“The Paradox of Creativity”


Here are my thoughts that will appear on the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for this coming Sunday, 22 September 2019 (15th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C).

For me, there are two paradoxes involved in the Gospel reading for today.  The first involves the owner and the manager.  The owner fires the manager for doing a bad job but praises him for what he then does.  This would suggest that what the owner was doing was wrong to begin with.  But as I have only the back page of my church’s bulletin for expressing my thoughts, I looked at the fact that the manager was being creative in his work and that Jesus speaks of using our creativity in a positive manner.

To be creative, one must have a place to be a creative and a time to be creative (which are the same requirements for regular prayer).  And therein lies the second paradox.

But the world today, just like the world of which Jeremiah wrote, has made it very difficult to set aside such a time and a place.  So we must be attuned to the world around us and correct those things that might distract us.

“When Alexander the Great visited Diogenes and asked whether he could do anything for the famed teacher, Diogenes replied: “Only stand out of my light.” Perhaps someday we shall know how to heighten creativity. Until then, one of the best things we can do for creative men and women is to stand out of their light.”— John W. Gardner

We are much like Jeremiah, trying to get away from the world but we are also hearing Paul reminding us to pray for those involved in changing this world. 

And in the end, we are like the manager, working to correct things in this world.

~~Tony Mitchell

“How Will They Know?”


This will be on the back page of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for Sunday, September 02, 2018 (the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B).


It is interesting that the Scripture readings for this Sunday come at a time when schools are starting in the area and have begun in many other areas of the country.

The “Song of Solomon”, along with the companion books in this section of the Old Testament and James in the New Testament are called the “wisdom” books.  The emphasis in these books is not so much what we know about God but how one lives in response to God.

Jesus chastises the “learned” ones for forgetting why the law was the law.  There were reasons why things were done but those reasons had become tradition.

When we teach something and say it must be learned but give no reason why it must be learned, it becomes something for the moment and quickly forgotten.

Our lives in Christ cannot simply be blind obedience to a set of laws set down so many years ago.  Rather our lives must be a true reflection of the nature of God.

Wisdom is more than just learning material; it is knowing what to do with it.                                                     ~~Tony Mitchell

“Peace”


Here is the back page for the Fishkill UMC bulletin for September 17, 2017 (the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A).


There is, perhaps, no more contentious place than the dinner table. Sometimes it is a discussion about sports (woe be to the household where someone supports the Yankees and others support the Mets). At our house, it was the sitting arrangement. To accommodate one of my brothers being left-handed and the need for my baby sister to sit by my mother, there were only a few ways we could all sit at the table in peace.. But with the places set at the table, peace reigned and we could enjoy our dinner.
One of the first issues the early church faced was also at the dinner table. Was obedience to Jewish dietary laws a necessary component of the Christian faith. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, suggested that it was an non-issue. It wasn’t what you ate that counted but what you did with your life that mattered. If we cannot find peace at the dinner table, how can we find peace elsewhere? How can we find peace in our soul?
The world is in crisis today. The house we all live in is being battered by forces, both natural and man-made. And because of the perceived differences we see in each other, we refuse to sit at the same table. Instead of peace, we find fear. How then shall we find peace? How can we achieve that peace that surpasses all understanding?

For the Israelites, it was the light of God that guided them towards the Promised Land; it is the presence of Christ in our lives today. It is that peace that allows us to welcome all to the table, to discuss and define differences; then find ways to keep the house in order and allow all of us to move forward.

One Phrase


A Meditation for 7 September, 2015, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), based on Proverbs 22: 1 – 2, 8 – 9, 22 – 23, James 2: 1 – 10, (11 – 13), 14 – 17, and Mark 7: 24 – 37.


I started this back at the first of September but never finished it.  Not wanting to leave things undone, I finished this afternoon.


I think that whenever one writes a sermon, a message or, in this case, a blog post, they do it for one of two reasons. The first reason is to teach something about the Scriptures. The second is offer encouragement or seek some sort of action based on the Scriptures. Often times, these two ideas overlap because true teaching only occurs when the students apply the lesson.

There are also two audiences to keep in mind for any piece or presentation. There are time when one is “preaching to the choir.” (And I might add that one Sunday several years ago, we had a guest choir of some fifty members come to our little church with its average attendance of twenty. That Sunday I truly preached to the choir!) The other audience is often times, especially with blogs in general and this blog in particular, directed towards people who are, for whatever reason, outside the church.

As much as I have always had a problem with seeing the mission of the church in terms of the Great Commission (Matthew 25: 18 – 20).

In the New International Version of the Bible, this passage reads,

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

But reread this passage as it translated in The Message,

Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally. Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

Note how Jesus’ command changes from “make” to “train”. To further show this, read how Clarence Jordan translated the same patch in his Cotton Patch Gospel translation of Matthew,

Well, the eleven students traveled to Alabama, to the mountain which Jesus had selected for them. When they saw him they accepted him as their Lord, but some couldn’t make up their minds. James came over to them and said, “Every right to rule in both the spiritual and physical realms has been given to me. As you travel, then, make students of all races and initiate them into the family of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to live by all that I outlined for you. And you know, I am right in there with you – all the time – until the last inning.”

I think it is important to notice that the emphasis was on teaching. Teaching cannot be accomplished (as we are finding out) by simply forcing people to learn things. We are finding out that many people who proclaim themselves Christians do not have a firm understanding of the Bible in terms of the words written or the meaning and context of the words (from “How Will They Know?”).

So it is that I see being a Christian in a different light than some of my contemporaries. But then again I have been a teacher for the majority of my professional life and I am of the opinion that unless a teacher’s students are prepared to implement the lessons they have been taught, the teaching was not very good.

But I have also been a Christian longer than I have been a teacher and one of the things that I learned early on in my Christian life was that there was more that life than just saying that I was a Christian.

And I know that part of that understanding comes from an incident in my life when I was a sophomore in college and it was based on a a phrase in the Gospel reading from Mark this week that strikes a deep chord in my soul and that is what the Syro-Phoenician woman said to Jesus when He first told her

Stand in line and take your turn. The children get fed first. If there’s any left over, the dogs get it.”

She said, “Of course, Master. But don’t dogs under the table get scraps dropped by the children?”

In the Prayer of Humble Access found on page 30 in the current United Methodist Hymnal is the line “We are not so much as to gather up the crumbs under the table.” I don’t know for certain but I am pretty sure that those words come from the conversation between Jesus and the women.

I know that Jesus originally intended the message to be for the people of Israel but when they began to turn away, and especially when others such as this women began to listen and pay attention, the focus of the ministry changed. But it was focus that had its foundation in other places in the Bible.

As the words from Proverbs tell us, when it comes right down to it, there is no difference between the rich and the poor (a thought that Paul would later echo). The writer of Proverbs also warned about using one’s position in life as a means to oppressing others.

Unfortunately, in too many cases today, those who proclaim that they are Christian or use Christianity to justify their life or lifestyle forget, if they ever knew, this simple words from Proverbs. And the life lessons that they were taught seemed to have been forgotten as well.

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 (from “Teach Your Children Well”).

If you do nothing but go through the motions then it will have all been for naught. Only when you have put what you have been taught into action will your faith mean anything.

And there will come a time and a place in your life where a phrase will be said that will change how you think or how you live or how you treat someone. It maybe a phrase that you say that causes someone to ask you a question; it may be an answer to a question someone asks you.

I cannot predict what that phrase might be. When I heard the phrase about the crumbs under the table I found myself questioning what was going on. And I was in a place and a time when I found out that what I understood was wrong. But in that place and time I believe my life changed.

And since one cannot predict what the phrase will be, who will say it or if it will be you who says it, then perhaps your life has to be the way it is supposed to be from the day you said that you believed. It is better to do it that way and be prepared to help others than to think you know what you will do when it does happen.

And this will allow you to be ready to help the person who is looking and seeking for they may have heard the phrase or asked it themselves but not know where to find the answer.

In the end, we are reminded that God loved and loves each of us so much that He sent His son to this earth to live and die so that we may live. And that is the phrase that we must remember.

“The Value Of Your Ministry”


Meditation for 21 September 2014, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Exodus 16: 2 – 16, Philippians 1: 21 – 30, Matthew 20: 1 – 16

Sometimes we need to see the Scriptures in a totally new manner, or at least not view them in the way we have perhaps always done it. That, I hope, is the case with this particular post.

As you can see from the title, this has to do with the ministry of the church. When we think of a particular church’s ministry, it is often in terms of the congregation and the needs of the congregation first. The needs of the community in which the church resides are, perhaps, often overlooked, or thought to be the same as the congregation’s needs and wants.

Sometimes, this will work; often times I don’t think it does. My first impression of Rick Warren and his “Purpose Driven Church” model was that the church administration assessed the needs and interests of the congregation and got those people with common needs and interests together and called that a ministry. Now, if your church has the numbers to do this, it might work.

But, and I made this point when it was first presented to me, if your church is anything like the ones that I have worked with in the past, the numbers aren’t there and they never will be.

This has nothing to do with the perceived state of the church today. Some churches are in places where the population as a whole is not changing and is probably going down. Churches in such areas as these have to, by necessity, operate with an entirely different model. And churches such as these need our support more than we perhaps realize, simply so that the people in those congregations don’t think that they are being forgotten.

But there are churches in areas where the numbers speak of growth and promise, yet the ministries of those churches are adapted to the congregation and not the community. These are the churches in trouble. And that is an area that we really need to look at. A church whose ministries are inward and have turned a blind eye to the community outside the walls of the sanctuary is a dying church.

But I am looking at something else at this time. Much of our publication discussion of the ministry of the church has been of two types, one informal and one, naturally, formal. The informal ministry emphasizes our willingness or unwillingness to let the Spirit rule the Law. For some, the Law is everything and, thus, that which is against the Law cannot be allowed.

But there are those (and for the sake of clarity, I believe I am in that group) who feel that the Spirit supersedes the Law and we must often do that which is in conflict with the Law. I fear that this informal ministry will, in the next couple of years, be formalized and become part of the corporate ministry of the church and the denomination.

The formal ministry of the church, at the local, denominational, and general levels, is that by which the church is identified. As part of the corporate structure, the formal ministry is the current measure of the vitality of the church. This is what the church says it is going to do. But there is another view of the ministry, not the corporate view but the individual view.

And I think that we need to see the ministry of the church more from the individual view than from the corporate view. This view starts by asking each member, “What are your ministries? What do you do, individually, that shows others who Christ is and brings them to a point where they can accept Christ?” If your life has been given to Christ, then all ministries are of the same value and that value is, perhaps, priceless (yes, I know, it is part of a 21st century cliché but it fits the Gospel reading).

But if you are like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, angry that God has taken you away from the security of your slavery in Egypt, what value do you place on your ministry? What if you are one of the workers who has put in the long hours and ended up wit the same pay as those who worked less? What value do you place on your ministry? If you feel that your efforts deserve greater rewards, then perhaps your ministry really has no value.

The problem today is not necessarily our corporate ministries but rather the value that we place on them. Many corporate ministries today focus on the needs of the congregation rather than the needs of the community. And individually, we are more interested in what we get out of the ministry than what others might.

As I read the passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians for this Sunday, I could not help but think about all the time and effort that he, Paul, put into his work. And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that he was getting frustrated with the work (and at least one suggestion that the “thorn in his side” was a wife wondering when he was going to get a “real” job).

And maybe Paul did have the right to complain. How many times did he have to leave a town because he angered the power structure? Did the results that he achieved justify the time and effort he put in? Keep in mind that most of the time, the letters that he was dictating and mailing to the churches dealt with problems that had arose in the church. Is what Paul gained truly measurable by the bottom line demanded in the corporate and self-centered individual ministries of today?

What is the value of your ministry? Are you expecting more than what you put in? Or will your efforts offer someone new a hope or opportunity that they might not have received otherwise?

The hardest thing we have to do is finding out what our ministry is. Figuring out how to accomplish it becomes pretty easy. We start by committing our lives and our souls to Christ and then we work to help others do the same. The value of our ministry will perhaps never be known, except to those who are touched.

“Guess Who’s Coming To Breakfast?”


This is the message that I am giving at Fort Montgomery United Methodist Church in Fort Montgomery, NY this Sunday, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 1st. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13; Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16; and Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14. The service begins at 9:30 and you are welcome to come on in.

Some years ago (a senior phrase for I can’t remember when) the comedian, actor, musician, and entrepreneur Steve Allen created what some called the “ultimate talk show”. Fortunately, if one does remember certain aspects of something, it is likely that one will find what they are looking for somewhere on the Internet.

Presented on PBS, The Meeting of Minds featured guests who played important roles in history. Guests included Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, Marie Antoinette, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Paine, Frances Bacon, Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, Charles Darwin, Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas More, Karl Marx, Galileo Galilei, and Attila the Hun. Characters from Shakespeare’s plays were the guests on one show.

Allen noted that he felt that putting the greatest figures of all time together and have them interact with each other provided an interesting way to understand the world around us today and to prepare us for tomorrow. (notes from “Meeting of Minds”)

Along those lines, when I first began blogging, I was asked in an on-line interview to identify my “spiritual heroes”.

I listed Peter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dr. Meredith Eller (one of my college professors), and Clarence Jordan and gave a brief explanation of why I chose those four individuals. Bonhoeffer, Eller, and Jordan were chosen because of the impact their lives had on my own life. And while I was thinking of the impact their lives had on my life in the secular world, I quickly found that it was very difficult to separate the secular world from the spiritual world. And what each of these individuals meant to my spiritual life is perhaps one of the reasons why I am where I am on this journey with Christ today.

The choice of Peter as a spiritual hero probably had to do more with what I thought we had in common from reading about him. If I were to prepare this list today and keep one of the twelve disciples on it, I would probably pick Nathaniel Bartholomew. It isn’t that Peter has dropped off the list but I find that at this time of my life I perhaps have more in common with Nathaniel than the other disciples.

Nathaniel Bartholomew was said to be the scholar of the group. Tradition has it that he went to Georgia with Thomas on his mission trip after Pentecost. While the Georgia that Nathaniel and Thomas traveled to is not the Georgia in my own life, it offers a connection, both in terms of spiritual heroes and in terms of Methodism, that is so much a part of my life today (adapted from “Who Will Be The One?”).

Along that train of thought, if I were to have a series of these meetings, much in the manner of Steve Allen’s work, I would have dinner with Isaac Newton, Joseph Priestley, and Robert Boyle. The choice of these three individuals is in part because of my own background in chemistry, physics, and mathematics.

I would hope that you know who Isaac Newton was and that your memory of high school chemistry hasn’t faded to the point where you have forgotten that Joseph Priestley was the co-discoverer of oxygen and Robert Boyle is considered the father of modern chemistry. It would be nice to have these three gentleman at dinner so that we could discuss many things and perhaps Newton could help me with that calculus problem that has bothered me all these years.

But any discussion with these three individuals would be more than simply a discussion of chemistry, physics, and mathematics; it would also be a discussion of God, Christ, and religion. While many individuals know of the scientific background of Newton, Boyle, and Priestley, very few are aware of their religious backgrounds.

Newton was required to take a religious position upon graduation with each of his three degrees but was able to get an exemption from that requirement. Boyle’s early writings were more of what we would call religious tracts rather than chemistry research notes. Priestley was a Dissenter, one whose beliefs differed from the orthodox view of the Church of England. His views about the nature of God would ultimately lead to his departure from England and move to America. Each of these individuals saw God as a part of their own life and the reason for their research; it was and continues to be a statement radically different from the views of many concerning science and faith in today’s society.

I would also invite the former Governor of Texas, Ann Richards, and my favorite political writer, Molly Ivins, to have dinner with my wife, Ann, and I. To understand who these ladies were and why I would invite them to dinner I need to retell a story that Molly Ivins wrote about Governor Richards and that I posted on my blog in “Three Women of Texas”.

At a long-ago political do at Scholz Garten in Austin, everybody who was anybody was there meetin’ and greetin’ at a furious pace. A group of us got tired feet and went to lean our butts against a table at the back wall of the bar. Perched like birds in a row were Bob Bullock, then state comptroller; moi; Charles Miles, the head of Bullock’s personnel department; and Ms. Ann Richards. Bullock, 20 years in Texas politics, knew every sorry, no good sumbitch in the entire state. Some old racist judge from East Texas came up to him: “Bob, my boy, how are you?”

Bullock said, “Judge, I’d like you to meet my friends: This is Molly Ivins with the Texas Observer.”

The judge peered up at me and said, “How yew, little lady?”

Bullock, “And this is Charles Miles, the head of my personnel department.” Miles, who is black, stuck out his hand, and the judge got an expression on his face as though he had just stepped into a fresh cowpie. He reached out and touched Charlie’s palm with one finger, while turning eagerly to the pretty, blond, blue-eyed Ann Richards. “And who is this lovely lady?”

Ann beamed and replied, “I am Mrs. Miles.”

I trust that you understand the humor and irony of this story. I grew up in the South during that period of time when the color of your skin was the determinate factor in one’s acceptance in society and it was very easy to understand that judge and his behavior. But I also understood Ann Richard’s sense of irony and her ability to put ignorance in its place.

Perhaps you have wandered into some meeting and received a similar greeting as the one given by the judge in my little story. And while I hope that it has never happened to you, I know of too many situations where a visitor to a church has, in fact, encountered a similar greeting. And I would hope that if you were the witness to such a greeting, your response would be as much like Ann Richards as it might be for Christ to greet someone lost.

Now, the term for all of this is “Radical Hospitality”, one of the five fruitful practices of a vital and viable church (see “Five Practices with Robert Schnase”.

Robert Schnase provides two definitions for this idea, the first that focuses on the congregation; the second which focuses on the individual.

Congregations that practice Radical Hospitality demonstrate an active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ. Radical describes that which is drastically different from ordinary practices, outside the normal, that which exceeds expectations and goes the second mile.

In our personal walk with Christ, radical hospitality begins with an extraordinary receptivity to the grace of God. In distinctive and personal ways, we invite God into our hearts and make space for God in our lives. We say Yes to God and open ourselves to the spiritual life. We accept God’s love and acceptance of us. We receive God’s love and offer it to others.

Now, radical hospitality is not really a new idea. After all, what did Jesus say to the 72 he sent out on that first mission trip? And did the early circuit riders, including the many who traversed this part of the Hudson Valley some two hundred and fifty years go, make it from charge to charge? If it were not for the hospitality of the churches and the individuals who welcomed those 72 and the early circuit riders, the chances are the church would have died a long time ago.

And, as noted in the reading from Hebrews for today, how many times did someone unknowingly feed one of God’s Angels? How many times did one of the early followers of Jesus in those early post-Easter days greet a stranger and tell them the story, only to find out it was Jesus they were talking with?

But it would seem today that hospitality is, in itself, a radical notion; something that should never be tried. We have regressed from the idea that anyone may enter into God’s House to the notion that the sanctuary is a place for only a privileged few. And while we may think that this is acceptable, we ignore the words of the prophets, such as Jeremiah, who warned the people that in doing so they were deserting God.

Dan Dick started one of his blogs a couple of years ago with a note about a conversation he had recently.

I was talking with a small group of young adults about the potential of the church to transform the world. My argument was simple: if we would strive to find a meaningful way to engage 7 million plus United Methodists in the United States in some form of life-affirming missional service, we could impact the very roots of a wide variety of social ills. Snorting coffee, one young woman barked derisively, “Are you serious?” I confirmed that I was, and she replied, “The churches I have been to are some of the most inward-focused, uninvolved, cautious, conservative, and apathetic groups I have ever known. Sure, there are a few individuals in the churches who get their hands dirty, but very few. (Adapted from http://doroteos2.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/are-you-serious/) – I first used this in “A New Set of Guidelines”

Despite having the advantage of knowing what happened to the people of Israel, despite hearing the words of the Old Testament prophets warn against turning from God, we go out and do the same things over again and 1) we don’t even see what we are doing and 2) we wonder where we are going wrong!

At least today we are aware that we are in trouble but no matter how hard we try we can’t find a solution because we don’t know what the problem is.

So how do we do that today? How can we, how should we show the love of Christ in a world where hospitality is often times a forgotten word? How do we engage in radical hospitality when the thought of many people is to not let people in? Maybe we need to step back and reflect on how we got here.

Let us go back to Jesus telling the people to open the doors of the banquet hall and invite all who can come to come, even if they are unable to repay the host (and I can hear almost every finance chair across the country cringing in their sears at that thought). Let us remember the hospitality shown by the early post-Easter church, even when to openly declare your faith probably meant persecution, arrest, trial, and execution.

Let us remember that we are the inheritors of a movement that gathered in the homes of believers and invited not just believers but non-believers to be a part of their community. Let us also remember that we are also the inheritors of a movement that faced intense opposition and persecution, and I am not necessarily speaking of the early, post-Easter Christians.

Methodism here in America was often marked by the clergy of other denominations denouncing Methodist preachers for “preaching delusions,” “working to deceive others,” spouting heretical doctrines,” and “promoting wild singularities”. These “wild singularities” included dramatic preaching, exuberant worship, and weekly class meetings where members shared their inner most selves.

Also, in the 17th and 18th centuries, many of the states supported established churches and these entrenched denominations did not welcome new religious groups. In some places, it was against the law for non-established religious groups to hold services. (adapted from The Heritage of American Methodism, Kenneth Cain Kingham)

Isn’t it nice to know that once we were the rebels, called by Christ to preach the Gospel wherever and whenever? Isn’t it frightening to know that we are know like everyone else?

How was it that this church and all other churches in this area along the roads that parallel the Hudson River came into being? At a time when the people cried out for the Gospel, when the people cried out for spiritual freedom as much as political freedom, the early Methodist circuit came bringing the Good News.

But where, if they could not meet in established churches, could they meet? What was it that the writer of Hebrews told those who received that letter?

So let’s go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is—not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking our share in the abuse of Jesus. This “insider world” is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the City about to come.

It’s easy to see that they took the heed of the Hebrews and meet outside the confines of the regular church.

We need to recapture that spirit, if for no other reason that it will help people understand why we are Methodists. It was at those gatherings that we began to understand why we are called Methodists. To gather at one’s home was often times the only way they could worship.

But I think it is important that we do more than simply meet in other people’s homes, much in the manner of the early Methodist classes. I think that is important because if we do is transfer the church from the church building to someone’s house then we do nothing that solves the problems that we face. We must find ways to do church outside the framework of “normal” church.

In the vernacular of today, how can we “do” church without “doing” church? The one thing I cannot do on a single Sunday morning as the guest of the congregation is tell you how to do this. You know more about what you have, what skills and capabilities you have and where to draw your resources from; all you have to do is look. The question then become what ideas can you draw from to decide what it is that you all can do. I can say, as I said last week, that one should take the Spiritual Gifts course offered by the NY/CT District. This course will give you some idea of what your gifts are and what you can do to utilize those gifts.

How can I see church outside the church? We are so used to church on Sunday we forget the role the church played in communities the rest of the week. And with so many other groups grabbing Sunday time for their events, maybe we should take some other time to offer people that all too critical moment away from the secular world.

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.

I used this quote from 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 last week but they bear repeating today. He 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.

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. (from “Thinking Outside The Box”)

So, let me invite you to be a part of Grannie Annie’s Kitchen on Saturday mornings at Grace UMC in Newburgh. Come and be a part of the worship that we offer every Saturday morning and come and be a part of a community of sixty to seventy souls that gathered for the breakfast Ann has prepared.

This is not an invitation to come and work, though that would be nice. But I also think that to just come and sit with those who have come would be just as nice. We open the doors to the community at 8 and begin our brief worship service at about 8:10 – this Saturday Pastor Jeff will lead the worship and offer communion; Lay servants in the district have the chance to lead the worship on the other Saturdays of the month; call me if you are interested in that aspect).

And maybe, as you sit in a different setting but experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, which I truly believe is present at that time each Saturday, an idea will come into your mind about what you can do.

We did not set out to change the world when we began Grannie Annie’s Kitchen, only offer a decent and nutritious meal to who all who came.

But in the Spirit of those who offered meals to the weary travelers of the Old Testament, in the Spirit of those who offered meals as part of the worship, so we have begun opening the doors to God’s Kingdom just a bit wider.

So I will hope you will accept this invitation, just as I hope that you will accept the invitation that Jesus gave to you when he told the host to open the doors of the banquet hall. And I hope that you will then let the Holy Spirit come into your heart and mind and soul and empower you to invite others to be a part of that wonderful banquet found in God’s Kingdom.

“An Invitation To The Table”


This is the message that I am giving on Saturday morning (August 31st) at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen at Grace UMC in Newburgh, NY this morning. It is based on Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14 but it also considers Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13 and Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16. The doors to Grannie Annie’s Kitchen open at 8 and you are welcome to come. Drop me a note if you are in the area on a Saturday morning and are interested in presenting the message.

I will be at Fort Montgomery United Methodist Church in Fort Montgomery, NY this Sunday, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 1st. For my message, “Guess Who’s Coming For Breakfast?” I will be using Jeremiah 2: 4 – 13, Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16; and Luke 14: 1, 7 -14 as the scriptures. Services are 9:30 and you are welcome to attend.

This particular Gospel reading is a very interesting one because, if you are not careful, you might think that it is actually another reading that you have heard before. In fact, in Luke, there are two stories about being invited to a banquet and they are back to back. It is this second one that we are perhaps more familiar with, in part because it also is in the Gospel of Matthew. The story in Matthew does have a little bit different ending to the one in Luke though and I think that reflects the audience that Matthew was writing for and the audience to whom Luke was writing.

In today’s Gospel reading, the host is told to open his table to all the people and not just those who will have to some day repay the host for his having invited them to dine at his place.

We can assume that all those who are invited do in fact come to the dinner and there is much made of who will sit where because where you sat at the table was indicative of your status in that society. Jesus basically tells all those who want to sit at the head table that it would be better for them to sit somewhere else and wait to be invited to come to the head table; it would make a better statement, perhaps, about one’s standing.

Keep in mind that two of Jesus’ disciples, the brothers James and John, will come to Jesus shortly before the Last Supper and asked that they be given the seats of honor, only to be rebuked by Jesus.

Now, in the second banquet story, the honored guests offer excuse after excuse as to why they are not able to attend. So the host tells his servants to go out to the streets of the town and get everyone they can find to come and enjoy the banquet. Now, the only difference between the story in Luke and the story in Matthew is that there are a few individuals in Matthew who come to the table ill-prepared for the meal and, in doing so, show a great deal of disrespect for the host inviting them. The host naturally instructs his servants to throw out those who fail to respect the traditions of the meal.

It always seemed to me that Jesus had a difficult time with the social conventions of His day. He was always getting in trouble with the leaders of society because He was with the wrong people; you know, the sinners, the sick, the poor, the prostitutes (there was even a rumor going around that His girl friend was a prostitute), and tax collectors (and one of His disciples was a tax collector). He always seemed to have those who society considered unclean and unworthy following Him and it was an expectation of society that if your friends were “unclean” then you were yourself.

But when you read the Bible and you look at it closely, Jesus put respecting the individual for who he or she was before social norms or traditions, even if it went against the religious laws of that time.

Each of these stories points out one key point – God’s grace is for everyone, no matter who they might be or their own personal station in life. And while God’s grace is for everyone, you have to accept it by following and believing in Jesus; if you don’t, then you don’t get it (in more ways than one).

I am afraid that many people, both those in the church and those outside the church may not be willing to accept that idea. Too often people inside the church are unwilling to open the doors of the church to non-members.

Maybe I wouldn’t mind it so much if the church today was more like the church two thousand years ago, before Jesus began His ministry. Then, no one except the really high up in the church power structure got to enter the sanctuary of the temple. That made God inaccessible to the people, no matter who they might have been in life. Of course, somewhere along the line, the rich and powerful found a way to use their influence to get inside the church and that may have been why Jesus made a point of putting in the comment about where everyone was seated.

But the church today is more like that church than it is the church that began after Easter. But that post-Easter church wasn’t so much a church as it was a gathering of people. And they understood the point about the place of honor and how they should open their doors to all of the community. And this was at a time when to be known publicly that you were a follower of Christ was to risk arrest, trial, and execution.

Now, I do not know how those outside the boundaries of the church two thousand years ago or even those outside the boundaries of the new church felt about all of this. The chances are that they never came close to the one church because too many bad things might happen if they were to try and come in. And in that period where the new church was a gathering in someone’s home, they might not have felt welcome. But I think that those outside who did come in were welcomed and they understood that it was an unconditional welcome and those who welcomed them did so for no other reason than it was the right thing to do.

I wonder what happened to that church and why the church today is so much like the one that existed before Jesus Christ began to walk the roads of the Galilee?

Why is that so many people who call themselves Christian do things with the expectation that this will help them get into Heaven, even when Christ said that it wouldn’t. Remember, in today’s Gospel reading, He said to bring the people to the banquet, even if they could not repay the honor that others could do. But as I have already stated, even those who could not repay needed to show respect.

There are quite a few people today who will tell you that to change the direction of this country that we need to return to a more Judeo-Christian outlook. For me, that would seem to suggest that we look at the post-Easter church, the church of community and gathering and less at the rigid and ritualistic church of two thousand years ago.

Some people when they come into this place see a gym; since they come for the food, they probably don’t even see the altar that we put up every Saturday. And I know that there are quite a few that don’t come until it is “safe”, you know, after the worship is over. I would suspect that when the word got out that there was a meal over at someone’s house back in the early days of the new church, people came at all times and they really didn’t want to hear about this guy Jesus Christ who died on a Roman cross for their sins.

But they probably missed out on a lot, just as those who have come at nine are finding out that they are missing out on the meal as well.

But slowly the world changed. The Roman authorities quit persecuting those early followers of Christ and it became easier to meet in open.

And those who heard the word over the years found ways to bring the hope and promise of the word to all those who came, even when the established church was not necessarily attuned to that way of thinking.

Many people today want that really old church, the one where only a few people can come in. But that’s not what Jesus asked His followers to do. He asked them to open the doors and let all who would follow be able to follow, to show love to all those, even those who might hate Him or ignore Him.

Jesus told everyone that would follow Him to repent and start anew, to rejoice in the fellowship of a community of believers, and to work in such a way that all were fed, all were healed, and all were freed from the slavery to sin and death.

So we have gathered here, a community of believers and friends, seeking the opportunity of worship and a meal. Because we have heard the invitation to join Christ, we need to reach out to others to that they too can receive the invitation to Christ’s Table.