“How Will They Know?”


In a conversation the other day, someone noted that I was a liberal Christian. Now, in one of my earlier posts, I noted that I didn’t think that there was such a thing as a conservative Christian, simply because the demands of Christianity often times, in my view, conflict with conservatism.

I know that there are some who feel that religion and politics should not mix and there are problems with one side dictates to the other.  I also feel that many people today do not have a true understanding of what being a Christian, liberal or otherwise, means and that many people think that feel that the declaration that one is a Christian automatically excludes being a liberal and that the declaration that being a liberal automatically excludes one from being religiously active.

One of my favorite quotes come from the movie “A Man For All Seasons”. I do not recall the setting in which this exchange took place but it speaks to not only the aspect of being a Christian in today’s society but to a lot of what we need to do.

Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.

Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?

Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.

The one thing that I think we have had a hard time with in our society today is, first, putting the others on that list, and second, making sure that they have priority. I think sometimes that many conservatives do not think about the others in the equation; it is all about what they do.

The more predominant voices of conservative Christianity tend to expound on what they think you need to do but do, in my mind, very little to do what it is that Jesus Christ wanted us to do when he first walked the back roads of the Galilee.

Many a preacher, in many a denomination, will state that the Great Commission is the sole purpose of Christianity.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 16 – 20 in the New International Version)

But reread this passage as it translated in The Message,

Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally. Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

Note how Jesus’ command changes from “make” to “train”. To further show this, read how Clarence Jordan translated the same patch in his Cotton Patch Gospel translation of Matthew,

Well, the eleven students traveled to Alabama, to the mountain which Jesus had selected for them. When they saw him they accepted him as their Lord, but some couldn’t make up their minds. James came over to them and said, “Every right to rule in both the spiritual and physical realms has been given to me. As you travel, then, make students of all races and initiate them into the family of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to live by all that I outlined for you. And you know, I am right in there with you – all the time – until the last inning.”

I think it is important to notice that the emphasis was on teaching. Teaching cannot be accomplished (as we are finding out) by simply forcing people to learn things. We are finding out that many people who proclaim themselves Christians do not have a firm understanding of the Bible in terms of the words written or the meaning and context of the words. (And study after study show that we are a Biblically illiterate society).

When Jesus began His mission, he proclaimed that He had come to bring the Good News to the people, to offer food for the hungry (and I think he meant both physical and spiritual hunger), to heal the sick, and relieve the oppression of the people. In the end, that is what one has to do if one says they are a Christian. Because if you are not actively involved in the ministries of Christ, then it becomes very difficult to teach others as Christ taught us.

Now, you may say that you do those things and that you don’t need a church, Jesus Christ, or for that matter, God to do those things. So why are you doing it? For what purpose do you do good?

Do you partake in acts of charity and kindness because it is the right thing to do (what was it that Spock said to Kirk that one time when Kirk asked if it was the logical thing to do? No, it was the human thing to do.) or do you seek justification for your own existence?

I know there are those who feel that to profess a belief in God is at time irrational and perhaps illogical (or even something worse). But I cannot help wondering from where we get our sense of good and evil. In Genesis we read of God commanding Adam not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And you know the rest of the story, which has several versions, depending on your point of view. But if you feel that this knowledge of good and evil does not come from God and our own actions, then where does it come from? And how will you deal with it?

In the end, I will profess to believe that there is a God. I do so, knowing that God created all I see in the physical world in which I live and the universe through which this planet travels. I also believe that my own abilities to think and create, to understand right and wrong, good and evil, come from this same Creator. I have chosen to walk the path that was first walked by Jesus Christ some two thousand years ago over the dusty back roads of the Galilee. I do not think that story is a myth because it is still told today and because of how it was told two thousand years ago (see my notes in “The Other Side Of The Universe” on this).

I do not think that my job is to make you believe as I do. I have come to know that there are many paths to heaven and that my responsibility is to show you the one on which I walk. And to show you is to teach you in the ways of Christ, as He asked me to do some two thousand years ago.

You may disagree with me and I know that many on both sides of the spectrum will. But when someone asks, “How will they know?,” I will reply through my words, thoughts, deeds, and action.

The Two Important Issues For 2015 And 2016


I was thinking about this the other day but ran into problems with my computer and lost most of the work. So I am going to try and doing it again.

First, I prompted to post this today because I had another chance to review the life of Robert F. Kennedy. This piece will echo some of the thoughts that I posted back in March when I posted “So You Want To Be President?”

The one thing that amazes me are the differences in the 1968 campaign and today’s Presidential campaigns. Maybe it is just me but the campaigns back seem to actually focus on the issues and, while there was negative campaigning back then, it wasn’t to the extent we have today.

And how many of today’s candidates can quote Greek writers, such as Aeschylus, from memory as did Robert Kennedy? How many of today’s politicians, let alone Presidential candidates, would challenge the political system as Robert Kennedy did when he posed the question to white South Africans, “Suppose God Is Black”, or when he spoke to white medical students about serving the poor and needy (see “To Build a New Community” for a link to references of that speech).

Which, of any, of today’s candidates, could do as Robert Kennedy did on the night that Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed and go into the poorer part of Indianapolis and speak of the tragedy on personal terms. Let’s remember that night, when violence erupted in almost every city in this country, it was calm in Indianapolis. I do not think that many of today’s candidates would be able to do anything similar, so used to blaming someone when there is a problem.

Both President Kennedy and Senator Kennedy spoke in terms of paragraphs, not sound bites, and they expected those who listened to them to know the references that they made. Today’s politicians merely reflect the current state of learning in this country, which is to say, limited.

That is why I think one of the major political issues in the coming months has to be the state of education in this country today. Instead of moving forward, creating thinkers and people capable of analyzing complex and multiple issues, we are creating a population of followers who have surrendered their thought process to a group of individuals who feel their duty is to do our thinking for us. Instead of providing the information for us to use, this group has taken it upon themselves to tell us what to think and what to do.

Our schools transformed from institutions of thinking and creativity into mere assembly lines, churning out numerous copies of the same product day after day. We argue about what is being taught, more so because I think we can’t do the work ourselves. If we were more involved in the process of learning and understanding what we need to learn, we might be better prepared to deal with those who would say that “they know what is best and we should just shut up and follow orders.”

For me, it would seem that first, we need to be more involved in what is happening in our schools today and we need to push our schools to do more that prepares students for tomorrow. And yes, I know this will cost money.

But we need to stop and look at where our money is going these days and wonder if we can’t stop funding wars and start funding education. We might find that tomorrow will be a lot better that way.

The second issue that we need to face is a moral one. Part of the moral dilemma that we are faced with is that we find it very easy to condemn others while not accepting blame for our sins. We have ignored what Christ said one day, “Listen, you phony, first pull the plank from your eye and then you’ll be able to see better to get the splinter out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7: 5 – The Cotton Patch Gospels).

There are as many in the sectarian world as there are in the secular world who have made it their providence to tell us how to live our lives will telling us to ignore how they live theirs.

We cannot begin to build a world of peace when we live in a constant state of war and where individuals who claim to be speaking for God proclaim a message of hatred and exclusion. We cannot begin to build God’s Kingdom here on earth, in what form it may take, if there are those among us who would proclaim that they and only they know the true word of God.

They will tell you, in no uncertain terms that there is only way to achieve true salvation and that if you do not chose that path, you will have chosen a path to total and final condemnation. I have heard that call countless times before in my life and, each time that I have heard it, I have walked away. It is not that I don’t believe in what they are saying but because I don’t think they have the right or authority to tell me what I have to do.

But I know what path I have chosen to walk and I also know that it may not be the path that others will choose. If a person believes in God and what that means, does it matter whether they believe as I do or that I believe as they do?

What I know is that I do not have the power, the right, or authority to tell others that they must walk the same path as I. But if I feel that the path that I walk is the better path, then what I have to do is show them, through my words, my deeds and my actions, what is gaining by walking with me.

What is needed at this time and on this planet is the beginning of a revival to understand why we are here and why we must work with each other instead of against each other.

We must understand what it means to do good and how that is achieved. And let’s face it, if you are doing good because you think it will somehow save you, you need to understand that it doesn’t work that way, no matter what else you may believe. One does good for what others receive, not what one receives.

The first of this issues will be decided at the ballot box but the second one can only be decided individually in one’s heart and soul. And it will take action on both issues if we are to truly make this a better world.

Understanding Advent in the 21st Century


You are invited to join us during the four Sundays in October (October 5, 12, 19, and 26), from 5 to 7 pm, in the tradition of the early United Methodist Church, at the home of Tony Mitchell and Ann Walker for a four week Bible study to prepare for Advent.

Amidst the trials and tribulations of the world today, let us read the Scriptures for each week of Advent and consider the following questions:

  1. Why do we celebrate Advent?
  2. What is the meaning of Advent?
  3. How do we prepare for the coming of Christ in the 21st Century?
  4. What will our response be?

You are welcome to come for one, two, three, or all four sessions. Please let Ann and me know that you are coming.

Guided by the Light


These are my thoughts for January 1, 2012, the Epiphany of the Lord Sunday.

There probably isn’t going to be much reference to the Scripture readings for this Sunday but I will be, as the title suggests, guided by the light of the star that guided the Magi from their homeland to the new born Christ Child.

I have been blogging since July, 2005, which is probably a long time in the blogging community. My blogging allowed me to be part of some other blogs and that was a good thing. I started off blogging as a way to continue the writing that was part of sermon preparation that had been a part of my life since 1998. And I thought that people would take notice of my writing and this would lead to some other possibilities. Sadly, I have come to conclusion that isn’t going to take place.

Yes, my writing lead to my being asked to contribute to RedBlueChristian (link removed on 15 May 2015; the site is pretty much dead) as a voice for the liberal/progressive side of the spectrum. I liked that idea but I am not sure how many people actually visited that blog, especially since most of the contributors, including myself, put the same pieces on our own blog. I fear that this blog, which has not had much activity in the past six months or so, has run its course and will shortly disappear into the vastness of cyberspace.

I am thinking that I need to do something else with my writing. As I have written before, I never bought into the “publish or perish” model of academic success. I published research and other articles that I found interesting. Unfortunately, if you are not connected with a college or university and not putting out three or four manuscripts a year, you are not considered worthy of employment in today’s academic world. I have also come to the conclusion that my thirty years of experience, coupled with the Ph. D., are too much of an expense for many schools that need introductory chemistry instructors. It is far cheaper to take a rookie with a brand new degree and maybe a year or two of post-doctoral experience. And it is better if they can bring with them an active research program.

I am finding that even community colleges are seeking research oriented individuals, no matter if there are research facilities on the campus. Research means grants and grants mean money. If a professor can get grants for research, it means that part or all of his or her salary can be paid from the grant and this relieves the school from that burden.

The only problem is that the research I am interested in doing is related to chemical and science education. To too many “purists” this isn’t real research but something to dabble in late in life. The only problem with this attitude is that ignores problems with chemical education. Right now, it seems to me that our whole basic education process, not just the introductory chemistry process, is to give students a stack of material to memorize for a test and offer no connection between the course and the world. We see it in the vestiges of “No Child Left Behind” where all that matters is the test score. This is now very much a part of the mentality students bring to their college work. Having spent the better part of high school taking tests, they think that all they have to do is the same thing in college.

We have lost our focus on the purpose of education. No longer are we interested in developing thinkers and questioners; rather we want students to come out school blindly accepting authority and doing what the powers-that-be demand. For me, this is especially true in the area where science and religion overlap. There should be no conflict between the two areas but, unfortunately, too many individuals in one area distrust their counterparts in the other area and this is leading to some very bad times ahead. Our misunderstanding of climate change is just a tip of the literal iceberg; our lack of understanding about science in general is far greater than many people would suspect.

And the distrust that many people feel with regards to the church wouldn’t be there if religious authorities were more focused on their real job rather trying to keep their positions safe. There are times when I feel like Job and I want to question God. Some would say that is not possible but if it were not possible, then why is Job included in the present canon? Yes, I know that Job acknowledges he pushed the envelope but all he wanted was the chance to do so. And only a loving God would be willing to let one of His children push the envelope, don’t you think?

So I am going to take a break from blogging on a regular basis. I will continue to add pieces as I find the time and the need; if nothing else, the on-going and seemingly never ending presidential election process offers plenty of opportunities. I will add a piece each week that links my previous posts for the particular Sunday as well.

Now, the reference to Magi – when I wrote “To Return Home Another Way” I pointed out that while we today consider the Magi astrologers they were, in fact, some of the first scientists. I also pointed out that their lives were changed by that encounter with the Christ Child. I also pointed out that Isaac Newton was as much a theologian as he was a physicist. I discussed this in “A Dialogue of Science and Faith” and pointed out that other individuals such as Robert Boyle and Joseph Priestley were also involved in theology as well as science.

I think that I should spend some time this year considering the joint path of theology and science that I have developed over the years. I will, most likely, continue as a certified lay speaker and, on those Sundays, when I am on the road somewhere, you can expect my message to be posted. Each week, I will post a summary of the four or five pieces that I have written and posted over the past seven years or so.

And as I prepare them, pieces on science and religion or chemistry will appear. I also have some obligations that I have let slide and feel that now is the time to get caught up on that. These will also involve the joint areas of science and religion.

As we end 2011 and begin 2012, it is clear that God has been a part of my life. But I need to evaluate the path that I have been walking and see if there is another path that I should be taking in the coming months. Be assured that, just as it has in the past, this new path will be guided by the light.

“In Defense of One’s Faith”


Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany, 30 January 2011. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Micah 6: 1 – 8, 1 Corinthians 1: 18 – 31, and Matthew 5: 1 – 12.

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In 2005, Lei Li sought political asylum in the United States because he felt he was being persecuted for being a Christian in his home country of China. However, the immigration judge who heard his case decided that Li did not answer certain questions about Christianity correctly. What is interesting is that while he was confused about certain items upon which he was quizzed, Li did say that Jesus did come to save people from sin, that he willingly died on the cross and that he rose from the dead on the third day and 40 days later ascended into heaven and that, in this way, he saves our lives.

I would think that, considering the situation in which he was living and attempting to be a Christian, to acknowledge what Jesus did for each one of us should have been sufficient reason to allow his request. Apparently the judge who heard the case in 2005 did not think so. Though it was denied in 2005 an appeals court has ruled that there is sufficient evidence to review this case and Li will receive a second hearing. (See http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/01/20/33481.htm for a discussion of this case and my thanks to John Meunier for bringing this to my attention – “Chinese Christian Grilled on Doctrine”.)

Now, the most obvious question that comes from all of this has to be, “how would you prove that you were a Christian?” And then, “how would you prove that you were a United Methodist?” Do you understand what it means to be a Christian? Do you understand what it means to be a member of the United Methodist Church?

I have come to the conclusion that many people may say that they are Christian but their understanding of what they say they are is limited. I know many who say that they are United Methodist but cannot give you a clear and concise statement of what it means to be a Methodist. This is especially true when it comes to the policies, rules, and regulations of the United Methodist Church.

There are also many today who say that unless you can quote the Bible specifically by chapter and verse, you are not a Christian. If that were the case, I would fail since memorization of Bible verses has never been one of my strong points. And while I marvel at those who are able to recite various verses of the Bible, I wonder if they understand what it is that they are saying.

From an educational standpoint, memorization is one of the lowliest skills in the learning process. You have to be able to analyze and interpret what you are reading to have a true understanding of what you have read.

The interesting thing in today’s society is the number of atheists who probably know the Bible and the basic tenets of Christianity far better than many average Christians. Now, it is only my opinion but it would seem to me that it isn’t their knowledge of the Bible and Christianity that causes them to denounce Christianity or to say there is no God but rather how they observe others who proclaim with no uncertainty that they know the truth found through Christ and God.

If my faith is determined by what others believe or tell me to believe, I am going to have a very, very hard time defending my faith. It has always struck me that when someone tries to tell me that I must believe in a certain way or that one translation of the Bible is the true translation, we are looking at a situation very comparable to the time of the Pharisees and Scribes before Jesus began His ministry.

When I am told that there is only one interpretation to the words of the Bible, when I am told that what I read is the way it happened, no matter how implausible or illogical that may be, I have to wonder if they know what they are saying. When you make faith an inflexible and unchangeable to object, to be repeated by rote and without understanding, you risk losing your faith, not defending it.

Faith comes from within and is unique to each person. It evolves and changes through time. The changes may be clearer understanding of a passage or they maybe radical restructuring of one’s view of the world.

Micah does two things at the beginning of the Old Testament reading for today. First, he tells the people that God is challenging them to defend their faith and He makes it very clear that they need to be prepared to defend their actions.

God points out that what the people are doing as a sign of their faith shows little respect for God. The sacrifices and offerings that the people are making are little more than bribes, attempts to curry favor with God when their own lives speak of disrespect and a lack of knowledge about what God had done for them.

Ask yourself the same questions, “Is God impressed with the gifts we bring or the sacrifices we make?” Or would God rather that we live a life that expresses His presence in our lives as the later verses in today’s reading point out.

When Paul writes to the Corinthians about the Gospel message, he points out that they have to see it in a new way. They cannot live the Gospel message in the way they used to live their lives because it wouldn’t work. The Gospel message wasn’t about one’s place in society or the air of authority that they presented; it was how the Gospel message changed their lives.

How are we to read the Gospel reading for today? If Jesus is teaching the people, if Jesus is teaching us, what exactly is He teaching? For some, the Beatitudes are a set of rules, perhaps difficult to understand and follow but a set of rules nonetheless and if one follows them, one gets into heaven. But as Clarence Jordan pointed out in his book Sermon on the Mount, the kingdom of God on earth is Jesus’ specific proposal to humanity. But it is the message of all four Gospels and not just the Sermon on the Mount that makes that proposal.

Time after time, in order to make His point, Jesus started His teaching with “You have heard it said but I say to you.” This was the challenge that He gave us so that we would be able to not only come to faith but grow in it as well.

There should only be one time in one’s life that they must defend their faith. Unfortunately there are those today who will demand that you defend it before that time comes. Can you, through not only your words but your thoughts, your deeds, and your actions provide the basis for a sound defense?

The interesting thing is that Jesus never asks you to defend your faith. He asks you to believe in Him and then follow Him. Your choice today is to decide if you shall do just that. If you do, then you will be able to the other. There, truly, is no option.

“What Is The Verdict?”


This is the message that I presented at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church (Putnam Valley, NY) for the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany, 30 January 2005.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Micah 6: 1 – 8, 1 Corinthians 1: 18 – 31, and Matthew 5: 1 – 12.

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The events of the past few months have lead me to conclude that there is a crisis within the church. It is a crisis that transcends the nature of Christianity, crosses across denominational boundaries, and filters down to the local churches.

Christianity today, I think, is seen more often in terms of exclusion and exclusivity. It is seen as intolerant and vindictive. How many gays and lesbians will seek solace in a church when the public view of Christianity is that Christians are homophobic? We may have laughed when the Roman Catholic Church admitted that perhaps the church was wrong in punishing Galileo for his views on the structure of the solar system. We may have laughed because we knew that Galileo was right and the church was wrong. But even today, some Christians are pushing to limit the pursuit of scientific knowledge by restricting the teaching of the theory of evolution in the high school classroom. In one sense, I side with creationists because I think that the theory of evolution is incorrectly taught. But creating and teaching an alternative theory that violates the mandates of scientific thought is not the answer.

For some, religion of any kind is bad. Seen in the context of history, religion is one of the most destructive forces in human life. But millions of lives have also been destroyed by political strife and by technology and science, yet few advocate getting rid of them. We may want to get rid of religion but we have to know what we seek to remove. If I think good is what benefits my friends and harms my enemies, then my religion may be dangerous. If, on the other hand, I come to think that good is what enables all intelligent and thinking beings to flourish, and the spiritual reality is supremely beautiful, wise, and compassionate, then my religion can be a tremendous force for human good. (From "The Good of Religion", published in Science and Theology News (November 2004) and reprinted in the February issue of Context.)

Somewhere along the line, the nature of the Gospel message has been removed from the nature of Christianity. No longer is a message of hope and promise for those in need; rather, it seems to be a message of greed and intolerance, of exclusivity and closed-mindedness. Jesus spoke of offering comfort and support to those with physical and spiritual needs; the churches of today, at least from the public perception of Christianity, no longer do that.

It is a problem that crosses denominational lines. We have heard the stories and the statistics about the decline in membership in mainline churches while at the same time there is growth and vitality in evangelical and fundamentalist churches. Tony Campolo, the noted evangelist, pointed out mainline denominational leaders did not pay enough attention to people who were subjectively aware of their own sinfulness and longed for a message of deliverance. These leaders often failed to give sufficient recognition to people’s need for something more than a religion that made sense in the face of scientific rationalism of modernity and addressed the painful social crisis of the times. Too often they overlooked the fact that people craved a feeling of connectedness with God that gave them the sense of being inwardly transformed. In the pews of mainline churches were men and women who wanted to feel a cleansing from sin and experience the ecstasy of being "filled with the Spirit," but mainline theology and preaching marginalized such dimensions of Christianity.

The growth of the more evangelical churches can be seen in light of those comments. People want the experience and they get it in these newer, younger churches. But that is because these newer churches place a greater emphasis on individuals making a personal decision for Christ. And such decisions require a high level of commitment to participating in the mission of the church. (From Speaking My Mind by Tony Campolo)  For many young members of mainline churches, growing up in the church does not lead to such a commitment, so they leave seeking Christ elsewhere.

The problem for these newer churches is that they do not care what others may think of them. No church, mainline or new, conservative or liberal, fundamentalist or advanced in theology, should ever compromise what they believe in order to gain the approval of the secular community in which it serves. It should, first, make sure that they preach the Gospel message and know what the Gospel means in which they believe. Second, we should care that people in the secular community see Jesus in us. I think, and I have said, that these newer churches will encounter difficulties in the coming years because, as people grow in their faith, they will have difficulty reconciling the views of the church with the Gospel. And it is this difference which has lead to the public perception of Christianity about which I have already spoken.

In the localized world of this century, another religious development is urgently needed — one that takes into full account the moral and scientific advances in the world since the 16th century, when the scientific revolution began. Religions that take this step will be self-critical, recognizing the uncertainty of all human knowledge and accepting that criticism is the most secure path to the truth. This does not mean that they must give up their central distinctive doctrines; there will always be diverse religious beliefs, and believers will have firm commitments to their centrally revealed or authoritatively defined truths. But even firm practical commitment can be allied with humility, with an admission that there are many things one does knot know and many things that are incompletely understood. Self-criticism is openness to learn from others, not a practical hesitancy about one’s own deepest commitments.1

The last crisis is at the local level and, I am not talking just about Tompkins Corners in this regard. It is a crisis which affects all small and rural churches, churches within the United Methodist Church under the "Town and Country" banner.

As Dennis Winkleblack pointed out in a message to the Town and Country Breakfast at last summer’s Annual Conference, the focus of too many churches in the New York Annual Conference is gone. He noted first "that we are confusing a tool for ministry – namely the church building – with Jesus’ call to be the church." He also noted that a few people in far too many churches are choking their church to death.

These individuals mean well but they insist on getting their own way. As he said in his remarks printed in The Vision, no one in history has lived long enough to see what happens if they are crossed, there is a great unspoken fear that these individuals will stop giving or leading or doing all the work. Or, worse, they will explode in anger as they have in the past.

The third crisis facing the churches of the New York Annual Conference is a crisis in the pastoral ministry. Too many of the pastors are staying in the ministry when their hearts are not. This is a question that not only the pastors of this conference need to look at but the people of the many churches that make us the conference. For what reason do we seek the ministry of the church? Is it for the money that is provided? (An interesting thought considering the salary and benefits for many of the full-time pastors in this conference.) Or is it because it is an expression of our faith?

The fourth point that Dennis pointed out was that there is a crisis of imagination. Be it the local church with all of its differences and problems or the Annual Conference with its own collection of differences and problems or the General Conference, where the differences and problems make national headlines, Dennis noted that we are so caught up in fixing our problems and managing our finances that there is little energy left to imagine a whole new way of life.

With all these crisis and with all that is going on in the world, is there hope for the world? I think there is. The job of the church is to tell the truth; this is not an exceptional nation and we do not live in exceptional times, at least as the world describes it. Everything did not change on September 11th; everything changed on the day Christ was born more than 200o years ago. When the Word of God became incarnate in human history, when Christ was tortured to death by the powers of this world, and when he rosefrom the dead to give us new life — it was then that everything changed. Christ is the exception that becomes the rule of history. We are made capable of loving our enemies, of treating the other as a member of our own body, the body of Christ. The time that Christ inaugurates is not a time of exceptions to the limits on violence, but a time when the kingdoms of this world will pass away before the unbreaking kingdom of God.

The "holy nation" of which the scriptures speak, Exodus 19: 6 (– And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a ‘holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.) and 1 Peter 2: 9 (– But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light,), is not the United States or any other nation-state, but the church, the universal body that transcends national boundaries. If the church narrates history faithfully, it will resist the idolatry of the state and resist the politics of fear that makes torture unthinkable (the writer was speaking to the issue of the nomination and confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States). In concrete terms, this means refusing to fight in unjust wars, refusing to use unjust means, and refusing to be silent when the country drifts toward the institutionalization of "exceptional measures." (From "Taking Exception" by William T. Cavanaugh in the 25 January 2005 issue of Christian Century)

While the writer of those words was thinking of the atrocities in Iraq and the apparent callousness of the present administration towards our treatment of prisoners there and in Cuba, I think that his words are also applicable to the role and duty of the church in this country in terms of everyday life. We cannot, if we are Christians, stand by and let evil, in what ever form it may take rise up and take the place of good. Rather, we must stand firm, grounded in our faith and knowing that what we have been taught from birth and what we have come to believe is the truth – the Christ is the Lord and Savior.

Paul writes to the Corinthians about the nature of wisdom, of who is wise and who is foolish. He writes about who is called to be the representatives of Christ. It is important that we understand that God’s plan of salvation does not confrom to the world’s priorities. To many it seems foolish. But God used what one might consider foolish and despised in this world to reveal His truth, so that He alone would receive the glory. Otherwise the powerful would boast that they had found the truth. Instead, God sent His Son to become a humble carpenter and to die in the most despicable way, on a cross. Jesus’ life and death reveal God and God’s wisdom.

The Beatitudes place our lives in the context of the whole realm and scope and community of God’s love and justice. More description than instruction, more report than directive, they compose a litany in which all promises point to the same reality. Speaking of those who have already "crossed over," those who even now inhabit the kingdom of God, the first part of each beatitude identifies who is blessed and the second part names the group’s relationship to God. And the Beatitudes turn the world upside down with their shocking promise of hope to the hopeless, comfort to the bereaved, power to the powerless. A powerful antidote to the contrived happiness of consumerism and mindless entertainment of our day, they are good news to God’s people, the humble of the earth, the strong of heart, those who take refuge in God alone. Yet, this is the way it should be.

The prophet Micah said something quite similar using different words: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (From "Be happy" by Patricia Farris in "Living the Word" in the 25 January 2005 issue of Christian Century)

The passage from Micah can be seen as a courtroom scene in which the Lord lodges a legal complaint against Israel. The first two verses are where the Lord summons the people to listen to his accusation and to prepare their defense against the charges that will follow in verses 9 through 16. The Lord speaks in verses 3 through 5 poignantly reminding the people of his gracious acts in their behalf. In verses 6 and 7 Israel speaks and in verse 8 Micah responds directly to the nation, answering the questions of verses 6 and 7.

So, here we are, in God’s courtroom, facing the charges before us. Whether we care to admit it or not, the crisis of the church are our crisis. And how we respond will determine the outcome of the case. We can be like some who seek the glory for themselves. Such a choice will not gain us what we need.

But we can do what is asked of us, to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God? The jury will now begin its deliberations and the verdict will be known soon.



“The Trial We Have to Face”


This is the message that I presented at the Neon United Methodist Church (Neon, KY) for the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany, 31 January 1999.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Micah 6: 1 – 8, 1 Corinthians 1: 18 – 31, and Matthew 5: 1 – 12.

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I thought that I would be able to avoid talking about trials and the legal process but after reading the passage from Micah for today, I don’t think that is possible. But it is not the trial and impeachment of President Clinton that is of importance to us today, but rather how we, the people have reacted.

It would seem that for all the hyperbole that has surrounded this event, the majority of American people really don’t care about the trial or the underlying issues that are accompanying the trial. In part, because the economy is doing well and we are at peace in the world, the people are content. It has always been said that when we are at peace or when the economy is sound, the people don’t really care much about what happens in Washington or with politicians in general. Yet, if either of the two should go bad, then we turn to the leaders and demand that they lead.

It is as if we really don’t care. Now, it should be said that I do think that President Clinton has done a great wrong but the judgement of his actions are not for us to decide. I also think that those in opposition to President Clinton long ago turned a noble legal process into a partisan political battle that can only hurt us in the long run. After all, it has long been noted that we cannot legislate morality, which is what President Clinton’s opposition is wanting.

So against this backdrop, I ask how should we live our lives? What will happen to us when some critical issue, something that truly affects us and our place in the world comes about? It is typical human nature to think that we can solve our problems with the skills and abilities that we naturally have. But in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul points out that man’s wisdom, his intellect is nothing more than foolishness.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of the God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Though our temptation is to always think that we can solve any problem that we might encounter through our own efforts, those efforts are to be doomed because of our own foolishness. And what are we to do when we encounter a problem that we cannot solve or overcome. A gentleman by the name of James Finley wrote

Merton once told me to quit trying so hard in prayer. He said: “How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun.” A small green apple cannot ripen in one night by tightening all its muscles, squinting its eyes and tightening its jaw in order to find itself the next morning miraculously large, red, ripe, and juicy besides its small green counterparts. Like the birth of a baby or the opening of a rose, the birth of the true self takes place in God’s time. We must wait for God, we must be awake; we must trust in his hidden action within us. (From Merton’s Place of Nowhere by James Finley)

In the Old Testament reading for today, Micah asks God, on the behalf of the people of Israel, what can we do? Remember that in this passage, God has essentially put the people of Israel and us on trial for having forgotten him, for having felt that it is possible to solve the problems they face without Him.

Listen to what the Lord says: “Stand up, plead your case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say,

Hear, O mountains, the Lord’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundation of the earth. For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel.

“My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me.

I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.

My people, remember what Balak king of Moab counseled and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

So what are we to do? We certainly don’t have the capability of sacrificing thousands of rams and we certainly cannot buy the amount of oil that would be necessary to be considered a worthy sacrifice. But that is the point, you see. We don’t have to make any sacrifices because the sacrifice was made for us. When Christ died on the cross, he died for our sins; Christ was the sacrifice. The think that our human wisdom cannot comprehend is that this is truly possible; tat the Messiah would be like us. In 1 Corinthians 1: 22, Paul writes “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”. If you are expecting the Messiah as a worldly king to lead you, then someone who is hanged as a common criminal cannot be that person. And certainly from a logical standpoint, the true Messiah would have the power to prevent such a crucifixion from every happening.

But that is the hardest thing for us to realize; that Christ’s crucifixion changes the way we look at lives.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

God used that which would expect cannot be used in order to save us from our sins. And we have to understand that such an accomplishment goes beyond what our own intellectual ability is capable of doing.

Is this to say that we forgo intelligence and wisdom? I do not think so, for after all, if we do not use our wisdom and skills that God has given us, we would be like the third person in the story of the talents who hid the one talent that he had been given by his master.

“Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here it what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

“Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25: 24 – 30)

So if we forsake our intelligence, our skills, our abilities, we will lose that which we have and we will actually be worse off that before we started. So how then do we live? How is it that we can use our skills, our talents?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus laid out the guidelines for living. Now, each of the Beatitudes is not so much what we have to do but how we face life.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus started each of these lines with the word “blessed” because the word referred to the ultimate well being and distinctive joy we would share in the salvation of the kingdom of God. We are poor in spirit as contrasted with those are spiritually proud and self-centered. The kingdom of Heaven is our gift from God rather than something we could have ever earned.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Being meek means that we are humble before God.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

The heart is the center of our being and includes our mind, our will, and our emotions. If we allow things to cloud them, then we are unable to see God

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

In becoming a peacemaker, as far as we can, we reflect the character and nature of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of their righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is our goal, both as a present reality and for our future.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

If we allow Christ into our lives, the nature of our living changes. As it was noted, if our heart is pure, we can see God and we can talk with him.

We need loving communication, we need the presence of the Spirit.

That is why I do not believe in theologians who do not pray, who are not in humble communication of love with God.

Neither do I believe in the existence of any human power to pass on authentic knowledge of God.

Only God can speak about himself, and only the Holy Spirit, who is love, can communicate this knowledge to us.

When there is a crisis in the Church, it is always here; a crisis of contemplation.

The Church wants to feel able to explain about here spouse even when she has lost sight of him; even when, although she has not been divorced, she no longer knows his embrace, because curiosity has gotten the better of her and she has gone searching for other people and other things.

The revelation of a triune God in the unity of a single nature, the revelation of a divine Holy Spirit present in us, is not on the human level; it does not belong to the realm of reason. It is a personal communication which God alone can give, and the task of giving it belongs to the Holy Spirit, who is the same love which unites the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit is the fullness and the joy of God.

It is so difficult to speak of these things. We have to babble like children, but at least, like children, we can say over and over again, tirelessly, “Spirit of God, reveal yourself to me, your child.”

And we can avoid pretending that knowledge of God could be the fruit of our gray matter.

Then, and only then, shall we be capable of prayer; borne to the frontier of our radical incapacity, which love has made the beatitude of poverty, we shall be able to invoke God’s coming to us, “Come, creator Spirit!” (From the God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto)

Communicating with God begins with prayer. In the monthly conference newsletter, there was an article about John Wesley and the role prayer played in his live. To Wesley, prayer was the central means to being near God on a daily basis. He felt, as I am sure you would agree, that neglecting daily prayer would leave us, in Wesley’s words, in a “wilderness state”, comprised of dryness and aimlessness.

At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the following parable:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7: 24 – 27)

Like Hymn #368 tells us, our hope for the present and the future is built on nothing less that Jesus Christ’s righteousness. It is the rock of our foundation and though there may be storms all around us, we cannot be hurt. That foundation gets stronger every day when we live a life that is God-centered; one like Wesley that starts each day with prayer.

My friends, it is we who are on trial this day. And we may worry about what the verdict will be. As long as a person is self-centered and thinks that they alone can solve the problem, their lives are going to be devoid of any wellbeing, no matter how happy they appear to be. And when some crisis comes that extends beyond their capabilities, they will fall. But when we allow Christ to come into our live, when we allow God to be the center of our soul, such fears are gone because our wisdom and intelligence become tools for God to use in this world.

Are you prepared to receive the verdict of the court?