“The Alternative View”


This will be on the back page of the bulletin at Fishkill UMC for this coming Sunday (October 07, 2018, 20th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B)


My interest in the Book of Job has ranged over the years from antipathy to curiosity to a desire to understand.  And I think that is one of the reasons that it is incorporated in the Old Testament canon; there is a need to understand who God is and our relationship with Him.

In the opening chapters of Job, as his fortune and life disappear, all of Job’s friends, and even his wife, tell him that he had to have done something to displease God.  For that is the traditional view of life – you do good things and you are rewarded; you do bad things and you are punished – there is no alternative.

Job suggests that there is an alternative and, in the coming chapters, will seek an audience with God to understand what that alternative is.

The writer of Hebrews and Mark point out that traditional view has been changed with the presence of Jesus.  It is a view that we have been presented with this past week and which is going to challenge us in the coming days.

The question that we must ask ourselves is very simple.  Will we stay with the traditional view, knowing that it does not lead us to Christ?  Or shall we endeavor to open our minds, our hearts, and our souls to Christ and see the alternative view that is offered?

~~Tony Mitchell

“Do You See the Light?”


This is the message I gave for Laity Sunday, October 16, 1994, at Grace Memorial United Methodist Church (Independence, KS) and Sycamore United Methodist Church (Sycamore, KS). It was also the 20th Sunday after Pentecost (B) but I choose Acts 9: 3 – 9; 17 – 19 and John 9: 30 – 34 as my Scripture readings.

Caves are very interesting places. For early mankind, caves offered shelter from the weather. During times of trouble, caves offered places to hide. Many a prophet hid in caves when the people got angry. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves. Even today, they serve as places of entertainment. One thing that used to dominate the countryside, especially in this part of the county, were barns painted with advertising to come and view Meramec Caverns outside St. Louis. I am sure that many of you have seen such advertising.

If you have never taken a tour of a cave, you should. And inevitably, during the tour, after you have gone deep into the passages, the tour guide will have everyone stop and then he (or she) will turn off the lights. When that happens, you begin to get the feeling of what it is to be blind. Nothing else comes close. Even at night time, with no moon, there is still enough light to allow us to see. In a cave with no added lights, the statement “so dark you cannot see your hand in front of your face” comes true.

It is also at such times that we can understand the fear that Saul must have felt when he was blinded by the Holy Spirit.

Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.(Acts 9: 3 – 9)

The fortunate thing for Paul is that the blindness he suffered on the road to Damascus and the darkness we are surrounded by when we are in the caves is only temporary. Even while he struggled with his blindness, Paul knew that the God would take care of him. We know that the lights will come back on inside the cave.

Still, the thought of becoming blind is very frightening. Even in today’s enlighten times, it is hard for us to realize the limitations that society placed on the blind. During the 17 and 1800’s, the blind were often institutionalized. For others, though, blindness is not so temporary. It was perhaps even worse during Jesus’ time. The blind were looked upon with pity and sorrow for it was felt that, in someway, their blindness was due to some sin in their life. And if the person was born blind, as was the case of the individual in the passage we read in John, the sins were assumed to have been those of his parents.

Against the background of blindness and an indifferent society, the author of the three hymns we sing today, Fanny Crosby, triumphed. Most people are probably aware of the many traditional Methodist hymns written by Charles Wesley, John Wesley’s brother. However, I am sure that not many people are aware that over 1000 hymns Christians sing today were written by Fanny Crosby. She was born in 1820 and died in 1915, living most of her life in the New York area. And from the sixth week of her life, she was blind. The notes that accompany the United Methodist Hymnal point out that she spent most of her adult life working with other blind people and, of course, writing those wonderful hymns that we turn to in times of trouble and in times of joy.

Fanny Crosby was much like the blind man in John. Her presence and her song writing skills were to let others know what joy Jesus brings to our lives.

“As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, Neither this man nor his parents sinned, he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”(John 9: 1 – 5)

It was her faith in Jesus that gave Fanny Crosby the vision needed to write such powerful songs as “Blessed Assurance”. Through her faith, through the light provided by Jesus, she saw just as well as you or I, perhaps even better.

Today, as we begin looking to the coming new century, we hear a lot of talk about our country’s lack of vision. But why should we be surprised by our country’s lack of vision. What Abraham Lincoln said some one hundred and thirty years ago is still true today. Governments are of, by, and from the people. If the people are lost and confused, the government will be likewise. If the people do not have a vision of what they expect for the future, how can we expect the country to know where it is going? If the government is to have a firm sense of direction for the coming years, that direction must come from us, both as individuals and as the church.

Today is Laity Sunday. This is the day we honor all those who have worked for the church during the past year. It is also an opportunity to look at how we, the members of the church, can work for the betterment of the the church and society. I do not think that it is a coincidence that our observation of Laity Sunday comes at the same time as our national elections or the meeting of the Nominations Committee of the local church. This is the time when we set the direction we want our church and our country to take. Yet, at least on the national level, this direction is very, very confusing.

The tone of most political commercials today seems to be how bad the opponent will be for the country. During the last two presidential campaigns, there were a number of complaints about the negative nature of the advertising. It does not appear that much has changed in the past two years. I heard a political advertisement the other day as I was driving to Tulsa. In this commercial, the challenger stated that his opponent was out of touch with Oklahoma and then he went through all the bad things the opponent had done. For this candidate, the solution to the problem was for the voters of Oklahoma to vote for him. Yet, this challenger never did say what it was that he would do if he were elected. Kansas political ads appear to be no different.

But our political campaigns are merely a reflection of the way we have allowed our nation. Whether it is in politics or just everyday living, the majority in this country willingly let others tell them how to act, what to wear, and how to think. At the time when the world is at peace, when the Glory of God should be shining through, we have lost our direction. We stand at the brink of the greatest time of our lives and our direction is set by others, not by God.

We are like the Israelites standing before the Promised Land. We struggled for many years to reach this point and now we wait for the final report. In the case of the Israelites, it was a matter of sending in twelve spies, one from each of the tribes of Israel. You would have thought that, considering the time in the wilderness and all the difficulties that trip had to overcome, the people would have been overjoyed. Yet what did the spies report:

“We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we.” So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”(Numbers 13: 31 – 33)

And to this, the people cried

“Would that we have died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become booty; would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?”(Numbers 14: 2 – 3)

Every time during the Exodus when the Israelites ran into trouble, they cried out how Moses and Aaron had failed them and that they were going to die in the wilderness. Faced with the difficulties of traveling and living in the wilderness, knowing that the Promised Land was just inches away, the Israelites would have rather turned around and returned to the seemingly comfortable life of slavery in Egypt. Are we not like that today? Isn’t it much easier for us to complain about the present situation than to work towards improving our lot?

The turmoil in our lives today is directly related to the fact that we, both as a nation and individually, have lost our commitment to God. We have forgotten that with God, all things are possible. We no longer put God first in our lives and, as a result, have lost our spiritual direction. Like the Pharisees, we have become blind to the troubles of the world. In a world split by race, creed, and economic status, we see the problems these differences cause but we want others to solve them. Even though He has repeatedly told us that he would provide, we no longer have faith that God will do so.

It is admittedly not an easy task. But it was their faith in God that enabled the Israelites to leave slavery in Egypt and make the trip to the Promised Land in the first place. It was their faith in God that enabled them to conquer that land. Despite the negative report from ten of the spies, not all of the Israelites had lost their faith in God. Joshua and Caleb offered a different opinion of what was in the Promised Land.

And Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the Israelites, “The land that we went through as spies is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only, do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they are no more than bread for us; their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” But the whole congregation threatened to stone them. (Numbers 14: 6 – 10)

Joshua and Caleb put their faith in the Lord and were rewarded for their faith. When the Israelites reached the Promised Land after spending the extra time wandering, only Joshua and Caleb were still alive to enjoy the fruits of the Promised Land. Those who had lost their faith had died during the extra years in the wilderness.

It is the same for us. In these times of trial, all we have to do is return to God. As James wrote

“If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him; he will not resent it. But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to tell you, for a doubtful mind will be as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind; and every decision you then make will be uncertain, as you turn first this way, and then that. If you don’t ask with faith, don’t expect the Lord to give you any solid answer.”(James 1: 5 – 8)

When God sent the Israelites out of Egypt, he did not do so without providing them instruction. Even as they began that journey from the certain and safe surroundings of Egypt into the unknown wilderness they called the Promised Land, they still knew that it was God who guiding them.

The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. (Exodus 13: 17 – 22)

I have painted an admittedly dark picture of our and this country’s future. Yet, the pillar of fire which accompanied the Israelites by night and the pillar of cloud which accompanied them by day is still present today. Remember what Jesus said to his disciples in the passage from John, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”(John 9: 1 – 5)

Paul understood what it meant to see the world through the light of Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote in his second letter to Corinthians.

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of god. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is only veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of god. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”.(2 Corinthians 4: 1 – 6)

The light that shines in the darkness today is Jesus Christ, our Savior. It is that light which can guide each one of us. When we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, we will be like Saul regaining his sight and becoming Paul.

So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus,who has appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.(Acts 9: 17 – 19)

We are entering a world which is becoming increasingly dark and forbidding. We, you and I, must make a choice. We can live our lives in the total darkness of sin or we can live our lives in the light of the salvation of Jesus Christ. The question is ours to answer “Do you see the Light?”

The Evidence Before You


This is a sermon that I gave on October 26, 2003,for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church.  The Scriptures for that Sunday were Job 42: 1 – 6, 10 – 17; Hebrews 7: 23 – 28; and Mark 10: 46 – 52. 

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If one thing has surprised me over the years that I have been a lay speaker, it is that more people have not asked about the possible conflict between being a chemist and being a preacher. I do know that at least one university search committee was not comfortable with my stated plans of pursuing a second career in the ministry while maintaining a career in chemical education. And at least one person openly rejoiced that I was in the pulpit. But he figured that I would somehow give scientific credence to the Biblical story of creation and help lead the fight to remove the teaching of evolution from the local schools.

In both cases, those involved on the other side failed to see that it was possible to have scientific beliefs while at the same time maintaining a strong faith in God. The two are not mutually inclusive; one does not determine the other. Science is based on what you see and the information developed from what you see; faith is about what is in your heart and what you believe. Granted, if you believe that God created the world in seven days, you will have a hard time with the physical evidence that suggests otherwise. But if you feel that the story of creation in the Bible was for the purpose of explaining why we are here in the first place, then there is no conflict. And if you put the story into the time frame and the fact that it was first told to people who knew little of the world beyond the horizon, then there is also no conflict between the Bible and science

The one thing that no cosmologist has ever determined is how the “Big Bang”, the basic notion about how the universe started, itself was started. In other words, we can determine how the universe was started but not who started it or why. And it will be a very long time before we can. But that is the point. We can determine what God did but never can we determine why He did it. God told Job as much last week and reaffirms it this week.

But, even today, with an open mind, we still find people who want to close their minds to other possibilities. We find people who twist and turn empirical data simply in a vain attempt to prove non-scientific theories about creation and the universe.

There is, in the scientific community, a group that awards prizes to people for their novel, if nothing else, ideas. In 2001 the IgNoble Prize in astrophysics was awarded to Dr. Jack and Rexella Van Impe of Jack Van Impe Ministries, Rochester Hills, Michigan, for their discovery that black holes fulfill all the technical requirements to be the location of Hell. (ASTROPHYSICSDr. Jack and Rexella Van Impe of Jack Van Impe Ministries, Rochester Hills, Michigan, for their discovery that black holes fulfill all the technical requirements to be the location of Hell. [REFERENCE: The March 31, 2001 television and Internet broadcast of the “Jack Van Impe Presents” program (at about the 12 minute mark).] It should be noted that the particular broadcast is no longer available.)  I will leave it to you to determine if a Christian fundamentalist and evangelist has the technical qualification to identify and characterize a phenomena that has yet to be determined by even the most resolute of astrophysicists.

Now, before anyone should think that I will limit this discourse to a select few who use the Bible to justify or create scientific discoveries, I also have some disdain, if not disbelief, in those who would use science to justify the Bible.

There is a book entitled “The Passover Plot”. The synopsis of this book is that Jesus was a fact and that He faked His death on the cross. The author builds a case to suggest that Jesus manipulated everything to fool the people. Even the climatic scene on Calvary, when Jesus breathes His last, is faked.

In John 19:28 we read

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said “I thirst!” Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. (John 19: 28 – 30)

To the author of “The Passover Plot” this cry of thirst was a signal from Jesus to his disciples to give Him a drug that would make him pass out. I am not sure that were I seeking to create such a conspiracy that I would have let it go that far, especially knowing that crucifixion was the most hideous torture ever developed. But if you believe that the resurrection could not have happened, because rational science does allow for such things, then it is a perfectly reasonable explanation.

More recently, the whole concept of God and the existence of God has come into play. We heard the questions following September 11th; we have heard the questions every time a suicide bomber sets off a bomb in the Middle East. How can there be a God if there is such evil or injustice in the world today. If God is a loving God, how can He allow hatred and intolerance to exist in the world today?

These are questions that mankind has been asking ever since the book of Job was written. The author Lee Strobel has written a very interesting book, entitled “The Case for Faith” and he identifies eight questions that anyone seeking to define their faith must consider:

  • If there’s a loving god, why does this pain-wracked world groan under so much suffering and evil?
  • If the miracles of God contradict science, then how can any rational person believe that they are true?
  • If God really created the universe, why does the persuasive evidence of science compel so many to conclude that the unguided process of evolution accounts for life?
  • If God is morally pure, how can he sanction the slaughter of innocent children as the Old Testament says He did?
  • If Jesus is the only way to heaven, then what about the millions of people who have never heard of Him?
  • If God cares about the people He created, how could He consign so many of them to an eternity of torture in hell just because they didn’t believe the right things about Him?
  • If God is the ultimate overseer of the church, why has it been rife with hypocrisy and brutality throughout the ages?
  • If I’m still plagued by doubts, then is it still possible to be a Christian? (The Case of Faith – Lee Strobel)

These are objections well founded in our attempts to put the Bible in a rational world. And it would make a very interesting series to look at and work on; but time works against that thought at the moment. But as I read the book and looked at the questions, I had to ask myself, “where is mankind in the equation?” Why, if we believe that God gave us the ability to discern what is right and what is wrong, then why do we blame God for the troubles of the world? Where do we fit into the whole thing? If it is all God’s fault, then there is nothing we can do and nothing we do will change things. But if we are God’s representatives on earth, then we are at least partially responsible for whatever might take place on this earth.

Those who seek to blame God for everything, all the cruelty, intolerance, hatred, and evil forget that God gives us the opportunity to work against those forces. And God calls on us to find Him amidst all that is this world.

The ultimate questions are about God and who God is. Job understood that God was a loving God who would not tolerate injustice or evil and all he (Job) wanted was an opportunity to meet God. But there are those, especially in the fundamentalist branches of the major religions of the world today, who do not want us to find God. They do not want us to seek God. The 1999 IgNoble Prize in Science Education was given to the Kansas State Board of Education and the Colorado State Board of Education, for mandating that children should not believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution any more than they should believe in Newton’s theory of gravitation, Faraday’s and Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism, or Pasteur’s theory that germs cause disease.

Those on the Kansas Board of Education were openly fundamentalist Christians. Their rationales for dropping Darwinian evolution from the high school science curriculum was that it was false teaching and thus, not appropriate for students to learn. Their thoughts were also that, since alternative theories of evolution could not be taught in science, no theories should be taught. Of course, what they considered an alternative theory of evolution is not an alternative theory, at least, from a scientific standpoint and that is what the courts have repeatedly ruled.

Though the ruling, at least in Kansas, was reversed it still bothers me. It bothers me because it says that Christians do not want free inquiry into the nature of the world. Instead of seeking the truth, we are to accept what a select few individuals feel is appropriate. We are seeing many more examples, even in the United Methodist Church, of individuals seeking to limit what is considered the truth.

But finding what the truth is should be our primary goal. In John 8: 32 Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” It is the truth that will set us free, free from sin and death. It is the truth that sets us free to work against intolerance, war, poverty, and physical death.

This place, this sanctuary should be a place where the truth is manifested in the way we treat people, both those who are members of this community and those outside this community’s boundaries. We should be able to say to all who come to this place that they are welcome. Those who come into this sanctuary should know that their thoughts are welcome and that we want them to help as we seek to reach our common goals.

I have always thought that was the purpose of the Gospel. Jesus said to all that society was not to be controlled by a few or that the rules of society would be so restrictive that creativity and growth were impossible.

A church that seeks to limit the creativity of its members, a church that seeks to govern by a strict interpretation of the rules is one doomed to die. It will not be a quick death but rather a slow and painful one. It will be a death that comes because there is no growth.

While many churches would say that they are places of solace and hope, they are also places that are closed to society. They are churches that say, “We do not want society to disturb our quiet and solace; we do not want to be reminded of the problems of the world”. These churches say, “We do not want to share what we have with those who do not have”. This too is a church that will die; it will die because the Gospel cannot live in such an environment.

In Jeremiah 31: 8, Jeremiah described the community that God gathered to Israel, “among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together, a great company.” Only in God’s kingdom will we find that the most vulnerable are considered “great company.” In God’s community, all are welcomed and included, even and especially the powerless.

The Gospel reading for today also reflects God’s attention to the vulnerable. Bartimaeus calls upon Jesus to heal him, insisting even though “many sternly ordered him to be quiet. (Mark 10: 48)  His persistence is rewarded: Jesus asks what he wants. “My teacher, let me see again” is his only request. This brief story is in the Gospels to remind us of what a disciple is like. He knows that he is blind and that he wants to see. Unlike the rich young ruler who had everything but was unwilling to give it all up, he is willing to follow Jesus. (From “Living the Word” by Michaela Bruzzese, Sojourners – September/October 2003)

We have marginalized the poor, the impoverished. We have said to those on the outside that they cannot come in. Those that Jesus healed were marginalized by society, cast aside and forgotten. It does not matter that we think of Jesus’ healing as miracles or by some unexplained medicine that He learned somewhere.

Whichever explanation we personally accept limits our vision. And if there is one thing that we must not do, it is limit our vision. For if we limit our vision then we are not able to bring the Gospel to anyone, including ourselves.

If we limit what it is we can do, we cannot do much. And that brings us to the most basic question of all. What type of church do we want Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church to be? It is a question that must be answered and it must be answered quickly.

Whether you believe that the Bible is the complete and only answer or that you believe that everything can be explained by a rationale and scientific process, it is important that you believe. And it is important that you believe that God loved you so much that He would send His only son so that whosoever believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.

The blind man had faith and he saw. John Newton was blind to the evils of the world until he met Jesus Christ in the middle of the Atlantic. But when he met Christ his life changed. John Wesley came to know that there was a Holy Spirit and that through the power of the Spirit was able to create a movement that changed the world.

The evidence before us tells us that faith will endure. Now we must ask ourselves if we have the faith of the blind man. Will we be able to see the future or will we remain blind?

 


The Aha! Moment


This is a sermon that I gave on October 29, 2000 for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost.  The Scriptures for that Sunday were Job 42: 1 – 6, 10 – 17; Hebrews 7: 23 – 28; and Mark 10: 46 – 52.  I am posting it because of what I am thinking about writing for this weekend.

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In every learning opportunity, there comes a time when you realize that you have learned something. You have been trying to learn something and it hasn’t been easy. But suddenly, without any forewarning, you find that you understand perfectly clear what it is that you are trying to learn. And the funny thing about it is that after you understand this new concept, it seems so simple and clear that you wonder why it seemed to hard in the first place. That moment of learning is known as the AHA moment.

It is really hard to define this moment in any other terms simply because the time and place are determined by the characteristics of the learner and what may be that moment for one will not be the same for another.

It is the same with our relationship with God. Job’s encounter with God, as we read in today’s Old Testament reading, is an example of such a moment. As Job admits in the Old Testament reading for today, before he met God, he had only heard of God. His knowledge was second hand at best but after his encounter, he knew of God because he had come to know him first-hand.

When we have a first-hand knowledge of God, our lives change. We only have to remember what it was that John Wesley said after that memorable night at the Aldersgate Chapel to understand that change. Before Aldersgate, Wesley knowledge of God and the path that he was to take had been gained through rigorous study and self-discipline.

When John Wesley and his brother Charles first came to America in the 1736 as missionaries, it was with a great amount of joy and expectation. For now they had the opportunity to show that what they had been saying along would work. No longer would they have to put up with their detractors making fun of this Methodism of theirs.

But when it was all over, their mission was a failure and both brothers returned to England. The feeling of failure was so great that Charles was literally on his deathbed. Prepared as he and his brother were with the understanding that one cannot find peace in life outside Christ, neither man felt that they had truly found the Peace of Christ. Despite their training, despite their background, neither Wesley was willing to say they trusted the Lord. But you see, when you put your faith, as it were, solely in what you have heard or read about Jesus, it is impossible to trust in Him. Trust is only possible when you have that first-hand knowledge.

Only when John Wesley let Jesus into his life, that moment know to us as the Aldersgate moment, could he write

“I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Only when he accepted Christ as his personal Savior did John Wesley understand the direction his life was to take. By turning his life over to Christ, Wesley gained the confidence needed to make the Methodist revival possible.

That moment in life may be a subtle one, as it was for Jesus. Or it may be a dramatic one as it was for Paul on the road to Damascus. But however it occurs, it will change your life. That it changed Bartimaeus’ life is why his story is in the Gospel of Mark. It has been suggested that because Bartimaeus is named in this Gospel he did more than simply follow Jesus into Jericho but rather became a disciple of note later.

There will come a time when you might, if you haven’t already done so, have that encounter with Jesus. It is certain that there are others who will have an encounter of their own. How they come to that moment is not know to us at this time, nor it is certain that their moment will be like anything that we have encountered in our own lives. But one thing is certain, for each of us to know God as did Job, on that first-hand basis, it will be because we have allowed Jesus to come into our hearts.

It has to be Jesus and it cannot be anyone else. The point of the passage from Hebrews that we read today is that only Jesus can be the “high priest” who can intercede on our behalf before God. The point being made in this passage is that all other priests are not capable of taking on the task.

But how does one get to know Jesus? This is the question that we must ask of ourselves this day. For if there is one person in the world who has never known or heard of Jesus, it is impossible for them to come even close to a first-hand knowledge. If I may be permitted to use a chemistry analogy, Mendeleev, the developer of the “modern” periodic table was able to predict the existence of certain elements because of the gaps left in the periodic table. But he could not predict the existence of what were called the noble gases (helium, neon, argon, xenon, krypton, and radon) because there was no information on which to predict their existence. If there is nothing available upon which to make a prediction, you cannot make a prediction.

If there is no way to know of Jesus, then there is no way one can come to know Jesus. And my friends, that is exactly why we are here. So that people will know that Jesus is here in this world and in this time.

The question is how we can let others know. That is one reason why I put the note in the bulletin about reactivating “The Lamplighter.” If we are to bring the newsletter back, and we do have the resources to do so, will we have enough people to mail it to so that we can get a bulk mailing permit? It is my understanding that there must be at least two hundred people for us to get that permit. And even if everyone who is a member or a constituent member were to get one newsletter each, that would only be 113 persons on the mailing list. But that is not a practical letter because of the numerous duplicate addresses. If we are to reactivate the church newsletter, and it is my hope that we do, we will have to come up with a total of 200 addresses.

Another way that we can let people know that Walker Valley is alive and doing well is to let those who are not here today know that they are missed. Right now, we might say that we wonder where someone is but how many people actually call them and let them know that they are missed. Perhaps a call is not warranted; but a note surely is.

I know of some that are doing this and I encourage them to continue. I also encourage each of you to make a few calls. If you need someone’s number, call Sandee Scheel or me. If you feel that I need to call them or visit with them, I will do what I can. But remember the first contact must come from you, not me. This is not because I don’t have the time or the energy; nor is it because I have only a 1/4-time position. It is because the most successful way of getting people to know that Jesus is real comes when someone from the congregation makes the first call.

Why go to all of this trouble? Why take time out of our busy schedule to help someone else, when they may not want to be helped? Because, in the end, when we help one person, then all the effort that was made will have been worth it. No matter when the moment comes or how it comes, when someone has an encounter with Jesus, it changes their lives forever.

Job’s perseverance enabled him to gain rewards he never would have imagined. Remember that at the end of the book of Job, after Job had come to know God on a first-hand and he prayed for his friends, he received more than he had lost. Bartimaeus’ life changed forever after he gained his vision.

There is someone looking for that moment when life changes for them. Are we going to be in a position where we can enable them to have that moment? That is my question for you this morning.

What Will You Ask For?


I am again preaching at Edenville UMC this morning. Here are my thoughts for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost.

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In the early and mid 1980’s there was a “movement” to bring about excellence in business. It was not a new movement but rather a different approach to an age old approach. During that time, people looked for excellence in all areas, including my own area of science education. I mentioned this when I wrote my blog for May 7th of this year. (1) Two things came from this renewed search.

First, most of the innovations that occur in a business occur at the ground level of the business; very few innovations come from the top of the corporate ladder or through the internal structure of a company. Things like “Post-it notes” were not invented in corporate think tanks but rather from individuals aware of situations were applications were needed. The person responsible for the production of these ubiquitous yellow scraps of paper, Arthur Fry, knew two things.

First, Art Fry was in search of a bookmark that he could use for his church hymnal that was reusable and would not damage the hymnal. Second, he knew that his company, 3M, had created a glue-like substance that was not quite right; it was sticky but it wasn’t permanent. The combination made sense to him and he was able to develop a product that we use without thinking today. (2) But to get it done, Art Fry had to first overcome the internal inertia of the company that said that it could not be done. If he had worked for any other company besides 3 M, the likelihood would have been that the product would not have been invented. What the search for excellence showed was that innovation occurred when there was a climate of innovation. If management did not encourage it, then innovation was not going to occur.

The second thing that the search for excellence showed was that management needed to be aware of what was transpiring at the bottom levels of the corporate organization chart. Too often, it seems that the upper levels of management are not aware of what is transpiring at the bottom of the company. It was not that upper level managers had to do the work of the majority of the employees but it helped if they understood what was going on. While we like to think of corporate management in terms of a pyramid with the broad base at the bottom and the single most important person perched at the top; when it comes to knowledge about the company, the amount of knowledge should broaden and not narrow as one climbs the ladder.

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear a very simple proposal. (3) James and John want to sit at Jesus’ right and left hands in the new power structure that would come in God’s Kingdom. But Jesus’ rebuke to the “Sons of Thunder” (and the other disciples who were angered that these two would have the audacity to vocalize what they wanted for themselves) pointed out that neither James, John, nor any of the other disciples understood what price they would have to pay to gain those seats of power.

We understand today why the disciples would do this. It was the nature of society then and it is the nature of society today. Power and the authority that comes with power are what we seek; power and authority are the benchmarks by which things get done. Even John Kennedy understood that you could not get something done if you were not in a position of power. “I suppose anybody in politics would like to be President because that is the center of action, the mainspring, the wellspring of the American system.” (4) Later, as President, he would add “at least you have an opportunity to do something about all the problems which . . . I would be concerned [about] as a father or as a citizen . . .and if what you do is useful and successful, then . . . that is a great satisfaction.” (5) President Kennedy understood what access to power meant and what it was supposed to accomplish. It is not clear, or it seems that way to me, that many of the politicians today, on both of sides of the political aisle, have that same understanding.

Nor for that matter, do I think that we, as individuals, have a clear understanding of what having power means and what it requires of us as individuals. We want the glory that comes with power; we rejoice in having what others do not have. We want to sit in the seat of power; we want to sit where others cannot. But we fail to use that which we seek; we do not want to share what we have because we seem to think that it dilutes what we have gained. What good is it in today’s society to have something if everyone else has the same thing? That makes us no better than anyone else and there is nothing to be gained in that.

But we do not understand that simply having power does not give us what we seek. Having power and not using it for the common good, or having power and using it for personal gain is antithetical. Power used for one’s own self-interest only leads to corruption and destruction. Remember that when Jesus was in the wilderness and Satan tempted Him, one of the temptations was that of absolute power. (6) But Jesus understood that, if He were to have accepted Satan’s offer, He could not complete His mission. Satan’s offer of power comes the easy way, without commitment or sacrifice. But that is the way we see power today.

We live in a society and a world where having power means everything. We are not willing to accept the notion that having power means more than having a seat next to the Throne. We do not understand the true meaning of power. We do not understand how there can be death and destruction in this world; we do not understand how there can be suffering. We are quite willing to be like Job’s friends, who could only see a God capable of destruction and death, of causing pain and suffering. We have come to believe that we must seek and grab all the power that we can, for it is the only way that we can solve our problems.

It is to Job’s credit that he never bought into that viewpoint. He refused to accept the notion of a God that would punish someone for some unknown hideous evil. He refused to accept the notion of an all-powerful God who would cause pain, death, and destruction simply to prove that He was all powerful. All Job wanted was an accounting for what had transpired; he never once thought of denouncing God or questioning the power of God.

How many times are we like Job, suffering for unknown reasons, and demanding resolution in the simple terms? How many times do we ask for something without understanding what it is that we are asking for? How many times do we seek a simple solution when we do not even understand the problem?

In the Old Testament reading for today, God is responding to Job’s cry and demand for an explanation. Now some may say that God is lecturing or rebuking Job, saying that Job has no basis for his complaints. But God is simply pointing out to Job that Job has no understanding of God’s power. And since he has no understanding of God’s power, he cannot understand what has transpired in his life.

This is not an answer that we are willing to accept because it leaves us without an explanation. Job is willing to accept this answer because, more important than resolving the issue, he has met with God. Job’s faith in God is not lowered because he has not discovered the reason for his suffering; Job’s faith in God has increased because he has met God and God has responded to him.

As Jesus pointed out, those who would seek power must first be willing to be a servant. Those at the top of the power structure must be willing to serve at the bottom, if they are to gain what they seek. Jesus knew that the power that they sought would only come through suffering, pain, and death but it is not clear that the disciples understood what He was saying. The disciples still did not understand that they would endure pain and suffering much like Jesus would before they would gain what they sought. James was to be executed by Herod Agrippa I in A. D. 27 (7) and John would die alone in exile on the island of Patmos (8) after a life of being persecuted and watching his friends die. Gaining the right to sit on the right and left sides of the throne would not come from “connections” but through a commitment to the Gospel.

We are not called to be martyrs in the name of Jesus in order to be faithful servants or to gain a place at God’s table. We are not called to suffer simply because we are Christians. But we are called to make sure that others do not have to die or suffer for needless reasons. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus did not call Himself to the office of the high priest; He was called by His Father. (9) Jesus did not seek the power or the glory that was His; He accepted the same path that we must walk.

In doing so, Jesus became the mediator between God and us. He removed the barrier that confounded Job. Because Jesus experienced all of what a person goes through on this earth, He knows how difficult it is to obey God completely, just as He understood the attractions of temptation. (10)

We seek power because we think that it will provide us with all that we lack. And when we have gained the power, we find that we have nothing. Yet, in seeking Christ, we find that we have gained power beyond anything imaginable; we have gained the power over sin and death. This does not give us the right to laud it over others; it gives us the right to go out into the world and seek justice where there is injustice, to offer hope where there is despair, to find the hungry, heal the sick, and proclaim the Good News.

We often forget that two other men were crucified the same day as Jesus. We forget that one of those men taunted Jesus, saying that Jesus should save Himself. He saw power in its corrupt and selfish form. But the other man understood what the power of the Cross meant and he asked Jesus to forgive him of his sins. He saw and understood the power of Christ.

What will you ask for? Will you seek the power that brings nothing but death? Or will you seek Christ and gain victory over sin and death? Will you open your heart to the Holy Spirit so that you have the power to help others find peace and hope in this world?
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(1) https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2006/05/07/to-search-for-excellence/
(2) http://inventors.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.3m.com/about3M/pioneers/fry.jhtml
(3) Mark 10: 35 – 45
(4) Stated often during the Presidential campaign of 1960 – Kennedy by Theodore Sorenson, page 95
(5) Stated in 1962 – from Kennedy by Theodore Sorenson, page 95
(6) Matthew 4: 8 – 9
(7) See Acts 12: 1 – 2
(8) Revelation 1: 9
(9) Hebrews 5: 5 – 6
(10) Hebrews 5: 8