“A Matter of Priorities”


This will be on the back page of bulletin of the Fishkill United Methodist Church for 25 June 2017, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A).  It is based on the scriptures – Genesis 21: 8 – 21, Romans 6: 1 – 11, Matthew 10: 24 ‑ 39


To paraphrase Charles Dickens, these can be the best times or they can be the worst times.  We live in a world that many people see as devoid of hope or opportunities.

And we wonder how we can change this; how can we bring hope and opportunity to the world?

We can do great things but that it is not possible when we see faith as an individual thing.  When we do that, these times become the worst times.

You see, when we see our faith only in terms of what it means for us, when we hold onto our faith and do not share it, it becomes useless to us.  And such a vision of faith makes it very difficult to understand the faith of others.

When we share our faith with others, it allows others to share their faith with us.  And in this sharing of faith, opportunities arise.

 

“The Real Final Exam”


Meditation for June 29, 2014, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 22: 1 – 14, Romans 6: 12 – 23, and Matthew 10: 40 – 42

To say that I am not a fan of the present teaching model would be something of an understatement. But, perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

I was not happy with the way that the Common Core Curriculum was “imposed” on the teachers of this country. It seemed to me that very little was done in the way of preparation for teachers, students, and parents alike. That there needs to be a common core should go without saying but you don’t change the curricula model without some sort of warning or preparatory system If there was such a warning or preparation period, I am not aware of it.

Personally, I didn’t have any problems with the curriculum but then again, I was working with my kindergarten age grandson and most of what we did was pretty simple stuff. I think the problem that most people had was simply with the fact that they had to think for themselves and weren’t able to adjust to the change.

Too many people today don’t want to take on new tasks, especially when it comes to learning. They are quite content to do it the way it was done when they were students and that is all they expect. And when a student, especially a college-age student, encounters a new way of learning, there is much rebellion. And that’s what makes it so easy to have a test-oriented curriculum; all you have to do is present some knowledge to the students, have them memorize it, and then test them on it. Once they are tested on it and they achieve a reasonable success level, then we move onto a new topic. That leads to the quote from “Teaching As A Subversive Activity”, written by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner way back in the good old days of 1969,

The Vaccination Theory of Education – English is not History and History is not Science and Science is not Art and Art is not Music, and Art and Music are minor subjects and English, History, and Science major subjects, and a subject is something you “take” and, when you have taken it, you have “had” it, and if you have “had” it, you are immune and need not take it again. (This and other sayings I have found interesting are at “A Collection of Sayings”.)

If we simply test our students, we don’t have to get involved in the learning process and that is the problem. Learning is an active and interactive process between people; testing is not.

Some of this saw this coming almost thirty years ago. When I was teaching in Missouri, the State Board of Education, in its infinite wisdom, created the Basic Essential Skills Test or BEST test. Now, the rationale and purpose for this test were valid; every student needs to have a certain basic set of skills for life after school. But the manner in which the BEST test was done required a response.

So we created the Scholastic Education Council on New Directions Basic Essential Skills Test – 1) I will let you figure out the acronym and 2) the actual questions are at “THE BETTER TEST”. Clearly, our response was satire but it went to the point of what students should learn, how they should learn, and how that learning should be measured.

There was an episode in the TV series, “The Paper Chase” that speaks to this point. It was the final exam in Contract Law and Professor Kingsfield had created an exam with 100 questions covering a myriad of law-based topics in areas such as real estate, medicine, theology, and probably a few areas that one would not relate to the study and practice of the law.

To get the answers required the students search not only the law library but practically ever other library on campus. And because the students were competitive to the point of insanity, when they found the answer to one of the questions, they kept the resources for themselves so that other students would not be able to answer the question.

You can imagine the chaos that ensued because students were unable to answer all the questions (certain in their own minds that completion of all the questions was necessary for success). In the end, the students or rather the various study groups began to work how ways to share the work that they had with other groups so that they could get the answers for the questions. In the end, they wrote a series of contracts.

And what you have to remember was this was a course in Contract Law. The purpose of the exam was not to obtain all the answers individually but work together and develop solid and viable contracts, which was the purpose of the course.

A second example occurred while I was a graduate student at Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis). The Memphis Fire Department had agreed to take away several 55-gallon drums filled with chemical waste that the Chemistry Department had collected over the years. But before they could take them, the contents of each drum had to be identified.

Chemistry graduate students at that time took a series of monthly exams that measured their knowledge and competency. The solution to the problem of identifying the contents of the drums was to give each student a drum and tell them to apply their analytical and organic knowledge to the identification of the contents. (Of course, while this solved the department’s problem, it may have created problems for the individual students.)

I am not entirely certain that our present model of teaching can do that. In the end, our students learn to solve problems that already have solutions but they are not capable of solving problems that haven’t been solved.

And what perhaps bothers me more than anything else is that there will be a point in our own personal lives where we are going to be faced with such a problem. We shall be asked a question for which we may not know the answer and then what will or shall we do?

There really isn’t a question in the Old Testament reading for today but it is quite clear that God is testing Abraham. It is as if God is asking Abraham to prove that he, Abraham, will fulfill his part of the covenant. This covenant is the promise that Abraham’s descendants will outnumber the stars in the sky and yet God has directed Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him.

What must Abraham have thought? After all, as far as I know, Abraham believes that his oldest son, Ishmael, is dead and now he is about to kill his other son. The promise, the fulfillment of the covenant is clearly at stake at this point.

How would we respond in such a case? How would we respond if we had to put our faith on the line and just hope, without a single piece of evidence that God would fulfill His part of the covenant. And that is the real final exam! It is the one question that we have no way to study for; there is no book in which we can find the answer.

We could, I suppose, not worry about it. As Paul pointed out, you could lead the life we want, do what we want and ignore God. That way you wouldn’t have to worry or bother about right thinking or right living. But what do you get for all of that? Not much and when that moment comes when you have to answer the question you have avoided all your life, you won’t have the time, let alone the ability to think about what to say.

In the end, what you do, what you say, how you think shows where Christ is in your life. Many years ago I taught a course in how to teach science (a methods course). Most of my students expected me to lecture them on the various ways that one could teach science and sometimes I did just that. But a lot of times, I used the method that was the lesson, having the students do what they were going to be doing later on in life. I thought it was more important to do the method than simply speak about it. Not all my students got the message.

I would like to think that this is what Jesus was doing, having his students, his disciples do that which He taught them. It wasn’t easy for them to learn (and we know that many dropped out over the course of the three years). But in the end, enough understood and when the Holy Spirit came to them on that first Pentecost, they understood what they needed to do and then went from there.

Are you prepared today to take all that you have learned and go out into the world to show others who Christ is? The class is dismissed and the course begins.

The Challenge We Face


This was the message that I gave at Grace UMC (St. Cloud, MN) for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 27 June 1993. This was the fifth message of my lay speaking career and I was using the format that my pastor, John Praetorius used. The Scriptures that I used were Hebrews 11: 33 – 35 and James 1: 5 – 8.    

In May of 1961, President John Kennedy presented to a joint session of Congress what some consider the greatest scientific challenge of this generation’s lifetime:

“First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind or more important for the long-range exploration of space. And none will be more difficult or expensive to accomplish.” (We Reach The Moon, John Noble Wilford, Bantam Books, 1969)

This challenge was made as a response to the actions taken by the Soviet Union in successfully orbiting Yuri Gagarin. President Kennedy recognized that a quick and decisive response was needed, even in the face of the difficulties that our space program was undergoing at that time. As those who grew up in the late 50’s and early 60’s might remember, the United States space program seemed more a comedy of errors than a precisely run scientific effort. One cannot forget the number of launches that ended with the rocket exploding on the launch pad rather than sending a satellite into orbit. If we could not launch a relatively simple rocket, how were we going to be able to launch a rocket carrying men?

There were also skeptics who felt it was impossible to land a man on the moon because, as one theory suggested, the surface of the moon was covered by a thick layer of dust. As such, any landing craft attempting to land on the moon would be swallowed up. But nothing had been done to prove or disprove this theory. It was not until the Ranger series of satellites crash landed on the moon and the Surveyor series soft landed on the moon that this theory was shown incorrect. Had we chosen to accept the theory without obtaining the facts, we would have never landed on the moon.

Today this nation faces another challenge. It is a challenge which cannot be resolved through a nationwide commitment of resources, talent, and technology. It must be resolved in our hearts and in our souls. We have forgotten to put God first in our lives and, in doing so, have lost our spiritual direction.

Our society is split by race, creed, and economic status. We see the problems these differences cause but we want others to solve them. We willingly let others tell us how we should act, what we should wear, how we should think.

Because we have no commitment to God, because we receive so many conflicting directions, our lives are in constant turmoil. And this is because we do not have faith that God will provide us with the direction we should take and the protection we need, despite the fact that He has repeatedly promised to do so. If our faith in God is strong, our accomplishments will reflect the Glory of God. If our faith is weak, then we will struggle. As James wrote

“If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him; he will not resent it. But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to tell you, for a doubtful mind will be as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind; and every decision you then make will be uncertain, as you turn first this way, and then that. If you don’t ask with faith, don’t expect the Lord to give you any solid answer.” (James 1: 5 – 8)

Peter Jenkins was a college student who questioned the direction his life was taking. His inner turmoil led him on a journey which has been chronicled in his books Walk Across America and The Walk West. His walk from New York to New Orleans was highlighted by his acceptance of Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. But what impact did this acceptance have on his life?

When he discussed the journey and the resulting story with the editors of National Geographic, they asked him what he felt was the major point of the whole journey. To their amazement, he said that it was his acceptance of Christ as his Savior. It was to the editors’ credit that this part of the story was kept in the article so that others could read about the power of the Lord. Later, during a train ride in China, far from his home and family, and unable to openly worship God, Jenkins became aware of just how dependent his life and the direction it took was upon his relationship with Jesus Christ. He wrote:

“And I wrote down that I really missed God. I didn’t expect Him to come and sit down beside me, but I missed what He was in my life. He was my ultimate security. He was my guide through life and my main source of discipline. He was my friend, more faithful than any person, the most faithful presence on earth. He was profound wisdom and pure love. I yearned for His arms of love to hold me. But He seemed so far away.

I knew He was here, but I felt so lonely just the same. And there was no one around to fellowship with. Lying on that bunk I realized more clearly than ever before how important my relationship with God was.”(The Road Unseen, Peter and Barbara Jenkins, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985, page 5)

How important is a strong relationship with God? All we have to do is look at the Israelites as they left Egypt for the Promised Land. Every time the Israelites faced a crisis, they sought a return to the seemingly secure life of slavery in Egypt. What did the Israelites do when they faced the Red Sea with the Egyptian army coming after them? Did they rejoice that God would protect them? In Exodus 14: 10 – 14 we read

“When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them; and they were in great fear. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord; and they said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” (Exodus 14: 10 – 14)

Yet, even as they watched God drown the Egyptians in the Red Sea, the Israelites still had a hard time accepting the idea that all they had to do was follow the Lord.

It must have been tough on the Israelites moving from the security of Egypt to the uncertainty of the Promised Land. How did they react as they crossed the wilderness without sufficient provisions? In Exodus 16: 2 – 8 we read

“And the whole congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness and said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.’ So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, ‘At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your murmurings against the Lord. For what are we, that you murmur against us?’ And Moses said, ‘When the Lord gives you evening flesh and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your murmurings which you murmur against him – what are we? Your murmurings are not against us but against the Lord.” (Exodus 16: 2 – 8)

Consider their actions while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 32 we read of the people going to Aaron and asking him to make them a false idol. Later, in Numbers 13 and 14, we read of the spies Moses sent into the Promised Land lying about what was there and how the people cried to return to Egypt where they were safe and secure. Time and time again during this journey, we hear the Israelites crying to return to Egypt and the security of their slavery; all because their faith in God was weak. How many times have we encountered this journey from the wilderness to the Promised Land? How many times have we doubted our own faith? Don’t we feel lost and without direction when we have ignored God’s presence in our lives?

Even our own John Wesley struggled with the idea of what God wanted him to do. Sent to Georgia as a missionary along with his brother Charles, he returned to England in 1738 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 after that moment in his life, which we call 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 by accepting Christ as his personal Savior was John Wesley able to understand what direction his life was to take. It was only through trusting Christ that Wesley gained the confidence needed to make the Methodist revival possible. The writer of Hebrews 11: 33 – 35 also points out that every great leader of our Christian heritage also trusted in God completely and followed Him faithfully:

“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)

Our challenge today is the single most difficult task we will ever face. Yet it is the easiest to accomplish. It is difficult because it forces us away from the comfort zone our life in sin has created. However, while we may feel free, a life in the slavery of sin is not freedom. The direction our life takes, the choices we make, the things we want to do, all are chosen by others. Had the Israelites chosen slavery in Egypt rather than to follow God, they would have never reached the Promised Land.

John Kennedy concluded his challenge to make the trip to the moon by saying that the mission would require a complete commitment of the nation’s resources and by us. He knew that was the only way the challenge would be met.

So it is for us. By making a complete and total acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior, we too can forsake a life in the slavery of sin and make that trip to the Promised Land.

This Thing Called Freedom


This Sunday was at the New Milford/Edenville United Methodist Church (Location of Church).  Summer services start at 9:30 and you are always welcome there.  The Scriptures for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost are Genesis 24: 34 – 38, 42 – 49, 58 – 67; Romans 7: 15 – 25; and Matthew 11: 16 – 19, 25 – 30.

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This has always been an interesting Sunday for me. Growing up as I did, a 2nd generation military brat, living much of my early life on Air Force Bases, I have one sense of what this day means. But, over the years, as I have looked at this day/weekend from the standpoint of the Scriptures and a conscious and public acceptance of Jesus Christ, I have come to appreciate a different, perhaps deeper meaning for today.

Clearly, this is a weekend to discuss freedom and what it means. But I think that we have to do so with an understanding that there is more to it than the public discussion. We understand and we appreciate those words that Thomas Jefferson wrote, “that all men are created equal”, yet we fail to understand that when Jefferson wrote those words in 1776 it applied to only men, and only men, who owned property. If you were a man but did not own property, a woman, or a minority, then the words of the Declaration of Independence were simply words on a piece of parchment, words without meaning to you. It may have been that this was how Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers were able to justify the contradictions in their own personal and public lives.

Over the course of history we have heeded the words of Jesus when he spoke to the Pharisees in John 8:31 – 32, “seek the truth and the truth will set you free.” When we speak of all men being equal we mean everyone and not a select few.

It has always struck me that most of the discussions Jesus had with the Pharisees and the other establishment figures was how freedom transcended the law. For the Pharisees, the law was the limit; it was what defined a person and determined what they could and could not do. Jesus was always pushing the limit of the law, going beyond the law to the spirit of the law and its true meaning.

It is the establishment that criticized John the Baptizer for his words and his actions; it was the establishment that Jesus pointed out criticized Him when He ate with sinners. The establishment viewed such engagements as outside the boundaries of the law and, thus, actions that needed to be limited. Yet, the intent of the very laws that the establishment used to justify such limitations were never meant to do that. God’s kingdom was never meant to be exclusive; it was meant to be inclusive. The laws that God gave to the Israelites were to define the relationships in the kingdom. But the Ten Commandments quickly became some 600 laws with over ½ of them telling people what they could not do.

And we know from our own experience that the moment someone tells us that we cannot do something that is the very thing we want to do. We tell our children not to do this or not to do that and then we have to spend all of our time making sure that they don’t do it. But sooner or later a child finds out what hot or sharp means and we have to do something different.

We understand that there are things that we need to do and must do but we are so tempted by the “freedom” that sin offers, we turn away from God. We really would like to do those things that we know we shouldn’t, even if it is something trivial like have a second helping of pie for dessert, if for no other reason than there is that momentary satisfaction of feeling good.

I sense this struggle in what Paul is writing. He recognizes that there is a “freedom” outside the law, a “freedom” that we all at one time or another seek to enjoy. What was it that Paul said in the passage from Romans for today, “part of me wants to rebel?” But Paul goes one step further. This lure of “freedom” is nothing more than sin trying to steal us away from God and what God would have us do.

It is very hard for us sometimes to know what God would have us do in terms of freedom. We still see God in a strict, legalistic sense. We see God as deterministic, deciding the outcome of all decisions long before we enter into the picture. This is not the picture of freedom that we would like to see.

When I first read the Old Testament passage for today, I wondered how it would fit into any discussion of freedom. Let’s face it; the story doesn’t have much in the way of freedom in it for either Isaac or Rebekah. Did Isaac have any say in the sending of the servant to his ancient homeland? Did Isaac even know that his father was getting him a wife? Did Rebekah have any say in the decisions of her father and relatives when it came to the discussion between Abraham’s servant and them regarding the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah? Maybe Isaac wanted to marry a local girl? Maybe Rebekah wanted to marry a local boy? When you read the story, you get the impression that neither Isaac nor Rebekah was given much in the way of a choice. And Isaac doesn’t even get to meet Rebekah face to face.

On the face of things, this story goes against everything that one can say about freedom. But does it? By this point in his life, Isaac had to have known the story of his parents traveling from the ancient homeland to what will become Israel. Isaac clearly knew the story behind his trip to Mount Moriah. And though I am not aware of any passages in the Bible, surely Isaac and Abraham talked about God’s plan and how they fit within it.

Understanding God’s plan and where anyone fits in it is not a simple thing to do. It requires far more than maintaining a certain collection of laws. It requires understanding what we are being asked to do in this world. It is not something that is automatic or complete in one step; what did Jesus say in the second part of the Gospel reading for today – “I am willing to go over it line by line to whomever is willing to listen.”

In the end, what we might call freedom may very well be nothing more that slavery with fancy trimmings. We get trapped by laws or our desire to not be trapped by laws. We seek to achieve something that we cannot achieve because we are so certain that we must do it in one way and one way only.

The invitation today comes from Jesus Himself – are you tired, worn out, burned out with religion. Do you seek a new life, one that is free? Perhaps the solution is Christ because Christ sets us free from the slavery found in a life of laws and regulations. We are invited to follow Christ and find true freedom. You know, the interesting thing is that we don’t have to follow Christ. That freedom was also given to us.

But the freedom not to follow leaves us where we are now and that does not appear to be a good alternative. In following Christ, we find a freedom that allows us to expand our boundaries and find ourselves.

This thing called freedom is an elusive thing. Some will search and never find it; others will see it in front of them and never know it. You are given the invitation to find freedom through Christ today. It is yours for the asking. What will you do?

Which Side Are You On? (2008)


Here are my thoughts for this coming Sunday, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost.  The Scriptures are Genesis 6: 11 – 22, 7: 24, 8: 14 – 19; Romans 1: 16 – 17, 3: 22 – 31; and Matthew 7: 21  -29

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While my two favorite Bible passages are Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 13 and John 8: 31 – 32; there is a special place in my heart for today’s Old Testament reading (Genesis 6: 11 – 22, 7: 24; 8: 14 – 19) and Gospel reading (Matthew 7: 21 – 29).

Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 13

There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth:
A right time for birth and another for death,
A right time to plant and another to reap,
A right time to kill and another to heal,
A right time to destroy and another to construct,
A right time to cry and another to laugh,
A right time to lament and another to cheer,
A right time to make love and another to abstain,
A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend,
A right time to shut up and another to speak up,
A right time to love and another to hate,
A right time to wage war and another to make peace.

But in the end, does it really make a difference what anyone does? I’ve had a good look at what God has given us to do—busywork, mostly. True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time—but he’s left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he’s coming or going. I’ve decided that there’s nothing better to do than go ahead and have a good time and get the most we can out of life. That is it; eat, drink, and make the most of your job. It’s God’s gift.

John 8: 31 – 32

Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”

I used the Old Testament reading from Genesis, or rather Bill Cosby’s interpretation of the Noah story as the basis for my first college reflection (there is a copy of this wonderful piece on YouTube.com but it is soured somewhat by the comments which are more theological and show no appreciation for the humor of the piece). And it was during that same college period that I became aware of that great theological study, The Gospel According to Peanuts by Robert L. Short.

In one passage from the cartoon strip, Linus is outside building a rather ornate sand castle. As he is working on this project, it begins to rain until, in the fourth panel, it is a deluge and all of his work has been washed away. Linus is sitting there saying “There’s a lesson to be learned here somewhere. But I don’t know what it is.” Mr. Short intersperses the panels of the strip with the words from Matthew about the man who built his house upon the sand and when the rains and floods came and the winds blew, the house was washed away.

In telling this story, Jesus was pointing out the difference between those who hear His words and act upon them and those who hear His words but do not act upon them. It is fitting that this passage is paired with the flood story because how many times in the past few years have we heard some pastor proclaim that the flooding of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina or the flooding of the Mississippi in 1993 was caused because God was angry at this country for a variety of reasons. Perhaps God is angry with us but we are reminded that God made a covenant with Noah that he would never flood the earth again and the sign of that covenant was the rainbow.

The problem is that too many people today want to use the Bible as they see it written rather than seeing the Bible in total. They are quite willing to utilize Biblical passages to justify denying church membership to selected portions of society while at the same time accepting the idea that Jesus dined with sinners and the dredge of society. You cannot have it both ways.

As I read Paul’s comments to the Romans today (Romans 1: 16 – 17; 3: 22b – 31), I hear a man telling a community that all are sinners but that all receive the grace of God. The Good News is the Good News to all, not just a select portion.

And therein lays our own personal dilemma. For what is to be done with the violence of this world; what is to be done with the inequities found in society because of race, creed, economic status, or lifestyle. Will God someday in the future (or any day now, as some would tell it) strike this earth and cause a great cataclysmic event to destroy the world while saving those who profess to believe in Christ?

Why is that Jesus in this passage from Matthew as well as in the passage in Matthew 25: 35 – 45 pointing out the difference between those that do and those that just talk? Is it because that those that do work to bring the Gospel into this world while those who just talk work to keep the Gospel away from the world?

If we know that the world is about to come to an end because of differences between people because of economic status, race, creed, or any other factor and we do nothing, who are we in the story? If we work to end hunger, poverty, racism, sexism, ageism, and oppression, what will happen to us in the end?

Paul wrote to the Romans that he was not ashamed of the Gospel. If we are who we say we are, then we should not be ashamed of the Gospel either. The Gospel is the promise that there is hope, that the hungry shall be fed, the naked shall be clothed, the sick healed, and the prisoners set free. But we must do more than simply say that we are not ashamed of the Gospel; we must also live the Gospel.

I have written two sermons in the past that have the same title as this piece today (see “Which Side Are You On?” (2004) and “Which Side Are You On?” (2005)). I have done so because of how society today views Christianity.

Whether we want to accept the notion or not, there are two sides to Christianity. There is the side that in reality opposes the Gospel and works to make the church today exclusive and closed. This is the side that is all too familiar to society. The other side of Christianity works to put the Gospel into action and opens the doors of the church to the unwanted and undesired; it is a side that does not fit well in today’s society.

When we say that we are a Christian, society today automatically puts us on one side of the Gospel whether that is where we really stand or not. Unless you are willing to stand up and be counted for Christ, by your thoughts, your words, your deeds, and your actions, then you will be on the wrong side. It is time to decide which side you want to be on and what you are going to do. So I ask, “What side are you on?”