“Our Falling Apple Moments”

These are my thoughts for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, 26 April 2020 (Year A).  Even when you normally work from home as we do, things can get piled up, pushed around, and buried on the desktop.  And that later point is a fairly good trick when your desktop is your computer screen.

I think that the Gospel reading came at a time when there is talk about getting out of the house.  We certainly would like to be outside, especially as the weather gets warmer and we begin to see the changes in the world that tell us spring is arriving (you all can post photos of the flowers blooming in your garden if you want.).

I sometimes think that we feel that we have a better chance of being with God if we are outside.  We sing of being in the garden alone with him or seeing all that is there as “Our Father’s World”.

And we are, perhaps, getting a little tired of staying inside.  It is okay to stay inside when it is winter and the weather is hardly conducive to rambling walks in the garden or forest.  It is getting warmer and the days are getting longer.  There is something inside us that says we must go outside; we must be with others.

It hurts when we cannot be with others; it hurts when we see people we know suffering and we cannot do a single thing to comfort them.

But common sense, that intuitive nature about life that we were given by God, tells us that perhaps now is not that time.

From the moment we began our own journey with Christ, we have known that we must set aside a time and place where we are with Him.  Many years ago, I was wandering the campgrounds of Perkins Scout Reservation north of Wichita Falls, Texas.  In this wandering, I came across a clearing with a tree stump in the middle.  On that tree stump was a hawk, resting, I suppose, from his day’s labors.  There was something about that image that gave me a sense of calm.

Four years later, I would find another tree stump, this one on the edge of the campus of NE Missouri State Teachers College.  I was there to begin another part of my journey and on those days when the journey seemed a bit rocky, I knew that I could come to that place on campus to once again find my focus.

I do not know if that clearing on the campgrounds is still there.  I know that work on the sidewalk took out the tree stump but the spot is still there.  Still, I cannot go to those places of focus but they are imagines in my mind and I can use those images to help me refocus.

There is evidence to suggest that Isaac Newton came up with his ideas about motion and gravity during a period when the bubonic plaque had closed Oxford University and he had returned to the family farm.  While there is no evidence to suggest that a falling apple was the impetus for his thoughts of motion and gravity, he was able to envision the experiment and its results.  Similarly, the evidence suggests that much of Shakespeare’s works were done during periods of plaque that had closed the theaters of London, forcing the Bard to return home to a more contemplative mode.

These are “our falling apple moments”; times when the way we would like to focus has been take away from us and we find it necessary to find a new way.

In this way, we remember that our journey with Christ continues.  In these moments of quiet reflection and solitude, we can refocus our lives.  When the time comes that we can journey out into the world once again, we will be refreshed and able others to continue or begin their journey.

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.

“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.

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.


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.


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.

Continuing The Walk

I am  preaching at Dover UMC (Dover Plains, NY) again this Sunday.  Here are my thoughts for the 3rd Sunday of Easter. This was also Native American Awareness Sunday.


Every Sunday that I drive up to Dover, I am reminded of a goal that I once set for myself many years ago. Interestingly enough, it came at the same time when I was living in Montgomery, Alabama, and thinking about earning my God and Country award. Unfortunately, my family moved from Alabama to Colorado and, while I was able to complete the goal of earning the God and Country award, I was not able to even begin to work on my goal of walking the Appalachian Trail. So it is that every Sunday, as I drive up Route 22 to Dover Plains and I cross the Trail, I am reminded that walking the trail from Maine to Georgia was something I once wanted to do.

That is not to say that I haven’t walked the trail. Back in 1988, when I drove from Ohio to Jacksonville, Florida, to bowl in the ABC National Tournament I planned my return trip back so that I could drive through Smoky Mountain National Park and pass through Newfound Gap and visit Cades Cove (another long-term goal).

The Appalachian Trail crosses the highway from North Carolina into Tennessee at this gap in the Appalachian Mountains. Since it was early spring and early in the morning, the tourists that normally crowd this passage were not there so I was able to park my car, stroll northward on the trail beyond one bend, turn around and walk back to my car and then stroll southward beyond a bend and then return to my car and resume my trip. So I have walked a part of the trail but I don’t think that is the fulfillment of the goal I set some forty years ago. Perhaps one day, I will have the time and walk the portion of the trail which transverses Dutchess County from Connecticut to the Bear Mountain Bridge.

I do not know how many people have actually walked the entire trail or even just parts of the entire trail; I know that I am not nor will I be the last to think about walking the Appalachian Trail. But I do know of one person whose journey down the trail from New York to North Carolina was more than just a walk through the woods.

Peter Jenkins was a young college graduate in the early 70’s. It was a time that many young people saw the world around them as a world headed towards self-destruction. The America that Peter Jenkins had known growing up and of which he learned in school didn’t seem to be the America that he saw. The opportunity presented itself for him to search for the real America and so he proceeded to walk across America, from Alfred University in New York down to Mobile, Alabama, and then to New Orleans. From New Orleans, he walked across Texas, New Mexico, Colorado on to Oregon and the Pacific Ocean.

Along that walk, he came to experience God in the form of a lower-class working family in North Carolina and he came to know Christ on a turmoil-filled night in Mobile, Alabama. And when National Geographic asked him to write a story about his journey through the eastern United States, it was the story of his encounter with Christ that he fought to keep through the editing process.

We all have at one time or another had such a walk. We may never have gone anywhere; we may have been around the world. But at some time in our lives we have gone searching for God. It is a journey that mankind has been making since we first became aware of the world around us and our own status as human beings.

Many of us have found what we searched for. Others have not yet begun the search. Still, there are many today who are still searching because, like Peter Jenkins, they see a world around them that doesn’t match the world they have been taught in school.

The problem is that, today, there is the distinct likelihood that those who seek Christ will not find him, especially in the churches of today. Too many churches today have forgotten from where they came and why they were formed. While many young people and other searchers of Christ may say the words and know the works of Christ, they do not necessarily know those are His words because they do not see those words and works in the churches of today.

During this Easter season, we are reminded that Christianity began as a journey, of two men telling the story of Jesus to a stranger as they walked together on the road to Emmaus. Christianity began as a way of life, as a reaction to a religion narrowly defined by law, ritual, and an angry God.

It was a way of life, not a set of creeds and doctrines that required total obedience. It found its strength in inclusion, not exclusion. It was the fulfillment and the embodiment of what Jesus taught us to do and the life to which we are called. It was about sharing the life of Christ with others.

In its beginning the early church was relational, not dogmatic. It was about risking one’s life to worship a God whose unconditional love was revealed to people by a man they could not forget. It was a community of believers who cared about each other and their community as a whole; it was a community that showed respect for those outside the community, even when those outside sought to persecute them. It was a community that was characterized by the love that each member had for each other, “see how they love each other” was often said about the members of the early church.

But somewhere during this journey, we stopped walking. We built a building and we decided to stay awhile while the world moved on by. The early Christians defied the culture of the time and tried not to fit in. The church of today seems to be doing everything it can to be a part of society; and if it cannot do that, then it is trying to make society fit into a rigid and inflexible structure characteristic of the church that Jesus sought to change. Today many churches say that you must either fit within their defined culture or they are apt to try something “modern”, especially if they think that it will appeal to people.

And this has changed the nature of Christianity. Many people, if you asked them privately, would tell you that to be a Christian today only requires a little water at birth, a little rice at weddings and a little earth at death. Lost in the transition from a journey to a permanent stay is need for appropriating the faith and becoming aware of its demands. Lost is the demand for learning to die with Christ to the old life of world in order to rise with Christ to the new life in the kingdom of God.

The movement and way of life that Christianity was has somehow turned into a concern for buildings and programs. No longer is a church a community of inclusion but rather one of exclusion. Jesus walked with the outcasts of society; he constantly and consistently violated acceptable rules of societal behavior (by being seen with prostitutes, tax collectors, people with various illnesses and diseases and criticizing the authorities for their behavior). Yet, many churches today would not let the modern day equivalents of those outcasts sit in the pews of their sanctuaries. And while many churches today have food banks and other programs to help the needy, many in those churches probably are appalled that the poor and needy come to the church. And they will not seek to remedy the problem or work to remove the causes of hunger and the lack of medical care. It is as if we still believe that we can work our way into heaven with a minimalist approach. We have changed the Bible from what it was meant to be into something that we want it to be.

We speak time and time again of involving our youth and new members in the activities of the church; yet time and time again, we tell the youth and new members to wait their turn before getting involved. And then we wonder why the young people who grew up in the church leave and never return. And we wonder why many visitors never return.

The church today faces a major crisis. How are we to address the concerns and problems of the world? First, there must be a rather dramatic restatement of the Gospel message. Second, there must be a major realignment of the forms of church life. And third, we must fashion a new Christian style of life. But we must be careful that we respond to the crisis only in terms of Christ.

If we restate the Gospel to answer the questions we have or to solve the problems as we see them, then we will fail. Our response to the world’s agenda cannot be made or dictated by the world’s expectations.

Christianity has two emphases. One is social, the other personal. It is the responsibility of Christians to impart the values of the kingdom of God in society – to relieve the suffering of the poor, to stand up for the oppressed, to be a voice for those who have no voice. But it is also has the responsibility to help bring people into a personal, transforming relationship with Christ so that they can feel the joy and love of God in their lives.

It cannot do either if it is not a part of the community. But it also cannot allow the community to dictate its survival. For to do so would be to forget its faith, but if faith is protected at all costs, then the church cannot be a part of the community. Faith must be presented to the community, not hidden within the walls of the church.

The success of many mega-churches today is that they are really a collection of many small or mini-churches. When you come to a mega-church, they find out what you are interested in and get you in a group with similar interests. And if they can’t find a group for you, they will make a group for you.

The success of these churches is found in the fact that new members and visitors feel accepted and wanted and they find things to do in the church. But creating a group of individuals with the same interests is not the same thing as having a community of individuals who take care of each other and others in the community.

We can modify our worship but we have to be careful that we do not change the message in the process. William Willimon, Dean of the Chapel at Duke University and a major author in Methodism, noted that he preached at a church that tried to make its service seeker sensitive. Such services remove most of the historic Christian metaphors and images. The music, as Dr. Willimon reports, was “me, my and mine.” Seekers are the generation that we need to reach out to in this day and age but if we do it with slick marketing techniques, we will fail. We must constantly remember that what people are seeking is Christ and if we take Christ out of the picture, we cannot find what we are seeking.

Many churches today make heavy use of the various forms of media and various forms of worship services because many of the post 1950 baby boomers and their children are more accustomed to projected visual imagery. We must also be aware that we can use the various forms of technology that are available but we must also be aware that the technology can only present the message; the message cannot be driven by the technology.

It is time to hear the words that Peter spoke to the people in today’s reading from Acts. Those words are not just words spoken to a crowd some two thousand years ago but a reminder that we also need to change our life. Peter said,

“Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites.”

He went on in this vein for a long time, urging them over and over, “Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!”

Some might see what Peter is saying, especially in terms of translation that is offered in The Message to withdraw from society and create a community insulated from the outside world. But could it be that Peter is saying that we have transformed our lives and we have quit the journey that we should be walking?

If we live in a world that is insulated from the outside world, we are protected. But the insulation that protects you from the outside world also keeps you from finding out what is going on in that world. We are not commanded to leave this world but to go out into the world.

But the journey that we make when we go out into the world cannot be a continuation of the one we were making. As Peter reminds us in his first letter, when we begin our journey with Christ, we change the direction and nature of our journey.

We do not live in Christendom, where the Christian tradition is assumed to be true and where the most people believe themselves to be Christians. We live in a world that is faced with enormous and powerful changes; changes that we are oft unable to accept or address. We live in a time where the individual has gotten lost in the maze of society and cannot find their way. Too many people see that world and do not want to go out into it.

We must be prepared to move out into the secular world, seeing it not as an enemy but as an ally. Instead of seeing the secular world and its accompanying thinking as an enemy which biblical faith requires us to fight we should see it as an opportunity for us to learn to read the story of the Bible with new eyes of understanding; to take the spectacles of the past which provide for categories of misunderstanding and change them for eyes that see the world around us. This new vision will enable us to understand that the word “truth” in Hebrew means that which is dependable and reliable rather than that which can be rationally placed in any system of thought. God is true because God does what He says He will do. He becomes known as God not because we organize Him into a total system of understanding but because of what He has done and what He will do.

That is the challenge that we as individuals and as the church community face. How do we keep our walk in and with Christ in a world that wants us to walk in the same tried-and-true path as everyone else? If we, as Christians are to have any impact at all on the earth, we must realize that it is the world that is the true addressee of Christ’s concern, the true object and stage of God’s active love, and the place where He is at work. If we are not in the world, then we cannot be the active agents of change in the world. How are we to become active agents of change in this world?

Ben Campbell Johnson, of Columbia Theological Seminary, suggests that we begin by asking people outside church “When has God seemed near to you?” There is nothing judgmental about this approach; it starts with where people are and it takes their experience seriously. This can be quite a challenge for many people. But this is the starting point for the conversation like the one between Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

It is a conversation that tells people the Gospel, the Good News. It tells people of the Gospel that justifies so that we don’t need to earn our status before God or vie for position with others. It is the Gospel that gives shape and purpose to life, making us other-directed rather than self-centered. It is the Gospel of peace that can reconcile broken relationships and build communities. It is the Gospel of justice that advocates for the poor and the marginalized. It is a Gospel of good news and how can one keep from sharing the good news?

What are we called to do? We are called to do exactly what the two disciples on the road to Emmaus did. We are called to tell those whom we encounter in our daily lives the changes that Jesus has made in our lives. We are called to show others that Christ is alive. We are called to continue the walk that began that day on the road to Emmaus.

Portions of this sermon were taken from

1) Faith In A Secular Age, Colin Williams, 1966

2) “Small-Church Turnaround” by Shane E. Mize, from Net Results, December 1998.

3) “The Messiah Is Than A Song”, Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, 8 December 2002

4) “What Should Be the Norm?” Lyle Schaller, Circuit Rider, September/October 2003

5) “It’s Hard to be Seeker-Sensitive When You Work for Jesus”, William H. Willimon, Circuit Rider, September/October 2003

6) “Two Choices”, Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, 16 November 2003

7) “Signs of Things To Come”, Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church, 14 November 2004

8) Why the Christian Right Is Wrong, Robin Meyers, 2006