June 30, 2019

This will be the “Back Page” for the Fishkill UMC bulletin this coming Sunday, June 30th, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year C).

This past week has been a week of moving.  Pastors and friends moving to new locations and new assignments; students moving up and graduating from high school and college.  Today we celebrate those in this congregation who graduated from high school and college.

We celebrate this process of moving.  And we morn when our friends move away. 

Normally, we don’t like moving; it disturbs the stability we seek in our lives.

As a student of the history of science, I can only imagine how people felt when they were told that the earth was moving through time and space.  Such information disturbed our understanding of the world around us.  We don’t move through space; all one must do is observe the sun and stars as they move across the sky to know that we don’t move. 

But when we looked beyond the edges of the world, so did our understanding of our world.  And when we discovered that even the stars and galaxies were moving through the universe, our understanding of the universe was challenged.  As our knowledge of the universe expanded, so too did our ability to move into the future and beyond the limits of this planet. 

If we are to move into the future, we must push the boundaries today.  We must cast aside the view of the world we had yesterday.  The young man in the Gospel reading for today did not understand this.  He was unwilling to leave the comfort of the present time to follow Jesus.  And even though it may have been one of the most frightening things in his life, Elisha was willing to see beyond his fears in order to receive Elijah’s mantle and carry on the work that Elijah had begun.

The future can be frightening but it will be decided by what we do today.  We can be like the young man who is locked into the past, unable to move forward.  Or we can follow Christ, picking up His mantle and gaining our freedom. 

~~Tony Mitchell

“Three Impossible Things”

This is the message that I gave at Lake Mahopac UMC Sunday, June 9th, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (C); the Scripture readings for today are 1 Kings 17: 8 – 24, Galatians 1: 11 – 24, and Luke 7: 11 – 17. Services start at 10 and you are welcome to attend.

Updated to correct link on 5 September 2020

This is about stories and change, of what is and what will be, of what we want and what we need. It is about where we have been and where we are going. Sometimes it seems as if the stories are improbable; sometimes it seems if we are asked to do the impossible. But if we understand what has happened, the stories don’t seem so improbable and what we are asked to do doesn’t seem so impossible.

I started planning this message with a thought about impossible things. But I quickly found out that such an idea was probably one of those three impossible things.

This thought about impossible things had its genesis in the knowledge that there are many people today who feel that the miracles described in the Old and New Testament are either impossible, improbable, or hallmarks of superstition and mythology.

Even today, there are those who say that Jesus is and was nothing more than a myth or legend.

But if Jesus is a myth or a legend, how is it that this story still resonates today? Did those who died during the Roman persecution two thousand years ago die for a myth? Have those who have defended the poor, the homeless, the oppressed countless times over the years done so in the name of a legend? I want to make note of a blog that I read the other day about a pastor in North Carolina who felt that his call to the ministry required that he take part in a civil disobidence protest (see my link to the post, “Why I Stayed”). How was it that he could be true to who he was if he did not speak out, in the name of Christ, for those who seem to have been forgotten by the rich and the powerful? How could he not speak out when that is what Christ did two thousand years ago?

I know that there are other myths and legends, every society has them. For the most part, we have identified them as such and they are no longer an integral part of our life. But we cannot for some reason seem to get rid of the notion that there is a God in our lives and He somehow plays a role.

And for all those who say that religion is some form of superstition or nothing more than mythology on a complex scale, what can you offer in return? What can you offer as a rationale for doing good in this world? What causes evil in this world? And be very careful how you answer this because you either have to have a god of some sort or it has to be a part of humankind. And I particularly don’t want to go down the path that says good and evil are integral parts of humankind’s makeup.

But is religion nothing more than some sort of advanced form of superstition? Is it nothing more than mythology on some complex scale?

The noted philosopher Joseph Campbell once pointed out that there is a bit of truth in every myth. Somewhere way back in time, something happened that ultimately lead to the myths and legends we have today. (“Understanding Mythology with Joseph Campbell” – original link no longer works – new link – “Understanding Mythology with Joseph Campbell”)

Christianity still resonates today because there is an element of truth to it and I would like to offer two reasons for why.

The first way that I know that there is an element of truth to the story of Christ and what transpired on those dusty backroads of the Galilee some two thousand years ago and even further back in time with the prophets and the beginnings of the Jewish people is that it was written down.

As some of you know that I am a chemist by training. One thing about chemistry is that you have to spend time in the laboratory, whether it was a teaching lab or a research lab. And that’s where the fun is! The basic rule of lab work is that if you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen. One could do world-class, Nobel Prize winning research but if you don’t write it down, it doesn’t mean a thing.

That Elijah’s encounter with the widow is in the 1st Book of Kings means that something happened and it was written as best as the writer could describe it. The same is true for the encounter of Jesus with the funeral process in today’s Gospel reading; someone told Luke about this and he felt it important enough to be included in his writings.

And what were the last words written in the Gospel of John,

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21: 25 – The Message)

So the stories were recorded and we can presume that there is some degree of truth to the stories. And we need to be telling the stories again and again. And therein, as Shakespeare might have written, lies the challenge.

We as a church and a denomination have truly failed to tell the story and when we do tell it, it is often in our own terms and not God’s. Remember what Paul told the Galatians,

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

We tell a very confusing story. We speak certain words that reflect the Bible but actions do not reflect those same words.

We hear that we are a Christian nation but when we look at this nation of ours, we often see a nation devoid of compassion and caring, a nation that divides the people instead of uniting them. We see a nation that pronounces that poverty, homelessness, sickness, and death are products of sin; that riches and wealth, good health and long life are the products of a righteous life. We argue for the order and law found in the Old Testament while claiming to be a New Testament people.

We read of the acceptance of Christ for all people, yet, often behind closed and locked doors, we are unwilling to share the Good News with those who are different in some way from us.

The reading from 1 Kings for today tells us two things. First, God’s grace is for all, not just a select few. The widow whom Elijah came to was a non-Israelite. While the nation of Israel was straying from God and suffering from an intolerable drought, God was supplying the daily necessities to a non-Israelite who gave comfort to one of His prophets.

But she also believed that it was her sins that caused the death of her son. No matter that her flour bin was never empty and her oil supply never ran dry, her belief in God was only confirmed at the time of her greatest despair.

The truth of this story can be found in the fact that it reflects our life in so many ways. We often fail to see God’s hand in what we do each day and only turn to Him in times of our greatest despair. And when someone gives thanks to God for their success, we often ridicule them. We expect God to be there for the bad times so why shouldn’t we expect God to be there in the good times as well.

The importance of the reading from 1 Kings today is to point out the value of personal trust in God, even in the hardest of times, that God will be there and provide. The widow could only see the “value” of God in her anguish but not in her good times.

This is very much what is happening today. As a people and as a society, we are faced first and foremost was a drought of spirit. There is no spirit in our lives, there is no vision of the future. We are unwilling to put our trust in God.

There is, within our modern theology, a notion from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that we have come to call “cheap grace.” It is the grace that we feel is ours but it is not the grace that God offers us. We want God’s grace but are unwilling to pay for it with more than a few moments in church once a week. Others feel that they have a right to ask for anything from a church and it will be given to them (and they often get very angry when we ask that they make a commitment in return).

But the grace that we truly need comes with a price, the price of the cross and that simply is a price we are not often willing to pay. Christ gave His life so that we would be free, so that sin and death could never encumber and entangle us. Our freedom is found not in simply listening to the words of Christ but understanding that what Christ taught is what we must do.

The price that we have to pay is that we are called to follow Christ, to walk with Him to the Cross and go beyond it. Those that saw Jesus bring the young man back to life did not just sit there and say “wow!” They went out and told others. It was what drove Paul to go beyond the boundaries of his life and into new worlds. It was what drove the twelve beyond their homeland and into new and uncharged worlds.

It is what we need to be doing in our churches today. We need to be building the community that our church is a part of, not closing the doors to the church and letting the world go by.

If Jesus had not been a part of the world, at least in the Gospel reading for today, he would not have brought the young man back from the dead. We can do little if we stay inside the walls of the church.

It is, I know, very difficult to put your trust in God that things will work out. It is very difficult to put your trust in God and go into places that you would never have gone before. It is very difficult to take on tasks that others say are impossible. The circuit rider, the Methodist clergy and laity who rode from town to town, often never knew what they might find on the road or in the next town. They hoped that there would be a warm bed and a place out of the rain; they hoped that there would be a gathering of believers eager to hear the Word.

But they still went on trusting in the Lord and empowered by the life-changing nature of the Holy Spirit.

And we must do the same; we must go out into the world and tell the people we meet about the stories. And not just tell the stories but show how those stories are a part of our lives and how our lives have been changed by the stories as well. Words by themselves mean nothing if our actions do not speak the same words.

And that is the second piece of the evidence that there is a truth to the story enters. We know the power of the Holy Spirit, its presence in our lives, and its ability to change lives. Throughout our history, we have recorded instances of the Holy Spirit impacting on the lives of individuals and changing the direction that they were headed. We know of Saul from Tarsus encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus and becoming Paul. We read in the Epistle reading for today Paul’s own words about this tranformation.

We know that John Wesley’s own life and the life of the Methodist Church was turned around when his heart was strangely warmed in the Aldersgate Chapel some two hundred and fifty years ago.

Perhaps you have experienced something similar at some point in your life. Perhaps it was as subtle as the heart-warming experience of John Wesley, perhaps it was as dramatic as Paul’s encounter with Christ. But, most certainly, at sometime in your life, you, as I, have had, experienced the knowledge that Holy Spirit is a part of your life.

Perhaps you are not aware that you have had this experience, perhaps it was not nothing more than a fleeting moment in time but it was there and it was enough to bring you here today, seeking answers to questions deep within your soul.

The answers for those questions that lie deep within your soul can be found if one opens one’s heart and soul to Christ. It need not be as dramatic as Saul’s encounter on the road to Damascus, an encounter that left him blind but gave him a new life and a new name. It may very well be a subtle one such as the heart-warming experience that John Wesley had but the impact of that experience was enough to empower the first great Methodist revival.

Part of the story that has been told over the years is that there were those who heard the story and yet did nothing and told no one. But enough people did hear the story and it changed their lives and they told others and the story continued.

I cannot say what will happen to your life if you accept Christ other than to say that it will change. I do not know what world-changing things will happen when you open your heart and soul to Christ and let the Holy Spirit to empower your life.

But I do know that your life will change and you will tell others about the story that changed your life. And that my friends is not an impossible thing!

Hide And Seek

As I noted last week when I posted "Are You Working For God?”, this series of sermons that I preached at the Elk Falls, Longton, and Elk City United Methodist Churches were the first that I ever preached outside my home church.

This was the first in a five-week assignment while the conference sought to find a pastor for the churches.  One of the things that I did in this message/sermon was try and relate what was happening in the world today to what I found in the Scripture readings that I was using for that particular Sunday.

Scott O’Grady was the Air Force pilot that was shot done over Bosnia on June 2, 1995.  As I mentioned last week in my message “The Problem With Change”, if we do not find ways to make the passages of the Bible relevant to today’s world, then the Bible becomes a fixed document trapped in history.

So, here is the first message I gave in the role of long-term pulpit supply at the Elk Falls, Longton, and Elk City United Methodist Churches on the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 18 June 1995.  The Scriptures from the New Common Lectionary are 1 Kings 19: 1 – 8, Galatians 2: 15 – 21, and Luke 7: 36 – 8: 3.


I am sure that as a child or even perhaps as a parent playing with children, you have played hide and seek. For us, it is a pleasant game by which we can pass the time. For Captain Scott O’Grady, the game of hide and seek took on a little more serious meaning this last week. Shot down over Bosnia, he had to play hide and seek with the Bosnian Serbs who shot him down until such time that he could communicate with members of his combat air wing and arrange for his rescue. As has been noted by others all ready, the story of his rescue would make a very good movie-of-the-week.

What I found interesting about this rescue story was who Captain O’Grady thanked first when he came back to his airbase at Aviano, Italy. While he did thank the men and women of his wing for looking for him and to the Marines who went in to get him, the first person that he thanked was God, for giving him the strength to persevere.

The last point made at the Escape and Evasion school is that one should always keep the faith that he or she will be picked up. Captain O’Grady’s training provided him with the skills to survive but only through his faith were those skills of any use. For Captain O’Grady that faith was more than just a faith in the system but the knowledge that God would protect him, which is what he did. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, success comes not by living the law but by our faith in Jesus Christ. Only by our faith does following the law make living possible.

The passage from the Old Testament gives us another example of escape and evasion. In the passage from 1 Kings that we read, Elijah is fleeing from the queen Jezebel for having shown the prophets of Baal to be powerless against God and having killed them all. And now, as one might expect, Elijah is running for his life. But, as he seeks solace and security, Elijah also feels that he is not ready to be the servant of the Lord "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." (1 Kings 19: 4)

For a moment, his faith in God has lapsed and he is ready to die. But an angel of the Lord comes to him and provides him with enough food and water so that Elijah can travel to Horeb. In making this journey, Elijah retraces the path of the Israelites through the wilderness and comes to the place where Israel’s covenant with God was first made.

In effect God said to Elijah, "I am not done with you yet. You may feel that you are alone and helpless but I am still here and I will provide and protect you." That is the challenge that we face today. Do we have the faith that God will protect and provide for us? We need not be shot down behind enemy lines for this faith to be tested. How different would our lives be if we did not have faith in Jesus Christ?

Faith simply means trust. It begins with a conviction, knowledge that our righteous does not meet God’s standard. The law, as Paul tells us, helps us to discover this reality. Faith is not blind. It builds on authentic biblical facts, so it is not mere speculation. We stake our lives on the outcome. Faith is trusting Christ to prove his promise.

Look at verse 16 in Galatians again.

"Yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

That is a personal commitment to Jesus. We can actually run to Him for refuge and to seek mercy.

It took a great deal of courage for that woman in the passage from Luke to come to Jesus and even more courage for her to wash his feet. In society at that time, a woman with her reputation had no chance of being seen in the Pharisee’s house; but her love of Jesus and her understanding of what he could offer her overcame any resistance she might have had.

As was noted in one of the books which I used to prepare for this sermon, just as the people at the Pharisee’s house were watching that woman, other people are watching us as we go through our daily lives. Do we show our loving worship of Christ? Have we given our reputation to Him? Do our actions each day show that we love Christ, just as He loved us?

We see — and who does not? — the numberless follies and miseries of our fellow creatures. We see on every side either men of no religion at all or men of a lifeless, formal religion. We are grieved at the sight, and should greatly rejoice if, by any means, we might convince some that there is a better religion to be attained, a religion worthy of God that gave it. And this we conceived to be no other than love: the love of God and of all mankind; the loving God with all our heart and soul and strength, as having first loved us, as the fountain of all the good we have received and of all we ever hope to enjoy; and the loving every soul which God hath made, every man on earth, as our own soul.

Those comments come not from me, but from John Wesley some two hundred and fifty years ago. But those words still hold true today. For if we do not love God first and show this love in our actions each day, how will we ever change the world in which we live?

Where would Elijah have been if he had refused the offer of food and drink from the angel? Where would we be if we refused to acknowledge the presence of Christ in today’s world and the love that He has for us. Will we continue to play hide-and-seek with the Lord?

Why Don’t We Remember?

Here are my thoughts for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 13 June 2010. The Scriptures for this Sunday are 1 Kings 21: 1 – 21, Galatians 2: 15 – 21, and Luke 7: 36 – 8: 3.


As I was thinking about this piece at the beginning of the week, a comment was posted to last week’s post – “What Are You Afraid Of?”. While I had spoken of the church being a moral voice in support of civil rights, “Jeff” reminded me not all churches, especially in the South, were such voices for the Civil Rights movement. And he was correct; for every pastor who spoke out against the Viet Nam war or for Civil Rights, there were probably two who were in favor of the war or thought that the church had no business getting involved in civil rights. And that is probably still true today. For all those in the church who speak out for civil rights for all and against the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Middle East, there are as many or more who oppose equal rights and see the vindication of God in our military triumphs.

Still, as I thought about it, it occurred to me that I have no recollection of any pastor speaking for or against either topic until I was in college.

With one singular exception, I cannot think of anything any pastor said while I was growing up that had a profound impact on me. When I was in confirmation class at 1st E. U. B. in Aurora, CO, my pastor, George Eddy, said in reference to the pending merger of the E. U. B. denomination and the Methodist denomination, “they are joining us.” That didn’t make any sense to me until a later pastor, John Praetorius (who grew up in E. U. B. churches), characterized the merger as the best example of a hostile takeover he ever saw.

Could it be that I do not remember anything at all about what I was taught those early years of my life, now some sixty years ago? Could it be that whatever was said and done in those myriad numbers of churches and Sunday Schools that I attended (and there were quite a few) was so meaningless to my life that I recall very little?

In one sense, it is a miracle that I continued with church when I started going to college. I had the opportunity to not go to church but, as I have said many times before, something inside of me kept tugging at me to seek a church to call home. I suppose that I have my mom to thank for that as she insisted that we find a church wherever we lived and that we attend the church every Sunday and that we be a part of the church. As I look back to 1966 and the opportunity to “do my own thing”, I see that it was that internal insistence more than anything that I learned in Sunday School or church that kept me going.

And I wonder what the youth of today might say. I see and have written that we are losing our youth because they have no reason to continue coming to church after confirmation and graduation; for example, We Are Eating Our Seed Corn and The Lost Generation. But could it be that they see no relevance to the church today; could it be that they see no foundation for action in the world today?

Could it be that those who have been in the church cannot remember what it was like to be that age and to champ at the bit to get engaged in the work of the church, only to be told to “wait your turn”? That may have been the case sixty and seventy years ago and the elders (by age, not position) may have forgotten how they felt. But our youth today have a different world, a world in which time is fleeting, and whether we care to admit it or not, not part of the equation.

For other reasons, I read the recap of the Memphis Annual Conference session that took place last week. But in the recap, it was noted Reverend Leonard Sweet spoke to the delegates about the TGIF world in which we live, where “T = Twitter, G = Google, I = Iphone, and F = Facebook. He spoke of a faith that must grow in the world we have, not a world we wish to have. This is the world that the youth of today live in and we have to understand that world.

I am not saying that it is the world in which we live. I have no desire to Twitter and wonder about the nature of communication when it is limited to 140 characters. A world in which our friends are the ones we have in Facebook is a false world and one in which reality is fleeting at best. A world in which our information comes to us through some hand-held device is nice but the very nature of the device limits the information that is received and it doesn’t provide us with the ability to use that information. And until every piece of information ever created is somehow electronically stored and easily available and every piece of information that is on the Internet has been verified should we even think of Google as the ultimate source of information.

Technology is great; if it weren’t, I wouldn’t be sharing my thoughts through this blog. But technology is only a too; it can never be the end all answer to our problems. Those who presume that technology will solve the modern church from extinction need to rethink the nature of the church. You have to understand the technology and what the technology can and cannot do in order for it to have an impact. I remember one notable politician speaking of T-2 connectivity at a time when the party line was still the dominant form of communication in that area– and this was in 1999. Even today, there are a number of churches that I visit as a lay speaker where the Internet is just a word spoken by people; in fact, there is one church where I go where my cell phone doesn’t work. If we go to a technology-based church, what will happen to those individuals?

The decision to begin a blog and to post thoughts based on the lectionary every week was a two-fold one. First, I had been writing a sermon/message every week for some seven years and I didn’t want to get out of the habit. It wasn’t until a couple of years into the process that I began adding thoughts about chemistry, education, and politics.

Second, and most importantly, I saw it as a tool for spreading the word. And if the statistics are any indication, more and more people read these words every month. (It has been a long, slow climb up the evolutionary chain of bloggers but I never expected to be at the top immediately – an approach by the way that doesn’t go over well in so many churches where if it isn’t immediately successful, it is considered a failure.)

All I have ever tried to do is put the ideas that I find in the lectionary and other topics out there and challenge individuals who read this blog to take what was written to heart and to act upon what was written.

And whether or not I remember it, somebody in a place that I have forgotten said something to me and I paid attention to what was said. I may have seen church and Sunday school in my early days as a social exercise but a seed was planted and it was watered and nurtured and cared for. And when it came time, I saw church as a place that was a part of my life, not just someplace to be on a Sunday morning.

The summary for the Memphis Annual Conference also included a note describing the conference’s Young People Message. Darrah Clark, a 13-year-old member of South Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church in Hazel, KY, delivered this message, and with modern references that echoed the message of Sweet, said, "We need to know how the lessons of a very old book can help guide us and the choices we make." From the report of the Memphis Annual Conference

I think it is fair to say that all youth have sought meaning to the words of the Bible. But the youth of today are not buying the answer that was probably given to us, “this is what happened two thousand years ago”. It is no wonder that the youth have “called the bluff” on the church when it comes to the words of the church and the actions that the church takes.

As I read the Scriptures today (and the one nice thing about writing from the lectionary is that you read most of the Scriptures every three years and it forces you into an organized Bible study), I see instance after instance that tell me that we don’t really remember what it is that we read or what we were taught when we were young.

Go back and re-read the passage of 1 Kings for today; don’t the words “eminent domain” jump out at you? And yet, there is and was very little outcry from the populace when the Supreme Court expanded the concept of eminent domain from what it had traditionally been used for to include the seizure of lands for corporate development. (From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelo_v._City_of_New_London; I believe this to be an accurate reflection of the case). Is it because we are blind to the domination of corporate interests in our lives (to paraphrase Horace Greely, “Look south, look south!”) or do we not recall the number of times that kings and queens in the Bible used the power of their position for their own benefit and greed? (How can you justify the prosperity gospel so prevalent on cable television today if you do not twist the words of the Bible?)

And when are we going to listen to the words of the Gospel as they were written, not as someone interpreted them for their own selfish interests? I noted a few weeks ago (“Rethinking the Church”) that our understanding of Paul and his attitudes is not supported by the majority of his writings. There are those today who proclaim Paul to be misogynist at worst and sexist at best, but his early writings (the ones we feel certain are his and not the work of a student using his name) do not reflect that. If we are to speak the truth of the Gospel, shouldn’t we make some sort of serious effort to understand who wrote what?

The Gospel reading for today is unique in that it is the basis upon which Pope Gregory, in 591, proclaimed Mary Magdalene to be a prostitute. But nothing in the passage states that the woman was a prostitute or that it was Mary Magdalene. Yet, until 1969, the Roman Catholic Church supported the notion that they were the same person. And even though the Catholic Church’s view may have officially changed, it is still part of the basis for inequality that exists in various denominations today; a basis that is not supported by Biblical writings or the actions of Jesus.

The church, unfortunately, is more like Simon the Pharisee in today’s Gospel reading. It chooses who it wants as its guests, though it doesn’t always welcome its guests as it should. It welcomes those who could give the church honor instead of honoring those whom it should welcome. And it trivializes persons who somehow do not meet the standard of the righteousness that they feel is appropriate.

The words of the Bible, be they the words of Jesus, the disciples, or Paul are there before us but it seems as if we either do not want to hear them again or we do not want to remember them. Paul pointed out to the Galatians that it is our faith by which we are justified, not our adherence to the law. Yet, it is the law that we seek to follow, as if we can somehow work our way into heaven.

I return to a conversation I had in the spring of 1969 with Marvin Fortel (“Our Father’s House”). At that time, I saw what I did as the necessary requirement for getting into heaven. But Reverend Fortel quietly and calmly pointed out that I would not gain my entrance through my works; it was my faith. But, because of my faith, I was required to work for justice and freedom, the very words that Paul spoke to the Galatians.

This is the time when we gather in our Annual Conference, to renew old friendships and rejoice in the success of others (a friend of mine, Gail Bruno, was ordained as an Elder in the Memphis Conference – way to go, Gail!), to hear the state of the church (it would seem that it is not good but then again it is not terrible) and to hear of the challenges that face the church and the denomination.

If we are to meet the challenges that we face, then we must remember the Good News that was brought to us so many years ago. Instead of worrying about the technology that is creeping into society and perhaps overtaking it, instead of doing things that make technology the message instead of the medium, perhaps we should focus once again on the message that we were taught and have long ago forgotten.

Instead of trying to do what we think the people of the early church would have done, let us do what the people did. Let us put the Good News, the Gospel into practice. Let us make the words of an old, old story alive and new again. The means to bring the message may have changed but the message is still the same. If we remember the message, then the message will live. (See the comment by “Dan” to my post, “Rethinking the Church”; his is but one of many churches who have decided to take the worship service outside the walls of the sanctuary.)

Let us not just remember what happened; let us again begin to make the memories reality. Let us renew our commitment to Christ; let us again be empowered by the Holy Spirit and let us remember that our faith has the ability to move mountains.

“A Sermon with No Title”

This was the message that I gave at Walker Valley UMC for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 24 June 2001.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are 1 Kings 19: 1 – 15, Galatians 3: 23 – 29, and Luke 8: 26 – 39.


There is something about Christianity and never accepting things as they are. As Christians we have been raised on the tales of the early prophets and the disciples, each one at some time speaking to the righting of wrongs.

From the time of Moses telling the Pharaoh to let the Israelites free to Stephen criticizing the Pharisees, the prophets and disciples have heard the call of God and done what was asked of them. Elijah, the main character in today’s reading from the Old Testament, is no different.

Prior to the passage for today, Elijah has challenged the gods of Baal, the chosen religion of Queen Jezebel. And because Elijah won the challenge, he is now running for his life as Queen Jezebel has sworn to have him killed for embarrassing her as he did.

That’s the problem with following God. When we do what God wants us to do, it seems like we get ourselves into more trouble. And that will always be the case as long as we view life from the standpoint of earth and man rather than heaven and God.

Faith is the matter of doing what you know is right, of letting go of all the wrong things, people, and objects and following Jesus as he directs our lives. Paul spoke of the law imprisoning him but faith, especially his faith in Christ, freeing him from sin and death.

The law defines sin but it cannot overcome it. And those who hold onto the law, as the way to live their lives, will quickly find that such a life is a prison. In one sense, that is what was causing so much grief for Elijah. He saw his work in the name of the Lord as a means of obeying the law. He figured that by doing God’s work, he was entitled to some type of reward, not punishment and certainly not having to run for his life.

But, in the deepest part of his despair, when he was convinced that he was all alone, Elijah came to know that God was still there and that he was not alone. The same can be said for each one of us.

We may think that faith in God will lead out of difficulty, not into it. But if we choose to live our lives firmly rooted in faith, we can be certain that conflict will soon be at our doorstep. And while conflict will be a certain part of our life, we also find out that serving the Lord, living a life of faith brings a joy as easily as it brings conflict and challenges.

And in today’s society, it is no different. Obedience to Christ leaves us no room to equivocate in the face of injustice. Jesus’ own words and actions in responding the Pharisees, the money-changers, the rich young man who wanted to know what he must do to gain eternal life, and even his own disciple Peter are direct and plain. Christian discipleship is demanding and we are quickly called to count the cost and determine whom we shall serve.

Faith in God is also a call to action. When we make decisions based on fear or a consideration for the law of society, we get ourselves into trouble. But decisions made on faith are different.

The act of faith is to rest our mind and heart on Jesus. Faith is acceptance of the Gospel message concerning Jesus Christ and the committal of one’s self into him or God as revealed in him. Jesus, as the object of our faith, unites us with God. This uniting with God provides the strength we need at those times when things seem to be most lost. When Elijah realized, even though he was in the middle of the wilderness, that God had not left him he came to an important realization. God will provide.

And this message has important meaning, not only on the public level, but also on the private level as well. At some point in our lives, we all have to face some demons in our lives, much live the man in the Gospel reading today. And the problem is that no matter how hard we try, we cannot get rid of them. The natural outcome of experiencing Christ is that we discover we are set free to follow Christ. This was the same experience that Paul wrote about.

Faith in God naturally calls us to act on that faith. Christ calls some of us to mission fields or other special ministries. But more often than not, what we are asked to do is stay where we are, used what we have, and be a witness to Christ’s life-changing power. God’s grace merits a response of loving service and joyous, generous living. We must remember that hardships are expected on this faith journey of ours.

We Are Eating Our Seed Corn

Here are my thoughts for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost.
Now that it is the middle part of June, we can look back at the reports of the various annual conferences that bloggers have posted and reflect upon them.

I think the one report that impressed me the most was the one that stated the conference was over and done in two days. Oh, how I wish that the business of all churches could be done in such a short time.

One note that saddened me was the report that an annual conference decided to end its support of campus/college ministries. What was more frightening was the fact that the decision was actually made several months before annual conference and rushed through the annual conference process without much of a debate. This particular conference did decide to transfer part of the money that had been budgeted for campus ministries to some sort of nebulous organization that would take on the role of campus ministry in its jurisdiction. It struck me as I read that as some sort of bureaucratic creation that would not work. Coupled with this report was a report from another conference that they were having second thoughts about a similar decision a year ago.

It seemed as if a number of conferences had voting problems. One indicated that they had more candidates than ballot spots (why can’t we have that problem at local conferences?). There were problems completing the ballots in another conference. I don’t think that voter fraud will ever be an issue in annual conference voting but it seemed like the instructions should have been very clear or some instruction should have been provided

There was also a mention of the problem of getting young people to participate in the work of the annual conference. In this case, my reading of the report indicated that there were young people who wanted to be involved but were prevented from doing so. That is perhaps a sad commentary on the nature of the church today, when people want to be involved and are prevented from doing so by those who have been in position for, sometimes, too many years.

There were probably other reports that I haven’t seen. It should also be noted that I did not go to my own annual conference this year nor have I ever been to one. In part, my regular job prevents me from taking off for four days at the end of the academic year. Besides, to the best of my knowledge, I have never been considered for the position of “Lay Member to Annual Conference.” And though I have served as a lay minister for two churches in this annual conference, I could not represent those churches because of my lay status (plus the problems already mentioned).

I believe that my annual conference took action to remove a church from its “alive and kicking” list. The congregation had made the decision a year ago but the conference tabled any action until this year. I noted as passed this particular church location a couple of days ago that the building is being used by a more Pentecostal oriented church.

With General Conference a little less than one year away, the tone of the reports, the rumblings that I have read in other posts and my own feelings about the direction of the church lead me to some disturbing thoughts and concerns. First, in terms of membership, the United Methodist denomination is slowly dying. Each year it seems that the membership numbers are lower than the year before.

This is not a membership loss due only to death; it is a loss of younger members dissatisfied with the direction of the church and its inability to articulate what the mission of the church is and should be.

The denomination is becoming more mature. And with this maturity comes hesitancy. The denomination is unwilling to take initiatives that would change the direction in which it is headed. I think this is because there is a fear of failure that comes with hesitancy. Failure is always a possibility with new initiatives and you have to be prepared for failure. It isn’t failure that dooms an initiative; it is fear of failure. And it seems to me that the denomination is more afraid of failure than it is not trying.

I cannot help but think that the denomination is eating its seed corn. Seed corn is the corn you save for planting, not for consumption. When you start eating your seed corn, you begin taking away the future for the sake of the present.
There is, I believe, an attitude in the denomination today that is like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel reading. The denomination has become far too comfortable in its own righteousness and it is forgetting to do the things that are the heart and soul of Christianity.

It was the unnamed prostitute that washed Jesus’ feet, not Simon. But it was Simon’s responsibility and his own self-righteousness that stopped him from doing so. From the discussion between Jesus and Simon, you get the feeling that he (Simon) would not have allowed this women into the room. It is also disturbing to me that one of topics that had dominated General Conference for the past eight years and likely will take up a better part of next year’s General Conference will be who may be a part of the denomination. Why is it that Jesus welcomed all who sought Him but we feel that there are individuals who should be barred from our churches?

The church’s focus on the bottom line is, in my opinion, much like Ahab’s coveting the garden in today’s Old Testament reading. To the best of my knowledge, the denomination has done nothing illegal or unethical, as did Ahab, but it seems to me that it seeks non-church methods to achieve its goals. As long as the church focuses on the bottom line of dollars and membership numbers, it will be like the people of Israel and their leaders in the Old Testament times where materialism dominated and prevented them from seeing the Word of God in action.

The denomination must make a decision, individually and collectively. Will it be like Paul before Damascus, when he was Saul and devoted to carrying out the law? Or will it be like Paul after Damascus, saved by the Grace of God and devoted to bringing the Word, not the law, to the world. Will the denomination remember what it was that drove John Wesley to seek reformation of his church but led to the establishment of this denomination?

We are faced with a great challenge in our denomination. We are using our resources, our “seed corn”, to keep the present church alive. In doing so, we will not have a church in the future. It is time that we plant our seed corn so that we can prepare for the future that Christ promised us. To do otherwise should be unthinkable.