Where Do You Meet Jesus?


Ordinarily, I would wait until the end of the post before answering the question that I use for the title.  But in this case, I will answer the question at the beginning.

I think that we will meet Jesus in the most unexpected and unusual places.  We will meet him when we are not ready or when it is the most inconvenient.  This is an uncomfortable answer for many today, simply because we want to meet Jesus on our terms, not His.

And I do that because, in the first weeks of the Easter season, on the day of the Resurrection and in the days following, the disciples and followers of Jesus were meeting Him in some rather unusual or unexpected places.  And from the gloom and despair that came on Good Friday came the joy and restoration of the Resurrection.  The movement, the ministry that had been three years in the making would not end but would continue.

And it must have been even more frustrating to the political and religious authorities that the movement, which they felt they had crushed, was still alive.  But it had to be frustrating because Jesus never did things the way they, the “experts”, had said religion was supposed to be done.

There were rules and laws which dictated the behavior of the people; there were places in which one was to worship God.  And Jesus went outside the boundaries set by the rules and the laws.  He extended the ability to worship God to people who were routinely excluded, for any number of reasons, from worship.

Jesus didn’t do things the “right” way, the way prescribed by the laws and the rules established by the religious authorities.  He understood those rules and those laws, but more importantly he moved beyond simply following them because he also understood that the rules and laws which prescribed the proper behavior served as a limitation, preventing individuals from truly encountering God in their lives.

During this Easter season, I have been looking for quotes from John Wesley to put on the back page of the Fishkill UMC Sunday bulletin.  I was interested in the more well-known quotes, though I did use three of them.  But I also found two quotes that spoke to John Wesley’s mind set about religion in 18th century England (see the entries for May 7th and May 28th).

It seems to me that Wesley was the ultimate Type A person, he also understood that others were not.  And while he demanded that those who wanted to be “those people called Methodists” follow the rules of the Methodist society, I don’t think that he demanded that all people do so.

And how ever one views Wesley, I think it is important to realize that the vision that he had for the church required that the church go beyond its physical boundaries.  Just as Jesus went beyond the boundaries of the established religion, so did Wesley do that as well.  Faith cannot grow, individually or collectively, if it is limited in vision and scope.  One has to be very careful that the rules and laws that one creates as the basis for operation don’t become restrictions and boundaries that prevent you from moving.

We live in a time where, if there is a vision for the future it is a bleak one.  We live in a time where some feel that being one of God’s children is determined by your race, gender or sexual identity, or economic status.  The world that Jesus sought to open is becoming very much closed.  And as we seemingly stare longingly at the past, we need to see that the England in John Wesley preached could very well have undergone the same violent and bloody revolution that France had recently gone through.

But history tells us that England did not undergo the same revolution as France, in part because of the Methodist revival lead by John Wesley.

In the 1930, Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw a world in which laws became even more controlling and limiting.  And while the laws that were passed directly limited the rights of a few, they, in effect, limited the rights of all.  And this is something that we in this country know quite well (or at least we should know quite well).  And, if I understand what took place, the effects of those restrictive and prohibitive laws, filled with hate, changed the way that Bonhoeffer saw the world around him and the role of Christianity in that world.

Today, we are seeing the same things happen.  We are seeing the passage or the attempt to pass secular and sectarian laws which limit the rights and privileges of a few.  And we would be sadly mistaken if we think that such laws do not affect us, for as it has long been said, when we seek to enslave one, we enslave all.

And the true nature of Christianity is being challenged, challenged in such a way that the church may not survive.  Now, I do not know and have never understand that one can claim to be a Christian and yet work for the oppression of minorities, deny healthcare to people, favor the wealthy over the poor and disposed, or even cast out the strangers in our lands.  I cannot conceive of anyone claiming to be a Christian but still seek a society that ignores even the basic message of the Gospel.  The world in which these people live is a restricted and exclusive world, a world in which even Jesus is excluded.

We are on the cusp of a great change.  How we respond to the changes taking place will decide not only our future but the future for our children and this planet.

Personally, I will not live in that world and I will work to make sure that the world in which I live is one in which one can meet Jesus.  You see, if we are who we say we are, when others meet us and when we meet others, there we will meet Jesus.


Quotes of John Wesley for the back page of the Easter Season bulletins for Fishkill United Methodist Church (service starts at 10 am on Sundays, click here for the location of the church; you are more than welcome to come and worship with us!

23 April 2017 – 2nd Sunday of Easter

In August, 1739, John Wesley went  to Bristol, England to begin a Methodist revival.

The  Bishop of the Anglican Church, Joseph Butler, told him, “You have no business here. You are not commissioned to preach in this diocese. Therefore, I advise you to go hence.”

Wesley replied, “My lord, my business on earth is do what good I can. Wherever, therefore I think I can do most good, there must I stay so long as I think so. At present I think I can –do most good here. Therefore, here I stay.”

And thus, the Methodist Revival began in England.

30 April 2017 3rd Sunday of Easter

I look on all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty, to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation. John Wesley, Journal (11 June 1739)

7 May 2017 – 4th Sunday of Easter

Condemn no man for not thinking as you think.  Let everyone enjoy the full and free liberty of thinking for himself.  Let every man use his own judgment, since every man must give an account of himself to God.  Abhor every approach, in any kind or degree, to the spirit of persecution, if you cannot reason nor persuade a man into truth, never attempt to force a man into it.  If love will not compel him to come, leave him to God, the judge of all.                      John Wesley

14 May 2017 – 5th Sunday of Easter – Mother’s Day

Help me, Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church. . . nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I am in Thy Presence.

Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley (as this was Mother’s Day, the quote came from John’s mother).

21 May 2017 – 6th Sunday of Easter

May 24, 1738 – the moment we called Aldersgate (let’s face, what quote would you use for this Sunday?)

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 – John Wesley,

28 May 2017 – Ascension Sunday

This is the first of the four points John Wesley used in beginning the Methodist Revival in 1738 –

Orthodoxy, or right opinions, is, at best, but a very slender part of religion, if it can be allowed to be any part of it at all; that neither does religion consist in negatives, in bare harmlessness of any kind; nor merely in externals, in doing good, or using the means of grace, in works of piety (so called) or of charity; that it is nothing short of, or different from, “the mind that was in Christ;” the image of God stamped upon the heart; inward righteousness, attended with the peace of God; and “joy in the Holy Ghost.”

4 June 2017 – Pentecost Sunday

I have seen (as far as it can be seen) many persons changed in a moment from the spirit of horror, fear, and despair to the spirit of hope, joy, peace; and from sinful desires, till then reigning over them, to a pure desire of doing the will of God.

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That Particular Moment in Time


A Meditation for 13 April 2016, the 3rd Sunday of Easter (Year C). The meditation is based on Acts 9: 1 – 6, 7 – 20; Revelation 5: 11 – 14; and John 21: 1 – 19.

When I first began teaching chemistry back in 1971, I had only a rudimentary knowledge of how to teach. I knew the subject but I was still in the process of learning the nuances of teaching and I knew very little about how students learned chemistry. And to top it off, my first teaching assignment was not in a traditional setting.

Highland High School used a modular plan where each class had one or two periods of lecture, one or two periods of recitation, and one or two periods of laboratory work during on a six-day cycle (which was nice because the cycle kept going, even if there was a break in the regular routine).

But that meant that I had deal with something that didn’t really exist in the traditional Monday through Friday, five periods a day, school calendar and that was laboratory time. So it was that I had to begin developing laboratory experiments.

And like a lot of my colleagues, then and perhaps even now, I borrowed from what I knew from college. I would do the same experiments that I knew from college because I had copies of my notes so I knew what to expect and it was a lot easier to do it that way.

Now, some forty years or so later, I still don’t have the knack for creating experiments that one can use in a teaching laboratory. And what is done in the teaching laboratory today today needs to be done on what is called a micro-scale level and be “green” or environmentally friendly. Were I to be in a position to teach future chemical educators, this is one area that I would really be looking at, if for no other reason than it begins to give the educator an idea of how students learn.

Now, this is has nothing to do with the Scripture readings but since I am at this point, it needs to be said. Students learn best when they actually do the stuff one is talking about in class; you really cannot learn something simply by being in lecture all the time. If you don’t do the work, it never really gets understood.

Even Jesus understood that point. Remember that He sent 72 of his group out into the world while He was still in the three year period of ministry. He sent them out to do what He had been doing and to prepare them for what they were going to be doing when He left.

Now, back to the Scriptural train of thought. The other thing that happened during those first two years of teaching was that I developed an understanding of how students learn chemistry. It was, if you will, the beginning of my “aha!” moment (I first defined this idea in “The AHA Moment”; I expanded on this idea a bit in posts linked to that post).

Without realizing it, I was learning what Jean Piaget learned in the early 50s; that students go through a series of stages of learning. In chemistry, they come into the class at the concrete level, comfortable with what is before them and able to use those examples to find the answers to similar problems. But during the time frame in which they are taking chemistry, they are transitioning to a more abstract level, whereby they assimilate the information and are able to use it to solve new problems.

This is a critical point in today’s world. When faced with a problem, we are very apt to fall back on what we know as a way of solving the problem. In the days between the Resurrection and the Ascension, the disciples do just that.

They are certain about what to do, so they go back to doing what they know. And in the case of Peter, Andrew, James, and John, they go fishing. And as we read in today’s Gospel reading, there is that moment when Peter recognizes Christ. It is Peter’s “aha!” moment. And things change as a result. In the dialog that follows, Peter gets a better understanding of what the past three years have been about and what his life is to be in the coming years. Each disciple, each individual who encountered Christ in that period had, I am sure, a similar moment.

There are some who say that your “aha!” moment has to be a dramatic one, such as Paul’s encounter on the road to Damascus. And for some, that is probably the case. For many others, their moment is more like that of John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience, when you understand in your mind and heart what is happening.

In my collection of sayings is the following quote from the The Talmud, the Jewish commentary on the Torah,

In every age there comes a time when leadership suddenly comes forth to meet the needs of the hour. And so there is no man who does not find his time, and there is no hour that does not have its leader.”

Each of us has our own particular “aha!” moment. Though there may be some commonality between our own moment and the moments of our friends, there is no requirement that they be alike. And by the same token, we should not expect our moment to be an exact copy of our friends’ moments or that our friends’ moments should be an exact copy of ours.

The most critical thing about this experience is that it must be reinforced. You can have that moment but if you are not careful, you can lose it. You cannot simply say that you have had the moment and then move on; you must make sure that the moment has taken hold in your life. Perhaps that is why Paul’s moment was so dramatic and why he was blinded. He needed for that moment to take hold; Wesley’s understanding of his own moment came about because he had been preparing for it, though perhaps without understanding that was what he was doing.

But, and that is one of the most important roles of the church in today’s society, we can help each other to find that moment, that particular moment in time when we each come to Christ. In a world where Christianity has quickly become a negative term, the challenge is for those who have Christ in their hearts to find ways to express that experience.

Now, I realize that I do not espouse the traditional line that the mission of Christians is to make disciples of all the peoples of the world. I have had too many negative experiences with individuals who tried to force their encounter with Christ on me and who suggested that if I did not accept that idea that I was doomed.

In one aspect, and I have said this before, they may have been correct. If I do not accept Jesus Christ as my Savior and I choose no other path, then I am probably doomed. But that is my choice. On the other hand, if I understand that Christ’s command to teach those they encounter about Christ (which is what is means to make disciples), then I have to show them what it means to be a Christian and give them the opportunity to become one.

And when we think about that moment when Jesus stood up in his hometown synagogue and told those who were there that he had come to heal the sick, feed the hungry, help those oppressed and bring hope to the world, he outlined what it is that we need to be doing. Throughout His entire ministry, Jesus opened doors and offered opportunities to all who sought Him.

There is one particular moment in time when each one of us sought and found Him; there will be one particular moment in time when others will find Him. It is our task to help make that time a reality.

“What Path Will You Take?”


Which Path Will You Take?

A meditation for the 3rd Sunday of Easter (Year A), based on Acts 2: 14, 36 – 41; 1 Peter 1: 17 – 23; and Luke 24: 13 – 35.

I actually began these thoughts a few weeks ago after receiving “Wesleyan Wisdom: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” by Donald Haynes. In his piece, Dr. Haynes offered a brief history of Methodism and the paths that we have taken from those early days in England some two hundred and fifty years ago. Some of the paths we choose to take; others we were forced to walk. His capsule history of Methodism was predicated on what members of the church have felt the church should and should not be doing and, as a result, has caused many to take a different path. And we are at that point in our history once again where we will be forced to choose which path we want to walk.

I am, of course, talking about the issue of sexuality. Some people have already indicated which way they will go in this regard; others are standing by the wayside, waiting to see which path they will take. And others, perhaps many more than those who have decided or those who are waiting, are walking a third path away from the church, convinced that God doesn’t care about them and they will find what they are seeking elsewhere.

The division of the church some 170 years ago was over the issue of race and slavery. But it was predicated on a lack of knowledge about the human species, a knowledge that was proven to be quite lacking in substance. I personally believe that too many people are ignorant when it comes to knowledge of sexuality and it is that ignorance that drives so much of the division.

I fear that the United Methodist Church will again be divided but in such a way that it can never be reunited. What will the names of the divided church be; certainly not “United”?

It was easy to name the church when we split apart back in the early 19th century. When we split on the issue of pews and church dues, those who opposed the renting or buying of the pews formed the Free Methodist Church. When we split apart on the issue of slavery and race, the Southern churches became the Methodist Episcopal South church. But what shall we name the new Methodist Churches that we seem to eager to form?

That’s a question I am not prepared to answer today, if for no other reason that there will be no church to name. And I would work for the continuation of the United Methodist Church instead its destruction.

In the piece I was going to write, I was going to argue that we should begin to ignore The Discipline in what I hoped was much the same way that Jesus offered that He was the fulfillment of the law and not the law itself. I did so because I saw and see too many people for whom The Discipline is the final answer to all issues related to the church and denomination. But I could not write that piece.

I could not write that piece because I was not prepared to remove the structure of the denomination. Every organization needs some sort of structure or it will fall apart. And I have no desire to do that. So I let the notes I wrote sit, just in case I came up with something else.

I fear that we are slowly losing our intellectual ability to discern and to think. We, as a church, respond too often with a voice of ignorance and hatred. We no longer offer hope and opportunity. We do not invite the stranger in but tell them to stand outside and wait. We tell people that they must be like us for God to accept them, ignoring the fact that God does not make such a distinction.

How did the people feel in those days following the Resurrection? Wasn’t it with a feeling of despair and rejection, of loss and being lost? How do people feel today? Is it not with that same sense of loss, despair, and rejection?

The title for this piece is what I was going to use in the original piece and I think it is appropriate, especially since our Gospel message for today is about individuals walking on a path. And at the end of that day’s journey, those two individuals had to make a decision as to whether or not to invite the stranger that had walked with them to stay with them for dinner. Only then, when the stranger blessed the meal did they realize that they had been walking with Christ all along.

Perhaps we are in some way on the road to Emmaus, walking with Christ and not even knowing it is Him. We are so concerned about our struggles that we cannot see Him and yet He has been a part of our lives for as long as we can remember.

In his letter to the congregations, Peter wrote, “Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God.” But it seems to me that our arguments today cloud our consciousness and we are unable to see God in our lives.

And when Peter stood with the other disciples that day in Jerusalem, he urged everyone who heard him to repent and change their lives, to get out of the culture that was trapping them.

It was, I believe, that noted baseball philosopher, Yogi Berra, who once noted that “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Of course, one might presume that Mr. Berra was merely channeling the prophet Jeremiah when he (Jeremiah) wrote:

God’s Message yet again:

Go stand at the crossroads and look around. Ask for directions to the old road,

The tried-and-true road. Then take it. Discover the right route for your souls.

But they said, ‘Nothing doing. We aren’t going that way.’

I even provided watchmen for them to warn them, to set off the alarm.

But the people said, ‘It’s a false alarm. It doesn’t concern us.’

And so I’m calling in the nations as witnesses: ‘Watch, witnesses, what happens to them!’

And, ‘Pay attention, Earth! Don’t miss these bulletins.’

I’m visiting catastrophe on this people, the end result of the games they’ve been playing with me.

They’ve ignored everything I’ve said, had nothing but contempt for my teaching.

What would I want with incense brought in from Sheba, rare spices from exotic places?

Your burnt sacrifices in worship give me no pleasure. Your religious rituals mean nothing to me.” (Jeremiah 6: 16 – 20, The Message)

Whether we choose to hear the words of the disciples or the words of the prophets, we have to make a change in the direction we are headed. Jeremiah warned the people of the dangers that they would encounter if they did not choose the correct path. Peter urged the people in Jerusalem to begin a new life in Christ.

What path will we walk? What decisions will we make? Shall we let our prejudices and ignorance lead us or shall we open our eyes and free our minds so that we see Christ?

After a message a few weeks ago, I told the speaker that the message didn’t seem to have an ending. That is a problem that I often have as well, struggling to find an ending for my messages.

But the ending for this message is quite clear. We can continue to walk on the path that we have chosen to follow but it is quite clear that it is a path that leads to destruction and death. Or we can choose to walk that path with Christ, knowing that such a life leads to freedom and life.

But to walk this second path, we must repent of our old ways, forsake our ignorance and see the world as God would have us to see it, not as others would see it. We can walk on the road to Emmaus and ignore the strangers that we encounter, or we can treat the stranger as a friend and see Christ. The choice is clearly ours this day.

Something’s Happening


This was the message that I gave at Alexander Chapel United Methodist Church, Brighton, TN, for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, 13 April 1997. The scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 3: 12 – 19, 1 John 3: 1 – 7, and Luke 24: 36 – 48. This was the beginning of my work with the two Mason, TN, area United Methodist Churches.

As I was thinking about this sermon and as I began reading the scripture for this Sunday, I thought of the song from the late 60’s by Buffalo Springfield entitled “Something’s Happening.” The first line begins something like “Something’s happening over here; what it is ain’t exactly clear”. This song refers to the anti-war demonstrations of the late 60’s but it could just as easily apply to what we see around us today (actually, it refers to demonstration that were occurring in Los Angeles and it was not an anti-war song. But it became associated with the anti-war movement – see “What Are You Afraid Of?” for a link to the story about the song.)

Too often, we see the world around us in negative terms. We see the crime, the hatred, the poverty, the injustice in the world and we often ask why God would do this to the world. As David wrote in the opening psalter and like the prophet Habakkuk, we want to cry out

How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflicts abounds. (Habakkuk 1: 2 – 3)

But God told Habakkuk, “Look at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”(Habakkuk 1: 5)

Now in the reading from Acts, the people saw Peter and John heal a crippled man. In the reading from Luke, Jesus appears to the disciples in a sealed room following the crucifixion. Both of these acts the people believed were impossible. As Peter said, “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? (Acts 3: 11)

The problem was that the people who saw that miracle, for the most part, were not ready to believe that such acts were possible. The common belief at that time was that such illnesses were a result of one’s sins and thus beyond hope of redemption. But as Peter also pointed out, “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.” (Acts 3: 16)

The people who watched Peter and John heal the cripple were not prepared to believe what they had seen. Even though the disciples had been told by Jesus that He would return after the crucifixion, at first they did not understand and when He did return they were not completely able to understand what they were seeing.

But because they had been told and were both willing and able to accept that they did in fact see Jesus with them in that room, they understood that the miracle of the resurrection was true. Thus they were able to accept, as it was stated in the conclusion of the passage from Luke, “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” the Holy Spirit and they could begin to understand the scriptures, They then could go out into the world to preach the Gospel.

For us today, it is the same. Habakkuk was told by God to watch and be prepared to be amazed. Will we be like the poeple who saw the miracles or will we be like the disciples? Are we ready to say to others we have seen the Holy Spirit in action?

I stand before you today as a witness to the power of the Holy Spirit. I know of church which six years ago was on the verge of closing. This church saw its membership drop from 200 to just over 100; its average attendance dropped to 70; the administrative council meetings were “battle grounds” when it come to paying the bills. Yet, some three years later, attendance had risen to 110 and the decision was not what bills to pay but whether to buy five acres of land for a new church building. I have watched that church over the past few years. What was a tentative decision to purchase the land then became a concern about meeting the terms of the loan. But now, that concern is no longer there and the only concern the congregation has at this time is how to celebrate when the loan is paid off almost a year ahead of the bank’s schedule. The success, the rebirth of this church cannot be attributed to anyone person nor would it be proper for any one person to accept credit. The credit for such an accomplishment can only be due to the fact that this congregation was willing and able, like the disciples, to accept the Holy Spirit into its midst.

When Wesley returned to England after his missionary work in America, he felt disillusioned and that his work was a failure for he did not have Christ in his life. But once he came to understand that Christ was his own personal Savior, that Christ died for his sins, his life and work turned around. He wrote

After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations, but cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and he “sent me help from his holy place.” And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, in not often, conquered; now, I was always the conqueror. (John Wesley)

The problems of the world are not going to disappear overnight. Jesus told his disciples it would be a long and hard journey for them but, as long as they kept their faith, He would be with them.

The same is true for us. Our view of the world will continue to be a negative one if we do not, if we are not willing to put Christ first in our lives. The strength, the ability to solve the problems we faces comes from the same place it did for the disciples. It was not Peter or John who healed the crippled man; it was not John Wesley who gave the impetus to the Wesleyan Revival. It was the Holy Spirit

Today we must make a decision. John, in his letter to us today, tells us of the consequences.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous keeps on sinning.

John is not asserting sinless perfection (see 1: 8 – 10; 2: 1), but explaining that the believer’s life is characterized not by sin but by doing what is right

Shall we stand amazed at the power of the Holy Spirit, as those who watched Peter and John heal the crippled man?

Are we willing to let the Holy Spirit come into our presence like it did for the disciples after the resurrection and for John Wesley at that moment we call Aldersgate? Peter offered the group assembled that day when they watched that miracle the chance that Christ made possible by His sacrifice on the cross.

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. (Acts 3: 19)

If we let the Holy Spirit into our lives, it creates a fire which cannot be put out.

And as others receive the Joy brought about by the Salvation offered by Jesus Christ, this fire gets hotter, brighter and larger.

To paraphrase the song I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon this morning, “Something will happen here and, what it is, is exactly clear.”

Beginning a New Life


This is the message that I gave this morning at Dover Plains UMC (Location of church) this morning.  The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Easter, were Acts 2: 14a, 36 – 41; 1 Peter 1: 17 – 23; and Luke 24: 13 – 35.  This was Mother’s Day and Native American Awareness Sunday.

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If you will allow me the privilege, this sermon is for my mother as much as it for you all and those who read it on the blog. But the problem is that a Mother’s Day Sermon doesn’t really fit with the lectionary for this Sunday or with the events of the world. Or perhaps it does.

Peter makes two telling comments in the readings today. In his letter, he speaks of God as our Father, as our Parent. And when we call out to God for help, He responds as a Parent would. But, as Peter also notes, God is a responsible Father and He won’t let you get by with sloppy living. And that is one aspect I trust we can say about our own parents.

As I prepare for the next step in my own ministry, I am reminded that it was my mother who prepared the foundation for this journey in Christ that I have followed for so many years. She saw to it that we were baptized as infants but it did not stop there.

Now, there are many families who make sure that their children are baptized but I fear that not too many families maintain the vows that were established when the children were baptized.

My mother made sure that the vows of baptism were kept.Wherever my father was stationed as an officer in the United States Air Force, she made sure that we found a church close by and that we attended Sunday School and church every Sunday. Vacation Bible School was a part of our lives as well, even when we may not have been home that week.

As I have said in the past, there were times when I would sense something missing when I wasn’t in church on Sunday and I can only attribute that to my mother insisting that we be in church on Sunday.

Because my father served in the Air Force during the 1950s and 60s, I saw more of the world than many of my contemporaries. My parents gave my brothers, my sisters and me the opportunity to explore the world, both the physical world through Scouts and the intellectual world. Through that exploration I earned my God and Country award and began my college experience.

My parents and especially my mother made it very clear that I was responsible for my actions; that I would have to take the consequences as well as the rewards. I know that neither of my parents were pleased that I participated in the sit-in of the Administration building at what was then called Northeast Missouri State College (now Truman State University) to protest the inequalities of off-campus housing. And I know that they were uncomfortable with my anti-war stand, though later on my mother would express, in an interview with one of her grandchildren for high school, a relief that neither of her sons were drafted and sent to Viet Nam.

It can be summed up this way. For Mother’s Day, 1969, I sent my mother a medallion that stated “War is not healthy for children and other living things”. It came from an organization known as Another Mother for Peace (which, by the way, is still active; their web site is http://www.anothermother.org/). I may still have the note from my mother that said she disagreed with the idea but that she would accept because it came from her son.

So when I read Peter’s comments about God and how he acts as a responsible parent that will not let us get away from sloppy living, I think of my mother and her love for my brothers, my sister, and me and know that I have seen the love of God so many times in the expression of love that my mother has given.

And Peter’s comment about God not letting us get away with sloppy living leads me to the other comment, about the need to change our lives, “Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!” You may disagree with me on what I am about to say but this country assassinated someone last week. I will not judge the rightness or wrongness of this action but I have to wonder and worry when the death of someone many called a terrorist, a criminal or a mass murderer was cheered as if the home team had won a football game. I worry when an act of violence is celebrated and called justifiable, if for no other reason that it blinds us to what is happening in the world. It blinds us to the death and destruction that is so much a part of this world today. And it allows us to accept that death and destruction as a normal part of this world.

I worry when the death of any individual is celebrated by a noted Christian writer who wrote a poem celebrating death and violence. And this may not have been a singular moment. Dan Dick, on his blog for Thursday, May 6th, noted that he listened to a

a young, self-proclaimed evangelical preacher talking about the Bin Laden situation on a Wisconsin radio station yesterday, and the gist of his argument is this:  as Christians, we should have poured out into the streets singing and dancing Sunday evening when the news was announced, and anyone who felt differently is both a questionable Christian and an unpatriotic American.  Real Christian-Americans hate what God hates and should rejoice at destroying any and all evil.  He explained that Jesus taught us that it is not only okay to hate, but that unless we hate we cannot be disciples (see Luke 14:25-35).  True holiness, the young reverend explains, requires an all-out assault on all evil, and he proceeded to list what constitutes evil and what God hates: terrorism, liberals, gays/lesbians/bi-sexuals/transgender (all lumped under the lovely soubriquet "faggots"), pornographers and their audience, democrats, the college-educated, scientists, women who think too highly of themselves, Lady Gaga (why her specifically, I am not sure — he didn’t say), the "liberal media," other faiths, foreigners who are jacking our gas prices up so high, credit card companies that offer you a ‘pre-approved’ card but deny your application, and all who make fun of devout Christians.  There were more things in his rant, but I couldn’t jot them all down.  It became quickly apparent that anything and everything that disagreed with this young preacher’s sense of values is evil, and God wants him to hate these things — not merely avoid them or judge them; his instruction to his listening audience is that God put us here on earth to destroy these things.  We should do everything in our power to wipe these things out, "so that the world might one day truly experience God’s love." (“Hate Exhaustion”)

These are words of hatred and ignorance, words that celebrate anger and make violence acceptable. To hate is to cut off someone, to cast them aside or renounce them. It allows us to trivialize an individual. Teach someone to hate and you make it easy to kill and wage war. And in doing so, no matter what reason we offer, no matter how we say that it was justified, we make it that much easier to do it again. Whether it is the death of one person or three thousand people, we have made it much easier to justify war and violence as the solution to war and violence.

My mother may have disapproved of what I did with regards to civil rights and the anti-war movement but her love for me never stopped. Jesus may have hated those who hung Him on the cross but He never stopped loving them and He offered forgiveness, even in the agony of His own death.

I have said it before, war can never be the answer to violence and it would appear that I am not the only one who feels that way. There is a quote moving across the internet that is said to have come from Martin Luther King, Jr., but appears to have been started by Jessica Dovey. Ms. Dovey wrote “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” She then added thoughts from Martin Luther King, Jr.

Returning hate for hate multiples hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Two men were walking on the road to Emmaus. Their friend and teacher had been killed, killed in an act of hatred, revenge, and as a statement of power. As so many of their friends were doing, they were going over all that had transpired that week and for the last three years. I have always thought that this conversation took on an aspect of reflection of how good things had been but with little thought to what might come next.

And then Jesus appears, though they do not know that it is Jesus. And again that is something that I think we can each easily understand. Living in this world, we could walk by Jesus and not know that it is Him. We have posted a prayer in the kitchen at Grace Church that reminds us that one of those whom we feed might be Jesus so it is best that we treat each person accordingly.

And we are often faced with the same dilemma that the two individuals were faced with; Jesus will walk on if we do not invite Him into our life. It is not the life that we led this morning when we awoke; it is the new life that begins when Christ is a part of our life.

In his first letter, Peter speaks of the old life, a life that is short and whose beauty, like the beauty of wild flowers is short-lived. The new life, the life found in God’s word, is a life that goes on and on.

It is the life spoken of at the conclusion of the reading of Acts this morning, of a commitment to the teaching of the Apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers. You cannot live the life together if you live a life of hatred and retribution. You cannot grow in love if you cut off the world.

Time has come, in the words of Peter, to cast aside the old ways and begin the new life found in Christ. Time has come to do what the two on the road to Emmaus did, to tell the story to one and all, that Jesus is alive and that He has come to this world to heal the sick, help the lame to walk, help the blind to see and bring hope and justice to the oppressed. He has come so that we could begin a new life. So let us begin.

“By The Side Of The Road”


Here is the message that I presented for the 3rd Sunday after Easter, 10 April 2005, at Tompkins Corners UMC.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 2: 14a, 36 – 41; 1 Peter 1: 17 – 23; and Luke 24: 13 – 35.  It was also Native American Awareness Sunday.

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When I began thinking about this sermon for this weekend the notion of the two individuals walking on the road to Emmaus, I thought of a picture that once appeared in The Science Teacher, a publication of the National Science Teacher’s Association. In this photo, two bicyclists are sitting by the side of the road during a break in a field trip. The reason that I always remembered this photo was that it was taken just north of Kirksville, Missouri and was part of a summer program through Truman State University.

But as the week progressed, the road that I was thinking about changed from a lonely road in rural northeast Missouri to a crowded road leading to Rome. No matter how you may feel about Pope John Paul II or the Catholic church which he lead for some twenty-six years, you have to admit that he touched many lives and that many lives were changed because of chance encounters with him.

And as these pilgrims walked along the road, they conversed with each other about this man and what he meant to them. It will be encounters much like the one that is described in the Gospel reading today, friends speaking to friends and strangers about someone who had an impact on their life. I also think that, as the days pass, we are going to hear of accounts of the kindness of individuals to others as they waited in line either to pay their last respects or attend the funeral. I am certain that we will hear about anonymous individuals who helped others in the crowd and then disappeared as quickly and as silently as they appeared to help.

It seems to me as I read the Gospel passage for today is the conversation that took place between the two disciples and the stranger they met was a natural one. Two individuals greatly affected by the death of someone they had loved and followed for three years told the story of their friend’s life and mission to a stranger. It is what evangelism is about. Yet, today, we often are turned off to evangelists because of the nature in which they present the Gospel message and the implications that are attached should we ignore the message. Yet, these two disciples simply chose to tell Jesus the story of the resurrection. It was not until Jesus offered them communion that they realized who it was that they had been talking to.

How often do we say to someone what it is that we believe? How often do we engage in a conversation that will lead to an invitation for the other individual to come visit Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church? How often do we stop to help someone without worrying about what others might say or do? How often do we stop to think that perhaps the person we are talking to or not talking to or avoiding might just be Jesus Christ walking by our side?

We tend to think and visualize Jesus as being a man in a glowing white and flowing robe. But that is an image of Jesus that, while valid some two thousand years ago, doesn’t fit into today’s society or times. Perhaps if we had an encounter such as the one Laurie Beth Jones had, we might have a different view. In the prologue to her book "Jesus in Blue Jeans" she wrote,

Many years ago I dreamed I was in a meadow. Suddenly I saw a man approaching me. As he got nearer I gasped to realize it was Jesus in Blue Jeans. When He saw the expression on my face He said, "Why are you surprised? I came to them wearing robes because they wore robes. I come to you in blue jeans because you wear blue jeans."(Laurie Beth Jones, "Jesus in Blue Jeans")

It may be that we have had such an encounter, yet we did not know it. It is how we react to others that determines how we see Jesus. As we read the Gospel for today, the word "stranger" was used. In the Greek, this word is "paroikos ", which can be translated as stranger, exile, or alien. We have to wonder why this was the word used. Could it have been because the disciples thought that Jesus was an outsider that he was so ignorant of what had recently happened?

We know now that one of the reasons for this misrecognition is because of its role in the resurrection narrative. It is neither an accident nor the result of some sort of grief-induced blindness. Christians will not find their Lord until and where he wishes to be found. But is the form in which he is found irrelevant? Is it completely happenstance that Jesus is mistaken for a stranger or an alien? Martin Luther would say to us that Jesus reveals himself by hiding himself under contrary appearance. What can shatter our sensibilities more than seeing the risen Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, coming to see us as a stranger or an alien? ("Consorting with aliens", from Living by the Word by Edgardo Antonio Colon-Emeric, Christian Century, April 5, 2005.)

The problem that we have with this concept is that we are still tied to earthly thoughts and a belief that we can make earth into heaven. But the opposite is true. The early Christian communities saw themselves as paroikia, a community of believers gathered together to commemorate the life and death of Christ. This view, as Paul writes in Philemon 3: 20, makes us citizens of heaven rather than of earth. I think that we sometimes forget this and try to make Jesus a citizen of earth.

Peter challenged the people to give up their earthly citizenship and become members of this new community of believers. But to do this, we must first give up looking for Jesus in robes or wearing a crown. The challenge for us is recognize that we are not going to recognize Jesus unless we look for him. As John Wesley found out, Christ’s presence in life in found in the lives of those who have opened their hearts to Him.

It was during the crossing of the Atlantic that John Wesley saw how his companions from Moravia endured the rough crossing with prayer. Through their prayers, they were able to endure while he struggled. It was the episode that began to open Wesley’s heart so that he could accept the Holy Spirit.. He wrote,

After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations; but cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and he "sent me help from his holy place." And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, I not often, conquered; now, I was always the conqueror.(John Wesley, given in "A Guide to Prayer" for the 3rd Sunday of Easter.)

It was not until Wesley made himself, as Peter writes in the second lesson today, a citizen of heaven that Methodism would become successful. So too is our success in life, whatever we choose to do, decided by how we react to the presence of Christ in our lives.

The Gospel message began with two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus. On the way, they met someone not from the area, a stranger, an exile, an alien and apparently not aware of what had transpired over the past few days. Like the two individuals in the story, we are on also on a journey. It is a journey in which we will be itinerants, a sojourner in life. It will mean that there will be no place for us to lay our head, it will take us from a life of conventional wisdom to alternative life in the Spirit.

And on that journey, there will be times when we meet strangers. Some will be like us, others will be strangely different. We may speak to some of those we meet; we may ignore others. But there will come a time when we will be asked to give a stranger a slice of bread or some juice to drink. It is then that we need to be reminded that discipleship means eating at Christ’s table and experiencing his banquet. This banquet is inclusive, including not just me and not just us but those we tend to exclude. It means being nourished by him and fed by him.

Jesus fed the multitudes in the wilderness and sometime we need to think of the communion that we will partake in that view. It is the symbol of that journey with Christ and being fed by him as He speaks to us, "Take and eat lest this journey be too great for you."

Ours is a journey with others; ours is journey with ourselves. There will be times when the journey is difficult but when those times come, there is a stranger whom we have never met standing by the side of the road asking to be a part of that journey. And in our kindness for letting him come along for a short part of the path, he offers us the bread of life and the blood of the new covenant.


A Rock and Roll Revival


I am at Hankins UMC this Sunday.  (Location of Hankins – the church is just past the intersection of NY 97 and NY Co 94 (on church road))  The service starts at 10:30 and you are welcome to attend.  The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Easter, are Acts 9: 1 – 6 (7 – 20), Revelation 5: 11 – 14, and John 21: 1 – 19.

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A couple of years ago I wrote a piece for my blog entitled “A Rock and Roll Revival”. In it, I set down an order of worship based almost entirely on 60s rock and roll music. It was done partially because of a piece that I had written that earlier week (“Are You Ready?”), partially in fun, and partially because of how I felt about the music being passed off today as modern worship music.

Now, let me say that there is some very nice modern worship music in the world today and when it is played properly, it adds to the service as it should. But most of what I hear does little for me and I truly believe it only exists because someone thinks that the only way to get the young people to come to church is with guitars and drums and rock and roll sounding hymns. It doesn’t work for me and I am not certain for how many people it does work.

There is much to be said about the place and role of music in the worship service. Throughout my life I have had an appreciation for music of all ages and kinds. I appreciate the beauty and workmanship of a Bach cantata or a Mozart oratorio as much as I appreciate the guitar work of Eric Clapton. I can hear the power of God as much in a modern jazz piece or rock and roll as I can in a traditional choral piece or an organ composition.

I wrote two other pieces about the use of rock and roll music in worship services and one of the things that I discovered was that the Irish rock band, U2, allowed certain pieces of their music to be used in a music liturgy (see “Rock and Roll Revival Revisited” for further information about that liturgy and when it can be used.) As Sarah Breuer pointed out, if you are going to use modern music in a worship service, it helps to see what resonates with the congregation.

And that is part of the reason for my choosing the particular title for today’s message and the change implied in the Scriptures for today.

One of the pieces that I suggested in the original worship piece was “Good Shepherd” by Jefferson Airplane. I did it because there are clear references in the song to the Gospel reading today, especially the part where Jesus challenges Peter to “feed my sheep”.

Out of curiosity, I checked out the history of this song. Jorma Kaukonen, the guitarist for Jefferson Airplane, who wrote the arrangement that I am familiar with was introduced to one variant of the song in the late 1960s. It had evolved from a 19th century Gospel hymn into a mid-20th century blues-based folk song. But what was interesting, at least for me, was that the roots of this song come from an early 1800s hymn written by John Adam Grande, a Methodist preacher from Tennessee.

 

Now, I cannot speak to what others hear when the song is played or if they even see the connection to the Gospel passage that we read today. But as recently as 2004 Kaukonen and others continue to find a meaning in the song and other such songs where religion is celebrated in one context or another without preaching. Kaukonen has said this material has given him a doorway into the scripture: “I guess you could say I loved the Bible without even knowing it. The spiritual message is always uplifting.” (Adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Shepherd_(song); see http://mtdalton2.blogspot.com/2008/02/good-shepherd-jefferson-airplane.html for additional thoughts on this song.)

It is interesting to note that some can hear the call from God through rock and roll music. Such a thought is almost contradictory to the ways of the church, or at least the way that many people see the church.

The problem is that too many in the church have a legalistic, formalized view of the church. There is a fixed way to do things and the call that one receives is the same for all, no matter who they are. But the Old Testament reminds us that we were created in the very image and likeness of God. And God will not call us to do something that has nothing to do with what brings you alive in the world today? It may not fit within the category others may have but that is their problem, not yours.

Can we not respond to God’s call through rock and roll music? Are there other ways in which people can even begin to hear God’s call?

Far too many people sit in the church pews across this country every Sunday, the very place where the perception of God’s call and response to it should be of the utmost concern, and have no idea what to do with the experiences they’ve had that bring them alive in this world. They have no idea because, for the most part, the church couldn’t care less what they are feeling.

I think part of the reason is that the church itself doesn’t know how to respond. It is locked into a mind-

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set, if you will, that says there is only one way to read the Gospel and there is only one way to sing the music of the church. And battle lines are drawn when it comes to doing things in new and different ways, so much so that when a new way is created for doing something, it has a way of quickly becoming the old way and not to be touched.

Christianity in this country is a part-time thing, a hobby to occupy our time on Sunday morning. It is something to be stored away during the week and brought out on Sunday for a few short hours.

And in all of this, the message of the church has gotten lost. I came of age during a time when the church was a powerful voice for civil rights and against the war in Viet Nam. But the meaning of this message has, sadly, been lost over time.

The message of the church has become a message of the church that existed before Jesus, a legalistic and controlling entity that told the people what they could and could not do, that created myriad mazes of laws that made it impossible to find hope in the world. That is the church of today as well.

It has been replaced by a Gospel message that requires little but promises a lot. It speaks of exclusion rather than inclusion, of hatred instead of peace, of violence and retribution as the answer instead of peace and justice. It demands an acceptance of knowledge without question; it provides no answer for the myriad questions that many people ask today.

It fosters a belief in the Bible that says the Book of Revelation presents a message of destruction instead of the celebration of a loving God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ. It is lost on many today, Christian and non-Christian, that the total destruction of the world, so often portrayed as the product of John the Seer’s vision is actually the result of several 19th century ministers who interpreted Revelation according to their own world views. If this is the true ending for humanity, then Jesus suffering and death on the cross was for naught. But because the message of the Gospel has been lost, many believe in this final vision of the world.

We expect our music to be traditional music and the reading of the Scriptures to be in the traditional language that we heard growing up. There are many today who say that the only true Word of God is the King James Bible.

Now, I have never understood that reasoning. I am sure that Jesus, the disciples, and members of the early church did not speak in 17th century English nor did they see the “divine right of kings” as an outcome of the Gospel message. If anything, the message of the Gospel spoke against any divine right of any individual to govern the people. What Jesus, the disciples and members of the early church did speak was Aramaic and I doubt that there are many among us today who speak that ancient language. Once again we have someone, notably the monarchy, using a translation of the Bible to validate their own worldview and justify their existence.

What should matter is that we hear the Word of God is such a way that it has meaning for us, not worry about the translation. I have come to enjoy reading the “Cotton Patch Gospels”, a translation of the Scriptures by Dr. Clarence Jordan from Greek into the language of the south. To be honest, if you spoke to me of Corinth, Shiloh, Athens, or Mount Moriah, I am more likely to think of towns and places in the South rather than places in the Middle East and the Holy Land. In Dr. Jordan’s translation, I hear the message in a way that adds a little more meaning. I would have used his translation this morning but he died before completing the translation of the Gospel of John.

And though today’s churches may have lost the Gospel message it has not been lost to the people. God is still calling them and there are people who are striving to hear that call. To hear God means that you need to be open to the moment. It means hearing the scriptures read in a different translation or hearing an old hymn sung in a new way; it means singing with a new voice and seeing with a new vision.

When Saul left Jerusalem for Damascus that day some two thousand years ago, it was with the intent of destroying a movement that threatened the established church. But, on that journey, he encountered Jesus in a way that was truly unexpected. It was an encounter that would change his life so much so that he took a new name.

Our encounters with Jesus, our responses to God’s call may never be so dramatic. We may hear the call in a new song or in a new version of the Scriptures. But it is certain that as we see this unexpected light of Christ, we will find the freedom from the smallness of vision and the limited obedience that strangles us and confines us in this world today. In this revival we find the freedom that we need — the freedom to accept Christ as he comes to us from the world of which He is the Lord; freedom to be with Christ as we answer the call.