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.

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?

Study War No More


Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost.
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In many ways, 1969 was not a good year for me. Not only was I having difficulty in college but I was getting into trouble with my family with regards to my developing political beliefs. First there was the card that I passed around my Sunday School class during a visit home.

The card was a version of the statement by the Greek historian Herodotus that “in peace, children bury their parents. War violates the order of nature because it causes parents to bury their children.” At a time when the majority of my classmates and their parents were still supporting the Viet Nam war and military service was still an honorable profession, such an attitude was not a popular one to have.

Then there was the necklace that I gave my mother for Mother’s Day that year. It was a necklace from “Another Mother For Peace” and read “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” Though my mother accepted it as a gift from her oldest son, she was not thrilled that I would be thinking in those terms. Interestingly enough, some thirty-seven years after the fact, this same group is still active and has its own web site, http://www.anothermother.org/index.html.

We still haven’t learned what war is about or what it actually accomplishes. We will learn that the world is turned upside-down, filled with tragedy, impious, unethical, and terrible when we choose the path of war. (1)

The Old Testament reading for today (2) is David’s lament on the loss of Saul and Jonathan in war. I don’t believe that this passage supports war but rather argues against war, for how can a nation be successful in any endeavor when its young and its leaders are killed in the process of war? Should we remember what Robert E. Lee, on observing the carnage, death and destruction at Fredericksburg, VA, said, “It is well that war is so terrible, lest we grow fond of it.”

There really can never be a justification for war. Too often we use wars as a means of equalizing things or solely for the oppression of other peoples and nations. Never is the outcome of war good for those who are the defeated will never truly accept their defeat.

Yes, there are things that come out of war that benefit mankind. The use of the helicopter in the Korean and the Viet Nam wars allowed trauma medicine to develop where injuries that were once life-threatening now are treated rapidly and with less loss of life. It is possible that hospitals in this country and around the world would have discovered the use of the helicopter for medical transportation without war but war only hastened its use.

The use of nuclear reactors for power generation came about because of the research on the atomic bomb. But we do not use nuclear power in this country as we could and should because we fear the terrorist who might try to destroy the reactor. And we are not willing to give up our cheap coal, oil, and gasoline in face of the price of managing nuclear wastes.

War is just another way we seek the resources and the benefits of society while denying others the same resources and benefits. We crowd around Jesus seeking his attention and wondrous touch. But as we crowd around Him, we prevent others from doing so as well. Fortunately, Jesus knows who is seeking Him and He is aware of those who seek to briefly touch His cloak. (3)

But how many people in this world do not have the opportunity or the wherewithal that the woman in the crowd had? Too many times countries that are denied resources seek those resources through war because the countries with the resources are not willing to share. But Paul points out that those who have the resources should work with those who do not have the resources. (4)  As he points out to the Corinthians, our giving leads to more abundance for us all.

But are we willing to give so that others have what we have? If we are not, then we will be denying the very act of Christ whose act of sacrifice insured that we would gain. What do we gain through war?

War gives us nothing yet takes away everything. We willingly send our young people off to war in the hopes that they will come home. Maybe, just maybe, many years ago war had an outcome that was best for all but that would have been before mankind was around. What good comes out of war? Why do we even think of war as a first option?

Should we instead give up the study of war and begin, not the study of peace, but rather that act of peace? Should we follow the lead of Christ who gave of Himself so that all can share in the rewards? Maybe we should remember the words of the old spiritual to gather down by the riverside, lay down our swords and guns, and study war no more?


(1)

Adapted from http://www.umilta.net/trojanwomen.html

(2) 2 Samuel1: 1, 17 – 27

(3) Mark 5: 21 – 43

(4) 2 Corinthians 8: 7 – 15