“The Final Victory”

This was to be the devotional for Saturday, November 9th (25th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (Grace UMC, Newburgh). However, circumstances have forced us to suspend the operation of the Kitchen for the time being. It may be that we will resume operations in a few months but other factors suggest otherwise.

The Scriptures for this Sunday were Haggai 1: 15- 2: 9; 2 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 5, 13 – 17; and Luke 20: 27 – 38. I focused primarily on the passages from 2 Thessalonians and Haggai but some of what was in Luke was in this piece as well.

Monday is an important day, at least for me. No, it’s not my birthday (that was back in September) and it’s not my anniversary (that’s in July). It has nothing to do with Grannie Annie or this Kitchen (that was last week). But it has all to do with who we are as a country and as a people and as a society. And yet, for all that Monday represents, we, in our wonderful manner, have reduced it to a blip on the calendar.

It has to be an important day because it is a national holiday though I doubt that many people could tell you why it is such a day. Today is Veteran’s Day and it is the day that we set aside so that we can completely and fully honor all those individuals who have served this country in war and peace throughout the years. Still, when we consider how many veterans of this country are treated when they come home, perhaps it would be better if we didn’t celebrate it all.

I sometimes think that we focus on celebrating such things in hopes that it will bring us the ultimate, the final victory. We have changed the name of this holiday from an indication that we had stopped fighting to one that suggests honoring all those who have fallen. And yet, when our veterans come home, we do little to honor them.

Now, do not think that I am opposed to honoring those who have served this country. If anything, we haven’t done enough to honor them. But I think that we, as a society, really don’t care about those who serve. We are more interested in who won the war, not how much it cost or what toll it takes on families, both here and in the countries where we fought. And what is worse, most people have probably forgotten how this day came about and what it meant.

The original name for November 11th was Armistice Day, for it was on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 at 11 in the morning that the shooting and killing in what we have come to call World War I ended. The war itself would not end for several months, until the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty.

The importance of this that I have my grandfather’s diary from that time in his life. It was a recording of the military action of the 34th Regiment of the 7th Division of the United States Army while fighting in France during 1918. In this diary, on 9 November 1918, he wrote

On way to front again. We are to attack tomorrow. Men have been hiking all day & night, then to go in an attack will sure be hell.

Two days later, 11 November 1918, he wrote

A great day. The armistice was signed today. We were to resume our attack at 2 p. m. in case it was not signed. Slept in a German dugout last night.

That’s all he wrote. Nothing he wrote in this diary ever gave me a hint of his feelings about war, death or destruction. But there is a note at the beginning of the diary that, in the event of his death on the battlefield, that the finder of the diary find a way to get it to his wife, my grandmother. I think that for all that was not in the diary there was an understanding that death was always a possibility. For the record, my grandfather died some 37 years later, in peacetime and at home, among family and friends. Of course not everyone was so lucky as the words on so many marble head stones in the many national cemeteries throughout this country show us.

We have to realize that at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the shooting stopped. This was not the end to the “War to end all wars” but merely a cessation of combat activities.

There was a distinct possibility that combat action might resume, as the notes in my Grandfather’s diary suggest, if the various parties did not sign the agreement.

Over the years, we have forgotten the war did not officially end until the signing of the Versailles treaty in April, 1919. And while I am not a historian, I would hazard a guess that many historians will tell you that the unofficial beginning of World War II began at that moment.

As I have watched the various shows about World War I that appear on the various cable channels, I have been continually amazed about what we don’t know about what happened then. The one thing that has always struck me was the vindictiveness of the French and English in setting the terms for the treaty of Versailles. If there was ever a clear cut cause for World War II, it can be found in that single document.

The conditions imposed by that treaty would set the stage for the rise to power of Adolph Hitler. I sometimes wonder if we are not doing the same thing with our various wars today. And yet, we keep on sending people off to war, in hopes of achieving that final, elusive victory.

We as a society want a finality to things; we don’t want things to drag on. But we are unwilling to work for the finality; we are unwilling, and perhaps unable, to find a way to remove the causes that bring about war and violence.

Paul’s warning to the people of Thessalonica is very clear. Be wary of the false preachers, the ones who proclaim these are the End Times, the time of Christ’s final victory. Paul is very clear in his words that while Christ’s time reaches into the the past and is clearly in the present, it also reaches into the future. If we think that these are the End Times, Paul would tell you that you had better think again.

Some might say that the reading from the Gospel about the widow and the seven brothers might not apply to these thoughts today. But I think they just might. Jesus rebukes the authorities for the blindness in seeking a solution to a hypothetical situation through the laws of society. (It may not be all that hypothetical; I have a cousin who married two of three sisters but that’s another story for another time).

Can we see beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law? Or do we get so caught up in staying within the constraints of the law, we fail to see what might happen?

In the passage for Haggai, we read about the people rebuilding the Temple after its destruction. It is not a time for vindictiveness but a time for rebuilding, a time to begin again.

As long as we are more concerned with who won the war, we are never going to be in a position to rebuild and restart. Jesus did not come to enforce the law but to go beyond the law, to restore the connection between the people and God.

I think that, on this day, when we honor those who have served this country, as we plant flags on the white marble headstones, we can do one of two things. We can remain locked up in the legalistic and limited view of the world that says the answer to war is more war. If this is what we think, then we need to get more land because there will be more dead to bury.

Or we can think about the love of God for all of his people and work to make sure that love is expressed in every language in every nation by every person today, tomorrow and for the days to come. That will be the final victory.

“Amazing Grace – The Power of The Holy Spirit”

This is the first message that I ever gave as a lay speaker. During a lay speaker class, I was asked how long it took to write my first message and I replied “three years.” I began thinking about being a lay speaker in 1988 but it was not until 17 November 1991 that I ever put together on paper the words for a sermon. Interestingly enough I never thought about the relationship between the title of this message and the fact that I was at Grace UMC when I gave it. I focused more on the hymn and what that hymn meant. That Grace UMC would make the turn around that it did (six months before this message, it was thought that the church was going to die; it survived those rough times and prospered over the years) is amazing and perhaps this was a way to foretell that.

Following the lead of my pastor, John Praetorius, I chose a reading and a text (as I have pointed out before, I didn’t start using the lectionary until 1995). I chose Matthew 28: 10 – 20 as the Scripture reading and 1 Chronicles 17: 16 – 17 as the text for my message.

The song “Amazing Grace” is an interesting one, both for its music and its message. This song is based in part on John Newton’s own life and experience (The Hymns & Hymn Writers of the Church, Tillet & Nutter, 1911). That experience can be understood from the passage from I Chronicles he used as the basis for the song:

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me thus far? And this was a small thing in thy eyes, O God; thou hast also spoken to thy servant’s house for a great while to come, and hast shown me future generations, O Lord God! (1 Chronicles 17:16 – 17)

At one point, he was a ship’s captain; more to the point he was a slave ship captain. One day, while on the regular run from Africa to the American colonies, he decided that what he was doing wasn’t right. He then turned his ship around and took the would-be slaves back to Africa. This was a rather dramatic move on his part, one that many people would have been afraid to make. Even Newton might have been afraid to make such a move, but the Holy Spirit gave John Newton the power to turn his boat around without fearing the consequences.

Saul also felt the power of the Holy Spirit when he was struck blind on the road to Damascus. More importantly, it was the same Holy Spirit which directed Ananias to go to Saul and help him.

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosed to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:10 – 17)

Now Ananias may have been afraid to go see Saul on his own. After all, here was a man who had the power to throw Ananias in jail for simply believing in Jesus. But, with the power of the Holy Spirit, he was able to go to Saul.

It was the same power of the Holy Spirit which lead John Wesley to question his own faith and how the Church of England ministered to the people of England. Without that Power to lead him, it would have been very difficult for Wesley to lead the Methodist movement.

We have all felt the power of the Holy Spirit at some time in our lives. The first time it came to me was in the form of my mother’s right elbow. When I was 12 and my family was living in Montgomery, Alabama, I grew tired of my mother elbowing me to keep me awake during the sermon. As a result, I decided to sit by myself. During that time, I begain to think about what it was to be a Christian. Shortly after we moved to Denver, Colorado, that summer I approached George Eddy, the pastor at the 1st Evangelical United Brethen Church in Aurora, about studying for the God & Country Award given by the Boy Scouts. Under his tutelage, I earned that award and joined the EUB church in 1964. Even today, that still rates as one of my personal achievements. I am also convinced that it was the presence of the Holy Spirit that lead my family and I here from Odessa, Texas and to this church. I did not know about Grace Church until I walked by it while visiting the campus during the summer.

What these stories show is the impact the Holy Spirit can have on individuals. It is that power which change’s one life and gives them the strength to change others. The idea of leadership within the church is what this Sunday is about. Jesus, through his disciples, has empowered us, as the laity, with the task of ministering to the world:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. (Matthew 28:18 – 20)

Finding leaders for the church has always been a problem. Consider Moses’ reaction to his nomination by God to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt:

But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either heretofore or since thou hast spoken to thy servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who make him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak. (Exodus 4:10 – 13)

Today is Laity Sunday, a day on which we honor all those who serve the chruch. Leadership is not limited to a select few, but is the responsibility of all members of the church. After all, when anyone joins the church, we as members also reaffirm our vows to “uphold it by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service.” (The United Methodist Hymnal, page 48 (1989))

While I am a relatively new member of Grace Church, I still have an appreciation for its 130 year history. This is the most crucial time in that history. It is a time when this church can grow and expand its ministry in the neighborhood and the city. From the Talmud, we read

“In every age there comes a time when leadership suddenly comes forth to meet the needs of the hour. And so there is no man who does not find his time, and there is no hour that does not have its leader.” (I believe that I first saw this quote in Making of a President – 1960)

This is Grace Church’s time. Through the Holy Spirit, we are called to carry out the mission of this church.

How do we meet this challenge? First, our Church Conference is December 8th. As a member of the church, you are entitled to vote on matters before the church. We have started an Estimate of Giving program and you can return that card so that the church will be able to plan its budget. If you sing in the choir, serve as an usher, serve as a greeter after church, serve as a Sunday School teacher, or help with Fellowship Time between Sunday School and church, you serve the church. There are many other ways to help the church meet this great challenge.

The question that we as members of Grace Church must answer is “Are we willing to lead Grace Church in its mission and growth.” This is the same challenge John Newton faced when he turned his boat around and Ananias faced when he went to help Saul. If we do as John Newton, Ananias, John Wesley, and others have done and let the Holy Spririt guide and direct us, then we will be able to understand the meaning of the sixth verse of “Amazing Grace”:

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.”

The Contradiction of Life Today

Here are my thoughts for this past Sunday, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost. The Scriptures were Isaiah 65: 17 – 25, 2 Thessalonians 3: 6 – 13, and Luke 21: 5 – 19.


It seems to me that there is a contradiction in the Scriptures for today. And the problem today is that too many people want the contradiction. They want the good life espoused in Isaiah and push for the war that Jesus implies will come with the end of times. And the same people will offer Paul’s words for today as proof that the good life only comes through individual effort, not community effort and certainly not from anything the church may say or try to do.

But Isaiah’s words for today end with words of peace, Paul was writing about those who quit working for Christ because they felt that Christ was coming, and Jesus warned us to be wary of those who would try to mislead and deceive us.

I see too many people today who, because of the position in life they have created for themselves or others have created for them, believe that they have the right to tell me what to think and do. I also know that many people today are rather happy letting these so-called experts do just that, tell them what to think and do.

Yes, there is going to be dissension in the world today. There are far too many people who fear the world and want to find ways to gather all things together and keep them for themselves. I have said it on a number of occasions in the past and I will say it again; there are many people today who see the church sanctuary as protection from the outside world and all the work that they do for the church is make sure that the walls that separate them from the world are strong and impenetrable.

But when Isaiah wrote his words, he was writing to a community, not to a collection of individuals. When Paul was writing his words, he was also writing to a community and not a collection of individuals. And that is part of the contradiction of today. We call ourselves a community but then we act as a collection of individuals. We are more interested in our own well-being than we are the well-being of the community of which we are a part.

And we fail to realize that if the community that we live in should fail, we will be without just as much as those who don’t have anything right now. But our world says that we can do that; we can have wars and destruction, we can have families turn against families, brothers against brothers and parents against children and nothing will happen.

The contradiction is that we think that once we have done something simple, say to come to church on Sunday, then we have accomplished what is necessary for our lives. But we have to remember, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, in answering the call presented in the Gospels, we radically change our existence. When Jesus calls us to follow Him, we find ourselves being dragged out of a relatively safe and secure life into one that is absolutely insecure. We leave a life that is observable and calculable for one where everything is unobservable and fortuitous. We step out of the realm of finite into the realm of infinite possibilities.

Everything that we do in answering the call to follow Christ is in direct contradiction to what our senses, our friends, the law, and the world around us say it is. But that contradiction will bring more than we can imagine. There is a call today to put down your nets, your books, your things of life and follow Jesus. It will lead you to places unknown but it will lead you to a far greater life. You don’t have to do that; you have been given that choice. But it is choice that speaks of war and violence, death and destruction, hopelessness and frustration.

There is a choice and in an world of contradictions, a very clear choice.

What Is The Promise For The Future?

Here are my thoughts for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost.


I will admit, as I have in the past, that I have problems with any Biblical prophecy or prediction that says there must be a war before there is peace. It goes without saying that I have some problems with today’s Gospel reading. (1) There are some who have used Jesus’ comments about the possibility or rumors of wars to point out that my arguments against war are meaningless.

Now, there are individuals who say that they speak on the behalf of God and feel that now is the time for the United States and/or Israel to initiate a nuclear exchange with Iran. This is because they see these times as the End Times and Armageddon is about to occur. They see the signs and hear the rumors and say that now is the time.

Those who say that there will be peace on this planet following Armageddon ignore the truth and the reality of war. If what we learned after Hiroshima and Nagasaki is any indication and since the nuclear weapons that will be used in the next war will be improvements over what was used in 1945, it will be a long time, a very long time before there is peace.

I suppose that I might not have these qualms if this were an earlier age or if I had been born at a different time. But I was born and raised during the height of the Cold War and when I was old enough, I could see the B-52 bombers parked on the ready ramp ready to roll within 15 minutes as a response to an attack on this country by the Soviet Union. I was also privy to a briefing given to the families of the SAC pilots and crews stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Missouri that indicated that the majority of the state of Missouri would be wasteland in the event of nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Throughout the Cold War the only thing that prevented a full-scale nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union back then was the knowledge that we could easily destroy each other’s country many times over. This policy was known as mutually assured destruction and it had its own quaint acronym, MAD. No acronym was ever so appropriate in describing what it was.

The effects of radiation will not quickly disappear but only linger long after the initial exposure. The ground where the nuclear weapons land will be poisoned for a long period of time and any survivors will be hard pressed to find a new Eden or its equivalent.

While many people may feel that a tactical nuclear attack would be limited to one area of the globe, they fail to realize that the effects through the fallout will be affected in an area much large than the intended target. It has been long thought that one of the reasons why this country sought a ban on above ground nuclear testing in 1962 was that fallout was beginning to show up in the world’s food supply.

Everyone remembers or has probably heard of the Chernobyl nuclear accident of 26 April 1986. It would be easy to presume that the results of the accident were limited to just the area around Chernobyl but the fallout drifted over parts of Russia, Europe and North America. Granted, large areas of the Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were contaminated but the effects of the radiation were felt as far away as the northern portion of Finland, Sweden, and Norway.

Radioactive fallout contains radioactive iodine (129I or I-129) that is quickly absorbed in the environment. In humans, it is quite easily absorbed by the thyroid gland. One beneficial effect of this action is that we can use I-129 to treat various problems with the thyroid. Unfortunately, such treatments can only be used on adult patients; similar treatments would affect the growth of children. For children in the path of the fallout from Chernobyl, it was necessary to give them large doses of iodine that would be absorbed by the thyroid and thus prevent the adverse affects of the radioactive iodine.

It is quite clear that any discussion of a limited or tactical nuclear war anywhere in this world is also a discussion on destroying the future of the world as we know it.

If we were to have a limited nuclear war anywhere in this globe, are we prepared to take the steps to protect our children? Or shall we see the future of this civilization and the world die in the toxic residue of nuclear folly? Let those who call for a nuclear war in the Mid-East because these are the End-Times explain to the world why no one can live in the world that is left after a nuclear Armageddon.

It should be noted that Jesus warns us against listening and following false teachers. (2) The false teachers, even today, are the ones who say that they speak for God and that now is the time. And even if all the signs of the end were to happen, Jesus still tells us that the end is not immediate. Other things must happen first.

Now, with what Jesus said and with what Paul wrote (3), if I see war coming and I do nothing about it, can I say that I am upholding or following God’s will? I think not! We who say we are Christians must work for the Kingdom and not simply assume that when Jesus comes, all will be right with the world because we say that we are the true believers.

Many use Paul’s admonition in the portion of his letter to the Thessalonians as a rationale to oppose welfare. (4) That discussion is for another time. Paul was writing to the Thessalonians because they thought that they were in the End Times and they no longer had to work for the coming of Jesus. I take what Paul wrote as meaning that with the Second Coming about to occur, it was even more important to work for the coming of Christ.

What we do can take many forms. It strikes me that words can stop war but they must be words of truth spoken from the heart. They cannot be words of hatred or anger; they cannot be words that threaten or condemn.

1968 was a very interesting year. First, it was the year that I graduated from high school. It was also the year that the Viet Nam war became a distinct part of my life. The war had been going on for several years and there had been many protests against the war prior to 1968. I had not paid much attention to the protests because I had other things on my mind.

But during the summer of 1968, I became more and more aware of what was transpiring in the jungles of Southeast Asia and what was transpiring on the campuses across this country.

And then there was April 4, 1968. I have posted my thoughts about this day (5) and there is no reason to go over them again at this time. But on that night, in city after city, riots and violence broke out as it became known that Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel. It is reported that in 110 cities, there were over 39 deaths and 2,500 injuries. But in one major city, Indianapolis, there was no violence; there were no deaths.

Robert Kennedy had come to Indiana as part of his campaign for the Democratic nomination for the President. There were those that night that encouraged him not to go into the ghettos of Indianapolis, for it was too dangerous. But the part of Senator Kennedy that made people admire him and seek to work with him told him that he had to go. And as he spoke of the pain and sorrow in his own life when his brother, President John Kennedy, was killed some five years before, he asked the people of Indianapolis not to strike out against the society which they held accountable for the death of Dr. King. He advised and prodded them not to strike out in violence but to work so that such violence would not occur again.

Unfortunately, Senator Kennedy would himself die by an assassin’s bullet some two months later and any thought that words of hope and promise would be part of the political campaign disappeared with his death. Political campaigns today are characterized more by the mud that is slung and how low a politician can sink. No longer do politicians offer hope. No longer is there a discussion as to how to make a better tomorrow when politicians and leaders offer only gloom or doom.

The new world is here if we work for it. If we stand aside and let those who only gather for themselves the fruits of the people, then we shall go hungry. If the words of false teachers and false prophet are the only words people hear, then there will be wars. And there will be no peace; for there will be no earth for the people to live on.

Isaiah speaks of a new tomorrow, of a better place. (6) He speaks of people building home in which they themselves will live. He speaks of people having food to eat and lives that are worth living. It will be a world in which the young will live long lives rather than dying young. It is a worth so much different from the world that we live in today. When Isaiah speaks of creating a new heaven and a new earth, he is speaking of the world after Christ has come. But is not the Second Coming of Christ of which he speaks but rather the first.

But if we hold to the teachings of Christ who announced to the world that the Good News was upon us, that the sick shall be healed, the hungry shall be fed, the naked have clothes and the oppressed set free, then the new earth promised so many years by Isaiah will arrive.

(1) Luke 21: 5 – 19

(2) Luke 21: 8

(3) 2 Thessalonians 3: 6 – 13

(4) 2 Thessalonians 3: 10

(5) https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2007/04/04/where-were-you-on-april-4-1968/

(6) Isaiah 65: 17 – 25