“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


“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.

“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”.


The Dilemma of Modern Christianity

Here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday in Easter.  The Scriptures for today are Acts 4: 32 – 35, 1 John 1: 1 – 2: 2, and John 20: 19 – 31.  This is also a political piece but the times demand it.

A edited version of this piece appears in the Winter/Spring 2017 Issue of God & Nature as “The Dilemma of Modern Christianity”

I have edited this piece since it was first published to remove a dead link.

For as long as I can recall, I have considered myself a liberal. It may be that I came to this decision because my father and mother were very much conservative in thought and I was seeking the ultimate act of childhood rebellion.

But there were other factors involved as well. As I have noted many times before, I am a second-generation military brat and I moved around this country more times than I care to admit during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Those were times of change in this country and I could see the change, even if I was not old enough to realize what I was actually observing. But as I looked around at what was happening, I began to see conservatism as a desperate clinging to the past and the ways of old, of holding on to the status quo, and a violent resistance to new and what some would describe as radical ideas.

In 1963 we lived in Montgomery, Alabama. That spring, Colin Chapman and Jim Clark brought the Lotus-Ford car to the Indianapolis 500. Up until that year, the cars that raced in this event were front-engine monsters with Offenhauser engines; they were big and bulky race cars with, of course, no resemblance to the automobiles that we drive today (or even then). What I remember about the “Indy 500” that year was how every so-called expert predicted that the relatively speaking tiny Lotus race car (designed by Chapman and driven by Clark) would be humiliated by the traditional racers of Indianapolis. But, what few people realized was that Jim Clark was a fantastic driver (I think I had seen him on some of ABC television “Wide World of Sports” events) and that his driving skills were on par, or even greater than, most of the drivers that raced in this race.

Were it not for some problems in the pits that year and a misunderstanding of the rules of the race, Clark would have won the race (he finished 2nd in a very close race; he ultimately would win the race in 1965). But I was fascinated by the change in design and how the tradition bound US auto racing establishment wrote off the cars before even seeing what they could do. As two websites (http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A827598 and http://www.ddavid.com/formula1/chap_bio.htm) point out, racing in America was technologically stagnant and woefully behind the times. And while American racing began to change following the 1965 Lotus victory and the cars that race at Indianapolis are linear descendants of those first Lotus-Fords, I don’t think that we can say the same thing about the American automotive industry.

Earlier that same year, George Wallace was inaugurated as Governor and defiantly announced that segregation would be a part of Alabama life. Even though I am white, the rules of segregation affected me (perhaps not as much as it did black students) and I began to question the rules of society. We would move from Alabama to Colorado that summer but would be back in the south, living in Tennessee in 1966 but the rules of society had not much changed. I have written before about the nature of segregation and its affect on all the children of the south, so I will not spend much time on that point here.

And, as the Civil Rights drama unfolded around me in Memphis and the shadow of the Viet Nam War passed over my life, I continued to see conservatives speak with the same tired rhetoric and an adherence to the status quo while liberals sought change and equality. While the town where I was an undergraduate was very much a conservative rural part of Missouri, the campus ministers were very much in the forefront of bringing change to the area. It was the campus ministers who gave me hope that there was possibility in life and it further brought about my thoughts about what liberals and conservatives were and should be.

And while I am beginning to question what many liberals are doing in today’s world, I still see conservatives as opposed to anything that disturbs the status quo or suggestive of new ideas. I still see conservatives as longing for the old days, no matter if they were good or bad.

It has been long noted that if you presented someone with a copy of the Declaration of Independence without references to 1776 or King George and asked them to sign it, they probably wouldn’t do so. What would happen if we were to present the first reading for this Sunday (Acts 4: 32 – 35) without any Biblical reference to the people and ask them what they thought it meant.

The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.

And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.

Without a doubt, I think it would strike the reader, especially conservatives, as “socialism” and not a very good idea.

It strikes me that one of the problems with the modern church, and Christianity in this country, is that we have forgotten what the early church did and endured. We confuse the corporate church of today with the real church and the message that it once presented, a message that threatened the very structure of society, not because it was dangerous but because it was radical and went against the status quo.

For many people, the image of the church is one of “old” people who still sing the same hymns from fifty years ago and are aghast at the idea of “modern” music in a worship service and who still use the same format for worship that was used when they were young. The church itself is seen as the monolithic corporate body that found Galileo guilty of heresy and refused to admit that perhaps the Sun, not the Earth, is the center of the Solar System. We see it in the battles to force teaching of “intelligent design” as a viable theory of science in the biology classroom today.

For me, the battles that conservatives fight (be they political or religious) are battles of control, of saying that “I know what’s best for you when it comes to thinking and I am going to tell you what to say and think”. There are those who will tell me that the liberals of today will say that as well and they may be right. But conservatives make it sound as if the world will come to an end if liberal thoughts are allowed to pervade this world or if innovative ideas are allowed to develop.

Now, I am not going to let liberals off the hook that easily either; when you dismiss the beliefs of Christians, even if their beliefs are a little off, then you are as close-minded as those you dismiss.

Keep in mind that during the period that we have come to call the Dark Ages that it was the church that was the repository of knowledge and the keeper of the books that lead to the Renaissance. I find it very disturbing that many liberals dismiss Christianity (and other religions) as superstition. I find it disturbing that many publicly proclaim that there is no God and those who believe in God are fools. It reinforces the idea that they are just as set in their own ways as those they seek to ridicule and dismiss. And while I will accept their desire to not believe in God, I must ask what it is that they do believe in. For you cannot have a life in which everything is empirical and there is no belief. There may be those who have removed emotion from their lives and live only according to pure logic, but it is a life devoid of laughter and crying, of joy and wonder.

And to the point of today’s Scriptures, I find it confusing that someone can call themselves both a Christian and a conservative. No doubt, it is possible that one can be both but when there are people in need and your words speak against helping, for any reason, when you speak of war when Jesus spoke of peace or when you put the blame for a person’s poverty on the person instead of the system, it is hard for me to see you as a Christian.

When Jesus started His mission, He announced that He had come to bring health to the sick and relief to the oppressed. Jesus was a radical from the very beginning of his ministry and I don’t see how you can be a conservative and accept that idea. To bring health to a nation where there was no healthcare, to offer homes to the homeless, and to bring relief are very much liberal ideas in a world where it is everyone for themselves and what I have is mind and no one else’s.

I will be honest and say that when I hear someone tell me that the Gospel message is to make disciples of all mankind I cringe. I do so because they often say it in terms of finality. And the history of civilization is marked by those who felt that if you did not accept this Gospel message willingly, then you would accept it by force. Yet, Jesus never forced anyone to follow Him; the Twelve followed at His invitation and those who saw and heard the words followed but not by force.

As is the case in so many instances, we have come to accept one translation as the true translation. But one translation of the words that Jesus spoke (and I am borrowing from Clarence Jordan, another Southern Rebel in the liberal sense) is that we are to show the world what it is that Jesus did and can do.

The Gospel reading for today speaks of those who believe in Christ, not because they had seen the Risen Christ but because of what others had done and said. John repeats essentially the same message; it is what others see and hear that will lead them to Christ. Unfortunately, when you have a group whose words and actions run counter to the message of the Gospel, it is very difficult to bring them to Christ.

When I was in college I was involved in the Civil Rights movement on campus and the anti-war demonstrations (much to the chagrin and consternation of my parents). I did so because I believed that the causes were right and just. It was through my reading of the Scriptures and my own life that lead me to that view. But somewhere along the line, I came to think that it was those good works that were going to save me from sin and death. But it was pointed out to me by a liberal United Methodist pastor that I could not get into heaven by proclaiming to be a Christian yet not believing in Christ. It is by the Grace of God and our belief in Christ that we are saved, not by the good that we do. But in proclaiming that Christ is our Savior, we must work to bring about what He first proclaimed. Good works are not the admission ticket but the natural and expected thing of one who professes Christ as his personal Savior. Anyone can do good works but that alone is not sufficient to get one into Heaven if they also do not believe in Christ.

When the Baptizer began to prepare the way, he called for repentance; when Jesus began His ministry in the Galilee, He called for repentance. Repentance is not just saying one is sorry for what one has done in the past; repentance is the act of changing one’s life and beginning anew.

The people will see you proclaiming to be a Christian but if your life is still focused on the “rat race” and your concern is for yourself and not others, if you hold onto the status quo and deny others the same opportunities that you have, then it will be very difficult for them to see in you what is seen in Christ.

The problem right now is that there are truly no innovative ideas being developed and there are no creative solutions to the problems that this world faces. Everyone, be they liberal or conservative today, seems as stuck in their own old mindset and, just as the Indy cars of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s were quickly outclassed and outperformed by the new cars of the 1960’s, likely to go the way of dinosaurs. And unless better alternatives are offered, this society, this civilization will not continue the progress forward that it has made up until this point in time.

The alternatives will only come through Christ and a new life. I may be a voice in the wilderness but I hope this is a call for others to speak out against injustice and inequality, against the lack of healthcare and educational opportunities in this country, against war. 

I encourage you to do what Jesus told Thomas that day in the Upper Room so many years ago, show the people that Christ has risen so that they too will believe. Show the people by working for the same things that Christ worked for and be proud that you are a Christian and a liberal.

Holding the Key to Tomorrow

This was the message that I presented at Tompkins Corners UMC on the 2nd Sunday of Easter,  27 April 2003.  The scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 4: 32 – 35, 1 John 1: 1 – 2: 2, and John 20: 19 – 31.

This was also Heritage Sunday.  For those that don’t know, I came to the United Methodist Church through the Evangelical United Brethren Church, so this day has some history for me as well.


The significance of this day is perhaps of greater importance to me than it is to any of you but that is because my heritage, how I came to be a member of the United Methodist Church, is a little bit different than your heritage. For the church in which I was confirmed in and was a member during my high school years was an Evangelical United Brethren church.

Like so many others, I attended the church closest to home and when we lived in Aurora, CO, that church was the 1st EUB of Aurora. Now that was its official title but to tell you the truth, it was the only EUB church. There were other EUB churches in Colorado and throughout the country but all were small congregations in a relatively small denomination.

The Evangelical United Brethren church was itself the merger of two smaller denominations, the Evangelical Church and the United Brethren Church. Both denominations began in the 18th century as spiritual renewal movements in rural Pennsylvania. Inspired by the Methodists revival, the United Brethren and Evangelical Churches held to the centrality of biblical authority, justification by faith, the church as a nurturing body, sanctification, and the application of Christianity to the social context. With so much in common with Methodists, these two churches were often called “German Methodists.”

Born in a time of great spiritual renewal, the early Evangelical and United Brethren Churches did what very few of the early American churches, including the early Methodist Episcopal churches, were not doing, that is, addressing the needs of German immigrants for spiritual renewal and a renewed vision. Like the early church of Acts, there was a need for a community, a place where one could find friendship and help and a place where one’s own spiritual needs could be ministered. The heritage of the two churches, like the early Methodist church, came from the simple yet profound faith of ardent seekers after God. Those who made the early churches such a powerful spiritual force in this world turned their backs on the ways of the world to serve with a full will. They were persons of integrity, and the holiness of their lives imparted to them the compelling strength of quiet power.

As we celebrate our heritage of over two hundred years, we are faced with a challenge. In a world where outward strategies and institutional forms can and should change, how do we maintain the values expressed by the church of Acts and repeated by the early churches of America?

We see what the early church did, gathering together as a community of faith in order to care for each other. The gathering of the first bible study group led by John and Charles Wesley, the Holy Club at Oxford University, was an attempt to maintain that sense of community expressed in Acts. The founding of churches in this country, from the very beginning, was to give those a sense of stability and spiritual growth to the immigrants of the country.

But, as much as this was done for community, it was also done in the name of faith. It was done so that the faith of the early church members, both of the New Testament and in our own American history, could be shared with others seeking peace in a world of turmoil. It was the faith of the early church founders, not the works; it was the faith of Philip William Otterbein, Jacob Albright, Martin Boehm and the Wesley brothers and not their works that produced the denomination that we have today. And it will be faith that carries the church into the coming years. That is the central point Jesus made to Thomas.

Thomas needed confirmation that the resurrection was indeed true. But, as Jesus pointed out, there would be countless others whose belief in the resurrection and in Christ would come through faith alone. Nothing that is done in the present will help anyone come to know Christ unless it is done in the name of faith. As John said in his first letter, it was the fellowship of faith that brought people together in communion with Christ. But without the fellowship of faith, it would be impossible for others to share in the true knowledge of the Christ.

And that is the challenge we face today. For if we forget that we are here today because of the faith of others, it will be very difficult for others to be here in the future. It is right and proper to remember the heritage that we have, but if all we remember is our heritage, we will forget why we are here. The noted American anthropologist, Loren Eiseley, once said,

“The door to the past is a strange door. It swings open and things pass through it, but they pass in one direction only. No man can return across that threshold, though he can look down still and see the green light waver in the water weeds.” (Loren Eiseley, American anthropologist (1907 – 1977) – quoted in the “today in History” newsletter for 24 April 2003.)

I speak with pride of my heritage as a member of the Evangelical United Brethren church, for through that church in Aurora I came to know Jesus Christ as my own personal savior. I came to know the fellowship of the brethren, even well beyond the days I lived in Colorado. When I started school in Kirksville back in 1966, I could have attended Faith EUB. But it was too far to walk on a Sunday morning and without ready transportation I chose to walk to 1st Methodist Church. Thirty years later, I did get a chance to attend and preach at Faith Church and I related to them why I did not come back in 1966. Afterwards, one member of the church came up to me and said, “You should have called. We would have come and gotten you.”

I cannot speak to the demise of the Evangelical United Brethren church as a denomination. Even as I was a teenager working on my confirmation assignments, it was a dying denomination. Merger with the Methodists was perhaps the only way that many small churches would remain open. But I know today that there was opposition to the merger. Those in opposition feared that the merger would cause them to lose the traditions of the old church.

In one sense then, I should be glad that the merger took place. For one of the traditions in some of the old EUB churches was that once a year the pastor give a sermon in German. And though I have a German heritage I cannot speak German and I would have a difficult time meeting that requirement. Fortunately for me, First Church in Aurora did not hold to that tradition. And even my family, though they still cannot understand why I do not like sauerkraut, have forgiven my forgetting of the old ways.

But failing to hold on to the old ways would have kept me from the ministry. And when one holds on to the old ways, holds on to the past, it is impossible to move forward. Just as I speak proudly of my EUB heritage, you know that I speak with pride of my Southern heritage. But I do so knowing that part of that heritage should be forgotten or left alone. If I am proud of what was, I would be blind to what occurred and my pride would be superficial. John made a point of speaking about those whose pride took the place of humility. “If,” John said, “we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1: 8)  He further added, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him (speaking of Christ) out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” (1 John 1: 10)

As we look back in pride to what we have, we must somehow look forward to where we are going. There are those who come to church today seeking the support present in the early communities of faith. But they do not find it in many churches because the churches are more concerned with the maintenance of what they once were or what they are now. It goes a long way to explaining why the more fundamental or charismatic and Pentecostal type churches show a growth in membership while the more main-line denominations, including the United Methodists, show a decline. In those churches where membership is growing, there is a clear and demonstrated expression of one’s faith, one perhaps not easily seen in the churches with declining memberships.

John, in his letter, spoke of walking in the light. He spoke of the members of the church knowing what had happened on Easter Sunday so many years before and how the people of that day passed that knowledge on to others through their words and their actions. His was a statement that it was the participation of all in the expression of faith that brought people closer to Christ.

We have come together today to celebrate the heritage of those who walked the same path that we do and in whose victories in life we celebrate. But we cannot simply stop the walk, for we have an obligation to make sure that others will be able to walk along the way as well. It may be a terrible cliché but we do hold the key to tomorrow. John Newton wrote that it was grace that “brought me safe thus far and it will be grace that lead me home.” The grace given to us is given to us because of our faith, not what we own or where we live or where we worship. And so it is that the key to tomorrow will be the same as it was for those who walked before us, our faith.

Our celebration today is the celebration of the faith of others, who believed that Christ died for their sins and who believed that they should work hard and be faithful so that others would come to know that most fundamental of truths. Our celebration today is also a celebration of the faith of those who are yet to come, who will come to know the same truth because we have worked as hard and as faithfully as those before us. We stand before the door of tomorrow, holding the key that opens it. It is the call of Christ to open our hearts that will unlock the door and it is a call today that we are asked to answer.


Looking for the evidence

Here are my thoughts for this coming Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Easter and Heritage Sunday in the United Methodist Church.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 4:  32 – 35, 1 John 1: 1 – 2: 2, and John 20: 19 – 31.  (Changes were made to the format on 26 February 2008).


When you are teaching any type of science the first thing that you want to get across to the students is the difference between facts and theories. Facts are the pieces of information that one gathers through experimentation; one uses all the senses to determine the facts. Theories are the result of looking at the facts gathered and attempting to determine what relationships exist between the facts and what possible facts may arise from further study of the situation in question.

But too often, we do not spend enough time on the very fundamental nature of science, i.e. experimentation and the development of facts. For convenience more than for learning, experiments done in teaching laboratories tend to favor confirmation of lecture information rather than the discovery of facts. While it is sometimes necessary to confirm what is presented in the lecture, it is often better for students to discover things that can be discussed or utilized in the lecture phase of their instruction. This approach yields a better understanding of how theories are developed.

What transpires from the confirmation process of experimentation is that theories are taught more as facts than as explanations. And, in the end, theories become facts. In today’s context, it is understandable then that many people do not understand 1) the differences between theories and facts and 2) the differences between theories presented in a scientific setting and those theories or explanations that are presented in a cultural setting. One primary example of this would be the development of the heliocentric (or sun-centered) model for the solar system.

This model places the sun at the center of the solar system and the earth and the other planets orbiting the sun. But, as anyone can tell, during the day, it is the sun that clearly moves across the sky. So how is it that we say that it is the earth that is moving when our senses tell us otherwise?

It is not until we expand our references that we are able to see what changes must be made in theories such as the solar system. As long as we did not try to fit other planets or astronomical evidence into the geocentric model of the solar system, it worked fine. But when we looked at the other evidence, such as the movement of Mars, we saw that any theory that places the earth in the center of the solar system had flaws in it. To that end, it became necessary to modify the model. Many models were developed that kept the Earth in the center but they did not work well and failed to suggest or predict future events in terms of planetary motion. Only when the old model of the earth in the center was “trashed” and a new model of the sun in the center created was mankind able to move forward in the study of the stars and the planets.

These changes came with tremendous opposition from the established church and lead to the persecution of Galileo. The church, for a variety of reasons, wanted the earth to be the center of the solar system and was not readily amenable to such revolutionary ideas. And even now, some five hundred years later, it is still apparent that there are some in the churches of today who are not willing to accept scientific evidence as real evidence in light of Biblical scriptures.

Part of our human problem is that we still don’t get the idea that faith and science are two separate ideas. Rabbi Michael Lerner adapted a section from his recent book, “The Left Hand of God,” for an article in The Nation (Science and the religious progressives (From “The Daily Dose” (Science & Theology News) for Wednesday, April 12, 2006) http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060424/lerner).  In one passage, the rabbi focuses on the relationship between science and liberal forms of spirituality on the American sociopolitical landscape.

“Science, however, is not the same as scientism — the belief that the only things that are real or can be known are those that can be empirically observed and measured. As a religious person, I don’t rely on science to tell me what is right and wrong or what love means or why my life is important. I understand that such questions cannot be answered through empirical observations. Claims about God, ethics, beauty and any other face of human experience that is not subject to empirical verification — all these spiritual dimensions of life — are dismissed by the ‘scientistic’ worldview as inherently unknowable and hence meaningless.”

From the viewpoint of a religious liberal, Lerner agrees with others — including supporters of intelligent design — who argue that science at times has overstepped its bounds:

“Scientism thus extends far beyond an understanding and appreciation of the role of science in society. It has become the religion of the secular consciousness. Why do I say it’s a religion? Because it is a belief system that has no more scientific foundation than any other belief system. The view that that which is real and knowable is that which can be empirically verified or measured is a view that itself cannot be empirically measured or verified and thus by its own criterion is unreal or unknowable. It is a religious belief system with powerful adherents. Spiritual progressives, therefore, insist on the importance of distinguishing between our strong support for science and our opposition to scientism.

“So why has the [political and religious] left become so attached to scientism? The left emerged as part of the broad movement against the feudal order, which taught that God had appointed people to their place in the hierarchical economic and political order for the good of the greater whole. Our current economic system, capitalism, was created by challenging the church’s role in organizing social life, and empirical observation and rational thought became the battering ram the merchant class used to weaken the church’s authority. Many of Marx’s followers thought they were merely drawing out the full implications of their new worldview when they adopted a scientistic approach that not only dismissed God and spirit as being without empirical foundation but also reduced all ethical and aesthetic judgments to little more than reflections of class interests.”

In opposing scientism there is perhaps an opportunity for healing among the various religious and political factions in the United States. But there is also the risk that greater opposition to scientism will encourage those in the United States who wish to take on the entire edifice of modern science.

So we must balance science and faith. Any attempt to have one replace the other can only result in the failure of both. This doesn’t mean that we should reject science totally. After all, to do so would be to deny the existence of the evidence that provided us with the knowledge of the Resurrection.

And that poses the question for today? It is a question that evolves from the Gospel reading for today and Thomas’ insistence that he will not accept the evidence of the resurrection until he can touch the wounds of Jesus. What is the status of our faith?

As Methodists, our faith is based on four factors: Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. These later two are the evidence that we seek to support what we know from tradition and our reading of the Scripture. It provides the balance that we need in order to understand why we need not be like Thomas.

If we reject the evidence that we see or hear because it conflicts with a Biblical interpretation, then we limit our knowledge as much as we would if we used science to limit our faith.

The Bible is the foundation of our faith; it guides and tells us why we are here. We should never see the Bible as closed and only an answer book. We must listen and read the Bible very carefully and honor the questions and tensions that arise in us. If we listen with “new ears” we always will hear something different from what we expect. To do so would be a grave error on our part. If we hold that the Bible is fixed and unchanging, it becomes quite easy for us to use it as a means to attack others and thus perpetuate violence against one another and justify harm in God’s name. When this is done, we limit God.

Shall we demand physical evidence when there is none? Shall we insist that what has been written must be accepted as the truth and such truths are not to be changed? Or shall we live our lives knowing, as Jesus told Thomas, “we believe though we have not seen?”

In his first letter to the disciples, John writes about the fact the he and the other disciples had seen the resurrection. There was no doubt about what they had seen and there was corroboration by others those first days after the Resurrection. There was no need for each succeeding generation to relive it; it had occurred and it had meaning. But it is what we do with our “newfound knowledge” that changes how we believe and how we live. It is clear from what Luke wrote in Acts that this meaning was more than just thought but rather was action as well.

It wasn’t just those first communities in the early days of the church in the Middle East that led to this denomination, the United Methodist Church, being here today. The Methodist Church united with the Evangelical United Brethren Church in April, 1968 (which is why this is Heritage Sunday). Now, I come to this time and place as one who was confirmed in the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Like the Methodist Church, the EUB church has its roots in colonial America. The EUB church itself is the union of several smaller denominations that formed among the German speaking immigrants that settled in the middle colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. There was, in those early days of this country, much interaction between the Methodists and the various churches that became the EUB church. Martin Boehm, one of the first bishops of the denomination, gave land to the Methodists on which to build a chapel. This chapel is still in use today.

But, most importantly, it was knowledge that the faith that each member of each branch of what was to become the EUB church was the same as the other members. Philip Otterbein, upon hearing Martin Boehm preach, proclaimed, “We are brethren”, meaning that each one’s faith was the same. It may have taken some 250 years to bring the various branches of the modern day United Methodist Church together but it was done because it was clear that each member of the denominations involved shared the same common faith. This could only be because the evidence through sight and sound was clear.

The meaning of the resurrection changed the lives of the people it touched. No longer were there poor or needy amongst the believers. All who believed came together in one community. It was clear that there was something happening to make the Gospel message come true.

But is it still true today? We live in a world where there are poor, where there are people hungry, and we are in a world where the view of some are repressed by those in power. It does not appear that much has changed since the early days of Jesus’ ministry. Yet, this is a time when we claim to follow Christ.

Perhaps we need to be like Thomas and demand the evidence that Christ is alive. Perhaps now is the time that we need to say, “are the poor taken care of, have the hungry been freed, have the oppressed been set free?” If we are to accept the Gospel message in our hearts, then our actions, our words, our deeds, and our thoughts must be in place. There are people in the world today who are like Thomas, who demand to see proof of the Resurrection. And we must be that proof! We must show that the Resurrection is true because Christ is alive in us.

It is now one week since the Resurrection. How has your life changed? Can others see in you the changes the world saw in the early church, where lives and the world were changed? Or are you living the same life as before? There is an opportunity to change before you today; there is an opportunity to see the Resurrection as truth by the way you live and act. But you must open your hearts and allow Christ to come in; you must open your heart and mind and let the Holy Spirit guide and direct you, just as it did the early disciples.

There is no longer a need to look for the evidence of the Resurrection; it is right there in front of you. You have the chance to be that evidence.