“What I Am Not Giving Up for Lent” (2) – Tradition


This will be on the “Back Page” of the bulletin for Fishkill United Methodist Church this Sunday, 17 March, 2019 (2nd Sunday in Lent, Year C)

As I wrote last week “What I Am Not Giving Up for Lent” (1), I am not giving up on my faith or the United Methodist Church for Lent.  Now, if Lent is a time of preparation, perhaps we should consider how we can prepare our faith for the coming days.

In “The Fiddler on the Roof”, Tevye points out we do things because of tradition but we don’t always remember on what the tradition is based.  We tend to see tradition in terms of laws and regulations, some written, many not .

But the tradition of Methodism is to do those things that have not been done, to reach out to those beyond the walls of the sanctuary.  Our ancestors in the church were the ones who reached out to the forgotten and disenfranchised, the very sinners that Jesus reached out to (much to the consternation of many church elders).

Our traditions have been to never say who could not come into our church but to welcome all who sought Christ.

As we move closer to Easter, we need to cast aside the attitude that only certain individuals are welcome and revive our tradition of saying to all who seek Christ that you are welcome here.

~~Tony Mitchell

The Paradox Of Vision


A Meditation for 21 February 2016, the 2nd in Lent (Year C). The meditation is based on Genesis 15: 1 – 12, 17 – 18, Philippians 3: 17 – 4: 1, and Luke 13: 31 – 35

There is something of a paradox in the Old Testament reading for this morning. God tells Abram to look in the sky and count the stars and he, Abram, will know how many descendants he will have. In other words, as Abram looks at the stars, he will be seeing the future. Of course, we know today that when we look at the stars, we are, in actuality, looking into the deep and far past.

And I believe that qualifies as a paradox. If a paradox is a statement that apparently contradicts itself, then one cannot look at the stars and see both the future and the past. I would think that it is somewhat similar to the Schrödinger’s cat problem.

This is a problem in quantum physics derived by Erwin Schrodinger in 1935 to illustrate some of the problems dealing with the topic of quantum mechanics (or the workings of the atom) in physics. Essentially, one had to make a choice about what was to happen and nothing happens until one makes a choice.

How do we see the world today? Are we more interested in the past when the pews were filled, people were joining the church without much effort, there was a Sunday school class for every grade from kindergarten through sixth grade, there were programs for the junior high and high school students. The adult choir sang every Sunday and the children and youth choirs sang once a month. The stewardship campaign always ended with enough pledges to meet the goals of the budget, the bills were paid on time, and there was even enough money left over each month to support some actual mission work.

Now, if there was ever such a church or its counterparts, it doesn’t exist today. With few exceptions, most churches are losing members and Sunday school programs are almost non-existent. Instead of discussions on growth, church financial discussions focus on where to cut expenses in order to pay the bills; mission support is often an after-thought and membership plans are very seldom discussed because no one is moving into the area. It becomes very difficult to look to the future when looking at the present is difficult enough.

But if you went back and looked at the plans of those churches which are thriving today, you would see that their focus was not on the past or the present but, rather, the future.

I know of one church in my home town of Memphis that saw the future very clearly. The church leadership knew that the majority of members lived outside the traditional area in which the church was located and more and more of the membership was moving away from the city. So this church made the decision to buy property in the area where the members lived and sell the city property (ironically, to a church of another denomination seeking to expand its presence in the city).

And then there is the story of the Clifton Presbyterian Church. In a sermon I gave several years ago (“What Do We Need?”) I spoke of how the members of the Clifton Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, responded to the issue of homelessness in their local community. From the simple beginning of offering a few homeless individuals a place to stay for the night, it became a shelter and home where some 30 individuals at a time found a way out of their homelessness and back into society. The interesting thing was that the Clifton Presbyterian Church no longer exists; the congregation voted to disband and become parts of other Presbyterian churches in the area. But the ministry of the homeless stayed in the building that once was the church, continuing the ministry that was begun by the congregation (The link to the story about the Clifton Presbyterian Church in “What Do We Need?” no longer works but you can go to “Clifton Sanctuary Ministries” to find out more about this ministry).

I also talked about a woman who wanted to help local high school students and during a high school assembly gave the students the church’s phone number. If the student wanted to talk with someone about a problem they might be having, all they had to do was call the church and someone would be there to listen. The next day, the church had over 300 calls from local students. (Adapted from “A Different Sense Of Community”)

Side note – I have been part of something similar called the InterFaith Hospitality Network. It is a program that offers homeless families temporary housing while the families seek suitable housing. These are families where both parents work and yet do not earn enough to have suitable housing. The sad part about this is that the churches of which I was a member were covertly opposed to the idea of providing shelter for homeless families. Let us just say that the vision of these churches where I was a member was rather limited and short-sighted.

As long as we are fixed on the past or if we try to stay in the present, we will never be able to do the same. If the church we seek is a church based on the past, we will never achieve it. Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher, once said, “no man ever steps in the same river twice”, which would say that we cannot even maintain the present state of the church, for that too quickly passes.

Now, we know that when the Pharisees come to tell Jesus that Herod is looking to kill Him, Jesus responded in a way that suggested He was more worried about the future than He was the present.

What we have to understand is that Christ never had anything but the future on His mind. His mind was always fixed on what it would take to complete the mission.

Paul makes the same case for the future, imploring the Philippians to look to the future and not be distracted by those whose focus is on today (or perhaps yesterday). As Paul pointed out, it is very easy to focus on the present because it is right here, right now. And it is easier to focus on the past because we know (or we think we know what is there).

It is much harder to focus on the future because there is a large amount of uncertainty or doubt about what the future holds. And following Christ, as Paul points out, is not exactly an easy thing to do.

If we think that we can somehow maintain the status quo, then we will be quickly swept downstream by the river of time. And if we focus on the past, then we will quickly lost sight of the present. Only by focusing on the future are we able to move forward.

Either through ignorance or fear, there are those who will do whatever it takes to maintain the status quo. But they will quickly find the forces of time working against them.

Our hope for the church and for ourselves is know where we are today, what resources we have, and then determine how we can accomplish the goals of Christ’s mission on this earth today.

The paradox is that if we do not look to the future, then it is very likely that we cannot see the present. Jesus understood very clearly that His future would lead to the Cross. Our future lies beyond the Cross, if only we choose to look in that direction.

If we choose to look to the past or solely at the present, then we will be among those who are lost.

A Vision of Our Future


Here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday in Lent. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Genesis 15: 1 – 12, 17 – 18; Philippians 3: 17 – 4: 1; and Luke 13: 31 – 35.

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I started this piece last Wednesday, before the snow fell (see the “The Great 2010 Snowstorm”) and the earthquakes rocked Chile and Japan. For some, such occurrences, along with the earthquake in Haiti, would be sure signs that the “End Times” were now. But this is not an “End Times” piece. As those who have read my posts well know, I have never accepted that idea or that scenario.

But it is a vision piece and it goes to what John the Seer actually saw in his vision so many years ago on the island of Patmos. It is not a vision of death and destruction that many say is the essence of the Seer’s revelation but a vision of hope that there can be a better tomorrow, that there is a promise for us all. It is a vision that comes from looking around at this world and saying, as Robert Kennedy did so many times during his Presidential campaign of 1968, “some see things as they are and ask why; I see things that never were and ask why not.”

Why, for example, do we spend billions on war and violence but only millions on feeding people and caring for people? Why do we not work to stop violence in this world, both overseas and at home, by building better schools and making sure that everyone has something to eat and has the proper healthcare? Why must we continue to accept the notion that violence is always the answer to violence?

Why is it that we speak as if we were Christian but yet our lives, our words, our deeds say otherwise? Are we so afraid of what might happen if everyone were truly equal that we will do anything to maintain the status quo?

The other day, a friend of mine asked why I was a liberal. I suppose that I could have given some sort of snappy answer like I do when I am asked about the title of my blog (where is your heart, anyway?). But I put my choice in terms of how I grew up and what I saw across the country while I was growing up.

Now, it should be pointed out that my parents were and are conservative but my decision to be a liberal is not a product of some sort of youthful rebellion. The one thing that my parents gave me, even in junior high and high school, was a certain degree of independence (with a clear understanding that I accepted the consequences of my actions). And because I had that independence, I perhaps saw things differently from my classmates in junior high and high school.

I may not have asked the question when I was in the 7th grade at Bellingrath Junior High School in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1962 but I did begin to ask later why it was that I had to buy my textbooks that year from a book store instead of having my teachers give them to me as had been the case the first six years of school or the rest of my junior high and high school studies. And while I didn’t have to buy my books when I was a junior and senior in high school (1966 – 68) in Memphis, Tennessee, why did the high school band only get $50.00 a year for instruments, music, equipment, and uniforms. I didn’t have to pay for my uniform when I marched in the William C. Hinckley High School Band and it cost a lot more than the uniform I wore marching for Nicholas Blackwell High School in Bartlett, Tennessee.

If you understand the times and the places, then you have the answer to my questions. And you have to ask how is it that, we who profess to live in a nation founded on the concept of equality and liberty, would enact laws that take away those very concepts? How is it that we, as a society and individually, feel threatened by the concept that everyone should have health care and earn not a minimum wage but a living wage? How is that we, as a society and individually, feel threaten by the notion that we are the same in God’s eyes when we believe that there are differences because of sexuality, race, economic status, or country of origin? Why is it that we feel that today is as good as it will ever be and that yesterday was better and tomorrow is to be feared? Could it be that we are not prepared to ask the questions or hear the answers?

And while I was asking questions about why the color of one’s skin or the economic status of one’s family are barriers to progress in this country and this world, I also began ask questions about my faith and what part my faith can have in changing the vision of the future. My affirmation as a Christian and as a Methodist challenges me to put my faith in action, to do more than just say the “right words” on Sunday and leave my faith in the sanctuary when I leave at the end of the service. And yet, even today, when it is so clear what the meaning of Christianity is, there are those who do not even what their vision of Christianity to be questioned. For they are ill-prepared to answer such questions; they are ill-prepared to deal with a vision that is radically different from what they see today. And their only answer is to deny others the right to question; to accept as truth their words and their thoughts.

But when you read the Gospel and you hear what Jesus did, He challenged the people to question the vision of the future as it was presented to them. And he did more than challenge the people, He gave them a new vision.

Abram was offered a vision of the future, a vision that matched the stars in the sky. But for that vision to be fulfilled, it required that Abram moved from Ur to the Promised Land and that he accept the covenant with God. If Abram had not made that move, then our story could not have been told. Jesus knew what was literally around the corner but He also knew that if He didn’t make that journey, nothing would happen, His mission, His life would fail. And if His mission failed, then we would have never had the opportunity to have a vision of hope and promise.

This is not to say that this earth will not end as so many people proclaim that it will, in death and total destruction. But it will not be God’s wrath that will bring down this earth; it will be our own self-centeredness, our own arrogance, and our own ignorance.

There is an interesting difference in the earthquakes that struck Chile and Haiti last week. Understand that the Richter scale that is used to describe the strength of an earthquake is logarithmic; that means that a one-unit increase in measurement (say from 6 to 7) is a 10-fold increase in strength. A two-unit increase (from 6 to 8) is a 100-fold increase in strength.

So, the Chilean earthquake was far more powerful than the Haitian earthquake. But there was more damage and destruction in Haiti because the structures were not built to withstand any earthquake, let alone the one that actually struck. Because Chile has a history of being struck by very powerful earthquakes, the majority of structures are build with that in mind. The same can be said about the buildings in California; building that sustained the most damage in the last couple of earthquakes that struck the Golden State were probably not built to code.

We have written Haiti off as a poor country and we are not willing to put our time, energy, or money into this country, even though its geological history told us that an earthquake similar to the one that struck last month would actually occur. Our own arrogance and indifference to the people of Haiti is as much to blame for the death and destruction that struck that country as anything else. How we deal with what happens next, be it Haiti, Chile, or somewhere else, will speak volumes about our vision of the future.

Paul reminds us that those whose vision is only their world will find, in the end, only destruction. If I am who I say I am and I do nothing to end the hunger and the poverty and the oppression; if I do nothing to stop the violence and the oppression that is so much a part of this world, then I am a liar and a hypocrite. And I if use my faith and my religion for my own benefit and not for the benefit of others, then I can only expect what Jesus promised in Matthew 25 and Luke 16: 19 – 31.

Those whose vision is Christ will find the glory that was promised in the original Gospel message and throughout the words and letters of those who spread the word from the Galilee to the rest of the world. Those who left the Galilee had no idea what lie before them but they understood the message that had been given to them and what it could me to all the people. They began that journey on and with faith.

Ours is a journey done in faith, not necessarily in fact. It is done, not with a vision of today, but with a view far beyond tomorrow. It is a transforming journey where we cast aside that which we were and are in favor of the new life, the life proclaimed in Christ.

We have been given two visions of the future. One ends in death and destruction, not caused by God’s wrath but by our own indifference and unwillingness. The other vision offers hope and a promise for a new tomorrow; it can be reality if we are willing to accept the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. We have the opportunity today to accept Christ as our Savior and begin that transformation. Each of us has the opportunity to see the vision of the future. The question will be what vision do we want to see?

Where Does The Future Lie?


This is the message that I presented at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church for the 2st Sunday in Lent, 7 March 2004.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Genesis 15: 1 – 12, 17 – 18; Philippians 3: 17 – 4: 1; and Luke 13: 31 – 35.

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Somewhere in my collection of things less memorable is an old Funky Winkerbean cartoon. This strip highlighted the adventures of a high school student, his buddies and the school faculty during the seventies and eighties. It was for me a humorous reminder of what it was like when I taught high school and sometimes what I wish it had been. This particular strip was copyrighted in 1986 and includes a dialogue between the science teacher in the high school and the building principal.  (Note added in publishing this post;  I posted this cartoon as “People Walking On The Moon?” on 30 December 2008.)

The science teacher is complaining about the inadequacy of the science textbook he is forced to use and the principal wants a specific example. The teacher, quoting from the book in question, replies "it’s entirely possible that men may one day actually set foot on the moon." The principal then promises to bring up the issue at the next school board meeting.

The humor of this cartoon then was the fact that man had already walked on the moon and the textbook was out of date. Today, the humor would be in the fact that we have forgotten what we have done. There is at least one generation of students today that has never known the experience of watching an astronaut walk on the moon. And though there are grandiose plans in the works to return to the moon and move beyond and on to Mars, the likelihood is that it will be some time before it actually occurs again.

The problem is not only that, as the historian and philosopher George Santayana once noted, that we repeat our history when we fail to remember but that when we do remember our history we fail to act upon what we know. It isn’t that we don’t try; we would much rather know what the future holds than spend time remembering the past. How many people would not want to know what the five numbers and power ball number are in the upcoming lottery?

The only person who really knew what His future held was Jesus. As noted in the Gospel reading for today, Jesus knew where his future lie and what must happen. If He did not follow where the path to His future took Him, then His mission would have failed.

But our hopes for determining what the future holds are not always so cut and dried. Our hopes more often lie in either a fanciful imagination or assuming that the future will be the same as the past. For we can only use what we know when trying to determine what will happen. The writings of Jules Verne were considered fanciful and imaginative. Nobody could go around the world in eighty days as he once wrote. It was impossible to travel in a ship under water and it was certainly beyond human capability to travel to the moon. So Jules Verne’s work was considered science fiction in the 1880’s. But in the 1960’s, as we prepared to go to the moon, his books were considered remarkably predictive in nature.

Now, we consider the works of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, to be imaginative and fanciful. It is highly unlikely that we will ever encounter life on other planets. But the discoveries last week by the robot explorers on Mars may cause us to rethink the thought that we are the only ones in the universe.

When General Billy Mitchell predicted that the United States would be attacked in Hawaii on a Sunday morning, his comments were considered inflammatory and ridiculous. But many military commanders regretted their derision of General Mitchell’s vision and insight about the role of air power in military combat on December 8, 1941.

The church, I feel, is in something of the same boat. It sees the future only in terms of its past. And it does not matter whether we speak of the church in general or in terms of a specific denomination. The visions of the future for the church are based on the past. But, as we struggle with the future of the church in this country and this world in the coming years, we have to be careful about relying on the past.

Many people see the church as an oppressor rather than as a liberator. The church of old used the Bible to justify the enslavement of a race. The church of old used the Bible to stifle scientific enlightenment, persecuting those who would argue that the Sun rather than Earth is the center of the solar system. The church of old has used the Bible and the words of God to justify killing in the name of God. The church of old has used the Bible to justify granting second class status to women.

And before we speak of these being new times with a new understanding, perhaps we should consider that it wasn’t until the late twentieth century that segregation was eliminated. There are people today would who stifle the scientific process in America’s classrooms because it conflicts with their view of the Bible. There are those today who claim that the role of women in this world should be determined by what the Old Testament says, despite the fact that women were a prominent part of the original Gospel story.

And what will happen if we do find life on other planets? How will we react? Will we accept these new civilizations with open hearts and open minds or shall we seek to repress them and enslave them in the name of God, as we have done so many times in our own history?

There are those who when they hear these words will get angry and defensive. They will do so because they are comfortable in what they believe and they are not always willing to accept new viewpoints. I cannot make you think new thoughts but I can and will challenge you to be open so that new thoughts have a chance to develop.

And while you are doing that, begin to consider thinking about how you will see the future. Is your image of the future based on your view of the past? See how Abram reacted when God told him that he would have descendants to numerous to count. Abram only saw the future in terms of Ishmael, his son by Haggai, his wife’s maid. He could not see the future as God laid it out before him, "for your descendants will outnumber the stars."

But Abram was a man of faith and through his faith he understood that what God said was entirely possible. So he packed his bags, gathered his materials moved from the high plains of Iraq to the new Promised Land, which had been promised to him in the vision given by God.

Our faith is built upon the same vision that God will provide that which He has promised. It is a hope expressed by Paul in his works to the Philippians. Those who opposed Christ lived in a world that was based on the past and one that could not advance. A future based on Christ looked to the future and offered hope and promise when life itself could not offer any. Just as Abram became Abraham and the father of Isaac, so too does a belief in Christ transform us.

We are challenged during Lent to repent and prepare for the coming of the Lord. This repentance means a renunciation of the old ways. We must give up seeing our future in terms of things past and more in what it could be.

We must hear the words that Jesus preached and not flinch from them. The future can be frightening and too many people today want the church to make them safe and comfortable and to hide them from the future. Jesus knew what his future held. Three times he tried to tell His disciples what that future was. But like so many people today, they didn’t get it. They didn’t want to hear words of betrayal, death, and destruction; theirs was a good life and such talk disrupted the good life. But Jesus continued to teach and heal and bring everyone to him.

Where does our future lie? We can be like the disciples before Good Friday, comfortable in our status, comfortable in being with the Great Teacher but unaware of the cost of being a follower of Jesus’. Or we can accept the challenge that comes with being such a follower, of working to bring people together. We can accept the challenge of being in a place where righteousness and justice are more than simple words but thoughts of action and belief. We can accept the challenge and bring the Word to a world in desperate need of hearing it through word and deed.

As the days of Lent pass by and the Resurrection comes close, we must look ahead just as Jesus did. Our future lies down the same road. Will we travel it?

The Promise of the Future


This is the message that I presented at Walker Valley United Methodist Church for the 2st Sunday in Lent, 11 March 2001.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Genesis 15: 1 – 12, 17 – 18; Philippians 3: 17 – 4: 1; and Luke 13: 31 – 35.

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I still don’t know what to make of the events last week. Did those students, the young man in California and the young woman in Pennsylvania, know or understand the consequence of their actions? Could they see what the future would be? Is it possible that their actions were in part because they didn’t think they had a future or that whatever future there was not worth it?

When we read the Book of Genesis, we see what the vision of the future can be in terms of one individual. Abram, later of course renamed Abraham, is a key (if not the key) figure in the Old Testament. His story fills sixteen chapters of Genesis. He was obedient to God from the time he left his home (in Genesis 12) through his willingness to sacrifice his son (in Genesis 22). Nonetheless, he had his moments of doubts and uncertainty.

The beginning part of the Old Testament reading for today suggests that Abram was worried about his very survival. Perhaps he was worried about retaliation for rescuing Lot (in chapter 14). It is more likely that his concern stemmed from the fact that he had no male child to pass on his lineage and possessions. And in a society where that the ability to pass on your legacy was your future, to have no way to do so was to have no future.

But as it states in verse 6, "Abram believed the Lord, and [God] credited it to [Abram] as righteousness." Abram believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises and was given the vision of the future in the stars that he saw during the night.

Jesus also had a vision of the future. In the presence of the Pharisees sent from Herod, Jesus could see in his mind’s eye the long and bitter trek to Jerusalem where he would die rejected by society. But Jesus also knew that if He did not go to Jerusalem, if he did not die on the cross, then everything that he had done up to that point would have been worthless and there would be no hope in the future for us.

The astonishing thing in the passage from Luke that we read today is the presence of the Pharisees. Our usual picture of the Pharisees is one of those who measured and counted every bean on their plate in order to tithe yet could turn around steal from widows and orphans. They were the ones who prayed on street corners so that everyone could see them, they were tone ones who traversed land and sea to make one convert and then would make this new convert into a twofold son of hell. The Pharisees were like whitewashed tombs with all manner of uncleanness inside.

Perhaps this passage speaks of our tendency to lump people together and judge them alike, to paint them all with the same brush. No doubt we all identified with the above picture of the Pharisee; yet we are also aware that they were at least two Pharisees, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, who were very different. There is so much good in the worst of us and so much evil in the best of us that it behooves us to be careful in our judgment of others.

I do think that what those students did was wrong and anyone who feels that the only way to get attention is to do something violent is also wrong. To do something wrong just because others did you wrong can never be a justification for actions. But I also think that they truly believed that there was no alternative for them to take.

It is the easiest thing in the world to criticize. There are those who decry society’s impact on students saying that it is because society has allowed violence to be such a part of our day to day life that violence is seen as the only alternative. Yet, in condemning society, these critics fail to realize that we are society.

But what alternatives did those students have? Who could they have turned to in their community? If there were a student in this area who was thinking of something similar, whom would they have or where could they go?

Verse 32 gives a needed corrective to the stance of being so nonjudgmental that we turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to obvious evil. There is no virtue in a hypocritical and simplistic refusal to see the devil at work! Jesus, you remember, said that others would know us by our fruits. It is possible to be so open-minded that our brains will fall out.

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees, to tell Herod – "that fox" that he will continue in his ministry, is a reminder to us today that there are times when we need to respond boldly and openly to the schemes of the evil around us.

Now is not the time for criticism; now is the time for action. Action requires a vision, an understanding of what is to come or perhaps what we would like to come. Historically, it has been religion that has offered the guidance for spiritual and moral values. We, as a society, suffer today because we have lost our vision. And without a vision of the future, we are perishing.

What is vision, anyway? Webster’s Dictionary defines vision as "the act or power of imagination." And it goes on to define imagination as "creative ability," the "ability to confront and deal with a problem," and "poetic creation." Imagination means to picture something new; to have a vision of the future is see something that otherwise might not be seen.

The alternative moral and political vision that society requires today is unlikely to come from the pinnacles of power. Too many leaders make bold pronouncements without understanding what the local situation is. What will work for one area does not always work for other areas. The true vision often from comes from the small communities, such as Walker Valley, working from the bottom up to change people’s lives.

To have a vision requires imagination – the ability to see what cannot be seen in the present and the capacity to picture a new reality. Vision requires using more than ordinary sight, being rooted in a historical memory, and building upon some experience of what you seek to envision.

If what we are to do is to have some basis on prior experience, then we should consider what Paul told the people of Philippi, "Join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us." In this day and age, we are disinclined to set ourselves up as models of behavior, not just because we are so humble but because to do so requires an uncomfortable amount of accountability. It is not enough to offer people guidelines for living. The most lasting lessons of faith are not passed on in the classroom; they are conveyed in what we see in living, moving bodies.

Each of us has a unique experience with Christ. We have individually come to know Christ. Each week we come together as a community to share that experience. We see in Christ a hope the future that cannot be found anywhere else. Our celebration of communion today is a reminder that the promise of the future, much like Abraham’s future was set before him in the stars, is set by the cross and the empty grave. The challenge we face is to find ways to help others so that they may see the same hope and promise of the future.

What Would You Do?


Here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday in Lent.
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A number of years ago there was a “movement” within the church asking “What would Jesus do?” There were bracelets, t-shirts, and other paraphernalia emblazoned with “WWJD.” I looked at this movement with something of a skeptic’s eye. It’s not that I was against such a movement but rather I always thought that the question should be “What would we do?”

Part of my skepticism/opposition arises because there was an attitude among some of its proponents (or so it seemed to me) that unless you bought into this attitude, you were not a true Christian. It is an attitude that is still somewhat prevalent today.

There are many today who have set requirements for salvation. You must be “born again.” You must be baptized at a certain age, under certain conditions and in a certain state of belief. You must be a member in good standing of a particular church. You must accept the authority of a doctrinal system without reference to one’s one knowledge or comprehension. You must avail yourself of the benefits of salvation that are only at the disposal of a given church through its prayers and sacraments. In others words, salvation depends on conditions and culture more so than your own decision and I have a hard time with that.

I have no doubts that I am a sinner for we are all sinners. But salvation is not based on what others say I should do but rather on what I do in relationship to Christ.

I do not recall any instance where Jesus told someone that they were doomed if they did not do what He said. Yes, He did say tell quite a few people that they should go and sin no more. But He did not tell those whom He encountered that they were doomed unless they explicitly followed His instructions.

What then makes us true Christians? Are the things that we do each day overt acts that reflect what others feel are the acts of Christians or are they, as Paul commands the Philippians (1), a reflection of what Jesus did and how He lived?

What did Jesus do? In the Gospel reading for today (2), Jesus was warned about the threats to His ministry and His life. His response was that He would be where He had been and He would be doing what He had been doing. He would be healing, teaching, and preaching the Good News. If those who opposed Him wanted Him, they knew where He would be.

Paul’s words today tell us that we should be imitating Christ. So what does that mean? It means that we should be out in the world, not condemning people but offering our aid, healing people, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry and giving hope to the oppressed.

We have become a culture of self-interest and in such a culture it is far easier to condemn others rather than help them. We hear God’s promise to Abram (3) and we think that such we are granted earthly riches. There is not doubt that God promised much to the Israelites but it was not simply a promise but the fulfillment of the covenant. And we have been raised to believe that hard work and sacrifice on our part will result in many rewards. In fact, this is the promise that many preachers today provide.

But that is not what Jesus said or even promised. Jesus, through His ministry, changed the covenant from the present to the future. Nowhere does Jesus offer us a promise that would be fulfilled in this time and age. His promise is one that will be fulfilled in Heaven.

Similarly, Paul tells us that those who live and work in the present will die. Only those who live with Christ in them and as Christ lived will gain the promise of the heavenly kingdom.

So, should we worry about what Jesus would do? I think not. We know what He did and what He would do if he were here. The question must be, should be, and will always be, “What Would You Do?”
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(1) Philippians 3: 17 – 4: 1
(2) Luke 13: 31 – 35
(3) Genesis 15: 1 – 12, 17 – 18