“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 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.”

“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.

Forgotten Books

Here are my thoughts for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Song of Solomon 2: 8 – 13, James 1: 17 – 27, and Mark 7: 1 – 8, 14 – 15, 21 – 23.


There is a set of shows on the History Channel entitled “Banned from the Bible”. Along with another series, “Who Wrote the New Testament?” they provide an interesting insight into the development of the Bible.

In “Banned from the Bible”, scholars discuss books and manuscripts that were written but which were not considered, for a number of theological and historical reasons, not appropriate for the Bible. This discussion includes those books that are included in what is called the Apocrypha. But the discussion is not limited to books that somewhat fall in the period between the Old and New Testament; they also include books written after the beginning of the new Christian Church and include what have become known as the Gnostic Gospels.

What I find interesting and pertinent to today’s message is that the discussion amongst men about what should and should not be in the Bible provides an interesting counterpoint to those who say that the Bible is the divine inspiration of God. I am not saying that God’s hand was not in the writing of the various books of the Old and New Testament. But if mankind is going to argue and discuss what is to be included, what does that say about this idea of biblical inerrancy?

While there are also those who use these discussions to put forth their own hypothesis that the crucifixion was a hoax and Christianity is a two thousand year old hoax, with cover-ups and conspiracies galore, these same discussions tell me of people trying to put into words what their faith means to them and how they are going to explain their faith to others. And in the end, those who developed the Bible some two thousand years ago came up with a document that must be read in its entirety, not in parts. They came up with a document that was coherent in its thought that God cared for us and we are to care for others.

And that makes at least two of the readings for today very interesting. Someone, or a group of people, many years ago developed what we called the common lectionary. It was later revised into what is called the “revised common lectionary” (duh!), which is what I have used for most of the past fifteen years. It provides an Old Testament reading, an Epistle reading, a Psalm, and a Gospel reading for each Sunday of the Christian Year. If you follow the lectionary, over a three year period, you will cover every book in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.

In the present part of the lectionary (Year B), the Old Testament reading is from the Song of Solomon. This begins a series of readings from Proverbs, Esther, Ruth, and Job; books that stand out for the lack of the mention of God or, in the case of Job, for the confrontation with God in a time when people followed God.

There are those who argued for the exclusion of Esther because there was no mention of God. But the story of Esther is a description of the redemption of God’s people and God’s hand is seen in the story, even if He is not part of the story. Similarly, the Song of Solomon only contains one reference to God and virtually no prayers, or references to worship or piety.

And some commentaries indicated that, because of the explicit and sexual nature of the writing, many ancient and modern Jewish sages forbade any man under the age of thirty from reading the book. This probably also applied to any woman who could read. But we all know that human nature requires an examination into those things which we are told to stay away from.

If the Bible is story of whom God is and what God does, then the Song of Solomon provides us a description of what God desires for us. The Song of Solomon provides an example of how we are to live in happiness and fulfillment.

But when we hear descriptions of the Old Testament, we often hear of a God of wrath and anger, of war and violence, of retribution and revenge. We hear very little about the love of God for us and how we are to love each other. We have forgotten what was written in this book and if we know anything about love, it is the physical part of love and not the emotional part or communal part.

Similarly, the Book of James has its critics as well. When he was preparing the first German translation of the Bible, Martin Luther wanted to keep James out of the Bible. James speaks of the works of the person and there are those who proposed this meant that you could work your way into heaven. Luther was like Paul in saying that it was God’s grace that provided our salvation and our work did little to earn that salvation.

There are quite a few people in this world today who still hold onto this view, that it is what they individually do that ultimately decides whether or not they get into heaven. But in verse 22, James writes that those who have not heard the word are only deceiving themselves. If the words of Christ are not part of one’s life, then one’s actions are meaningless. If you do not believe in what you are doing, then your actions have no meaning.

James’ words only have meaning when they are taken with the other words of the Bible; if you do not love your fellow man it is very difficult to think that you love God as He loves you. And just as we tend to forget the Song of Solomon, we also tend to forget James when we say that all is necessary for admission into God’s Kingdom is an acceptance of Christ as your Savior.

If you say that you are a Christian and you haven’t accepted Christ, then you are a hypocrite. If you say that you have accepted Christ and your works do more harm than good, if you do not walk the extra mile or give the person without a coat your coat, if you keep your riches instead of giving it all away, then you deceive yourselves. As James wrote, “those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act” will be blessed in their doing (verse 25).

We have forgotten too much of the Bible. We remember the war and the violence; we highlight selected verses that justify segregation and repression but we forget that the Bible must be seen as a whole, not in parts. And while there is war and violence in the Bible, there is love. There is the love of two people for each other, there is the love of people in a community for the members of the community, and there is the love of a Father for His Children, a love expressed when He sent His Son to be our Savior

We can acknowledge that love but it requires a clean heart and a clean mind. We cannot, as Jesus proclaimed in the reading from Mark for today, abandon the commandment of God for human traditions. We cannot control the environment outside if our insides are not cleansed of the evil and sin that exist there.

When you look at the sins that Jesus says comes from the heart (fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, and folly) and you look around at the words and actions that fill the air today, you know that he spoke the truth. The words and actions of too many people speak of what is truly in their hearts. The actions of too many people in the debate over health care belie a nation that says that they are Christian. It speaks of a nation that has forgotten not only some of the books of the Bible but the words of the entire Bible, of words that speak of caring for your fellow man, your neighbor.

We can read the Bible from cover to cover and perhaps even memorize all the words. But unless we take those words into our heart and make them part of our lives, the words are simply smears of ink on a piece of paper. Those words will have no meaning unless we also accept Christ as our Savior, opening our hearts and minds to the cleansing power of God’s love, a power that will transform our lives and our presence. We may have forgotten that love is a part of the Bible and that our work must be in response to that love. But God did not forget; that is why He sent His Son. We have the opportunity today to make a change in the world, but only if we make the change in our lives.

A Cake Without Baking Powder

This is the message that I gave on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, 7 September 2003, at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, Putnam Valley, NY.  The Scriptures for that Sunday were Proverbs 22: 1 – 2, 8 – 9, 22 – 23; James 2: 1 – 10, 14 – 17; and Mark 7: 24 – 37.


I hope that when you read the title for today’s sermon you had the same thought that Ann did when she first read it, “You can’t bake a cake without baking powder.”

Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda, corn starch, sodium aluminum sulfate (or alum), calcium sulfate, and monocalcium phosphate. It is simple enough to say that when you add water to this mixture of solids, you get carbon dioxide and the dough is able to rise. Without baking powder, the cake is going to be extremely flat.

It is that combination of materials that produces the reaction needed to bake a cake. It is a combination of things that make a church what it is. The world, of course, is the ultimate combination of people, places, and things. But often times a church tries to choose the parts of the world that will make up it’s identity..

Throughout the history of Christianity, there have been many attempts to define how the church should be a part of society and how society and the church should interact. Some of those attempts removed the church from society.

Many of the great utopian experiments of the 19th century were of this type. The Shakers, who we know today for their expensive and elegant but simple furniture, were one such group. The group flourished just before the Civil War because there was a growing sense that the coming war was a harbinger of the Second Coming of Christ. There was a need to pull away from society so that you could better prepare for Christ’s coming.

But the problem with the Shakers was that they had no way of continuing the movement and thus ultimately died out, leaving only memories of a simple life and basic furniture. In fact, it is ironic that the simple furniture that marked the Shaker lifestyle now sells for prices that only the rich and famous can pay.

Another, earlier attempt at communal, utopian living was made at the Amana colonies in Iowa. We associate the name Amana with dishwashers and stoves and the Amana Radarange. But most people do not know that this company has its heritage in same millennial roots that later formed the Shaker movement.

The Amana colonies were found by a group of German and Swiss colonists who came to the United States in the fall of 1842. Persecuted and faced with a religious intolerance, these German and Swiss colonists came to America seeking a place where they could worship, work, and live in peace. These colonists first settled in the Buffalo, New York area but moved to Iowa because the area around Buffalo was becoming rapidly urbanized.

For over 100 years, the Amana colonies proved that communal living was possible. The difference in their style of communal living and other similar attempts was not found in philosophy or social concepts but rather in their belief that it was the best way to worship in peace.

The people of the colonies pooled their resources in order to market their agricultural and manufactured products. In return, their food, shelter, and clothing needs were met. But in what became known as “The Great Change”, the colonies decided to separate their religious and economic interests, thus ending a long period of isolationism and beginning a new period of community openness. Unfortunately, it would seem that while we remember their works, we do not remember why they worked.

The problem is that when you define your church without society, it ultimately dies. A church must be a part of society if it is to survive and grow. But, by the same token, if the church becomes too tied to society and the ways of society, it will lose its identity.

It is the very nature of society that makes us want to pick the best parts as those that define who we are. We do not want that which we consider the worst or unseemly parts to be even known. And that is exactly what James is warning is about.

If we show partiality about whom we shall love or who we will be with, then we would be considered sinners and convicted by the law as transgressor. We cannot ignore that we are part of society but we have to be careful that we do not become so ingrained in it that we lose our identity as a representative of Christ on earth. We have a unique opportunity to proclaim the kingdom of God but if we are not careful, it can also be an opportunity for what one author (Colin Williamson, Faith In a Secular Age) calls atheistic self-assertion, claiming and keeping what is truly God’s for ourselves.

A woman comes to Jesus. We do not know who she is for she is never named, either in Mark’s description of the encounter or Matthew’s similar description. But we do know that she was not a Jew, for she was of Syro-Phoenician origin. At first, Jesus wants nothing to do with her, proclaiming that His mission was only to the lost sheep of the kingdom, a reference to the Jews of that time who had become hung up on the rules of society without the use of faith.

The analogy that Jesus used that the children’s food should not be thrown to the dogs was a fair one because anyone not of the faith was considered an equal to the dogs. But, as the women pointed out, even the dogs gathered up the crumbs under the table of the children. And because she was so determined to overcome every barrier that society would put in her place, Jesus granted her wish that her own child be cured.

But it is equally important that we look at how the disciples reacted. In Matthew 15: 21 – 28, we see that the disciples would have rather this woman left them alone. Send her away was their cry. But Jesus doesn’t send her away. Rather he watches the disciples to see how they will react.

The disciples don’t want that woman in their life right now. They want her to go away. She is their enemy and inferior, and she is making a pest of herself. She challenged Jesus and took away time that they felt belonged to them.

But she would not give up. And because she does not give up, Jesus does what no one else would do. He commends her faith, “O woman, great is your faith.”

We have said that we are going to be like Jesus. We have to be careful that we are not like his disciples in those early days of the ministry. The poor and needy are as much a part of our life as the rich and well off. A church cannot survive without either. There are churches in this country built with the largess of their members but they are more country clubs than they are houses of worship. There are churches today where pastors preach individual repentance but never ask that the money that is spent on the upkeep of the building be spent on the upkeep of the people.

One person whom I have come to admire is a Georgian by the name of Clarence Jordan. As a young man growing up in the segregated south of the 1930’s and 1940’s, he saw the hypocrisy of the church in its fullness.

A pastor of one of the more gilded cathedrals in Atlanta once asked Mr. Jordan for some advice. It seems that the custodian for the church had eight children and worked seven days a week for eighty dollars a week. The minister had tried to get him a raise but without success. Jordan suggested that he, the pastor, swap his salary with that of the janitor. It would cause no hardship for the budget since no extra money would be needed.. It is not noted what the pastor’s response was.

Another time, Jordan spoke of a church that wanted to establish a fabulous fountain on its front lawn while its neighbors had no running water. “As long as God is God and not man, we know how to handle him — we can build him a fountain on the lawn. But as soon as we see God as man, then we have to give him a cup of water. (Lee, Cotton Patch Evidence, 11. — from Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs.)

A church that ignores a part of society is a church that will die. It will not be a quick or easy death. There are still Shakers living in this country but their days are numbered, if not already completed. The last ones saw that the church could not survive and they decided a number of years ago to stop taking in new members.

As we prepare for the coming year, as we look to what will be Tompkins Corners UMC we have to think about what defines this church. It is not the size of the church that will define this church; it is what this church does.

And if this church does nothing more that what it has to do, it will do nothing at all. I have mentioned over the past two weeks that we need to develop our own unique outreach program. All that we have to do is decide that a portion of our offering, perhaps the total offering of the fifth Sunday of a month, will go to particular missionary or outreach activities either in this area or in a place of our choosing. It is a small step but one that will reap great rewards.

We must also make a concerted effort to reach out to those who are members of this church but who have decided for whatever reason to not attend on a regular basis. I have made a copy of the church membership roll for people to look at. It is broken down into four parts: active members, homebound members, inactive members, and unknown members.

The inactive ones are that way in part because they do not come to church nor have they returned the information sheets or responded to any of the mailings that have been sent out. They may be active but in such a way that very few people know who they are. The ones considered unknown are that way because we have no current address for them. If we knew their address, then we would reach out to them.

Some have expressed concern that the conference will close the church if we take too many people off the membership list. Personally, I don’t think so. But I do know that if we do not make a concerted effort to be a more active church, then what some fear will happen will in fact happen. It is one thing to have faith but if the faith does no work, what good is it?

Jesus may have ordered those who saw him perform the miracles to keep silent until it was time to tell the world. Well, that time is now and we can no longer keep silent. You cannot bake a cake without baking powder; you cannot have a church that ignores part of society or fails to reach out to all parts of society. The charge before us this day is the charge that James gave so many years ago, take care of those who are in need or face the fact that your faith will die.

Teach Your Children Well

This is the message that I gave on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, 10 September 2000, at Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY.  The Scriptures for that Sunday were Proverbs 22: 1 – 2, 8 – 9, 22 – 23; James 2: 1 – 10, 14 – 17; and Mark 7: 24 – 37.


I am not sure if it was in one of my Tom Clancy novels or some other technology oriented book but I learned that the motto of the Central Intelligence Agency was taken from John 8: 32 –“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” When you stop to think that the primary mission of the CIA is to collect information about other countries and people, it makes sense that they would choose a saying that deals with truth and knowledge.

Now, the idea of what truth is or should be is the matter of another time and place. Jesus spoke of freedom in terms of being from free from the bondage of sin. But when are talking about teaching and learning and wisdom, truth is another matter. The central point of the Old Testament and Epistle readings for today is how the poor and the less fortunate should treated; they are, it is said to say, appropriate readings for today’s society.

I grew up in the south during the 60’s and I saw first hand what segregation was all about. It may seem to others that only blacks were effected by segregation but the laws that were designed to limit what blacks could and would be able to do affected whites as well. If schools were to provide equal amounts of support to all schools in the district, then make sure that the amount given to the school was limited. As a junior and senior in a Memphis high school, I chafed at the notion that $50.00 was sufficient funding for the band and the chorus programs each year. But all the schools in Shelby County, be they black or white, got the same amount of money and in the eyes of the law, were treated equally.

It should be noted that the uniforms that Germantown and Collierville high school bands wore were a lot newer that the ones we wore at Bartlett. But that was because the parent’s associations at those schools had the resources and were able to have better fund raisers than the Bartlett Band Boosters could ever conceive. The loophole was that parent’s organizations could raise as much money as they wanted for the bands. And when you have a large area from which you can draw your funds and the people in that area have a little bit more money, then it stands to reason that you will have more funds to work with. Of course, I really shouldn’t complain because our uniforms were a lot better than the ones that Bolton had but that was because our white parents had better paying jobs than the black parents of the students at Bolton. And I know that there were some of the rural, mostly black schools in Shelby County, who had no uniforms at all and whose instruments were second or third level hand-me-downs. But that was the law and they were laws that many churches and many pastors supported whole-heartedly.

In his letter, James warns about saying one thing and doing another. If you profess your faith in Christ, then your actions must show that faith. As I mentioned last week Martin Luther had a problem with the Epistle of James because it seems to say that you can have salvation through your work.

But, it seems to me that it says that your faith is meaningless if you do not do something with it. I think that the problem with many churches today is that many people are willing to call them hypocrites, just as Jesus called the Pharisees, because their actions do not illustrate their faith.

It is your faith that will make you strong and it is your faith that will save you. It was the faith of the Greek woman that saved her daughter. Jesus is not degrading her or insulting her when he used the metaphor of taking the children’s food and feeding it to the dogs. Rather, it was a test of her faith, to see if her faith was strong enough.

But Mark’s reference to her being Greek was significant because it reflected the political situation of the time. Because she was not an Israelite, she would have been treated as an outcast in the society of the time. Yet, Jesus gave her the same opportunities as He would give others, only if her faith was strong enough.

Jesus was constantly teaching his disciples. In Matthew 4: 23 we read, “And he went everywhere teaching, healing, and preaching.” Since teaching is educating the mind and preaching is educating the heart, two-thirds of Jesus’ work was devoted to education. And each time that Jesus healed someone, he always spoke to them about a new way of living or a change in their attitude, “Go and sin no more” is how is put in John 8: 11.

The challenge for each of us is that each of us represents Christ on earth today. We each have been given the task of taking Christ’s word into the world. How we do that is left to each of us, to do, as we feel possible. Some things we can do as a church body; others we will do individually, sometimes with reward and honor, other times quietly and anonymously.

But others will see in us what a difference Christ has made for us. Jesus taught us early on and he taught us well. He knew that his mission was to deliver our crown and he knew we needed a new mind and heart in order for us to receive it. Now we must ask if we have taught our children well.

What Does It Mean?

Here are my thoughts for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost.

One of the hardest things to do in education is get people to understand that chemistry and the other sciences are as much a part of the liberal arts curriculum as are English, social studies, and the various arts. I think the problem is that people do not realize that it is not the courses you take but the outcome of the courses that you take that determines the nature of liberal arts.

From the beginning of liberal arts education, the focus has been on thinking. DiLiddo wrote

“The liberal arts education is a unique approach to the development of the scientific mind. It attempts to maximize the potential for creativity by the exposure of the mind to all the forces which power creative events. A liberal arts education forces a student into all areas of knowledge, including those which seem at the moment to be useless. A liberal arts curriculum realizes that no knowledge is ever useless, only perhaps little used. It also recognizes that one can not pre-know what one will need to know and so guards against potential ignorance with a potpourri of knowledge.

A liberal arts education also realizes that a creative event is fueled by more than knowledge alone. The importance of analytical training is not forgotten. Those who seek to diminish the analytical portion of the liberal arts curriculum contribute to the perpetuation of lackluster ideas based on innuendo and sloppy thinking.” (1)

Truman Schwartz stated it this way – the goal of liberal arts in its earlier forms (gymnastics, music, grammar, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, musical harmony, and dialectics) was always

“To reveal the underlying, ideal forms of reality so that a student could apply that knowledge to the pursuit of the good life, both socially and individually. The goals were practical: education should lead to effective action.” (2)

Now how do liberal arts and the nature of thinking fit into the context of today’s readings? Because each of these readings reflect the need for critical thinking and require that we think about what is going on in order to understand the meaning of the message in each reading.

It is the adherence to the law or rather the tradition of law that Jesus speaks out in the reading of the Gospel for today. The Pharisees are complaining that Jesus and his disciples are not observing the law when it comes to eating their food. The distinction must be made between washing your hands before a meal (which is still a good idea) and the traditional washing that the Pharisees followed. The Pharisees had forgotten why it was that you were supposed to wash your hands and the food and turned a “law” into a tradition that was to be followed without question.

Jesus commands the people that day to understand what He is saying. He tells people to think about what they were doing. It is not what we put into our mouth that poisons us; it is what comes out of our mouths. This is what James is saying as well. Go beyond the words you say and turn your words into actions.

We are at a time when thinking skills seem to be at a premium; when society willingly allows others to dictate what is said and how we are to make our decisions. Society has willingly allowed others to become the authority and each individual’s contribution is minimized unless it fits within the majority view. To independently think seems to be a forgotten way of life in today’s society.

And when one stops and looks around, it is apparent that we need to stress thinking and understanding. As much as being a Methodist is based on the Holy Scriptures, there is also the understanding that we need to study the Scriptures and understand what is written. Knowledge and the ability to think play as much a role in our spiritual development as anything else.

We are a nation that claims to be Christian yet only 40 percent of Americans can name more than five of the Ten Commandments. Barely half of the population can name at least one of the authors of the four Gospels. Twelve percent of the population believes that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. While these statistics may reflect more of our country’s educational decline, they are also a reflection of our spiritual decline.

While three-quarters of Americans believe that “God helps those who help themselves,” this phrase does not appear in the Bible at all. This phrase, first uttered by Benjamin Franklin, indicates that we do not have any understanding of what the Bible is about.

We are a nation that professes a belief in Christianity yet do not understand what it is that we profess or what exactly it means to be a Christian We do not want to be challenged to follow Christ as much as we want to challenge Christ to follow us.

Over the course of the last few weeks, we have heard Christ do exactly that, challenge us to follow him. He has constantly challenged us to see the world differently and to follow him, rather than accept the world as it is. It is a challenge that requires that we begin to think about what is being said and what is being asked of us.

Why is a reading from the Song of Solomon (3) included with passages from James (4) and Mark (5)? The Song of Solomon is a unique book inn the Old Testament. Like the Book of Job, the Song of Solomon reveals its treasures to the patient reader who approaches the book on its own terms, searching for and meditating on its meaning.

The Song of Solomon is a part of the Old Testament that bridges the history and law portions of the Old Testament with the prophecies. As you read the various books in this section, you are giving an alternative view to wisdom and an understanding of the nature of God. This section shows that there is more to life than simply a framework of laws that must be rigorously followed. It also shows that there is a view of the world that does not necessarily end in tragedy and gloom.

We cannot see the world in terms of only one view, if that view is limited in its scope and nature. We live in a time when there is a true and desperate cry for Jesus, for a generous and compassionate Christ that desires mercy, not meaningless sacrifice and actively pursues peace at every level. But we will not be able to find Christ in this world if we are blind to the words of Jesus written in the Bible. In reading the Bible, we find a Jesus and prophets who are fiercely at odds with the public perception of Christianity. A liberal arts education would have us read the Bible more, not less, but it would be a reading with a greater degree of sophistication and understanding. It would give the meaning to the words of Christ; it would open our hearts to allow Christ to come in.

And having understood the words of Christ, we are better prepared to give meaning to the words of Christ. What does it mean to say one is a Christian? It is to say that you have taken the words of Christ into your heart and into your mind and you are prepared to meet the challenge of taking the Gospel message out into the world.


 McBride DiLiddo, R.: 1987, “Scientific Discovery: A Model for Creativity”, in Creativity and Liberal Learning – Problems and Possibilities in American Education, edited by David G. Tuerck, Ablex Publishing Corporation.

(2) Schwartz, A. T.: 1980, “Chemistry: One of the Liberal Arts”, A. Truman Schwartz, Journal of Chemical Education, 57, 13.
(3) Song of Solomon 2: 8 – 13
(4) James 1: 17 – 27
(5) Mark 7: 1 – 8, 14 – 15, 21 – 23