept the most unimaginable scenarios imagined. We quite willingly let a group of people tell us what is going to happen when what they describe is actually happening now.

We hear that the proposed government healthcare plans are going to do vile and evil things and that our healthcare will be rationed and that some heartless, thoughtless, uncompassionate and mindless bureaucrat will make decisions for us regarding our healthcare. Please tell me what we have now, when time after time insurance companies make John Grisham’s sixth novel, The Rainmaker (in which a young beginning lawyer takes on a case where a health insurance company denied care to a Memphis individual; it was later proven that the company’s standard policy was to sell policies to the poor but never pay a claim) look less like fiction and more like reality.

Please tell what we have now when the most dreaded words in healthcare are “pre-existing condition”, because with those words an insurance company can deny the care that is needed. Shouldn’t we stop and look around?

When I listen to what is going on in this world today, I hear the cries of the people. I will not deny that some of the people are angry with the government and some of their concerns are legitimate; I just wish that more attention was paid to their concerns than to the cries of those who repeat the assertions of the far-right talking heads.

I hear the cries of the increasing number of people who do not have any type of health insurance. I hear the cries of the many individuals and families whose healthcare insurance premiums keep rising and they must choose between providing health care and other essential items.

I hear those who oppose any sort of healthcare reform say that they are Christians. But every precept of Christianity, every thought in the Bible is directed towards taking care of other people first. Jesus challenged us to be the servants of the people, to see that others were taken care of first. Yet the battle cry of the fundamentalist and far-right Christians continues to be “me, me and only me!” And I remember what happened in Alabama a few years back when a new state income tax plan, one based on Biblical principles, was proposed and it was the Christian right in the state that defeated it? (“Do as I Say? Or Do As I Do?”)

Our knowledge of the world outside our own local boundaries is remarkably limited and it seems to me that we have little or no interest in protecting our environment. Each time there is any mention of global warming and what is happening to this fragile environment in which we live, there are shouts and acclamations that the reports are false and simply the efforts of some obscure conspiracy.

Our schools and the infrastructure of this country are in disrepair; the whole educational system needs to be reexamined and overhauled; the salary and wage gap between workers and management as well as the between management and upper management keeps getting bigger every year. There are even signs of technological gap between rich and poor (see http://news-releases.uiowa.edu/2009/july/072909Chicago-digital-divide.html). Is it no wonder that I cannot but think of that song? Do we not hear what’s going on? Do we not see where we are headed? Hadn’t we better stop and look at what’s going on before it’s too late?

This is not a time to let others who only seek power for themselves or only seek to maintain the status quo, of keeping the divide between rich and poor, tell us what to do. This is not the time to let others create and exploit fears merely for their own selfish benefit. This is not a time to let others speak with a voice of fear, even if it seems to promise better times.

The voice of fear tells us that it is perfectly reasonable to seek wealth. God gave you your wealth and you need not feel guilty about being wealthy. The voice of fear tells us that poverty is a state of mind and those who are poor deserve their fate. It is not our responsibility, the voice of fear tells us, to take care of the poor; giving money to the poor and social programs only wastes our money.

The voice of fear tells us that others are to blame for the troubles of society. It is those who have different economic status, different lifestyles, or different skin colors that are to blame for society’s troubles. The voice of fear tells us to cast aside those who are not like us; the voice of fear tells us to build walls, physical or otherwise, that keep them away.

The voice of fear tells us to fight those who would teach new theories or bring about change in society. New thoughts run counter to tradition and when you challenge tradition, society falls apart. New knowledge can only destroy the values of society.

The voice of fear tells us that only military power will defeat evil. The voice of fear says that the only thing evil understands is raw power and those who say that you can counter evil with love are extremely naïve. But violence only generates more violence and those exposed to violence see violence as the only solution to their problems. Terrorism and hatred grow out of violence and when violence is used to combat terror, it can only breed more (from “The Vision of Hope”)

The voice of fear and those who use it have no vision for the future for they have no wisdom. To see the future you must be able to think and to think you must have wisdom. Unless you have wisdom, it is very difficult to even imagine the future, let alone decide what one can do to get there. Paul’s words to the Ephesians speak to how we think and how we live. Here those words again, only as translated by Clarence Jordan:

Take extra care, then, how you live — not like nitwits but like wits. Use your time as though you had to buy it, because there’s a lot of wickedness around these days. Therefore, don’t be dumbbells but have an intelligent understanding of what the will of the Lord is. Don’t get drunk on wine and carry on a lot of foolishness; tank up on the Spirit and do your talking to each other with hymns and songs and spirituals, singing and strumming in your hearts to the Lord. Always give thanks for everything to the Father-God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (The Letter to the Christians in Birmingham, chapter 5, verses 15 – 21, The Cotton Patch Gospels translation by Clarence Jordan).

It does not matter which translation of Ephesians you read, the meaning is still the same. Paul points out that the foolish person has no strategy for life and misses out on the opportunities to live for God in an evil environment. The foolish person also does not have an understanding of what are God’s purposes for mankind and for Christians. Paul also points out that discerning the will of the Lord is not a matter of feeling or emotion but of mental understanding and applying our minds to the Scriptures.

And the first thing Solomon did was to ask God to grant him wisdom. Solomon knew that without wisdom he would have trouble ruling his kingdom and finding the answers to the many problems that troubled the kingdom. It is wisdom that is sadly missing from much of the discussion that is taking place in this world today.

Wisdom is an interesting thing because it gives you so many other things. And someone a long time ago recognized that if you control the information that people have or you control how people think, you can go a long way towards holding onto power. Casey Stengel said that the key to great managing was to keep the players who didn’t like you away from the players who hadn’t made up their minds. If I can sow seeds of doubt into your mind about what some agency is doing, then I have gone a long way towards maintaining my power. And I will be quite blunt when I say that I believe that is exactly what the right-wing, both politically and theologically, in this country is trying to do,. They want the things that Solomon didn’t ask for, riches and power, because they have no vision for the future, only for the present.

And they do it in the name of Christ, somehow changing the words spoken two thousand years ago that spoke out against injustice and repression, that spoke of caring for each other with the same or greater intensity that one cared for themselves, and who called the power-brokers and leaders hypocrites for their actions. It has always bothered me when someone proclaims that they are a Christian and a Conservative, for to me, the two terms are mutually exclusive.

But such people exist and they have existed, probably from the very beginning of the church. Martin Luther sought change because he could see the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church and he sought to bring the Word of God to the people by printing the Bible in German instead of Latin. If the Bible were only in Latin, those who read Latin would have power over the populace. But when the people could read the Bible, they held the power to change their lives.

John Wesley felt the same way, which is why he started Sunday schools. The people could not understand who God was or who Jesus was if they could not read, so we Methodists took the lead in bringing literacy to the populace. Each step of the way in giving individuals wisdom and the ability to think reduces the power of the oligarchy and increases the power of the people.

And yet today it would seem that we are returning to a time when a select few have gained the idea that they and they alone, know the truth and that we are to accept their version blindly and without questioning. The passages from John these past three weeks speak of a people unable and/or unwilling to see beyond the present; they have no vision of the future for they have no wisdom.

Something is happening in this world and what it is isn’t exactly clear. I think it’s time that we stop and look what’s going down. The battle lines are certainly being drawn between right and wrong. There are those who will tell you that these are the End Times and that all that we see and hear are signs of the impending apocalypse. I am not one of them.

Like Paul, I see the opportunities before us to advance Christ’s purpose in this world. But to do so, we must stop and think, see that what so many people pass off as the words of Christ are their own words, designed to maintain the status quo (and I don’t mind saying that this applies to both sides of the fence).

Christ stood before the people in the Nazareth synagogue and

As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,

God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind,

To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.” (The Message, Luke 4: 16 – 21)

It would be nice if those who seek the power had wisdom and those with wisdom would use it wisely, in the manner of Solomon. But wisdom is not the province of only a select few, for Christ has opened the doors to heaven so that we could have what Solomon had. So, if like Solomon, we ask God to grant us the power of wisdom, then we will have the power to change the world around us, we have the power to change the way life is lead in this world.

But we must also be aware that when we let the power take over our lives, like Solomon and David before us, we risk losing all.

It will not be an easy task, nor will it be done easily or quickly. But the fact is that it can be done. Jesus understood that not everyone was going to accept His message; He understood that the price to be paid was His life. But that makes it easier for us; Jesus’ death on the Cross was not the end, as those in power wished it to be. His death opened the world to a new way, a way that would change the world.

We have that opportunity, to ask God for wisdom and with the power of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, we have the opportunity to fulfill the message of the Gospel and create a new way of life for all.

The Call To Duty


This is the message that I gave on the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, 24 August 2003, at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, Putnam Valley, NY.  The Scriptures for that Sunday were 1 Kings 8: 22 – 30, 41 – 43; Ephesians 6: 10 – 20; and John 6: 56 – 69.

——————————————————————-

The most striking line in any of the three readings for today most certainly comes from the Gospel reading, “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” (John 6: 66) It tells us that there were more than twelve who were considered Jesus’ disciples. We think solely of the twelve simply because they were named and were picked by Jesus personally.

But there were more than the twelve. We often don’t think of these other disciples because they and what they did are only mentioned in Luke. In Luke 10:1 we read of Jesus sending out the seventy, two by two, into the mission field and coming back successfully in Luke 10: 17. But, today in John, we read that some of these other disciples are now leaving him.

These disciples had been following Jesus almost from the beginning of His ministry. They came because they heard of His miracles, His teachings. They saw and, as reported in Luke, participated in the miracles themselves. Here was the answer to their problems; here was the Messiah that they had so long prayed for. But now, this Messiah, this Savior was asking them to make sacrifices in order to continue the work. And with all the promises fulfilled, all the certainty of success that they themselves had participated in, the call of sacrifice was too much and they turned away. It is a phenomenon that continues even today. We seek solutions to problems but we are unwilling to make the sacrifices that might be needed.

Last Thursday, I was listening to part of a talk show on the local NPR station. The subject was the blackout and its political ramifications. One caller stated the rather obvious fact that we needed to build more local generating plans in order to reduce local dependence on the national power grid. But when the moderator asked the caller what he would do about the Indian Point nuclear plant, the caller said, “Shut it down.” Now, there are alternatives to the power problem that we face in the country today and most clearly defined by last Thursday’s blackout but none of them will work unless we, both individually and collectively, rethink how we are going to live.

This is going to be the problem, because we are unwilling to undertake the steps or make the sacrifices that will be needed. Our common philosophy is that someone else should do it. If it requires something be built, the common belief is that it should be built elsewhere. NIMBY (not in my backyard) has quickly become an acceptable acronym.

It is not just in the building of power plants, be they coal-fired, nuclear, or alternative, that we are unwilling to take action but in almost all activities in our lives. We want to lead our lives without interference and we want to do so without having to get involved in other things. We tell people that we have enough to do with our own lives so we do not have time to think about others. The rich young ruler came to Jesus seeking to follow him but left disappointed when told that he had to give up all of his wealth. Another came to Jesus prepared to follow but left because Jesus wouldn’t give him time away to bury his father. And Jesus told us of others who gave only a pittance of their wealth for the benefit of others while a widow searched her entire house to find the small coin that represented everything she had to give. We want solutions to the problems of the world but we do not want to be involved in the solution.

And we wonder why this world is going in the direction it is going in. We wonder when it will all stop; when the promise of the American dream will become a reality and there will be no distrust in the world, no violence, no war.

I think that is why conservatives are so dominant today. They are willing to put in the work to do what is required to achieve their goals. But their agenda is at best repressive, vindictive, and only for their own benefit. People have accepted what is happening because they are unwilling to do the work themselves and they have accepted the idea that government takes things away from them and gives to those less deserving or ill-equipped to probably use what is given to them.

There is a solution but it can happen only if we, individually and collectively, are willing to take on the tasks that need to be done and to do so without thinking about what it is going to cost us in the short-term.

The author and activist Jim Wallis wrote,

“It is possible to evoke in people a genuine desire to transcend our more selfish interests and respond to a larger vision that gives us a sense of purpose, direction, meaning, and even community. Real political leadership provides that very thing; it offers to lead people to where, in their best selves, they really want to go.

We must expand our definition of political leaders to include more than elected officials. Those who could and should help shape a new political direction include teachers, farmers, poets, scientists, workers, entrepreneurs, union organizers, religious leaders, human rights activists, children’s advocates, and representative of grassroots movements and communities.

A new framework, new language, and new visions could emerge from resurrecting our most basic personal and social values. Many of those values derive from the cores of our best religious traditions and are common to people who have long politically and culturally separated from one another. Central to any new politics will be a new spirituality — indeed, a renewal of some of our oldest spirituality — creating a moral sensitivity that refuses to separate political ideas from their consequences for human beings and for the rest of the creation. (The Soul of Politics, Jim Wallis, page xix)

My focus for today is not on national or even local politics. The pulpit is supposedly off-limits to politics, though it never is. But instead of speaking about candidates or platforms or political agendas, I will only encourage you to participate in that most basic of human rights, the electoral process. But, if there are to be changes in the national landscape, they will come from the grassroots. They will come from the small towns and the people who understand better than many people realize what is the nature of the human condition and they will seek answers to the many problems that trouble us.

There is a call for a spiritual enlightenment in this country. But, at times, it is a call that is more dividing than it is reconciling; it is a call for a system that returns us to the ways of the Old Testament when we should be living the ways of the New Testament. It is because those making the call see the people as meek and willing to follow, incapable of independent thinking.

Against that backdrop, we must see Jesus not as an authority figure imposed from above, though there are those who present that image. Jesus did not come to this world as a revealer of an ideological system to be superimposed on society but rather as one who first and foremost affirmed the needed for human freedom and decision. He came prepared to risk his truth and life within the openness of the secular world.

When he was asked to define Himself through the exercise of supernatural powers, He refused. He had to be found freely, within the openness of the world around us or not be found at all. This means that those who follow him should not impose the Christian faith in any form, be it as a metaphysical formula or as a religious or institutional means for providing stability and security within society. It is an enlightenment by which we accept the responsibility to witness for Christ by actively showing his presence in this world. And as we accept this responsibility, we must also accept the responsibility to struggle against the forces that always gather in opposition.

The church has been and will always be the one force behind positive social change. It was that way when Jesus first began his ministry; it will be that way as long as the Holy Spirit is a presence in the lives of believers.

So while I encourage you to participate in the political process of this country, I also encourage you to participate in the work of the church. November 13th is the date of our Charge Conference; that is the date of the annual meeting to decide the work of the church. It is the one time when all members of the church should be present. But, like many other activities, many of the members will not be here. Some, because of where they live, cannot be here, and that is understandable.

But others can be here and they should be. I have spoken on this subject before and I suppose that I will speak on it in the future. But the fact of the matter is that unless many of those who claim to be members begin to take part in the work of the church, the church is not going to be a part of their lives much longer. In part, this is because we will be listing members on the inactive list, the beginning of a three-year process to remove their names from the role.

But I also fear that this church may not be here in three years. Oh, there will be a building but I cannot say for certain that there will be a church. One of the complaints heard in the meeting with Dennis last year was that the same people were holding the offices of the church year after year. We decided to bring new people in to fill the offices for the present year and now we need to find people to serve the church in the coming year.

But where will we find the people? Who will serve the church? How will this church avoid the problems that have plagued it in the past? It will be up to the members of the church to reach out to the forty-four inactive members in this area and bring them back into the fold. Some will say that it is my job, as the pastor, to prod and coax people into serving. I will try, on that you can be sure. But the people who are asked must have a feeling that their service will be appreciated and, more importantly, that they will be welcomed in this church. And this will come only if it is the active members of the church who reach out to them and invite them back.

I have been told that there are some willing to come back to the church but do not because they feel excluded. It is a feeling that was dominant last year and has diminished over the past few months. But, unfortunately, it has not gone away. And it is not just a feeling that has gathered over the recent past but one that has roots deep within the history of this church. There can be pride about one’s church but when one’s pride takes precedence over that of the Holy Spirit, the church will decay rather quickly.

The Old Testament reading for today is about the completion of the Temple and its placement in the lives of the Israelites as the one place where God could be found. We know that Solomon understood that his reign as king was dependent on God. The prayer that we read today at the dedication of the temple was recognition that there was a continuing need for God in his life and in the lives of the Israelites. We are reminded that God is faithful to us and there needs to be a similar faithfulness on our part, if all of God’s blessings are to be realized.

In Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple that was built, he included foreigners. Since only the Israelites were God’s chosen people, all others would have no particular claim to the ear of God. But by the worship of God’s people, others would be drawn to Him. If the Spirit is not found in God’s house, then it can be expected that those who truly need God’s presence will not find it there.

I feel that the Spirit of God is in this place. It is very hard to drive it out. But if petty politics or self-interests come before the Gospel, the Spirit will leave. That makes our work hard and sometimes so hard that we want to quit. The decline of the modern denominations in Christianity comes from the fact that we fail to realize how tough a task it is.

At the close of the Gospel reading for today, as many of the disciples turned away, Jesus asked the remaining if they were going to leave as well. Peter pointed out that they had nowhere else to go. The twelve had come to believe that Jesus was the Holy One of God and that what he said about eternal life was true. They were willing to pay the price for their belief.

The people of Ephesus were encountering many difficulties. Paul himself notes that he had endured much hardship in the spreading of the Gospel. It was noted that this letter was probably written while Paul was under house arrest in Rome, hence his request for prayer for his well being.

Paul’s words for today are words of encouragement, meant to show that our efforts are not in vain. Paul recognized that we could not do the work alone and that the Holy Spirit was a vital part of one’s life. His words of encouragement and support ring true today, whether we are working on the tasks of day-to-day living or more complicated tasks like the work of the church. The work of the Gospel requires the presence of the church and the presence of the church requires the work of the people.

Twelve men heard the call of Jesus to follow him and become fishers of men. Others soon followed. It was not an easy call to answer, for it required leaving the safety and security of what they had. Many times those who followed would find themselves not wanted, persecuted, or ignored. But the rewards of the call, of what was promised at the end of the journey were tangible and real goals. But many of those who started on the journey left because they did not believe that it was worth the time and effort.

Today we hear the same call. And we are asked if we will answer. Shall we be like those who, when faced with the need for a strong commitment of faith, time, and energy, turn away? Or, shall we be like Peter and the others who remained, trusting in Jesus and secure that faith will prevail?

Shall we take up the call and, quite literally, call the ones not here today, inviting them to once again be a part of this church and this faith, to be a part of the presence of Christ in this world. The call for duty is not an easy one answer but it is one that must be answered.

 


So We Built It. Now What Do We Do?


This is the message that I gave on the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, 27 August 2000, at Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY.  The Scriptures for that Sunday were 1 Kings 8: 22 – 30, 41 – 43; Ephesians 6: 10 – 20; and John 6: 56 – 69.

——————————————————————-

It is rather appropriate that as we began the repair work on our own church building and we begin the process of preparing for Charge Conference with the first meeting of the Nominations & Personnel committee, we read about the building of the Temple under the direction of Solomon.

One of Solomon’s first tasks was to build the Temple in which to house the Ark of the Covenant. Up until this time, the Ark of the Covenant, the box built to hold the Ten Commandments had been stored in a tent. David had developed the plans for the Temple but it was left to Solomon to build. And to say he simply built a building was an understatement. It has been estimated that what Solomon built in 968 b.c..e. would be worth approximately $5 billion dollars today. When you first read the Old Testament reading for today, you might think that Solomon is telling the people of Israel that “if we build the Temple, people will come.” Of course, that isn’t what he was saying because that line wouldn’t be used for another 2000 years.

Solomon began his reign with a conscious dependence on God. Verses 22 through 53 of 1 Kings 8, which we read part of this morning in the Old Testament reading, reflect that continuing need in Solomon’s life and the lives of the Israelites. In this prayer Solomon stressed God’s faithfulness to His people and the need for a similar faithfulness on the part of Israel, rulers and people alike, if God’s full blessings were to be realized.

But Solomon also realized that the temple that he built could never be big enough to be the true house of God. The God of Scripture is infinite; all that He has made, vast as the whole of creation may be, has it limits. No building, no matter how beautiful or ornate it might be, can ever be though of as God’s dwelling place.

I think that is why Solomon included foreigners, those who would come to the temple, in his prayer. Those who would come to the new temple would come not because it was a magnificent place but because of those who worshipped there.

Don’t get me wrong. Having a nice building makes it easier to have church services and develop other programs. But if the people don’t come, it is very difficult to have programs or even the simplest of buildings. In a workshop I attended while living in Kentucky, a model was presented for the development of churches there. It was a good model for metropolitan areas from which you could draw 1000 or more people but not one that would work in areas such as eastern Kentucky where the population base was small.

And while I may have disagreed with this model for church development as it applied to the small rural churches of eastern Kentucky (and I wasn’t the only pastor or leader to tell our District Superintendent that it wouldn’t work), one aspect of the model did make sense. Churches using this model developed programs around the needs of the congregation and the area before putting money into buildings. Some of these churches met in shopping mall meeting rooms or school auditoriums before ever thinking about building a sanctuary and church home. To paraphrase that line from the movie “Field of Dreams”, “we can build it after the people come.”

Building a program may be the hardest part of being a Christian. Granted, being a Christian is not an easy thing to do either. As the Gospel reading for today shows, many of those who heard the words of Jesus decided that what He was asking was too great and that the path that He wanted them to follow was to rough a road.

So you can imagine how the disciples must have felt when they began to understand that it was going to be up to them to carry out the mission after Christ’s death. It was hard enough to understand that Christ was going to die; now they were going to have to carry on without him.

But Jesus never intended for His program to fail. That is why His mission was to show by example what God’s plan was all about. With the constant emphasis on teaching and sharing and demonstrating, Jesus made it possible for His disciples to continue the program, even to this day and time.

Too many programs, whether they are a part of a church or the secular world, fail because they are the vision and efforts of one person. When a person has an idea or develops a plan but does not include others in it or makes it impossible for others to join, that plan is not going to last beyond the interest of the starting individual. Similarly, when someone is asked to take on a project but given no support, sooner or later that person runs out of energy to complete the project and it may not get done.

One task facing the Nominations & Personnel committee as it begins its task of picking the leaders for the coming year is to also identify people willing to help. It is one thing to say that such-and-such is a good idea but if no one is willing to help, nothing happens. As of this morning, we have some thirty-five children and youth on the church roster. Sunday school could be a very good this year but only if we also have enough people to help with the program. Not all of the kids on the list are going to come, that is true; but it is also true that many will not come if it is not worth the effort. Sunday school is not solely the work of Kim as Sunday school Superintendent. She has to have the support and help of others.

It is not easy to develop and support programs. The parable of the sower and the seeds applies as well to church programs as it does to people. You know the parable — the sower put the seeds out; some fell on rocky ground and died, some fell in the weeds and were choked out by the undergrowth. But others fell on fertile ground and grew. A program without workers will die; a program without support will quickly wither.

The purpose today is not to berate or embarrass people but rather to get our focus on what it will take to make next year and the years afterward successful. Consider the words of Paul as we read them this morning. Paul knew that sometimes it was tough going; that following Christ was a difficult task. But he encouraged the Ephesians to hold fast, to let God protect them. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, there wasn’t anything that the Ephesians could not do. In times of strife and turmoil, it has always been best to let God be your protector and your guide.

It is definitely not an easy task to be a Christian today. Too much around us encourages us to forget our faith. But as difficult it is for us, think how difficult it must be for those who do not have a Christian home. One reason that John Wesley began the Methodist movement was because he saw a need for the church’s presence in society. Our church, along with countless other churches in cities and towns in this country, stands as a testament to that idea. It offers hope to those seeking hope for they know they can find solace and comfort within.

As members of the United Methodist Church, we have pledged to give our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service. The challenge this day is a simple one. Now that we have built this place, what do we do? How shall we serve?

What Have We Learned?


Here is my post for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost.
————————————————-

What is it about wisdom that Paul would encourage the Ephesians to live wisely (1) and cause Solomon to ask God to grant him wisdom (2)?Could it be that through wisdom things such as wealth, power and understanding are better achieved?

What is wisdom?Wisdom can mean many things, ranging from the technical skills of artisans (3) to the art of simple government (4).  It also designates cleverness (5), especially the practical skill of coping with life (6) and the pursuit of a lifestyle of proper ethical conduct (7).  Wisdom is also seen as belonging properly to God (8), associated with creation (9), and even identified with the Torah or Law (10).

The origins of Israelite wisdom are presumed to lie in the oral and written insights of the family and clan and also the wise men who taught in schools.The teaching of wisdom in these ancient schools probably focused on the transmittance of lessons of life so that students could learn to cope with life.The teaching inculcated certain goals, such as self-control, honesty, and diligence.If one followed the counsel of wise men, wisdom brought life.But failure to follow such counsel brought the opposite of wisdom, folly, and with folly came destruction.

Wisdom was a very serious concern for Paul because he contrasted the world’s view of wisdom with the wisdom of the Cross.As he pointed out to the Corinthians, the wisdom of the Cross is seen as folly when viewed with the wisdom of the world.

When we speak of wise men (not necessarily the wise men who visited Jesus at his birth) we find them in three areas: the tribe, the court, and the schools.In each case, the wisdom shared was generally practical, concerned with knowledge about the principles governing the world and the life of the individual.Wisdom was based on reason rather than revelation.But it was reason enlightened by piety, for “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (11) Schools were developed so that transmittance of wisdom could be accomplished. (12)

So why are we so afraid of wisdom today?Is it because it is not so easily gained?Is it because it takes time and effort on our part?Is it because it takes us places we may not necessarily want to go?Why, when faced with the unknown, why do we often respond in fear or with ridicule or contempt?When faced with something unknown, why do we erect barriers that keep the unknown away?

Are we not like those who saw Jesus perform miracles and think that they were the actions of some sort of magician or sorcerer?

Wisdom requires time and effort; wisdom only grows.It is a process that must be encouraged with situations that focus on growth.The Book of Ecclesiastes, said to have been written by Solomon, focuses much on wisdom.It speaks of the process by which wisdom is discerned and developed.

We certainly don’t respect wisdom.Wisdom comes through education but we certainly don’t take care of our educational systems.Our schools are chronically underfunded and many localities refuse to pass bond issues that would support education.There may be some justification for refusing to support local school systems, especially when a proportionally larger amount of money is spent within the administrative units than is spent in the classroom.

But in a world where technology so dominates our lives, why are our schools not equipped to teach and use the technology?I can recall a situation where a school system was able to purchase a large quantity of computers to be placed in every classroom in the elementary school.But when hot weather came and the air conditioners were turned on, there was not sufficient electrical power to run the computers.Though the community had made the decision to update the technology used in the classroom, they failed to upgrade the electrical circuits.As a result, certain choices had to be made; choices which adversely affected the children in the classroom.

We may think that our children are computer savvy but when advertisements for computers speak in terms of using computers to show movies or store music, are our children really that muchbetter off?From my view, college students still have trouble writing coherent sentences and have a difficult time recognizing that statements that they liberally lift off the Internet are false or incomplete.Wisdom comes from the proper use of the process.

The disrespect for education and wisdom is easily seen in our society’s values.We willing pay large sums of money so that movie stars and professional athletes can earn millions of dollars.Yet those who taught these individuals the skills that they use earn only a fraction of that amount.

Is the content of today’s popular television shows the reflection of a highly educated populace?Or is it simply “mind candy” for the masses?Why does society deem news about which celebrity married which celebrity or who is pregnant and who is not more important than understanding the cause of the global conflicts we seem to be embroiled in?Why does it seem that most people have no clue what other cultures believe?

Why is it that most of today’s main stream media not only tell us the news but tell us what to think about the news?Could it be that we do not want to be forced to think about what is going on?Could it be that we willingly seek war today because we have forgotten that war is bloody and messy?Could it be that we do not understand what poverty is because we are so focused on the rich and famous?

Oh, we have tried to fix our educational processes.Congress passed a law called the “No Child Left Behind” Act.It was supposed to fix what was wrong with the educational system.But many states are dropping out of the program because Congress offered no funding and because it does not work.

How can it work when it teaches for the moment?No provision that I am aware of in this Act encourages thinking or the application of knowledge.All it does is require that we teach our students to take tests at the end of the school year.The scores on this test determine the effectiveness of the teaching process.But, if we were to test the students six months later, we would probably see significant drops in the test scores because material studied for the moment is quickly forgotten.

Those who saw Jesus perform the many miracles or heard Him speak in terms of flesh and blood were confused.Many were not willing to see alternatives; they only saw Joseph the carpenter’s son, not the Son of God, the one and true Messiah.They were not willing to open their hearts and minds to the message of the Gospel; they were not willing to change their thought process. (13)

If we do not open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, then the wisdom that is Jesus Christ will not be a part of our lives.We will be stuck as those in the Gospel reading, unable to comprehend the power of the Gospel and unable to discern the basis for our failures in this world.

We need to remember that John and Charles Wesley felt that they were more than prepared to lead a new movement when they first came to America some 250 years ago.Yet, they left as failures because their minds were closed.

Only when the Holy Spirit came into their lives was their understanding complete.Only when the Holy Spirit was a part of their lives did they understand what they could do.Only when the Holy Spirit came into their lives were they able to make the Methodist Revival the transforming ministry that it became.

When we see the work of God through Christ, how do we respond?Do we ridicule it?Do we condemn it?Do we ignore it?Or do we understand that with the Holy Spirit, it is true that all things are possible?

Solomon asked for wisdom because he understood that nothing else could be gained without it.Paul encouraged the Ephesians to live wisely because wisdom gives a clearer view of the world.

Like Solomon, we need wisdom in our lives.Like the Ephesians, we need to live more wisely.Like Solomon and Paul, the wisdom will come when we open our hearts and our minds and allow the Holy Spirit into our lives.And when we let the Holy Spirit into our lives, we will be surprised by what we have learned.


(1)

 

Ephesians 5: 15 – 20

(2) 1 Kings 2: 10 – 12, 3: 3 – 14

(3) Exodus 36: 8

(4) 1 Kings 3: 12, 28

(5) 2 Samuel 14: 2

(6) Proverbs 1; 5; 11; 14

(7) Proverbs 2: 9- 11 and throughout

(8) Job 28

(9) Proverbs 8; 22 – 31

(10) Ecclesiasticus 24: 23

(11) Proverbs 9: 10

(12) The opening paragraphs were adapted from Harper’s Bible Dictionary

(13) John 6: 51 – 58