“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.

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.

What Would You Do?


This is a sermon that I gave at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost (27 June 2004).  The Scriptures for this Sunday were 2 Kings 2: 1 – 2, 8 – 14, Galatians 5: 1, 13 – 25, and Luke 9:  51 – 62.

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There was, a number of years ago, a statement popular among Christians asking “What would Jesus do?” When I first read the Scriptures for today I was reminded of that phrase. And as I began working on this sermon, I came across something that might answer that question. There is a bumper sticker out today that essentially says, “When Jesus said ‘love your enemies’, he didn’t mean kill them.” (http://www.brethren.org/oepa/LoveYourEnemies.html)

Now I have never been particularly enamored with this phrase which asks us what Jesus would do. For no matter what the situation might be, I am pretty sure I know what Jesus would do; it is what you or I would do that I am interested in knowing. The problem is that, in wondering what Jesus would do, we remove any responsibility that we might have in resolving that particular situation.

In asking what Jesus would do, we conveniently find a way to get out of taking action. We are like the young man in the Gospel reading today, willing to follow Jesus but not on His terms. We don’t mind hearing that Jesus came to save us; we just don’t want to get involved in helping others to find out what Jesus is all about. And we want this meaning in terms of our rewards, not our responsibilities.

We often think of Christianity in terms of what it means to us. We look at what we will get out of being Christians but we are unwilling to share in other’s sorrowing and pain. We despise pain and suffering and regard them as something to be avoided at all costs. We associate God with the pleasant things in life; if there is agony, then God must be absent or such pain and agony is punishment for our sins. Too many churches, too many pastors present a message that focuses inward and not towards others. Too many churches and too many pastors present a message of the Gospel that is a feel good about one’s self when the real message of the Gospel is to go out into the world.

In looking inward, we are blinded to the responsibilities of claiming the faith. Note that what Paul condemns in his words to the Galatians are inward, selfish properties. All that Paul condemns are designed to serve the individual at the expense of others.

In calling for us to show kindness, love, and care, Paul gets individuals to turn outward, turn to others in the community. Paul already, through his own experiences, knows that Jesus would show love and kindness in everything He does; Paul wants to know what the Galatians are going to do. He is asking us the same thing. Where is the focus of our action? Do we do things for what we get out of it or do we do things so that others benefit?

We as Methodists should know the answer to that question. John Wesley showed by his own actions and failures what happens when you seek something for one’s self. Before that night in the chapel on Aldersgate Street, John Wesley’s action, his whole purpose was for himself. How could he be a better Christian? How could he find his place in heaven?

But, despite all the good that he might have done with his service and care for the poor and the downtrodden, he was a failure. No matter what he tried to do, he could not find the peace that he sought; he could not find the calm to soothe the storm that troubled his soul.

Now, I have to admit that many years ago I probably saw life in much the same way, though never with the same fervor and zeal that marked the Wesley boys in their ministry. I felt that if I did good works, went to church on Sunday, and cried out against injustice and hatred like others, the rewards of heaven would be mine. And while I thought that I was a good, hard-working Methodist, there was still a part of me that saw the work and effort that I put into being a Christian as being for myself. All the effort and thought that I might put into life was just as meaningless as the work John Wesley did before Aldersgate. And while I may not have plunged to the depths of depression and despair that marked both John and Charles Wesley at that time in their lives, my life was not easy.

I cannot say whether I have had the impact on others that John Wesley did, or will I ever presume to think that I have. Perhaps when I am finished on this earth, at some far distant time in the future, I will find out. But in the meantime, having accepted Jesus as my own personal Savior, I have to ask myself each day, “will what I have done today allow me to seek perfection in Christ?” It is not enough to simply say that I am a Christian. I have to make sure that my focus is on Christ and not on this world. That is why the young man in today’s Gospel reading could not follow Christ; he was unwilling to give up this world for the world of Christ.

Some might say that Elisha was also self-centered in asking for a double share of Elijah’s blessing. But the power that came from this blessing would only come if Elisha maintained his focus on God. In his statement that he found that he trusted God, Wesley realized that his focus had been on the wrong things. And, as has been said countless times before, once his focus went to working for God, the success of the Methodist Revival followed.

Like the young man of today’s Gospel reading, we need to be reminded that our focus is to the future and not to the past. We need to be reminded that a focus on Christ is central to the focus of our life.

We need to be reminded that the world around us is the place where we serve and give everything for Christ. We know that this world is not the only world there is and it is certainly not the final world. There is a future and it is found in God and we bank all our hopes and dreams on that very future. We do believe that the Messiah has come but we also know that the world where the lion lies down with the lamb, where there is no more war or injustice, where every knee bows and every tongue confesses Christ is a world that is yet to come.

We may never have enough time to accomplish what we have been asked to do and it seems that we often do not have the right solution. Often times it seems that we even lack the resources to accomplish those tasks. We are hampered by our vision of this world, our own limitations, and our own woundedness. (Adapted from material in the “Martyrs” chapter of Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs, James C. Howell)

It is times like these when we are quite willing to let others take on the task, saying that they are too great for us. It is times like these when we have to ask, “What would Jesus do?” But I already know what Jesus did and why it was done.

Jesus died on the cross so that I would not have to suffer. So the question is, was, and should always be, “what will you do?” If truth and justice depends on the mere goodness and perfection of mere mortals such as ourselves, then we are in dire straits. But if we are to strive for godliness, to be saints, if we are to bring righteousness and justice, fairness and freedom to this world, then we must act. We must be willing to look forward and not backwards; we must be willing to do things for others rather than for ourselves. If God is to be found in this world, then it is likely that He will be found in the places of suffering and sorrow, not in places of bliss and ease. And so that is where we must go.

I know that Christ died for me so that I might live. So I invite you to open your hearts and accept Christ as your Savior, knowing that is what He did for you. And I invite you, having accepted Christ as your Savior to reach out to others and invite them to come and know who Christ is. It is not what Jesus would do that you should ask today but rather what is it that I should do?

The Cost of Freedom (2001)


This is a sermon that I gave at Walker Valley United Methodist Church for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost (1 July 2001).  The Scriptures for this Sunday were 2 Kings 2: 1 – 2, 6 – 14, Galatians 5: 1, 13 – 25, and Luke 9:  51 – 62.

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One of the songs by Crosby, Stills, and Nash opens with the line “the cost of freedom in buried in the ground.” It always seems interesting to me that each year that we celebrate our country’s independence, we often forget what this day is all about, why it was that we fought the War of Independence and what it took to gain victory. And even today, as we celebrate 225 years of independence, there are still those who feel that we do not have enough freedom and those who feel that we have too much freedom.

There are those in this country today who would tell us that we have too many freedoms and that we need to pull back and let others control what we say and do. There are those who argue just the opposite, that we do not have enough freedom to say and think and act in whatever manner we wish to choose. Still others are afraid to act, for fear of stepping on the freedoms of others.

For me, freedom is that moment when we have to face what is in front of us and take actions for ourselves. It is not unlike the moment that Elisha faced on the banks of the Jordan that day that read about in the Old Testament reading this morning or that moment when Jesus said to his followers to “Follow me.”

In each case, be it Elisha or the two followers, the moment of freedom required a choice, it required that they take action. And for a moment, each person was not immediately prepared to accept that freedom.

It can be a frightening thing to have to go out on one’s own and to do the things that others have done for you. In Elisha’s case, it was the acceptance of the role that Elijah had played. Elijah was afraid of the change. Elijah was Elisha’s mentor, prophet, teacher, and father-in-the faith. But now it was time for Elisha to move on and take charge of the ministry entrusted to him. Yet, he was afraid to do so. As the student, there was degree of comfort and a manner of protection. But as the prophet, there was no comfort, there was no protection.

It is easy to understand Elisha’s response, of not wanting to let Elijah go. Fear makes it easy to cling to the past or to familiar traditions. But that is why faith becomes so strong. While fear would have us cling to the past, faith has us look to the future.

What Elisha was most afraid of was that God would leave him, that he wouldn’t be there. In verse 14, Elisha cries out in despair and loneliness, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” And God answered with a sign of divine presence, the parting of the Jordan River so that Elisha could return home. In effect, God said to Elisha, “I never left. Life goes on. Elijah’s journey may have ended but your journey continues.”

Similarly, it is easy to understand the responses of the two individuals when Jesus asked them to follow him. It is one thing to listen to the words of the Gospel; it is an entirely different thing to follow them and carry them out. Jesus’ command to “Follow Him” means that we must walk the same path.

It means that we have to recognize that there is a purpose to life and that part of that purpose is for us to do God’s work here on earth. To follow Christ also means that we must make a commitment. The Gospel reading for today makes it clear that Jesus was committed to go into Jerusalem. As it stated in verse 51, he “set his face” firmly on that goal. It has been made clear to us countless number of times that Jesus was a person of commitment. Telling those that wish to follow him that they must give up everything was to say that they must make a commitment. In asking us to make a commitment, to choosing the path that He walked, Jesus challenges us to reach our full potential in a world that accepts mediocrity.

In writing to the Galatians, Paul spoke of freedom as a liberation of the soul. Paul pointed out that we have a choice in what we want to do, that we have a certain amount of freedom in what we say and do. And whatever it is that we do, we have to recognize the consequences of our actions. If we chose to follow the desires of our heart, we have to be prepared to accept the consequences of our actions. But if we choose to follow Christ, we not only gain liberation from sin and its domination over our lives, we gain salvation through Christ and gain the Spirit that can take us to better things.

At times, we are like Elisha, afraid to let go and letting others do our thinking for us. At times, we are like the disciples, asked to make a commitment but not willing to pay the price, not willing to truly accept the cost of freedom. What we have to realize is that God will be with us. Over and over again, we find that God has given us more that we ever thought. That is called God’s grace. The true cost of freedom is both free and beyond value when you realized that how we gained God’s grace.

Which Way Will You Go?


I am preaching at Stevens Memorial United Methodist Church in South Salem, NY, this morning. Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost.  This was edited on August 26, 2020 to correct a link.
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Two things occurred in the past few weeks that I think have a profound impact on the nature of the church in the coming days. First, the Reverend Jerry Falwell died, and second, several books with an atheist viewpoint were at the top of the New York Times bestseller list. And I think that society’s reaction to the first of the events is one reason for the second.

Now, I will be honest and say that I didn’t like Reverend Falwell very much; I thought his pronouncements and his attitude at times were the very antithesis of what I thought a Christian should be. In his comments concerning the passing of Reverend Falwell and its implication for society, Jim Wallis quoted David Kuo, former special assistant to President George W. Bush. Kuo wrote that Falwell “…helped define Jesus for much of America today.” He further wrote, “…his definition does not do justice to the Jesus of the Gospels. When people hear the word ‘Christian,’ too often they think not of Jesus and his teachings but of Jerry Falwell and his politics. I know a lot of Christians who don’t like to refer to themselves as ‘Christians’ because they are afraid of the Falwellian association.” (“Falwell’s Legacy”, Jim Wallis in Sojourners, July, 2007)

But as William Willimon noted in a recent article in Christian Century (June 12, 2007), Jerry Falwell was not a man to be trifled with. In his conversation with students at Duke University that prompted this article by Bishop Willimon, Reverend Falwell noted that Liberty University’s African-American enrollment was only 12% of the total student population and he was embarrassed by such a low number. But he also noted that the same enrollment at Duke, a United Methodist-supported university, was only 6% and that for many years Duke had a policy of segregation. The students who had booed and hissed at every word that Reverend Falwell spoke at the beginning of this conversation were very, very quiet at the end. As Bishop Willimon note, Jerry Falwell was no fool. If you are going to argue with someone like Jerry Falwell, you had better have your facts straight; otherwise, you are going to be very embarrassed by the outcome.

I noticed that with his passing, there were those who thought that the conservative and fundamentalist forces that seem to drive the American church were going to quietly die out as well, or at least be reduced in demeanor. I doubt that will happen, if for no other reason then that others will step up to take Reverend Falwell’s place. Only they will not necessarily be as talented or prepared and the fights they will fight will be far more “bloody.”

Against that backdrop I also noticed that there were several books, among them “God is not great” by Christopher Hitchens, on the New York Times best seller list. It was almost as if the extreme left of the theological spectrum felt the need to rush in and fill the vacuum left by the death of Reverend Falwell.

As much as I feel that those on the extreme right of the theological spectrum arrive at faulty conclusions from the facts available, so too do I think that those on the extreme left do the same. It is quite easy to conclude when all you read about in the news is war, violence, hatred, and exclusion that there is no God or, if there is a God, it is one who prefers violence over love. It is quite easy for someone to say that churches today are hypocritical when the loudest voices advocating war, hatred, violence, and exclusion are heard in churches throughout the country. For many in society, atheism and agnosticism seem to be viable alternatives when the church seems to turn its back on them. One comment to my blog for last week (“We Are Eating Our Seed Corn”) pointed out that many churches are cutting funding for youth ministries while at the same time showing absolutely no interest in the youth. If there was any wonder as to why so many youth view the church cynically, we only have to look at what we are doing.

But those who profess science as an alternative to religion often times merely replace one form of religion with another. Instead of science, we have what is called scientism, the belief that there exists only one reality and science provides the only trustworthy method for gaining knowledge about this reality. In this view, science has an exhaustive monopoly on knowledge and it judges the claims of religion to have knowledge of supernatural realities as fiction or pseudo-knowledge. But just as fundamentalism is rigid and inflexible, scientism is a sealed off world that has closed its doors to transcendence. (Adapted from http://www.elca.org/faithandscience/covalence/story/content/06-06-15-peters-1.asp; note, as of August 26, 2020, this link does not work.)

Brian Doyle wrote about a conversation that he had had with two philosophy professors and the roots of faith and whether religions are the “biological constructs” and “electrical explosions in the brain” or whether they mean something more:

I have continued to think about that conversation almost every day. I still have faith in faith, despite the philosophers’ evidence that religions are merely nutty hobbies, like being a Cubs fan. I keep thinking that under the rituals and rigmarole, there is in religion a crucial, wriggling sense of what human beings might someday be. It’s what you experience sometimes, for an instant, in patriotism or sport or family; a humor and mercy; camaraderie and ease, a grace and mercy, a warmth beyond all reason and sense. Sometimes, for a second — at a game, a meeting, in line at the bank, at a park by the rive — you get a flash of connective energy with your fellow beings, just a flick of it, a quick shiver of inexplicable peace and joy in the company of your fellow travelers.

That flash is what religions are for. Yes, we gather because deep in our mammal hearts we are in awe of whatever sparks life, and yes, we are desperate for definition so we drape explanations on the Unnameable… (Adapted from Commonweal Magazine, 3 November 2006 – in Context, July 2007)

The philosopher Huston Smith noted,

“…we are hamstrung between the fundamentalists on the one hand, who are locked into a dogmatic literalism that fails to put scripture into context, and on the other side, the liberals, who have conceded too much ground to secularism and the scientific method.

As for the scientific method, Smith noted,

When the scientific method came into being, it gave us a new window on the truth; namely, a method by laboratory-controlled experiments to winnow true hypotheses from false ones. This has yield a great many things — washing machines, microwaves, a significantly longer life expectancy, to name a few.

But those discoveries were so good that we overlooked something. We thought the scientific method was giving us omnicompetence (an understanding of all things). It isn’t.

We are physical beings, but we also have a spirit. Science relies on our physical senses, mostly our vision, for its discoveries. But there are some things that our physical senses do not detect. Nobody has ever seen a thought. Nobody has ever seen a feeling. And yet the world of our thoughts and feelings is the primary world in which we live. (Adapted from Zion’s Herald (now The Progressive Christian, tpcmagazine.org), January/February 2006 – in Context, July 2007)

There is one truth but it is inaccessible if you limit the way you seek it out or try to find it. And that is the very challenge that the church today faces. You see people today searching for the truth, searching for a new path to walk. But where is this new path? In what direction do we walk or take our lives?

With fundamentalism on one side of the theological spectrum and atheism on the other, it would seem that the middle path is the only alternative. But, as is often said in Texas, the only things in the middle of the road are dead armadillos. And the middle path in this viewpoint is a compromise of the two extremes.

There are churches today that do offer some sort of compromise. They offer new forms of worship or a softer message. But changing the style of worship doesn’t help if the central message ignores the Gospel. A softer message, one that offers rewards that Jesus never promised or says that poverty, sickness, homelessness are not your fault and it is all right to ignore, is just another form of the hypocrisy that drives so many people away from the true message of the Gospel.

Let me today suggest another alternative. Let me suggest today the way we should go, the direction our life will should take is not defined by the middle of the road and compromise but rather by the simple declaration of our belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior.

To follow Christ is to follow a decidedly different path and most definitely not the path that society would have us walk. But it is not an easy path to walk, as today’s readings from the Old Testament (1 Kings 19: 1 – 15) and the Gospel (Luke 8: 26 – 39) show.

In the Old Testament reading, Elijah is on the run for his life. In the previous chapter of Kings, Elijah had openly challenged King Ahab and his wife, Queen Jezebel, and their belief in the gods of Baal. Calling upon the power of God, Elijah caused the prophets of Baal in Israel to be killed. Ahab and Jezebel were seeking revenge for the embarrassment that they had suffered in this display of God’s power.

In the Gospel reading for today, a man possessed by demons approaches Jesus. Jesus breaks the power of demons and puts the demons into a nearby herd of pigs. Now, you would have thought that the people would have rejoiced because one of their neighbors had been cured of a debilitating illness. But they were angry that he had destroyed the herd of pigs.

Now, this region of Galilee was predominantly Gentile so it was permissible for them to be raising pigs. It has been suggested that the pigs raised were sold to a nearby Roman garrison and the anger that the people directed towards Jesus was because of the economic loss.

We have to be prepared to go against the grain of society if we are to walk the path that Christ asks us to walk. It is interesting to note that after encountering God on the mountain, Elijah is directed to go to Damascus and take his ministry in a new direction.

Saul leaves Jerusalem for Damascus to continue the persecution of the new Christians. But it was on the road to Damascus that Saul’s life changed and he became Paul. It was on the road to Damascus that a life of persecution became a life of ministry.

Paul also notes in his letter to the Galatians, our 2nd lesson today (Galatians 3: 23 – 29), that a life in the law, such as the one he lead before the transformation on the road to Damascus, was a life imprisoned. And a life imprisoned is a life without creativity, without the ability to go beyond the boundaries of society.

There are two types of persons who will hear or read this message. There are some who do not know what direction their life should take. To them, we remember what God commanded Elijah to do, “go to Damascus!” In this case, to go to Damascus is to take the steps that are needed to encounter Christ much as Saul did and to make the changes as Saul did in becoming Paul.

There are those who have made the trip and have encountered Christ and have changed their lives. They are like the man in the Gospel reading today. They want to follow Jesus wherever He goes but Jesus commands them to return home and tell the people there how much God has done for them.

The question that you must ask yourself today is which type of person you are and which direction you will go.