“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

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?

“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.

“Visions or Dreams?”

This is one of the first messages I ever gave in my lay speaking career. I had come down to Tennessee for a seminar and conference at Vanderbilt University so I arranged my flights so I could spend the weekend in Memphis with my family. (Besides, flying down over the weekend was cheaper than flying straight to Nashville for a Monday and Tuesday meeting.)

This was the 1st Sunday in Lent but I was still “picking and choosing my scriptures instead of using the lectionary as I do now (I don’t think that I was even aware of the lectionary readings at that time). So my starting scriptures for this message were 1 Samuel 17: 46 and Luke 23: 39 – 43.

As I was preparing this sermon, I was also preparing a chemical education seminar for presentation to the Chemistry Department at Vanderbilt University tomorrow and another talk dealing with computers, communication, and education for presentation on Wednesday. I hope to keep them straight, but if you learn anything about chemistry or computers today, count it as a bonus.

On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry rose before the Virginia Convention and gave a speech that we may have read and perhaps even memorized. He closed that speech with these lines:

Gentlemen may cry peace, peace –– but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms. Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it the gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me … give me liberty or give me death! (Patrick Henry, A Biography, Richard R. Beeman, 1974

With these words, Patrick Henry provided the spark that brought Virginia into the Revolutionary War. What was Patrick Henry thinking of as he spoke these inspiring words? What vision was before him that might have given him the power to speak them? From the available evidence, it appears that Patrick Henry’s wife was very mentally ill. While we have a somewhat enlightened attitude about mental illness today, the same was not true in the late 1700’s, when those who were mentally ill were locked away as criminals. Henry could have placed his wife in a mental institution but he chose to keep her at home, though locked away in the basement. This image of his beloved wife locked away in the basement of their plantation was probably the inspiration and vision that allowed him to speak the words “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?”

Similarly, on another continent, another vision of freedom led to the following interchange between Joseph Butler, Bishop of Bristol, and John Wesley:

Butler – You have no business here. You are not commissioned to preach in this diocese. Therefore I advise you to go hence.

Wesley – My lord, my business on earth is do what good I can. Wherever, therefore I think I can do most good, there must I stay so long as I think so. At present I think I can do most good here. Therefore here I stay. (Frank Baker, John Wesley and Bishop Butler: A Fragment of John Wesley’s Manuscript, August, 1739)

With these words, John Wesley began the preaching which eventually would lead to the formation of what is now the United Methodist Church. The vision that inspired Wesley to begin his ministry related to what was happening to the people of England during the Industrial Revolution, and what the Church of England, his church, was doing about it. Or rather what it was not doing.

At that time, only those who were members of the upper class were immune to the problems of long hours, limited health care, and the lack of education that the working class and poor had to contend with every day. Like Henry’s wife, these people were locked in the basement of society and not even the Church had an interest in feeding their souls.

For Wesley, the inaction and lack of compassion shown by the Church of England toward the poor was not what the Gospel was about. To him, the Gospel was more than a collection of words one read on Sunday and then forgot the next day. Nor was it reserved for one class of society. Rather, the Gospel was alive and something you lived every day. And it was available for all people. To Wesley and his early followers, if you had accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then your life and behavior reflected that acceptance. One way that was done was in how you treated individuals; even those of a lower class than your own. Were it not for the work of Wesley and the Methodist Revival in seeking to correct the many social problems of that period and the changing of many hearts by the Gospel message he (and others) preached, England would have undergone a far more violent social change than it.

Visions have long been a part of our heritage. We are all familiar with the story of Joseph in Egypt. The Pharaoh had a series of dreams which neither he nor his advisors were able to understand. Only Joseph was able to transform those dreams into a vision of the future and take action.

On more than one occasion Jesus Himself gave us a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God on earth was to be like. We find one such vision in John 1:42 where we read, “He [Andrew] brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephus (which means Peter – in Aramaic & Greek the rock.” In renaming Simon Peter, Jesus showed us the volatile, wishy–washy fellow who was to become the rock upon which He would build the Church.

What is our vision for the church today? Is our church built, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13, on love? Is the mission of our church the one given to Peter? From Acts 1:3 – 18, we read

“…saying ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ But Peter began and explained to them in order: I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance, I saw a vision, something descending, like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came down to me. Looking at it closely I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter, kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘No, Lord: for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up to heaven. At that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brethren also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we first believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God? When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God.

Then so to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life. (Acts 10:3 – 1)

In this vision, Peter was shown that the Gospel is for everyone. Yet today, in a society split by race, creed, and economic status, is our church a beacon of hope and love for all those who seek Jesus? Does our church today reflect the concern for society and the well–being of its members that was expressed by both Jesus and John Wesley? We may have answers to these difficult questions but unless action is taken, these answers may only be our dreams. But today’s problems, generated by fear and hatred, will not go away by dreaming or even if we just ignore them.

Robert Kennedy, during that fateful presidential campaign in 1968, often quoted George Bernard Shaw, “You see things and say ‘why?’ I see things that never were and ask ‘Why not?’ We must transform our dreams about what the church is into a vision of what the church should be and can do.

But from where will the power come to make our vision reality? Where can we turn to find the power to deal with today’s problems? The Gospel still has the power to meet the problems we now face. But the Gospel alone will not make today’s problems go away. The only way we can solve these problems and transform ourselves and our church into the vision shown to us by Jesus is through action. Not just any action, but action powered by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Consider David as he prepared for battle with Goliath:

“Then Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a helmet of bronze on his head, and clothed him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword over his armor, and he tried in vain to go, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot go with these; for I am not used to them.’ And David put them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in his shepherd’s bag or wallet; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near the Philistine.

And the Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield–bearer in front of him. And when the Philistine looked, and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, ruddy and comely in appearance. And the Philistine said to David, ‘am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.’

Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand. (Samuel 17:38 – 47)

David, armed only with a slingshot and his faith in God, could stand before Goliath while all the armies of Israel ran away. But it wasn’t David who defeated Goliath; it was the Holy Spirit. You can take all the armies in the world and they will still be defeated by the Holy Spirit.

It was the Holy Spirit which gave Jesus the wisdom to answer the questions in the temple when he was just a boy of twelve.

After three days they [Joseph and Mary] found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. (Luke 2:41 – 52)

Today is the First Sunday in Lent. This is our time of preparation for the walk to Calvary; a time to reflect on how we live. It also that time when we can allow the Holy Spirit to come into our lives.

The Pharisees sought to get rid of Jesus because they were not prepared for the Holy Spirit nor were they ready for the new church. The disciples were instructed to wait in Jerusalem until they received the power of the Holy Spirit, and then they were to go out and preach. A dream or vision not supported by the Holy Spirit is doomed to failure. How powerful is the Holy Spirit? It continually offers hope to all, even on the cross.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying,

‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man had done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.’

And He said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ (Luke 23:39 – 43)

Wesley’s spirit was ignited by the flame of the Holy Spirit and with the Holy Spirit came the power to preach the Gospel and revitalize the people, the church and the nation.

So too can it be for us. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Holy Savior in our hearts and allow the Holy Spirit to fill our lives, the dreams we have become visions, and we gain the power to turn those visions into reality.

This Journey into Lent

Here are my thoughts for this 1st Sunday of Lent, 13 March 2011 (not sure why but I had this as 2005 when I first posted it). The Scriptures for this Sunday are Genesis 2: 15 – 17, 3: 1 – 7; Romans 5: 12 – 19; and Matthew 4: 1 – 11.

I presented these thoughts at the beginning worship for the Lenten School, a collection of classes on a variety of topics. This year, we had a basic course in lay speaking, a course in sermon planning, and advanced courses in preaching, caring ministries, spiritual gifts, a study of Ecclesiastes, and Christian Stewardship. There is also a six-week Lenten Study and a “rock camp” for youth.

We are all on a journey. For some, it is not just a journey of time but place. After all, unless you happen to live here at Grace UMC, you have traveled some distance to be here.

But during Lent, this journey becomes a journey of the soul as we seek to find out more about ourselves and who we are to be in this world. We know where this journey began and why. It is a journey that began for all mankind in the Garden so many years ago.

We also know that this some forty days from now we will be in another Garden. As Paul wrote to the Romans, just as one died for doing wrong and getting us all into trouble with sin and death, so did another person get it right and get us out of trouble.

But we struggle with those days in between. Our journey confuses at times; at times we are not even sure where we are.

And if we get confused and we know where we started and where we are going, think of those today that are searching for those central points of life.

So we are here, seeking and hoping, being tested by society in ways much like Jesus was those first forty days of His ministry.

Our fear perhaps is that we can’t answer the Tempter as Jesus did. But we forget that once Jesus as like us, a student studying the Scriptures. Have we forgotten the young boy of 12 who engaged the teachers in thoughtful and intellectual discussion?

Can it be that what we learn during the next six weeks will open our minds and hearts just as it must have done for Jesus and those there in the Temple that day?

And lest we forget, we are United Methodists where education is as much a foundation of our faith as reason, experience, and tradition.

For some, the journey begins; for others, it continues. And though forty days from now, this gathering ends, the journey continued.

Because there will be times when we will be like Stephen and encounter some one searching just as we once did. And you will be able to help them on their way.

So let the journey begin.

“The Beginning or the End”

This is the message that I presented at Tompkins Corners UMC for the 1st Sunday in Lent, 13 February 2005.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Genesis 2: 15 – 17, 3: 1 – 7; Romans 5: 12 – 19; and Matthew 8: 1 – 11.


I used to play a lot of chess when I was in high school; but as time went on, my competitive playing tapered off. Chess is an interesting game, both for the logic and strategy that it teaches as well as the history of the game. But one thing always confused me. In chess, there is an opening, a middle game, and an end game. The only problem is that there is very little differentiation between each of the sections. You start with a particular opening gambit and then before you know it, you are in the middle game. And, if you are not careful, you are in the end game and the game is over.

The same can probably be said about the life of a church or churches in general. Some look around at the world and conclude that we are in the "end times." But are we?

Last year, I was concerned that the end of the United Methodist Church was close at hand. I saw signs that suggested that the General Conference would be the most divisive conference, at least since the General Conference of 1844 when the Methodist Episcopal Church split over the issue of slavery and slave ownership.

When you look at the history of the Methodist Church, it is amazing that it even exists today. In the early 1800’s, the Methodist Episcopal Church walked a fine line between opposing slavery and allowing its members to own slaves. The African Methodist Church (or A. M. E. church) and African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church were formed because of the way black parishioners and preachers were treated in the predominantly white churches of this country. In 1830, the Methodist Protestant Church was formed in protest because the General Conference would not grant representation to laity in church matters and permit the direct election of presiding elders (our district superintendents).

In 1844, when the General Conference ordered James O. Andrew, a southern bishop, to either get rid of the slaves that his wife owned or give up his position as bishop, he chose to do neither. The conference voted to suspend him until he did one of the two. In response, the southern delegates to the General Conference walked out. In 1845, the delegates met and formed the Methodist Episcopal Church South. This split lasted until the union of the three branches of the church, the Methodist Protestant Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church South reunited to form the Methodist Church in 1939.

It should be noted that many of the churches in the ME South suffered great damage during the Civil War. Most notably was the battle fought at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee on April 6th and 7th, 1862. It is known in the annals of the war as the Battle of Shiloh, named after the Methodist church where the battle was fought. 23,746 men were killed, wounded, or missing after the two day battle on the grounds of a place named for peace.

But the General Conference of 2004 did not split the church. But the issues that threaten the destruction of the United Methodist Church still exist and will not go away until there is a new vision, a new way of seeing things and working together. It is also a problem that is going to plague and haunt most Christian denominations over the coming years.

Many people who need to find Jesus are not willing to come to a church that they perceive does not welcome them, for whatever reason. There is a perception that if you do not fit into the mold of the church, you will not be welcome. I cannot imagine how this is the image of Christ’s ministry described in the Bible. Did not the Pharisees and power brokers of the day criticize Jesus for being with the poor, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, and those that they, the Pharisees and power brokers, considered the "scum" of the earth? What images do those outside the church see? Do they think they will find Christ in a place that bans people for any number of reasons?

It comes down to what we say and what we do. Are the words that we say the words in our heart? Are they the words of a true Christian? Consider what we read this morning from the Old Testament.

In the first part of the reading, we hear God say to Adam, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." (Genesis 2: 16 – 17) But Eve says to the serpent, "we may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’" (Genesis 3: 3)

Now, much has been made about Eve engaging in this conversation and much has been made about the fact that Adam ate of the fruit of this tree when it was offered to him by Eve. But that should not be our concern today. It is that in response to the challenge of the serpent, Eve did not hold to the obedience to God that was expected of her. In his accepting the fruit, be it an apple or something else, Adam also gave up his obedience to God. Eve’s distortion of God’s command is not the problem; as one commentary points out, what she said would have insured that the command was kept. What is important is that the serpent’s challenge is a challenge to God’s authority; for Eve, it creates a doubt about God’s authority.

We see the same thing when we look at the temptation of Christ. Satan tempts Christ by quoting the Bible. But each time Satan speaks, he puts the context in terms of personal power rather than the glory of God. Satan is challenging the authority of God. Ultimately, Jesus defeats Satan because He, Jesus, will not put the world above God. The kingdom that Jesus seeks in His ministry is God’s kingdom, not a worldly one.

How does this all fit into this time, this season of Lent? Thomas Merton wrote,

"The purpose of Lent is not expiation, to satisfy the divine justice, but above all a preparation to rejoice in God’s love. And this preparation consists in receiving the gift of God’s mercy – a gift which we receive in so far as we open our hearts to it, casting out what cannot remain in the same room with mercy.

Now one of the things we must cast out first of all is fear. Fear narrows the little entrance of our heart. It shrinks up our capacity to love. It freezes up our power to give ourselves. IF we are terrified of God as an inexorable judge, we would not confidently await God’s mercy, or approach God trustfully in prayer. Our peace, our joy in Lent are a guarantee of grace. (Thomas Merton, in "Seasons of Celebration" as noted in Sojo mail for February 10, 2005.)

We have allowed ourselves to live in a world of fear. Note Adam and Eve’s response to the knowledge that they had sinned; it was fear, fear that they had offended God. In their fear, they hid from God. And in our sin, we try to find ways of reclaiming God that do not necessarily involve God.

Paul’s words to the Romans offer us the knowledge that sin took away. That life comes from God through Christ. It is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that brings us back into God’s kingdom. As Paul states, "one man’s obedience to God means that many will be made righteous."

As I stated earlier, I worried about the future of the church following General Conference last year, especially since much of what took place was a battle of words, all in the name of God. But I have hope for the future. But it is a hope based on a different vision, not one offered by man but one offered by God.

We cannot offer hope for the future by ourselves; it must come from God. The prophet Habakkuk was a dissenter, a critic, and a voice of the opposition. He was the type of person who spoke out about the problems of society. But at the beginning of his prophecy, he did little to change society. It was when God spoke to him and told him to write down the vision that things began to change. (Adapted from God’s Politics by Jim Wallis, page 27) 

For us, it is the cross that is the ultimate metaphor of prophetic criticism.

It means the end of the old consciousness that brings death on everyone. The crucifixion articulates God odd freedom, his strange justice, and his peculiar power; it is this freedom, justice, and power that break the power of the old age and bring it to death. Without the cross, prophetic imaginations will likely to be as strident and destructive as that which it criticizes. The cross is the assurance that effective prophetic criticism is done not by an outsider but always by one who must embrace the grief, enter into the death, and know the pain of the criticized one. (Adapted from The Prophetic Imagination by Water Brueggemann (Cokesbury prayer guide)

The crucifixion of Jesus is not to be understood simply in good liberal fashion as the sacrifice of a noble man, nor should we too quickly assign a cultic, priestly theory of atonement to the event. Rather, we might see the crucifixion of Jesus as the ultimate act of prophetic criticism in which Jesus announces the end of a world of death and takes that death into his own person.

We celebrate Holy Communion for two reasons. The first is to remember that last night before the crucifixion; the second is to celebrate what that crucifixion means for our lives today. We see the world in one way when we live without Christ; when we accept Christ as our own and personal Savior, when we allow the Holy Spirit to come into our lives, the way in which we see the world changes.

Is today the beginning or the end? It is the first Sunday in Lent, so in one sense it is the beginning. But it is also the end of a life lived without Christ, if we will let it be. The beginning or the end, the answer lies in your heart.

What Have We Learned?

Here are my thoughts for the 1st Sunday in Lent.  This is also Boy Scout Sunday.


I have come to the conclusion that there is a paradox involved when one reads today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis. (Genesis 2: 15 – 17; 3: 1 – 7) After God warns mankind not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil because they will die if they do, He allows mankind to name every animal that was created. To me, this means that mankind was given the ability to think and analyze (it also means that God wanted us to study biology, but that’s for another time and place). And if we are given the ability to think and analyze things, then our first question to God, even though we knew the answer, must have been “why can’t we eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?”

I cannot explain why God would tell mankind not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and that the penalty for doing so would be death. It is like a parent telling a child not to touch a pot on the stove because it is hot and it will hurt; you know that the first thing the child is going to do is touch the pot. But a child does know the concept of hot and cold and will not understand it unless they encounter it. Perhaps mankind (I use the term “mankind” instead of “humankind” because I believe it is a reasonable translation of the original words of Genesis) did not understand the concept of good and evil?

It seems to me that there is a paradox here. We were created with the ability to think and analyze yet we were commanded not to be curious. In being curious, we complete our creation yet we put a limit to our existence. If we had desired to live without sin and the consequences of death, then our creation would have been a limited one.

The problem with a paradox is that it cannot be easily settled. Are we not to be curious about the world around us? At what point does our natural curiosity have to be curtailed by the rules of mankind and/or society? At what point must our own internal sense and knowledge of the world tell us that the rules of mankind and/or society are wrong or flawed? At what point must we accept the word of others that some things are wrong? At what point do we make the decision about what is right or wrong? At what point do we accept the responsibility for our own decisions?

We are all creations of God, each with the ability to think and analyze and with the ability to ask questions about the world around us and about God Himself. Some people get confused by this, thinking that asking questions about God is somehow heresy or sacrilegious. But how do we know who we are if we do not ask questions. Asking questions and seeking the answers does not always mean that we are seeking the status of God; it simply means that we are trying to fulfill the design of creation. Yet, so many church leaders today want to prevent us from studying and thinking in those terms.

It seems to me that there are too many people in the world today who want to tell us how to think and how to live. They are simply not willing to let other people lead their own lives because they, the moral police, feel that they know what the right way to live is and what the wrong way to live is. And they are not satisfied just telling us how to think; they want to tell us what to think.

There are also too many people outside the church who wish to do the same thing. For them, the story of creation as told in Genesis is a myth. But, to the best of my own limited knowledge, those who say that that the Creation story is a myth cannot explain how it is that we have come to know that there are such things as good and evil. Whether we like it or not, the actions of early mankind put us in the midst of a massive moral dilemma. In discovering who we are, we are condemned to a world of slavery to sin and death. And the dilemma is a question of how to dowe win in a world where the answer is death?

Today is Boy Scout Sunday. I was a Boy Scout for most of my youth. Much of what I learned as a Scout has served me well throughout my life. I have an appreciation for the world around us and many of the skills that I learned in scouting have been used time and time again.

But I have disassociated myself from the Scouting movement because I no longer think that the organization lives up to the standards that they required of me. They may be able to justify their decisions about who can and cannot be a scout and a scout leader but their justification shows a decided lack of knowledge about the world around us, human nature, and mankind. They have made moral judgments more out of fear than out of knowledge. It will not be up to me to say whether or not the decision made by the Boy Scouts are right or wrong; that decision will come from a Higher Court.

What I do know is that I probably would not be where I am today if it had not been for the Scouts in the 1960’s. The 12th Scout Law “A Scout is Reverent”, has been a part of my life almost from the first day that I started.

In 1964, while living in Montgomery, Alabama, I made the decision to seek the God and Country award. When we moved to Denver, Colorado, I began, with two others, the course of study that would lead to that award.

But after I finished the study and was given the award, I did nothing about it. For many years, the award itself was tucked away in a corner of my desk or in a drawer. I slowly found myself in what I have come to call my wilderness period. It was a period of time in which I moved from place to place, earned my college degrees, and started a family. But it was also a time in which I ignored the call that I received in Montgomery.

I do not know what happened to the other two scouts that were in my God and Country class. I do not know what happened to the ten others who followed us in the second class. But one day, God called me to task and I promised that I would finish what I began with the completion of the course in 1965. So I began serving as the liturgist in the church where I was a member, making sure that I did so on the second Sunday in February. As it turned out, I didn’t always serve as the liturgist; some Sundays I was in the pulpit, serving as a Lay Minister. But I took to heart what I was taught some forty-three years ago and I have taken to heart the “rule” that a scout should do his very best.

I say this because 1) we all have been given the skills to learn and explore the world around us and 2) we have all experienced, to some extent, a period of living in wilderness. Yet we are afraid to use the skills we have been given, taught, and learned and the result is that we find ourselves lost. We find that we cannot choose the right path because we are afraid of what lies beyond the next corner. We seek easy answers for hard and complicated questions. We allow others to give answers that blame the problems of the world on others who are different from us in lifestyle, race, or economic status.

It is our fear that causes us to put aside what we know about God and lets the demands of the world around us dominate our lives. It is our fear that causes us to limit what we know about God so that we can justify what we say and what we do. In fear, we are limited. And in limiting what we can do and are willing to do, we are afraid to explore. We become afraid to find out what it is that God has called us to do. We are afraid to stand up and speak out against injustice and repression, even when a study of the Bible tells us that has been the common theme of mankind for thousands of years. We have changed the church from being an instrument of God’s plan for all mankind to being an instrument of ignorance, fear, exclusion, and repression.

We are reminded that temptations are a part of our life. And we are reminded today that, if we succumb to our temptations, then the plan of creation fails. If Jesus had given in to the temptations brought before Him by Satan during His period in the wilderness, then His ministry would have failed before it even began. (Matthew 4: 1 – 11) And if His ministry had failed or not even started, then our lives would not have the completeness that we so often seek. The creation that began in the Garden of Eden so many thousands of years ago would have been lost forever.

I cannot speak to the issue of whether or not God intended for mankind to eat of the tree of knowledge of good or evil. That is subject beyond what I know. God did give mankind a choice and mankind made the wrong choice. But we are given another choice.

As Paul wrote to the Romans (Romans 5: 12 – 19), it was mankind’s frailty that leads us into sin. But such frailties also gave us the ability to see and know the gift that God has given to us in Christ. And that knowledge of Christ now gives us a way to conquer sin and death.

The world around us can be a frightening place. The problems that we face each day can seem overwhelming at times. Yet, from almost the beginning of creation, we have been given the ability to conquer our fears and solve our problems. We have learned about God. We have learned about Jesus. We have learned about the Holy Spirit. Now, it is time to remember what we have learned about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and put into action what we have learned.

We can, of course, choose not to do so. We have learned that this choice leads to sin and death. But during this season of Lent, we can remember what we have learned and we can choose to put into action what we have learned. We can open our hearts to Christ and then we can complete the creation story. Shall we remember what we have learned?