“The Presence Under The Tree”


Here is the sermon for the 1st Sunday after Christmas, 30 December 2012. The Scriptures for this Sunday are 1 Samuel 2: 18 – 20, 26; Colossians 3: 12 – 17; and Luke 2: 41 – 52.

At Grace UMC (Newburgh, NY) we are celebrating Laity Sunday this Sunday. This message was presented by Debra Albrecht (who outlined the plans of the church for the coming year in her part of the message), Eric Szulewski (one of the youth of the church who asked the questions that Jesus might have asked the teachers and leaders), and myself.

There is a reason for the title and it becomes evident to the congregation at the end of the message; I put in an explanation but don’t jump to the end of the message to find out what I did.

Service begins at 10 am this Sunday. On Tuesday, January 1st, Grannie Annie’s Kitchen will be open from 11 to 1 to serve soup and bread. All are welcome as we begin the New Year.

The Presence Under The Tree”

So here we have come, to the end of another year, a year of sadness and disappointment, joy and wonder. A year where loved ones were lost; new lives began. And while we look back on the year that was, we also look forward to the year that is to be.

Each year at this time, we have to the opportunity to cast aside the worries and fears that have collected in our minds and throw them out with the beginnings of a new year. Each year also gives us the opportunity to take from the old year in order to make the new year a better one. And, in that regard, the transition from 2012 to 2013 is no different than any other year. Or is it?

In 2012, the United Methodist Church received the Bishop’s Call to Action. In one sense this is one of the most frightening documents ever composed, for it prophesizes that unless something is done and done quickly, the United Methodist Church will cease to exist within the timeframe of the next generation. But as frightening and ominous as that might sound, in the same pages a way to turn things around is suggested and offered.

The church today can no longer pretend or even strive to be what some would like it to be, the imposer of moral authority and judge of what is morally right or wrong. It must show the way to a better world, both on earth and in heaven.

The church today must be what it once was; it must be the place where people, no matter if they are members of the church or not, can find hope and peace, and come to find and know Christ for themselves.

Simply stated, to answer the Bishops’ Call to Action, the church, as a denomination, a conference, a district, or individual congregation, can no longer simply be a church that is present in the community; it must become a presence in the community.

Debra Albrecht

To be a presence in the community requires several things. It requires a commitment to the ongoing operations of the church. In the first reading for today, we read of Samuel’s mother preparing new clothes for Samuel each year, Her commitment to Samuel’s growth wasn’t merely to say that Samuel was God’s; it was also in her seeing that each year he had the proper materials to be the priest. It is a reminder that each one of us has to have an understanding of what is taking place so that we may better practice our faith, better establish the presence of faith and Christ in this community.

We begin the New Year with an understanding that Grace Church will commit to the Action Plan developed and established last year. As we move into the New Year we will educate, communicate, delicate and fully commit to the 5 year plan to make this church a relevant part of this community. We hear in our reading from 1 Samuel the story of Samuel’s mother’s preparations for her son’s new life. We can begin to see how we all need to grow and change and find the wisdom and strength to move forward toward the future.

My daughter Jenny help me to understand the generation of new believers recently. Over the holiday she was sharing with me a little about the religion course she attended this Fall. As I listened she explained that her generation of 20 year olds are defining themselves as spiritual and not religious. What does that mean for us?

We could see that this generation is looking for a community of believers that are open hearted and committed to showing the love of God in whatever they do. When we are less judgmental and more accepting we show how God loves all and a new life can be found in Jesus Christ. Look to your own heart and ask if you are willing to have a church that truly has an open heart and open doors to transform the world.

Our action Plan for the future is a detailed report with set goals for the future. Our main focus will be on creating dynamic worship renewal with emphasis on the following. (I will explain briefly each point)

  1. Embracing, Igniting and Uniting through Worship
  2. Sojourning
  3. Restructuring redesigning relevancy
  4. Embracing and redefining leadership

You, like all the members of this church, will be involved in this plan. Each committee in the church council has a set of goals in the plan, let us all work to achieve this goals. The finance committee is working on their set of plans to help the church be financially strong. The committee is ready to make these plans and set goals. We all need to prepare ourselves and be clothed in the spirit of Jesus Christ, the one who we all are called to serve. Now Eric will share some insights of a new generation of believers.

Eric Szulewski

To understand the church’s presence in the community, it must also offer a vision, not just of God’s Kingdom, but where it sees itself in the coming years. It must be a vision that echoes all the voices of the community, not just a select few.

The Gospel reading for today reminds us that when He was twelve, Jesus engaged the teachers and rabbis in a discussion of the Torah. It may have been that they were amazed at His understanding but then again, how many times had they had such a discussion with the young men and young women that would be the leaders of the community? What are the concerns and thoughts, what are the questions that today’s young people would ask of the elders of the church?

Here are the questions I would ask this morning:

  1. How should I ask my friends to come to church with me?
  2. How can I make my faith a larger part of my life?
  3. What can the Bible tell a teenager about growing up, even in today’s world?
  4. How can I tell my friends about Christ without being pushy?
  5. We hear of all the negative news stories in the media, how do we know God is here with us, even with such horrible things happening so close?

Tony

There is no doubt that without some sort of plan, it becomes very difficult for a church or any organization to have a current presence in a community. Without a vision, without an understanding of the future, it becomes almost impossible to venture into the region of tomorrow. But it is equally impossible and impractical for a church to have a presence in the community without the presence of Christ in the lives and practices of each member and each individual associated with the church.

There is no doubt that John Wesley had things in place when he began what would become the Methodist Revival. There is no doubt that he had a vision of the future, a church that was responsive to the needs of the people.

And yet, until that moment that we have come to call Aldersgate, the Methodist movement was wallowing in abject failure. What drove John Wesley to the Aldersgate chapel that May evening in 1738 was a sense of failure, that no matter hard he worked, nothing he had done amounted to anything.

And what many people do not know is that so great was this sense of failure that Charles Wesley was convinced that he was about to die because of it. But when he compared his experiences with his brother John, he would discover that the burden of illness was lifted from him at almost the same time that John felt his heart strangely warmed. In both cases, the presence of the Holy Spirit became a part of their lives and it was that presence that would change the direction and fortune of the Methodist Revival.

A blogging colleague of mine, John Meunier, a local United Methodist Pastor in Indiana, offers the following thoughts:

We United Methodists talk about John Wesley in a lot of odd ways. We quote him, sometimes wildly out of context.

But for good or ill, he is part of what makes us who we are as Christians. A group of English Christians became convinced of some core truths about the real meaning of Christianity and being a Christian. They put those ideas into practice. And 300 years later, here we are.

When someone asks me what makes United Methodism different from another denomination, I nearly always go to Wesleyan theology.

One answer that I came up with a couple years ago and continue to find confirmed in my reading and experience comes down to one word: holiness. Wesley often quoted Hebrews 12: 14b – “without holiness no one will ever see the Lord.” He wrote over and over about the connection between holiness and salvation. Indeed, he saw them as two different words for the same thing.

Holiness is the state in which our heart is filled with love for God and humankind. It is the place in which we follow the laws of God with joy. It is the condition of soul in which we rejoice in God our savior whatever comes our way.

Before any other doctrine or practice that would become hallmarks of Methodism occurred to John Wesley, he was convinced of this doctrine: without holiness, no one will see the Lord. Indeed, this doctrine was a source of great anxiety for Wesley because he knew he was not holy. Aldersgate was such a relief because he discovered something that explained why he had failed so often. (from John Meunier, “Methodists: Holiness is essential”

It is very easy to say that one is a member of a church and that they are a Christian but such words are often hollow if the actions of the individual do not match the words and the thoughts. Paul several times tells the Christians to “clothe themselves” with behaviors and practices indicative of their status as “God’s chosen ones,” not unlike Samuel wearing the ephod and the robe. These practices include compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and love, “the belt of perfection” (3:12-14). All of these things take time and considerable practice to “put on.” They must be learned and practiced intentionally in communities as dedicated to these things as a priestly community is dedicated to its craft. One might call these the “habit of community.”

It bothers some people when you tell them that they need be wearing the cloak of Christ. They were brought up in believing and expecting that one’s personal belief in Christ is a private, personal statement. They equate the wearing of the cloak of Christ to the preacher, perhaps standing on the street corner and holding his Bible high in the air while exhorting the people to repent of their ways.

And I have met many people who don’t have a clue as to what they are to do when their pastor, perhaps Southern born and Southern bred, closes a particularly moving passage in the sermon with a request for the congregation to shout “AMEN!”

But wearing the cloak of Christ is not about where you were born, how you were raised, what translation of the Bible you read, or what songs you sing. It is about where Christ is in your life. You may go about working to meet the goals of the church but if Christ is not in your life while you are doing it, it will be an almost emotionless, mechanical response. You may believe, as I once did, that all one has to do is work for peace and justice and live a righteous life and all will turn out well in the end.

But, one afternoon in 1969, at one of the darkest points of my life, a point one might consider my Aldersgate moment, it was pointed out to me that nothing I did, no matter how good the job may be, will get me into Heaven. It is by God’s grace and the death of Christ on the cross that I have the access that I think my work here on earth will give me.

It may bother people that works without faith just get one hot, tired, and sweating. They may decide that it is not worth the effort. But we also have to understand that the opposite view, faith without works, does little to build the Kingdom of God.

And if you understand what it truly, truly means to be an United Methodist, then you understand that to walk in the footsteps of Philip Otterbein, Martin Boehm, John & Charles Wesley or to ride the trails that Francis Asbury once rode, you have to put your faith to work.

It is with that understanding that our faith, our lives are always going to fall short of the perfection of Christ but that should not stop us from seeking that perfection. If we are not going to seek the perfection of Christ in our lives, if we are not going to give our best for Christ, then who do we do it for? Sure we are bound to make mistakes but to do nothing so that you don’t make any mistakes is probably worse. If you do nothing with your faith, you neither grow in faith or spirit or help others to do likewise. (Can I have an AMEN!).

The plans of the church, the vision of the future are all meaningless unless you first not only put on the cloak of Christ but you let Christ into your life and let Him, through the Holy Spirit, work through you.

We are given a gift each year and a lot of times I think we leave it unopened under the tree. It is not in a fancy wrapped box, often times, it is not even seen. But it is the real and existing presence of Christ, that began that first Christmas some two thousand years ago and continues to shine each and every day. If one lets it, it will outshine every other light; but even if it just adds an after-glow to the scenery, it cannot be hidden.

At this point, I will be bringing a box from underneath the Christmon Tree next to the pulpit and opening it up. Inside is a large light bulb that will increase in luminosity as I increase the current. Hopefully, it will give the feeling of the Holy Spirit present.

Christ did not have to die on the cross but He choose to do so. Our choice is a far simpler one. We don’t have to do a thing. But the world will remain dark and cold.

Or we can take the presence of Christ from underneath the tree and take it into the world and through our thoughts, our words, our deeds, and our actions help it to grow until it shines throughout the whole world and universe.

What Time Is It?


This was the message that I presented at the Fishkill (NY) United Methodist Church on 31 December 2000. I have this Sunday listed as the 1st Sunday after Christmas but I used the lectionary readings for New Year’s Day (Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 13, Revelation 21: 1 – 6, and Matthew 25: 31 – 46).

I had moved up to this part of New York in May of 1999 and transferred my membership to the Fishkill Church at the beginning of June. In August, 1999, I began serving as the pastoral assistant to the District Superintendent with the assignment of being the lay pastor for the Walker Valley United Methodist Church. As such, I only knew the pastor (Arlene Beechert) and a few other members of the Fishkill Church. Most of the Fishkill church only knew of my assignment but did not know who I was. So, Pastor Beechert and I looked for a date where we could exchange pulpits and I might introduce myself to my home church at that time.

Unfortunately, the weather on this day was miserable. Services at Walker Valley were cancelled and attendance at the Fishkill Church was minimal. The bad part was that the organist couldn’t make the trip to church and we had to sing unaccompanied. That didn’t help matters. I like singing and think that music is an integral part of any service but I was never a good musician and I have to hear the music in order to lead it. In all honesty, this was not one of my better services. I would return to Fishkill pulpit in June of 2005; I did a much better job that time.

So here are my thoughts for 31 December 2000:

The measurement of time has always been a challenge for mankind. While we can say with a certain degree of certainty that it is 10:00 a.m. on December 31st, the telling of time has not always been that easy. For the founders of the Methodist Church some two hundred and sixty years ago, the telling of time required clocks that were big, bulky, and highly unreliable. And in Jesus’ time, time was measured by the hour glass and the passage of events.

And even today, we still mark the passage of time by the occurrence of certain events. That fact that today is the last day of the year 2000 and tomorrow is the first day of the year 2001 is one such occurrence. The Old Testament reading for today is about the passage of time.

For the Preacher, the name we give to the writer of Ecclesiastes saw time as a passage, as a balance of the events of life. Some of these events are joyful while others are not. And while we may wish to eliminate and do away with those events of life that are not so joyful. But with birth comes death, with love there is hate and with war there is peace.

Does this mean that God condones hatred, war, death, and uprooting? Or are these things beyond His control? I think that is why this reading is paired with the reading from the Book of Revelations. John’s words were words of hope. When John wrote this letter to the churches of Asia Minor, the Roman Empire was exacting a terrible toll on all those who would defy the power of Rome. It was a time of hoping for the return of Christ and the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth.

But the time of Christ’s return was unknown and though John offers a great hope for that kingdom, He also points out that God is now and forever, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. In making a reference to the eternal nature of God, John was telling his readers not to wait for the return of Christ on this earth. In the opening verse of this passage from Revelation, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth,” John offers not a second beginning but a freshness, a fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah 65: 17, Isaiah 66: 22, and 2 Peter 3: 13

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (Isaiah 65: 17)

“For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain befroe me,” says the Lord, “so shall your descendants your name remain.” (Isaiah 66: 22)

“Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”(2 Peter 3: 13)

But how is the hope that John speaks about fulfilled? How do we deal with the lack of meaning that Preacher gives to this existence on earth? Early in the American Revolution Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” It was time when things were not going good for the colonists; such a sentiment could be justly as easily expressed today.

We look around us and see countless examples of problems for which we feel there is no solution. Unlike those in the Gospel reading who asked who were the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, sick or in prison, we know who they are. Yet many times, we like they, walk right by.

Jesus told his disciples and followers that the Kingdom of God was already in place. We do not have to wait for His Second Coming because He is always with us, if we but look for him.

The foundation of the Methodist Church was and will always be in how we treat others less fortunate than us. Granted that salvation only comes to those who accept Christ in their hearts but coming to know Christ is very difficult when you are hungry, when you are sick, or when you are in prison, be it one with walls of stone or one which entraps your soul. John Wesley knew that for the world to be saved, concern for the poor, the weak, and the helpless had to be more than just words said on a Sunday. There had to be action on Monday.

But if we try to take on the task of solving all the world’s problems by ourselves, we will be like the Preacher seeing that after everything was tried how futile our efforts were. Because we alone cannot are not equal to the task. But the Preacher also pointed out that God put eternity in our hearts so as to give us a sense that what was around us is not all there is too life. If we allow God to be a part of our lives each day, then the moments of our lives can be transformed into something beautiful and with meaning.

As we end this year and get ready to begin the new one, it is important that we see what is before us, not in terms of what the world puts before us, but rather in what Christ shows us. Christ shows us that the opportunities to let the world know of His presence are in our actions.

The call this day is a simple one. For those in despair and exclusion, Christ offers the acceptance that the world denies you, the dignity denied by the world, and the spiritual guidance and community that are a foretaste of life in the Kingdom of God.

And for those who have come to know Christ as their personal Savior, there is also a call, “I called you out from the world to fashion for myself a people who knew my grace and were formed by love. But now the hour has come for you to see the signs of a New Hope that are being given to my people in this world. The hour has come to join Me in the midst of the struggle to interpret that hope, struggling to keep it free, and helping people to know me as their Lord and Savior in the midst of the events of their daily life.”

What time is it? For some it is 1030 and time to get on with the rest of the day. But I hope that it is time to take Christ into your heart and then take the light of Christ out into the world.

That One Singular Gift


I am at Dover UMC this morning.  (Location of church)  The service starts at 11 and you are welcome to attend.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were 1 Samuel 2: 18 – 20, 26; Colossians 3: 12 – 17; and Luke 2: 41 – 52.

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If there are ever a particular combination of Scripture readings for which I have a strong personal connection, it is the Old Testament reading for today with the Gospel reading for today. For they speak of the choices I made in 1963 that lead me to walk the path that brings me here today. But it is not the choices that I alone have made that I wish to speak of today.

That fact of the matter, excuse the cliché, is that each one of us has that moment described in the Old Testament reading and Gospel reading today; it is that one moment in time where we become aware of who we are and our relationship to the world around us. It is that moment in time when we begin to formalize the idea that we are both individuals and a part of the world. It is, if you will, the moment in time when we began to accept responsibility for our actions and our acts. At some age in our life, our youth allows us to escape responsibility and accountability but sooner or later, we are become responsible and accountable for what occurs because of our actions.

Can you recall the sense of awe that occurred when you had this revelation? Can you recall the sense of freedom that you had at this moment in time? Can you recall the panic that you felt when you realized what this all meant?

We are the sole proprietors of what we think, what we say, and what we do!

If there is anything wrong in society today, it is that this sense of responsibility and accountability seems to be terribly lacking in much of what occurs today. It is the student who refuses to accept the notion that learning requires an effort on their part, not just the sole exertion of the teacher or instructor. A new term has developed in the lexicon of education these days; it is the “helicopter parent”. This is a parent who “hovers” over the child and watches their every move. It is parenting to the extreme as it has gone from worrying about when to take the training wheels off a bicycle to sending text messages to high school teachers when their child gets a bad grade and where students arrived at college already “burned out” from the stress of learning. I have seen students in college who don’t know how to study simply because they never have had to do so or learned how, in part because their parents have been there to bully and harass the teacher into giving them a good grade. And when the parents try the same tactics in college, they are in for the shock of their lives when they find out that the laws that they lobbied for to protect their kids do just that and they, the parent, no longer have the say in their child’s education that they once had.

But it is more than simply parenting that has escaped the nature of responsibility, for such over protection has long been a part of society. It is just that it has expanded way beyond any rational thought process.

It is the businessman who says that they are entitled to a multi-million dollar bonus when their company is going bankrupt; it is the company owner whose salary is more than the workers may earn in a lifetime. It is the business who sends jobs overseas to foreign sweat shops with near-slavery conditions in order to reduce costs; such decisions are driven by the stock holders who want an improvement on the bottom line but fail to realize that such moves put workers here at home out of work. It is the healthcare industry whose sole interest is a profit, even if that means denying healthcare to an individual because they have gotten sick.

We have somehow accepted the words of politicians that it is better to have a bureaucracy run by a company than one run by the federal government decide our healthcare even when we know that a substantial portion of our population are covered by that federal government bureaucracy.

We want services but we are unwilling to pay for them. We seek politicians who will cut our taxes and find someone else to pay the bills. We agree with politicians who tell us government is too big and spends too much money and then we let them create a new bureaucracy and run up this nation’s fiscal deficit, leaving our children and grandchildren to pay the bills.

It is the politician who pledges to do the work of the people but only works for the highest bidder and can still find time to end their speeches with “God bless America.” Each action that we take has a result and we must at some time be held accountable for our actions.

It may be an overly romanticized depiction of the Great Depression but I am reminded of the Woody Guthrie Song, “Pretty Boy Floyd”, and what it means for today’s social conditions,

But a many a starving farmer

The same old story told

How the outlaw paid their mortgage

And saved their little homes.

Others tell you ‘bout a stranger

That come to beg a meal,

Underneath his napkin

Left a thousand dollar bill.

Well, you say that I am an outlaw,

You say that I’m a thief.

Here’s a Christmas dinner

For the families of relief.

Yes, as through this land I’ve wandered

I’ve seen lots of funny men;

Some will rob you with a six gun,

And others with a pen.

And as through your life you travel,

Yes, as through your life you roam,

You’ll never see an outlaw

Drive a family from their home.

(Lyrics from http://www.woodyguthrie.org/Lyrics/Pretty_Boy_Floyd.htm)

Our inability, reluctance, or refusal to accept responsibility even transcends our idea of religion, and for Christians, what Christmas really means. It is those here in America and overseas, no matter whether they are Christian, Jew, or Muslim, who claim that they have the right to kill someone in the name of God. We have somehow accepted the notion that Christmas is an economic event, not a spiritual one. We have somehow accepted the notion that because Jesus told us that the poor will be with us always that we need not worry about them.

There was an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week talking about a county politician in the St. Louis area wanting to remove some $300,000 in aid to charitable organizations from the St. Charles County budget. His argument was that taxes were nothing more than governmental theft and that the churches should take on the responsibility for the care of the poor.

I have heard this argument before but the kicker in this story is that the councilman is also a pastor of a local church in the area. This councilman didn’t say where the churches and other non-governmental agencies were going to get this money or what his church was doing. And one person who supported the councilman said that the Bible tells us that “God helps those who help themselves.” As you have heard me say before, in relationship to the literacy of the American people with regards to the Bible, it sounds Biblical but it isn’t in the Bible; it has always been attributed to Ben Franklin and his “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” Such responses are indicative of how we have shirked our responsibility.

This is not a put Christ back into Christmas argument; it strikes me that those who have been making this argument these past few years are among the loudest when it comes to pursuing the god of mammon and prosperity; they are the ugliest of the hypocrites when one compares their actions in the name of God to the words of Christ and what He did.

Rather, I would hope that we look at what the birth of a child some two thousand years ago means for us today. You see, we were given a gift last Friday morning. Each year, we receive this gift and, it seems to me, each year we waste it.

It is the gift of opportunity and promise, of a chance for a new beginning and a better tomorrow. But somehow, it gets lost in the pile of ribbon and wrapping paper and somehow it gets bundled up with the tree and thrown out on the street when the tree is taken down. It is a gift that comes with responsibility and perhaps that is why we don’t use it. We don’t want the responsibility that comes with this gift; we want something that doesn’t require anything from us.

Yet somehow we keep getting this gift every year. Perhaps it would mean more if we only had one chance and one chance alone to receive it. Maybe it would mean that we take Christmas more seriously and take time to understand what it really means for us today. But the uniqueness of the gift is that it is given every year without any strings attached. Maybe if we treated Christmas as a spiritual event rather than a social event or an economic event, it would mean something more. Maybe if saw Christmas as a beginning in time rather a moment in time, it would mean more to us.

Surely, Mary and Joseph had spoken to Jesus about His birth and the messages that they had received from the angels. Surely they had told Him about the visitors who came to see Him the day He was born. And like all children He began to look at the world around Him and He began to ask many questions. And as He grew up and saw the world around Him, He began to know and understand not only what His Father’s business was but what His work was to be. It should not be a surprise that Jesus would converse with the priests and the authorities in the temple that day so long ago.

We read of the priest’s amazement and wonder for they certainly had never had a student question them before. Such questioning would have probably not been accepted. It is the type of questions too many churches are unwilling to allow these days as well. For such questioning calls into place the notion of what a church is and what a church does and who the church is for.

It was right for Mary and Joseph to worry about their son, the child into whose care God had placed. And they raised Him with the singular notion of what He was to do, perhaps without true understanding (we know that later Jesus’ brothers would come for Him and He would reject them; but we also know that they would be there after the resurrection to lead the church in its early days).

We know little of what transpired in Jesus’ life for the next twenty years; we presume that He studied and worked for Joseph. But He also prepared for the task of doing His Father’s business.

It was a task that would take Him across the countryside, through the towns and villages of the Galilee, teaching the people, healing the sick and offering them a message of hope at a time when the government oppressed them and their own religious authorities had sold them out for their own personal interests. His ideas were radical ideas and they were not readily accepted by either the political or religious authorities. They were ideas that lead Him to be labeled and executed as a radical and an outlaw.

And the crucifixion of Christ on Calvary was a message to the people, “this is what we do to those who speak out against the establishment, who seek to change the rule of order that we call peace.”

But the people listened to Jesus and ignored the authorities. The people told others and what was supposed to end on a wooden cross on a hill faraway went beyond the boundaries of the Galilee.

And at a time when saying you were a follower of Christ, to proclaim your membership in the Way, was to produce your own death sentence, the people still gathered. They had heard the message of love and brotherhood, of gathering together in fellowship. They had heard the message that it was as important to care for others as it was to look after one’s self. They accepted the responsibility of spreading the message and living the message.

Paul’s words to the Colossians for today aren’t simply words that we have to memorize; they are an admonishment about how we are to live. There are those who say that we, as Christians, are to go out into the world and make disciples of all those we meet. But the word “disciple” doesn’t necessarily mean “a student of a teacher”; it means that one is a “follower of somebody”. From a New Testament viewpoint, to say that you are a disciple, to engage in discipleship, is to follow Jesus, to go on a journey.

So what are we to do? Christianity in the past few years has become extremely passive when it comes to what I believe is the true message of Christ. There is, without a doubt, a very active message out there that passes for the message of Christ but it is a message that is forced upon the listener, it is a message that demands obedience to the speaker, not to Christ. And the one aspect of the Gift that we have been given is that we must each make the choice as individuals; make the decision to follow Christ.

Jesus did not tell the twelve that they had to go with Him; He did not tell them that they would be condemned if they did not. He gave them the opportunity to follow and become fishers of men; they chose to follow. All of that somehow gets lost in the rhetoric and noise of the modern day evangelist and the modern day public church.

To follow Christ today means to be in a community, to be in the company of others who remember and celebrate the presence of Christ in their lives. It means being compassionate. Compassion is the fruit of the life in the Spirit and the ethos of the community of Jesus.

The Christian journey is a life lived from the inside out, a life in which the things we experience within — dreams, memories, images, and symbols, and the presence of him whom we encounter in deep silence — are in constant tension and dialogue with all that we experience without — people, events, joys, sorrows, and the presence of him whom we encounter in others. Thomas Merton repeats a suggestion of Douglas Steere that the absence of this tension might well produce the most pervasive form of violence present in contemporary society. “To allow one’s self to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns,” Merton writes, “to surrender to too many demands, to commit one’s self to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. Frenzy destroys our inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

One of the most critical tasks of the local church is to enable people to become “journeyers” rather than “wanderers.” This suggests that the leadership of a congregation needs to be serious about their own journeys, to the point where they are willing to share their experience with others, not as those who have arrived but as fellow journeyers able to receive as well as to give. . . .

In his Markings, Dag Hammarskjöld records some of the often agonizing turning points that were the occasion of the deepening of his remarkable journey. One entry in this journal describes with particular wisdom that sense of creative tension which is the mark of wholeness. “The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you,” he writes, “the better you will hear what is sounding outside. And only he who listens can speak. Is this the starting of the road toward the union of your two dreams — to be allowed in clarity of mind to mirror life, and in purity of heart to mold it?” Ultimately, this is the question we all must ask, for it is the question Christ asks of us. (From Mutual Ministry by James C. Fenhagen)

So what do we do? In his book, “Letters of a C. O. from Prison,” Timothy Zimmer wrote,

We say, many of us, that such and such a condition is evil, that such and such a goal is good; this the spirit which binds us, not in commitment, but in the possibility of commitment. For it is what comes after the good and evil have been defined and agreed upon that determines the grain of activism. Do we practice what we preach? Or, do we, advocating peace, resort to violence in our advocacy? And advocating freedom, refuse to face the real threat to our security which freedom brings? And advocating love, hate the haters more than they hate us? . . . If we preach love and freedom and peace, we must first love, be free, be peaceful — or better yet not preach at all but let love and peace and freedom speak for themselves in our actions. (“Letters of a C. O. from Prison”, Timothy W. L. Zimmer (1969, The Judson Press), page 36 – 37)

It is the message that we must hear again and which we must again tell others. It is not about building war machines that can destroy the world or seeking domination over other countries and calling it peace. It is not about taking away the fundamental rights of humans and calling slavery freedom. It is not a message that says healthcare is only for those who aren’t sick and can afford healthcare or dropping someone from the roles because they get sick.

It is the message that the sick shall be healed, the hungry fed, shelters built for the homeless, and the oppressed set free. Many will hear this message and say that it is not for them; so be it. But one by one, people will hear the message and they will begin to understand.

Some two thousand years ago a child was born. The child would grow in stature and wisdom. And then he would go to the people with a message that offered hope and promise. We were given that gift last Friday. It is one singular gift that we will ever be given and we are to give it away. We have heard the message and now it is our turn to tell the message.

The Good Thing About Children


This is the message that I presented on the 1st Sunday after Christmas (28 December 2003) at Tompkins Corners UMC (Putnam Valley, NY).  The Scriptures for this Sunday were 1 Samuel 2: 18 – 20, 26; Colossians 3: 12 – 17; and Luke 2: 41 – 52.

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he most interesting thing about our society’s view of children is what we think about when we think of children. Without providing any commentary about why, the two things about children that came to mind when I started this sermon were "Children should be seen and not heard" and "A child with a hammer thinks everything is a nail."

The concordance for my primary Bible does not show any similar statements. In fact, any references to children are positive, imploring parents to do those things that will help their children. In Proverbs 20: 1 we read, "The righteous man leads a blameless life, blessed are his children after him." (Proverbs 20: 6) A second proverb, that some might say is negative is Proverbs 20: 11, "Even a child is known by his deed, whether what he does is pure and right." (Proverbs 20: 11) But the commentaries for this note shows that it is not the child that is held in a negative view but rather his or her parents. The patterns established early in life might continue to mark a person throughout his or her lifetime. It becomes necessary for those who are around the child to lead lives that show the type of character that they desire to see in the child. And it is important to realize that such behavior on our part is more than "do as I say, not as I do." For invariably, what we do will have more of an impact on our children than anything we say.

An infant’s smallness and adorable innocence often draw the attention of nearby adults. They know that a newborn life is a gift of great value. But as the infant grows, the parents realize the great responsibility of rearing the child. They know that the child needs to be taught, not just cared for. A multitude of child-rearing books on books store shelves attest to the fact that raising a child takes great wisdom.

At the heart of every good parenting principle lies Solomon’s words, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) The verb for train means "to dedicate, " and the word for way generally refers to living correctly in God’s sight. Solomon was advising parents to set their child aside for special use, to dedicate him or her to the Lord and His path. The verb train includes the idea of stimulating the child to do good — through words of guidance, discipline, and encouragement on the right path. This is a parent’s main task, to receive a child as a charge from the Lord and then to dedicate the child to God’s ways. Some have taken the line "when he is old he will not depart from it" as a promise. They believe it to be a guarantee that proper parenting will always result in a child’s salvation. Proverbs, however, present general principles, not promises. Proverbs 22: 6, "to train a child", simply assures that the lessons learned in childhood will last a lifetime. Whether their child learns to follow the Lord will, in part, depend on his or her own choices. But lessons driven home at the crucial stage of childhood will not go away. Hence the need for parental discipline and guidance.

God promises to enable parents for their tasks, not to make decision for the child. Each generation is responsible for its own relationship with God. But even without a promise, this proverb remains wise advice for every parent. Dedicating a child to God’s ways is the best course to set.

And it also speaks to each of us in our relationship with all those we encounter. How we act, how we show our relationship with God will have an impact on each child that we meet as they seek to develop that relationship with God.

Samuel’s life was dedicated to a life with God from the day he was born. Hannah, Samuel’s mother, as we know from 1 Samuel 1: 11, was barren. She asked God to give her a son so that she might find favor with her husband. In return for this, she would dedicate the boy to a life of serving God. And when the time came, Samuel went to live and work in the temple in a manner similar to an apprentice serving a master carpenter or mason. And God rewarded Hannah with additional children.

It is important to understand the importance of talking about this. The duties of the priest were essentially a family thing, handed down from father to son. But Eli’s three sons did not keep the lessons learned at home growing up and were corrupt and handled their priestly duties with irreverence and disdain. And so, when the time came for the mantle of the Chief Priest to be passed on, it was passed on to Samuel and to none of Eli’s sons.

But in speaking of Samuel in later years is to get ahead of the story. It is the fact that the Old Testament reading for today focuses on that time when Samuel was twelve. I do not know the deliberations that take place in preparing the lectionary but I have to think that the pairing of 1 Samuel 2: 18 – 20 and 1 Samuel 2: 26 with Luke 2: 41 – 52 was very deliberate. For both Samuel and Jesus are about twelve years old at the time of their respective stories.

Twelve is a magic number for today’s children. Most kids today see it as a countdown to becoming a teen and the gaining of independence. Society, through its fashions, lifestyles, and whatever else might come to mind, easily reinforces that notion. But for all the hype and thought that being a teenager will set you free, little discussion is made about the fact that responsibilities come with the independence gained from a birthday. It should be noted that boys at twelve in time of Samuel and Jesus were getting ready to move into roles of responsibility and some authority, not simply getting permission to stay up longer at night.

I also find the fact that both boys were twelve interesting. For the age of twelve, at least from one theory, is the transition period from a concreter, physical object based thinking pattern to a more abstract and formal thought pattern. This was first proposed by the Swiss biologist Jean Piaget in a period of study just after World War II.

Unfortunately, in the fifty plus years since that landmark research the age of transition has moved backwards with most child developmental specialist feeling that that transition doesn’t take place until seventeen or eighteen. And from the viewpoint of a classroom teacher, and with a slightly cynical tone, I am not entirely sure that it is later than that. In fact, I think that many of today’s graduates are incapable of the complicated abstract thought patterns Piaget proposed as the nature of junior high students in the late 1940’s.

Maybe that is why we are amazed by the Gospel account of Jesus’ time in the temple. We cannot imagine or envision a child of twelve sitting in the great temple of Jerusalem and leading a thoughtful and in-depth discussion of the Torah with the nation’s best and brightest scholars. It would be almost like finding out that Albert Einstein was twelve when he formulated the basic concepts of relativity.

But the scholars were amazed as well, for their view of society held that children were an impediment. The view of children then is in harsh contrast to the words of Proverbs which speak of loving and caring for children, not ignoring them. It does not matter whether we are amazed that a child of twelve could have the intellectual capacity to discuss the Torah with scholars who had studied the law all their lives or whether we are amazed that a child would dare move outside his place in society; what matters is that we are amazed and we don’t think a child is capable of doing such things.

And I think that is the case today. If we cared for our children, if we followed the words of Proverbs, then why are schools in such disrepair? Why, when the subject of spending money on schools is brought up, is there such a hue and cry against the idea? If we are a nation that thinks of itself in terms of excellence, why are teachers among the lowest paid professionals in the world. We are willing to spend countless dollars thinking about our own immediate future but we barely even consider the impact of our decisions and actions today on our children’s future?

And if we cared for our children, would we as individuals and as a country act like a spoiled child when things do not go our way? Why does the leadership of this country continue to follow the schoolyard rules of "it’s my ball, so the game is played by my rules" in its international diplomacy. Why, when we are the wealthiest country on the earth, are there still poor and homeless? Shouldn’t the lessons of sharing and giving, taught at home at an early age, have some meaning in this world?

And why are our responses to crisis after crisis quick and impetuous, the signs of a child still in a concrete type of thinking. You would think that some thought would be given to looking at things from a long-term view, ending violence forever and not simply today.

I am not laying all the blame on the present administration. The trouble goes much deeper than that. Look at the television, our primary source of information and entertainment. Of course, telling the difference between the two has become almost impossible these days. Can we honestly say that we are challenged by what we read or see in today’s media?

And whose fault is that? The development of abstract thinking is not necessarily time independent. It must be pushed and there are a lot of people quite happy not to be pushed. There are a lot of people who want others to do their thinking for them and are willing to accept the consequences. Unless we are willing to take on the responsibility, we cannot accept the independence that free thinking brings.

Paul was faced with such a problem when he wrote to the people of Colosse. For there were some who thought that the freedom of the spirit allowed them to do just about anything they so desired. There were others who felt that Christianity was just another form of Judaism, bound by law and scripture, to a particular lifestyle. Neither view accepted the central truth of the Gospel, that salvation is found only through Christ.

And like a good father, Paul was counseling the members of the church in Colosse about how they should act. As you read Paul’s letter, you will notice that he spends as much time counseling and adjucating disputes as he does teaching and preaching. Like a father counseling his son or daughter, so too does Paul counsel the people.

And it is counsel that we should look at more closely,

"clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone, has a complaint again another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And the let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. (Colossians 3: 12 – 15)

The good thing about children is that they have parents. It may seem illogical to think of ourselves as a child in the same terms that we see our own children. We thought the birth of our own children had taken away that distinction. But we are still the children of God, a statement we affirm every Sunday with the Lord’s Prayer. And as children, we are still growing and learning. Growing in the eyes of God and learning how to better show the love that God has for us in the ways that we work and respect others.

So, as the 2003 ends and 2004 begins, we look our own behavior and vow to make it more like Jesus, dutiful son or daughter, obedient to God, and working to bring God’s message to the world.


Ages of Wisdom


I am again preaching at Dover United Methodist Church in Dover Plains, NY. Here are my thoughts for this 1st Sunday after Christmas.
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There is something about today’s readings from the Old Testament (1) and Gospel (2) that strikes a personal chord in my life.

In the Old Testament reading, we read of the twelve-year old Samuel attending to his yearly priestly duties. We must remember that Hannah, Samuel’s mother, had promised God that Samuel would be a servant of the Lord if she would be allowed to become pregnant. Our reading today shows that the prayer was answered and the loan of Samuel to Hannah and Elkanah by God was repaid.

In the Gospel reading for today, we read of the twelve-year old Jesus sitting in the Temple, discussing the Torah and the Law with the elders of the Temple. We remember that when his parents questioned Him about His absence from the family on its return to Nazareth, Jesus responds that He was only going about His Father’s business. At the age of twelve, Jesus is becoming aware of who He is and what He is to do.

I don’t know if either the writer of the two books of Samuel or Luke chose the age of twelve deliberately but somewhere around the age of twelve, a child begins to become aware of his or her surroundings and begins to formulate thinking about their own identity. While the exact age of transition varies from child to child, the world view of the child begins to change around the age of twelve. At that age, most children begin to change from thinking about things concretely or in terms of physical and real things to thinking about things abstractly or in terms of ideas and concepts.

For me, that was certainly the case. We lived in Montgomery, Alabama, when I was twelve. It was there that I made the conscious choice to pursue the God and Country Award in Boy Scouts. I wanted this award because it is one of the few awards in Boy Scouts that is not rank dependent. In other words, you do not have to be a certain rank before you can earn it. And it is an award, which calls upon the individual to make decisions about themselves that will have an impact on their lives far beyond the time of study and work towards the award. If you are going to earn this award, you must make a commitment to Christ.

It was also during those years that we lived in Montgomery (1962 – 63) that I began to become aware of how racism and segregation were intertwined in everyone’s daily life. My brothers and I had already encountered the effects of segregation while visiting our maternal grandparents in Lexington, North Carolina (3). Those effects were transitory because we lived elsewhere in the country, where segregation was present but not as obvious.

But when we moved to Montgomery in 1962, the rules and effects of segregation became a true part of my life. This was the year that George Wallace ran on a platform of states’ rights and segregation and was elected the Governor of Alabama.

I would later have peripheral encounters with Governor Wallace but it was the political ideas that he espoused that were the prevalent thoughts of the day that would begin the changes in my life. Because the law required that all schools be funded equally, no public school received much in the way of funding. Families had to buy the needed textbooks, no matter what grade they were in. If the schools gave the books to the students, the black students would be on the same plane as the white students. And that was just not acceptable policy in Alabama at that time. And if you could not afford the books, new or used, that was your problem, not the schools.

We would move to Colorado in 1963 as we followed my father across the country during his Air Force career but we would come back to Tennessee in 1966 and find that the situation had not changed very much. Money for education was always controlled so that no school received more money than any other school but schools in high income areas always seemed to be better off in terms of support and equipment.

If I cringe when I hear of someone speaking about a 21st century version of states’ rights or if I speak out against inequality, it is because I have experienced first hand what those words truly mean. And I see those attitudes still present today.

Though Governor Wallace later recanted his segregationist beliefs, there are still those in Alabama who hold to the concept of states’ rights and the oppression of some for the betterment of others. Income taxes begin at $4,600 and top out at 5% on income levels as low as $12,000. This makes the Alabama income tax a flat tax and the only ones that benefit from this are those with higher incomes. Alabama also allows its citizens to take a full deduction for federal taxes, again a benefit for only those with higher incomes.

To make up for lost revenue, local governments are allowed to add to the state’s 4% sales tax. In some of the poorer counties of Alabama, sales taxes run to almost 10% (and we hear complaints about the sales taxes up here in New York). The sales tax in Alabama is the highest in the nation and does not exempt even the most basic necessities such as food. Property taxes in Alabama are the lowest in the nation and are generally one-third the national average. Timber acreage is taxed at less than a dollar an acre. With seventy-one percent of Alabama covered in timber, the timber industry has a powerful say in the state government. Though the income tax and property tax are among of the lowest in the country, there is a tax on just about everything else. Put together, taxes in Alabama put an unfair burden on the lowest income groups and allow the richest in the state to avoid paying any taxes at all. People who own 71 percent of the property pay less than 2 percent of the property tax in the state of Alabama. And if you are paying for schools or healthcare from your property tax revenue, where is the money coming from?

Yet, when reform of the tax structure in Alabama was proposed in 2003, it was the modern day Pharisees and Sadducees of Alabama, the Christian Coalition of Alabama that opposed the reform. While these modern day Pharisees fought to keep the Ten Commandments on the walls of the courthouses of Alabama, they fought to keep the principles of Christ, of caring about the poor and the needy from being the policy of the state of Alabama. It may be 2006 but everything I read made it seem like it was still 1962 or even earlier.

I see today, as we prepare for the coming New Year, a nation that consistently fails to learn from its past. I find a nation and a people who have stopped learning. Oh, we still go to school but the support for our schools seems to be declining each year. While some schools may have up-to-date equipment and pay some of the highest salaries in their area, there are other schools which do not have even the basic equipment and struggle to find qualified teachers. We speak of learning when we are really speaking of testing. We are more interested in trivial facts than we are in the analysis of ideas.

One of my Christmas presents was a book that discussed President John Kennedy’s speeches. I found most interesting the assertion by the authors of this book that there probably will never be another President like President Kennedy. It wasn’t so much that we would not allow his personal flaws and medical problems to be covered up as there were some forty-six years ago but rather that he was the last President to speak in literate paragraphs with references to history. He expected those who heard his speeches to understand those references and to understand what he was saying. He did not expect people to always agree with what he said but he did think that those who heard his words should understand them. President Kennedy’s words could not be reduced to sound bites or jingoism; his thoughts were not simple statements easily forgotten but ones that dwelt in our minds and challenged us to think before acting.

Ours is a society where the sound bite rules; where quick snippets of short, witty sayings count more than detailed or thoughtful discussions. James warned us in his letter to beware of those who speak with a quick tongue, for it leads to and causes nothing but trouble. Our lack of wisdom, our desire for the quick and simple answer also leads us away from the church.

Today’s church, in a desperate attempt to answer the questions of the people who come, is not always willing to demand that the people show some wisdom. Many churches today are willing to be ruled by the ways of society. Our society has turned everything into a commodity. So churches have turned the Gospel into one as well. To make church more palatable we have reduced the Gospel to a minimalist set of slogans and techniques. We have pared the Gospel message down to a short message that can fit onto a bumper sticker, letting the consumer be the judge of what can be demanded, said, and expected in the name of Jesus.

We are a nation which has forgotten that for a society to move forward, it must learn. Jesus understood that He must go about His Father’s business if He was to fulfill His own mission some twenty years later. It is noted at the end of the Old Testament reading that Samuel continued to grow in stature and favor with the Lord. In a few verses, Samuel will hear the voice of God but will not understand who it is that is calling. It will be his mentor, Eli, who will teach Samuel to listen to the words and understand that it is God that is calling.
Barbara Wendland is a United Methodist lay person from Texas who publishes a monthly newsletter of her thoughts. In her January newsletter, she has several comments about the traditions of the church. She is not opposed to the traditions of the church; they are what make the church. But she points out that many people today still cling to those traditions, especially in light of a need for new traditions and new ways to express the Word of God in today’s society.

The problem today is that the ways that some people say are the new ways are not the result of thinking and analysis but rather a measure of mass marketing. The words of many pastors today are not a reasoned analysis of the Gospel or Jesus’ actions but rather an attempt to transform Jesus’ words of service and sacrifice into words that put individuals before others.

It is clear, when you read the Gospel message that Jesus has no interest in meeting our material needs. Rather, He appears intent upon giving us needs we would not have had, had we not met Him. He speaks of severance from some of our most cherished values so that we may gain what we do not have. But we rebel at this message for it means that we give up what we truly cherish, motherhood, family and self-fulfillment.

We would rather hear words that make life easier, put a little lilt in our voice, a bit more sunshine in our lives. We like the blandness found in much of today’s spirituality because it does not call for us to do anything.

William Willimon, Dean of the Chapel at Duke University and a major author in Methodism, once preached at a church that tried to make its services “seeker sensitive”. Such churches often remove the historic Christian metaphors and images, such as the cross. The music, as Dr. Willimon reports, is “me, my and mine.” (4)

The cross is often removed from such services or seeker-sensitive oriented churches because it reminds the congregation of Christ’s suffering or death and it makes them feel uncomfortable. The cross is often seen as an impediment, a turn off or it gets in the way of our attempt to reach people with the Gospel.

The noted Baptist minister, Tony Campolo, noted that
… the last place where I can really quote Jesus these days is in American churches. They don’t want to hear ‘overcome evil with good.’ They don’t want to hear ‘those who live by the sword die by the sword.’ They don’t want to hear ‘if your enemy hurts you, do good, feed, clothe, minister to him.’ They don’t want to hear ‘blessed are the merciful.’ They don’t want to hear ‘love your enemies.’ (5)
It appears that Christianity in America is a different sort of religion from what it was meant to be. It is one in which people can live their own lives, not one in which they seek the one given to us by Christ.

While we need to reach out to the seekers and younger generations, we will fail if we do it with slick marketing techniques. We must constantly remember that what people seeking is Christ and if we take Christ out of the picture, people cannot find what they seek.

If we do not put in the cross, if we do not mention the pain Christ will endure, then the Gospel becomes meaningless. It is an example of our dangerous willingness to reach the world at any cost. The trouble is that if the world ever gives the church a real hearing, we, as the church, will find that without the cross, we have nothing significant to say in return.

Of course, in this day of quick learning and minimal thought, you have to wonder why more people do not stay away from church. Jesus didn’t say that His was the way for nine out of ten who heard His words. He wasn’t saying that His was the truth we think we wanted or His discipleship was the life we seek. Clearly, Jesus spoke words that often went against the desires and needs of the crowds.

People came to hear Jesus back then because what He said was the truth. Those who could not stand to hear the truth left; those who sought easy answers or quick riches left. But those that stayed knew that in Christ there was a hope and a promise not found on earth or in earthly possession. People were willing to pay the price that would ensure them what they truly desired.

We are reminded today that wisdom, as described in Proverbs 1: 20 – 33, mocks those who do not seek it. But despite all we might say, ours is a society in which wisdom is not sought or desired. Too late, we have discovered that rather than the Gospel message transforming the world, the medium has transformed the message. Evangelism is now measured by the feelings of good engendered in the congregation. In a society where everything is a commodity, the value of a church service is measured by what is gained from spending one or two hours in church every Sunday.

The Gospel message requires understanding, not a reduction to a short sound bite. It requires study and thought; it cannot be done by simply writing down what the pastor says. I would have a hard time being one of the modern day preachers that you see on television today. I would have a cross on my altar, not a world globe or a dove. I would demand that people listen to the words being spoken, not just simply write them down.

I would be like Paul, encouraging the people of the various churches that he founded and helped to grow. I would remind them about Christ and the role of Christ in their lives. I would remind them that they, those who have chosen to follow Christ, were the examples for others to learn from. I would remind them of what the Cross meant two thousand years ago and what it means today.

It is important that we remember Paul’s words to the people of Colosse (6). It is important that we continue to treat each other as Christ treated each one of us. It is important that we lead lives that speak of the peace of Christ that is in our lives. We must also remember that Paul included the word “teach”, not in passing but in the way we are to live.

As the old year ends and the new year begins, as we look forward to the new while we remember the past, we must look to the wisdom of the ages and use that wisdom to insure that we have ages to come. We are reminded today of the words of the classic Isaac Watts hymn, “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”. Though the title and first stanza speak of the past, the second stanza speaks of God being our help for years to come. We are challenged, as was Samuel and no matter how old we are, to continue learning and growing in the eyes of the Lord.

(1) 1 Samuel 2: 18 – 20, 26
(2) Luke 2: 41 – 52
(3) “Lexington, North Carolina”
(4) “It’s Hard to be Seeker-Sensitive When You Work for Jesus”, William H. Willimon, Circuit Rider, September/October 2003
(5) Tony Campolo as quoted in Christian Week magazine and reported in SojoMail for 9/10/03
(6) Colossians 3: 12 – 17