Why Are We Observing Lent Again

These are my thoughts for this year’s season of Lent.

Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent is March 2nd this year.  Why are we observing Lent this year?  Are we doing so because we really haven’t observed it these past two years? 

If nothing else, it is nice to be back to the mindset of a “normal” season of Lent.  Then again, because the timing of Lent is based on when Easter occurs, no Lenten season is the same as the ones before it. So, the question really should be “why do we observe Lent every year?”

Perhaps this year we can really look at what Lent means for each of us.  I am afraid that for too many people Lent is about sacrifice.  These individuals will publicly announce, sometimes with great fanfare and showmanship, that they are giving something up for Lent.  But such acts are the acts of the religious elite that both John the Baptizer and Jesus called out.  For as soon as Lent turns to the Easter season, these individuals will return to their consumption or usage of whatever it was they sacrificed for Lent.

Lent is more than the sacrifice of a favorite food or activity; it is about repentance and preparation.

We are far from a perfect people, but we are also a people who, through Christ, seek perfection.  Repentance is, thus, part of this process.  We must repent of our old ways, casting off that which has kept us from reaching our goals.  But we must also have some sense of where we want to go.  And that requires study and preparation.

If our faith is to live, it must be nurtured.  Otherwise, it will die.  And while our physical body may live on, what good is that if our soul has died?

I am not sure if I have ever met someone whose soul has died so I can only imagine what sort of life that person must have.  But I have met many whose intellectual life has died.  These individuals have reached the goals they set for themselves professionally and, having reached those goals, stopped learning.  Such individuals are quite literally out of touch with today’s society.  I have also met individuals who reached the pinnacle in their profession, but they continue to learn, striving to reach higher goals.

The difference, perhaps, is that those who continue to seek understanding also understand that their profession continues to change and to be alive in their profession, they must continue the process themselves.

I have been involved in chemical education for some 57 years, first as a high school student, then as a college student, and then as a teacher in high school and an instructor/assistant professor college.  Even today, as a chemistry tutor, I continue to learn more about this subject that has been my vocation for this so many years (recently, the American Chemical Society announced an online review course to see chemistry with modern examples [Facebook post – 2/9/22]).

Over these years I have observed that chemistry is based on a certain set of fundamentals.  In fact, from the day in 1661 when Robert Boyle published the “Sceptical Chymist”, we have known that there is a set of fundamentals on which chemistry (and all sciences) are based.  [It should also be noted that Boyle was as well known for writings on theology as he was for his scientific endeavors.]  But over the years, our understanding of those fundamentals has changed.

The idea of the atom as the smallest part of matter has been a fundamental part of chemistry since approximately 450 BCE.  But our understanding of what makes up the atom and how the atom interacts has changed.

Even though the neutron was discovered in 1932, there is no mention of it in either of my father’s high school textbooks, both published in 1935. My father had, to the best of my knowledge, a rudimentary knowledge of atomic theory but his ideas were out-of-date by the time I took high school chemistry in 1966.

The idea of an element as the simplest form of matter is one such fundamental. 

Mendeleev used the idea of chemical families, elements with similar chemical properties, to arrange the elements on the first periodic table.  The Noble Gases (helium, neon, argon, krypton, and xenon) were the last family added to Mendeleev’s table because of the lack of observable chemical properties.

In my 1966 high school textbook was the comment that these elements did not form compounds.  Yet, in 1962, Neil Bartlett had synthesized the first Noble gas compounds.  Do I rely on the material in the text, or do I look at the research in the field?

The discovery of the neutron would lead to two important areas of discovery.  First, it created the path that allowed chemists to create elements heavier than uranium.

Over the years, the number of elements that we know has changed.  There were 63 elements on the first organized periodic table Dimitri Mendeleev created in 1869.  When my father took high school chemistry in 1938, there were 88 elements; when I took chemistry in 1966, the number had risen to 103 and there are now 118 identified elements. 

The work of individuals seeking to create new elements led to the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939 (the year my father graduated from high school).  And this discovery would lead to the development of atomic and nuclear weapons.

I think there is a corollary to our understanding of our faith.  We learned the fundamentals of our faith in our membership class many years ago.  As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13: 11 – 12,

If our understanding of our faith has not grown as we have grown, then our faith is no longer viable and in danger of dying.  While the fundamentals of our faith have not changed, our understanding has (or should have).  And that means, as we enter in the Season of Lent and a time of repentance and preparation, we must look to what our faith means to us today.

” When I was a child, I was talking like a child, thinking like a child, acting like a child, but when I became an adult, I outgrew my childish ways.”

Why are we observing Lent this year?  Because in our striving to be more perfect, more like Christ, we must set aside time to cast aside that which has held us back and seek to find ways to move us to our goal.


A New Life for the Church and in the Church

Finding the Truth

A Brief History of Atomic Theory

Thoughts on the nature of teaching science in the 21st Century

“What Will You Give Up?”

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the bulletin for this coming Sunday, 1 March 2020, the 1st Sunday in Lent (A), at Fishkill United Methodist Church. Service begins at 10:15 and you are welcome to make your Lenten journey with us.

If Lent has a secular tradition, it is the practice of giving up something during the 40 days.  Some people quit watching a particular TV show, others quit chocolate; some give up posting on Facebook.

I once suggested whatever you give up, you should give it up for good.  That did not go well for those who were giving up chocolate though there are some who think that giving up Facebook wouldn’t be a bad idea.

But Lent is not be about living without chocolate for 40 days or forever; it is not about posting or chatting with your friends on Facebook.  It is about preparing.  It is about preparing for a Life in Christ.  It is about preparing for the freedom found in Christ.

In a world without sin, Adam and Eve gave up that freedom.  For 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus struggled with the very idea of freedom, freedom from sin versus the perceived freedom of power.

Lent is about the decision you must make.  Do I keep the life I have, secure in the knowledge that you have your chocolate and Facebook posts, but open to the temptation of earthly power.

Or you can choose to follow Christ, giving up all pretentions of earthly power but secure in the knowledge that you have true freedom.

This Lent, you have to answer the question, “What will you give up?”

~~Tony Mitchell


This will be the “back page” for the bulletin at Fishkill United Methodist church for Sunday, February 18, 2018, the 1st Sunday in Lent (Year B).

Somewhere among the myriad pages of my blog is a comment that suggested that when you give up something for Lent, you give it up for good.  In other words, if you give up chocolate for Lent, it is a commitment that you will never have another piece of chocolate in your life.  Obviously, that idea was not well received.

Lent is about preparation, of putting your priorities in order, determining what is important to you and your life.  Clearly, God’s decision to destroy the world, His creation, was not an easy one.  How can anyone destroy something they had created?  But God saw in Noah a possibility to (excuse the cliché) wipe the slate clean and begin again.  The people of this planet were His most desired treasure and God would take care of them.

When Jesus went into the wilderness, He had to make a several choices.  What did He value the most?  What did He want the most?

Perhaps that is what Lent is about.  What do you value the most?  As Peter points out, through Christ we are saved.  We are still God’s treasure.  But is God our treasure?  These are the days where we decide.

~Tony Mitchell

One of the “themes” for Lent this year is our journey to baptism.  To that end, I came up with these questions.

I would be interested in your thoughts about these questions.

5 March 2017 – “Child of God: Naming Each Other” – Who are you named after?

12 March 2017 – “How Long: Renouncing Evil” – How has baptism changed your life?

19 March 2017 – “I Dream of a Church: Christ’s Representative” – What was it like to be a part of someone else’s baptism?

26 March 2017 – “I Choose Love: Communities of Forgiveness” – How do you feel when you watch someone else gets baptized?

2 April 2017 – “God Has Work for Us to Do: Faithful Disciples” – What does it meant to be baptized?

9 April 2017 – “The Day Is Coming: We Are One”– What comes after baptism?

Where Are We Going?

A Meditation for 14 February 2016, the 1st Sunday in Lent (Year C). This is also “Evolution Weekend” and Boy Scout Sunday. The meditation is based on Deuteronomy 26: 1 – 11, Romans 10: 8 – 13, and Luke 4: 1 – 3

I was going to use what I thought was a quote from Lewis Carroll,

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

But, according to http://philosiblog.com/2011/07/13/if-you-dont-know-where-youre-going/, that is only a paraphrase of the actual conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:

Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

The Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,”

Alice: “I don’t much care where–”

The Cat: “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,”

“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

The Cat: “Oh, you’re sure to do that, if you only walk long enough.”

So where are we going? Are we going to wander aimlessly about until we get somewhere? Or should we stop and consider where it is that we would like to go? Today is the 1st Sunday in Lent, that season of the church year when we begin or renew our own personal journey of preparation and repentance. There is also some personal significance for this day for me.

It is Boy Scout Sunday. On this Sunday in 1965 I began my own personal journey with Christ. This is also Evolution Weekend, the celebration of Charles Darwin’s birth and the role that science and faith jointly play in our life. For me, these two events serve as markers in my professional and personal careers and the interaction in both the secular and sectarian world.

There are many today who feel that you cannot live in both worlds, that you must choose one over the other.

There was a discussion on Facebook recently about why it was that there was such a strong conflict between science and religion.

There are those who say that the battle between science and religion is as old as the Scriptures. Others say that you must choose between explanations based on divine intervention and explanations based on logic and reason.

There are those who see any idea of religion as mere superstition and outmoded, overtaken by the enlightenment of the ages. But there is still evil in this world and no degree of enlightenment or understanding of the natural world is going to explain or create ways to remove it.

Somehow, we must find a way to live in a world where science, which is very good at explaining how things work, and faith/religion, which offers an explanation of what it all means, not only co-exist but work together (http://www.rabbisacks.org/books/the-great-partnership-god-science-and-the-search-for-meaning/).

Why does it seem that so many people would rather “burn the bridges” that connect the two worlds than make sure that there is an open and available path between them?

Ian Barbour, 1999 Templeton Prize winner, offered the idea that there were four prevailing views concerning the relationship between science and religion:

  1. That they fundamentally conflict,
  2. That they are separate domains,
  3. That the complexity of science affirms divine guidance, and
  4. Finally — the approach he preferred — that science and religion should be viewed as being engaged in a constructive dialogue with each other.

Barbour would later write,

This requires humility on both sides. Scientists have to acknowledge that science does not have all the answers, and theologians have to recognize the changing historical contexts of theological reflection” (Obituary of Ian Barbour, New York Times, January 13, 2014)

Albert Einstein offered a similar view that “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind” (“Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium”, 1941).

We can begin by understanding that this conflict is not as old as the scriptures and that is driven by the need for individuals to control the lives of others. Advocates for a single point of view (be it secular or sectarian) are seeking one thing and that is the power, simple raw power, to control the lives of other people.

When Galileo was tried by the Catholic Church for heresy some four hundred years ago, the opposition to his ideas and the ideas of Copernicus and Kepler did not originate with the church. The opposition came from individuals within the academic establishment of that time. They were opposed to these new ideas because their reputation, status, and power were built on maintaining the Aristotelian view of an earth-centered universe. The church was brought into the argument because the academic establishment convinced members of the church establishment that the changes proposed by Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo would harm the church and threaten their status, reputation, and power.

It was an atheist who called the beginning moment of creation the “Big Bang” because he felt the idea of a beginning moment in time was too much like the opening words of Genesis. His terminology was meant to deride a point in time that he felt did not exist. Unfortunately, the name stuck and his ideas didn’t.

Similarly, opposition to Darwin’s ideas about evolution began in the late 19th century and solely because some in the church establishment saw his ideas as threats to their views. Those who opposed Darwin’s ideas felt that it was in their best interest to limit the information that the people received, probably understanding that the more information a person had, the more likely that they would begin to make decisions on their own. It should also be pointed out the Darwin never considered what he was writing to be an alternate view or replacement for the Creation story in the Bible. Rather, it was, as all theories are, an explanation for what he had observed.

When you look at the history of the church from its early days through the 18th century, you find something totally in opposition to the present attitude. Many in the early church saw the opening words of Genesis as an allegory, written to help the people understand it better (from “How was the Genesis account of creation interpreted before Darwin?”).

If there is to be a coherent and civil discussion about the nature of science into today’s society, be it on the topic of evolution and creation or any other topic (climate change, for example), it must be made with all of the facts and not just a select few. It must be done with an understanding both of the meaning of the Scriptures and the science that is involved.

It should be noted that the Devil has this tendency to only partially quote the Scriptures (or simply misconstrue or change the words of God, such as he did when he tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden). Now, it does not help things when people do the same thing, knowingly or unknowingly. If you do not understand the topic, then it becomes very difficult to talk about it.

The Devil, in whatever form he may take, takes advantage of our ignorance and uses our own ignorance to feed our fears. In the Old Testament reading for today, the people bring their gifts to place before God. Is not our ability to reason and think one of those gifts from God? Should we not be celebrating that gift, should we not nurture and support that gift? Surely, the ability to think, to reason, and to be creative is as important as any other gift we have been given?

Paul, in writing to the Romans, speaks of preparing to greet the Messiah and of the difficulty of living a righteous life through the law only. We must prepare to meet Christ as the Messiah so that we gain a total and complete freedom, a freedom to seek the unknown in the world around us, a freedom to begin making changes in this world that reflect the wonder and beauty of God.

We must begin to see science as a way to the truth of the natural world, knowing that each time we answer one question, we create two new questions. We must understand that our faith gives us the power to seek the unknown and that questioning the world around us does not destroy our faith but makes it stronger.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote of standing at the crossroads and having to make a decision, of deciding which way we are going to go. There are actually three roads at this intersection. One is the path wholly sectarian in nature, a path that leads to discoveries of all sorts. But this road has no understanding of good or evil and discoveries that could do wondrous things can also lead to disaster.

The second path is a secular path but it too is limited, just as it was when Jesus began His ministry in the Galilee two thousand years ago. Life is good because you don’t have to think, for there are those who will do the thinking for you. But such a life has no hope, no promise of anything better, for it is hard enough living with in the structure of a law.

And there is the third path, a path which contains all that we can be. It opens up to us when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, for it frees us from the chains of sin and death, it offers an opportunity to have and seek hope, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we become empowered to reach out and venture into the unknown.

As we began our journey through Lent and to Easter and the Resurrection, which path will you choose? Where are you going?

“Finding My Faith (and keeping Mariano’s)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second, from the Living Bible:

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

And third, from the Common English Bible:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Journey Begins

On Sunday, I will be at Grace United Methodist Church in Slate Hill, NY. Service is at 10 am and you are invited to attend.

And then on Sunday afternoon, I will be at Grace United Methodist Church in Newburgh, NY, to begin the Lenten School. I have served as the Lenten School Coordinator for the past six years and this will be my last year in the position. For myself, it has been an interesting journey but one that must end; hopefully, someone will answer the call and begin their own journey in this position.

The Lenten School will start each Sunday during Lent with “soup and sandwiches” at 4 and classes that run to 7:30. The meal will be provided by “Grannie Annie’s Kitchen”. If you are interested in taking the Basic Lay Servant Ministry course or courses in sermon planning, spiritual gifts, leading in prayer, leading small groups, or the history and polity of the United Methodist Church, this is a good place and a good time to do so. One can still register at the beginning of the course.

The Scriptures for this Sunday are Deuteronomy 26: 1 – 11, Romans 10: 8 – 13, and Luke 4: 1 – 3.

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to travel across this country back in the mid 19th century, when the west was just opening up and people were moving from the east and mid-west to the new territories of California and Oregon? What must have it felt like to leave practically everything you owned behind as you gathered together the provisions for a four or five and possibly six month journey across the central plains of this country?

And what must have it felt like to be walking and walking as the wagon train you were a part of traveled westward with the terrain that you walked on looking the same day after day? And how would you have felt as you approached the Front Range of the Rockies and saw that there were even higher mountains behind them and you knew that you had all of that to cross before you could even think of arriving at your destination?

From my own experiences, I know that the plains of Kansas are not necessarily flat but you can literally see almost to the horizon and there is nothing in between.

Several years ago, I was in Billings, Montana, and my mother and I went out to see the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. And there on the high plains of the west, I got the impression that one could see almost all the way to New York. And then my cell phone rang and it was the lay speaker covering for me at my church asking a question about the service on Sunday.

Even Ann, my wife, will tell you that she couldn’t tell the difference between the corn fields of Iowa and Nebraska or the wheat fields of Nebraska and Kansas; it just seemed to go on and on and on. Even the home movies (ah, remember the good old days of Super 8 film) that her dad insisted on taking and showing made everyone car sick.

So you can begin to imagine how the Israelites must have felt when, after forty years of wandering in the trackless desert that we call the Sinai, they crossed the River Jordan into the Promised Land.

Ours is a journey in life, sometimes in place and most definitely in time. We can take the attitude of the Preacher, the one who wrote Ecclesiastes and live each day for the moment, not worrying about the outcome. Or we can realize that in our journey, we are apt to encounter individuals and experience events that will change our lives and that individuals who encounter us will find their lives change as well.

What we have to realize, as we begin this 2013 season of Lent, is that part of our journey ends on Easter and that a new part of that journey begins.

There are two themes, I believe, in the Bible; themes that run throughout the pages of both the Old and New Testament. The first, and most definitely, the major theme is our relationship with God and the people we meet each day. To borrow an idea from Jim Wallis, if you took out the passages in the Bible that deal with the relationship between God and us and those passages that deal with our relationship with others, there would be virtually nothing left. It would be filled with holes and it would fall apart.

The second theme that is expressed throughout the Bible is one of a journey. Sometimes it is not the best of all journeys, as in the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden or the Babylonian Captivity. Sometimes it is a journey of exploration, as Abram journeying to the land that God directed him.

There is the journey of Joseph to Egypt and the journey of his brothers a few years later. It was this journey that set the stage for today’s Old Testament Reading.

We have the journey of Jesus across and around the Galilee; in six weeks, we will begin the journey into Jerusalem.

The season of Lent is a season of preparation, of preparing not only for Easter but what comes after Easter. What we must understand, what we must realize is that we are preparing for the most wonderful change in our lives. We have the benefit of knowing that Easter brings the Resurrection and in the Resurrection, we gain the victory over sin and death. But the journey does not and never has ended on Easter.

There is the journey of Paul around the Mediterranean telling people about Christ and building churches. There is the journey of the disciples to places beyond their home country, to take the Word to far-off lands, to places beyond the hills of the Galilee and perhaps never imagined.

Many people began the journey with Christ some two thousand years ago but they fell to the wayside when the effort became too great. When you stop to think about it, those that began the journey but quit probably understood what the cost of the journey would be and how it would change them and they didn’t want to change. They liked their old life; they had adapted to the life of trouble and strife that so marked their daily lives.

I am afraid that happens even today. Too many people, I am afraid, will say that they have given up something for Lent, perhaps they will not watch so much television or they will quit eating chocolate or something similar, but when Easter comes, they return to the old ways, of watching their favorite television shows or eating chocolate.

It is easy to understand why that is the case. There are only two instances in the Bible where we know that Jesus is tempted. Of course, today’s Gospel reading is the first time that we know that Jesus was tempted. But as he was growing up, would he not have experienced the same sort of things that we have experienced? And on that night when He knew what was to come, would it have been just as easy to invoke the same powers that Satan tempted Him with and rebuke not only the Romans but the Pharisees and Sadducees as well? Temptations do not leave us just because we deliberately set them aside for a short period. Temptations come to us in many forms, some we often don’t recognize.

Ben Gosden, on his blog, wrote about an individual who was faced with a choice. This individual had an opportunity to take a job which would provide the financial security that he needed to take care of his family but it would take him away from his family for 4 – 5 days a week. What was this individual to do? (From “Journeying to the Cross: The Power of Temptation”)

As Pastor Gosden wrote, Lent is a time, a season that reminds us of our priorities and the temptations that inevitably follow. There must be a deliberate effort made to make sure that we don’t fall to the temptations that confront us and this we can only do when we change our lives.

The Israelites spent forty years wandering around before entering the Promised Land. They did so because they weren’t prepared to enter the Promised Land when they first arrived. But I wonder how prepared they were when they discovered what was now required of them once they entered the Promised Land.

Did they not understand that their lives had changed and one of the things that they had to do was recognize how it was that they had arrived at their destination? So too is it for us. If our lives do not change during these next few weeks, how can we even think to continue this journey?

Yes, it is going to be tough. Jesus told the twelve that only one would live to an old age but even that individual, John, was in prison when he died. Each of the other disciples would in fact die in the course of their mission work, far from their home land but never far from Christ.

John Wesley and the other early Methodist preachers could probably tell you about the struggles they endured with the beginning of the Methodist Revival. Francis Asbury made it very clear that the life of a circuit rider was not and was never going to be easy. I am not so sure that it is that much easier today.  The temptations that people face each day, sometimes without the support of the church, in its various forms, often make it easier not to think about Christ.

But we take the words of Paul to heart. Ours is a life not found in the strict interpretation of the word but in living in the faith and trusting in God. As Jesus hung in agony and pain on the Cross that fateful Friday afternoon some two thousand years ago, he trusted in God to comfort and guide him.

We will, I trust, never be asked to endure that type of torment but I also trust that we are able to trust in God to guide, direct, and support us in whatever we face as we undertake this journey. Paul would write to the Corinthians

No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; Jesus will never let you be pushed past your limit; The Spirit will always be there to help you come through it. (1 Corinthians 10: 13)

Let us not worry about what lies around the bend or the next corner or even on the other side of the mountains that seemingly block our way. Let us take heed of all those who have gone before us; let us go to the Cross and let us go beyond.

Let the journey begin.

“Rut Ro Raggy!”

This is the message that Maria Busse of the Monroe United Methodist Church will present at this Saturday’s (February 16th) morning worship at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen. We open the doors at 8, begin with the worship and then serve what some say is the best breakfast in Newburgh. You are welcome to come for the worship and the breakfast.

After hearing those verses I am sure that some of you out there are sitting there squirming just a bit…I know I squirmed when I read them myself. Immediately what came to mind was that old cartoon “Scooby-Doo, Where are You?” with the voice of Scooby speaking in dog talk to his pal Shaggy – “Rut Ro Raggy!”(meaning-Uh-Oh, Shaggy!) which surely meant that trouble was coming.

I am also sure that some of you now are thinking- “Great, now I have to sit here and listen about all the things I am doing wrong because of my sin to my flesh…Couldn’t she have picked another set of verses that won’t make me feel guilty about how I live my life? The excuses we make to ourselves may now be forming a list in your head and growing so rapidly that you are not hearing me even now. I’m here to tell you now…RELAX… because just like anyone in this room and for that matter anyone who has ever walked this Earth besides Jesus is guilty of misdeeds to the body.

So very quickly let’s get the list out of the way so that we can put it up on the shelf to be worked on at another time. Let’s all be bold and fill in the blank. In your minds I would like you complete the following statement- “When it comes to sins of the flesh-what I need to put to death is my addiction to_______.” In my research for this sermon I needed to answer my own curiosity (an addiction in itself) about how many different types of addiction there are out there. I can’t and won’t read the list now…it would take waaay too long! Here are a few I came across: Body building, applause, self-help books, coin collecting, husbands, people pleasing, X-Box and even prayer without action. I bet you thought I was going to read the usual suspects didn’t you?

Put plainly – anything that we overly do is in itself an addiction. Why? Because all addictions simply block positive energy flow to the body. Even something as harmless as coin collecting can become an obsession that leads to other negative behaviors for example- stealing to buy a rare and much sought after coin that has come on the market. ALL addictions usually start with a positive result but end up becoming a commitment in themselves. Chocolate cake? Very yummy, but if you are eating it morning, noon, night and in between, going to sleep dreaming of it- that is what we can say is overdoing it.

Paul says this in verses 10 and 11:

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

In these verses Paul says if we believe that Christ is in us then our bodies are righteous beings, living a life that is right with God. That the Spirit of God lives in our earthly bodies.

So why do we sin? Why do we sin to the flesh especially? Is it about control or is it about situations we can’t control? We try to cover bitterness in our lives with any and everything out there that might take it away. Be it drinking or smoking or overeating or promiscuity…these separate us from those around us who we don’t want to hear anyway or get no answers from. And they separate us from God who in our own self righteous need for control are not listening to anyway. There is a saying that goes like this: “If God seems far away…who moved?”

Michael Jackson, with all his afflictions, sang a song called ‘The Man In the Mirror‘. One line in it says; “I’ve been a victim of a selfish kinda love.” When we sin against the flesh that is just what we are-selfish. We think only of ourselves and forget how much God truly loves us. We forget how wonderfully we were made to be everything that our Father wants and means for us to be. We separate ourselves and forget to trust in something else Paul taught us later in Chapter 8 of The Message Bible, states it as so; and I am paraphrasing…

Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worse sins listed in scripture….None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us…Absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our master has embraced us.

Paul says that we have an ‘obligation’. That if we live to the flesh surely we will die. But if we live by the Spirit we will live. This can be a very easy thing to do when we are around those whose opinions we value and care about. But when we are alone and those old or even new, what I like to call demons show up-What do we do?

We all have what is called ‘good face’ and ‘bad face’. Good face is the bright and shining one we show to our loved ones, to our friends and family and to those in the public life who can enhance our own lives. This public face for the most part is easy to show because it gives value to our lives and uplifts us in one way or another be it love, friendship or even a paycheck. 

Bad face though turns it’s ugly face on us inward. It, through our own self-vision does not see the beauty in ourselves. It only sees our doubt, confusion, rage and frustration…leaving us defenseless, willing and able to do anything not to see what we perceive to be our true hearts. This view is not seen through rose colored glasses but with spectacles that are tarnished by hurt, self hate and low self esteem. Bad face also has a voice. This voice tells us it is O.K. to try anything that will fix our hurt. This is when the separation of our souls from God begins.

What can we do when those voices start their whispering; perhaps even building to a loud roaring voice that tears us away from those we love and most important- a God who loves us? First and foremost-pray.

Reach out and up to the God who has loved you so much since before you were born. Reach out to others to stop the isolation. Be it a trusted friend or family member. Remember- you are not alone, even if you think you are. Do all in your power, to as Pink Floyd once sang about, turn away. Turn away from the feeling that you are all alone, turn away from the coldness inside.

Lastly, I would like to leave you with the words of another song called The Words I Would Say by Sidewalk Prophets. I hope that these words fill you with hope and the realization of the Spirit of the one who lives in you. “Be strong in the Lord and never give up hope. You’re going to do great things, I already know. God’s got his hands on you so don’t live life in fear. Forgive and forget, but don’t forget while you’re here – Take your time and pray. These are the words I would say.


Catching up and planning ahead (perhaps?)

I finally posted “Removing the veil” this morning. Sorry for the delay but it got hectic over the weekend. You cannot imagine what several inches of snow does to your time frame. 🙂

This is going to be a busy week. We will be at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen this Saturday, unless, of course, the weather doesn’t allow us to do so. Maria Irish from the Monroe UMC will be presenting the message “Rut Ro Raggy!”.

On Sunday, I will be at Grace United Methodist Church in Slate Hill, NY. Service is at 10 am and you are invited to attend. The title of my message is “The Journey Begins”.

At 4 pm on Sunday, we begin the 2013 Lenten School. We will be offering courses in Basic Lay Servant Ministries and advanced courses in sermon planning, leading small groups, leading prayer, spiritual gifts, and the history and polity of the United Methodist Church. The early registration fee is $35.00; registration on the 17th is $40.00. Ann will again provide the afternoon meal (4:00 to 4:30 each Sunday) during the school. We open the school with a worship service from ~4:30 to 5:00 and I will present the message, using some of the same thoughts from my morning message.

Registration information can be found at NY/CT District – 2013 Lay Servant Lenten School; if you have any questions, leave a comment and I will try to answer them.

“To Feed The Spirit As Well As The Body”

With the 1st Sunday of Lent comes the opening of the Lenten School. I serve as the coordinator for the school, getting the courses and instructors, sending out the notices, and keeping the records. I took on this role a few years ago when no one else wanted to do it and I hope that someone will step up to take the leadership roles for next year’s school as I plan on stepping down at the end of this year.

This year, we have a basic course in lay speaking (taught by Jim Schoonmaker, a lay speaker, and Reverend Kent Jackson), a course in sermon planning (Reverend Bob Milsom), a course in prayer (Peg Van Siclen, lay speaker), a course in the history of Christianity (Robert Buice, lay speaker), a course in Christian Education (Lauriston Avery, lay speaker) and the Safe Sanctuary course (Cassandra Negri, lay speaker); my thanks to each one of them for leading these courses.

We changed the order of the school this year. In the past, we had some soup, salad, and sandwiches followed by a short worship service and then the classes. This year, the soup, salad, and sandwiches are still offered though in a little different manner with an opening worship service and then the classes. For the next four weeks, the classes will follow the meal and on the final Sunday of the school (April 1), we will have a closing worship service lead by the District Superintendent at which time those who complete the basic course will be commissioned as lay speakers.

Because we began with the meal before the worship service, instead of using the lectionary readings for this Sunday, I choose as my scripture lesson Matthew 15: 29 – 39, what I call “the forgotten meal.” As I was reading this passage, I displayed on the wall the mural that is painted on the back wall of the Dover Plains United Methodist Church (see “What I See”).

A meditation on the reading from Matthew – “To feed the spirit as well as the body”

By now, I am sure you have heard of the United Methodist Call to Action and that conversation that it has generated concerning the hopes, dreams and future of the United Methodist Church. From the initial study of the church has come the Vital Congregations initiative, an effort to translate what was gathered in the Call to Action study into measurable, quantitative practices.

But there are some who see what is transpiring as lacking, as being well-intentioned but falling short of defining the mission of the church. From these concerns has come “A Missional Manifesto for the People Called United Methodists“, a response and an answer to the call that speaks to who we are when we say we are United Methodists.

Now, I do not if your heritage and roots lie in the Methodist Church or if they lie, as mine does, in the Evangelical United Brethren Church or if you have always been a United Methodist and perhaps wondered why we are United Methodists. (We have a class for that by the way.)

But our unique and combined heritage is more than simply meeting in a church somewhere on a Sunday; it is a heritage of being in the field, of being involved with the people, of being God’s representative here on earth at this time and place. As United Methodists we believe that we are saved by grace alone through faith, and we are saved so that we can do good works. All that we do follows as a response to the radical grace of God.

Some come to the school today to begin a journey as a lay speaker, others continue on by learning how to plan a message or perhaps be better equipped to pray and help others to pray. Some have come to learn more about whom we are when we say we are Christians. Others have come to learn how to make their church a safe haven for those seeking shelter from the ravages of a hostile world and others will come later in the school to learn how to teach children about Christ.

We have all come to this place because our spirit is hungry and we seek to have that hunger fed.

But our responsibility cannot end when the school ends. We cannot simply take the certificate that we receive and place it with our other certificates on a shelf or a wall, to dust them off for the occasional visitor.

For to do so is to ignore the heritage that we claim, to do so is to ignore the others out in the world who are also hungry and seeking Christ. Whereas we know where to find Christ, they do not. Whereas we have found Christ, since they do not know where to find Him, they cannot.

Ours is a heritage of evangelism, not the evangelism of today which seeks to control the human spirit and tell others the right and wrong way to do things. Ours is an evangelism based on what Jesus did and what John Wesley did. Ours is the evangelism that brings the Good News to the people so that they can find Jesus for themselves.

I am a Southern boy and the evangelical tradition of the Methodist, EUB, and United Methodist Church is almost second nature to me. It has led me to find ways that are perhaps not in the mainstream of the church. As I mentioned when I read from Matthew earlier, I used the word student instead of disciple. That’s because the translation of the word “disciple” means more than a follower; it also means to be a student. And to be a student means to put what you learned in class into practice.

Early in my lay speaking I encountered Clarence Jordan, a Southern Baptist preacher from Georgia, who went against the grain of society in leading the fight for integration in the South in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

In terms of evangelism, he saw that the most important feature of Jesus’ ministry was His ability to communicate directly with other men. This led him to write the “Cotton Patch Gospels”, an effort to put the words of the New Testament into the language and nuances of the South. He wanted people to be “participants in the faith, not merely spectators.” It is a thought that is echoed by John Wesley, that having been saved we need to be out “there” working.

It is up to us to bring the Good News to the people whom we meet. It isn’t about the order of worship that we use; it isn’t about the music that we sing. It is about telling people what Christ means to us. And using what we have been taught in many ways so that our faith is our life and our life is our faith.

Once many years ago, I suggested using the song “Good Shepherd” by Jefferson Airplane in a worship service. No one ever said I couldn’t do it but I know some people thought I was a little crazy for even suggesting. But the words of the song, to feed my sheep, always intrigued me.

And at a time when I was perhaps away from the church, the words of this song sounded strangely Biblical. And then when I had the opportunity, I looked at the history of the song.

Jorma Kaukonen, the guitarist for Jefferson Airplane who wrote the arrangement that Jefferson Airplane sings, was introduced to a variant of the song in the late 1960s. It had evolved from a 19th century Gospel hymn into a mid-20th century blues-based folk song. But what was interesting, at least for me, was that the roots of this song come from an early 1800s hymn written by John Adam Grande, a Methodist preacher from Tennessee.

Now, I cannot speak to what others hear when the song is played or if they even see the connection to the Gospel passage that it is based on. But Kaukonen and others continue to find a meaning in the song and other such songs where religion is celebrated in one context or another without preaching. Kaukonen has said this material has given him a doorway into the scripture: “I guess you could say I loved the Bible without even knowing it. The spiritual message is always uplifting.” (Adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Shepherd_(song); see http://mtdalton2.blogspot.com/2008/02/good-shepherd-jefferson-airplane.html for additional thoughts on this song.)

That is the task that lies before us. To take what we learn in the next few weeks and take that knowledge out into the world. When we leave this place, we will I hope seek to find ways to help others feed their souls. It has long been documented that many in today’s society are spiritually hungry.

Some of you may have recognized the mural that I used as a backdrop to the reading from Matthew this evening.

For those who did not, it is the mural on the back wall of the sanctuary at the Dover Plains United Methodist Church. It should serve as a reminder that people came to Jesus that day because they were searching for cures for their illnesses, for answers to the questions that lay on their souls. And when Jesus had cured them and feed their spirits, he feed their bodies.

Now, we have feed our bodies and it is time to feed our souls. Let us enter this Lenten School seeking to find the answers that we seek. And then, when we leave this place, let us help others to find the answers that they seek.

And just in case you need to be reminded this is what the people of Dover see as reminder of the goal that we all seek