“Treasure”


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

“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

.

The Times Are Changing; Shouldn’t We Be Doing The Same?


These are my thoughts for the 1st Sunday in Lent; the Scriptures are Genesis 9: 8 – 17, 1 Peter 3: 18 – 22, and Mark 1: 9 – 15.

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This is going to be as much a political piece as it is a religious piece. But the signs of the times demand that it be so because the politics of the moment are bound up in how we see each other and how we treat each other and that, whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or any other religion, is the central point of religion.

Every time I read the passage from Genesis that is the Old Testament reading for today (Genesis 9: 8 – 17), I cannot help but think of the many conservative and fundamentalist preachers who claimed that the hurricane that ravaged and destroyed New Orleans and the floods that devastated the Mid-west in 1993 were signs of God’s wrath and displeasure. Perhaps I am not reading this passage properly but every translation that I know of says that God promised not to destroy the earth with a flood and that the rainbow would be a sign of this promise. And I know that after the rains came and poured down on New Orleans, there was a rainbow.

It isn’t that God couldn’t destroy this earth if he wanted to do so; he wouldn’t bother warning us again because He sent His son and we aren’t listening. By the same token, when we look around us today and we see wars ravaging this earth, the economy of the entire society that we call humankind faltering, with people starving and dying because there is no medical treatment available (and I am not speaking of just this country but the entire world), should we begin to think that these are the times that John the Seer did not prophesize in the Book of Revelation.

Those who proclaim that these are the end times and Jesus is soon to come again do not get those words from the Book of Revelation; they get them from a 19th century preacher named John Darby. But the words have been refined and polished to the point that everyone thinks they come from John the Seer.

We live in a time when the words we speak to each other are more often hate and anger. In a time when we need to be working together for the good of all, we offer solutions that are best entitled “what’s in it for me?” We live in a society of winners and losers; we live our lives as if they were pick-up basketball games where the winners stay and losers walk. We hear and read the words of many who want to see their political opposition fail because they think it will make them look good, even though they don’t have anything to offer in return and the plans that they did offer have only exacerbated the present situation. At a time when we need new ideas, we get old ones; at a time when we seek leadership, we get others whose call is not to follow.

We don’t need God to destroy this earth; we are doing a pretty good job of it ourselves and we must wonder if God is not contemplating the destruction of this planet but rather weeping at what His children have done to the world that was given to them to take care of. We have to wonder if Jesus doesn’t look around at the world, the world in He suffered, and wonder if it was all worth it. How many times has Jesus gone to God in our defense and on our behalf? And what must He be thinking now as He looks at what we have done to his church and to this world.

I think the one thing that bothers me the most about what I see happening in this world and what I hear is that the church, in all of its myriad forms and voices, is remarkably silent. There are people destroying the earth, God’s creation, and the church is silent. There are people making money, more money in one day perhaps than many people earn in a lifetime, while others go hungry and sick and naked and the church is silent. There are people being killed in the name of God and for the name of God and yet the church remains silent. The church is remarkably silent, except for a few whose voices have encouraged the death and destruction of this planet and the people who inhabit it because they are among those who are getting rich. The church has remained silent when politicians lie and cheat, except when the politicians and the charlatans who call themselves religious lie in bed together.

It isn’t that all those involved in church work are silent. But they are too busy trying to do the mission of the church, a mission that grows larger everyday, to say anything about what others are not doing.

I see a society that calls itself Christian but has absolutely, positively no clue what Christianity means. Now I will admit that my knowledge of the early church, the church that formed in Jerusalem at Pentecost and spread throughout the land, is limited. I knew, of course, of the prosecution of the early Christians and the need to meet in secret and use symbols to tell others who they were and to identify their brothers and sisters in other cities. To me, for many years, the early church was simply an earlier version of the church that I attended every week with a women’s group doing outreach and service and the men’s group fixing up the church building and painting the parsonage.

It has only been recently that I have gained a clearer picture of what that earlier church was like and how much of an agent for change it really was. And, of course, my introduction to the mission of the church in society came at a time when the church was on the front lines of the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement. But I don’t see the church in those roles any more; I see, as I wrote, a quiet church seeking to again control and dictate life, a corporate body that competes with the corporate giants of the business world to tell us what to say and what to buy and how to live. There are very few churches in the world today that espouse the words and actions of our Christian ancestors.

As Bob Dylan wrote and sang, the times are changing. We can no longer live in a world of Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals. We live in a world where each one of us has to recognize that every other person on this planet has an equitable and equal right to be here and that violence and war, poverty and homelessness are not the ways to demonstrate that equality. We have to realize that this world in which we live has only a finite set of resources and we cannot keep wasting what we have been given nor expect to find other resources.

This is the season of Lent and, for many, it will be forty days without their favorite candy or their favorite television show. And when Easter comes and they have met their Christianity responsibility by going to church in their fancy new clothes, they will watch all the television shows that they taped during Lent so that they don’t miss anything and they will snarf down a bag full of Easter bunny chocolates to make up for all the chocolate they didn’t eat for the past forty days. And then they will continue their lives as if nothing had changed because nothing will have changed.

But that is not what Lent is about; Lent is about changing, changing what you have done in your life and beginning anew. Lent is about what you do in preparation for Easter and what you do when Easter comes and what you do the day after Easter. Lent is about bringing hope into world as Christ brought the Good News. I do not doubt that there will be those who question what I have written here and who will attack my words; every time I have suggested radical ideas like fulfilling the Gospel message, that has happened. But those who would say that war is a part of life or that there is nothing we can do to insure adequate health care for all the people of this globe are among those who live in the past, fondly recalling the good old days that never were and wishing somehow that change would just go away.

I will admit that I don’t have the answers. But right now, every sign that I see around me says that we are headed in the wrong direction and if we expect to move deeper into the future, we need to stop and change our direction.

Some may question my use of a Bob Dylan song from the 60’s as a way to see the future but many times the great words were spoken before and need to be spoken again. And so it is that I remember the George Bernard Shaw quote that Bobby Kennedy used in the fateful campaign during the spring of 1968, “some see things as they are and ask why – I dream things that never were and ask why not.” We have too many people asking why and not enough people dreaming. We have too many people trying to keep the times as they are when the times are changing. The times are changing; should we be doing the same?

Treading Water


This is the message I presented on 1st Sunday in Lent, 9 March 2003, at Tompkins Corners UMC. The Scriptures were Genesis 9: 8 – 17, 1 Peter 3: 18 – 22, and Mark 1: 9 – 15.

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For many, I am sure that Bill Cosby is known more for his role as the father on the Bill Cosby show. But I knew of Bill Cosby when he was just a struggling comedian in the early 60’s. Because of his wit and humor, I quickly became a fan of the first of the many 60’s spy shows, “I Spy”. But it was still his humor and his description of things that I enjoyed then and still enjoy now. I saw him deliver the monologue about “Driving in San Francisco” and the images of his problems with a parking brake on the hills in that city came quickly to mind when I later visited and drove the streets myself.

But it may have been his rendition of the telling of Noah and the ark that made the deepest impression on me. For it was not simply a recitation of the Bible story we all learned in Sunday school but more of a dialogue that might have taken place between Noah and God as well as between Noah and his neighbors. The Bible doesn’t say much about how Noah’s neighbors would have reacted to the building of the ark and I am sure that words were passed between them. In fact, I am sure that at least one of Noah’s neighbors must have asked him what he was building and why he was building it. But, as Cosby pointed out, Noah wasn’t in a position to tell him.

As Cosby tells the story, the neighbor wanted at least a hint. And Noah’s reply, in the Cosby version of the story, was “How long can you tread water?” For a while, this reply became a way of telling others that they were on the brink of impending doom.

But there is more to the telling of the story of Noah, the ark, and the Great Flood than the by-play between Noah and his neighbors. There is the reason for the flood and the covenant that God made with Noah, and by extension, and we today.

The Great Flood of the Bible was God’s way of cleansing the world in a time when corruption and evil were greater than the efforts of the righteous of the time could overcome. God chose Noah and his family because, amidst the evil and corruption of the time, they remained righteous and loyal to God.

God’s promise to Noah following the flood was that He would never again destroy the earth by flooding and His sign to mankind of that promise would be the rainbow. It is important that we remember this, the first part of the covenant, because there are those in the Christian community today who claim the floods that ravaged the heartland of this country back in 1995 were a sign from God. The floods may be a sign of our stupidity and greed in trying to control the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers but they were not a sign from God or a punishment. God’s covenant with mankind, through Noah, was that until the ends of the earth there would be seasons for planting and harvest, day and night. Even though mankind had rebelled against him and caused him great anguish, God promised to Noah that the rhythms of the earth necessary to sustain life would always be maintained.

God’s covenant with Noah was a sign of a fresh start, a new beginning. With the new beginning following the Flood, God gave power over the earth to Noah and his descendants. It was a power that could easily be misused and many times has been. The people of this planet have long held the power to destroy this world, without the help of God. But it was also a power for good. The same powers and abilities that can lead to death and destruction are also the powers and abilities that can foster good and peace throughout the world.

But it was marked with the knowledge that God knew that the conditions of mankind had not changed; that the evil that was present before the flood still existed in the hearts of some. But the covenant also came with a warning. God warned mankind not to shed the blood of any person. And if someone did shed blood, there would be a reckoning. It has long been assumed that before the Flood, people were responsible only for themselves; now, God holds the community responsible for punishing wrongdoing.

If the community is to be responsible for punishing the wrongdoing, then it is also the community who should be responsible for the care of the people. Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to reach out to the oppressed, the downtrodden and the rejected of the earth. Yet, we look around and see that we ignore those to whom we should be ministering. (1) There must be at this time clear statements made, not by politicians or public leaders, but private citizens asking where the care of those less-fortunate will come from. Can questions concerning poverty, health care, housing and jobs be answered when the drumbeat of war drowns out all other sounds?

There is a collective responsibility to insure that this planet remains safe to live on; yet, we reward polluters and ignore the consequences of our own anti-environmental actions. We have allowed monies that should be going to the assistance of those in need to be slashed or eliminated; we have put the burden on those without to provide for their own well being.

This is a country that, on the outside, expresses a belief in God. This is a country that claims to have been founded on the values and traditions of Christianity. Yet, our actions speak against those values and traditions. The dignity of each individual and the respect for the well being of individuals are tossed out the window.

We have to ask ourselves what values and traditions we hold dear to our hearts. How can we claim to be a nation of peace when we espouse violence so easily? How can we speak of the freedom to dissent, publicly or privately, when the United States Congress passes laws that take away the most basic and fundamental rights, rights established in our Constitution?

Jesus treated everyone as an individual, even when society had cast him or her out; yet, we seemed to have forgotten this lesson. We are willing to treat an individual with less respect, simply because he is of the “wrong” ethnic background or because he doesn’t believe as we do. Those who speak out against the administration are called unpatriotic, even though that was one of the rights we sought for this country some two hundred and forty years ago.

We find ourselves rushing to the store and buying duct tape, simply out of fear but not knowing what to fear. Hope is no longer the motivating force in our lives; it has been replaced by anxiety and fear of the unknown.

But it was hope that Jesus gave to the downtrodden, it was freedom from fear that Jesus offers to us. Instead of reacting to fear and giving up hope, perhaps we should reflect on the lessons that Jesus taught us. Instead of creating situations that create fear, that take away hope, perhaps we should be working to bring hope back and take away the chance for fear to grow.

This should be a time when we should be building bridges – bridges of hope, understanding and cooperation around the world, bridges of fairness and equity, bridges of respect for the integrity of each individual, bridges of human and civil rights? These are the values that over the years that has made this nation great. Now we are isolating ourselves with massive shifts in foreign and domestic policy. Is it not in our best interest to be building bridges across the chasms that now separate us by shedding our arrogance and emulating the true heroes of September 11 who gave their lives helping others?

Nearly fifty years ago President Eisenhower warned us that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” (April 16, 1953) We should do well to consider his words.

The purpose of Lent is to prepare for the coming of the Lord. It is not a time of sacrifice, of giving up something that we will regain after Easter. Rather it is a time when we should give of ourselves. Peter reminded us that just as the Flood cleansed the world, so did our baptism cleanse us of our sins and allow us the opportunity for salvation. Now we know that Jesus, who was without sin, did not need to be baptized. But he was baptized because it gave him identity with the preparatory work of John the Baptist and it showed us that Jesus was willing to die for our sins.

As we come to the communion table today, we are reminded that the reason for this supper was to commemorate that evening when Jesus’ ministry was passed to the disciples and to us. Jesus gave of himself so that we could live, free from fear and free from sin. We need to ask individually and collectively if we are willing to act in such a way that we give of ourselves as Jesus gave of himself. If not, then I am afraid that we may be simply treading water.


(1) Portions of the following paragraphs were adapted from the e-mail “Called to be Peacemakers” written on February 27, 2003 by Mary Lu Bowen and distributed to pastors in the New York Annual Conference on March 4, 2003.

Now is the time


Here are my thoughts for the 1st Sunday in Lent.
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Lately it seems like any time there is something they don’t like, the more vocal Christian fundamentalists in this country have said that God in his wrath will strike this country a devastating blow.The hurricanes that struck the Gulf Coast and the tornadoes that ravaged the mid-west last summer were examples of God’s punishing America for lifestyle choices and the failure to accept the word of these same fundamentalists as the sole truth.Some Christian fundamentalists have even claimed that God would send tornadoes or other natural disasters to strike towns and localities because the people who lived there failed to accept the political agenda of the same Christian fundamentalists.What I find interesting and perhaps even ludicrous is that many fundamentalists claimed that the floods that devastated the Midwest during the summer of 1993 were further example’s of God’s wrath and anger for the failure of the people to follow their, the fundamentalists, political agenda.

I say that these claims are ludicrous because, while they claim such devastation is Biblical in nature, the Old Testament reading for today plainly tells us that God will never again cover the earth in a flood.Something is wrong with this picture when a preacher claims that God uses a flood as a sign of His wrath while God Himself tells us that the rainbow is a sign of the covenant that God made with Noah that He would never flood the earth again.

Did not God, when Jesus was baptized, send the dove as a sign of his blessing?Was not the dove the same sign that the world would be a place mankind could once again live in?How can this God be a god of destruction and hatred?

Where do these fundamentalists get their information?Exactly which god are these fundamentalists speaking about?What kind of god would strike out in vengeful wrath and at the same time say he would never flood the earth again?What kind of god would wreck havoc and disaster across this country and then send his son as a symbol of his love?And what type of minister would preach hatred, division, exclusiveness, and greed when Our Lord and Savior preached forgiveness, freedom, inclusiveness, and gave hope to the downtrodden and oppressed.

I have come to the conclusion that many of these fundamentalists who say that they talk to God and know what God wants are nothing but false prophets, interested only in getting people to follow them down the road to ruin.Now is the time for each one of us to realize that many of these so-called preachers do not preach the word of God nor do they embody the message of the Gospel.Theirs is a message of self-indulgence, self-interest and greed.They are more interested in the furtherance of their own deeds than they are the message that Christ brought to us some two thousand years ago.Now is the time that we should speak out and bring to the forefront the Gospel message of Christ.

These are times when our own fears and insecurities are the things which drive and lead us.It is our fears and insecurities that lead us to listen to preachers who promise us riches will come if we follow their faith.It is our fears and securities that lead us to listen to preachers who put the blame for the troubles of this country on others because they have the wrong lifestyle, the wrong economic status, the wrong skin color, the wrong religious beliefs.

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.

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 is a guarantee of grace. (1)

It is important that we remember this first part of the covenant that God made with Noah.God’s covenant with mankind, through Noah, was that until the ends of the earth there would be seasons for planting and harvest, day and night.Even though mankind had rebelled against him and caused him great anguish, God promised to Noah that the rhythms of the earth necessary to sustain life would always be maintained.

God’s covenant with Noah was a sign of a fresh start, a new beginning.With the new beginning following the Flood, God gave power over the earth to Noah and his descendants.It was a power that could easily be misused and many times has been. The floods that struck the Midwest in 1993 and the damage that was done in New Orleans are more a sign of our own stupidity and greed in trying to control the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers rather than a sign from God or a punishment.The people of this planet have long held the power to destroy this world, without the help of God. But the same powers and abilities that can lead to death and destruction are also the powers and abilities that can foster good and peace throughout the world.

This covenant was made with the knowledge that God knew that the conditions of mankind had not changed; that the evil that was present before the flood still existed in the hearts of some. The covenant also came with a warning.God warned mankind not to shed the blood of any person.And if someone did shed blood, there would be a reckoning.It has long been assumed that before the Flood, people were responsible only for themselves; now, God holds the community responsible for punishing wrongdoing.

If the community is to be responsible for punishing the wrongdoing, then it is also the community who should be responsible for the care of the people. Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to reach out to the oppressed, the downtrodden and the rejected of the earth.Yet, we look around and see that we ignore those to whom we should be ministering.

Clear statements must be made, not by politicians or public leaders, but private citizens asking where the care of those less-fortunate will come from.Can questions concerning poverty, health care, housing and jobs be answered when the drumbeat of war drowns out all other sounds? (2)

There is a collective responsibility to insure that this planet remains safe to live on; yet, we reward polluters and ignore the consequences of our own anti-environmental actions.We have allowed monies that should be going to the assistance of those in need to be slashed or eliminated; we have put the burden on those without to provide for their own well being.

This is a country that, on the outside, expresses a belief in God.This is a country that claims to have been founded on the values and traditions of Christianity.Yet, our actions speak against those values and traditions.The dignity of each individual and the respect for the well being of individuals are tossed out the window.

We have to ask ourselves what values and traditions we hold dear to our hearts.How can we claim to be a nation of peace when we espouse violence so easily?How can we speak of the freedom to dissent, publicly or privately, when the United States Congress passes laws that take away the most basic and fundamental rights, rights established in our Constitution?

Jesus treated everyone as an individual, even when society had cast him or her out; yet, we seemed to have forgotten this lesson.We are willing to treat an individual with less respect, simply because he is of the “wrong” ethnic background or because he doesn’t believe as we do.Those who speak out against the administration are called unpatriotic; even though that was one of the rights we sought for this country some two hundred and forty years ago.

Hope is no longer the motivating force in our lives; it has been replaced by anxiety and fear of the unknown.But it was hope that Jesus gave to the downtrodden, it was freedom from fear that Jesus offers to us.Instead of reacting to fear and giving up hope, perhaps we should reflect on the lessons that Jesus taught us.Instead of creating situations that create fear that take away hope, perhaps we should be working to bring hope back and take away the chance for fear to grow.

This should be a time when we should be building bridges – bridges of hope, understanding and cooperation around the world, bridges of fairness and equity, bridges of respect for the integrity of each individual, bridges of human and civil rights? These are the values that over the years that has made this nation great. Now we are isolating ourselves with massive shifts in foreign and domestic policy.

Nearly fifty years ago President Eisenhower warned us that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” (3) We should do well to consider his words.

The purpose of Lent is to prepare for the coming of the Lord.It is not a time of sacrifice, of giving up something that we will regain after Easter.Rather it is a time when we should give of ourselves.Peter reminded us that just as the Flood cleansed the world, so did our baptism cleanse us of our sins and allow us the opportunity for salvation.Now we know that Jesus, who was without sin, did not need to be baptized.But he was baptized because it gave him identity with the preparatory work of John the Baptist and it showed us that Jesus was willing to die for our sins.

It is time that we seriously consider what we are going to do during this season of Lent.We often treat Lent as a temporary thing, giving us something for forty days to show that we can sacrifice.But we can never accomplish that type of sacrifice that Jesus did for us.But, then again, we do not have to make that type of sacrifice.But we have to make some changes.

With Noah, there was a new beginning.It is a beginning that comes with a promise that we will have God with us through all times.This promise was renewed at the River Jordan when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.It is a promise that we renewed with our own baptism.Now, it is time to make that new beginning.

We cannot spend the next forty days of Lent preparing for Easter morning and then on Easter Monday go back to what we were doing last week.We have to take these days as a chance to prepare for a better life that begins with the victory over sin and death represented by the empty tomb of Easter.Now is the time to open one’s heart and mind and let Jesus Christ in.For those who have accepted Christ, now is the time to become a true disciple of His and begin working for the completion of the Gospel message to bring hope to the downtrodden and freedom to the oppressed.

  1. Thomas Merton, in “Seasons of Celebration” as noted in Sojo mail for February 10, 2005.
  2. Portions of the following paragraphs were adapted from the e-mail “Called to be Peacemakers” written on February 27, 2003 by Mary Lu Bowen and distributed to pastors in the New York Annual Conference on March 4, 2003.
  3. April 16, 1953