“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

“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.

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

Hold On Now

I am at Dover United Methodist Church this morning (Location of church).  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Jeremiah 18: 1 – 11, Philemon 1 – 21, and Luke 14: 14: 25 – 33.  The service starts at 11 and you are welcome to attend.


When I first read the Gospel message for today I could not help but think about what the people who first heard those words might have thought and might have said. This is not the first time that Jesus challenges us to think about our priorities nor will it be the last. But, more importantly, if the words of the Bible and especially the Gospel message are to have any meaning in our lives today, we should not think about what they said two thousands years ago but rather what we would say today.

That is the secret if you will to the understanding the Gospel. It is not to see or think about the words that were said some two thousand years ago and see them only as words written in some history book. No, rather, it is important that we see them in the light of our own lives and our own thoughts.

And that is why the sermon is entitled what it is; because that’s how many of us would respond to the challenge placed before us this day. Just as so many others have said before us, we would say to Jesus that we have to take care of our children or our parents or our siblings. We have only so much time in the week and we have to ration it for everyone.

And we certainly would object to the idea that we have to give everything up. We worked hard to get our car and our home and all the stuff that we have in the house and now Jesus is asking us to give it all up or give it away. Those are radical and revolutionary ideas and not the kind of talk we want to hear today.

We don’t mind Christianity; it is a pretty good idea but you have to be realistic about it. These are dangerous times right now and to give up our possessions, to turn away from our families are just not the things that one does. It is alright to love your neighbor, just as long as he or she loves you as well. But, let’s face, when your neighbor doesn’t like you, loving them doesn’t work.

But I think that the time has come to truly think about what it means to hold on to the present, to say that right now is better than anything that might happen tomorrow, and to say that yesterday we understood what was right and wrong and now today we don’t. It comes down to this; how can you say you are a Christian, a follower of Christ, when you advocate violence and war. How can you say that you have a right to keep all that you earn for yourselves when there are those in this world who have nothing?

The Gospel message speaks to all people, not just a select few. It comes at a price, a price too many people are not often willing to pay. Such are willing to say they are Christians and the bet is that you will find them in church on Sunday morning, nodding appreciatively at the words the pastor speaks. But that is only as long as he (and they most definitely want a male pastor) speaks in gentle platitudes that speak of the rewards of being a Christian and not the cost. Let the pastor be a female and you are almost certain to hear a rush of cars peeling out of the parking lot as the people leave to find a more appropriate church. Let the pastor challenge the people to do the right thing, to get out and work in the community or even worse, invite the community into the church and it is almost certain that the entire Staff-parish committee membership will be on the phone to the District Superintendent to demand that a new pastor be assigned to their church.

And then, when the changes are made and everyone in the pews is satisfied that the church has returned to normal, there is a realization that something is missing. Oh, yes, there are a few people missing but they were never happy and it is just as well that they left. But the people look around and they wonder why there haven’t been many visitors to the church or why there have been more funerals than baptisms. Some churches look around and think that maybe they can change the setting a little bit; let the kids play their guitars every now and then. Perhaps they shouldn’t get so uptight when the pastor wears sandals or blue jeans in the office instead of a coat and tie. And you know, they think to themselves, there are some female pastors that aren’t that bad; maybe we should think about that again.

But no matter how hard such churches seek to change, they hold on harder to what they have and they still miss the point. It isn’t the stuff on the surface that counts; it is the stuff underneath, the stuff in the soul that matters the most.

When I started preparing to enter the teaching profession, I watched a movie about a sculptor carving a statue. When asked what was being carved, the sculptor essentially responded that she didn’t know yet; the stone would tell her what to carve. The problem is that if one misreads the story in the stone, the stone is wasted. Now, I see and hear too many people today who have that attitude when it comes to Christianity. It is literally carved in stone and it cannot be changed.

But if we use the analogy of the clay, as described in Jeremiah, we know that until the clay is fired in the kiln, you can work the clay over and over again until you get it the way it is supposed to come out. When Paul writes to his friend Philemon with regard to Onesimus, it is not to challenge the system. In fact, Paul is working well within the system but he is also pushing the boundaries of the system.

In effect Paul is challenging Philemon to find a way to create a better solution than the one in place. It is to take the clay and make a better pot out of the clay than what is being considered. It is to see beyond the moment, to see what might be, not what is.

We are reminded that when the church was in its earliest stages, it was thought that one had to be Jewish before one could be Christian. Now, in part, this makes sense. Those who began the early church were Jewish and they were raised within the framework of Judaism and Jewish law. The Scriptures were clear and there were to be no questions; if you want to follow Christ, you must first be a Jew.

But such laws, such ideas would have effectively barred many Gentiles from ever becoming Christians. If the early disciples had not seen beyond the words of the Scripture and the years and years of tradition to see what God wanted from us, then it was most likely that we would not be Christians today. God called on the members of the early church to move beyond their comfort zone, to move beyond the moment and stop saying “hold on now” and welcome those whom God had already embraced.

You have heard me speak of Clarence Jordan and his Cotton Patch Gospels, his translation of the New Testament from Greek into words of the South. But before he even started on that project, he was involved in a greater application of the Gospel and its meaning for life today, the Koinonia Farm in Georgia.

The story in Acts 2: 43 – 47 and Acts 4: 32 – 37 of the communal life of the early disciples, where the members of the early church shared all that they owned with everyone else, became Jordan’s sounding board for an expression of Christian love and sharing. The Farm began as a fellowship that sought to imitate the early Christian community of “holding all things in common.” (From the introduction to The Cotton Patch Version of the Hebrews and the General Epistles by Edward A. McDowell, Jr.)

Koinonia, founded in the late 1940s, was one of the first attempts at integration in the Deep South. As such, it was the target of attacks by the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups. Clarence Jordan asked his brother Robert, an attorney, to represent the farm in some of the civil actions against the Klan.

The conversation between the two brothers speaks of the conversation that must have followed Jesus’ words in the Gospel.

Robert Jordan refused to help his brother claiming that it would hurt his political aspirations (he would later become a Georgia state senator and then justice on the State Supreme Court) and that to represent an integrated church related organization would amount to political suicide and that he would lose everything, his house, his job, his family, everything.

Clarence noted that he, too, would lose everything. To which Robert said that it was different for Clarence.

Clarence then challenged his brother. He reminded him that they both joined the church on the same day and that when the preacher asked if they had accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they both answered yes. There could be nothing different in their situations.

Robert’s response was to say that he followed Jesus up to a point. And was that point the foot of the Cross, asked Clarence. Robert said that he would go to the cross but that he would not be crucified. Clarence said that Robert should go back to his church and tell them that he was only an admirer of Jesus, not a disciple.

I don’t have what Robert’s exact words were but they surely included “hold on, now. If everyone who felt like I do were to do what you suggest, then we would not have much of a church.” Clarence only asked if he, Robert, even had a church to go to. In the end, Robert Jordan would become a disciple and work for the betterment of society. (Adapted from Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs – Saints and their stories by James C. Howell)

So, here we are, hearing Jesus’ words once again to cast off all that we are and begin anew. And we hear so many people say that we should hold on to what we have right now, to stand and admire what Jesus has done but not do anything which threatens what we have.

But if we hold on to what we have today, what will we have tomorrow? And how will the Gospel have any meaning if we do not work for tomorrow? How will the Gospel have any meaning if we stay where we are, holding on to what we have? To hold on to what we have is the sensible thing, the practical thing.

But God’s grace offers us a better opportunity than whatever we have. It is the potter remolding the clay so that the new pot is better than the old. It is the freedom that comes when one goes beyond the artificial boundaries that society seeks to impose.

The opportunity to begin anew is before us. Yes, the road is long, hard, and often dusty. Yes, it will cost more than we are perhaps prepared to spend. But, what lies at the end of the road, beyond the Cross, is far better than anything we have right now. Shall we hold on to what we have now or shall we let go and reach for the Hand of God stretched out for us? The choice is yours today.

“Clearly The Choice Is Ours”

This was the message that I gave at Tompkins Corners UMC on the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, 12 September 2004.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Jeremiah 4: 11 – 12, 22 – 28; 1 Timothy 1: 12 – 17; and Luke 15: 1 – 10.


In Mel Gibson’s movie, "The Passion of Christ", he puts the devil on Jesus’ shoulder as He hangs on the cross. In this scene the devil reminds Jesus that He has the power to change the outcome of the crucifixion; He has the power to end His own suffering and death.

This, of course, is not the way any of the accepted Gospels tell the story of the temptation of Christ. The temptation of Christ, the dialogue between Jesus and the devil occurs during the forty days in the wilderness just before the start of Jesus’ ministry. But there are suggestions that Jesus still struggles with this temptation during those last hours before his trial and execution; remember his painful struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane, so we know that the temptations of Christ were not just one brief moment in His ministry.

Now, I am not going to discuss whether or not this changing of the Gospel is appropriate or not. But we have to know that Jesus certainly knew that He could end His own pain. But, were He do to have done so, He would not be able to end our pain. To surrender to the devil, to surrender to temptation is to lose the entire meaning of the Gospel message. Jesus had to make a choice between doing what was right for Him and what was right for us and His ministry. He had to make a choice.

Throughout his entire ministry, Jesus spoke of the choices that we must make. If we are to follow Jesus, we must make choices that we may not necessarily like to make.

It will come as a surprise to some and as a disappointment to others but there is no stop on the road to Damascus in my life like there was for Paul. There is no time when my heart was strangely warmed like there was for John Wesley. I have no conscience memory of a time or a place when there was a life-changing event as either Paul or John Wesley described.

But there have been times when I suddenly realized that Jesus was my Savior and that he died for me. To some, this would mean that I have not been "born again" and, thus, my words contain no power. But that does not diminish in any shape or form the choice I made many years ago, unconscious as it may have been, to follow Christ on my life’s journey. On at least one occasion in my life, I know that I was struck by the singular notion that Christ’s death on the cross was for me, even though it occurred almost two thousand years before I was even a consideration in this world. And on at least one occasion I have been reminded that it was God’s grace that has as John Newton wrote, "brought me safe thus far". These events are singular and they are reminders that the ministry of Jesus in this world is a singular event, meant to be between Christ and each one of us. But they are also events that must be shared for the Gospel is nothing if it is not shared with others.

As United Methodists, we believe that our faith is both informed and experiences. Ours is a faith that is both intensely personal but one that must be shared. While I may not have had the life-change experiences others may have had, I do know that my awareness of Christ, not only as a figure in the history of this world, but as my Savior comes from my own experience and knowledge. I choose to follow Christ because of what I learned growing up. And, as United Methodists, we affirm our belief in one God as revealed through Jesus Christ but understand and appreciate that there a variety of ways in which that affirmation can be expressed. And to complete this point, as United Methodists, we hold a concern for the spiritual, physical, and social concerns for all persons, not just some or a few.

Now, I will admit that the anti-establishment side of me likes the fact that Jesus challenged the status quo, that He put aside societal conventions and reached out to all individuals, not just a select few or those deemed worthy of being in his presence. At a time when I was searching for the person that I am, it was important for me to know that Christ was looking for me and that I was as important as anyone else. I think this point is lost on a lot of people today, who while saying that they accept Christ as their personal Savior are not willing or able to let others do so as well. This was especially true in the Gospel time.

As noted in today’s Gospel reading, the Pharisees and scribes took offense that Jesus ate with sinners. They did not associate with sinners because to do so would make them unclean and unworthy to serve God. Jesus ate with sinners so that they, the sinners, would be made clean and worthy to serve God.

I once characterized Jesus as a radical and was strongly chastised by one of my Lutheran minister cousins. I said this because Jesus was offering a new and decidedly radical view of life. It was this approach that made the "powers that be" angry with Him. My cousin felt this was a bit too strong, but a year later, this minister of over fifty years, also characterized Jesus as a radical. And he acknowledged that his mind set about his Savior, long set was changed when he heard my views. As we learn about Jesus, as we learn about the Gospel, we grow in our understanding and amazement of the power of God. There are some that do not want us to learn about Jesus, preferring that we keep Him a mysterious figure whose access they control. But the more we individually learn, the more we find that we do not know and the great our amazement of the power of God through Christ.

When I started preaching, I had the luxury of knowing the specific dates and places where I would be preaching. Those dates were far apart, the places where I preached were of my choosing, and I picked the topics on which I preached. Now, of course, I preach according to a calendar that has a Sunday every week. I serve in churches at the direction and desire of the District Superintendent and Bishop.

And while what I write and preach is still my own, it is based on scriptures from the Revised Common Lectionary. When I started, I picked the scriptures that I wanted to use. But when I began to supply the pulpit, as what I do is officially called, I found that my own knowledge was limited. So I began using the lectionary, that collection of Old and New Testament readings that takes the preacher through a three-year cycle of the Bible and life of the prophets, disciples, and Christ.

I was advised that it would be better to simply use one of the three readings for each Sunday and focus on that particular reading. But I always felt that, if three readings were given for each Sunday, there should be something connecting the three together and I should look for that connection. And each Sunday as I prepare and study for this moment in time, I become more and more aware of what Jesus means, to me individually and to this world.

And as I learned through my own reading and my own experience, I found that Jesus ministry was very much a singular event. No matter how large the crowd, he sought out the one individual. He truly cared for the one soul that was lost when others were concerned with the many that were not.

Paul also makes it clear that salvation is a singular event. As he writes, if there was ever someone in Christianity that should not be there, it was him. And he knew it. Yet, it was by God’s grace that Paul was given the ability and the power to proclaim the Gospel.

Yes, some of his writings and pronouncements trouble us today. There are times when what Paul wrote two thousand years ago seem out of place in our day and age. And many debates will take place as to how we are to use what he wrote. But Paul was writing to individuals and groups struggling to build their collective identity in Christ, fighting to keep the old ways of living from overtaking the new life they had found in Christ.

And I think that is why it is so important today that we read the message that the prophet Jeremiah passed from God to the people of Israel. Not simply because it is the Old Testament lesson for today, but rather because it part of the idea that there are choices in what we do each day of life.

We may not like what Jeremiah passed on to the people of Israel, for the past few weeks the words God commanded him to speak were not friendly words. They were not words of hope and promise but rather of death and destruction. But through the lens of history, we know that these are words of choices. The people of Israel had chosen not to follow God, choosing instead to follow the paths of least resistance with their neighbors and allies. God is basically telling them what the consequences of those actions will be. These prophetic words apply just as well today.

I see a world in which the various Christian denominations have changed to Gospel message; it is no longer what it was meant to be. It is a message in which the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is pushed aside, simply because it might scare away people. I am constantly reminded by print and visual media that what Christ asked of us is no longer seen as practical or appropriate. What was the major complaint about Mel Gibson’s movie, the "Passion of Christ"? The major complaint was that it was too bloody and the details of the crucifixion were too explicit. But should we not know that Christ died in the most inhumane way ever conceived by mankind? Should we not know the pain and agony inflicted on Christ, pain and agony that was meant for each one of us when we die in sin?

The problem is that when we take the cross out of the picture, when we try to soften the requirements of the Gospel, we make a choice that removes Christ from our lives. Churches today seem more concerned about who they let in rather than what the Gospel requires. Again, it is a choice that removes Christ from our lives.

And I fear that the words of the prophets of old are directed to the churches of today just as they were directed to the people of Israel some three thousand years ago. Churches today, as individual churches, as denominations, and as individual members, seem more hung up on the foibles of life that there are focused on the real problems of the world.

We have preachers even today crying out against the moral decay of the people of this earth, blaming every institution on earth except the church. This is not to say that we should try for a stronger moral character in our lives but we have to focus on what causes the decay. But we have to work for those things that are good, not work against those things that are evil. There were some preachers who claimed that the floods that ravaged the Midwest portion of this country back in the early 90’s were God’s sign that the end times were upon us. This hit close to home since I knew many of the people sandbagging the Mississippi River in the Hannibal, Missouri/Quincy, Illinois area. I didn’t think that their lives were all that bad. These were good, hard working people, people trying to earn a living from the soil and to be told that the floods covering their farms and homes was punishment for sins unseen and unsaid was a little too drastic. I did think that the practices of flood control, creatures of man’s thought, were more the reason for the devastation. I found it hard to believe that there would be individuals saying that the floods that ravaged the Midwest back then were God’s sign of the end of the world. After all, God himself told Noah that He never again destroy the world by flooding it.

I do not hold to the concept of the end time and destruction of the earth through God’s wrath. The unfortunate thing is that while God gave us great abilities to create, the same abilities can also be used to destroy. There is no reason for God to destroy the world when we are capable of doing so on our own and, are in fact, doing a wonderful job right now. The development of nuclear power not only gave us a wonderful source of energy but it also gave us the power to destroy just as easily. And though the threat of total nuclear destruction may have been eliminated from this planet, our own ability to destroy this planet countless time over is still present. We may have removed one way of destruction but we did not remove what leads to the destruction.

God gave us the ability to think and make choices. In the words that Jeremiah writes, we hear of the consequences when we make the wrong choices. But in what we do today, in the act of celebrating communion, we are reminded of the one choice God Himself made. He chose to send His Son to this world in a singular act of love so that we might live. His Son, our Lord and Savior, chose to come to this world and forsake all the power and glory that was His and become our servant so that we could better understand the love that God has for us.

Christ chose to die on the cross so that we could live, free from the slavery and death through sin. As we come to the table, we are reminded of these choices. The question thus is what choices do we make? Do we continue on the path that we have picked, ignoring others in our lives and hoping that our own abilities will provide the strength needed in times of stress and pain. Or do we chose to follow Christ, a hard one to follow I know, but one that gives us much that we do not have and a lot when it is needed the most. Clearly, the choice is ours.

“Seeking The Truth”

This was the message that I gave on the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, 16 September 2001, at Walker Valley UMC; The Scriptures for this Sunday were Jeremiah 4: 11 – 12, 22 – 28; 1 Timothy 1: 12 – 17; and Luke 15: 1 – 10.


It was also the first Sunday after 9/11/2001 and I had to weight the thoughts in my heart and my mind with the Scriptures for this Sunday.  I am not certain that we have come to grips with what transpired that day nor am I certain that we have responded in a way that reflects the nature of this country or our what we say we believe. 


If you are like me, the events of last Tuesday have left you wondering why and how could this have happened? When I first heard that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center and that the twin towers had collapsed, I could not believe it. After all, all my training in chemistry and engineering told me that such an occurrence was impossible. But then they came around and let us know that in fact such an incredible and seemingly impossible event had occurred.

Like many, the thoughts of how this could have occurred left me stunned. How could God have allowed this? Even more so, why would God allow this to happen? These are the most difficult types of questions to answer and they are made even more difficult to answer because it will be up to us to explain why this happened, why so many innocent people died, to our children and our grandchildren. And we will have to face tomorrow.

And perhaps that is the most important task we, both as a nation and as individuals, will ever have to undertake. How we react, tomorrow and in the future, will say more about who we are and what we are, as a nation and individually than anything said or done in the past. We cannot react to something like this out of fear or ignorance. To do so will only serve to further the cause of those who directed and funded this plot. Our freedom is based in part on the fact that we understand what freedom is and what freedom can be. Thomas Jefferson wrote, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."

There are those who will call for action. There is a need to remember all those who died in this tragedy. Even though our community was far away from New York City and Washington, we may have loved ones that were hurt or are missing. Certainly, we know those in our own community who were directly affected. The heritage of this church, resting on land that originally belonged to the Walker Valley Fire Company, ties us indelibly to the tragedy and the firefighters and rescue workers who lost their lives.

But, if we react in the same manner in which we were attacked, then nothing will be gained. Vengeance may be the Lord’s but it is not ours. The action that we take must be done from the power gained through democracy and knowledge. In using all of our resources, all of our abilities, and all of our knowledge, we are better able to drive ignorance from the face of the earth. You know of my heritage and the pride I have in my grandfather and father who served in the Army and the Air Force. Such a heritage and pride calls for an action which is both swift and decisive and which would avenge the death of those taken in such senseless act of violence. But the action taken must be such that the fundamental basis for our civilization is not compromised and that what is done is ultimately right and just.

If there was any more frightening aspect of this whole tragedy, it was that it was done in the name of God. We must understand that those who committed this act did so because they believed that this act would guarantee them a place in heaven. But they were, if you will allow me the most obvious of puns, dead wrong. Nothing in the Koran suggests that those who act this way will gain such a wonderful reward. And while the Koran may suggest the validity of a holy war, it also prohibits the killing of innocent people.

This is, I am afraid to say the single most dangerous aspect or explanation of this atrocity. And it is magnified by the fact that so much of the violence in this world today is committed in the name of religion. In 1998, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright listed 30 of the world’s most dangerous groups; more than half were religious. They were Jewish, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. She didn’t include Christian militia and other paramilitary organizations both within and outside the United States. The Rand-St. Andrews Chronology of International Terrorism lists 56 terrorist groups as worthy of fear for their operational capacity; 26 are identified as religious. (From Sojo Mail 9/12/01)

And while we struggle with this most obvious of contradictions, we are confronted by the fact that there are Christian ministers telling us that God allowed this to occur, and that this senseless act of violence was directed towards the United States because the United States has turned away from God.

And though we may differ in how we worship God, we must understand that the God of the Koran is the same God of our Bible, the father of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8: 32)  So we must ask ourselves, what is the truth? It was Jesus who the Pharisees and scribes hated because he ate and traveled with sinners. We must decide if we are to be like the Pharisees who hate someone because society says to it is okay to hate them or like Jesus who saw the good in every one.

If we choose to live believing that God sought revenge for the way we live, we would be living as if the Bible consisted only of the Old Testament, with readings of doom and disaster as promised by the prophets such as Jeremiah. Perhaps that is the case. But we are not an Old Testament society. Our hope is not built on a book that ends with the last words of Malachi, "Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse." (Malachi 4: 6)  For that is taken out of context, for God promised the people of Israel a greater gift, that of a hope and a promise for the future.

And that hope, that promise was the birth of Jesus Christ. Paul was, as we read this morning grateful for having been saved through Christ. And Paul noted that though he was one of the greatest sinners there ever was, Jesus showed patience knowing that Paul would not always be a sinner.

And while we may not understand the total nature of this tragedy, we know that God did not cause it nor did God allow it to happen. Those who hide in the darkness caused it. Our task this Sunday morning is to show to others that God’s love is still here. The Pharisees and the scribes all grumbled because Jesus would eat with sinners. To do so was not in their mind; sinners were lost and could not be saved. But Jesus showed the same compassion for all, he was willing to make the sacrifice to insure that all would be welcome in God’s heaven. But everything that we do, everything we say will go a long way to showing and making sure that it never happens again. As we seek the truth for what happens in this world, we are again reminded that our own search for the truth begins with Jesus in our heart. As we go out into the world this week, we are again reminded that it will be through encounters with each one of us that others will come to know the peace of Christ.

What Is The True Cost?

Here are my thoughts for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost.  I will be preaching at Dover UMC in Dover Plains, NY, next week (service is at 11:00).


I could not help but think how ironic this week’s Gospel reading is. (1) Jesus speaks of people building something and how proper planning requires a consideration for the total cost of the project. At a time when we are talking about the cost of rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast this is a highly appropriate reading.

If one considers the extent of damage that occurred when Katrina came ashore two years ago, it would seem logical that one should rebuild the homes and buildings so that the next time there is a storm such as Katrina there won’t be as much damage. The lessons learned when Hurricane Andrew destroyed, demolished, and devastated south Florida in 1992 told us that. Now, as rebuilding takes place, it seems that some have learned the lesson while others have apparently not.

When the state of Mississippi legalized gambling, it was stipulated that the casinos would be on riverboats. It only made sense to do this because when there was gambling in the state before, it was on the riverboats that traveled up and down the Mississippi River from St. Louis and Cincinnati to New Orleans. But, the riverboats that they built the casinos on bore little resemblance to the 19th century palatial palaces of the river. In fact, they were nothing more than glorified johnboats, flat bottom shallow draft boats on which a structure could be built and transformed into a casino. When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, these modern riverboats were wrecked beyond repair or recognition.

So, when the rebuilding began, the gambling industry (I refuse to use the politically-correct term “gaming”) petitioned the Mississippi legislature to change the legislation prohibiting them from building their casinos on land. Because of the money that the casinos generate, the legislature obliged. Now the new casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast are bigger, brighter, and more extravagant than before and on land. They will probably withstand most of what the next hurricane may bring.

I just wish that the same could be said for the rebuilding of homes and lives in the towns surrounding the casinos and over in Louisiana. There was a time when the best and the brightest sought to serve this country. Now it seems as if only the worst and the dimmest work in the government. The federal agency directing the rebuilding efforts is FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. All one has to do is look at how FEMA handled the aftermath of Katrina two years ago and how they are managing the rebuilding effort today.

This agency, in its efforts to prevent corruption and a waste of money, has decided that any federal money can only be used to replace what was destroyed, not correct any deficiencies in the design. Things haven’t gotten done because it is more important to adhere to federal regulations than it is to do things right. Somewhere along the line, thinking about tomorrow was removed from the process. This is not new; there have been countless instances where laws were passed and regulations created to solve an immediate problem but compounded the problem over the long term.

But it isn’t just the government where thinking processes are limited. This past week Mattel announced that they were again recalling toys made in China because there was lead in the paint on the toys. We have known about the effects of lead, especially when it comes to our young, for many years ago. We have gone to great lengths to remove lead from the environment; yet we don’t seem to insist that countries where things we buy follow the same rules. All that seems to matter is that the companies that sell what we buy don’t have to spend a lot of money; that way, the profit margin remains high.

As long as our concern is on the short term; if we do not think about the long-term consequences of our actions, we will find out what this past week has told us. Our constant concern for the present will only bring increased misery in the future.

The Gospel reading also speaks of planning for war. Jesus asks, “What king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him?”(2) Considering this statement in the context of the previous statement about the cost of building something, are we ready to assume that the present conflict was carefully thought out? While we may have had a numerical superiority in terms of troop numbers and it was clear that our weapons and abilities clearly were better than the opposition we faced, we need to be reminded that there were other assumptions made.

We were told that our troops would be welcomed as liberators. Now we are treated more as invaders. We were told that our troops were properly equipped. But then we were told that we would fight the fight with what we had. Then we found out that the troops did not have the right type of armor or the armor they did have offered insufficient protection for the type of weapons the opposition would fight with. Time and time again, we hear of local groups having fund raisers in order to send basic supplies to troops because they do not have such supplies.

It isn’t so much that the reasons for this war were so transparently lies. It isn’t so much the fact that persons who attacked this country six years ago were in no way connected to Saddam Hussein and Iraq or those they haven’t been caught and brought to justice. It isn’t so much the fact that drums of war are still being beat and each day the beat gets louder. And it isn’t the fact that war is a part of our culture. It is the fact that we seem to enjoy the war and we cannot imagine the cost that war brings.

We send our troops off to fight with shouts of joy and acclamation. We bring them home with parades and celebration. But the wounded come home and are forgotten (see “Supporting Our Troops – The Tragedy of Building 18”); the dead come home in the middle of the night and many times their families are not allowed to receive them with the honor they so deserve. We easily sing “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” in celebration but we forget the darker side to this song.


When Johnny comes marching home again

When Johnny comes marching home again, Hurrah! Hurrah!

We’ll give him a hearty welcome then, Hurrah! Hurrah!

The men will cheer, the boys will shout, the ladies they will all turn out, and we’ll all feel gay

When Johnny comes marching home.

Let love and friendship on that day, Hurrah! Hurrah!

Their choicest treasures then display, Hurrah! Hurrah!

And let each one perform some part to fill with joy the warrior’s heart, and we’ll all feel gay

When Johnny comes marching home.


The writer of this traditional celebratory song took the tune from an Irish folk tune, “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye”, a tune with a much darker side.


Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye

With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo

With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo

With your drums and guns and guns and drums,

The enemy nearly slew ye

Oh my darling dear, Ye look so queer

Johnny I hardly knew ye

Where are your eyes that were so mild, hurroo, hurroo?

Where are your eyes that were so mild, hurroo, hurroo?

Where are your eyes that were so mild, when my heart you so beguiled

Why did ye run from me and the child?

Johnny I hardly knew ye

Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo?

Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo?

Where are your legs that used to run, when you went for to carry a gun?

Indeed your dancing days are done

Johnny I hardly knew ye

Ye haven’t an arm; ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo

Ye haven’t an arm; ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo

Ye haven’t an arm, he haven’t a leg,

Ye’re an armless, boneless, chickenless egg

Ye’ll have to put with a bowl out to beg

Johnny I hardly knew ye

They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo

They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo

They’re rolling out the guns again, but they never will take our sons again

No they never will take our sons again

Johnny I hardly knew ye


It is not just the cost of wars and their aftermath that bother me. It is not our failure to put the needs of people above corporate interests when it comes to rebuilding homes and lives. It is the cost we pay for own selfishness and greed.

Greed is not necessarily the accumulation of wealth and “things”. It can also be the unwillingness to pay for quality or to pay workers the proper wage. It is the unwillingness to think about what you are doing and how what you are doing will affect others.

Greed is not necessarily the accumulation of wealth and “things”. It can also be the unwillingness to pay for quality or to pay workers the proper wage. It is the unwillingness to think about what you are doing and how what you are doing will affect others.

Paul, in his letter to Philemon (3), doesn’t say it but I think he implies that Philemon should do the right thing. Now, some might say that Paul should never have sent Onesimus back. After all, Onesimus was a slave and slavery is one of those things where our own greed and attempts to lower our costs matters more than anyone’s concerns. But, no matter what our thoughts about slavery are today, when Paul wrote that letter to Philemon slavery was legal and Paul was not about to engage in civil disobedience. But Paul admonishes Philemon to do the right thing. We can only assume that this meant giving Onesimus his freedom. I think it is time that the church again needs to be the voice of the right thing; I think that it is time that we, as a church, do as Paul did and speak of doing the right thing.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line the church has lost its voice. The church has been co-opted by society and will only say those things that people want to hear and which enables them to pursue what they want to pursue. The message has become more “what’s in it for me?” than it has “how I can be Christ’s servant?”

I know that there are churches, pastors and congregations, individual people who hear the Gospel and take it to heart. I know there are people who have measured the cost of carrying the Cross and accepted that cost. I know that there are people who let the Gospel lead their lives. Yet, when you look around, you do not see those people.

When you look around and listen, you hear and see preachers telling you how God will make you rich. But the Bible warns us against accumulating wealth. You hear and see preachers speak of an exclusive church where only those with the correct lifestyle and appropriate economic status are welcome. But Jesus was always among the outcasts of society, much to the displeasure of society’s political and religious leaders. They see and hear preachers who preach hatred and war when Jesus is called the Prince of Peace.

You hear preachers speak of the inviolability of the Bible yet you can read any number versions of Bibles from the same period of time and detect seeming inconsistency within any particular Bible. You hear of preachers who speak out against science because it contradicts the Bible and you have to wonder we are still living the 17th century when the church sought to ban the formation of the heliocentric theory of the universe because it contradicts the Bible.

Many people today see the church as close-minded. It was bad enough when the church of the 17th century penalized Galileo for his stand as to the nature of the universe. For many people, the church’s attitude is still the same; the church either ignores or rejects science. And many in science have rejected the church. This division of faith and reason is again an example of one’s not using all the gifts that one has been given by God.

When you look around, you see young people turned off to church because of its hypocrisy of life style or teaching. Can you blame them for doing so? What do they see when they see a church? Is it no wonder that the current younger generation looks for solace in comfort in other venues.

You cannot blame the youth of today for turning away from the church; you cannot blame many on the left for turning away from the church. The church itself is to blame for many of the problems that it faces because it has created them.

The church was once a powerful force in the drive for equality in this country. From its very beginning, the church demonstrated that empowerment through the Holy Spirit could bring about change. It was true at the beginning when Christians were persecuted for refusing to acknowledge the Roman Caesar as a god. It was true when early settlers of this country refused to worship in a church not of their own choosing. It was true in the 1960’s when it was the church that led the drive for equality and called out against the inequity of the Viet Nam war.

But along the way, the church got tired and it got confused. There were those who felt that the church had no business getting involved in the secular world. The church is not of this world and should not get involved. So be it if others are in pain, in suffering or oppressed. To relieve the pain, end the suffering and free the oppressed is not the business of the church. There were those who thought that such efforts went against the nature of the Gospel. All that was and is important is that we make all the people Christ’s disciples. Many times this was done at the point of the sword or the barrel of the gun. Many times it was done to people who had genuine and viable faith in God through their own religion. How many of those identified as Christian leaders today spoke out against the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s? How many Christian leaders today say or suggest that those in poverty have only themselves to blame?

The time has come for the church to heed the words of Jeremiah in today’s Old Testament reading (4). The time has come for the church to look at itself and remake itself, again in the image of Christ on earth. The time has come for the church to be the servant of Christ and the representative of God on earth. Some will have a hard time doing this; their form is like the pot that has been put into the kiln and fired. The only way to change the pot is to break and start over again with fresh clay.

But many of us are like the clay that is on the potter’s wheel. Our form is not complete and we have not been put in the kiln to be fired; we can change.

Change does not mean responding to society’s pressure and becoming what society wants us to be. Change means returning to an understanding of what the Bible says. This means delving into the word and learning the word, not merely repeating words that someone wrote down. We were created in the image of God so we have the ability to think and create. We are not created as God so our abilities are limited.

This change is not merely in making the worship service more “user-friendly”. That is part of the problem today. This change is in the very nature of the church, to seek the Spirit which empowers us and gives us the ability to move beyond our own boundaries. Some will not accept this change for they have been hardened by the fire of life and are unwilling to be broken. But there are those who can change; there are those who have yet to be formed by the potter.

This change will not be easily and it will not be cheap. Some will say that we cannot afford it; it is too expensive and too time-consuming to make the change. They are unwilling to pay any cost. But the price of everlasting life, the price for victory over sin and death has already been paid. The true cost will be in terms of how willing you are to take up the Cross and complete the mission of Christ on earth.

(1) Luke 14: 25 – 31

(2) Luke 14: 31

(3) Philemon 1 – 21

(4) Jeremiah 18: 1 – 11