“Come to the Welcome Table”


This will be the “Back Page” on the bulletin this Sunday (7 July 2019, 4th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C) at Fishkill UMC.

In looking for information about the anthem that I am singing this morning (Here is a YouTube version that I “borrowed” – https://youtu.be/PNjH8rEJjDc ), I discovered a few things. 

Its roots are in the spirituals of the 19th century and was known as “Down to the River Jordan”.  Like many spirituals, it evolved over the years and became an anthem for the Civil Rights movement  (https://civilrightssongs.blogspot.com/2014/11/im-gonna-sit-at-welcome-table-civil.html

The “Welcome Table” is a possible reference to the tradition of leaving an empty seat for the stranger at the Seder. (“Welcome Table Theology, a sermon by the Reverend Phyllis L. Hubbell, 2/8/2004)

The 4th verse speaks of all God’s children sitting at the welcome table.  But even today there are some who, even on this weekend where we celebrate freedom, would deny many that opportunity.  You cannot have freedom if the status quo oppresses people.  That’s one of the points that Paul made to the Galatians; how many people enforced the law for their own benefit?

Naaman and the king of Israel found out that the cure Naaman sought was not found in the traditional ways but outside the boundaries of the status quo.

Our freedom, our true freedom is found, not in the status quo, but at the welcome table.~~Tony Mitchell


Though not related to the anthem or the lectionary readings, this sermon, “The Welcome Table Revised”, presents an interesting view of hospitality.

Sounds of Freedom


These are my thoughts for this week.  They are based on the Scriptures for Sunday, July 2, 2017, the 4th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A) – Genesis 22: 1 – 14, Romans 6: 12 – 23, and Matthew 10: 40 – 42.

What are the sounds of freedom?  What sounds or words do you associate with freedom?  Granted, there are many choices one could pick but the first sound that I thought of was Richie Havens singing “Freedom” at the Woodstock Festival back in 1969.

The story is that Richie Havens was the opening act for the festival and only scheduled to sing a few songs.  But, for whatever reason, the next couple of acts had not arrived and the organizers asked Richie to keep playing.  So, he played and he played.  And after playing virtually all his material, he began to improvise on the song, “Freedom.”

The ability to improvise is not as easy as it might seem.  If one is not versed in the fundamentals of one’s trade, it is literally impossible to improvise.  So, when I hear this song, I am reminded that freedom is more than a word and that we must work on the fundamentals upon which freedom is based.

And there is another song which reminds me of the fundamentals of freedom, “Find the Cost of Freedom” by Crosby, Stills, & Nash.  As the words of the song state, the cost of freedom is buried in the ground.  Unfortunately, there are those who see the way to freedom through war and are quick to go to war when other means can achieve freedom as well.

I am reminded of the closing lines of Patrick Henry’s speech on March 23, 1775.  We all are aware of this speech for the closing line, perhaps echoing Joshua’s proclamation from Joshua 24: 15, “As for me and my family, we’ll worship God.”

“I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

But it is the line that precedes this is just as important when considering the words and sounds of freedom,

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the prices of chains and slavery?”

Those who heard that speech that day were probably well aware that Patrick Henry’s wife, Sarah, was mentally ill and there were those who felt that the best solution was to have her committed to the public hospital in Williamsburg.

If Patrick Henry had agreed to this treatment, his wife would have been locked in a windowless cell and chained to the wall with leg irons.  Rather than accept this, he chose to keep her home, in a well-lit and well-ventilated two-room apartment with 24-hour attention.  It should be noted that when Sarah died, she was died a Christian burial or religious funeral service because it was felt her mental illness was caused by possession by the devil.

The cost of freedom goes beyond the sacrifice of a few and to finding a way to maintain freedom.  Sadly, in today’s world, there are those who wish for others to die for their country while ignoring the wounded and maimed.  And when the wounded and maimed come home, they are quickly forgotten and monies that could be spent on building freedom are spent on additional weapons of war.

The next words of freedom come from Jesus.  In John 8: 32, we read that we are to seek the truth and the truth will set us free.  It is interesting to note that some of those who heard those words felt that they were already free because they adhered to the laws, rules, and regulations of the time.

But those laws, rules, and regulations gave freedom to those who wrote the laws, rules, and regulations; for the rest of the population, all they did was to enslave and entrap the population.  When people began to seek the truth for themselves, instead of relying on others, then freedom became a possibility.

And that leads to the last words of freedom.  When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963, he spoke of people working together to seek the common goals of all humanity.

The words and sounds of freedom are many and various.  They echo through the ages and presage the future.  And while individuals speak the words of freedom, they require the work of all the people, working for all the people and not just a select few.  One cannot be free if someone else is not free.

So as you celebrate freedom, remember what you are asked to do.

 

Defining Freedom


This is the back page for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, July 2nd, 2017, bulletin of Fishkill United Methodist Church.  It was written by one of the youth of the church, Miles Cobb.


 

There are some misconceptions about freedom today, such as nobody can tell you what to do or that everyone has equal rights. A third definition, perhaps the closest to the truth, is that freedom give us the right to speak as we want and declare our opinions

For most people, to be free means that no one is commanding them or that they are not being held against our will. The right to do whatever we want is not a realistic possibility.  You could argue that if you want to steal from a store or trespass onto private property, then you should be able to do that. Doing whatever you want is a possibility, but there are consequences. The second way of defining freedom that I mentioned above is that everyone has equal rights, but this is not a reality. In America one of our mottos is equality, but groups such as African Americans, women and LGBTQs are continuously discriminated against. In the ideal American nation discrimination would not exist, yet it does.

Finally, there is a fourth way of defining freedom.  In the Bible freedom is described as a blessing by God that grants self-control and the ability to love. By this definition, through God and Jesus we are all free. When God created humans, He blessed us with consciousness and the freedom to love. This is what being “human” means. The quote that I always associate with freedom is 2 Timothy 1:7- “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Today, as the idea of freedom is becoming more and more convoluted, there is always this single verse to remind us how to be free in the heart of God.

Vespers in the Garden – 24 June 2012


During the summer at Grace UMC in Newburgh, we hold a short worship service on Fridays and Sundays at 7.  After running and coordinating this ministry for the past three years, I have turned it over to another Lay Speaker, George Love of Trinity UMP in Newburgh.  George has a calling for this type of open ministry and he has truly grown with this ministry.  Please keep George in your prayers as well as all of those who come to the Vespers.

The following are my thoughts on the theme “Our Weakness and God’s Strength”.  I used 2 Corinthians 5: 18 – 6: 2 and Mark 4: 35- 41 as the Scripture readings.

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And the winds came and the boat rocked and the disciples were afraid and not just afraid but afraid that they were going to die.  Perhaps I am putting too much into this reading from Mark but it is noted somewhere that the Sea of Galilee was not a quiet little lake but rather susceptible to quick and violent storms that could easily sink small fishing boats.  And as fisherman, Peter, Andrew, James and John had probably encountered such storms and well aware of what they could do.  So, if they were scared, they had good reason to be scared.  Of course, it didn’t help the disciples’ state of mind that Jesus was over in the corner sound asleep.

We would probably feel the same way if we were on a boat going through the narrow passage on the Hudson below Bannerman’s Island and a sudden storm were to come up.

The timelessness of the Gospel is illustrated in this passage.  We wait until the storms of life arise and raging all around us before we seek Christ.  And we get upset when it seems as if He does not seem to care or is aware of our problems.

Of course, He is well aware of what is happening to us but we are so busy in this world trying to solve problems by ourselves that we do not see Him standing next to us.  Ours is a society in which all of answers seemingly come from this world.  We only turn to God when we seek answers that are the ultimate points of life – the source of meaning, the place of guilt in our lives and at the frontier of death.

But if God only appears to us at the extremities of life, when we are at our lowest and He cannot be found in the midst of life when we are strong, what manner of God is God?

What good is any god that waits until we are cornered and in trouble but of otherwise no earthly use?  If this god of the universe is only there at the beginning and the end, what good is he?  Wouldn’t it be better to find our answers somewhere else, in the manner and shape of the world around us?

What we are discovering is that the important answers cannot necessarily be found in the world.  We cannot simply brush aside the bad things and evil in this world nor can we simply find the answer to guilt in some psychological evaluation.  And in choosing death as the end and inevitable, we find ourselves still searching for meaning in this world.

We all know the opening words to Ecclesiastes 3, “to everything there is a season”.  Our lives, though, are expressed in verses 9 – 13, when the Preacher wrote,

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

And our lives end and we wonder what happened.  We hope that there will be time, as there was for the penitent thief, to repent of our ways and received God’s mercy.  But too often we are like the other thief crucified alongside Jesus who mocked Him.

The problem is that we may not know when our time will come and we will not have the opportunity to repent and ask for forgiveness.  Remember the story that Jesus told about the rich man who died and was thrown in Sheol?

All his life, the rich man had thought that he would be going to heaven; after all, he was a rich man and the rich only gain their wealth if they lead a righteous life.  But he had ignored Lazarus, the beggar who sat outside his house begging for food and mercy.

I am constantly drawn to the works and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian who gave up a safe and secure life in America to fight the horrors of Nazi Germany and who died some three weeks before the concentration camp in which he was housed was liberated.

We can be like the rich man, expecting that our richness and good life will be the keys to opening the doors of heaven.  But as Paul pointed out, it is not what is on the outside that tells the story.  The outside is what Bonhoeffer called “religious clothing” and it caused him great uneasiness.

Bonhoeffer would write,

I often ask myself why a Christian instinct frequently draws me more to the religionless man than to the religious, by which I mean not with any intention of evangelizing them, but rather, I might almost say, in ‘brotherhood’.  While I often shrink with religious people from speaking of God by name – because that Name somehow seems to me here not to ring true, and I strike myself as rather dishonest (it is especially bad when others start talking in religious jargon: then I dry up completely and feel somehow oppressed and ill at ease) – with people who have no religion I am able on occasion to speak of God quite openly and as it were naturally.  Religious people speak of God when human perception is (often just from laziness) at an end, or human resources fail: it is really always the Deux ex machina they call to their aid, either for the so-called solving of insoluble problems or as support in human failure – always, that is to say, helping out human weakness or at the borders of human existence.

Bonhoeffer insisted that to be a Christian was not be religious but human.  To be truly human is to be open to the full breadth of the human existence that Christ revealed.  But the Christian way demands real tension with the way of the world; a tension revealed in the Cross of Christ.

The trouble is that discipleship means an estrangement from the world.  It also leads to attempting to acquiring faith by leading a holy life.  It was the same thing that John Wesley tried to do – lead a holy life in hopes that it would gain him the faith that he sought.

For Bonhoeffer, the attempt to keep the church and the world apart lead to the church’s acquiescence of the false worldly values of Hitlerism.  So Bonhoeffer thought a non-religious life was more genuine because it was the life revealed to us in Christ.  In Christ we see God not as the omnipotent one standing outside the world, a God of the religious world as a separate realm but rather a God coming to us in weakness and suffering and allowing Christ to be edged out of life on to the cross.

When we see God as something that we can put in the closet or on the shelf, to bring out only when we need Him, we fall into the trap that is this world.  We must see God not as a God who waits for us at the edges of our lifes in our weakness and extremity but as the Lord who comes to us in the midst of the secular life at points of our confidence and strength as well as the points of weakness.  It is a life that transcends our ordinary life because it is a life that is wholly ‘for others’.

Paul will write to the Corinthians that the life in Christ that they seek will not always be an easy one.  And while Jesus can calm the waters, it doesn’t mean that the problems of the world will go away.  But the world around is is not easy, when the way of the world gets tough, Jesus will be right there with us.

Dealing with Our Struggles


Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, 10 July 2011. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Genesis 25: 19 – 24, Romans 8: 1 – 11, and Matthew 8: 1 – 9, 18 – 23.

I am at the New Milford/Edenville United Methodist Church (Location of Church) again this morning. Summer services start at 9:30 and you are always welcome there.

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I think that I mentioned last week that I have two daughters, born three years apart, and of course, I am exceedingly proud of them. When I think back to the days when their mother was pregnant I remember how we could feel them moving about, anxious to leave the womb and get on with life. There isn’t much that I would trade for those experiences and the birth of each of my daughters.

I found out a few years later that twins are a natural occurrence on both sides of the family. There is some folklore that says that when there are twins in your family, they will appear in every other generation. And it was my generation’s turn to have twins but it wasn’t to be so perhaps when my grandchildren have children of their own, the trait of twins will appear. Still, I can only imagine what it might have been like to have the doctor come out and tell me that I was the father of twins.

That is what is so important about the reading from the Old Testament for today. As any parent will attest, there is something unique when you feel that young child begin to move inside the womb. We would like to think that Rachel was overjoyed to feel the twins moving inside of her but we also know, from our reading of the Old Testament today, that the struggle between Esau and Jacob that began in the womb would continue long after they grew up. And this would have naturally given her concern.

It should be natural for siblings to struggle, to strive and compete against each other. But it should be friendly and competitive. I didn’t play football when I was growing up; actually, I was involved in something more important, band. It is not often that a parent can watch their children compete against each other and be able to root equally for each of them. But both of my brothers played football and there is the memorable game in our family history when Raleigh-Egypt High School played Bartlett High School. The uniqueness of this game was that my brother Terry played halfback on the Bartlett offense and my brother Tim was playing for the Raleigh-Egypt defense at the same time.

But there are times when the prophecy of Esau and Jacob comes true for other families as well; times when the struggle is serious and deadly. With this being the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we are reminded of the struggle that engulfed this country and tore families apart and pitted brother against brother.

But the greatest struggle that each one of us face each day is an understanding of who we are and what our purpose in this world might be. We find ourselves struggling with questions of why does hunger, sickness, famine, and war exist in this world? We struggle with questions about poverty and wealth and who is truly favored in God’s eyes. We know that there are answers to these questions and we expect our church to be the one place where we might find those answers.

We want a certain degree of structure in our lives; we want our laws to be firm and fast, clear and concise. We hear so many people today say that if our society was a true Christian society, based on Judeo-Christian law, then we wouldn’t have all these problems. The only problem with this particular logic is that most people don’t know what the law they are referring to actually says. This is the image of the church, of a fixed and inflexible institution, out of touch with today and insisting on an adherence to a set of laws that perhaps don’t even exist in the Bible.

Against this backdrop we see individuals leaving the church, not singularly but in groups. They look at the church today and wonder how it came to be and why it cannot answer the questions that make up the meaning of life, even when that is often the unstated reason for the church.

Barrett Owen has written an interesting article entitled “Why Millennials Rarely Connect with Churches?” The Millennial Generation is that generation born in the period from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s; they are the children of the Baby Boom Generation. It is a generation that is leaving the church and there are many that cannot understand why.

It is a migration that goes beyond moving from home to college and onto their own lives; it is a migration from the church itself. It is a migration that confounds many parents and church authorities alike. And many experts would say that if we understood this generation, then we might be able to “save the church.”

And though we should be careful when we make generalizations about a collective group, be they Millennials, Generation X, or Baby Boomers, if we understand what they are thinking, perhaps we can understand what we have to do. First, let me say that creating a list of solutions based on these ideas is called marketing and marketing the church will never work.

So, with that caveat, here are some thoughts on the Millennial Generation:

  • They do not care about the institutional church. They do not tithe and have rejected traditional church offerings. They will refuse, reject, and rebuff denominational loyalty if it means causing separation, marginalization, or ostracizing an individual or a group of individuals.
  • Words such as “community”, “intentionality”, and “ecumenism” are mentioned long before words such as “doctrine”, “controversy”, or “resurgence.”
  • They are finding alternative and creative forms of giving.
  • They are building foundational beliefs about faith and morality that are based on experiential truths as opposed to doctrinal or creedal statements. This is not your normal Sunday school lesson they are learning and developing!
  • They will say that Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s love but they will also say that it is not the only expression. They will say that they are spiritual but not religious. They will seek to find God and they are not necessarily looking in the traditional places.
  • They have a lot to offer; they have optimism and a need for reconciliation which is desperately needed in this world today. They are motivated, not offended; they care about creation, people, worldviews, religions, art, creativity and beauty.
  • Faith, for millennials, is less about doctrine or institutional fellowship and more about experiential learning. Beliefs that speak of wholeness over segregation and separation, love over hate, commonalities over discrepancies, activism over bitterness, shared stories over division and missional engagement over doctrinal supremacy have become their heart’s cry.

Owen wondered if all this adds up to the death knell of today’s church. As Owen put it, “Giving up on financially supporting denominational bodies or larger institutions is a risky hope. It’s a hope that something new will emerge. But since this group doesn’t like division, corporate advancement or institutions, I wonder what could ever create enough momentum to have longevity?”

And then Jesus spoke of the sower sowing his seeds in the garden. Some of the seeds landed on rocky ground, where they withered and died. Some landed amongst the weeds and while they grew for a while, they too eventually died, choked by the other plant growth that stole the nutrients. But some landed on fertile soil, where they flourished and grew. And there was a good harvest amongst those that landed on the fertile soil.

What type of church do you have? Is it one filled with rocks and boulders, one where seeds planted have no chance to grow? Or is it one filled with weeds and other plants that choke off the growth of the other plants? Or is it the one with the fertile soil that gives growth to new ideas and plans?

I have seen some churches where this latter field exists. But I have also seen many churches that are rocky and nothing grows as well as many churches that have much growth but most of the growth is in the form of weeds that choke off the growth of the good flowers. And I know that you can turn a church that is filled with rocks or one with weeds into one with fertile ground. It is a matter of whether or not the church members wanted to get involved and get their hands dirty. I doubt that many today who long for such a church, a church where faith is more than a word, even know that such a church once existed.

The early church was an experiential church; it was church, not of words but of deeds. Experiential learning does not take place in the classroom; it takes place in the field. And the church of two thousand years ago bears little resemblance to the church of today. The churches that Paul wrote about met in people’s houses and not specifically built sanctuaries. In fact, when many gathered together to read the letter that Paul had recently written them, they probably gathered in secret because there was the fear of persecution. The structured church, with denominations and doctrines, is a product of the post-Constantine era, the period when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the de-facto state religion. If we were more like those early churches, or even more like the early Methodist churches, perhaps we wouldn’t be struggling as much today.

Paul points out that if Christ is a part of our life today, the struggles we face are minimal. Our own self becomes secondary when Christ is the center-piece of our life. Somewhere along the line we became convinced that the church was about us and not Jesus or God. And when that happened we started to become the church that now either scares away or drives away those who offer much hope. Pastor Owen is right that the Millennial Generation will not find what it seeks if it runs away from what it fears; the same is true for us and sometimes all we have to do is look around and know how true that is. But we can deal with our struggles if we quit dealing with our struggles and begin doing the work of God. The challenge is there and the call is there. If we do not answer the call, our struggles will continue for we will continue seeking answers. But if we answer the call, if we accept Christ into our heart and soul, then we can quit dealing with our struggles. And if we begin to make the church what it once was, then we will help others to deal with their struggles as well.

Last week, I used “Be Thou My Vision” as a preparation hymn, to prepare you for the message. Today, I use it as the invitational hymn, to invite you to vision the world that lies before you. Shall it be a world of rocks and weeds, a world of struggle and strife, or will it be a world of wonderful growth and wonderful harvests?

Another One


This was the second in a five-week assignment with the Elk Falls, Longton, and Elk City United Methodist Churches.

This was the message for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, 25 June 1999.  The Scriptures from the New Common Lectionary were 1 Kings 19: 9 – 14, Galatians 3: 23 – 29, Luke 9: 18 – 24.  And yes, I have used the story about my brothers and sister many times.  This would be the first time I related it to the Gospel reading.

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I am the oldest of four children. When I graduated from high school in 1968, I immediately moved to Kirksville, Missouri, where I started (actually continued) my college studies. In 1980, when circumstances required it, I moved back to Memphis. In doing so, I surprised a lot of people who were not aware that Terry, Tim, and Tracey Mitchell had an older brother. Often times, when I would show up at a place with my brothers, the comment made was "You mean there’s another one!"

This response was often in surprise because no one expected there to be an older Mitchell brother. But I don’t think it was that type of response the disciples gave when Jesus asked them who people thought he was. I think that response was one more of resignation than surprise, "Oh yes, he is another prophet."

This apparent apathy from the general population also brought concern from other sources. When John the Baptist was in jail, he sent a message to Jesus. (Matthew 11: 2 – 3)

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him,” Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"

The people of Israel at that time were looking for a Messiah, one who could lead them out of their troubles. But the message Jesus brought to the people of Israel was not necessarily the message the people wanted to hear.

We often get confused when what we are looking for gets lost in the daily routine. Remember the last time you couldn’t find the house keys. The harder you tried to find them, the more frustrated you became. Consider Elijah. He is in a cave at the Mount of Horeb, having escaped Jezebel and the men hunting him down. Yet, when the Lord asks him why is there, his reply is one of confusion and depression. For all his work as a prophet, the people of Israel still left God for the gods of Baal. So God told him to stand on the mountain as He passed by. Yet though there was a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire, the Lord did not pass by.

Can you imagine what it was like when after the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, there was nothing but silence? To the writers of the Old Testament, the wind, earthquake, and fire were all signs of God; yet, in this passage, God was not in those signs. The message in the passage from 1 Kings is very clear. If our lives are not in focus when God is near, we can still miss him as he passes by.

The message that Jesus was trying to tell his disciples was very much the same message. Do not be looking for the apparent signs of fire, wind, and earthquakes but look around you at what is happening. As Jesus pointed out to John the Baptist,

…Go and tell John what you hear and see; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me. (Matthew 11: 4 – 6)

To Paul, the message was clear. Paul wrote in Galatians that the law had been our disciplinarian, our guide and protector. In the context of what Paul wrote, a disciplinarian was not a teacher but a slave who guarded and supervised children. Having accepted Christ through faith, we are no longer limited by the law but given a freedom through our faith in Jesus Christ. Through this freedom, we have the capabilities of going beyond the obvious. Our protection is still there but with a freedom never before known.

Therein lays our problem. We are used to the law and cannot see the freedom that Jesus offers. But we must realize what faith means and what it requires. Faith is a trust and it requires a complete commitment from us.

Are we prepared to follow Christ as He asked his followers? Turn with me to Mark 8: 34 – 38.

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8: 34 – 38)

This offer to follow Jesus offers us applies no matter who we are or what we are or who we would be. This message and offer was far different from anything the prophets might have said or done. It was also a message never given in the synagogue and it was accompanied by actions which showed there was a power behind the words. But instead of gloom, it was a message of hope and joy and a vision for the future.

What Paul wrote in Galatians, those verses that inspired Hymn #548 was the same message. When we come to Christ in faith, we all are one. This is not a statement of conformity but rather a statement that we are all in agreement about what we want our lives to be. The confusion that reined in the time of Jesus, the confusion that Elijah felt exits no longer when we allow Jesus to enter into our hearts.

We tell each other that Jesus loves us but do we show that love to others? Do we allow the Grace of Jesus Christ that is in our hearts, that warming of our souls, to be felt by others?

Today Jesus asks us the same questions he asked the disciples on the road to Caesarea Philippi: "But who do YOU say that I am?" (Mark 8: 29)

“Where Is God?”


Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, 20 June 2010. The Scriptures for this Sunday are 1 Kings 19: 1 – 15, Galatians 3: 23 – 29, and Luke 8: 26 – 39.

Some opening questions:

  • If there is a God, why are there atheists?
  • If there is a God, why are there so many religions? And why are there so many denominations within each religion?
  • If religions are nothing more than superstitions then why have they existed over the years?

Some opening comments:

  • I hold a Ph. D. in Science Education. This means, I think, that I have an understanding of what science education is about but it doesn’t automatically make me a philosopher. But it proves that I can think.
  • I am a certified lay speaker in the United Methodist Church. I may write and speak about the Gospel and what it means to me and in this world but that doesn’t make me a theologian.
  • I use the skills and experience that I have as a chemist and as an educator to better understand what I read and think each day, be it in the church or in the lab.
  • These points all come together somehow into the Wesleyan Quadrilateral

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(From http://andrewhongnsw.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!EEB36B88C6BA62C4!1921.entry)

As one who chose to follow the Wesleyan tradition (at first without knowing that I was), I seek a balance of the four points. I chose the tetrahedron shape because of its symmetry, that each of the four points is equivalent in meaning. If you put more emphasis on one point than the others, the symmetry is broken and life is not in balance.

But I see a world in which that is exactly what is happening. It is a world where there are some who insist that tradition or scripture take precedence over reason or experience. But the balance of life is removed when that is done.

I see a world in which religion and science have been made to be opposite ends of some sort of rationality spectrum that has no continuum; you are either one or the other and cannot be both. I see a world in which those who chose to live in a world of religion ignore the outside world and those who live in a world of science do likewise. It is as if you can live a complete life with one but not the other and I wonder how.

I think that part of the reason for the unpleasant dichotomy in our world is that we 1) don’t understand what each part does and 2) we have fallen into the trap that so many people have done in the past; we have allowed a structure designed for one task to take on another task.

Those who are most adamant in expressing their hatred and displeasure of religion point out the various cruelties and atrocities done in the name of the church. The history of this country and the attempted forced indoctrination of the native peoples, not only of this land but every land, are often used as the prime example. But is that the fault of religion or a group of men in the name of religion?

Methodist’s own John Wesley came to Georgia with the express purpose of preaching to the native population but I have always thought it was not to preach the Gospel but to test his ideas that would evolve into Methodism. We know that he was a failure in this task but not perhaps because the methods didn’t work but because the Spirit was neither in Wesley nor in what he was trying to do.

That others have attempted to subjugate others in the name of Christ should be seen for what it was and what it is today, a blatant power grab by men, not as the work of God through men. And I don’t necessarily mean mankind in this; the early works of the church gave women equal status with the men. It was the men of the church later in time that created the structure that subjugated women. And when you apply reason to the reading of the Bible and compare that with the present, the symmetry, the balance is clearly broken. It is no wonder that people question the meaning of the church. But they should question the people who are the church; not necessarily the institution.

Also, if we are to have an understanding of what Jesus said in His Great Commission (“go and make disciples”) then we must also remember that he told the seventy that they should leave a town behind if they did not want to hear the Word. I am not entirely sure where this “follow or die” mentality came from. If one chooses not to hear the Word or if one chooses not to follow Jesus, do I have the right or the authority to make them follow? I do not think so.

Keep in mind the Gospel story for today. The one who was cured (and we will not go into the nature of the cure but accept it as an explanation written at that time) wanted to follow but Jesus told him to tell others what had happened. Is that what those who believe are to do; tell others what has happened and show them the results so that they can make up their own minds?

And by the same token, those who proclaim that there cannot be a God because one cannot physically prove His existence are missing the point. You cannot prove the existence of something that is a spirit or, if you will, energy. The early ideas behind energy and light should tell us something about that difficulty.

Before we developed our modern ideas about energy, we (speaking of mankind) first developed the idea of phlogiston and then the caloric theory. Attempt to measure energy as a physical substance failed, not because they were wrong but because the idea was incorrect. As we understood what took place in heat transfer, we were better able to understand the concept of energy.

I hold that the same is true in understanding God. Those who insist that we need to physically prove the existence of God are missing the point. You are not going to do it. They are like Elijah, standing on the mountain as the wind blew, as the earthquake rocked the mountain, and a fire burned. God was not in the events that took place but in the Spirit that existed in all of them. The only problem for such modern day would-be prophets is that they don’t want to have the spirit in them and so they missed the point.

In the end, we are like those to whom Paul was writing in the reading from Galatians for today. We are trapped within the law, a framework of our own choosing. We seek easy answers to difficult questions. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance.” It goes back to what I said earlier; we have changed the nature of the words of the church, the words of Christ, from what they were to what we want them to be. We are not willing to invest the time and energy that is required to be serious Christians. We want a set of laws, rules, and regulations that we allow us to check of what we have done so we can see how good we have been.

It doesn’t work that way and it never did. It was the very system that Jesus challenged and sought to change when He was here two thousand years ago. It is the system that must be challenged and changed each day that we are here today. We will be trapped and without escape unless we are willing to go beyond the structure that we have imposed on ourselves. The challenge is clear.

I started off by asking “where is God?” He is out there in the world, waiting for us. It is not a matter of my telling you that He is out there and you need to believe what I am telling you. You don’t have to because you have the right to not believe. But somewhere along the line, you have to make some decisions, decisions that go to the very core of your being, and you will find that you cannot make them, because you have nothing upon which you can turn. The struggle of mankind throughout the ages shows there is a need for a God. There is that opportunity at this time to open your heart and mind to the power and presence of Jesus Christ as your personal Savior; this is the time to open your heart and mind to the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit to allow a change in your being from one who has been trapped to one who has been freed. This is the time to discover that God is here right now, standing by your side where He has always been.

The State of Faith


I will be at Mountainville United Methodist Church (Mountainville, NY) on Sunday, June 14th; the service starts at 10 and everyone is welcome. 

The Scriptures are 1 Samuel 17: 1, 17 – 27, 2 Corinthians 8: 7 – 15, and Mark 5: 21 – 43.

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I wrote the following a couple of years ago:

I have decided to start my own church. I am going to start on the Internet and after the contributions and donations start to roll in, I will begin televising the services. Maybe we will pull in enough to even buy an old auditorium or arena and turn into a worship center.

The name of my church is going to be the “1st Internet Worship Center of the Gospel of Prosperity.” We aren’t going to call it a church because that will scare away the customers (oops, sorry; I meant to say congregants). I probably will decorate the web site and the church with a dove and, since this will be a world-wide ministry, most definitely a globe. Don’t go looking for a cross or any references to Jesus; market research has indicated those things tend to make people uncomfortable.

Since it is an Internet site, you can come anytime; we will be open 24/7 and the attire is informal. That’s good because it seems that the dress code for preachers today is blue jeans and Hawaiian shirts. For right now, I will settle for t-shirts and sport shirts. Maybe when we start televising the services, I will have enough money to buy a few Armani suits.

Ours will be a Biblical ministry but each sermon will be decided by input from focus groups. People want their churches to be biblical in nature but they want their pastors to avoid mentioning the Bible. By using focus groups, we can accommodate the wishes of the people.

Most certainly, since this is a church of the gospel of prosperity, we are going to focus on how one can use God to become wealthy and prosperous. We believe that poverty is a product of sin and wealth is a sign of a righteous life.

Ours will be a church (oops, sorry – meant to say worship center) that celebrates life. Ours will be a celebration of family values, so if you are not part of a traditional family you will have to go some place else.

If by now you haven’t figured it out, the above paragraphs were written with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. They come from impressions of many of the churches that are on television and the Internet today. They are what people are looking for because it gives them what they are looking for. But is that what a church (and I mean church) is supposed to do? (From “What Are We Supposed To Do?”)

If the church today is more what the people want it to be than it is what it should be, then those who profess its demise will be prophets after the fact. For many people today, the church is a period of time on Sunday morning and only Sunday morning. It is a time that is protected from the outside world and the problems of the world can be ignored.

I have jokingly said but with some degree of seriousness that the measure of a United Methodist pastor in the Memphis, Tennessee area (my hometown) is his or her ability to get the service over in time for the congregation to get to the Shoney’s before the Baptists get out. And pity the pastor, no matter where they might be, who calls the congregation to task for their failure to lead a Christian life.

The church two thousand years ago was a community of believers, bound together in common belief and for a common goal. It was a community that was open to all. Somewhere along the line we stopped being such a community.

The Gospel reading for today is reminder of the problems that many people had with the church in Jesus’ time and the problem they have today. The woman in the passage has been bleeding for twelve years and none of the physicians she went to were able to help her. What you have to keep in mind is that in her condition, she was considered ritually unclean and thus denied access to the temple. And anyone who might come into contact with her would also be considered unclean and denied access to the temple until they could be “cleansed.” Even today, we find reasons to tell people that they are not welcome in our churches, deeming them to be “unclean” in the eyes of society.

And while we may speak of Jesus as welcoming all and denying no one, our history as a church, written and unwritten, suggests that we still use the Bible justify separation and repression.

In 2002, Susan Pace Hamill, a professor of law at the University of Alabama law school and a member of the Trinity United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa, was on sabbatical at Samford University to complete her master’s degree in theology. Her thesis was entitled “An Argument for Tax Reform Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics” and stated that the Alabama tax code placed an unfair burden on the poor while benefiting the middle- and upper-income taxpayers. For Dr. Hamill, to say one is Christian is to accept a moral obligation to support tax reform. Furthermore, as a Christian, one has a higher calling to seek justice for the poor and the oppressed. (http://www.ethicsdaily.com/news.php?viewStory=2424)

Yet, the loudest opposition to this interesting attempt at tax reform (and I use the term attempt because it failed) came from the Alabama Christian Coalition. First, they tried to say that it was not the responsibility of individuals to take care of the people in the state but that of the church. When that didn’t work, they tried to slander Dr. Hamill. (http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&issue=soj0404&article=040410) They made the argument that low taxes are good for families but when you see how much food and similar items are taxed you have to wonder whose families benefit from such low taxes.

The problem in reading the passage from 2nd Corinthians for today is that we read only part of the story. There are those within the Corinthian church who are challenging Paul’s personal integrity and his authority as an apostle. They have accused him of taking the money raised for the church in Jerusalem for his own benefit. The collection for the Jerusalem church had begun the year before and it was intended not only to address the economic problems of the Jerusalem church but also to stress the unity of the believers that formed the early church.

Paul advocates the ideals of self-sufficiency and fair balance, of having enough for one’s own needs while sharing the excess with others. And it should be noted that those who have received are obligated to reciprocate when the time and opportunity present themselves. The last part of what we read this morning reminds us of the people during the Exodus where the aged and weak might have collected less manna while others collected more, yet there was an equal distribution so that the excess of some ministered to the deficiency of others.

In today’s society, such words are revolutionary, radical, and to some, down right dangerous. That we should share the wealth that we worked so hard to get is, if nothing else, a dangerous thought. But, as I pointed out, this distribution came with the codicil that the recipients would some day be the donor and the donors would be the recipients. What was happening was happening to a community but the sense of community that is present in these writings and in what was the early church is missing in today’s discussion.

Now, I am not calling, as some might say, for a redistribution of wealth. But I am saying that we need to consider the growing differences in wealth, a long documented statistics. And it should be remembered that John Wesley had no qualms with persons earning a large salary; he was, of course, one of the highest paid people in England. But he had also determined what it would take to live in his world and society and everything above that amount was given away.

John Wesley encouraged people to earn as much as they could but not to do it on the backs of the working class. And having earned all one could, he encouraged everyone to save as much as they could (something society in America is loathe to do) and to give as much as they could. It is interesting to note that on a per capita basis, those with incomes below $20,000 give a higher percentage of their earnings than any other income group (http://www.portfolio.com/news-markets/national-news/portfolio/2008/02/19/Poor-Give-More-to-Charity and http://www.mcclatchydc.com/328/story/68456.html). Is it because it is an expression of how a community bands together, a reflection of what we once were?

We no longer have the concept of community that Paul was writing to the Corinthians about and any discussion of community often evolves into an “us versus them” mentality and there is very little discussion about equal opportunities. And unless we begin thinking about the community that we say we belong to, the community of Christians, we are headed for trouble.

The Old Testament reading for today is David’s lament on the loss of Saul and Jonathan. It is not only a personal loss of a friend, but a loss for the community. It also contains a warning; David tells the nation of Israel not to give Israel’s enemies reason to rejoice. We have been given a warning as well. We see it in the health of the church and there are many today who see the church in the same state as the young daughter of Jairus. They said that she was dead and there was no hope. Yet Jesus told him to believe and have faith.

Too many people today, both in the church and outside the church, will laugh at such a pronouncement. There is no hope in this world and even if it is there, it cannot be found in the church of today. Perhaps such skeptics are correct but I see a church that once spoke for all the people that bandied together so that all would have the opportunity to live and succeed and can do so again.

I had an opportunity two weeks ago to attend our Annual Conference and a seminar on Evangelism led by Kwasi Kena, Director of Evangelism for the General Board of Discipleship. It was an interesting seminar in that it ran counter to the current thoughts on the subject of evangelism and it gave me hope that the church as an institution, as a denomination, and individually can be saved.

Now, for too many people today, evangelism is getting people to proclaim Christ as their Savior and it is almost a forced process; either you follow Christ as we have described Him or you are doomed to a life outside the gates of Heaven. But as Dr. Kena pointed out, evangelism is more than just getting people to follow Christ; it is also teaching people about Christ and living the life that you preach and that Christ taught us to live. If the church (be it the institution, the denomination, or any particular individual church) continues as it has been for the past few years, believing more in the letter of the law rather than the Spirit of the law; as long as the church today reflects the behavior of the church two thousand years ago when Jesus walked the back roads of the Galilee, then this will be a dying church.

But, if we begin doing what was done some two thousand years ago, as members of a community of the local level and expanding outwards, then there can be and will be hope. Individually and collectively, we must say that now is the time to rise up from the dead and to begin once again to speak and act the word of God.

It is not enough to get people to follow Christ if they do not know who Christ is; they must be shown by word, thought, deed and action that Christ is alive and living in each of us. The question for you today is very simple, “What state is your faith in? Are you sleeping like the young girl? Or are you seeking Christ?”

Leading Into The Future


This is the message that I presented on the 4th Sunday after Pentecost (6 July 2003) at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church.  The Scriptures for that Sunday were 2 Samuel 5: 1- 9, 9 – 10, 2 Corinthians 12: 2 – 10, and Mark 6: 1- 13.

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What exactly is freedom? What do we expect when we seek freedom? Freedom is one of the most elusive concepts we have today; for how we think of freedom today in no way matches what it really is.

Ask any fifteen-year-old what freedom means and they might reply that it means they can have a car. But ask the same individual some two years later how they are enjoying their new found freedom and they may very well complain about the cost of insurance and what it takes to keep the car they so long desired running.

We want freedom because we think it will take away our responsibilities and that there will be no problems. But freedom brings with it increased responsibilities and with these responsibilities come new problems. Freedom doesn’t release us from anything; it merely redefines our limitations.

It is clear today, as we look backward through the lens of time, that our founding fathers really had no clue what would be the outcome of their efforts of the summer of 1776. But we do know that they knew what the price of their efforts would be. Should the war for independence and freedom have failed, the Declaration of Independence would be their death warrant. Putting their names on this document meant that they were also willing to pay the price that came with freedom.

Sin can be that way; it can seemingly offer us freedom because it offers no responsibilities and promises no problems. But no matter how it is stated, sin’s promise of freedom is simply a cover for slavery and ultimately death.

True freedom comes when we are able to throw away the shackles of slavery and death. Even with the threat of death hanging over their heads, the founding fathers of this country choose freedom rather than slavery imposed by British colonial government. Paul also speaks of freedom, the freedom that could only be found through Christ. It was a freedom that one could have, as Paul reminded us, boasted of countless times.

Paul had every reason and every right to boast. His life before Christ was one of vindictiveness and hatred, of seeking glory through personal triumph and the defeat of others. His actions as Saul were those of someone who thought in the old ways, of thought of power on earth as the only possible solution. To bring the rebel Christians back into line with established religion was his goal for it would bring him power and glory. But he found it to be a hopeless task and one that ultimately brought him face to face with Jesus on the road to Damascus. He is the one of whom he writes in today’s second lesson.

But Paul also knows that boasting about his past triumphs will not help him with the present task and those tasks still to be done. But boasting doesn’t get the job done and boasting takes away from the task. There is some question about what the thorn in his flesh was, that little thing that he referred to on a number of occasions but never fully explained. But it was clear that whatever it was, it was a reminder that his job was not to boast about the successes that he had but to continue working to the end.

Still, he found that as he worked, he grew stronger. And that no matter the pains or agonies he was to endure, the rewards he gained would be greater than whatever he might gain otherwise. And as he did the work of Christ in this world, he would get stronger.

That is the nice thing about freedom. It gives us the chance to boast. But it also reminds that there is still plenty of work to be done. We can boast about the successes of the past but our past successes are no guarantee for the future. They only serve as a reminder of what we must do for the future to be successful.

Because we have to work to hold on to our freedom, because the pain and suffering seem at time too much to bear, we do not want freedom. We are like those who would seek accommodation simply because it would reduce the burden on us. We would much rather have others do the work than have to do the work ourselves.

This, like so many other things, is nothing new. Today’s Old Testament reading is the culmination of years of struggle by the Hebrew people and the unwillingness of a people to hold onto the freedom that was given to them. As we look at the Old Testament, we can see the history of Israel in its early stages. The first five books are the traditions and the laws of the country. They show a nation governed by wise men and women, people who sought the counsel of God when facing perplexing decisions.

But the people of Israel saw the nations around them with kings and they felt that they needed a king as well, even though they had sworn allegiance to God as their only King. Now, it is apparent from the various prophecies that God did not mind the Israelites having a king but the Israelites wanted a king for the wrong reasons. The King that God wanted for Israel was one who would provide and show them the path of righteousness. The king the people of Israel wanted would be like the kings of other nations and would lead them into battle. And whatever the reasons for wanting a king, they amounted to a rejection of God as their one and true king.

As we progress through the book of Judges and Ruth, we see a nation that quickly forgot how it had agreed to be governed and how it transformed itself into just another nation in the Middle East. With the two books of Samuel, we see God responding to the clamor of the people for a king and the appointment of Samuel as the prophet who would anoint Saul as the duly appointed king of Israel. Samuel comes into the picture because the current leaders, including the sons of prophets, have been corrupted by the position and the power.

Saul is the first of God’s anointed King but his was a reign much like the leaders that preceded him. God’s choice for a king was someone who would walk in the ways of God and that is why David was chosen. But as we shall see over the next few weeks, David was susceptible to the trappings and power that came with the office and Israel would again stray from God.

The people of Israel wanted a king for all the wrong reasons. The most important was that they did not want to take on the responsibilities that came with the freedom that they had gained. And a people that is unwilling to take on the responsibilities of freedom is unprepared when the time comes for them to lead or when leadership fails.

I say this, having experienced it first hand. I developed a pretty decent junior bowling program back in middle 70’s but when circumstances forced a change in my own life, I found it necessary to turn the organization over to others. And because I had failed to prepare others to do the work that I had been doing, the organization ultimately collapsed.

If nothing else, that is why I put so much emphasis on reaching out to those who are members of this church but are not presently attending. In order to be a positive and active leadership, those in leadership must be willing to transfer their power to others and others must be available to take over the leadership positions. There is nothing wrong with people providing expertise wherever it is needed but there is also a definite need for others to be involved as well.

That is what Jesus was doing in the Gospel reading for today. Though the disciples were still not getting the idea that they were ultimately going to take over the work that Jesus was doing, Jesus knew that they had to be doing it before He left. And that is why he sent them out, two by two. If they did not start doing the mission work that Jesus was doing, they were not going to be ready when the time came and they would be unable to do the work.

As we celebrate the independence and the founding of this country, we should remember that freedom comes with a cost. John Kennedy, in his inauguration speech, said “that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” But he also added, and I think that most people forget this, that it will be the American people who must do the work. “In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course.”

But this call was not, as some might say, for a continuation of the old ways. It was a call to seek new solutions to old problems. “Now the trumpet summons us again — not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are — but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year, out, ‘rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’ — a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”

Through Christ, we have gained freedom as well. It is the freedom from sin and death. And it gives us, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, the power and the ability to find new solutions to the old problems. Just as Jesus empowered the twelve before he sent them on that first mission trip, so too does the Holy Spirit empower us to help the sick, the impoverished, the downtrodden.

We are able to walk the path of freedom today because of the efforts of others. We walk a path of freedom from sin and death because Jesus died on the cross for us. We are asked today to insure that freedom continues. And we know that this path is a rough one. But because we have accepted Christ as our Savior, we have the guarantee that it will be a road that we can walk and one that does lead into the future.

Playing In The All-Star Game


This is the message that I gave on the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, 9 July 2000, at Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY.  The Scriptures for that Sunday were 2 Samuel 5: 1- 9, 9 – 10, 2 Corinthians 12: 2 – 10, and Mark 6: 1- 13

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Playing in an All-Star game is an interesting proposition. On the one hand, we consider each member of the All-Star team, be it in baseball, football, basketball or any other sport, to be the among the best in that particular sport. Yet, there are times when, even with the combined talents of all the superstars present, the All-Star team is not the best team in the sport. This is especially true when you look at all the professional teams who tried to put all the “superstars” on one team. Having the best players in the sport is not a guarantee of success unless they are all working to one common goal. The problem is that we consider All-Stars in terms of individual accomplishments, not necessarily their team accomplishments.

That’s the contrast that I saw in the Old Testament and Epistle readings for today. The people of Israel applaud David for his military exploits and victories and accept him as their king, completing the task that had been started several years before.

Paul, on the other hand, laments the fact that he has many weaknesses and that these weaknesses are holding him back from doing his ministry. But it should be noted that neither David’s nor Paul’s success was accomplished by themselves. It was the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives that made the difference.

As the concluding verse in the Old Testament reading for today notes, “David went on and became great, and the Lord God of hosts was with him.” (2 Samuel 5: 16)

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he had asked God many times to help him overcome the weaknesses, the thorn in his flesh, that he felt was holding back his ministry. Yet, God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9)

In this passage Paul points out that he does not boast of his success in the ministry because people will not understand where the success comes from. And whatever the reason for the “thorn in his flesh” (and what this was has been one of the great historical questions of the church), Paul sees it as reminder of his own weaknesses, a painful and humiliating experience that prevents his own pride from taking credit for the work that Christ has done in his life.

Paul does point out that because of his weaknesses, Christ’s power is magnified and more apparent to others. As Paul notes at the end of the Epistle reading for today, if in my own weakness others see Christ, then I will be content with that.

Similarly, in the Gospel reading for today, we see that the focus of the people is on Jesus himself and not on His ministry and message. In Mark 6: 2 the people readily acknowledge Jesus’ wisdom and mighty works but because they still saw him as the local boy who did good, they were not truly open to the message. It may have been that others were jealous that it was Jesus was getting all the glory and adulation of the people. It was this envy that lead others to literally through Jesus out of Nazareth, as described in Luke 4: 28 – 30.

So all those in the synagogue, when they heard all these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way. (Luke 4: 28 – 30)

It has often been noted that Jesus did not pick twelve scholars or teachers or those who might have considered themselves future leaders in the kingdom of God when he picked His disciples. I know that it may be a cliché to say so but it does fit within the context of this sermon to say that Jesus did not pick the local Jewish superstars for his All-Star team. Rather, he picked twelve ordinary guys, people who no one would have imagined capable of great doing great things.

And it would be safe to say that left to their own powers, skills and abilities, they would not have accomplished much. But when Jesus sent them out on that first mission described in today’s Gospel reading he did not send them out alone. He paired them together so that they could work together as a team and he gave the power over unclean spirits. The success of the mission, as indicated in Mark 6: 13, only came about because the Holy Spirit was with the twelve and because they had the faith that was needed.

The success of the church today will be because, like the church of old, we do not rely on the talents or skills of a single superstar. Rather, like the church of old, it will be the skills and talents of all the members of the church working together for a single goal. Yes, there will be times when the success is not evident. Even Jesus’ disciples could not get it right the first time. And it is true that even when the disciples and others who were sent out on these first missions came back with stories of success, there were those who came back with stories of how they just didn’t quite get it.

Some might argue that the success of the church lies in everyone doing the same thing. But success requires that a variety of tasks be done and that can only be accomplished through teamwork. What is important is that we have a single goal in mind and that we are of one accord when it comes to that goal.

This can be accomplished when we let the Holy Spirit into our hearts. When that happens, whatever we desire will come to pass. Paul could never have accomplished what he did had he not accepted Christ as his personal savior. David’s triumphs quickly disappeared, as we shall see in the coming weeks, when he left God behind.

And Jesus’ own brothers, who were among those who scoffed at his miracles and wisdom, came to the faith after the resurrection, when they understood what Jesus message was really about. Jesus’ brothers, James and Judas, came to power, not because they were his brothers but because of their faith in Christ.

We may want to play in the All-Star Game yet feel that it is out of our reach because we don’t have the skills or talents necessary. Yet, if we accept Christ as our personal Savior, if we let the Holy Spirit guide and direct us in our daily life, we quickly will find that we can do more than our own skills and talents alone will ever do.

That’s the challenge for us this day. It is not our skills and talents but rather what is in our heart that brings us success. Is Christ a part of your life? Can you play in the all-star game?