What does a Christian do?


Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for this coming Sunday, October 13, 2019, the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C). Services start at 10:15 am and, as I wrote last week, “You all come”.

One of the ideas that popped in my head when I read today’s lectionary was the question as to what Christians do?  Jeremiah tells the Israelites in their Babylonian exile that even though they are far from home and under great stress they should continue their normal lives.  It is one way to maintain the connection to their far away homeland.

But what does it mean to continue one’s normal life?  For us today, it would be things like attending church regularly, reading the Bible on a similar regular schedule and taking time for prayer each day.  But is there anything else we can do?

One of the things about faith that John Wesley wrote about was the need to seek perfection.  Lead the life that exemplifies what Jesus taught us two thousand years ago and seek to make each day better than yesterday.  Lead the life that tells those around you that you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus.

But how do we do that?  When Jesus stood before the people in the synagogue in Nazareth, He said He had come to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and free the oppressed.  He set the guidelines for what Christians should do.

And therein lies the rub.  Our history as Christians tells us that, in the words of the prayer of  confession,  we have not always done what we should have done but done what we should not have done.  In the 1930s, Christians in Germany turned their back on the plight of the Jews.  In the 1960s, Christians in this country sanctioned the repression of blacks who sought the same rights as their white counterparts.  Even today, there are many Christians who sanction the repression of many simply because of the color of their skin, their lack of income, or where they came from.  Despite their claim to be Christian, it is quite clear that their allegiance is to a more political god.

This is more than a theological question.  Can a person support repression and terrorism and still be considered worthy of the name Christian?  Can a denomination which sanctions (quietly or openly) repression of individuals because of the color of their skin, their lack of financial status, or even their gender or sexual identity be worthy of being a Christian denomination?  It leads us back to the beginning question, “What does a Christian do?”          

~~Tony Mitchell

“The Difference”


This will be on the back page of the bulletin for services at Fishkill UMC this coming Sunday, September 23, 2018 (18th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B).  Services are at 10 and you are always welcome.


From the first time that I had to write a weekly message, I have always been amazed at the timeliness of the Scriptures and how our response to the issues of the day can be addressed by the words of the lectionary readings.  The Scriptures themselves may not offer the answer we seek but they will certainly lead us to the solution.  And that is perhaps the difference between simple knowledge and wisdom.

If the primary message of the Scriptures is a description of our relationship with God, then the Wisdom Literature of the Bible tells us how we are to apply that knowledge to our relationship with others.

The disciples were raised to see that everyone had a place in society, a place determined by one’s gender, one’s age, one’s birthplace, and one’s economic status.  Yet, from the very beginning Jesus’ teachings challenged those very ideas.  Much to the dismay of those who felt they had the right and the privilege to be first, Jesus said that made one last.  And that being in a position of power and authority meant that you were the servant of the people and not that the people were your servant.

Following Christ is often a difficult task because it so challenges us.  But if we open our minds as we open our hearts, we can begin to truly understand what we are being asked to do.  And that is the difference between knowledge and wisdom.                        ~~Tony Mitchell

 

“The Rules of Life”


Here is the “back page” for the Fishkill UMC bulletin for this coming Sunday, 8 October 2017, the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A).


No, I am not talking about the board game of Life, where you moved through life, overcome obstacles and gaining credits until you reached a wonderful ending.  But there are rules by which we live and there are the rules that others seek to impose on us.

As Saul, Paul was determined to do just that, force others to live by a set of imposed rules.  The openness of “The Way” (as the new Christian movement was then called) was anathema to the rigid, rule-driven religion that Saul followed.

But Saul found a new set of rules when his life as a persecutor was interrupted and his new life as Paul began.  Paul understood that the rigidity of rules stifled life, not encouraged it.  It was the initial rigidity of Methodism that caused John Wesley to have an immense sense of failure.  When Wesley accepted the Holy Spirit at Aldersgate, the world-changing movement known as the Methodist Revival began.

We can be like the workers of the vineyard, bound and determined to do it our own way, by refusing to accept the Holy Spirit into our lives.  And in doing so, we doom ourselves to failure, even though we are certain we are following the rules.

But a rigid set of rules does not give us the Freedom we seek.  A rigid set of rules only limits us.  But there is that one moment in our life, our Aldersgate or our place on the road to Damascus, where we encounter the Holy Spirit and find our Freedom.

It was this Freedom, that empowerment by the Holy Spirit, that gave the Methodist Revival the ability to change the world.  Our Freedom is found in Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

And that is the one rule of life.

~~ Tony Mitchell

 

10 Minutes


A Meditation for 18 September 2016, the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The meditation is based on Jeremiah 8: 18 – 9: 1; 1 Timothy 2: 1 – 7; and Luke 16: 1 – 13.

The prophet Jeremiah cries out that it seems as if God is not to be found anywhere in Zion.  But, by the same token, it would appear that it is the people who are to be blamed for the disappearance of God.  And in that alternative Old Testament reading for this Sunday (Amos 8: 4 – 8), the prophet Amos puts the blame on those who ignore the lesser of society in favor of their own goals.

And then there is Paul telling Timothy that God wants everyone saved, not just a select few but everyone.  And Paul points out that there is only God.  Now, it would be nice if Paul had left the option open on how this was to be done but, in his view, the only way to God is through Jesus Christ.  And I realize that I am in the minority on this point but that in accepting Christ as my Savior I understand what Paul is writing.  But that doesn’t mean that I can make everyone accept that viewpoint and I happen to think that Paul understood that as well.  That’s why he told Timothy that you had to get the word out and explain how it works.  And “explain” is the operative word; not everyone is going to accept the idea and we have to accept that.

Maybe I am wrong but I see something ironic in those words being the first lessons for this week.  Because there are those who would say that their goals and their agendas are the primary goals and agendas of the church and that if you don’t accept what they say as the absolute and positive truth, then you are out.

But these people have made deals much like that of the dishonest manager in the Gospel lesson for this Sunday.  They have made deals that allow them to keep their power and their position, even it goes against what God intended.

The title of this post is blatantly taking from Reverend Jeremy Smith’s recent post, “10 Minutes after Progressives are Exiled from the #UMC”.  Reverend Jeremy outlines some of the things that may occur if conservatives in the Methodist Church are able to accomplish their goals of creating a new orthodox, Wesleyan denomination and a network of churches committed to changing the word through proclamation and ministry.

Now, Reverend Smith points out that 10 minutes after this is accomplished and progressives are forced from the United Methodist Church, the world as they know will come to an end (and that is my interpretation) for many people who have suffered and endured in the limiting environment of their own present denomination will find the voice to break free.

The goals of these conservatives is to maintain the legalistic and perhaps, in their own mind, theological correct order of life.  And their view of the world is a very fixed and complete world.

But I live in a world that seems to be changing and what seemed to have been true years ago is no longer true.  If you are a chemist and you know your chemical history, then you are perhaps vaguely familiar with the phlogiston theory.

This was the first attempt to explain the process of combustion and stated that there was a substance known as phlogiston that was released during the process of combustion.  The discovery of oxygen and the fact that materials gained mass during combustion lead to the demise of this theory.

Now it should be pointed out that even after this theory was discredited, there were some who struggled to make it work.

There are times when I see what happens in the church today in that way.  There are some basic underlying principles that have remained true from the very day that we became conscious and sentient beings but have become clearer each day because we know about what is transpiring around us.  As the philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus, noted, “Everything changes and nothing stands still.”  He also stated one “can never step in the same river twice.”

I have spoken and written about how I see the future of the United Methodist Church and I know this:

I cannot leave the United Methodist Church when it was the place where I found a safe and loving environment at times of personal and professional crisis.  I cannot leave the United Methodist Church where there were pastors who saw something in me that I didn’t see and pushed and prodded be to continue on my own journal of faith.  I cannot leave the United Methodist Church when there are those who today to find that environment that love, that safety, that opportunity.  I cannot leave the United Methodist Church but I fear that the United Methodist Church will leave.

Sadly, those who hold on to this static view of life will find themselves left behind.  But those who they would willing exclude will find a new, open and welcoming church.

10 minutes from the now, the world will have changed and there is no one thing you can do to keep that from happening.  The prophets knew this; Paul always encouraged Timothy to keep moving forward.  And the words that Jesus spoke some two thousand years ago pointed out the what we have today are the moments that stimulate creative and allow us to move forward.

The world 10 minutes from now can be a better world if you are willing to make it so.

“What Is Your Focus?”


Meditation for 12 October 2014, the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Exodus 32: 1 – 14; Philippians 4: 1 – 9; Matthew 22: 1 – 14

The challenge in today’s society is no different than it was in yesterday’s society or even in society three thousand years ago. The challenge is and will always be to do what it right and not necessarily what society ask of us.

There are those times when what society asks of us is the right thing to do but only when individuals have stood up and called the people to act in the appropriate manner. For the most part, what society has asked people to do seems to be the logical thing but not necessarily the right thing.

Right now, society seems to be careening and bouncing its way into a world of never-ending wars that will never be decided. Society seems to decided that there will only be one view of the way things are and the existence of two different ideas is the basis for conflict.

I realize that certain ideas, which place the thoughts and values of one individual over those of another and do not allow for a discussion of the differences, are not appropriate. But that only means that we need to be aware of what is happening and prepared to meet the challenge before it gets to the point where violence is the only alternative.

This can be a difficult task. Consider what the Israelites were going through in the Old Testament reading for today. Their journey, guided by a mysterious fire and a strange cloud, had lead them to the base of Mount Sinai and now their leader, Moses, had seemingly disappeared. And there was no tangible evidence of this God they had delivered them from slavery in Egypt and given them bread to eat and water to drink while they wandered in the desert.

It is no wonder that they reverted to old habits and demanded the existence of a physical idol. The golden calf gave them the focus that they needed to survive. I think that is part of the problem in today’s society. We find it easier to focus on something tangible and physical; we have difficulty focusing on the abstract and invisible.

Even Paul warns against focusing on the negative things in life. I don’t think he wants us to ignore them but put them in the proper perspective. The problem today is that too many pastors have opted for a view of life that sees only the good but offers no plan for dealing with the bad part of life.

We have been given a great opportunity (as declared in the parable of the wedding banquet in today’s Gospel reading) but it is only there if our focus is on God. Those who were invited had their focus elsewhere and they missed the invitation. But unless your focus is totally on God then you will probably miss the invitation as well, as noted by the individual who was kicked out because he wasn’t properly dressed.

Now, there are some who will glory in these words. But they might miss the point. We live in this world and we have to work in this world. If we try to make this world God’s world or what we think might be God’s world, we will miss the point. We will have our focus on the rules and the means of enforcing the rules and not on God Himself. But if our focus is on God and what God means to us and we exhibit His love in our work, our words, our deeds and actions, then our focus will be where it needs to be.

So, what is your focus? Is it on society and how society see you or is it on God and what God would have you to do to show His love in this world?

“Faithfulness”


The following was the morning devotional for the New York Conference Board of Laity for Tuesday, October 7, 2014.

Good morning, my name is Tony Mitchell and I am a certified lay servant from the Fishkill United Methodist Church. A copy of this devotional can be found on my blog “Thoughts From The Heart On The Left.”

I choose Hebrews 11: 1 – 31 as the scriptural basis for this morning’s devotional but, for time purposes, not going to read it this morning. But I suggest that when you get the opportunity, you read it one more time. Perhaps, as is often the case, a second reading of a familiar passage provides a new understanding.

This passage begins with the idea that faith is a belief in things unseen and then goes on to list all those incidents where our spiritual ancestors acted on faith.

Now, when Clarence Jordan wrote his Cotton Patch version (which he called a “colloquial translation with a Southern accent), he noted that he saw the Letter to the Hebrews as a convention sermon at an annual conference of early Christians. The delegates may have been so impressed and inspired that they insisted that it be included in the convention minutes.

Jordan wrote as verse 1 of chapter 11, “faith is the turning of dreams into deeds, it is betting your life on unseen realities.” I think of all those listed in this chapter of Hebrews and the trials and difficulties they endured, all based on the proposition that the Kingdom of God and the promises it held were real and not some sort of myth or superstition.

In today’s world, faith is often treated as just that, a myth or superstition. The critic and the cynic will tell you that any belief in God is something that one cannot prove and thus is meaningless in a life that demands proof.

Over the past few weeks and even months, I have felt that my own faith has been tested, perhaps to the point of breaking. But I keep holding on, with my faith sustaining me when nothing else seems to work. And as I look back at history, those 2000 or so years since Jesus began His ministry on the dusty roads of the Galilee, I have to say to the cynic and the critic, if this is all a myth or superstition, why does it still exist? Shouldn’t faith have disappeared a long time ago.

In the end, the proof that faith is real is found when we show God’s love to others, when we show the existence of God in our own lives and help others when they are tested. The proof of God’s love comes when we answer the cries of the people who are hungry, the cries of the people who are sick, the cries of the people who are naked or homeless and the cries of the oppressed. Faith is truly the turning of dreams, those of others into deeds, that which we do.

“Which Road Will You Walk?”


This is the message that I gave at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (Grace UMC, Newburgh) on Saturday, September 21st for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The Scriptures for this Sunday were Jeremiah 8: 18 – 9: 2, 1 Timothy 2: 1 – 7, and Luke 16: 1 – 13; I focused primarily on the passage from Jeremiah but used thoughts from the other two readings as well.

If I were to list my favorite things, as a poem I would use Robert Frost’s poem “Two Roads”. It speaks of two roads diverging and the writer having to make a choice as to which road they will walk down. One road is well traveled while it appears that no one has ever traveled down the other one. How often is this choice the one we have to make, of choosing the road that everyone else is traveling or taking a new path, one that has never been tried.

Sometimes you have to take the road every one travels; if you want to get to Beacon from Newburgh, you almost always have to take the Newburgh-Beacon bridge. But that’s not to say that you can’t go down to Bear Mountain and cross over there; or go up to Marlboro and cross over to Poughkeepsie. But it is so much easier to use the Newburgh-Beacon bridge because it is shorter and more familiar.

How much of our life is like that, where we will take the easier path, the shorter path, the one that everyone else takes? Sometimes, it is the best way to go but often times, just because everyone else does it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the right thing to do.

In preparing these notes, I turned to my prayer guide for some thoughts to help my thinking and writing. I don’t know who James Allen was but in his book, “As A Man Thinketh”, he wrote the following.

The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors; that which it loves, and also that which it fears; it reaches the height of its cherished aspirations; it falls to the level of its unchastened desires, and circumstances are the means by which the soul receives its own.

Every thought-seed sown or allowed to fall into the mind, and to take root there, produces its own, blossoming sooner or later into act, and bearing its own fruitage of opportunity and circumstance. Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts bad fruit.

The outer world of circumstance shapes itself to the inner world of thought, and both pleasant and unpleasant external conditions are factors which make for the ultimate good of the individual. As the reaper of his own harvest, man learns both by suffering and bliss.

Following the inmost desires, aspirations, thoughts, by which one allows oneself to be dominated (pursuing the will-o’-the-wisps of impure imagining or steadfastly walking the highway of strong and high endeavor), a person at last arrives at their fruition and fulfillment in the outer condition of life.

The laws of growth and adjustment everywhere obtain.

This says to me that we have two choices, one that will lead to the good life and one that will lead elsewhere. Now, this good life is not necessarily that “good” life of the secular road. That’s what leads Jeremiah to cry out over the imminent destruction of his people. They have been chasing the “good” life and now they will reap the penalty.

I go back to something that I have said before but it is always worth repeating, when you come to this place, you leave your baggage behind.

This is a place of renewal, a place to find that one thing that will turn your life around. Last week I spoke of the transition of power that was taking place, of Paul’s retirement (actually, his impending execution) and Timothy taking over the mantle of leadership.

In that portion of the letter that is part of this weekend’s lectionary, Paul continues instructing Timothy on what he is to be doing. Timothy is to continue telling everyone about the Good News, that Jesus Christ came for everyone, not just a few people but for everyone.

He, Timothy, is also to pray for everyone including the leaders of the community so that they make the decisions which will allow each one of us to live the life we are supposed to live.

And that leads me to the other note that I found in my preparation. It is a prayer by Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest and scholar. It speaks to what we must do, both in prayer and in life. Hear this prayer,

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I am impressed by my own spiritual insights. I probably know more about prayer, meditation, and contemplation than most Christians do. I have read many books about the Christian life, and have even written a few myself. Still, as impressed as I am, I am more impressed by the enormous abyss between my insights and my life.

It seems as if I am standing on one side of a huge canyon and see how I should grow toward you, live in your presence and serve you, but cannot reach the other side of the canyon where you are. I can speak and write, preach and argue about the beauty and goodness of the life I see on the other side, but how, O Lord, can I get there? Sometimes I even have the painful feeling that the closer the vision, the more aware I am of the depth of the canyon.

Am I doomed to die on the wrong side of the abyss? Am I destined to excite others to reach the promised land while remaining unable to enter there myself? Sometimes I feel imprisoned by by own insights and “spiritual competence.” You alone, Lord, can reach out to me and save me. You alone.

I can only keep trying to be faithful, even though I feel faithless most of the time. What else can I do but keep praying to you, even when I feel dark; to keep writing about you, even when I feel numb; to keep speaking in your name, even when I feel alone. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.

Now, I will be honest. Those words perhaps mean more to me and my own struggle in the faith than they may have meant for you. But if one pauses and thinks about one’s own life, those words, perhaps in a slightly different tone, are words that you might have spoken.

What if you were one of the those whom Jeremiah was crying out about? How would you feel? Would you not wonder where your hope, your salvation might be?

There are a number of instances where Jesus alludes to the abyss, the distance between each one of us and Him. And it is clear that we cannot shrink that distance, no matter how hard we try. But Jesus has the ability to bridge that gap and bring to us that which we seek, if we just reach out to Him.

In those times when we feel alone, or helpless, or powerless, we know that Jesus will be there. We also know that He will be there in the times of plenty and bounty, times when we are apt to ignore Him and think that we did it ourselves.

Each person comes to this point on their own and they must make the decision about what comes next on their own. But each of us, having in someway been there, can help find that path, help each person find Christ in a world that often doesn’t want us to find Him.

We come to a crossroads in life and we must decide which path to take. That is the call we make this morning, “which road will you walk?”

“The Wisdom We Seek”


Here is the message that I gave at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church (Mason, TN) for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (B), 21 September 1997. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Proverbs 31: 10 – 31; James 3: 13 – 4: 3, 7 – 8; and Mark 9: 30 – 37 (changed the lectionary date from 17th to 18th Sunday after Pentecost on 31 August 2014)

I am sure that we all remember Benjamin Franklin’s dictum “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Wisdom has been something that we have looked for and cherished in our leaders and in ourselves. When we speak of a great leader, we often say he or she was a wise and just leaders.

I think that is part of the reason why the Old Testament readings for the last few Sundays have come from the Book of Proverbs. This collection of wise sayings was designed to offer ways of leadership to the people of Israel.

Of course today, when we view the actions and behavior of politicians, no matter if they are national, state, or local leaders, I think that the term “just plain dumb” comes to mind more readily. For it seems that our leaders and many people today have forgotten what true wisdom is and have sought success without wisdom.

Solomon knew that gaining wisdom was not the easy task. Faced with many difficult challenges, especially where the governing of Israel was concerned, he knew he could have trouble if his wisdom was lacking. So when God asked him what he wanted most, Solomon asked for wisdom.

Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today.

And now, O Lord my god, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life. (1 Kings 3: 3 – 14)

Now, it is interesting to note that Solomon, who could have asked for anything that he desired, asked for wisdom and in doing so, got everything else.

In the reading from the Letter of James today, James points out that there are two kinds of wisdom.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

As James points out, when our wisdom comes from above, when we turn to God, then the wisdom we gain can better our lives. That is what Solomon found out. But if our wisdom is driven from our earthly desires, then results we obain can never be successful.

Throughout the history of the Kingdom of Israel, the Israelites sought leaders who were as much wise men as they were powerful leaders. And when they were not wise but boastful, when they choose to leave God, failure was often the result. Both Solomon and David, at the end of their reigns found this out as well.

As Solomon found out, seeing wisdom first will lead to everything else. For if we do not have wisdom, if we cannot know how to make the right decision, then all that we do will be based on our earthly desires rather than on our heavenly goals. But God did give Solomon one instruction to go with the fame and fortune that would come with his wisdom. He (Solomon) had to follow in the path of God. If he left the path of God, he would find that everything he had would be lost.

The disciples are walking with Jesus to Capernaum but it must have not been a good walk for as the scripture notes,

. . . he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

It is easy to understand why they did not understand the nature of the resurrection because their wisdom, as James might say, came from the earth and was based on worldly experiences, not from God.

Jesus had been telling them about His coming death and resurrection but the disciples did not understand what he was talking about. For as the next part of the gospel reading tells us, the disciples were more interested in their place in the kingdom and who would be the greatest.

As Jesus tells his disciples, as He is telling us,

He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Who ever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

There are those who have trouble with this approach. For common wisdom, wisdom from the earth, if you will, says that we cannot be last. We cannot put others before us. Yet, what is that we most admire about Mother Theresa? That she forsake everything because those for whom she ministered had nothing. I found it very interesting to read that she would go to a banquet to accept an award but leave before the dinner was served because the banquet was more that what the people of her ministry were eating.

I find the following an interesting commentary on the nature of thought and wisdom.

The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors; that which it loves, and also that which it fears; it reaches the height of its cherished aspirations; it falls to the level of its unchastened desires, and circumstances are the means by which the soul receives its own.

Every thought-seed sown or allowed to fall into the mind, and to take root there, produces its own, blossoming sooner or later into act, and bearing its own fruitage of opportunity and circumstance. Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts bad fruit.

The outer world of circumstance shapes itself to the inner world of thought, and both pleasant and unpleasant external conditions are factors which make for the ultimate good of the individual. As the reaper of his own harvest, man learns both by suffering and bliss.

Following the inmost desires, aspirations, thoughts, by which one allows oneself to be dominated (pursuing the will-o’-the-wisps of impure imagining or steadfastly walking the highway of strong and high endeavor), a person at last arrives at their fruition and fulfillment in the outer condition of life. The laws of growth and adjustment everywhere obtain. (“As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen)

From where do our thoughts come from; from where do we gain our wisdom? The challenge we face today, the decision we must make today is from where shall our wisdom come from. It is an easy thing to look at the world from a worldly viewpoint but what will be gained? If we take Christ into our own heart, if we allow His presence in our lives each day, the wisdom we gain will provide us with the right direction in our lives and make the lives of others better as well. If we are to seek wisdom, then we must understand how we are to use that wisdom..

My own readings this week focused on being a wise steward, of understanding that what we have comes from God. If we think with the wisdom of the world around us, we can never understand what God wants us to do, we can never reach the Kingdom of Heaven. But when we accept Christ in our hearts, the wisdom we gain provides us with the riches we seek but can never have.

What Is Going to Happen?


Here are my thoughts for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, 26 September 2010. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Jeremiah 32: 1 – 3, 6 – 15; 1 Timothy 6: 6 – 19; and Luke 16: 19 – 31.

———————————————————————————————

I will tell you up front that there is a great deal of politics in this particular piece. The more I hear from the political circus that so dominates our lives today, the more I would just as soon go somewhere up into the hills and hide. I mean there is some precedent for that. The First Battle of Bull Run (as you Yankees called it) was fought on Wilmer McLean’s farm just outside Manassas, Virginia. For a number of reasons, including a desire to keep his family safe, McLean moved to Appomattox. And those that remember their history know that it was at his house that General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, thus ending the Civil War (or depending on your history books, the “War of the Rebellion”). So, maybe that’s not a good idea. (I have heard a similar story about someone who moved from France to Guadalcanal but can’t find a reference to it.)

But then again, maybe that’s what I should do. After all, consider what Jeremiah did. He bought some land in anticipation of the restoration of the people, despite the fact that the people had rebuked him and even thrown him in jail for daring to even suggest that they might be wrong.

I hear God’s name evoked at practically every political event and I hear how so many of the candidates running for office are devout, possibly born-again Christians. But I hear what they are saying and what they desire and I have to wonder if they even know what it means to be a Christian. Now, it is entirely possible that I do not know what it means to be a Christian but I hope that I am working on that.

If this nation was truly a Christian nation or one that held to Christian values (which seem to be the “buzz words” for many politicians today), then there would be no hunger in this nation, there would be adequate and proper healthcare for all, there would be adequate housing for all, there would be a living wage instead of a minimum wage, and each person would have equal standing in society. Yet, when I look at the values of this country, it seems that we want to keep all that we earn for ourselves, we have no desire to help others in need (except when we think it will validate our ticket into heaven), and we seek to justify making some people lower-class citizens because of their race, their sexuality, their culture, their religion, or origin. We have tried very hard to make sure that war was justifiable in all cases and no matter what the case. Our politicians, no matter what party, always seem to end their speeches and campaign rhetoric with a resounding “God Bless America!” But how can God bless this country or any country or the people of this planet when more money is spent on weapons and destruction or on selfish interests than on insuring that all the people, no matter who they are, have enough resources to make a living (not just survive but live).

What is Paul telling Timothy in the portion of that first letter that is the second lesson for today, “If we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough?” How are we to respond to this/ How are to respond when it is our pursuit of the good life for one instead of for all that is leading us to a path of total destruction?

When the rich man dies in the Gospel reading for today, he has the opportunity to see what he missed. He also finds out that all that he had is meaningless because he ignored the one man by his door. And he also found out that he cannot warn others of his fate. He had the opportunity to change his life and he missed it; he had the opportunity to help others and he missed it. And now he pays the price.

I hear all these people today who speak out loudly and proudly that they are good Christians; yet there actions speak of other beliefs, of other gods. I hear all these people who speak of wanting it all for themselves and it doesn’t matter if they are rich or poor. The poor want what the rich have because society has told them that is what they should have; the rich don’t want to give it away.

I know that there is a lot being said today that because we live in a democracy, we can earn as much as we can. No one, not even John Wesley would argue against that idea. But, to paraphrase what John Wesley say, don’t earn your money on the backs of the labor class. And having earned all you can, save all you can and then give all you can. There is a responsibility that comes with being a Christian to care for each other and what I see happening is that people today do not want that responsibility. They want to earn as much as they can, they do not want to pay for quality products so that they can keep all they can, and then they complain when they have to pay for the responsibilities that come with the privileges.

Politically, I would say that we truly and seriously need to think about a living wage, not the minimum wage as the standard for employment. I know that there are some who are going to say that you can’t do that. But who are the loudest to complain? Are they not the ones who earn more in one year than their workers earn in a lifetime? I know that there are those who will seek to scam the system; if I read Acts correctly, there were people who tried to do the same thing 2000 years ago. And in the Book of Acts, we read that they kicked out of the community, a community of believers who banded together for the common good.

It would be nice to run away, to run off into the hills and hide. But that won’t prevent the destruction that is coming. Jeremiah prophesized and was jailed for his words and actions. But in the end, his words and actions were shown to be true. And he bought the property because he knew that God would redeem His people, even for all that they had done.

It is the same for us. We have the opportunity, we see the signs and we can make a change. We can still be known as Christians if we first repent of our past life and accept Christ. Hear the words that Christ spoke to us two thousand years ago; heed the warning and repent. Begin anew to build the world that will be the world for all people.

What is going to happen in the coming days? I wish I knew. What I see is not what I want.

What I know today is that the solution is not found in the present system. It is not found in a system which allows us to keep all that we have and not take care of the others. It will not be found if all we say is that we are Christians; those words ring so hollow these days.

But it can be done if the words that said are turned into actions. It is all about what we do with the words that we say; if we just say the words and do nothing; then nothing will happen. But all through our history, those who have acted on the words in this world have made a change. We have that opportunity today, we have the opportunity to ensure that this world goes on. The question still remains, what is going to happen?

“Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow”


This is the message that I presented at Tompkins Corners UMC for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, 3 October 2004.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Lamentations 1: 1 -  6, 2 Timothy 1: 1 – 14, and Luke 17: 5 – 10.

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There are two questions that I wish you would consider this morning. First, why are you a United Methodist? Second, why are you here this morning?

The fact that you are here this morning suggests that you would say to someone that you are a United Methodist and, just as that someone might ask, so too do I ask, "Why are you a United Methodist?"

I would hope that you say that you are a United Methodist because you respect diversity in theology. You feel that as long as the differences in belief between you and others are rooted in the essentials of Christian faith, then those differences enhance one’s understanding of God and challenge you to grow in faith. I would hope that you would say that you rely on God’s grace for salvation – grace that brings you to faith, grace that forgives your sin and renews us, grace that continues to nurture you and draw you on toward perfect love.

You know that one’s conversion and new birth in Christ, whether sudden or gradual occurs under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And finally, you believe that faith in Christ is expressed in outward works of love – that personal salvation leads to a mission of evangelical witness, caring service, and social action for human liberation, reconciliation, justice, and peace.

As a United Methodist, you understand that God calls one to clarify and communicate one’s faith – to put beliefs into words – for us and for others. We do this by using four different sources, scripture, church tradition, Christian experience, and reason. Each of these sources, while making distinctive contributions, work together to guide our quest as United Methodists for a vital and appropriate Christian witness. (Adapted from "Distinctive Emphasis of United Methodists" in The United Methodist Way by Branson L. Thurston)

But I also know that many people attend church for primarily non-theological reasons. Hopefully, when someone decides to become a member of a particular church, it is because they were a member of a similar church somewhere else and they wish to hold to the ideas they have heard before. But, for many, they attend a particular church because it is the closest church to where they live. Or they attend a church because it was the church where their parents and perhaps their grandparents attended.

Now, there is nothing wrong with either of those reasons. They are probably the main reasons why someone goes to a particular church. In fact, theological reasons for attending a particular church probably rank lower on any given list of reasons. I would not be surprised if childcare and parking rank higher and are more important in the reasons for going to church.

But, in a world where people are searching for meaning in their lives, most mainline churches, including the United Methodist Church hold to the church building models that are based on 19th century assumptions.

Churches in the 19th and early 20th centuries prospered because the children raised in the church stayed with that particular church. But as our society has changed, children have moved away from the places they were raised. They no longer attend the church of their childhood and are just as likely not to attend church at all. So the basic assumption that many churches have used for growth has failed, because there is no internal growth in the church.

I am not sure if convenience is a viable model either. But that is today’s model. Churches today are encouraged to offer programs for everyone. When a visitor comes, the greeters are to find out what the visitor is interested in and direct them to a group with the same interests. Coming home the other night, I saw a poster for one of the major old-line denomination churches in New York City. I counted at least fifteen different program areas offered by the church. There was something for everyone; there were five different choirs, ranging from traditional church music to Gospel music; there was a gay and lesbian support group; there was a mother’s group with childcare; there was a major Bible study, with the church’s in-house Biblical expert. Each program offered each group something. Yet, as I read the brief descriptions, I wondered if I wasn’t just reading descriptions for social groups. Yes, there were references to growth in faith but it seemed like socialization was more important.

And with all this information occupying the major part of the poster, it took some doing to find out if this church even offered Sunday morning worship. It was there but in an inconvenient and visually inaccessible part of the poster. In fact, the church’s three radio shows got more attention than did the worship service.

The problem is that when convenience takes precedence over worship, the church risks transforming itself into nothing more than a rather ornate 7-11 store, open at all times and for the convenience of the customer.

I am not opposed to having groups in church; the church has and always been an important place for the community to come together. But I wonder if the emphasis on the groups of a church hides the real reason for why churches exist.

Have we forgotten that the reason that we are here this morning is because we are supposed to be here? Have we forgotten that we are here to worship God and to thank Him for what He has done for us? Do we not remember that our presence here today completes the covenant established between God and His people on the Mount when Moses brought down the Ten Commandments?

We are here today because it is an expression of our faith. Perhaps, like Timothy, it is the faith in which we were raised. That is how Paul sees it, the family connection that only then can be said to "live in you." Yet, faith is never a mere family hand-me-down but a "gift of God that is within you" and "a good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us." Faith is an incarnate reality that, while a gift from God, is one that comes embodied in our human, including family, relationships.

There are no easy analogies to explain how one comes to faith. But we must know that faith is always God’s gift and never a human accomplishment. Faith is ever and only a response empowered by an amazing grace originating from outside our efforts that enables us to entrust ourselves willingly to the One we have found trustworthy. As United Methodists, we find that it is through the Scripture, tradition, experience and reason that we are able to gain faith and find our faith growing.

The Gospel for today addresses another issue regarding faith that is still very much with us. Are the degree and depth of our faith adequate for life’s circumstances? The concern here is voiced by Jesus’ own followers whom He sternly commanded to beware of causing little ones to stumble, but also to be generous in extending forgiveness even to chronic sinners who continue to repent. For once, "the apostles," as Luke calls them, seem to have grasped the difficulty of what Jesus is teaching and plead with Him, "Increase our faith!" Jesus replies rather obliquely,"If you had the faith of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you." Apparently faith isn’t about capacity; it is an orientation. Faith is beyond measurement. You’ve got it or you don’t, Jesus goes on to suggest. Having it is like being the slave who simply does what is commanded, who knows his or her place and does what needs doing.

Archbishop William Temple once remarked, "It is a great mistake to think that God is chiefly concerned with our being religious." Jesus would probably agree, since He pricked the balloon of his followers’ own religious pretensions about faith. Faith is not a matter of pious exertion or heroic will power. It is more the miracle of God-given trust, that willingness beyond willingness that crawls into the lap of a trustworthy God, encouraging one to conclude in the face of all of life’s questions and circumstances that one is nothing more than God’s own. (Adapted from "Measure of Faith" by John Rollefson, Christian Century, September 21, 2004)

We did not read from the Book of Jeremiah this week but we did read Jeremiah’s words. Jeremiah is credited with writing the Book of Lamentations and the words of this somber book are Jeremiah’s cries at the destruction of his country. But Jeremiah does not cry because Israel has been defeated militarily but rather because the people of Israel have lost their faith in God.

When the people of Israel trusted in God, when the people of Israel put their faith in the covenant with God, they prospered, succeeded and survived. But when they ignored the covenant, when they put their faith in other gods or other means, they failed, were conquered and enslaved.

We are faced with hard questions and hard choices this day. We cannot ask for or demand an increase in our faith; to do so would be folly. But we can and should look at what we are doing and ask if these actions that we take, the words that we speak are true and outward expressions of our faith.

Paul’s words to Timothy were simply to keep the faith, hold on to the values that define his faith. Paul’s words were encouragement to Timothy in a time of dismay. Paul knew that his time was at an end and it was time for Timothy to take the lead. Rather than lament the loss of Paul as a leader, it was up to Timothy to lead by the faith that had brought him to this point in time and would lead the church into tomorrow.

Paul knew that if the churches that he had worked so hard to establish were to continue, they could not hold on to the ways or thoughts of the past. The same is true today; churches that hold on to the past will find it difficult to move into tomorrow. Those that cater to the needs of today will also find it hard to be there tomorrow, for what they offer is for today only.

But those churches, no matter how old the building or the people, no matter if it is an established traditional denomination or a new upstart denomination, who hold on to the faith that brought them to this time will find themselves as good as yesterday. And those churches that hold on to the faith of yesterday and live today in way that fosters and encourages the growth of that faith will find their doors open tomorrow.