“What Will You Leave?”

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the bulletin for this coming Sunday, September 15, 2019 (14th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C) at Fishkill UMC. Service starts at 10:15 and you are most certainly welcome to be a part of worship.

The lectionary is a collection of readings that repeats every three years.  I have used the lectionary readings for this Sunday six times over the past twenty years and yet, each week I find something different.

This week, I have a sense that we need to be looking to the next generation.  What will be giving to the next generation?  Are the words from Jeremiah written so long ago, speaking of a lifeless and barren world, destroyed by the actions, attitudes, and practices of humankind, spoken to us today?

Are we so concerned about today that we have failed to look to tomorrow?  What happens if we leave the next generation a world in which there is no air to breathe or water to drink?  What happens if people must struggle to live each day?

Time and time again, God speaks to us and let’s know that our concerns must be for others who share this world with us.  God makes it very clear that to do otherwise is a path to doom.

The Good News is that we can change this doomsday direction.  Paul is focused on his legacy, on what he is going to pass onto the next generation.  As Paul points out, God gave him a second chance and God  us that same opportunity.

What will you leave for the next generation?  Will it be a dead and lifeless world, divided by fear and hatred?  Or will be a world of life and hope?

~~ Tony Mitchell

A Certain Outcome

This will be on the back page for the bulletin for Fishkill UMC for this Sunday (August 26, 2018, 14th Sunday after Pentecost – B).

The one thing that struck me about the Old Testament Reading was that Solomon’s Temple was open to all.  People would come because of the greatness of Solomon and they would discover God in the Temple that Solomon built.

What does that say about today when people are turning away from the church out of distrust and anger or they are seeking alternative means of worship because they cannot find God in the church today.

And when I read Paul’s words to the Ephesians, I hear him crying out again the battles inside the church.  The problem is not that the world is evil or anything like that; it is that some people want to exercise their authority as if it came from God,  And it is hard to take on those people; it is hard to take on the tasks Jesus asked us to begin.

But in our faith, and through God, we have been given the tools, the skills, and the abilities to take on those tasks.

What will we do?  Will we give up the fight or will you join the fight?                                 ~~Tony Mitchell

God’s Wrath or Man’s Ignorance

A Meditation for 21 August 2016, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The meditation is based on Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, and Luke 13: 10 – 17.

There are quite a few comments floating around over the Internet rejoicing the fate of a right-wing religious person whose home was destroyed by the recent Louisiana floods.  Those who are rejoicing feel that this is either God’s retribution or something similarly appropriate for this individual’s previous rather hateful statements.

Now, maybe it is right that anyone who has spoken words of hatred and exclusion should feel the same pain that they themselves have brought unto others but I don’t believe that is, if you will, the Christian way.  And I would say that if this individual or his supporters feel that their proclamation of self-based Christianity make them somehow more worthy of support than others, then I would suggest that they go to the end of the line until the truly needed have been helped.

I have heard those kinds of statements of how natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes are signs of God’s Wrath.  But as I once pointed out, how do we interpret the fact that the one of the most likely targets for a lightning strike is a church steeple.  In an Internet search I did a few years ago, I find over 100,000 instances of lightning hitting a church steeple.  Are the people who make up the church doing things that have incurred God’s Wrath or is it more likely that the steeple is the highest point in the area and, thus, more likely to be struck by lightning (from “And What Will You Say?”)?

But the God that seeks to invoke wrath on a person is not the God of my faith tradition.  This may have been the God of the Old Testament but my own faith tradition includes the New Testament and the God of the New Testament cared enough for all the people on this planet to send His Son to save us from sin and death.  And this is my own thought but I think God is smart enough to realize that retribution and anger don’t work.

Besides, if God was really that angry at mankind, he could have wiped us off the map years ago (and we know that He did this once before; he also told Noah that the rainbow would be a sign that never again would He destroy the world).

I also think that those who want an angry God do so because that’s the God of their lives.  They have transformed the Bible into what they want it to be and what it actually is.

The theme throughout the Old and New Testament is not one of anger and hatred, of war and violence, but of openness and acceptance.  A second theme, and the one that may, in part, account for our problems with floods and fires and such, is that we are stewards of this planet.

From the very beginning, we have been tasked with being good stewards, of taking care of this planet, our home.  And when we don’t take care of the planet, we can expect to be in deep, deep trouble.

There are those who have been saying that the severe weather that we have been dealing with for the past few years are only the beginning and the result of failure to heed the warnings that we were doing unalterable damage to the environment.

God sent His Son because the people ignored the prophets.  If we are to ignore His Son, if we are to ignore the teachings given to us for so many years, then we can expect what is to come.  It will not be God’s Wrath that destroys us; it will be our own ignorance.

“The Value Of Wisdom”

A Meditation for 30 August, 2015, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), based on Song of Solomon 2: 8 – 13, James 1: 17 – 27, and Mark 7: 1 – 8, 14 – 15, 21 – 23

The other day, a blogging friend and colleague (Allan R. Bevere) posted a cartoon showing Jesus telling the four Gospel writers, “If you all don’t pay attention, we’re going to end up with four different versions of this miracle!” And on the side of the cartoon is a little boy holding a basket with 2 loaves of bread and 5 fish.

The catch in this cartoon is that, as best as we can figure, no one was taking notes about what transpired during the three years of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. Mark began his Gospel some forty years or so after the fact; Matthew and Luke borrowed heavily from what Mark wrote; and John wrote his Gospel much, much later. All four of the Gospels relied on what people had been saying over the years between the occurrence of the Gospels and when they were written.

Now, I knew that there were four versions of the feeding of the multitudes but I had found out when I began writing this piece that didn’t remember using John 6: 1 – 21 in any of the messages I have prepared over the past twenty years.

Now, before you frantically turn in your New Testament (you remember where you put it, I hope), this is John’s version of the feeding of the multitude. I think that because I focus so much on Matthew’s telling of the story and the fact that there are two stories in Matthew, I forgot that I have used the story in John on several occasions (five times in the past 15 years, including a couple of weeks ago). I also found out that is Luke’s version of the feeding that is not included in the lectionary.

Memory is a funny thing. If you don’t reinforce it, you are likely to forget what it is that you wanted to remember. I can, without much problem, give the first twenty elements of the periodic table in order. And I know most of the elements on the table, simply because it has been a part of my life for almost forty years now.

Even with all the work I have done preparing sermons, messages, and blog posts, chemistry is still my primary interest. So it is not surprising that I sometimes don’t remember what I have written with regards to the lectionary verses for each week. This single cartoon has reminded me that I need to pay just a little bit more attention to the lectionary verses each week and to be little more studious in the coming days.

One of the biggest problems we have today is our willingness to seek an immediate solution, without really understanding what the problem is. Our response to so many problems is something akin to the “old” saying, “A child with a hammer thinks everything looks like a nail” (from “A Collection Of Sayings”). We don’t stop to think about what the problem is and what has to be done to solve the problem.

Over the next few weeks, the Old Testament Reading will come from the section of the Old Testament knows as the “wisdom” section. In one sense, this is, for me, the best part of the Old Testament because it focuses on how we think. This section of the Old Testament 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. There is very little mention of God in the Song of Solomon or the books of Proverbs, Esther, Ruth, or Job, the books in the revised common lectionary that will be the source of the Old Testament reading for the next few weeks (from “Forgotten Books”).

Note added on 30 August – “James is a collection of early Jewish Christian wisdom materials.  As with the earlier wisdom writings, it emphasizes wisdom not so much as what one knows about God, but how one lives in response to God.”  (From (I believe) Ministry Matters)

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.

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. (from “What Does It Mean?”)

Jesus challenges the Pharisees and religious scholars about their rigorous attention to the ritual hand-washing, almost to the point of ignoring the meal. Don’t get me wrong, there are some sound and very good scientific reasons for washing your hands before each meal (and you can hear every mother in this country saying, “see, I told you so.”).

I am sure that if we were to somehow trace the origin of this rule about washing one’s hands before a meal, we would find that is was developed for sanitary reasons. But, as is often the case, this reason got lost over the course of time. And when that happened, it lost its meaning. As Jesus pointed out, the ritual act of hand-washing is meaningless if what comes out of your mouth is dirty and polluted. It does little to wash the dirt and slime off your hands if your heart is not clean, for all that you touch will still be dirty.

Jesus’ point was that you had better understand what the act of washing was meant to do and then turn your life around. Paul, in the portion of his letter to the Ephesians that is part of the lectionary for today, points out that you have to act on what you hear. The catch here, of course, is that you have to distinguish between the Good and the evil. Paul also points out anyone can “talk a good game” but only through acting out your words can the true good be found.

In the end, we are tasked with knowing the Word and then acting out the Word. The closing words of the passage from Ephesians today remind us that our primary task in this world is to “reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against the corruption from the godless world.”

The value of wisdom is first remember that and then doing that.

“Finding My Faith (and keeping Mariano’s)

This is the message that Wanda Kosinski presented at the Goshen (NY) United Methodist Church on September 14, 2014 (14th Sunday after Pentecost (A)). Sunday services are at 10:30 am and you are invited to attend.

Please join with me in prayer … Dear God, may the words I prepared to share with everyone here this morning be found pleasing to you. And if it is a different message you wish your people to hear from the one that I plan to deliver then I would ask the Holy Spirit to help me find the words that you wish to be shared with those gathered here this morning.

Good morning! Some of you may already know that back in June I was supposed to deliver a sermon but then a case of laryngitis made that impossible. I do appreciate Cheryl filling in so wonderfully for me that day.

And here today, I’m given another opportunity but the words I prepared previously did not seem to quite convey the message for today so while I plan to share with you a portion of that other sermon – my inspiration for today’s message came from a different source.

I spent a good deal of this past summer on a personal spiritual journey of sorts. I decided to do this because I came to realize that more and more I was feeling sort of distant or lost (for lack of a better word) from God and especially the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. So, I decided that with Sunday school ending it was a good time for me to take a time out and re-evaluate my faith and my beliefs and try to re-energize or what I like to refer to as finding my faith focus.

I spent a lot of time reading the Bible and other Christian books and in silent prayer. I also took the opportunity to attend Sunday worship in a few places other than a Methodist church. And on several Sundays, I skipped attending a formal worship service altogether and simply took a long walk outdoors in nature to serve as my worship time for the day.

On more than one occasion I’ve found it challenging to find a topic for a message or sermon from the lectionary readings for a particular Sunday. And I know that when that happens it is perfectly fine to use another source for inspiration.

But finally after reading and re-reading the lectionary verses for this Sunday, the first few lines of this morning’s reading from Romans became a starting point for preparing today’s message. Initially, I used the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible for reading this verse:

Welcome those who are weak in faith, (my first faith encounter) but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.”

I then decided to use the Bible Gateway web site to do a bit of research and look up the same verse but using 3 other Bible translations and this is what I found:

First, from the Easy-to-Read Version of the Bible:

Be willing to accept those who still have doubts about what believers can do. And don’t argue with them about their different ideas.”

Second, from the Living Bible:

Give a warm welcome to any [person] who wants to join you, even though [that person’s] faith is weak. Don’t criticize her for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong.

And third, from the Common English Bible:

Welcome the person who is weak in faith – but not in order to argue about differences of opinion.

After the opening sentence or two of the verse from Romans, each of the Bible versions proceeds with an example of the difference in how some people eat meat and others only eat vegetables. Of course, this is just one of many differences among people.

On a whim, I attempted to correlate the food eating difference to the difference in levels of faith at different times in one’s life and how circumstances and events might effect and change one’s level of faith.

Perhaps when faith is high – meats are on the menu and when faith take a dip, then only veggies are in order. Of course, I don’t mean for this correlation to be taken seriously and hope the Bible scholars in the house won’t call me on this (smile).

With that thought, I was reminded of an interview that I’d heard on National Public Radio while driving home from work one day a few months ago – what I’ll refer to here as my second faith encounter. Mariano Rivera was being interviewed by Robert Siegel on the program All Things Considered about the book he wrote entitled “The Closer.”

As I’m sure many of you already know Mariano Rivera was the famous closer with the NY Yankees until his recent retirement. What not everyone might know is that Rivera is a devout Christian and a very religious person. At one point, he was asked about something he wrote in his book concerning the hand of God being in everyday life, even in baseball.

Rivera answered: Well, it’s my belief. You know, it’s all about faith, not only in baseball, but just normal life. My faith in the Lord is everything.

He went on to explain how his faith made it possible for him to walk out of circumstances like losing Game 7 of the World Series. If he wasn’t able to win the game that day it was alright because he had given it everything that he had. But he wasn’t going to second-guess his faith or ability due to the loss.

Rivera suggested that we need to shine in the middle of adversity. He said, “You still have to point to the sky and say, you know what, Lord? Thank you for this moment, because you permitted it.”

My third and final faith encounter happened quite unexpectedly and it was, I believe, the thing that renewed or reconnected me to a closer feeling to God and my faith.

It happened last month when I was at the hospital in Toms River NJ visiting my Mother. On my 2nd day there, I arrived at the hospital quite early in the morning – about an hour before visiting hours started. When I entered my Mother’s room she was sleeping so I sat down and started to pray.

A few minutes later a Catholic priest appeared at the door. He was doing his daily visitation rounds. I told him that I was here from New York to see my Mother.

He then asked me if I’d like to share communion with him. Now I know that the Methodist communion table is open to all but I also know that this is not the case in the Catholic Church concerning the sacrament of Communion. So, I explained to him that although my Mom was Catholic and I had been raised in the Catholic faith that I was now a Methodist and about 5 years ago had taken a reaffirmation of faith and joined the Methodist Church.

We talked for a few minutes about my involvement in teaching Sunday school and my service as a lay servant in my church. He then again asked me if I’d like to share communion with him and that the only requirement, as far as he was concerned, was a belief in God which I clearly had.

So, he gave me communion and we prayed together (my Mom was sleeping through this) and this exchange was so comforting and healing to me. I thought it was so cool that he could set aside whatever differences about communion might exist because the moment asked only to do what Jesus would do.

To me, this final faith encounter was comforting and healing for sure, but it also reaffirmed my belief that there is so much more all people and all religions share than the minor differences.

And most important, it left me feeling, once again, connected to God. Amen.

“Who Are You Following?”

Meditation for 14 September 2014, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Exodus 14: 19 – 31, Romans 14: 1 – 12, Matthew 18: 21 – 35

There are certain things that I believe. Obviously, I believe that Jesus Christ is my Savior. And in that regard, I hope that my life, my words, my thoughts, my deeds, and my actions reflect that belief.

What is important to understand is that I came to this decision on my own. There were countless individuals (pastors, Sunday School teachers, and others) who introduced Jesus Christ to me but the decision to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior was mine and mine alone. It was not, as some think it should have been, in the manner of Saul walking on the road to Damascus but more in the manner of the quiet assurance that John Wesley felt that evening in the Aldersgate Chapel.

So in answer to the question posed as the title of this piece, I am following Jesus Christ. And perhaps that is where it gets tricky. You see, the decision to follow Jesus Christ is what some would call a high reward/high risk challenge. The reward is obvious but some may wonder if the reward is worth the risk. You have to be prepared to help others make the same decision that you have made.

I do not believe that my decision gives me the right to tell someone else what to do. It does mean that the life I live must reflect that decision. I cannot simply say that Christ is my Savior and then lead a life where that seemingly applies only on Sunday mornings. If I do not lead a life with Christ all the time, 24/7 as it were, then it was a limited decision.

And while I can make the argument that following Christ is a better path, I cannot do it with threats and intimidation. And I am sorry if this offends some people, that is what many evangelists do today; they threaten and intimidate people, not provide proof that the path one walks with Christ is the better path.

Evangelism today has become, if you will, an embarrassment to the faith. Meant to bring people to Christ, it is, in reality, driving them away. Evangelists today either pervert the Good News for their own benefit (financial or otherwise) or create a scenario that suggests the outcome of life is fixed and the winners are already predetermined. I said it last week, when you create a world based only on one’s own views of the world and law, be it faith-based or otherwise, you create a quasi-moralistic society, not God’s Kingdom (adapted from “Taking Time To Do It Right”).

And while the style of worship is important, that is not evangelism! Borrowing an old line from “American Bandstand”, if it moves your soul, then that what is important. But what may work for one does not work for others. A preacher in casual clothes is great but then again so is a preacher in a nice robe. (Of course, the preacher who spends several thousand dollars on one suit is missing the point here.) Focusing on the style is called marketing and that is not what it is about.

Evangelism is about declaring the good news about what God is doing in the world today. Evangelism should challenge individuals to yield to Jesus, to let Jesus into their lives, and to allow the power of the Holy Spirit transform them into new creations. But it is more than that.

It involves proclaiming what God is doing in society right now to bring justice, liberation, and economic well-being for the oppressed. It means to call people to participate (nasty word there, don’t you think) in the revolutionary transformation of the world. Evangelism is what Jesus said it was: broadcasting the good news that the Kingdom of God is breaking loose in human history, that a new social order is being created, and that we are all invited to share in what is happening. God is changing the world that is into the world that should be and we are invited to live this good news by breaking down the barriers of racism, sexism, and social class.

Evangelism requires that we declare the Gospel not just by word but also by deed and we show God’s presence in this world by working to eliminate poverty, present unjust discrimination and stand against political tyranny. Evangelism call us to create a church through which God’s will is done, here on earth, as it is in Heaven. (borrowed and adapted from Tony Campolo’s foreword to Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel: Luke and Acts).

Now, when I think about that discussion of evangelism, I can’t help but think that we aren’t even close to meeting it. It seems to me in so many ways that we are doing just the opposite and then turning around and saying that we are doing in the name of Christ. There was a time a few years back when I thought we were headed in the right direction but somewhere along the line we got sidetracked and perhaps even lost.

I don’t think there is a person on this earth who does not understand that following Christ is a difficult task. For some, the difficulty is so great that they don’t even bother doing it. This has been clear from the beginning when the writers of the Gospels noted how the people who followed Christ got fewer and fewer as the understanding of the message became clearer and clearer. Others have changed the Gospel to make it easier to follow.

I cannot help but think that too many people follow someone because the ideas that person has seem so simple and easy to understand. And while we would like things to be easy, that is not always the case. Peter was looking for a simple and easy way to forgive someone and Jesus offers something a little more complicated.

And what Jesus offers runs counter to what we feel. In a society that demands retribution, Jesus suggests forgiveness. And not just a quick forgiveness but a rather lengthy and extensive forgiveness. Consistently throughout the Gospels, Jesus offers solutions that run counter to what we want to do. As Jesus pointed out in the Gospel lesson for today, we are quite willing to seek mercy for ourselves while denying mercy for others. And in the end, we will find out that approach will not work and our decision to follow is often impeded because such a decision takes us down a path we do not want to walk.

So we look for information and guidance but, in the end, we must make the decision. It is a decision made in the mind and with the heart; it is a decision not just for today but for one’s life.

In the New Testament lesson for today, Paul wrote to the Romans about cultivating new relationships. For me, Paul said that all were invited to the table and we were not the ones to decide if any particular person could or could not come to the table.

And I know that I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to such decisions as that. On more than one occasion, there has been someone whom I may not have invited to the communion rail because of what they had said or done regarding the church. But I was always reminded that it was not my decision about who could and who could not come to the table.

The challenge that we face today is two-fold. We have to rely on others for our knowledge but we are the ones who must make the decision about who to follow. As the Israelites began their journey, they were guided by the Pillar of Fire and a Cloud.

Even if they did not know where they were going, the Israelites understood who they were following and what that decision meant. True, even when they did get to the Promised Land, they did not understand it, just as those who followed Christ for three years did not completely understand at first what was happening that weekend in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago. But 1) God never left them and 2) they stayed with the decision.

So, shall you follow Christ, knowing that, while the destination is know, the path we must walk to get there is not an easy one? It is not the only option one has in today’s world. But I do believe that it is the only one in which the outcome is certain and by your thoughts, words, deeds, and actions have a chance to make that outcome possible here on earth as it is in Heaven.

“Thinking Outside The Box”

I am at Rowe United Methodist Church in Milan, NY, tomorrow for the Sunday service at 11 am. You are welcome to attend if you are in the area. The message for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost is based in part on Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, and Luke 13: 10 – 17.

When I began working on this message, I envisioned the title as “A New Calling”. But my reviewer, after reading it, suggested that a better title was “Thinking Outside The Box.” And who am I to argue with my wife when it comes to such things? And the thinking that I am presenting today also matches some thinking and conversations that we are having at our church.

On a clear and cold January 20, 1961, John Kennedy stood on the steps of the United States Capitol and took the oath of office to become the President of the United States. He then spoke to the people gathered there, to the American people throughout the land, and to millions of people around the world.

He spoke of a torch being passed to a new generation, a generation tempered in the fires of war and guided by the principles set forth in the American Revolution. It was, I believe, a statement to all those who had said that he, John Kennedy, was too young and too inexperienced to be the President.

Let us ignore for the moment that John Kennedy was, at the time, older than many of the leaders of the American Revolution. Let us ignore the fact that John Kennedy was older than Jesus Christ when He began the ministry in the Galilee that would change the world.

John Kennedy’s words that day inspired a new generation to seek public service and to work for the ideals first expressed in the American Revolution. They were words that said that what you could do was determined by your ability, not by your age.

It was a time of inquiry and exploration. If you were in school at that time, you were part of the great changes taking place in the areas of science and mathematics, changes that would help us join those already beginning to explore the world beyond the skies.

It was a time when the promises of this country in terms of equality and opportunity seemed very close to fulfillment. There was a vision that we would reach beyond the stars before the next century began.

But something happened and that journey was never completed.

Today equality is measured by the balance in one’s bank account and opportunities exist for only a chosen few. From a society that saw its future in the stars we have become a society that wonders if there will ever be a future. Conquest, War, Famine, and Death, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, seem to be the daily litany of the news and far too commonplace.

Our educational system, instead of preparing thinkers and visionaries, produces individuals who can recite myriad reams of facts but have no clue what the facts mean, how they relate to the world, and how to use that information to solve the problems this country faces today and will face tomorrow.

People cling to battered and tired visions of the past, hoping to restore the “good old days”, even if they weren’t really that good. And because we have lost our vision, our ability to solve the problems that we faced today is limited. We seek solutions that based on the old ways and wonder why they don’t work.

The prophet Joel proclaimed,

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.

But it seems that the old no longer dream, the young no longer see visions, and our sons and daughters can no longer prophesy. We turn to others to tell us what to say and think, individuals who rely on our fears and our ignorance, our traditions and our bias.

And I think that it is time that we change and do so before it is too late. I am not a believer in the end of the world vision offered by so many people today, in part because such a vision is based on our fears and our ignorance. It is time, I think, that we hear the Call of God and respond to it.

This is about answering the same call that God gave to Jeremiah. I know that Jeremiah says that “he is only a boy” but that doesn’t stop God from calling upon him to take on a task. And if a young boy is to be called to take the call of God, who is to say that anyone of us cannot take the same call?

How many of the prophets willingly and quickly answered God’s call? How many of the prophets offered excuses and reasons why they could not do what God wanted them to do?

This is not about how young or old we are today. The call from God isn’t and never was age-related. How old was Abram when God said to pack everything he had and head to a new land? How old was Sarai when God informed her that she was going to be pregnant? How old was Moses when God came to him somewhere in the Negev Desert and told him to return to Egypt and free God’s people?

How many people do you know whose age has never limited what they can do? In other words, how many people can think “outside the box?”

Back in 1988, I was a young (relatively speaking) college instructor struggling to complete his doctorate and getting those all important research papers published when I met the Nobel Laureate, Dr. Herbert C. Brown. While I was still trying to get that first publication, Dr. Brown was routinely involved in the publication of 100 research papers a year. It was not pro-forma that his name was on the paper; he was in the laboratory, offering advice and suggestions on the conduct of the research involved.

And yet we have all met and know individuals far younger than us who have not had an original thought in years.

Bob Dylan wrote a song in which he noted that times were changing and that we best heed the call. I got the note about the 175th anniversary of Rowe the other day and I liked what it said at the top of the page, “1838 – 2013 . . . and still counting!” It says to the people of this area that this church plans to be here for a long time and to be a part of the community for at least another 175 years or so.

It is important to remember who we are and where we have come from, for it tells us much about where we can go. But we need to rekindle and revive the vision that brought people to this place, to each of the United Methodist Churches in this area and throughout the country. Too many people today focus on issues founded in ignorance and bigotry and that turn our attention away from the Gospel message of hope and deliverance. Too many people wish things were the way they have always been and not the way they could be.

It was a Sabbath morning some two thousand years ago and Jesus was doing what He probably did every Sabbath during His three year ministry and what He had done every Sabbath since he was twelve; He was in the synagogue listening to the rabbi teach a lesson from the Torah or, as was the case in today’s Gospel lesson, teaching the lesson Himself.

But this Sabbath was perhaps just a little bit different. There was a woman, bent over with the pain of arthritis, present in the building, probably over in the women’s section since she wasn’t allowed to be in the same part of the building as the men. And Jesus called her over to Him, laid His hands on her, and healed her.

Think about this very carefully. First, Jesus brought a women into a part of the building where she was not supposed to be. Surely, that upset many of the traditionalists, for whom appearance and tradition counted more than anything else. Second, He touched her. This wasn’t the first time that Jesus had touched a sick person and in the very act of touching that person, Jesus became ritually unclean. In the eyes of the traditionalists, Jesus should have left the building right then and there!

And then, He healed her of an eighteen year ailment. At that point, the leader of the congregation had had enough and denounced Jesus for working on the Sabbath. And all Jesus did was point out the hypocrisy of the law that said it was proper to take care of one’s farm animals but not heal a sick person.

It also says something about the nature of that group of people that day that they were delighted that the Jesus had responded to the leader has He had. It makes you wonder how the leader treated the other members of the congregation.

And how many times have we seen that in our lives? Where tradition and honor take precedence over what is right and proper? How many times have we questioned the right of an individual to be a part of the church because they don’t fit into our preconceived notion of tradition and honor? How many times have we said “that’s just not the way things are done around here”?

John Wesley was not the first person of his time to show concern for the poor and impoverished people of England. In many sermons of that age, there is a real concern for the lower classes; but it is assumed that if they, the poor and working classes are to be saved and to enter into Christ’s purpose for them, they must take on the culture of their betters who stand as a living sign to the Grace of God. In other words, it was assumed (and I think it is still assumed today) that the will of God was to make “them” more like “us.”

The writer of Hebrews points out that those who follow Christ have been given a new way of life. Tradition told the people not to touch, in fact I think in some translations they were to never go near, Mount Sinai. To do so was to die. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are in a new world, working under a new covenant, a fresh charter.

This new covenant, this new charter comes with a thorough house cleaning, a removal of all the historical and religious junk that has gotten in the way of entering God’s Kingdom. God is no longer on some mountain far away and untouchable; He is right here, right now, with us.

Because John Wesley followed the example of Jesus and went to the people, not to make them like their betters but to enable to find the way of Christ in their own world, he was bitterly attacked. The missionary work of John Wesley and all of the early Methodists, including those who founded this church 175 years ago, made a statement about the ideological assumptions of the privileged and threatened the security of their prejudices which they assumed to be the will and purpose of God.

The call that we have is to make sure that all the people have that opportunity. Jeremiah was to pull up and tear down, take apart and demolish, and then start over, building and planting. For me, that means looking at how we do church, where we do church and what church members can offer not only to and for each other but to and for those with whom they come into contact every day.

Will Cotton, the Senior Pastor at St. Barnabas UMC in Arlington, Texas, and the pastor whose words and actions were instrumental in my beginning this part of my own personal journey with Christ, wrote that he sees a different ministry for the church in the coming years.

The 21st century (for at least the rest of our lifetimes) in ministry will not be primarily about the local church. Churches and denominations will be wise to train people for ministry in secular situations. The gospel is returning to the streets, the marketplace, the classrooms, the chat rooms, the homes and even the bars. My job description has shifted in response to the leading of the Spirit. I am not just a performer of ministry; I am a leverage person, equipping people for ministry in places I will never be able to go. I used to lead Bible Studies with up to 80 people in them and they were enjoyed. But two years ago, I moved to more intensive studies that prepare leaders who then start classes, small groups, and even lead “in the marketplace” studies and support groups. My favorite book on this shift is Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal. My two CLMs came out of those classes. If I train 15-20 people (which I do at near seminary level with some texts actually from Course of Study for local pastors) and they lead groups of even 10 people, then the yield is three times what I was doing in the large studies before. The Church you and I are a part of will be so different in just 20 years from now, and the truth is, no one knows what it will look like (nearly every Bishop worth his or her consecration will tell you that). But the shift from church-centered ministry to community-centered ministry is part of it.

We must ask ourselves today how we can be witnesses to the crucified servant Lord. Our answer must be rooted in knowing that we are to be with him in the midst of the world’s needs, by His grace seeking to be the signs of his ultimate fulfillment and not the bringers of that fulfillment. In doing so we free ourselves from the conformity of the world’s self-assertive way and transformed into the way and manner Christ assumed in his ministry for us.

The church today, wherever it may be located, on a country road somewhere, in the suburbs of a city, or even on a street corner in the city, can no longer just be a Sunday only operation. It has to be, quite literally, a 24/7 operation. It can no longer be the repository of holy relics; it has to be the source for all who seek answers. It has to be a fulfillment of the Gospel message to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, lift up the downtrodden, and bring hope to the lost and weary.

Some will say that it is not possible for them or their church to answer that call. But the call that God makes is based on the skills and abilities of the people. Moses told God that he was incapable of speaking to the people (tradition says that he was a stutterer) so called Moses’ brother, Aaron, to do the speaking.

It may be that one does not know what can do; but there is a course offered in this district called “Knowing One’s Spiritual Gifts”. It is a very interesting course because it gives one insight into what one’s own gifts are. Knowing what one’s gifts are can tell you how to answer God’s call and to think outside the box.

We have two choices this Sunday morning. Time and time again we have allowed the methods of past generations to dictate what the next generation will do. But we end up finding ourselves asking and thinking that if we can only find the right and relevant method we will be as successful as they were.

It may strike some as quite out-of-place but it is not very important whether the number of Christians at a particular place and time is large or small. What is more important is to ask whether the large or small numbers of Christians know that they are representatives for all and that they are called to participate in the mission of the reconciliation of the universe.

We must leave it to God whether and when He wants to use our worship and witness in order to add to or cut down the number of His militant church on earth. In the end, it is not a question whether the church exists for itself but rather it exists as part of the whole world.

We have a new calling today, one to reach out to the world, first in this corner of the world that we call home and then to the rest of the world. We may say, as so many have done before, that we are small band and that we cannot do anything but God has always shown that He will give those who answer His call the skills, the abilities and the power to do so.

Will you answer the call of God, the New Calling, today? Do you dare to think outside the box?

“Old Dreams, New Visions”

This is the message that I gave at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen at Grace UMC in Newburgh, NY this morning. It is based on the lectionary reading from Hebrews (Hebrews 12: 18 – 29) but also has the thoughts of the Old Testament reading (Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10) and the Gospel reading (Luke 13: 10 – 17) in it as well.

I will be at Rowe United Methodist Church in Milan, NY, tomorrow for the Sunday service at 11 am. You are welcome to attend if you are in the area. The message, “A New Calling”, is based in part on Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, and Luke 13: 10 – 17

A while back I came across a listing of the top ten anti-war songs. Now most of the songs on that list I knew and had sung but there were a couple on the list that I had never heard. One of those was “Fall of the Peacemakers” by Molly Hatchet.

Now, as a Southern boy, I sort of knew about this particular group as it is one of the leaders in the particular brand of rock and roll that has a distinctly Southern twang to it. The group is better known perhaps for “Flirting With Disaster” but I found the “Peacemakers” song very interesting, especially with its reference to the funeral of President John Kennedy. I also came to like a third song by the group, “Dreams I’ll Never See”, which starts off

Just one more morning I had to wake up with the blues.

Pulled myself out of bed yeah, put on my walking shoes.

Climbed up on a hilltop baby, see what I could see.

The whole world was falling down baby, right down in front of me.


‘Cause I’m hung up on dreams I’m never gonna see yeah.

Lord help me babe.

Dreams get the best of me, yeah.

I thought about this song when reading the passage from Hebrews that I read from this morning and because next week we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the steps of the Washington memorial that became known as the “I Have a Dream” speech.

There was a hope at that time fifty years ago that the vision that Dr. King so proudly proclaimed would become reality, that one would judged by their character and not by the color of their skin. There was a hope some fifty years ago that the dreams and visions of this country would be fulfilled that year. And while the hope is still here today, it is seen in a dimmer light than it was then.

And we must also realize that this coming Thanksgiving we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Kennedy. It would be safe to say that the dreams and hopes that echoed throughout this land some fifty years ago began to fade when the bullets were fired that fateful day in Dallas, Texas.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews speaks in passing to another death, the death of Christ. If we were to put ourselves in the place of those gathered in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago, we might be rejoicing to hear Jesus speak of the hope and promise found in the Gospel message. It offered to the people then the same hope and promise that were given and felt that hot August day in Washington, D. C. fifty years ago.

And surely if we were to have been in Jerusalem on that fateful Friday that we have come to call Good Friday, we would have felt that same way about the death of Christ as we did when the announcement was made that John Kennedy had been killed in Dallas.

But the writer of Hebrews points out that the death of Christ was not a reason for sadness but for rejoicing. Because in Christ’s death on the Cross.we have found freedom.

But this is not a freedom where we can do anything we like and I think that is what too many people do not understand. It means that life as we know it has changed. Before Christ, many people feared God; note the words of Hebrews that said that if an animal so much as touched the ground on Mount Sinai, it was died. Even Moses was terrified.

The death of Abel in Genesis called for vengeance and retribution; Jesus’ death on the Cross was God’s sign of forgiveness and reconciliation. No longer could we not approach God but God was part of our lives.

The whole basis of society has changed. When John Wesley began the movement that was to lead to today’s United Methodist Church, it was assumed the righteousness was found in the good things of life. Only those who lead the “good” life would be able to find Christ; Wesley challenged that view and said that all could find Christ if given the opportunity.

But this view was always one that supported the status quo, that said that unless you were like me, you could never have the peace found in Christ. What John Wesley did was to say that you could have the same peace that anyone found in Christ; that you were not barred from doing so.

No longer was God inaccessible to you; no longer was the rewards of Heaven unattainable.

The challenge that we face today is the same challenge that John Wesley faced some two hundred fifty years ago, to bring Christ to others, how can we be witnesses for Christ? Our task, our challenge is to be with Christ in the midst of world’s needs, by His grace seeking to be the signs of His ultimate fulfillment. This means that we are concerned for mankind’s freedom, we are concerned for the well-being of others, we dream of a “new city”, and long for a life freed from despair.

In Christ comes the freedom, the equality that Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed would come. It is a vision that has been a part of our lives for almost two thousand years ago. The dream can be a vision and it can be a reality. It requires that we accept Christ as our Savior, it requires that we allow the Holy Spirit to enter our lives, and it requires that we work to fulfill the Gospel message in this place and in this time today.

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

“Tell Me the Truth, But . . .”

I was at the United Methodist Church of Purdys, North Salem, NY and First United Methodist Church of Brewster, Brewster, NY this morning as a last minute fill-in for their pastor. Services at Purdys start at 9; services at Brewster start at 11 and you are welcome to attend either service.

The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (B) were Song of Solomon 2: 8 – 13, James 1: 17 – 27 and Mark 7: 1 – 8, 14 – 15, and 21 – 23.

It is my habit to read the three scripture readings that constitute the lectionary readings for a particular Sunday and think of a title that somehow relates to the three readings. Sometimes this is easy to do; other times, like today; it is not so easy to do. The thing that makes it easy though is to understand and appreciate that that the Bible is a living and breathing document. It makes the readings especially easy to put into the context of the world around us.

So, in reading the three Scriptures and hearing Jesus and James call out the false leaders of their times, it wasn’t that hard to come up with the title. But the title for this message that you have been given, “Tell me the truth, but . . .”, is incomplete, if for no other reason than the entire title is a bit lengthy. The complete and full title is “Tell me the the truth but make sure it is my version of the truth.”

Of all the goals of humankind, the hardest to achieve is finding the truth. One could easily argue that the truth is subjective, dependent on time and place. We may, and many do, argue that the men whom Thomas Jefferson wrote about were a particular group of individuals and that today that group is a much broader, more inclusive group that goes beyond race and gender. It would be very difficult to apply a limited definition of equality in today’s day and age, though there are many throughout the world who would much rather do so with a straight face.

In the end, we are reminded of a very basic statement that Jesus Christ said to such a group that would seek to limit the freedom of others when he told them in John 8: 31 – 33, “seek the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Of course, those to whom that Jesus was speaking never considered themselves to be anything but free so it was difficult for them to realize that no matter how you may lead your life, slavery to sin and death is still slavery. And when you seek to impose your rules or your beliefs on others, as was the case of those who heard Jesus speak of truth and freedom, you seek to impose a degree of slavery on the people as well.

In these words that follow I seek to show you the truth, the truth as I see it. You may disagree with me on how I interpret what has been placed before me and that is your right. But I also hope that you will take on the challenge of finding out for yourself what the truth is.

I am the grandson of an Army officer and the son of an Air Force officer. This lineage gives me a slightly different view of the world than others may have. As the son of an active duty Air Force officer, I lived in four different localities before I began school and I attended five different elementary schools, two junior high schools, and one high school before my father retired in 1964. I would attend two other high schools from 1966 to 1968 as my father settled into post-service employment.

When I would mention this to my students sometimes, they sometimes saw me as some sort of trouble maker because they, truthfully, could not imagine someone moving practically every year of their life. But it was the life that I had and it is the life that has allowed me to do and see many things.

It was as a 7th grader in Montgomery, Alabama, that I would encounter the ubiquitous truth that schools could be separate but equal. What I remember about the first days of attendance at Bellingrath Junior High School was that my parents had to buy my books at a book store and the teachers were not going to give out the books on the first day of classes as I had experienced in previous years in previous schools in previous states. I did not know it at that time but tha was the way that the Montgomery, AL, school board dealt with the order that all schools had to be equal even if they were separated by the color of the students in the classes.

My exposure to the nature of racism and segregation wasn’t limited to attendance at an all-white school or having to buy my textbooks at a local book store. It also included a memorable encounter with the newly elected governor of Alabama, George Corley Wallace.

My grandmother had come to visit us from St. Louis and went to church with us on Sunday. As we left the church that Sunday morning, she somehow got separated from us. We, my two brothers and I, found her outside the church amongst the crowd and we asked how she got out. She pointed and said that she had been helped by that “nice young man over there.” To which we replied that that nice young man was the newly elected governor of Alabama, who had stood on the steps of the Alabama capital and defiantly announced that segregation would be the policy of the state of Alabama. A few months later, he would stand in the school house door and deny duly qualified black students the right to attend the University of Alabama. I might point out that this particular church was, in 1962, a Methodist church, and George Wallace was a Methodist.

We would move from Montgomery to the Denver area where I began studying for my God and Country award in Scouts and then from Denver to the St. Louis area. We would then make the move from Missouri to Memphis, Tennessee, and I would again encounter this idea of equality, perhaps a basic truth if you will, of education in southern states. There, the Shelby County Board of Education insured that students attending any school in the county received free textbooks. But the band and choral programs only received $50.00 for music, supplies and, if need be, repairs to the instruments. Other funds had to come from the Band Parent Organization that each school had. If your parents were in a high income group, your band was better equipped than those whose parents were less affluent, such as was the case with Bartlett or in lower social economic class, as much of Shelby County was back then

I could not help but begin to wonder why there was such a fundamental difference between the schools that I attended over the course of my junior high and high school years. It is entirely possible that there were other factors, factors perhaps that I was not aware of, but I encountered in those two years of high school in Memphis, Tennessee, many items that suggested that some individuals had a vision of the truth that conflicted with the vision of others. Let those who remember understand that I graduated from a high school in the Memphis, Tennessee, area in the spring of 1968, a spring that perhaps changed how we see our fellow man, both in this country and throughout the world.

And it would go beyond just high school and into the beginning of my college career. Before my family moved to Memphis in the summer of 1966 I began attending college at what was then called Northeast Missouri State Teachers College.

I do not know the exact conversation that took place between Wray Rieger, Dean of Students at Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Truman State University), and my parents after I was selected for the Honors Program at Truman and before I began attending college that summer of 1966. But I am certain that Dean Rieger or someone from Truman called and expressed some concern and worry to my parents that I would be rooming with a 19 year old Negro from Dallas, Texas. And while I was surprised when I met Al, I discovered that neither my mother nor my father were, having cleared this pairing in advance. That the college would call on this was a surprise but equally surprising was the fact that my parents were not bothered by this random assignment of individuals to share a dormitory room.

Three years later, my grandmother would frantically call my parents to tell them that she had seen me leading a sit-in of the administration building on the Kirksville campus protesting the lack of available off-campus housing for black students enrolled in school. But I wasn’t leading the protest; I was merely standing next to my first college roommate, Al, as he and other leaders of the Black Students Association protested the unfairness of the housing or rather lack of housing available to them off-campus. I was there because Al and others involved were my friends and I believed that their cause was just. (see “Side By Side” for more on this). It just happened that the way the video was shot, it appeared that I, with my rather Afro-style naturally curly hair, appeared to be one of the leaders.

A few years later, I would get a phone call from my mother asking the full and complete name of Al, my roommate and friend. I told her it was Alphonso Jackson and she replied that he had just been named Secretary of Housing and Urban Development by George W. Bush. Sadly, because of the paths that we have taken and the choices we have made, Al and I are no longer friends, in part because I questioned his view of the truth.

We are faced with one of the greatest dangers that we can imagine and how we respond will do as much to dictate the future of this planet as perhaps if some life form from another planet were to appear out of the blue and tell us that the planet Earth is in the middle of a planned interplanetary galactic highway and we have less than twenty four hours to find somewhere else to live before the planet is destroyed by the demolition team (and yes, for some of you, that is the beginning of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!)

We have lost and are losing our ability to think creatively and independently. We would much rather have others tell us what to think if we are to think at all. We are being told what to believe and that those who would speak differently are at the very least liars and at the very worst, in religious terms, blasphemers and agents of Satan. We hear others say that there is only one true translation of the Bible and that it is not subject to interpretation. Perhaps that is the case; in which case, my thought that the Bible is living and breathing is faulty. And if the Bible is not living and breathing, then it cannot be read in the context of today’s world and we are unable to solve the problems that face us.

That period of time from 1962 to 1968 was a period of time when I began to find out who I was, both spiritually and mentally. I was given the opportunity to see the world for myself and not have to accept the views and definitions of others, possibly as the truth. I look around, and because of technology am able to see, hear and read the views of some of those who graduated from Bartlett the same year that I did and see that their view of the world hasn’t changed that much. And when I began reading the Scriptures for this morning, I came to the conclusion that one thing that we must all do is seek the truth, not the truth of others but the truth that God has laid out before us.

To read the Book of Solomon without giggles and some sense of embarrassment is difficult for some today Our sense of love has been so compromised by the “outside world” that we may not even begin to understand what the Song of Solomon is about or how it fits within the Bible.

You see, among other things, there is very little mention of God in the Song of Solomon or the books of Proverbs, Esther, Ruth, or Job, the books in the revised common lectionary that will be the source of the Old Testament reading for the next few weeks (from “Forgotten Books”). These books are a bridge between the history and law portions of the Old Testament and the prophecies. Those who put together the Old Testament put these books in to illustrate an alternative view of wisdom and a different understanding of God. There is more to life than a framework of laws that must be rigorously followed. The only way that one gains from reading these books, the Song of Solomon, Proverbs, Esther, Ruth, and Job, is approach them on their terms, searching and mediatiting on its meaning (from “What Does It Mean?”).

And that means being involved in the process, not merely letting someone else tell you what to think or what to do. Part of the reason that I chose to read the Scriptures today is that I like the translation that The Message provides. As I noted, the manner in which Ephesians was translated means that the selection starts with verse 16, a statement from James that we are not to get thrown off course.

What we hear from the Letter from James today is that we must first hear the words and then we can act upon what we hear. We have been given a great gift and those who would seek to incite anger and hatred in us, especially when it is done in the name of the Lord, only seek to destroy that gift. When we fail to think about what we are hearing, we can find ourselves, like James wrote, wondering who we are and what we are doing. But if we pause for a moment to truly hear the word, then we begin to get a glimpse of the One True Word, the Word that God gave to us and we begin to sense the truth that we may seek.

The Pharisees and other scholars confronted Jesus about His disciples’ lack of observance of the appropriate and proper rituals. Now, we as children were told repeatedly by our parents and we as parents have echoed those same words that one must wash their hands before eating. In part, we are merely echoing, for good reasons, what was the practice, habit, and culture of Jesus’ time. But we know why it must be done; the reasons why it was part of the culture then were lost in the passage of time.

When you insist on doing something because “that’s they way it has been done since time immemorial” you have lost the reason why. If you tell me that we are trying to keep contagious infections down, then I will listen perhaps a little more carefully.

Jesus wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t wash our hands before dinner; he was merely pointing out that doing so out of habit contains no meaning. We will hear these words later, when Peter is hesitant to minister to the Gentiles for fear that he will violate any number of Jewish laws. It isn’t what you take in, it is what you put out that is the poison in this world.

I am like so many others who grew up in the South during the sixties. I sang the song, “Jesus loves the little children of the world” but lived in a world where the little children suffered because of the color of their skin. I encountered racism and segregation, sometimes subtely, other times overtly, all the while hearing from various pastors that God loved us enough that He sent His Son so that we might be saved. And yet, many of those who also heard those words back then and even today have chosen to hear a different set of truths.

We see it in many churches today, or rather we don’t see it in many of our churches today, because those that seek the truth do not come to the church to hear it because they don’t believe that the truth can be found in the church, in the one place where it is supposed to be told. What they see in many churches today is a place that holds onto a truth that is antiquated and favors the rich and the powerful, the very groups that Jesus spoke out against. How many times has some powerful clergy spoken out against everything that Jesus spoke out against in the closing words of the Gospel reading for today, “ obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness” (Mark 7: 21 – 23) while doing many of those acts themselves. Such individuals tell you the truth but it is their truth that they tell you and not the truth that you seek to know.

I grew up in a time and place where I came to understand that the truth that was told by religious and political leaders was not necessarily the Real Truth, the Truth of God. I will admit that I am still seeking the truth, much in the same way that John Wesley began to seek the truth in such a way that the Methodist Revival began. And I know that there will be some who hear my words or read them on my blog but who will scoff at what I say and what I write. But if perhaps one hears these words or reads these words and then begins to think and question, then they will begin the path to the truth that will set them free.

Each Sunday that we come to church, we are asked to make a choice, sometimes verbally, sometimes physically, sometimes in our minds, and sometimes in our heart. It is the choice to say in some way, by our words, our thoughts, our deeds, and our actions that we are truly followers of Christ, that we will in some way find the means to help others seek the truth and be set free.

The call is not to hear the truth that one wants to hear; the call is to hear the truth that will set you free. The call is not to simply say that you believe in Christ on Sunday but that you will believe in Christ when you leave this place. The call is to open your heart, your mind and your soul to Christ today and allow the Holy Spirit to come in, empower you and give you the strength to go forward from this place.