This was a busy weekend – I gave the message at a Saturday evening worship service that they are starting at the Drew United Methodist Church in Carmel, NY. (Location) Their Saturday services are at 7 and you are welcome to come to attend.
This morning I am giving the message at Trinity United Methodist Parrish in Newburgh, NY. Services are at 8 and 10:30 and you are welcome to attend. (Location)
The Scriptures that I used in all three services were the lectionary readings for the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany: Isaiah 49: 1 – 7, 1 Corinthians 1: 1 – 9, and John 1: 29 – 42.
The first thing that you have to know about me is that I am a Southern boy. As the saying goes, I am Southern born and Southern bred and when I die I will be Southern dead. But don’t get me wrong, just because I was born in the South and spent the better part of my life growing up in the South, that doesn’t mean that I bought into all of the South’s culture and traditions. Because my father was in the Air Force, I also grew up in other parts of this country and who I am is sum of all those experiences, not just the ones that come from where I am was born and where I graduated from high school.
But growing up in the South did give me the unique experience of living in a land of tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, and even a volcano. Now most people are not aware of the historical evidence of the volcano because all that’s left is a crater in Arkansas where one finds an occasional diamond.
And many people, even in the South, are not aware that the next great earthquake will strike, not somewhere in California, but somewhere south of St. Louis and north of Memphis. And this earthquake is long overdue. This is the bicentennial of the 1811 New Madrid earthquake. This earthquake was one of the most powerful earthquakes to strike the North American continent. It changed the course of the Mississippi River and caused church bells to ring in New York and Boston. It didn’t cause a lot of damage or destruction because there wasn’t a lot of stuff to damage.
Predicting the time and place of an earthquake accurately is still a long way off but there are signs that the New Madrid fault is long overdue to shift. And when it does shift, the damage and devastation that occurs will be on a greater scale that one could ever imagine. There is a sense of false security because the only evidence that there is a fault and that it is still active are the seismographs at the University of Memphis (see Center for Earthquake Research and Information)
It is, of course, a little different when it comes to hurricanes and tornados. Our technology allows us to see the birth of a hurricane off the coast of Africa and track its progress westward across the Atlantic. Each day we are able to make a better prediction of its strength and where it may make landfall.
The same is true for tornados. We have the ability to see and observe the skies and predict where a tornado might form. This, in turn, gives us the ability to warn people in areas where the tornado might go.
But such advance warnings and knowledge of what lies beneath the ground are of little value if we fail to heed the signs and warning. We cannot stop an earthquake, hurricane or tornado but we can see the signs and lessen the damage that may occur. Perhaps it speaks to the human condition that the death and destruction that comes with each of these events is not caused by the event itself but our failure to heed the signs and prepare for the future.
Now, for some, such signs are merely warnings of God’s impending wrath, of His dissatisfaction with what His children are doing on this planet. For these individuals, they are signs of the Apocalypse and the End Times and these individuals rejoice in the thought that with these End Times is a journey to heaven.
But, I will be honest, from the first time that I ever heard this, I had to wonder. If I know that something is about to happen and I do nothing to prevent it, what does that make me? As a Christian, am I to stand by and watch as the world is destroyed by its inhabitants, blame such destruction on God, and then hope that I shall be one of the lucky ones that will somehow magically escape this death and destruction? Or am I to do what I can to make such death and destruction are not the final acts of the human race?
Now, let me say that besides being a Southern boy, I am an evangelical Christian. Just as I am Southern born and Southern bred, I was baptized as an evangelical and I was confirmed an evangelical and I think and act as an evangelical. But just as I may never have accepted many Southern traditions and thoughts, I have not accepted the ideas that so many evangelicals today profess and believe.
I have never been able to accept the idea that my role as a Christian was to force you into accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior. And that’s how many evangelicals see it today; if you don’t accept Christ as they tell you to do so, then you are condemned to a life in Sheol. I know that there are many who see the role of Christians in terms of the Great Commission, to go out and make disciples of all the people. But the fervor that is put into that effort often fails to realize that the word disciple also means student. And students have to be shown what to do, not simply told that they need to do it or else.
Some years ago, I was introduced to the works of Clarence Jordan, a Southern Baptist minister, theologian, and scholar. He is most widely known for two things. The first is the Cotton Patch Gospels in which he translated the New Testament from Greek into English and phrased in terms of the South. The second was the founding of the Koinonia Farm in southern Georgia.
The Koinonia Farm was founded and built as an expression of how evangelism was supposed to work. Now, Clarence Jordan did believe that evangelism required that we tell people of the Good News. It did involve challenging people to yield to Jesus, to let Jesus into their lives and to allow the power of the Holy Spirit to transform them into new creations. But evangelism was more than that.
It also involved proclaiming what God was doing in society right now to bring about justice, liberation, and economic well-being for the oppressed. He argued that evangelism required that we declare the Gospel in both word and deed and we join God to work in eliminating poverty, prevent unjust discrimination, and stand against tyranny.
And if this sounds like the social gospel, that’s because it does. And if it sounds like what caused John Wesley to look at his own church and wonder what was going on, you won’t get any disagreement from me. Evangelism calls us to create the church through which God’s will is done, on earth, as it is in heaven.
And Clarence Jordan did just that. He founded the Koinonia Farm in the late 1940’s. It was integrated at a time when segregation was the norm and the law. And through the efforts of those who lived and worked on the farm (and still do today), it was demonstrated that people of different races and social class backgrounds could work and live together, much to the displeasure of the political and religious establishment. Instead of being seen as an example of what happened when people live and work together in the name of Christ, it was seen and treated as a threat to society and the traditional way of life.
And the opposition came not just from the political and secular establishment but the church as well. It was almost as if the people in the area around the Koinonia Farm (and that would have included a few Methodist churches at that time) thought “how dare they suggest that the words of the Bible have meaning in today’s world! It isn’t supposed to be that way!”
Unfortunately, there are signs around us today that still suggest that many people see the Bible as something to be read and not lived. These individuals would rather treat the Bible as something carved in stone, unchangeable and fixed, than as a living document meant to be applied to life today.
It is almost as they know they have been given that special gift that Paul tells the Corinthians about but which they have no intention of sharing with anyone. Somehow, the fact that the gift of Christ was given to us freely and without reservations, in spite of what we have done and continue often to do, somehow, we don’t want to share it when that is what we are supposed to be doing.
Isaiah speaks of having worked for God all his life and his words should remind us that, having been given the gift of Christ, we are all now workers for God in some way and some form. Isaiah points out the abilities that each of us have been given, to speak out for God. Yes, Isaiah does say that he doesn’t think that he has received much for his work but he is also going to rely on God to resolve that problem. In the end, what Isaiah will do and did will bring the kingdom of God to fruition on earth. And that is the same for us; we have been given the gift, we have been given the ability and the one thing we cannot do is hide the light, the power, the ability that we have been given.
Now, my own ministry is found in the Word and the presentation of the word. In 2005, I began writing my own blog, Thoughts From The Heart On the Left, and I use this venue to express my thoughts and as a way to communicate the Gospel. I am on occasion asked to use that blog as a platform for letting people know of opportunities that allow them to use their gifts.
And this is one such occasion. The United Methodist Church has begun a new project called “Imagine No Malaria”. A child dies in Africa every 45 seconds from malaria. You may recall the “Nothing but Nets” initiative from a couple years back. Something simple as a netting to hang over a child’s bed keeps the mosquitoes off and stops the spread of malaria. The goal of the malaria House Party project is to encourage people to host fund-raising parties to help fight death and disease from malaria in Africa. If you are interested in seeing if this is something that you may wish to follow up on, go to ImagineNoMalaria.org/HouseParty.
There are also things going on at the local level that you may not be aware of. As I mentioned, my own ministry is in the Word and the presentation. My wife’s ministry is found in the gardens of the church and the kitchen. It has been said that when she does coffee hour after the second service on Sunday, reservations are required.
But her thoughts were about the children of the neighborhood and what she could do. 85% of the children of Newburgh receive free breakfast and lunch. But these meals are only on school days. On weekends and during the summers, these children may not get much to eat.
And out of those thoughts came what is now called “Grannie Annie’s Kitchen.” This will be a feeding ministry for the children of the neighborhood on Saturday and Sunday mornings. It will not be a breakfast created by an institution but with love and care, as if Jesus were coming to eat with us. It is a meal cooked with love and care because it is what is expected of us when we say we are Christians and Methodists. I brought a few of the flyers with information about the program with me today.
So, there you have one international program that you can look into. During the upcoming Lenten School, to be held at Grace UMC, we will have presenters talking about their trips to Haiti, Bolivia, Ecuador, and even Iowa as Volunteers in Mission. There will also, I hope, be a presentation from the Methodist Build organization, a partner with Habitat for Humanity which was created by Millard Fuller as a result of a challenge by Clarence Jordan.
And there is the local church level; the here and now level. When I first began my lay speaking career, I was given a three-church charge for five weeks. And the order of worship had the offering after the message. Now, as a Southern boy, I generally want the sermon to be the last part of the worship so that there is that chance for each individual to respond to the call of the evangelist to give their life to Christ. I was given the impression that the offering came after the message so that I could get to the next church on Sunday.
While that may have been the intent of those churches, the reason that the offering comes at the end is so that you have a chance to respond to the call of the Lord, to do the work of the Lord, to give your heart and soul and spirit to the Lord.
Today, we are doing just that. We are bringing forth our offerings and making the commitment to respond to that call from Christ, first given to Peter, James, John, and Andrew some two thousand years ago. “Where are we going?” and “what are we going to do when we get there?” were the questions that they asked that first day. And Jesus said “Come along and see for yourself.”
You cannot do the work for the Lord without seeing for yourself what you are called to do. This is the time, this is the place to tell the world that I will work for the Lord, I will continue the word.