“Theory or Experiment”


Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” on this 2nd Sunday of Easter (Year A), 19 April 2020.

Tradition has it that Nathaniel Bartholomew was the scholar of the disciples.  In John 1: 48, he asked Jesus how he knew him and Jesus replied that He had seen him sitting under the fig tree.  Tradition has it that Nathaniel was studying the Scriptures and it was that knowledge that allowed him to respond that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

One might say that Nathaniel was engaging in a bit of inductive reasoning – making a generalization from a set of specific observations.  The Scriptures of that time would have held many references to the identity of the coming Messiah and, in knowing what had been written, would have been about to conclude that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.  To some extent, then, Nathaniel was theorist, basing his ideas and conclusions on what others had done.

I think that Nathaniel’s friend and compatriot, Thomas, was more of an experimentalist.  He needed to see the evidence before making any sort of conclusion.  His conclusion that Jesus had risen from the dead comes not from what others said but on what he saw for himself.

But what does this all mean for each of us?  Are we theorists or experimentalists?  And what does how we see the Resurrection help others?  I think that if we are who we say we are, we are experimentalists because it is by what we do that others see that Christ is alive.

Those who say that the only path to salvation is through Christ offer a theory without evidence (and too often, it seems, live lives that belie the notion of Christianity).

But by actively living a life with Christ, we can offer the evidence of what is to come.

So, do you lead a life of Christ that is theory based or experimentally based?

“Continuity”


Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the bulletin at Fishkill UMC for tomorrow, 28 April 2019 (Year C).

When I began working on my doctorate, I had a question that I wanted to answer.  The research that I did showed that one group of chemical educators was not talking to the next group of chemical educators and there was a gap in the continuity of chemical education.  As a result, there is a gap in how we learn and teach chemistry.  It is, by the way, still a problem today.

Now, consider what might have happened to the Jesus movement if Thomas had not insisted on seeing the Risen Christ for himself?  What would have happened to the Jesus movement if Peter and the apostles had not preached the Gospel to the people, despite the opposition of the establishment?  What would have happened to the Methodist Church had John Wesley and his compatriots not taken the Gospel message to the people?

We stand here today because the generations before us laid the ground work for us to walk with Jesus.  It was a path laid down for them by those who came before them.  There are those who will only know that Christ is here today because of what we do.  Our words , thoughts, and actions continue the story that began in the locked room two thousand years ago.

~~Tony Mitchell

“Finding One’s Faith”


This will be on the back page of the Fishkill United Methodist Church bulletin for Sunday, April 08, 2018, 2nd Sunday of Easter (Year B).


In one episode of “The West Wing” (“In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Part Two”), Leo McGarry tells Jed Bartlett, “Act as if ye have faith and faith shall be given to you.  Put another way: “Fake it until you make it.” Now, this biblical sounding quote is only biblically sounding; as stated, it does not exist in the Bible.

Biblical or not, it sounded very Wesleyan to me.  Once, in March 1738, Wesley told new preachers, “Preach faith till you have it, and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”

Now, not all of us are preachers, so preaching faith may not necessarily be an option. But we can live our faith in so many ways.

I cannot recall when I first heard the Jefferson Airplane’s singing “Good Shepherd” but when I did I could not help but think about it’s relationship to the Gospel.  The dominant line in the song is “o, Good Shepherd, feed my sheep.”

When you trace the roots of this 1969 modern rock/folk song, it leads you back to a hymn written around 1800 by John Adam Granade, a Methodist minister.

Jorma Kaukomen, who wrote the version that the Airplane played and sang, said that singing songs such as this offered him new doorway into scripture.

During this season of Easter, look around for signs of faith and you will probably find them.  And don’t forget to offer signs of faith for those who are also looking.

~~Tony Mitchell

 

What Do I Do?


A Meditation for 6 April 2016, the 2nd Sunday of Easter (Year C). The meditation is based on Acts 5: 27 – 32, Revelation 1: 4 – 8 , and John 20: 19 – 31

I started this a few days ago but had to set aside because of some other things. So I didn’t get a chance to finish it this afternoon, which in itself was a good thing because I was able to get a new idea to help me close the piece.


 

I had written some notes about a new revival but felt that they echoed some of the stuff I have written earlier this year and in the past. But the revival that I am calling for is not the same revival so many public Christians would call for.

Let’s face it, many of those who call themselves Christian today are anything but Christian. Their actions, their thoughts, their words and their deeds are hardly representative of what Christ did. And fortunately, many people are beginning to realize that is the case. But many of that latter group are not joining churches or accepting the label as Christian, and in some sense, I don’t blame them.

Would you want to identify yourself with the same label as so many people whose words, thoughts, deeds, and actions work against the very idea of Christ?

A revival is needed to revive and restore what Christianity really means. And like Peter and the other disciples before the authorities, we who truly believe have to carry out the tasks we have been asked to do without worrying about what the religious and political authorities who have so co-opted the faith say is the right thing to do. How is that Jesus can say to Thomas that others will know the story if we do not tell it?

It may be that a revival is not exactly the thing we are looking for; rather, perhaps there is a need for a reformation, of a restating of what it means to be a Christian in today’s world.

One thing that I was reminded of this morning was what happened during the proceedings against Peter and the other disciples when the religious and political establishment argued against their preaching the Gospel message. If what they (Peter and the other disciples) said was not a true message from God, then the message they presented would literally run out of steam. On the other hand, if the message was from God, then those who would suppress the disciples were the ones that needed to be worried.

If our message is the true message then we have nothing really to worry about. And we know that those who propose a message that runs counter to the Gospel are only able to succeed when they limit what people hear or how people think, so how true can their message be?

So in the end, the new revival that I think must take place will occur when each one of us lives the life that shows Christ is alive in us, when we work to help the hungry get feed, when we help the sick get healthy, when we help to build homes for the homeless, and we seek justice for the oppressed. And when people ask why it is that we do this, we simply have to say it is because we are Christians who have decided to live the Gospel message to its fullest.

Our story is Christ’s story; our story is the story of the disciples and those who heard them, of those who have heard the story over the ages.

And each time a person hears or sees the story as it is meant to be heard or seen, the world changes just a little bit. But when you have a lot of these “little bits”, we have a whole lot of change.

Too often times we expect a major change to occur rather dramatically. But the reality is that the major change occurs very gradually. And it is quite easy to see that it will begin when we live the live as commanded by Christ, so that others will believe.

I do what I am asked, to live a life that allows others to see Christ. That is what I do and what we all need to do.

“Why Do You Believe? The Challenge For Faith Today”


Thoughts for April 12, 2015, the 2nd Sunday of Easter (B)

I realized during the services on Sunday, April 12th, that I was subconsciously channeling the Gospel reading from John (where Thomas questions the Resurrection but only because he had not seen the evidence) in this piece. Funny how things work out.

This isn’t about what you believe, it is about why you believe. Even atheists must have some sort of belief system for even saying that you do not believe creates a belief system. (Always remember that no page is ever completely blank and the subset of no numbers contains something.) So why do you believe?

I believe in God because I see His presence in the many faiths and cultures which attribute creation to a Supreme Being. God may have many names but only one identity. I believe in God because, as Dr. Francis Collins noted in a recent interview, I see His existence in the beauty of the world around us and in the vastness and intricacies of the universe in which we reside.

And there are those questions which come from what we know. We know that, based on the evidence we have today, the creation of the universe occurred some 13 billion years ago.

This means two things; first, how did we arrive at that particular length of time? This answer, along with other answers are derived from the physical evidence left behind. This means that our lives require an understanding of science.

But even in knowing that the universe began 13 billion years ago, we still don’t know why there was a creation or what caused it . And no matter whether the creation was an accident, a fortuitous event, a coincidence, or even if the universe has always been hear, we have to ask how it all happened. And, for me, that implies the Hand of God.

Now, it should be noted that own thoughts on this matter have developed over the years and are a by-product of both my secular and sectarian education. But it should also be noted that this self-study seems to run counter to current societal beliefs that say we should let others decide for us what it is that we are to believe and that we don’t need to seek further answers to such questions.

And there are those, on both sides of the spectrum, who will tell you what to believe. And they will tell you that there are no alternatives.

Such approach, of a fixed and inflexible answer, does not allow for creativity and while it may provide the answers for questions that may have already been asked, they do little to find answers to questions that haven’t been asked. And there are gaps in the knowledge such fixed answers provide.

The answers to such questions, the ones to fill the gaps or solve new problems, can only come from each individual. One can offer suggestions as to what the answers might be but it is still each person’s responsibility to seek the answers.

Personally, I think that leaves in you in the greatest position possible because now you have the opportunity to explore and determine the outcome for your life. But where do you go to find your answers, what questions do you ask, and ultimately how do you seek the truth?

The good news is that we can do this but we have to step back for a moment and think about how we learn. Right now, our learning process is more memorization than anything else. There is a place for memorization in the education process but simply memorizing things doesn’t lead to creativity and analysis; it only provides the basis for doing that.

As I have studied the Book of Revelation and considered what it might mean, I often envisioned what it might have been like were John the Seer, the author, to live in today’s society and offer the vision the same vision he provided in his Book of Revelation. I think that we would most likely label him crazy and/or weird and possibly wonder what type of drugs he might have been taking.

But if we had studied or understood what was taking place at the time he was writing this interesting closing volume of the Bible, we would arrive at a different conclusion from that of those late 19th and early 20th century fundamentalist who see it as the prophecy of doom for today’s society.

When Jesus gave what some call the Great Commission, he gave those who heard His words the task of making those they would encounter disciples. But disciples are not simply followers of the Teacher, they are students as well. And students are taught what to believe, not told what to believe.

Each book of the New Testament, from the four Gospels through the letters of Paul to the Seer’s Revelation, was written for the people of their time, to tell them what took place those three years in the Galilee. But it wasn’t written as a history but a telling of the story, so that others would also come to know what happened.

The authors of the Gospels wrote the Gospels in such a way to make sure that we understood that things changed when Jesus walked the roads of the Galilee and a group of people followed and listened and then carried on that same mission.

So I believe in part because I was taught and because I was given the freedom to seek more information about Christ. When we accept Christ as our personal savior, when we begin to believe as so many before of us have done, then we accept the challenge, to teach others what Christ taught us.

I believe, not because I have seen the wounds in Jesus’ hands, feet, and side but because I have been allowed to seek Christ and I have found Him.

“The Other Side Of The Universe”


I was at the at the Sloatsburg United Methodist Church in Sloatsburg, New York this Sunday morning.

Their services start at 10:30 and you are welcome to attend.

Here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday of Easter (Year A), 27 April 2014. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 2: 14a, 22 – 32; 1 Peter 1: 3 – 9; and John 20: 19 -31.

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My family lived in Aurora, Colorado (a suburb of Denver) when I was a freshman in high school and I attended William C. Hinkley High School. Now, even back then I knew that if a school was named after someone, it was because they had been very important or had done something really great. Why else would you name something after them? And I assumed that sometime during my high school studies I would find out who William C. Hinkley was and what famous deed he had done that warranted naming a high school after him.

Well, that spring, I not only found who William C. Hinkley was and what he had done but I got to sit next to him and help him fly his Cessna airplane. As it turned out, Mr. Hinkley was the Superintendent of Schools when the school named after him was built two years before. Clearly, he was not dead.

As one might think, it changes your perspective about someone you think is dead but is, in fact, quite alive.

Our thought for the day comes from the Reverend Dr. John Polkinghorne. For the record, I have never met the Reverend Dr. John Polkinghorne but I believe he is still alive and well, preaching and thinking somewhere in England. John Polkinghorne earned his doctorate in physics, conducted research in elementary particle physics and then made the decision to become an Anglican priest. It was a decision that probably shocked and confused many of his friends in the scientific community but it was one he felt called to make.

Still, in moving from the secular to the sectarian word, he did not forsake the one for the other. He has become one of the key thinkers in relating the conundrums of quantum physics with the mysteries of Christian faith. It should be noted that he is not alone in being identified as a scientist and a Christian but that is a story for another time and place (see “9 Groundbreaking Scientists Who Happened To Be Christians”, Allan Bevere’s response, “Groundbreaking Christian Scientists”, in which he adds Copernicus and Polkinghorne to the list, and my own thoughts on the subject of science and faith, “A Dialogue of Science and Faith”).

Part of that untold story lead me to the quote I chose for the thought for the day. In preparing this message and quite by accident I discovered that the thought for the day comes from a question Lyndon F. Harris asked him in an interview for Cross Currents (http://www.crosscurrents.org/polkinghorne.htm)

Reverend Harris asked the following question,

Your background in science gives you a special vantage point from which to do theology, an approach that you’ve described as “bottom up thinking.” Please explain that phrase, and why you think this methodological commitment is important for theology.

Reverend Polkinghorne replied,

Bottom up thinkers try to start from experience and move from experience to understanding. They don’t start with certain general principles they think beforehand are likely to be true; they just hope to find out what reality is like.

Now as it happens, this is only part of the answer to the question. Reverend Polkinghorne continued by saying,

If the experience of science teaches anything, it’s that the world is very strange and surprising. The many revolutions in science have certainly shown that. If that’s true of our encounter with the physical world, it’s likely to be even truer of our encounter with God.

We see such strange and surprising things in science and the world every night when we look to stars in the sky; we just don’t always know it.

From the very beginning of our consciousness, we have looked at the skies in wonder, awe, and amazement. Our first thought as we watched and observed the stars throughout the night was that the stars were fixed to the edge of the universe in what was called the firmament. If there was another side to the universe, it was on the other side of the firmament and beyond our reach or vision.

But the more we observed, the more we came to know. And when our ability to see into the heavens got better, we saw that there was more to the stars than simply what we saw with our eyes. The other side of the universe is still out there but now it is easier to reach. Our vision of the skies has lead us into new areas of exploration and wonder.

But it took more than just seeing what was in the skies to understand what was in the skies; it took a different sort of thinking. These visions of the skies required that we change how we thought about things.

A bottom-up thinker tends to see this new material in the same old way, using what they already know to try and explain what has happened. It doesn’t always work. Even the disciples, with all they saw and did still needed the experience of the Resurrection so that they could totally and completely understand what happened and what it meant.

A few weeks before the Resurrection, Thomas asked Jesus to explain where it was that they were headed. I think that Thomas gets a bad rap at times. For me, he wasn’t so much a doubter as he was a skeptic, wanting to know more about what was going on so that he could make a decision.

Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”

Thomas said, “Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?” (John 14: 1 – 5, The Message)

In response, Jesus told Thomas and the others that He was the Way, the Life, and the Truth. He also said that no one would get to the Father without having Jesus in his life. And then Jesus added,

Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”

Philip said, “Master, show us the Father; then we’ll be content.”

You’ve been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don’t understand? To see me is to see the Father. So how can you ask, ‘Where is the Father?’ Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you aren’t mere words. I don’t just make them up on my own. The Father who resides in me crafts each word into a divine act.

Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see—these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do. (John 14: 6 – 14, The Message)

Philip’s response is what we would expect from bottom-up thinkers. They have all the information in front of them, yet are not willing to make the decision. That will come that night in the Upper Room described in the Gospel reading.

We are all, I believe, bottom-up thinkers at some point in our lives. It is part of our process of thinking. But we also should have experienced a moment in time that some call the “Aha! Moment”, a moment in time and thought when things suddenly become very clear (see “The Aha! Moment”and references within).

This moment of clarity and understanding is not limited to any particular field of thought or study nor is limited to any particular place and time. Rather, it has to do with who we are and where we are in our own thinking.Such moments are unique for each of us. Our problem is, first of all, we try to make everyone’s experience the same and second, we don’t help others prepare for that moment. It leaves a lot of people seeking experiences when they should be moving forward.

I think that our encounter with Christ is one of those moments. It is that moment in our life when we understand that Jesus Christ died for us on the Cross, and that in his Resurrection on Easter gave us a new life. Each of us has that moment and each person’s moment is different. This moment is more than a statement that we are a Christian but that we have an awareness, a feeling that we have that Christ is a part of our life.

It might be that we came to Christ in a manner similar to that of Saul on the road to Damascus. Or it might have been in a manner similar to that of John Wesley’s Aldersgate moment.

There is no doubt that the ten disciples gathered that night in the Upper Room experienced that moment. After all, how would you have felt if someone you had traveled with for three years, who had been your teacher and your friend, and had been executed by the religious and political authorities and was buried in a tomb suddenly appeared to you in the very room where you stood?

Now, for reasons that we are not given, Thomas was not with the others that night. But we do know that when they were together, he was neither willing or unable to accept what they told him about the Risen Christ. He needed that same experience that the other disciples had experienced in order to believe for himself.

But Jesus noted that others would come to the faith without the experience that he, Thomas, needed. And without saying so, it is up to each one of us to provide in some way that experience.

And therein lies the challenge we face today. There are going to be those today who are like Thomas, skeptical about the Resurrection and this whole Christianity thing. There are those who are seeking Christ and want to know where He is and how to find Him. And the problem is that we are the ones who will have to help those individuals find Christ.

Our problem is that we cannot make others come to Christ by telling them that they have to accept Christ or that they have to accept Christ in the manner that we did. There are too many people out in the world today doing that and, as a result, they are, I believe, driving people from Christ, not bringing them to Him.

I will be honest; this is a task that I have struggled with from perhaps the first moment that I choose to follow Christ in my own life. I know in my heart, mind, and soul that the story is true, otherwise why would we be here today, some two thousand years later?

If this story were a fable, a myth, or fabrication, how has it remained over time? Surely, if this story was not true, we would have found out by now, wouldn’t we?

As it turns out, Reverend Polkinghorne has some of the same ideas I have about the truth of the Resurrection. In his book, Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity, he points out that if the story was not true, it might not have ever been told. Something had to have happened for us to know about a wandering carpenter from a peripheral province of the Roman Empire, a man who wrote no book and who endured an excruciating death on the cross. Something had to have happened that changed a group of frightened and demoralized disciples who ran away and hid on Good Friday into a confident group who would face the political and religious authorities on Pentecost and tell the Good News that the man they executed as the One and True Messiah. Something had to have happened to bring about such an astounding transformation.

Why were Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus mentioned if they did not play a role in the actual burial of Jesus on Good Friday? In a time when the testimony of women was not acceptable in the court of law, why are women, among them Mary Magadelene, mentioned in terms of the empty tomb on Easter Sunday? Surely, in both instances, the reasons for the inclusion of this information in the Gospels is because there is some truth and validity to the story.

And we know that the world changed on Easter. Saul became Paul and went from being the persecutor of Christians to an advocate for Christ; the Methodist movement went from a rule-bound, legalistic club for college buddies to a world-changing movement when the Holy Spirit entered John Wesley. And when Christ becomes a part of our life, our life changes as well. It makes it easier to respond to the call from Christ.

We have to offer a new vision of Christ, one that shows God’s love for the people, all the people no matter who they are.

When John Wesley began the Methodist Revival, there was a genuine concern in the church establishment for the lower classes. But as you read sermons from that period of time, you find that it was assumed that if the lower classes, the poor and working class, were to be saved and enter into Christ’s purpose for them, they had to take on the culture and lifestyle of those better than them. In other words, it was God’s will that “they” would become like “us”.

Wesley was attacked because he helped the people find their own way to Christ. The early Methodist revival questioned the ideological assumption of the privileged that threatened the security of their own prejudices. For the upper classes in England in the 18th century (and I think for many in today’s world as well), there was an assumption that their life is a reflection of God’s will; they assumed that they could see God’s presence in their own way of life but what it did show was how they were projecting their own way of life as a means of determining what it was that God was doing. Wesley saw a need to take the church to the people, not bring the people to the church.

What had happened was that the Gospel had been shaped to meet the demands of the world instead of the demands of the world being met by the Gospel. But that is what will happen when the law of the organization becomes more important than anything else.

Two thousand years ago people thought the sky was fixed, like a dome over the earth. This single thought dominated scientific thinking for over a thousand years. It took a new vision of the universe to see that the other side of the universe was not a roof over the earth.

The Resurrection offers us a new vision for the world. It offers us the chance to see what God is doing and how we must respond. We all probably know Proverbs 29: 18,

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

But read it as it was translated in The Message,

If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves;

But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.

What is God doing in this world today? More importantly, do we see what God is doing in our world today?

One of the text commentaries suggested that the law had replaced prophetic vision. When Jesus began his ministry in the Galilee two thousand years ago, the law had been so enforced that people were trapped and hope was gone. I think that John Wesley saw the same thing when he began the Methodist movement/revival. I am not altogether certain that we are not doing the same thing in this day and age.

But Christ broke free from the ghetto of religious law and regularity in which the faith of that time had imprisoned the people. In this new freedom Christ was able to meet the needs of the outcast, the hopeless, the helpless.

The light of Christ will only come to us when we are ready to move out into the world, when we are ready to leave the safe boundaries of the sanctuary and the law in which we have so often tried to keep God imprisoned.

We must be prepared to break free from these boundaries for they threaten to limit our vision of the world. If our vision and understanding of God’s purpose are limited, it becomes difficult to see Christ as He comes to us; it becomes difficult to hear Christ as He calls us.

If we are limited in our thoughts we will hide Christ in some sort of strange theology rather than having Him revealed as the One who came to set the prisoners free and makes Himself know in the events to which we can point,

Then he gave his answer: “Go back and tell John what you have just seen and heard:

The blind see,

The lame walk,

Lepers are cleansed,

The deaf hear,

The dead are raised,

The wretched of the earth have God’s salvation hospitality extended to them.

We are sometimes hesitant to do that. We know the history of the church and we know that many of those who began this movement died for the efforts. We know that Methodists in this country were often denied access to the church because they had chosen to follow the path set by John Wesley. We have no desire to be a martyr for the faith.

But a martyr is not necessarily one who dies for the faith; they are those who witness for the faith. We have the assurance from Peter and others that our efforts will not be in vain, though in a society that demands an instant response, that doesn’t always seem to be the case.

At one point in our life, the other side of the universe was literally a barrier, a barrier preventing us from moving beyond the boundaries of our own world. And because of sin, our lives were bound in slavery as well.

But through His death and Resurrection, Christ has given us a new life. Just as our exploration of the physical world has removed the boundaries that keep us on this planet, so too does Christ give us the opportunity to be free from sin and death.

We are charged this day and in this time to help others come to know Christ and receive the same opportunity.

Must You See To Believe?


I am at Sugar Loaf (NY) United Methodist Church this morning. The Scriptures are Acts 5: 27 – 32, Revelation 1: 4 – 8, and John 20: 19 -31. Services are at 11 and you are welcome to attend.

This has been edited since it was first posted.  I will be at Monroe UMC (Monroe, NY) on May 12th; services are at 8:30 am and 10:15 am and you are welcome to attend.  I will also be at Sugar Loaf again on May 5th.

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I began working on this message back on March 13th, the day that just happens to be the anniversary of William Herschel’s discovery of the planet Uranus in 1781.

Now, to be sure, Herschel wasn’t the first person to observe this planet in its journey across the evening sky. In fact, its presence had been recorded as early as 1690 but it was considered more of a star than a planet because it moved slower and was far dimmer than the planets known at that time.

It speaks of our own natural skepticism that those who first saw Uranus as it traveled across the sky were unwilling to characterize it as a planet. Even Herschel thought, despite the lack of evidence to support his thought, that what he had discovered was a comet rather than a planet. But as others looked at what Herschel described and gathered their own data, it became apparent that what was being observed was, in fact, a planet and not some other stellar object.

Science is very much an observational experience and others must be able to replicate what has been observed. The validity of one’s observations is predicated on the ability of others to see, for the most part, the same results that you have reported.

We are reminded of this by the announced discovery of cold fusion in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Fusion, in chemistry and physics, is the combination of atomic nuclei to form a new nuclide. The fusion of hydrogen atoms to form helium atoms is the reaction that gives our sun and all the stars their source of energy. If we could develop reactors here on earth that could replicate what takes place on the sun, then we would have a relatively safe and relatively unlimited energy source. But such replication requires that we create on earth a mini-star with its accompanying high temperature and pressure. There are those who feel this is a possibility that will be accomplished within the next few years.

But what if we could some how force hydrogen atoms to fuse together and form helium atoms at room temperature and pressure? We would be saved the expense that comes with high temperatures and pressures and have an easily developed power source that ran on our tap water.

And this was what was announced in 1989 – the discovery of cold fusion, the combination of hydrogen atoms to form helium atoms at room temperature and pressure. Unfortunately, the discoverers of this process were more interested in gaining the fortune that would come with the discovery and they rushed their announcement. As others attempted to replicate their discovery, flaws in the process were discovered and ultimately the discovery was discounted.

Now, there is nothing wrong with the theory behind “cold” fusion; in fact, it was first proposed in the mid 1930s. But because others could not replicate what was first proposed in 1989, very few people are willing to pursue such research today.

The failure of others to replicate what was first reported is a natural extension of Thomas’ thoughts to his friends that night in the closed room some two thousand years ago, “if I don’t see it, how can I be sure that it happened?”

It is only natural that Thomas would ask for proof. It is in our nature to do so. Now, we also read in today’s Gospel reading that Jesus told Thomas that others would believe though they would not see the evidence that Thomas wished to see.

My question this morning is how those who did not see will come to believe. John gave part of the answer when he wrote that the stories were written down so that others will believe.

In Hebrews 11: 1 we read, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Clarence Jordan translated this in his Cotton Patch Gospels as “Now faith is the turning of dreams into deeds; it is betting your life on the unseen realities.

We are here today because something brought us here. Perhaps we have come because we have questions about our faith that could only be answered by things seen and unseen, in this time and place. But these are difficult times in which to question faith or even to begin asking questions about God, Christ, Christianity or religion in general.

And the answers that we often get don’t help our seeking.

We see a world of hatred and violence, death and destruction, and we want to know where God is in this world.

We see the church today, both in general and in denominational and local terms, as a dying church and if it is not dying it seems to be one that is no viable in today’s society. Somewhere along the line, the church that began as a movement and gathering has lost its direction, its ability to show others what it is that they first saw. The skeptics in today’s society see the church and they do not like what they see; they see a church that is closed and inflexible, unable to meet the needs of the world in which it lies.

And there are those who would say that the answer lies in a strict adherence to a set of rules and regulations that are to be accepted without question or hesitation. What we need today is a society grounded in some sort of Judeo-Christian law such as was first expressed in the Old Testament. And those who offer such solutions tell us that they and they alone understand what it is that God wants and that we are not to question our faith or their authority. To do so is to destroy one’s faith.

But it is the challenge that allows our faith to grow; it is the challenge that gives us the ability to help others come to know and understand. It was Jesus’ own challenge to the rigidity and inflexibility of the religious authorities that was the central focus of His mission. It was Jesus’ challenge to the power of the religious authorities to dictate to the people what they were supposed to believe that gave rise to our presence here today. And it was how Jesus taught the people and showed the people what was possible that gave them hope that tomorrow would be better.

But this is not possible in a church today that is more of a social club than a place to know and meet Jesus.

In Shakespeare’s play, “Julius Caesar”, Cassius tells his friend Brutus, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” The cartoonist Walt Kelley had his cartoon hero Pogo expressed it this way, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Most people, if you were to ask them, would probably say that Jesus Christ is very much the image described in Revelations, a man cloaked in the whitest of white robes and bathed in the brightest of bright lights.

But we are also reminded that Jesus Himself told us that

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

I am afraid that many people have encountered Jesus sometime during the journey but they did not know it.

Laurie Beth Jones, in the prologue to her third book, Jesus in Blue Jeans, described her encounter with Jesus as follows,

Many years ago I dreamed that I was standing in a meadow. Suddenly I saw a man approaching me. As he got nearer I gasped to realize that it was Jesus in Blue Jeans. When he saw the expression on my face he said, “Why are you surprised? I came to them wearing robes because they wore robes. I come to you in blue jeans because you wear blue jeans.” (from “A Chance Encounter”; I first mentioned Laurie Beth Jones’ encounter with Jesus Christ in a message I gave at Tompkins Corners back in 2003 (“And When You Least Expect It”) but I didn’t really explain what happened to her; I would do that in “A New Vision” (which is also a companion piece to what I said last Thursday – “To Offer a New Vision” ) and “By the Side of the Road”.)

We are more apt, as Laurie Beth did, to meet Him in a casual encounter during the day; in fact, we are probably not even going to know that it was Him until later. The prayer that guides us when we are in “Grannie Annie’s Kitchen” includes a statement that one of those who come to be fed each Saturday might well be Jesus.

And if they did not know they had encountered Jesus, it is highly unlikely that they can help others see Jesus. If our own lives mirror the society that rejected Jesus two thousand years ago, how will those who society has rejected today see Him today?

During this past week, I heard something that reminded me of a Yardbirds song from the early 1960s. For those who remember such things, this was the rock and roll band that Eric Clapton was first a member. Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page also played for this group. The particular song that I was reminded of was a post-Clapton song, “You’re A Better Man Than I.”

You’re A Better Man Than I (B. Hugg / M. Hugg)

Can you judge a man,
By the way he wears his hair?
Can you read his mind,
By the clothes that he wears?
Can you see a bad man,
By the pattern on his tie?

Well then, Mr, you’re a better man than I,
Yeah, Mr, you’re a better man than I,
Oh, Mr, you’re a better man than I,
Yeah, Mr, you’re a better man than I.

Could you tell a wise man,
By the way he speaks or spells?
Is this more important,
Than the stories that he tells?
And call a man a fool,
If for wealth he doesn’t strive?

Well then, Mr, you’re a better man than I,
Yeah, Mr, you’re a better man than I,
Oh, Mr, you’re a better man than I,
Yeah, Mr, you’re a better man than I.

Can you condemn a man,
If your faith he doesn’t hold?
Say the colour of his skin,
Is the colour of his soul?
Could you say that men,
For king and country all must die?

Well, Mr, you’re a better man than I,
Yeah, Mr, you’re a better man than I,
Oh, Mr, you’re a better man than I,
Yeah, Mr, you’re a better man than I.

What exactly was it that got Peter and the other disciples in trouble with the authorities two thousand years ago? Was it that the just preached that the authorities hanged Jesus from a tree? Or did they, the disciples, do the same things that Jesus did, the same things that John as well as Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote about – heal the sick, feed the hungry, found clothes for the poor, and give comfort to the oppressed?

Was it that they disciples continued what Jesus began? Were the things that got John Wesley in trouble with the authorities the same things that Peter and the disciples did, heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give comfort to the oppressed and give those forgotten by society knowledge that they are part of society and not simply on the edge?

We are challenged today to see the world in the same way that Jesus saw the world; as those who have come before us have seen the world. But to see the world with these new eyes, we need to understand and believe that which cannot necessarily be seen, our faith in Jesus. It is very easy to do the things that others have done – feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and bring comfort to the oppressed – but if we do it solely as a cognitive exercise, we have done little for ourselves.

We may feel good about what we have done but we really haven’t shown Jesus to others. If we have not experienced Jesus, then all of our works are done with our mind and not our heart.

I began this message by talking about the discovery of Uranus. Many had seen the planet before it was “discovered” but it was only when the proof was confirmed that everyone understood that they were seeing something new.

Must you see to believe? It is an interesting question because to believe, to have faith is to trust in the unseen. But you trust in the unseen, the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit, because others have and you have seen the change in their lives. Jesus told Thomas that others would believe even though they had not seen but Thomas went out into the world and told them what he had seen and that is why they believed.

Will others see Jesus in you and what you do every day because Jesus is in your heart and soul? Will what you do each day to help others be because you have encountered Jesus, not in some whiter than white robe, bathed in the brightest of bright lights but rather as someone walking along the street dressed in blue jeans or a business suit?

When we proclaim to the world that we have decided to follow Jesus, we proclaim that we have opened not only our mind but our heart and our soul. Is that what others see when they encounter you? There is an opportunity today to open your hearts to Jesus, to say to Him that you want to walk with Him, no matter where that walk takes you. You make that decision on faith and on faith alone. But others will see where you are going and they will see Jesus and they will come to you.

It may be that you have accepted Christ into your heart but have been looking for ways that in which you can show the world that you have encountered Jesus. Today is the day to open your heart to the power of the Holy Spirit to lead you to that solution.

“How Will They Know?”


I am at Rowe United Methodist Church (Milan, NY) this morning and next Sunday. The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Easter are Acts 4: 32 – 35, 1 John 1: 1 – 2:2, and John 20: 19 – 31. I will have my notes for the 2nd Sunday of Easter posted later tonight.

I cannot tell you the numbers but I know that the Bible is one of the most published books in the world. Undoubtedly it is printed in every language spoken or read on this planet. And because of a thought that I want to explore this morning, I did a quick search through the vastness of the Internet and discovered that there is an effort in place to translate the Bible into Klingon, the language of the warrior race on the planet Klingon in Star Trek (Klingon Bible Translation Project – this link as a 2010 date – and “Why a Klingon Bible?”).

Now, clearly, translating the Bible into the language of a race that only exists in terms of a fictional television and movie series is limited but it does show us and gives us hints as to what we need to be doing with the Bible.

And it is how you see the Bible and what you do with it that goes a long way in defining how you see the church, both in general, denominational and local terms, in today’s society.

Some see the Bible as a fixed and unchanging document that presents the Word of God written some two thousand years ago. And as I have written before, when it is presented that way, it is very difficult to relate what is in the Bible to what is transpiring today. There are inconsistencies and contradictions that one has to work around in order to accept what is written as the absolute truth. And when you present such a view, you limit what can be done; you don’t allow the freedom to question and doubt, to explore and see what can be done.

Seen as a fixed and unchanging document, it quickly becomes a dead book. And if we are basing our hopes and dreams, the very essence perhaps of Christianity, on something dead, then we don’t have much hope and it is impossible to dream. And as it was written in the Bible, without a vision, without a dream, the people die.

On the other hand, if we understand that the Bible is a story of relationships, relationships between people and relationships between people and God, it can become alive and viable even in today’s technological society. It does not matter if it was written with quill and ink on papyrus scrolls or typed on a keyboard on a laptop computer, alive it carries meaning.

Yes, it is far more difficult to read when something has a deeper meaning than simply the words put down. It opens challenges that must be faced; questions that must be answered. Sometimes we can meet the challenge; sometimes we can answer the questions.

The greatest challenge facing the church today is the exodus of individuals leaving the church. Interestingly enough, they are not leaving God, just the church. And they are leaving the church, in part because they see it dying. It is dying because it holds on to a view that is fixed and unchanging. They see a church that holds onto rigid doctrinal views and rigid organization structures. It is not just the young who are leaving the church but all age groups. But they are not leaving God, just the church.

Seventy-five percent (75%) of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 no consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Study after study has shown this same essential statistic. The people know who Jesus was and what he did; they just don’t see such words and actions represented in the church of today (http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-clayton-emergingchurch-20120325,0,3793097.story)

They want the opportunity to doubt and question, an action that has been repressed, resisted or absent in the church for almost 300 years. They want a church that is responsive to the public; that has an improved scientific understanding and recognition of changing social norms. They do not want a church that tells them how to live; they want a church that can give them ideas about what to do with their lives.

The two greatest comments I have heard in the past few months are that 1) the major Christian denominations, including the United Methodist church, may very well be dead within the next twenty-five years and 2) there is no need for organized religion anymore anyway. I am not so certain. There will always be a need for a gathering of the believers on a regular basis. But if it is a gathering meant to maintain that which has been done time and time again, then the predicated outcome will not change.

If we stop and think about what it is that we are doing and what it is that we should be doing, perhaps we can change that outcome. It starts by understanding the questions that are being asked today about the church.

Diana Butler Bass (Notes from “A Resurrected Christianity” – Diana Butler Bass with a HT to Becca Clark – “Now What?”) noted that we used to ask three questions:

  1. What do I believe? But this was more what does the church say I should think about God?
  2. How should I behave? What are the rules my church asks me to follow?
  3. Who am I? What does it meant to be a faithful church member?

But now the questions have changed and I would think rightly so; it is no longer a matter of what to believe but how to believe. It is no longer a question of rules for living but what do I do with my life. And it is quite apparent that it is no longer about church membership but rather in whose company I find myself. The questions have become:

  1. How do I believe? How do I understand a faith that seems to conflict with science and pluralism?
  2. What should I do? How do my actions make a difference in this world?
  3. Whose am I? How do my relationships shape my self-understanding?

Andrew Conrad is part of the pastoral team at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection and soon to be the pastor of the 1st United Methodist Church in El Dorado, Kansas. As he prepares to leave the one church and begin at his new church, he posted some questions about what was happening at 1st UMC, El Dorado.

Not all the questions are pertinent but some are questions that ever church, no matter where they are located, no matter how big or small the church may be (Resurrection is a mega-church and 1st UMC is decidedly smaller), needs to be asking. And it goes back to the question of how will people know about Jesus Christ?

Reverend Conrad asks:

  1. What is the vision and purpose of the church?
  2. In what ways do the vision and purpose guide what the church does?
  3. How is church engaging the community?
  4. What is the church’s favorite way of learning? Is through teaching, book study, etc.?
  5. What efforts are made to close the back door? How do you keep those who might otherwise leave engaged?
  6. What are the biggest barriers to people coming in the door?

There are other questions but they were more related, in my mind, to the role of the pastor. Interestingly enough, Reverend Conrad did ask, “what die-hard principle or practice that I might change would get me tarred and feathered?

If we (and I speak in the broadest sense of Christianity and the narrowest sense of any particular church) are to reverse the trend and bring people back into the fold, we obviously have to do something different. Simply offering a stricter adherence to creeds or demanding a return to an Old Testament style of living or even just better marketing plans will note work. Why should it? We have been trying that for some time now and it is not only not working, it is probably causing to stay away or leave in the first place! Rather, we need to focus on that which represents the church.

In his first letter, John speaks of how the followers had experienced the love of Christ. He also wrote about how they in turn told others about what they had experienced. But he also wrote that if someone claimed to have shared the experience but did not live that life, then they were lying.

There are too many people today who lead such a life; they claim to be followers of Christ but they will not share with others, as members of the early church described in Acts did. The problem facing the church today, be it Christianity in general, the United Methodist Church or any other denomination, or an individual church in particular is that there is a proclamation of following Christ but it is not backed up by the thoughts, words, deeds, or actions of those who make the proclamation. And they are the ones who cause individuals to leave the church; that is not a blanket statement on my part.

I have experienced the hypocrisy that John refers to, both in the past and even now in today’s society. My commitment to Christ through my work in the United Methodist Church keeps me in the church. You cannot change something from the outside; you must be in place to affect change.

The dilemma that we are faced with today, the challenge that we are given today is the very dilemma that Jesus presented to Thomas that day in the locked and protected room. Thomas would only believe that Jesus Christ had arisen from the dead when he, Thomas, could place his hands in the wounds of Christ and feel the body. But Jesus pointed out that there would be many others who would believe based on faith alone and not on the physical evidence.

If others are to believe without the physical evidence of the Risen Christ, how will they come to believe? As I stated in the title of my message, “how will they know?”

They will know because we will tell them. We may not necessarily tell me with our words but we will tell them through our actions, our thoughts, and our deeds. It is how we respond to others that will tell them about our relationship with Christ.

If you will allow me a moment of personal privilege, this past week my wife’s oldest niece became critically ill. She had not been well for the past year but it was one of those illnesses that seem to baffle modern medicine. This past week her condition became critical and required hospitalization and surgery. In the way of the world, this came at a time of great personal stress for her mother, my wife’s youngest sister. There was no question that Ann needed to be in Chicago with her sister and her niece.

Now, the dilemma for Ann and I was what to do about Grannie Annie’s Kitchen? You have heard me speak of this ministry before. This is Ann’s ministry and I am there to help. But I focus on the dining room and not the kitchen. So, with Ann’s absence, do we shut down the kitchen for the one or two weekends that she might be in Chicago? Or do we find a way to make it work and make it work at the level at which it has been done in the past? As I lifted up in thanksgiving during our prayers this morning, we have had some individuals helping us and Mo, Marisa, Hannah, and Amiel were able to be there yesterday to help with the cooking and the ministry. They, along with Tom and Jackie, our regular helpers, understood what Ann was doing with this kitchen/feeding ministry and were able to help me feed the 45 individuals who came yesterday without missing a beat. It was because they not only cared about Ann but the ministry (or perhaps the ministry and then Ann) that this was a positive day. It also allows the ministry to grow because we now have a team that can do the work.

There was a third possibility but it would have been a temporary solution and temporary solutions tend to not work against future plans.

My premise when I began this message was the Bible challenges us in so many ways but, as people of the New Testament as well as of the Old Testament, our challenge is find ways to tell people about Jesus Christ. And that makes us evangelicals. Now, I have to admit that I have been an evangelical all my life. I was baptized as an evangelical, I was confirmed as an evangelical and as a Methodist, I have accepted that idea that evangelism is part of the mission I undertook when I joined the church.

But evangelism is not browbeating someone into accepting Christ; that is an individual decision and one that can only be made if they truly understand what it means. It is not about offering someone a meal in return for them professing Christ. The doors to Grannie Annie’s Kitchen are open to all, no matter if they are believers or not.

As an evangelical, I am not interested in the creation of some sort of Christian-based theocracy nor am I interested in the imposition of some moral code on the lives of others. What I am interested in doing is making sure that the mission of Christ, to feed the hungry, to heal the sick, to clothe the naked, give comfort to those in need, and to free the oppressed. I see evangelism in an entirely different light than many but in the same way early disciples were empowered and John Wesley and those who joined him in the Methodist Revival of the 18th century saw evangelism. (http://www.religiondispatches.org/books/rd10q/5800/evangelicals_struggle_with_the_role_of_churches_in_society)

The challenge of the Bible, in fact, the challenge of Christianity today is for each one of us to understand what our relationship with others and what our relationship with God is. When we understand those relationships, which in turn will make the Bible alive, then we will be able to help others find Christ.

How will others find Christ? By our thoughts, words, deeds and actions, we will tell them! It is what we as the church have done in the past and it is what we will do to insure that there is a future.

A Matter of Faith


This was the 9th message that I ever presented (yes, I keep a record of them). It was the first time that I stepped outside the boundaries of my home church (Grace UMC in St. Cloud, MN) or my mother’s church (and a former home church for me, Good Shepherd UMC in Bartlett, TN). I suppose that if I had read the Discipline a little more carefully, I would have known that I wasn’t supposed to seek opportunities as a lay speaker but rather wait for them to come.

As it was, I was going to be in Kirksville the weekend of April 15, 16, and 17, 1994 and I wanted to preach at 1st UMC because that was my church when I was in college. But the schedule for 1st had been fixed and it was neither practical nor possible for me to do so. I am still hoping that one day before I hang it up to preach at 1st UMC.

So I sent a letter to the pastor at Faith UMC and he wrote my pastor to make sure that I was who I said I was and I got to preach at Faith UMC in Kirksville, MO, on 17 April 1994. I used Ecclesiastes 2: 1 – 11 and Luke 24: 1 – 12 as the basis for this message.

I first want to thank Reverend Williams for allowing me the opportunity to come here today and present this message. As I mentioned to him, when I first came to Kirksville in 1966, I saw the signs about Faith Church but, because of the distance from the campus to the church, was unable to attend. Today, because I am a member of Grace Church, I am able to come to Faith Church.

Faith UMC was Faith Evangelical United Brethren Church when I first began attending Truman State University, then known as Northeast Missouri State Teachers College. Because I had been a member of the 1st EUB church in Aurora, CO, before the move to Missouri in 1965, I naturally wanted to go to Faith Church, even though I had transferred my membership to the Wright City United Methodist Church.

At the end of the service that morning, one of the women of the church said to me, “You know, if you had called us, we would have come and gotten you.”

How does one measure success? How do we know if we are successful? One thing that has always amazed me in teaching science and studying how science is done is the number of discoveries made because others have misread the signs. Wilhelm Roentgen was one such scientist. He interpreted what others had seen and determined that a new ray, which he called X-rays, caused the “fogging” of the photographic plates in his laboratory. Others had seen this same fogging but ignored it or blamed on faulty equipment. Roentgen went beyond the simple explanations and made the discovery. Similarly, in 1962, Neil Bartlett synthesized xenon tetrafluoride. The uniqueness of this synthesis was that, according to the chemistry textbooks of the time, it impossible to do. Xenon is one of a group of elements called the Noble Gases because they appeared to be chemically inert and thus could not form chemical compounds. Dr. Bartlett looked at the properties of xenon and determined that, in fact, such compounds could be made. The result of his work was the pinnacle of success in science, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

While winning the Nobel Prize may seem unrealistic for most of us, the message about success isn’t. Louis Pasteur once said that “Luck favors the prepared mind.” The signs leading to discovery are always visible to those who look. So it is with us. The path we need to follow is before us today. If we wish to be successful, we must see that path and be willing to change our view of the world. If we wish to be successful and have peace and security in today’s society we must examine how we seek to gain that success. “Systems are designed for the results they are getting. If you want different results, you will have to redesign the system.” (Jones, Quest for Quality in the Church: A New Paradigm)

The problem today is how we view success. Like the writer of Ecclesiastes, we come to believe that success comes through material things and power. We measure our success in terms of how much material wealth we have amassed. And if our material goods are not enough, then we need more.

The rapid growth of gambling in this country today is an example of this attempt to find comfort and protection. Whatever form it takes, be it on a riverboat or through the lottery, people turn to gambling because of the promises of quick riches and long-time security. Proponents of gambling speak only of the positive things that gambling brings; how it will bring in jobs and money; how it will help fund state projects. There is no doubt that gambling brings jobs and income into the state, be it Missouri or Minnesota. It is interesting that you never hear any discussion of the long-term problem of gambling addictions or other social ills that accompany gambling.

There is also another problem. Whenever we get what we are seeking, we find we need more. The gods of wealth and fame never provide the answers we seek. It seems like every time we gain what we are seeking in the material world, we are left with the feeling that it is not enough.

The writer of Ecclesiastes put it clearly. What use are wealth, fame and power when it is all lost in the end? The death of Kurt Cobain, the admittance of Darryl Strawberry into a drug abuse clinic (and for some from earlier generations, the confession by Mickey Mantle that he is an alcoholic and the demise of Sid Caesar’s comic career because of his addiction to pills and alcohol) are also evidence that fame and wealth are no guarantees for success. In fact, these examples, and those for the countless number of people who are never known, show that the pressures to reach success can demand a very high price. And if life is hopeless, how will we ever achieve a successful life? How do we achieve the peace and security in life that we so desperately seek? Where is the path we need to follow, the direction we need to take?

Even John Wesley struggled with this idea. When he, along with his brother Charles, was sent to Georgia as a missionary, he did so with a great amount of joy and expectation. For now he had the opportunity to show that what he had been saying along would work. No longer would he have to put up with his detractors making fun of his Methodism. You know how it is. How many times have we heard someone say “it won’t work because we’ve never done that sort of thing” or “we tried that once but it didn’t work.” We stand on the side watching others make changes, hoping that they will fail so we can say “we told you so” but when they succeed, don’t we stumble over each other to catch up.

Yet when he returned to England in 1738 he did so with a feeling that he had failed. 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.

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

Solomon was considered the wisest and richest man of his time; he certainly was one of the most powerful. How was he was able to obtain that wisdom, those riches, and the power. You know those commercials where one person is discussing their financial state and the other person, “Yes, I know. My broker took care of that problem several years ago.” The first person always says “How did your broker know?” “Because he or she asked.” Solomon gained all that he had because he asked.

“And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people; able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern these, your great people?”

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before your and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statues and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.” (I Kings 3: 7 – 14)

Solomon saw the path to a long and prosperous life could be reached by following the Lord. If we stop reading Ecclesiastes after we hear cry about the futility of achieving fame and fortune we failed to read that the Preacher points out that everything we received is from God and that all that we do must reflect that gift. Putting your hope in the material world will not solve your problem. The modern Christian writer, C. S. Lewis, phrases it this way.

Scripture and tradition habitually put the joys of Heaven into the scale against the sufferings of earth, and no solution of the problem of pain which does not do so can be called a Christian one. We are very shy nowadays of even mentioning Heaven. We are afraid of the jeer about “pie in the sky,” and of being told that we are trying to “escape” from the duty of making a happy world here and now into dreams of a happy world elsewhere. But either there is “pie in the sky” or there is not. If there is not, then Christianity is false, for this doctrine is woven into its whole fabric. If there is, then this truth, like any other, must be faced, whether it is useful at political meetings or no. Again, we are afraid that Heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not sully motives. (C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)

When the women came to the empty tomb that first Easter Sunday, their thoughts were still of the material world. They came, not in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, but in sorrow for the loss of the last great hope and promise for the world.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” They remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stopping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. (Luke 24: 1 – 12)

X-rays had been seen by others before Roentgen, others had made xenon tetrafluoride before Bartlett described its synthesis. Only because Roentgen and Bartlett see the new path were they successful. Jesus told the disciples what was coming; yet, they were not prepared to see that path. Even in those first days after his death, the empty tomb meant disaster and death, not joy and eternal life.

The message of the empty tomb today is very simple. If we follow the path of material things, if we seek to find peace and security in things which cannot last, our lives will be as empty as the tomb and we will be forever lost. If we see the path that leads through the tomb; if we believe that Jesus does offer us an answer that cannot be obtained through material success, then we will receive riches and rewards greater than anything Solomon ever received. The message of faith in Jesus is not new. Every great leader of our Christian heritage has trusted in God completely and followed Him faithfully. Turning to Hebrews 11: 33 – 35, we read

“These people all trusted God and as a result won battles, overthrew kingdoms, ruled their people well, and received what God had promised them; they were kept from harm in a den of lions, and in a fiery furnace. Some, through their faith, escaped death by the sword. Some were made strong again after they had been weak or sick. Others were given great power in battle; they made whole armies turn and run away. And some women, through faith, received their loved ones back again from death. But others trusted God and were beaten to death, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free – trusting that they would rise to a better life afterwards.” (Hebrews 11: 33 – 35)

The longest journey begins with a single step. The hardest step we ever have to take, the hardest choice we ever have to make is the one where we allow Jesus to enter our hearts and become the direction to our lives. You are invited to make that step today. When we allow Jesus to enter our hearts, the troubles of world no longer become important. Knowing that Jesus will be there when we need him, by placing our lives in His control, we find the direction in our lives and find the solutions to the problems we wish to solve. We find our success in Him. You can say that “it’s a matter of faith”.


 

“Faith and Vision”


Here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, 1 May 2011. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 2: 14, 22 – 32; 1 Peter 1: 3 – 9; and John 20: 19 – 31. There are references in this post to the age of the earth. ; see “A Brief History of Atomic Theory” and “How Old Is Old?” for a discussion on the topic of atomic theory and radiometric dating.

But unless I see the wounds in his hands and feet and feel where the sword pierced His side, I will not believe that He has arisen from the grave. With those words, Thomas the disciple became “Doubting Thomas”, forever remembered in the history of Christianity as the one who doubted the stories his friend told him about Christ’s resurrection.

It is very interesting that in today’s society, we will quite willing believe something someone tells us and not ask for the proof. Our educational system seems to have evolved into a system of pronouncements from the instructor that are taken at face value by the students who will dutifully write them down, memorize them, and then at the appropriate time, record them on the test. This will be followed with the removal of the information from the brain and the memory so that more facts, figures, statistics and trivia can be stored until the next test.

I don’t think that Thomas deserves the rap that he gets for telling his friends that he would not believe until he had the proof; it should be in our nature to question things and demand the proof.

As you should know by now, I am a chemist by training and temperament. The whys and wherefores behind the decision to become a chemist are more a matter of time and place; still, I made the decision to major in chemistry as an undergraduate and it is a decision that I have never regretted. And when I made the decision to become a teacher, I became interested in how students learn chemistry and that interest was behind my doctoral research.

And yet, today, when I look at the students in school today and society in general, I see a society and schools totally devoid of curiosity and a desire to inquire about the world around us. The frightening thing is that such a world, a world where statements made are blindly accepted, is a world in which a few individuals can easily control society.

And this includes the church as well. Now, Christ will tell Thomas that others will come to believe without seeing. But that is because Thomas and the other disciples will tell them what they saw and those individuals will tell others. And the story will be told throughout the ages until this time.

There are those who today say the Crucifixion and Resurrection were either a hoax or a conspiracy. But if it was a hoax, if it was a conspiracy, how is that the story has lasted for over two thousand years?

Faith may be a belief in things unseen but faith is often times seen in the things we say and do. Faith demands testing, for only in the fires of a test, is it refined and purified.

But too many people do not want their faith tested; they don’t want questions asked nor do they want to ask any questions. This is the way it is and the way it will be and that is all there is to it.

Such individuals are quite happy that we have lost our questioning skills. It gives them power. They don’t want people to question their faith because if they did they would fully understand what Christ meant when He walked on this earth two thousand years ago. They seek, they demand that we accept their version of reality, a version that tells us that the world is only six thousand years old. But the evidence tells us that the earth is over 4.5 billions years old.

They demand that we accept their version of how the Bible was written as insight from God and not through an agreement between individuals answering to the Emperor Constantine. They demand that we accept their version of society, in spite of the fact that the evidence of the early church was a society where men and women were equal.

But, in the end, those who prefer that the earth be 6000 years old, the Bible be written in somewhat magical terms and the rich have power while the poor suffer will succeed only if those who truly believe do nothing.

When Jesus began His ministry in the Galilee some two thousand years ago, disciples of John the Baptist came to Him and asked if He was the True Messiah. The Baptizer, sitting in Herod’s jail and about to be executed, was concerned that all of his preparation work and his baptism of Jesus had been for naught. In reply, Jesus told the Baptizer’s disciples to go back and tell him what they had seen, how they had seen the sick healed, the lame allowed to walk again and the blind regain their sight. Tell them that the people had regained a hope that had been lost. Then the Baptizer will know.

Two thousand years ago, how did those who did not see the Resurrection first hand know that Christ had risen from the dead? It is because a story was told again and again. It was Peter standing before the crowds and proclaiming that the prophecies that they had all been taught in school had come true in Jesus Christ. It is a story that we have the opportunity to tell.

In the end, I cannot make you believe; I can only give you cause to belief. I must put before you the reasons for you to change your own thoughts; I must challenge you (not command you) to see the new vision that Christ offers. To do that, I must provide a vision, a vision of the world where the Kingdom of God does exist. Faith may be a belief in things unseen but others see faith in action when those who have faith and believe live a life where Christ is a part of their life.

The words echo throughout the ages, “tell the world what you see and they will know.” The challenge is to lead a life that shows that Christ is alive; the challenge is to offer a vision so that others will know that Jesus Christ is alive today.