“Our Max Yasgur Moment”

Here are my thoughts which will be on the “Back Page” of the Fishkill United Methodist Church for this coming Sunday, 8 September 2019, the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C).

I am pretty sure you know who Max Yasgur was and what he said to the multitude gathered on his farm that Sunday some 50 years ago (In case you didn’t, here is a link to his speech).  But I am more interested in what he said to his neighbors before that Sunday that interests me.

He faced opposition in many forms to the idea of renting out his farm.  But he wanted to give the organizers a chance.  While we would, as he himself would, say that he was a conservative, he also had a different view of things.

Another farmer with a different view of things was Clarence Jordan.  In addition to a degree in agriculture, he also had a Ph. D. in the Greek New Testament.  His agriculture background and commitment to the Gospel lead him to begin what we call the Koinonia Farm.  His doctoral work led him to write the “Cotton Patch Gospels”.

Because the farm was in Georgia and integrated, there were numerous encounters with the Klan.  After one incident with the Klan, Mr. Jordan asked his brother Robert  to be the community’s attorney. Robert declined, saying that such an effort would ruin him politically (he would later become a Georgia state senator and justice on the state Supreme Court).

Clarence asked his brother if he was a Christian and reminded him how they had both stood at the altar of their church and accepted Christ.

Robert said that he followed Jesus but that he was not willing to go to the Cross.  Clarence said that he wasn’t a disciple of Christ but rather a good admirer of the man (https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/hold-on-now/),

This is where we are today.  Are we willing to stand before the world and say, “I am a Christian!  I may not want to do the work before me, I may not want to feed the hungry; I may not want to find shelter for the homeless or clothes for the needy; I am in no position to give comfort or support for those in pain and I certainly do not want to fight oppression and persecution.  But that is what I am called to do and that is what I shall do (see the remarks made by Will Campbell in https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/let-us-finish-what-we-started/).

This is, if you will, our “Max Yasgur moment.”

~~Tony Mitchell

“Curing the Plague”

This will be the back page for the bulletin at Fishkill United Methodist Church on Sunday, August 19, 2018 (13th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B).

As he lay dying in Romeo’s arms, Mercutio cries out, “ A plaque on both of your houses!”  His death is the direct result of the antipathy and hatred between the Capulet and Montague households and will lead to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.

John the Seer wrote of conquest, war, famine and death being the plagues that would destroy this earth, our home.  These plagues are fed by ignorance and fear.

In Ephesians, Paul calls on the Ephesians to “think outside the box”, as it were, for if they don’t, that “box” will become their coffins.

The recent Gospel readings have focused on Jesus as the Bread of Life and the refusal of many to understand what He is saying.  As I wrote last week, the people still see Christ as Joseph’s son; they lack a vision to see beyond. When Solomon became king, the one thing he wanted more than anything else was wisdom, the ability to see new solutions for the problems that he would face.

If we see Jesus as the carpenter’s son, as the people did, then we will never achieve what Solomon sought.  But if we accept Jesus with all our heart and all our mind, we escape the box and find the means to solve the problems that plague us.

~~ Tony Mitchell

The Great Question

This will be the back page for the bulletin of Fishkill United Methodist Church for September 3, 2017 (Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A).

The hallmark of the prophets of the Old Testament is their initial refusal to answer God’s call. Moses sought every excuse under the sun to get out of answering God’s call but God always had a response to keep Moses on track.

John Wesley was uncomfortable with the direction his new Methodist movement was going, away from the traditional church/sanctuary message and into the fields where the people were. Before World War II began, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was very tempted to stay in New York City but knew that he was needed in Germany, therefore, he left the safety of New York City and went to Berlin.

No doubt, there are those today who would rebel against Paul’s commands to feed our enemies when they are hungry or give them a drink when they are thirsty. We do not want to feed those who oppose; we want to see them suffer.

If we are who we say we are, we do not run away from the troubles of this world but rather, do as Jesus did and commanded us to do; that is, turn our faces to the troubles, just as Jesus faced His Death in Jerusalem.

Last week, Jesus asked the disciples “Who do you say I am?” This week, we are asked if we are going to follow Jesus. How will you respond?

“The Commitment Of A Lifetime”

A Meditation for 23 August, 2015, the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), based on 1 Kings 8: (1, 6, 10 – 11) 22 – 30, 41 – 43; Ephesians 6: 10 – 20; and John 6: 56 – 69

I wanted to focus on something else for the rest of the week so I went ahead and jotted down these thoughts for next Sunday.

Someone once said, I think, that there are teaching sermons and there are preaching sermons and that one has to be careful not to get the two mixed up. I also think that there are sermons that you write for those seeking Christ and sermons that you write for those who have found Him. And these two you definitely don’t want to get mixed up.

Because the person who is seeking Christ is apt to turn away if they know that the road that they wish to walk is going to be very, very rough and the person who has found Christ doesn’t really need to be reminded of that same fact.

How many individuals were there at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee? How many were there at the end? And how many people, having found Christ, are willing to help those still seeking Him? How many people, having found Christ, think that everything is complete and they don’t have to do anything?

I am not much of a theologian and I have always had a hard time with those who, having declared that they are Christian, do little or nothing afterwards; in fact, they only time that they seem to be a Christian is on a Sunday morning during worship or at a time of their own convenience.

And quite honestly, those seem to be the predominant Christians in today’s society. They have made the declaration and, for them, that is the end of the story, nothing else matters. They will do very little to understand the Bible, except when it suits their purpose; they will do very little to carry out what is proclaimed as the tasks of those who claim to be God’s people; and they most certainly would not recognize Jesus Christ if He should happen to appear at their doorstep one day.

And I will also be honest when I say that such Christians, giving them the benefit of the doubt, are the primary reason that 1) I almost left the church several years ago and 2) so many people are not willing to seek Christ today.

In the end, it is what Paul told the Ephesians and what Solomon said to God so many years ago. “Truth, righteousness, peace, and faith” are the way of God and those are the means, the tools by which we will show others what Christ is about.

Something I wrote and said a few years ago still remains true today:

  1. We must make sure that everyone understands what is in the Bible, what is not in the Bible, and what it all means.
  2. We must also make sure that what we say and do is based on what is in the Bible and the result of our study and understanding (with modification, from “First, Read The Manual; then . . . “)

And something that I have used on a number of occasions comes from Timothy Zimmer. In his book, “Letters of a C. O. from Prison,” he wrote,

We say, many of us, that such and such a condition is evil, that such and such a goal is good; this the spirit which binds us, not in commitment, but in the possibility of commitment. For it is what comes after the good and evil have been defined and agreed upon that determines the grain of activism. Do we practice what we preach? Or, do we, advocating peace, resort to violence in our advocacy? And advocating freedom, refuse to face the real threat to our security which freedom brings? And advocating love, hate the haters more than they hate us? . . . If we preach love and freedom and peace, we must first love, be free, be peaceful — or better yet not preach at all but let love and peace and freedom speak for themselves in our actions. (“Letters of a C. O. from Prison”, Timothy W. L. Zimmer (1969, The Judson Press), page 36 – 37)

And Solomon pointed out that as long as we live our lives with the commitment that we have made, God will also continue his commitment as well.

So we say to those who have made the commitment, who have chosen to walk with Christ, “Yes, this will be hard and it will not be easy at first. But it will get easier and there will be those who will benefit because we were there for them.”

For those who are seeking Christ we also say, “Yes, this is a hard road to walk but you don’t have to walk it. There are other alternatives but there is no guarantee that those alternatives will help you find what you seek. But when you choose to walk with Christ, in a commitment that lasts a lifetime, you do not walk alone, for we will be with you and Christ will be with all of us. And as we walk together, the world will know and the world will change.”

“Taking Time To Do It Right”

A quick note – this replaces an earlier announcement.

I am at Grace United Methodist Church in Slate Hill, NY this Sunday, September 7, 2014. The Scriptures for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A) are Exodus 12: 1 – 14, Romans 13: 8 – 14, and Matthew 18: 15 – 20. The service is at 10 am and you are invited to attend.

A quick reminder – don’t forget the pre-Advent Bible Study that we are having at our house on the four Sundays in October; see “Understanding Advent In The 21st Century” or the invitation on Facebook for further information.

I had a thought in place when I began this piece that lead me to entitle it “Taking Time”. But as I looked at things, the title expanded to “Taking Time To Do It Right”, in part because that was more to the point I wish to make. And if you are going to take the time to do things right, one ought to do things right, right?

As one who consciously follows the lectionary reading, it is correct and proper to follow the readings from Genesis with readings from Exodus. But, in one sense, it isn’t logical to include a passage describing the preparation for Passover in readings for September.

With the calendar that was used at the time of the writing of Exodus, the first month of the new year was in April, which explains why it is celebrated then. So why read about the preparation for Passover in September?

Under the present Jewish calendar, the first month of the New Year is September, which is why Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, occurs during this time (this year it will begin on 26 September this year).

So even though Passover is some six months away, we can still look at the preparations needed for that occasion. But note that while the Passover meal is set for the fourteenth day of the month the actual preparations for the meal begin some two weeks prior to the actual meal. There are also instructions for how Passover is to be celebrated after the Israelites ultimately reach the Promised Land.

In His instructions, God places a sense of urgency on the meal, “Eat the meal but also be ready to leave”.

Now, I have been a follower of the legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, for almost as long as I have been a follower of John Wesley. In preparing his basketball players and students for life, John Wooden created what has become known as his “Pyramid for Success.” On paper, it is more of a triangle but it consists of a number of thoughts and maxims that encapsulate John Wooden’s concept of success.

One of those maxims which I feel applies in this case is “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” and I think that it applies in this case. And in thinking about Coach Wooden and his UCLA basketball program, I couldn’t help but remember something Richard “Digger” Phelps did prior to the UCLA – Notre Dame game where the Irish defeated the Bruins and ended the UCLA 88-game winning streak on January 19, 1974. During one of the practices prior to that game, Coach Phelps, in having the team anticipate victory, had the players practice cutting down the nets so that they would know how to do it right. And when that victory did occur, the team was ready for the celebration.  (And as a quick aside to the matter, Coach Phelps is a local boy from Beacon.)

Another maxim that came to mind was “be quick but don’t hurry.” If one observed a UCLA basketball practice run by John Wooden, one observed practices run at speeds matching and exceeding game conditions. If mistakes were going to be made, they were going to be made in practice when they could be corrected and not during the game. And more than one player noted that it made the game seem easier.

The instructions that the Israelites were given regarding the eating of the meal were not given for their comfort but, rather, to prepare them for God’s quick and miraculous delivery. The Israelites had to be quick but not hurry when the time for the Passover came to be.

Now, I am not today nor have I ever advocated any sort of “End Times” theology. It has always amazed me that many of those who do espouse the idea that 1) they are going to Heaven and you are not and 2) there is nothing that anyone can do about it.

And while I am not crazy about that first point, especially others have said it to me, it is that second point that bothers me more than anything else.

If there is nothing that we can do about the world around us, if the violence and destruction that seem so prevalent today are the way that it is going to be, then what was the point of Jesus coming to earth the first time? Let’s not worry about His Second Coming, why did He come the first time?

Let me pause here for some thirty seconds while we think about this; you will understand why in a moment or two.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Let us contemplate the words that Paul wrote for today and what it meant then and what it means now. Paul was writing with a sense of urgency, that Christ was coming and we had to be prepared for His arrival. But he also was warning everyone not to get so focused on that task that they forget their regular tasks.

It appears from the historical record that many individuals, convinced that Christ was about to return, had given up paying bills, sold all their possessions, and sat around partying and having a good time. Paul pointed out that they still needed to focus on their daily lives but lead those daily lives in such a way as to let everyone know that they were Christian.

But how do we do that? Do we simply say every now and then “I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior” and then go about our business as if nothing happened? Or do we make it a point to let everyone know that we are a Christian and do so in such a way that really just irritates them? Or do we live our lives as an embodiment of Christ, treating everyone, no matter who they may be or what they may believe, in the same manner that Christ taught us?

For me, the words of Genesis and Romans speak of preparation, not for a time we cannot predict but rather to live a life today that will work against the powers of evil, death, and destruction.

I will admit that this is not an easy task, especially in today’s society. There are those today who see the world in black and white, devoid of any color or shading. Some of these individuals would create a faith-based society, guided by their own views of the world and law, but it would be a rather limited moralistic society. Others are just the opposite, placing their values and thoughts in a world in which they claim faith has no place; yet, by their very words and actions, they would create an almost identical faith-based, quasi-moralistic society.

If either of those solutions is to be the answer, then I would suggest we prepare for a rather abrupt ending to life. Because that is what we will get. And it is not the life that I feel that we are asked to live or the way we are to believe.

What is the life that we have been asked to live? How, in a world of increasing sectarian and secular strife can we ever find true peace? How can we make the world that Paul envisioned in his letters to the Galatians and the Colossians be the world of today?

Hear those words again, though perhaps in a slightly different matter. Dr. Clarence Jordan held a degree in agriculture from the University of Georgia in 1933. While in school, he became convinced that the roots of poverty were spiritual as well as economic. As a result, he went to seminary and earned a Ph. D. in New Testament Greek. He then took this background and 1) created the Koinonia Farm in Georgia in 1942 and 2) translated most of the New Testament from the original Greek into what is known as The Cotton Patch Gospels.

The development of the Koinonia Farm, which is still in operation, was an effort to show that a life built upon Christian principles could work and that segregation and inequality had no place in ordinary life. That it survived the 50s and 60s is a testament to the correctness, if you will, of the approach.

The Cotton Patch Gospels are written with references to Southern geography and Southern tradition but they are still true to the words and thoughts of the original writers.

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians became the “Letter to the Churches of the Georgia Convention” and Galatians 3: 28 became

No more is one a white man and another a Negro; no more is one a slave and the other a free man; no longer is one a male and the other a female. For you all are as one in Christ Jesus…noble heirs of a spiritual heritage.

Paul’s Letter to the Colossians became the “Letter to the Christians in Columbus” and Colossians 3: 11 became

The pattern for the new man is same for a Negro and a white man, a church member and non-church-member, foreigner, Mexican, employee, employer,…Christ is everything in everybody.

Jordan continued

Wear the clothes, then, that will identify you as a people whom God has selected and dedicated and loved. Your outfit should include a tender heart, kindness, genuine humility, loyalty, persistence. Put up with one another, and freely forgive each other if one has a grip against somebody. You all forgive as freely as the Lord forgave you. Overall all these things wear love, which is the robe of maturity. And let Christ’s peace, into which you were called as one fellowship, order your lives.

And just as Paul called the Romans, the Colossians, and the Galatians to seek a different and newer world, so too are we called to do the same. It may be that we need to reevaluate our thinking process.

When I was working on my doctorate, I was introduced to the concept or notion of “wait time”. This was the time that the teacher or instructor had to wait after introducing something new before proceeding. Research showed that a minimum of thirty seconds was needed for an idea to be established in a listener’s mind. And thirty seconds can be an extremely long time; as you undoubtedly found out a few moments ago.

And in today’s world, we don’t like to wait, even for thirty seconds; we want to respond now and in kind. We have, I believe, taken the thinking of the Bible concerning violence and anger and turned it around. We have become too quick to anger and too slow to think, to reverse the words of James. In James 1: 19, we read,

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage.

Clarence Jordan, in his Cotton Patch Gospels, translated this as,

Listen here, my dear brothers. Let every man of you be quick with his ears, slow with his tongue, and hard to get riled up, because a man’s temper contributes nothing to God’s cause.”

In a world where we are too often quick to anger, we read in Ecclesiastes 7: 9,

Don’t be quick to fly off the handle.
Anger boomerangs. You can spot a fool by the lumps on his head.

But you will say to me that there is a point in time where we have done everything we can possibly do and we are now entitled to treat another person as a pariah for ever after. How can we respond to the world in a manner that will allow us to find peace?

Let us take a second look at the passage from Matthew that is the Gospel reading for today. Matthew’s Gospel was written to a persecuted, predominantly Jewish church, trying to find a way after the destruction of the Temple. They were also trying to find a way to include Gentiles in their new community. So conflict was a part of their beginning and it was probably a life-threatening issue.

But Matthew reminds the readers that Jesus is speaking about reconciliation and He does not allow for a quick dismissal of those who have hurt us or threaten to hurt us. Even His final words, spoken about those for which reconciliation has failed, are a call to seek and include in our love those with whom we are in conflict. It is a story that invites us into an adventure of constant, unfailing reaching out, seeking understanding, and loving sacrificially.

It is a story that tells us that once we make the decision to follow Christ, we are never off the hook of forgiving and seeking reconciliation. We are called to be those who learn to speak, even in our moments of greatest threat and greatest conflict, words of peace, not retaliation, words of compassion, not rejection. (adapted from http://sacredise.com/blog/?p=1473)

At some point in time, we will have to realize that our walk with Christ will not be an easy one but it will be the right way to go. But we knew that it would not be easy and we knew that it would require an effort on our part to take the time to do it right.

There was only one way that the Israelites would get out of bondage in Egypt. The Romans, enduring persecution for their belief, knew that only one way to lead them to freedom. The early church, followers of Christ, understood that there was only one way to go, and that it would take time to do it the right way.

Shall we rush to the first thing that comes to mind or shall we take the time to do it right? Shall we prepare now or just wait?

What Option?

This is the message that I am presenting at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen at Grace UMC in Newburgh, NY, this Saturday, August 17th, and at Sunday Vespers in the Garden at Grace UMC. I am using primarily the reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 5: 1 – 7) for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost but also make reference to the readings from Hebrews (Hebrews 11: 29 – 12: 2) and Luke (Luke 12: 49 – 56).

The doors to Grannie Annie’s Kitchen open at 8 and all are welcome to come and be a part of the Saturday morning community. Vespers in the Garden at Grace begin at 7 on Fridays and Sundays and all are welcome to be a part of this worship service.


When I first read the passage from Isaiah I thought of a couple of things. First, I thought about all those who have proclaimed that America is the new Israel, how this land is the new Promised Land.

Even today, there are those who see the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom taking place here in the United States and that the American people, or at least some of them, are the inheritors of the title of God’s chosen ones.

Of course, that sort of runs against Christ speaking of the opportunity for all to know God and it also means that we, the people, need to take the words of God spoken through Isaiah very, very carefully. Isaiah tells the people of Israel two thousand years ago that their choices to go away from God, to ignore their own people through violence, repression, and economic inequality are not the ways of God’s people.

The primary themes of the Bible, our relationship with God and our relationship with the other people who live on this planet, are the same today as they were two thousand years ago. And yet today, it seems as if we have not learned a thing.

There is still violence, repression, and economic inequality today and it seems to be getting worse, not better. There has to be an alternative that we have not considered, an alternative that brings out the best of the human condition, not the worst.

But what or where is that alternative? That is part of my second thought in reading this passage from Isaiah plus the words on faith that the writer of the Book of Hebrews wrote.

Some people will say that there is no God, no Yahweh, no Jehovah, no Allah, no supreme being by any other name. There are argument is that no god would ever allow such destruction, such violence, such indifference to the human plight to ever exist.

But stop and think about that for a moment.

If you say that there is no God or supreme being and you do not offer an alternative for what you believe, then you are essentially offering little to justify your own existence. For me, at least, to deny the existence of God is to deny one own existence and remove all hope from your life and to say that there is nothing in this world for you.

Those who offer this thought say that you have to go it alone, it is by whatever means you can think of that you will succeed. You put walls up around you so that no one can bother you. But what happens is that you limit your vision of the future and you have put yourself in a prison of your own making, a prison from which you cannot be released. And what kind of life is that?

If we understand that humans were created in the image of God, then you also understand that God gave us the ability to think and create as well as destroy. Anger, violence, war, and destruction come from the same source as love and creativity and to limit one is to surely limit the other. Anger, violence, war and destruction come from man, and to paraphrase President John Kennedy, problems created by man can be solved by man. And I do think that we have spent far too much time on the destruction aspect of our lives and too little time on our creativity.

But creativity requires vision, it requires hope and when your life is limited and without hope, such creativity is not possible to find.

The one thing that God offered the people of Israel, the one thing that God offers to each one of us today is hope, the promise that there is a worth to this life and a goal at the end.

That hope is found in Jesus Christ. In sending Jesus Christ to be among us, God said that there was hope, there was a chance for a better life. This is the theme of the book of Hebrews, that there is a hope present in our lives. Now, the writer of Hebrews didn’t say that this was going to be an easy life or that one might find the resolution of hope in their earthly life. But he also pointed out how many people followed through on that hope so that we might have that opportunity today.

On more than one occasion Jesus pointed out that following Him was not an easy path as well. And we know that each day on that three year journey from the River Jordan to Jerusalem, the number of people who followed Jesus became less and less as the reality of the journey became apparent.

I know that many people today don’t want to follow Christ; it is jut too hard to do so, it requires too much from them. They want a world where everything is given to them without question and without effort; they don’t want to have to return the effort.

In the Gospel reading for this weekend, Jesus points out that His coming would even bring division among families and friends. A Lutheran colleague offered the following words,

Similar words (from Matthew’s Gospel) began a section of a recent newsletter from LCMS Missionaries Brad and Genevieve Ermeling. They wrote: “These words of Jesus often strike us as harsh truths that many of us in Christian homes have never had to face.” (“A Warning Label of the Package of Christianity”)

We are often asked to do things that run counter to tradition and practice, things that speak of a new vision of the world and not simply a continuation of the present one. This will cause conflicts, both within families and within society.

But in that division is a sign of things to come. Two thousand years ago, there were those who could not see the signs. Trapped behind the walls of indifference and self-centeredness they could not see what was happening. They could not see the future.

And today, there are those who have built the same sort of walls, who feel that they are safe within those walls, safe from the problems of the world. There are those who have built walls of selfishness and greed, who place their own needs above everyone else, who are not willing to be a part of this world. Each of these individuals, trapped in a prison of their own making, cannot see the future.

But there was also those who saw what Jesus was doing and heard what He was saying, who understood that there was hope, there was a promise in the future. They understood that to follow Him was not an easy thing to do but that in doing so the results would be better, not just for themselves but for everyone. (Keep in mind that the earlier church, the church that Rome prosecuted, opened its doors, its hearts, its mind, its soul to all the people and not just the limited number of early believers.)

They understood that in Jesus there was a future, open and unbounded.

When I was growing up, I saw many a person who profess to believe in Christ but whose actions belied that belief. I saw people who engaged in many acts of selfishness and greed, whose actions and attitudes were devoted to their own self-promotion and self-aggrandizement. And yet, on Sunday, they would stand before God and the people and proclaim their belief in Christ and state how Christ had brought them from the prison of sin and death.

Something inside me said that was wrong. I saw a world of oppression and violence, of greed and inequality, and a church that was blind to the vision that Christ offered. And I knew others then who felt that way and I know many today who feel that way as well. They have left the organized church because they felt that there was no place for them and they have left God because they could not see how God would allow that to happen.

I might have done that as well and left the church, Jesus, and God far behind. But I do not want to imagine what might have happened.

But there were people who showed me that God’s love for each one of us was unlimited and that it overcame what other men might say and do. I was given an opportunity, as we all are, to find Christ, perhaps in a way that I had never thought.

I also knew that John Wesley saw the same church and the same people some two hundred years before. And I knew that he chose not to walk away but rather do something about a church that was indifferent to the world. He chose, as a follower of Christ, to reach out to the world, to the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the oppressed.

I was given the same opportunity and I have tried to do the same, through my words, my thoughts, and my deeds.

Christ said He came to this world to bring hope to the oppressed, that He came to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and build homes for the homeless. And He called upon us, each one of us, to continue that mission. Followers of Christ are called to make disciples of the people of this world and that means showing them through not only word but action what that means.

You may say that you will go it alone and that is the only way that you can survive. But that traps in you in slavery to sin as sure as anything else you do.

You may feel that Christ is for you and you alone and you have no obligation to share that faith with others. But if you do not share your faith by your thoughts, your words, your deeds, and/or your actions, how will others come to Christ. Can you truly be a follower of Christ when you do not do what you have been asked to do?

The point Wesleyan Christians have made consistently is that we cannot overcome sin, but that Christ can. If we are growing in holiness by working out our salvation, the Holy Spirit does, in fact, have the power to overcome sin. It is a long journey for many, but it is not impossible for God.

Kevin Watson recently wrote, concerning the fullness of the Gospel,

The gospel proclaims that Jesus was the Son of God, he was crucified, died, and raised again on the third day. Jesus faced the very worse that sin and death could do. He entered fully into the reality of death. And he conquered sin, even the grave! (from John Meunier – “He Breaks The Power of Canceled Sin”

The only power to escape that slavery is found in Christ. We cannot overcome sin but Christ can. In one of his hymns, Charles Wesley wrote of the power that Jesus has to cancel sin and set the prisoner free. It is by the Grace of God that we have this opportunity but it is the work of God in our lives that moves us onward to perfection and completion. (adapted from Allan Bevere “Grace Is a Gift From God, Grace Is a Work of God”)

We live in an interesting and challenging world, a world that often times offers little hope or promise for the future. We have been told that the option is that we have no option.

Perhaps that is true. If we do nothing today, then there are no options and there is no future. But God came to us in the form of Jesus Christ and offered an option, a choice, an opportunity for a future of freedom. Yes, it is not an easy option and sometimes what we have right now seems so much better. But a life of slavery to sin and death has no escape and that is hardly the best option.

We are offered the chance today, through God’s Grace and Love, to find our future through Christ. The choice is yours, what option shall you take?

My Schedule for the next few weeks

I was thinking of posting something lengthy concerning the changes in Lay Speaking but haven’t made up my mind yet whether I will or not.

The reason for posting that piece is that my district and conference are considering a plan where congregations will evaluate lay servants with regards to the message and presentation. Needless to say, I am not thrilled by that idea because I don’t think that it is appropriate or proper for congregations to evaluate the speaker and/or the pastor in this way. There are other ways that evaluations can take place.

I also don’t like the idea that I will not be the first to see any comments made by the reviewers. But I am not opposed to the idea of review or evaluation; I just think that it needs to be more peer-based.

So I am posting my schedule for the next few weeks and inviting you to either visit wherever I may be or comment on what I post relative to what I will say. Note that I am scheduled to give the message for Friday Vespers in the Garden, Grannie Annie’s Kitchen, and Sunday Vespers in the Garden. These are subject to change if other lay servant/speakers wish to present the message (if interested, feel free to contact me).

August 2ndGrace United Methodist Church – Friday Vespers in the Garden (7 pm) – “This New Life” (Colossians 3: 1 – 11 with references to Hosea 11: 1 – 12 and Luke 12: 13 – 21)

August 9thGrace United Methodist Church – Friday Vespers in the Garden (7 pm) – Message based in part on Isaiah 1: 1, 10 – 20; Hebrews 11: 1 – 3, 8 – 16; and Luke 12: 32 – 40

August 17thGrace United Methodist Church – Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (doors open at 8 am) – Message based in part on Isaiah 5: 1 – 7, Hebrews 11: 29 – 12: 2 and Luke 12: 49 – 56

August 18thGrace United Methodist Church – Sunday Vespers in the Garden (7 pm) – Message based in part on Isaiah 5: 1 – 7, Hebrews 11: 29 – 12: 2 and Luke 12: 49 – 56

August 23rdGrace United Methodist Church – Friday Vespers in the Garden (7 pm) – Message based in part on Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, Psalm 71: 1 – 6; Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, Luke 13: 10 – 17

August 24thGrace United Methodist Church – Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (doors open at 8 am) – Message based in part on Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, Psalm 71: 1 – 6; Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, Luke 13: 10 – 17

August 25thRowe United Methodist Church (Sunday service at 11 am) – “A New Calling” – Message based in part on Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, Psalm 71: 1 – 6; Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, Luke 13: 10 – 17

August 31stGrace United Methodist Church – Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (doors open at 8 am) – Message based in part on Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13, Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16 and Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14

September 1stFort Montgomery United Methodist Church (Sunday service at 9:30 am) – “Guess Who’s Coming For Breakfast” – Message based in part on Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13, Psalm 81: 1, 10 – 16; Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16; Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14

September 1stGrace United Methodist Church – Sunday Vespers in the Garden (7 pm) – Message based in part on Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13, Psalm 81: 1, 10 – 16; Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16; Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14

“What Is The Purpose?”

I am again at the New Milford (NY)/Edenville United Methodist Church in Warwick, NY, this morning. Their services start at 9:30 and you are welcome to attend. The Scriptures for this morning, the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, are 1 Kings 8: (1, 6, 10 – 11), 22 – 30, 41 – 43; Ephesians 6: 10 – 20; and John 6: 56 – 69.

In 1924 someone asked George Mallory why he continued trying to climb Mount Everest after having failed in two previous attempts. It has been said that his reply was “because it is there.” Mallory and a climbing companion would disappear on what was to have been the third attempt and their bodies would not be found until some 75 years later. Even today, it is not clear whether they had been successful in making the summit of Everest. In 1953 Edmund Hillary (now Sir Edmund Hillary) and Tenzing Norgay would be the first to successfully reach the summit and return to base camp.

Mallory’s comment about doing something because of the challenge it presented has been used numerous times since he first made that remark not quite 100 years ago. It was the allusion that President Kennedy sought to invoke when he spoke before a crowd at Rice University in 1961 and laid out the rationale for a manned space program and the goal of reaching the moon before 1970.

He spoke of the challenges and the dangers that were inherent in such a task. He also asked a question often either overlooked in rememberances of that speech. President Kennedy asked, “Why does Rice play Texas?” Those assembled that day in Houston knew that Rice played Texas every year in football and did so because it was a conference game and with the knowledge that, at that time, Texas would probably win. Still Rice played Texas each year with the hope that success would be theirs one year. If one were to face only those challenges that one could overcome, they would not be challenges; they would be commonplace occurrences.

It is ironic that I choose to use President Kennedy’s remarks on the same weekend that we learned that Neil Armstrong, the first to walk on the moon, died. Mr. Armstrong was a test pilot, chosen for the Gemini and Apollo missions because he had the ability to see the challenges and make the right decisions at the right times.

You may recall his Gemini 8 mission where a thruster rocket misfired and caused his spacecraft to wildly gyrate in space, at rates that threatened the safety of the crew. This mission was the first time this country learned of the dangers and hazards of space. Somewhere along the line, space travel became routine and blasé instead of challenging with risks of danger. The Challenger and Columbia disasters would remind us that space travel is neither routine nor blasé.

It would seem to me that we as a society today no longer seek the challenges before us. We are quite content with the present, hoping and preparing for tomorrow as if tomorrow will be no different than today. One report indicates that our children can expect a life no better than the present; that despite the fact that their parents’ incomes were substantially better than their grand-parents, their incomes will be no better than their parents. It is as if the Red Queen’s comment to Alice, “My dear, here we must run twice as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that” in “Alice in Wonderland” has become a reality of life instead of a line in a fictional story.

Faced with that sort of outcome, we hold onto very tightly to the present, so much so that we cannot even begin to wonder how it was that we got here in the first place and how we will get anywhere in the future. And if we cannot get anywhere, no matter where that may be, then we have to begin wondering what our purpose is for life.

And, of course, that is the reason and the rationale for the title of this message. What is the purpose? Why have we gathered here this morning? What is it that we hope to gain? One could answer with the words from the hymn, “We Gather Together” (Hymn #131). We have gathered here to ask the Lord’s blessing on us; we have gathered here to worship Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

But I am afraid that many, while agreeing with those ideas, may also have forgotten what was the rationale for the beginning of the church and what the mission of the church was and should be. They forget that those who formed the early church, the church before the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity acceptable and legal, often times gathered in fear, fear that their neighbors would turn them into the Roman authorities as enemies of the state. We forget that the symbol of the fish that we sometimes use to symbolize Christ and Christianity is an acroynm derived from the Greek letters ΙχθΥΣ, which meant “Jesus Christ, God’s Savior, Son” and was used so that Christians could identify each other.

We see the church today in a completely different light, one that does not shine well on what it is supposed to be and what it should be. Instead of being the place of refuge for the weak and the needy, it has become a sanctuary for those who wish to escape the fear and turmoil of the world.

We hear the words of Solomon dedicating the temple and announcing that people will come from far and away because they have heard about the God, the One True God, who is now a part of the lives of the Israelite community. And yet today, when our churches are to be open to the community, in honor of this pledge made so many years ago, our churches are often closed to those who are in need, both spiritually and physically..

Just as the early disciples did, we hear the words of Jesus. And it is quite apparent that many of those today who have heard those words today have also chosen not to follow them, choosing instead to build a church that is a temple to themselves more often than it is a place of worship for God.

I have said it before and probably from this pulpit but it is always interesting going from town to town, village to village, in this part of the country and seeing all the Methodist churchs. One can begin to imagine the 18th century circuit rider going from church to church bringing the Good News of Christ to the people. Sometimes he rode to a place and called upon those gathered together but most of the time the circuit rider came to places where believers had gathered. For some Jesse Lee is the name of two churches in Connecticut but I would hope that for others he is one of the circuit riders who along with Francis Asbury and Freeborn Garrettson, brought the Gospel message to these parts. This church, along with so many others in the Hudson Valley, has its roots in the efforts of the circuit riders and the early American Methodist movement to bring the Good News to a thirsty and hungry population, a population that could not necessarily meet in the established Anglican churches of 18th century America. We sometimes forget that being a Methodist at that time made one an outcast in society.

Several years ago, there was a church that was quite known for its support of the Native American community and of its many social activities. It was one of those churches formed from the efforts of the early settlers and the circuit riders. But it had a history that often was forgotten in the course of the church’s day to day existence.

People would come from miles around to be a part of these activities. And while the people would gather on the grounds of the church in friendship and fellowship, very seldom did anyone ever ventured into the church. And no one asked if the church was ever open. The people came for the food and the fellowship but not to worship. And the people who belonged to the church saw the events, not as part of the worship of the church, but as a means of keeping the building open. No invitations were ever made to those who came to the events to return for worship on Sunday and ultimately the church closed. And now, as it sits on the side of the road and cars roar by, it is a monument to days past.

It is a daunting challenge to keep a church open; it is an even more daunting challenge to meet the purpose of the church, the purpose first formed some two thousand years ago when people gathered in secret and in fear in order that they might worship Christ. And even after they were able to meet openly, there was still a fear. I can be like some and read the words of Paul to the Ephesians for today as a call to arms and war; it would only be natural to do so when Paul tells the people of Ephesus to put on the armor of God. And there are those who see daily life as a battle between good and evil, between God and Satan. I am not saying that life should not be seen in those terms but if we say that Christ is the Prince of Peace, how can we use warfare to defeat evil, in whatever form it may take? On the other hand, if as Paul wrote, our weapons are truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation, then God’s armor gives us that single added dimension that will allow us to prevail.

We have gathered here today, in part to be refreshed, in part to be inspired. We are like those who have gathered at this spot so many times in the past. We have to wonder what purpose there is jn our gathering. We have to wonder, as so many others did, two thousand years ago, what path we will take when we leave here. We can be like many, hearing the words of Jesus and realizing that the challenge is too great, that what Jesus is asking us to do is to great a task. Or we can also hear the words of Peter that we are committed to the task that Jesus sets before us, knowing that the purpose of our life comes in that commitment. And we know that from Christ will come that which we need to meet the challenges, whatever they may be, wherever they may lead, in the coming days.

“How Will They Know?”

This is the message that I gave at Walker Valley (NY) United Methodist Church for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A), August 22, 1999. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Exodus 1: 8 – 2: 10, Romans 12: 1 – 8, and Matthew 16: 13 – 20.

Well, let’s face it. The year is almost over and soon we will have to deal with the dreaded “Y2K” problem. If you haven’t heard of this problem, then you have been where there are no computers, no radio, no TV, and no cable.

To understand the nature of this problem, you have to understand a little bit about computer history. Today, we speak of megabytes and Pentium chips. A typical floppy disk of today, which is no longer floppy, contains more data than many of the first computers. Now because the operating memory for these early computers was so limited, programmers had to find ways of saving space. One way was to simply use the last two digits of the year. It was assumed that latter programmers would solve this problem.

But many early programmers failed to accurately document where they stuck the code and how they set it up. And as other problems came up, the solution of correcting the date storage problem kept getting pushed back.

So now it is 1999 and people have suddenly remembered that when January 1, 2000 comes around, many computer clocks will think it is January 1, 1900. And since no one can remember how the code was written or where the code was put in the memory and no one bothered to write down anything, many companies are faced with major problems related to the time and date.

Now, I don’t think that this computer problem is going to cause as many problems as every one fears. There are going to be glitches, to be sure, but nothing will shut down and most computers will not suddenly turn back to the end of the 19th century. But it does show us the importance of knowing from whence things come.

From the Egyptian point of view, the Israelites had become a problem. But it was a problem only because the Pharaoh had forgotten and apparently no Egyptian bothered to record why the Israelites where there in the first place.

Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us, and leave the country.”

We know that the Israelites were welcomed to Egypt because of what Joseph had done. But like the origin of the Y2K problem, we find that people tend to forget why things were done. And because the Israelites had become so numerous, the Egyptians, without knowing why they were there in the first place, began to fear them and take the repressive measures that would ultimately lead to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.

When they left Egypt, the Israelites were determined not to forget what God had done for them. That is why each year at Passover, they say

For ever after, in every generation, all of us must think of ourselves as having gone forth from Egypt. For we read in the Torah: “In that day thou shalt teach thy child, saying: All this is because of what God did for me when I went forth from Egypt.” It was not only our ancestors that the Holy One, blessed be God, redeemed; us, too, the living, God redeemed together with them, as we learn from the verse in the Torah: “And God brought us out from thence, so that God might bring us home, and give us the land which God pledged to our ancestors.” (From “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” by Marcus J. Borg. He is quoting Maurice Samuel’s translation of Haggadah of Passover. (New York: Hebrew Publishing, 1942), p. 27. Borg added the italics and the translation was slightly modified for the sake of gender-inclusive language.)

But over the years, as Israel suffered and rejoiced, these words may have lost their meaning to many of them. So when Jesus asked his disciples who the people said he was, the answers given suggest that while the Israelites knew the words, they did not understand the meaning of what they were saying and hearing every year. They forgot what God had done and what He had promised we would do. In essence, they had lost their relationship with God.

Simply hearing the words or telling the stories does not guarantee that you will believe the stories. Telling the stories about Jesus is important (Hymn #156) but sooner or later, if we are not careful, the stories will become words simply told from generation to generation.

The Greek and Latin roots for the word “believe” mean “to give one’s heart to.” Believing, therefore, does not consist of simply giving one’s mental assent to something but much more, of giving of one’s self.

At some point in time, we must take action, as Peter did and exclaim when Jesus asked,

But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Believing in Jesus means more than just believing a doctrine. If we give our heart to Jesus, we find that our life will change.

As Paul notes, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This transforming changes the way we live and the way we do things. If Christ is in our life, then the words we speak must be turned into actions.

Peter was given the keys to the kingdom and so are we when we acknowledge that Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God. As Paul told the Romans, we have been blessed with many gifts, according to the grace given us. These gifts may be in the manner of teaching, or preaching, or confessing, or prophesying. But Paul also warned the Romans about taking themselves too seriously, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measures of faith God has given you.”

Paul knew that being a disciple of Christ was more than simply being a follower. Our relationship with Christ should be a personal one, but our journey with Christ, the result of the transforming of the spirit is not done alone. It is a journey that puts us in a community that remembers and celebrates Jesus.

To Paul, being in fellowship with Christ creates a community of believers celebrating and remembering Christ. Like any community, the members of Christ’s community are unique in their own skills, each having one skill given to them by the grace of God. And for the community to survive, each member must use his or her own talents in conjunction with the others, just as one’s own body is many different parts all working together.

So, while we remember the past and tell the stories about Jesus and what he did, we look to the future. And against that backdrop, we ask how will the future generations come to know Christ? They will hear the stories but will they know the meaning of the words. The answer to that question is very clear. They will know Christ because they see Christ today in the eyes and hearts of those around them in the community of fellowship with Christ.

But that is not always an easy thing to see. But it is not an impossible task either. All we have to do today is answer the question that Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” If we accept Christ as our Savior, if we allow him to come into our lives and allow the Holy Spirit to transform our lives, other people will know.

How will they know? They will know because the story of Jesus is not just a story from the past, the origin of which is lost in the passage of time but because Christ is alive and well in the community of fellowship. As hymn #310 tell us, they will know because Christ is alive in our hearts.

“To Boldly Go”

This was the message I gave at my mother’s church in Memphis (actually Bartlett), TN, for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A), August 25, 1996. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Exodus 17: 1 – 7, Romans 11: 33 – 36, and Matthew 16: 13 – 20,

We have all heard the lines “These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise” and its closing refrain “to boldly go when no one has gone before.” We know these lines because they touch a part of us which likes to explore, to out there. It is the same spirit which lets mountain climbers to climb mountains “because it is there”. It is the same spirit which let President Kennedy to make the decision to go to the moon and land before the end of the 60’s.

Exploration is exciting; there can be no doubt about that. It offers challenges we do not encounter in everyday life and it takes us into areas where we have never ventured. With new knowledge, new horizons open, our abilities to do things expand. In research, we are often reminded that “the answer to one question often poses two more questions”. The announcement the other week that there may have been life on Mars is an example of what exploration offers. What this discovery mean; what effect it will have on our view of the universe, both physically and spiritually; these are questions only further exploration can answer.

But exploration is a two-edge sword. Even as we celebrate the prospect of exploration, we also sense a certain degree of uncertainty and possibly fear. Do we really want to know if there was life on Mars or if there is life somewhere else in the universe. What if the movie “Independence Day” is not just a science fiction thriller but a prelude of things to come?

Venturing into the unknown frighten us because it requires that we go beyond the comfort of what we know and into areas we have never been. It is very easy to see why people in the past feared the unknown.

Columbus chose to find India by a path never before tried, a bold move in light of the capabilities of the ships of the day. But because it was a different approach, we know that he had to “fudge the data” in the journal his sailors read so that they would not be afraid of this venture into the unknown.

Our own country’s growth was accomplished by bold strokes. Thomas Jefferson took a bold move, both in political and geographical terms, when he made the Louisiana Purchase. No one knew if the Constitution allowed the President to make such a purchase and no one knew what exactly was being bought. And while many looked at this opportunity as a wonderful time for exploration, there were those who questioned such a venture into the unknown.

Exploration can take place in our daily lives as well. We do not need to go to new places to venture into the unknown. The way we conduct our lives, the things we do every day, these are products of our own exploration.

What were the disciples thinking that day outside Caesarea Philippi. How did they view what they had been doing, following Jesus? It is hard to tell from the nature of the text if the disciples knew Jesus would ask them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 15: 13 – 14)

These were answers based on familiarity, based on the world the people knew. People were not willing to take the bold step, to look at what might be and say that Jesus was the Christ. No one was willing to be the first and say that Jesus was who they knew him to be. Better to take the easy route than try something new.

Knowing how the first question was answered, we also have to wonder if the disciples were ready for the next question, “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 15: 15). Here Jesus was asking the disciples to take a step into the unknown. What would you say, what will you say when Jesus comes to you and asks you that same question? It should not be surprising then that the disciples hesitated answer the question which Jesus put to them.

Peter’s response , “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16: 16) to Jesus’ question changed the way we view the world. No longer was the word “church” used to describe an assembly of people. Now, it would describe a gathering of believers.

In giving Peter the keys to this new church, Jesus gave us the keys as well. All we have to do, all Jesus asks of us today, is to make the same bold commitment to a life in Him that Peter made.

Yes, accepting Christ as one’s Savior is a bold thing to do. It seems that everywhere we look in today’s society we see a world and environment that works against the very idea of Christ. There can be no tougher task than accepting Jesus Christ in your heart.

It would even seem that the world is going to get worse in the coming years. There are those today who paint the future in bleak and dark tones. What good will it do us if the future is not worth.

Exploration, taking that bold step into the unknown, requires trust. As we read from the Old Testament, every time the Israelites faced a crisis, they questioned Moses and they questioned God. First, it was the Egyptian army chasing them down; then it was the lack of food; then it was, as we read in today’s reading, the lack of water. With each crisis, God showed them that they had nothing to fear. Yet, they seemingly could not trust God. It is no wonder that Moses seemed frustrated by his efforts to lead the children of God to their Promised Land.

As the time came closer for Jesus to go to the cross, his disciples began to fear the future. But Jesus said,

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.”

Thomas said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me.” (John 14: 1 – 6)

Is it possible that it is that simple? Should we be afraid to take such a bold step?

“One thing we owe to Our Lord is never to be afraid. To be afraid is doubly an injury to him. Firstly, it means that we forget him; we forget he is with us and is all powerful; secondly, it means that we are not conformed to his will; for since all that happens is willed or permitted by him, we ought to rejoice in all that happens to us and feel neither anxiety nor fear. Let us then have the faith that banishes fear. Our Lord is at our side, with us, upholding us.” From Meditations of a Hermit by Charles de Foucauld

When John and Charles Wesley returned to England in 1738 after their missionary service in Georgia, they both did so feeling as if they were failures. Prepared as he and his brother 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 was willing to say they trusted the Lord. Only after that moment in his life, which we have come to call the Aldersgate moment, could Wesley write with assurance,

“I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation. And an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Only by accepting Christ as his personal Savior was John Wesley able to understand what direction his life was to take. Only by trusting Christ was Wesley able to gain the confidence necessary to insure the success of the Methodist revival.

Paul’s words of thanksgiving and praise now take on a deeper meaning. Through Jesus Christ, God grants us the necessary wisdom to see into the future and know that we need not fear it. It is not a guarantee that we will know every thing. No exploration ever answers all the questions. Even the Israelites still had to make the journey to the Promised Land.

The keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, given first to Peter so many years ago, have now been handed to us. All we need is accept Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior. It seems surprisingly simple that such a simple step can be so bold. But, when we accept Jesus Christ as our personal savior, we can then go boldly where few have gone before.