“String Theory”

This will be the “Back Page” for the Fishkill UMC bulletin for this Sunday, July 14, 2019 – the 5th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C)

String theory is an advanced theory in physics that describes our universe and its beginnings.  It does so by envisioning a system of multiple dimensions, among which are the four dimensions of space and time in which we live.  While this theory attempts to describe our universe physically, how can we describe this universe spiritually?

When you look at the two towers of the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge, you can tell they are straight and they appear to be parallel.

However, that is only a two-dimensional view.  Because of the height of the towers (693 ft or 211 m) and their distance from each other (4,260 ft or 1,298 m), the curvature of the Earth’s surface had to be considered when designing the bridge. The towers are not parallel to each other but are 1 58 in (41.275 mm) farther apart at their tops than at their bases.  This line is that distance:      

Even with such a small distance, the designers had to see the world in three dimensions rather than two dimensions in order to build the bridge.

The religious and political authorities in Jesus’ time saw life in two dimensions.  There were clear lines of demarcation that told people who they were and what they can do.  Woe to anyone who dared to cross those lines.  But that is exactly what Jesus did; Jesus saw the world in three dimensions and routinely crossed the lines and challenged the definitions.

Even today, there are many who seek life in two dimensions.  Which makes living in this three-dimensional world that much harder.  And that is the same challenge gave Jesus gave the people two thousand years ago; how do we live in a three-dimensional world?         

~~Tony Mitchell


This is the message that I will be giving at Fishkill United Methodist Church this coming Sunday (24 June 2018 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost [B]).  Services begin at 10 and you are always welcome.

Despite the title, there are no references to the Starship Enterprise, Jean Luc Picard, or, even though I have ties to Iowa, James T. Kirk in this message.

The last time I stood in this pulpit and delivered the message, I predicted that my next visit would be on October 13, 2019 (1).  Clearly, I don’t have much of a career as a prophet.  But as I said then, it is sometimes very difficult to imagine what the future will be.

There are, of course, a few people who believe that the future is fixed and when it is all done, they will enter Heaven and the rest of us will be left behind. But this begs the question, if we are doomed, if the path to salvation and Heaven is to be denied to us, then why did God send Jesus into this world?

Saying that the future is fixed, saying that we have no say in its outcome takes humankind, takes us, out of the equation.  If the future is fixed, then life has no meaning.

Now, for some, not having to do anything seems like a good idea; they don’t have to think about things and they can do whatever they please.  But one only needs to read the Book of Ecclesiastes and the other books of wisdom in the Old Testament to know life becomes hopeless if it has no meaning.

This is part of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians.  A life without meaning is closed and encompassing, no matter how free and unlimited one might feel.  A life in Christ, which some might see as enclosing and restrictive; in Paul’s words opens the world.  It gives us options we never knew.

But an open future is both frightening and a challenge.  It is frightening because it requires that we be involved.  And that is why it is a challenge.

In 1962, Robert Kennedy wrote (2),

The future is not a gift: it is an achievement. Every generation helps make its own future. This is the essential challenge of the present.

During his visit to South Africa in 1966, Senator Kennedy said (3),

The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment [- – -]

Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is [ . . .] neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live.

Albert Einstein once remarked,

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking.  It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” (4)

When David prepared for his battle with Goliath, Saul outfitted him with the traditional armor of an Israelite soldier.  But David could not move while encased in all the armor of an Israelite soldier and so he cast it aside, trusting in his own skills and abilities.

David used what he knew rather than rely on traditional methods of battle to defeat Goliath.  It is to Saul’s credit that he let David use the skills that he, David, had and not have him use the traditional approach, a lesson many leaders have failed to learn even today (5).

My mother, who would have been 94 last week, was born and raised in rural North Carolina.  She was, as the saying goes, Southern born and Southern bred.

My father, who would have been 98 next month, was a career Air Force officer and the son of a career Army officer.  As an officer and an engineer, there was a certain degree of certainty to life.

Both of my parents grew up during the Great Depression.  Most assuredly, those backgrounds shaped their views of the world.

As the children of an officer and of a mother who worked in the Pentagon, my brothers, sister and I grew up with the unstated mantra to never rock the boat or question those in higher positions.

In their own ways, sometimes not so clear, my parents expressed their love for us.

But I can tell you that I tested that love.  I may not have rocked the boat, but I certainly rowed too fast and I most definitely questioned the “powers that be.”

When I was in college in the late 60s and early 70s, I was active in the anti-war movement, something that my parents were not exactly thrilled with.  For Mother’s Day in 1969, I gave my mother a necklace with a pendant on it that read “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” (6)

After my mother received the necklace, she wrote me a very stern letter expressing her disapproval of my extra-curricular political activities. But she also wrote that she would keep the necklace because I was her son and she loved me, a thought that would echo throughout my life (7).

My parents’ displeasure with my anti-war activities was exceeded only by their disapproval with my civil rights activities.  I shall not read from the pages of history what my grandmother said to my parents or what my parents thought when they were told that I was the only white student to participate in the Black Students Association sit-in of the administration building at Truman State University during the spring of 1969 (8).

But things change.

When my mother was in her late 60’s, her church, Good Shepherd United Methodist Church of Bartlett, TN, went on a mission trip to St. Vincent, an island in the Caribbean.

This mission trip had two objectives, continue construction on a school building and offer dental care to the people, especially the children, of the area.  My mother went as the DH for the dental team.

I believe that some of her friends, upon hearing this, said something to the effect, “Oh my god!  Virginia is going on a mission trip!  Doesn’t she know how old she is!”

Understand that trips like these cannot take much in the way of medicines, especially pain killers; I will pause for a few seconds so that you can let that sink in.  And that is why my mother went.

After each child completed their dental treatment, they were often hurting and crying.  As the DH, the “designated hugger”, my momma, “Granny” would hug and comfort each child.  She used the skills developed over many years of being a mother, a grandmother, and great-grandmother, only in a different setting.

A few years after the mission trip to St. Vincent, my mother decided she wanted to become a Gospel singer.  My brothers, sister, and I produced a CD with the music of her favorite songs that she could take with her when she went to sing for, as she put it, the old folks in the Memphis area.

One Sunday, she said she wanted to sing at Pleasant Grove UMC, one of two rural churches north of Memphis, where I was part of the preaching team.

Pleasant Grove was also the church where, a few years later, my wife Ann would first hear me preach.  Now, my momma knew the one thing that I had neglected to tell Ann.  When she sang at Pleasant Grove UMC that Sunday, my momma was the only white woman attending the service (9).

God never asks you to do something you couldn’t already do and He never sends you to a new place alone.  The one constancy in every disciple’s life is the Presence of God, offering comfort and protection. Giving hugs and singing Gospel music were things my momma always did.  God just wanted her to give the hugs to children and sing her Gospel songs in other parts of God’s Kingdom.

There is that moment in the Gospel reading when you know that the disciples are truly and genuinely afraid.  They understood the Sea of Galilee was susceptible to rapid and severe changes in the weather.  As we would be, they were clearly on the watch, but each storm is different, and one cannot easily prepare for every possibility.

And yet, with a few words, Jesus calmed the storm and the seas.  How then can we be afraid to take on the tasks before us?

But what are those tasks?  What lies before us?

In 1980, at the end of his television series, “Cosmos:  A Personal Journey”, Carl Sagan paraphrased the prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah said that the people of Israel had come to a crossroads and were trying to decide which road to take.  But the people would not take the road that lead to righteousness, saying that it was a false alarm and that Jeremiah’s warning did not concern them (how appropriate today are words written almost three thousand years ago) (10).

Sagan pointed out that we have created the technology that allows us to develop weapons of mass destruction that could not only destroy the people and nations of this planet, but this planet as well.  But he also noted that these same skills and technology could be used to explore and expand our understanding of the universe and humankind.

We have come to those crossroads and it seems as if we have taken the wrong path.

We see a world where the God of material things is worshiped more than the One True God.  We seem to have forgotten that we are tenants, temporary residents of this planet and not its owners.  We are the stewards of this planet and we are not doing too well with that task

We see prejudice and hatred on the rise.

We spend more on destruction than we do on construction.  War, violence, and discord have become the norm.

I fear we have lost our creative impulse.  And without that creative impulse, we see a world in which there is no future.

We see people lost in society, seeking answers to questions that trouble their souls but who cannot find a place where those questions can be answered.

Their first inclination, as it has been for generations, is to seek God.  But where is God?

Many churches today (individually and denominationally) seem to reflect the religious establishment of Jesus’ time, more concerned with the preservation of personal power than with a genuine concern for the people, both inside and outside the church walls.

Remember this.  The people healed by Jesus were ritually unclean.  Under religious law, they were barred from entering the Temple, barred from being with God.  When Jesus healed them, they became clean and were able to enter the Temple and reestablish their connection with God.

It should also be noted that whenever Jesus touched an unclean person, or an unclean person touched Him, He became ritually unclean and, thus, was unable to enter the Temple.  I invite you to see the irony in that.

Instead of rejoicing, the religious establishment grew angry because Jesus did what only they, the establishment, felt they had the power to do.  The religious establishment also could not accept that Jesus socialized with individuals that they would never allow to enter the Temple.  The establishment created rules and laws about religious and societal behavior and Jesus routinely violated every one of those laws, rules, and regulations.

We have proclaimed that we are His disciples.  We have declared that we will follow Jesus no matter where the road leads, no matter the cost, and no matter what society might say.  As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, it is not an easy path.

We are the spiritual descendants of those in that boat that day some two thousand years ago.  The presence of Christ is in our lives.

We are the spiritual descendants of those who gathered together in Jerusalem for Pentecost.  The presence of the Holy Spirit is in our lives.

Two thousand years ago, our spiritual ancestors went out into the world and began to tell everyone they met about Jesus Christ.  It can be very frightening to travel into a world where what lay beyond the horizon was unknown.  Yet empowered by the Holy Spirit and with the presence of God, that is where they went and what they did (11).

By word and deed, our spiritual ancestors spread the Good News, teaching about Jesus, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and freeing the oppressed.

As United Methodists, we are the spiritual descendants of Jacob Albright, Martin Boehm, Philip Otterbein, and John Wesley.

Early Methodists found ways to feed the hungry and established free health care clinics to provide medical care.  Because people were denied basic financial services and put into jail because they could not pay their bills, the early Methodists created the first credit unions.  Because children worked in the mines and factories six days a week, the early Methodists created Sunday schools to educate them and their parents.  Because of the efforts of the Wesleyan Revival, some historians think this is the reason England did not experience a bloody revolution like the French revolution of the same period (12).

Early Methodists were considered threats to the organized/established church.  Our spiritual ancestors were outsiders and trouble makers! (13).

John Wesley and the early Methodists were barred from preaching in the Anglican churches in England and the Episcopal Churches in early America for going against the established view.  Barred from preaching in the Anglican and Episcopal churches, Wesley and the other early Methodists went into the fields, the mines, and the factories to bring the Gospel message to the people.

Here in the United States, Methodists were prohibited by law from building their own churches.  So, they built meeting houses and chapels instead.

The Evangelical United Brethren church, the church through which I came to know Christ, was the merger of two other denominations developed by Jacob Albright, Martin Boehm, and Philip Otterbein.  All three had connections and ties to the Methodist Church that was just beginning in the early days of this country and helped spread the Gospel to the German speaking people who had come to America in the early 18th century.

It was the distrust of the English-speaking members of the new Methodist movement in this country for the German-speaking individuals seeking to become Methodists that lead Otterbein, Boehm, Albright to form their own churches, churches which very much adhered to the Wesleyan model.  I cannot help but think how this would have played out today.

Because so many of the members of these churches spoke German and followed the Methodist model, they were often called “German Methodists” (14).

In 1761, Otterbein would hear Martin Boehm preach and proclaimed “Wir sind Bruder!” (“We are brothers!)  This was a statement that they shared a common belief in God, a belief that reached across traditional boundaries.  Boehm would be later excommunicated from the Mennonite Church for his association with individuals and activities outside the Mennonite community.  This included giving land to Pennsylvania Methodists on which to build a religious building. (15).

We are the spiritual brothers and sisters of the members of Zion Pilgrim Methodist Episcopal Church, the church that was just down the road from us on Baxtertown Road.  Zion Pilgrim was a station on the Underground Railroad and members of that church risked their own freedom to help others find their own freedom (16).

The two white roses on the altar and the one that I wear in my hat are the symbols of the White Rose movement.  We are spiritual cousins of the White Rose movement, the Christian student movement in Germany during World War II, which along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church (notethis is not the Confessing Movement!), rose in opposition to the Nazis and the church establishment that put the state before God (17).

We are about to begin a new chapter in the history of Fishkill United Methodist Church.  Each generation writes its own pages in the book of history.

If the generations who came before us, who gave us our traditions, our legacy, and our heritage, found ways to reach out to the people of the community, to see past traditional and establishment views, to speak and act against oppression in all its forms, what will our own history be?  What will be written about this generation on the pages of history 50 or 100 years from now?

The decisions we make today will shape the legacy we leave for the next generation.  But, as Paul wrote, we must decide today.

Yes, this is going to be tough but no tougher than what those who proceeded before us endured.  And what we do today will make it easier for those who follow us.

It is very easy to do nothing; that is a choice that we can make.  But as Paul wrote, it is a choice which limits what one does.  It is a choice which offers no future.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said (18):

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.  God will not hold us guiltless.

Not to speak is to speak.

Not to act is to act.

To choose to walk with Christ opens the world before us and helps us see a bright and better future.

God is calling us today!  He is calling you today!

God is calling us, He is calling you, not to learn new skills, but use the skills we already have.

God is calling us, He is calling you today to continue bringing the Good News, through our words, our deeds, our thoughts, and our actions, to people we may not know and in places we may never have imagined.

God is calling you today?  Will you answer the call?


  1. “What Does The Future Hold?”
  2. https://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/the_future_is_not_a_gift_it_is_an_achievement
  3. The Day of Affirmation quotes comes Senator Edward Kennedy’s eulogy of his brother, Senator Robert Kennedy. They are attributed to the Dave of Affirmation speeches Senator Kennedy gave during his trip to South Africa in 1966 – http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/ekennedytributetorfk.html
  4. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1799-the-world-as-we-have-created-it-is-a-process
  5. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/post-pentecost-2018-worship-planning-series/june-24-2018-fifth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b/fifth-sunday-after-pentecost-2018-preaching-notes
  6. That this pendant is still available today at “Another Mother for Peace” speaks to how well we have dealt with the concept of war and peace over the past fifty years.
  7. adapted from “Defining Love”
  8. see “Side by Side” and “Side by Side”
  9. adapted from “A Celebration of Life”
  10. Jeremiah 6: 16 – 20

“Go stand at the crossroads and look around.  Ask for directions to the old road,

The tried-and-true road. Then take it.  Discover the right route for your souls.

But they said, ‘Nothing doing.  We aren’t going that way.’

I even provided watchmen for them to warn them, to set off the alarm.

But the people said, ‘It’s a false alarm. It doesn’t concern us.’

And so I’m calling in the nations as witnesses: ‘Watch, witnesses, what happens to them!’

And, ‘Pay attention, Earth!  Don’t miss these bulletins.’

I’m visiting catastrophe on this people, the end result of the games they’ve been playing with me.

They’ve ignored everything I’ve said, had nothing but contempt for my teaching.

What would I want with incense brought in from Sheba, rare spices from exotic places?

Your burnt sacrifices in worship give me no pleasure.  Your religious rituals mean nothing to me.”

  1. “Seeing Around the Corner” and “What Is Around the Corner?”
  2. Methodist Revival and the non-English Revolution



http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/367 disputes this notion



  1. First expressed in “We Are Outsiders!”
  2. When I was looking for the phrase “German Methodists”, I came across a subset of American Methodist churches called the German Methodist Episcopal church. These were essential Methodist Episcopal churches for German speaking individuals in the early 1800’s (as far as my quick read of the notes could tell).  Some of these churches were in Texas, which did have a high German immigrant population.  Sadly, during the 1840 division of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the formation of the Methodist Episcopal South, there was a similar split of the German Methodist Episcopal church and the formation of the German Methodist Episcopal South church.
  3. Evangelical United Brethren Church

Jacob Albright


Martin Boehm



Philip Otterbein


  1. Zion Pilgrim Methodist Church and the Underground Railroad




  1. The White Rose and the Confessing Church



  1. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/601807-silence-in-the-face-of-evil-is-itself-evil-god

“Let It Rain”

This will be the back page for tomorrow’s bulletin (9 July 2017, 5th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A) for Fishkill UMC.  It is based on the Gospel reading (Matthew 7: 24 – 27).  The other readings are from Isaiah 26: 1 – 7 and 1 Peter 2: 1 – 10.

Let It Rain
We will conclude with Eric Clapton’s “Let It Rain”, though the Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” also works.

“It’s A Matter Of Priorities”

Meditation for July 13, 2014, the 5th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 25: 19 – 34, Romans 8: 1- 11, and Matthew 13: 1 – 9

For some, the Old Testament reading today gives proof of the fixed outcome of life. After all, it will be Jacob who becomes Israel and fathers the twelve sons who will be the foundation of that nation. So there has to be a reason for Jacob trying to get Esau’s birthright; for without it, Jacob will never have the means and resources to become the one to father the nation.

But what if Esau hadn’t been hungry, what then? And what if Jacob had just given his older brother the stew without question or cost? Would the story still have turned out the same?

In cosmology, the study of the universe, a idea that says that this present universe is just one of many universes, one of many possible outcomes. And in this scheme of multiple universes (or multiverses), this present one, the one in which we live, is just an accident of time and place?

I have a hard time with that idea, if for no other reason than I believe that God did create the universe in a particularly unique way. But the story of life is a matter of choices, good and bad, right and wrong. It is entirely possible that the story of how we would have gotten here would have come out the same even if Esau hadn’t been hungry or Jacob had been kind enough to give his brother a meal.

The one thing we know at this point in the story is that Jacob’s future may be very bleak. As the second son, he doesn’t get a whole lot in the way of an inheritance. And his encounter with God, the encounter that results in his name becoming Israel, is still in the future.

And how much of the family history do he and Esau know? They are the second generation of Abraham’s family and they may not have a viable understanding of the covenant their grandfather made with God so many years before. As I was growing up, we knew very little about the history of our family before either of my parents’ grandparents. It wasn’t until some twenty years ago that I discovered my family lineage traces back to Martin Luther and that my calling to the pulpit, which I answered before I discovered my family’s history, was part of a long line of ministers. So we might want to know what Esau and Isaac knew about their family. Did they know that their father had a brother?

For me, it would seem that they didn’t know much of the history and Jacob was more concerned with his own life at this moment that he was with the future of his family. Because as the second son, his future wasn’t that bright. And Esau comes home one day very hungry. And Jacob has the opportunity to gain what he might not otherwise have, the birthright of the oldest son.

I know I am reading a whole lot into this story but why else would Jacob do what he did? His priority at this point is himself and only himself; he has no idea that in a few years he is going to encounter God and his life is going to change. While I am sure and certain that we know when we encountered God and made the decision that changed our lives, up until that moment, did you know that in the next moment that you would encounter God?

Now, we might know when it is that we will encounter God but we certainly need to be in a situation where that encounter can occur. And at this point, I want to jump from being the one who encounters God to the one who prepares the moment.

Do we, in the way we live our life each day, show people the presence of God in our lives? One of the points Paul makes in his letter to the Romans is that the way we live our life has a lot to do with this. After all, if we are only interested in ourselves, we are not likely to find God at all. And if we are not preparing the ground in the right way, it is not very likely that our efforts will produce anything.

Preparing the way is more than just telling people about Christ. Of course, if you don’t tell people about Christ, they will never know that He existed but you have to show people, especially in today’s world, that He does exist. Look around and tell me what you see in the morning. The peace and calm of the rising sun is disturbed by news of fighting and violence around the world. Even our own denomination is dominated by hatred and exclusion and talk of schism.

Is it any wonder that people don’t believe there is a God or that He even cares for us? If the people who claim to be God’s children are fighting among themselves, what hope is there for others who think that they have been cast aside?

So we must prepare the ground so that our efforts to help others find Christ are not wasted. It will take more than simply opening our hearts or our minds or our souls. It will take learning who we are and what we are called to do.

It means getting beyond the law because the law only restricts us, it does not help us grow. It means looking beyond the moment and seeing what the future holds. Esau cared very little for the future because he felt he was dying at the present.

Right now, the future doesn’t seem to good and I think that is because we are more worried about the present. What will it take to bring people to Christ? It will be a group of people who show the presence of Christ in their lives through their words, their deeds, and their actions. They will be the ones who help the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the needy, and the oppressed. They will not worry about the color of the person’s skin, the state of their bank account, or the lifestyle. They will say that all are welcome.

They will know that those who were called Methodists have been doing this for over two hundred years. It is the call that they have received and the call they have answered.

I truly believe that too many people, Methodists included, have forgotten what their priorities are and have gone back to the old days. I think it is a matter of priority that we 1) remember who we are and have been and 2) get back to doing what it is that we are supposed to be doing.

There are some who are not going to like that, who feel that adherence to the law is far more important that welcoming all who seek Christ. The law cannot save us but it can keep us from being saved.

I stare at the words Paul wrote to the Romans and I envision him writing the same letter to each one of us. What is our priority?

“Where Are You Headed?”

I am at Sloatsburg United Methodist Church again this Sunday, the 5th Sunday after Pentecost. Services there start at 10:30 and you are welcome to attend. The Scriptures for this Sunday are 1 Kings 19: 1 – 15, Galatians 3: 23 – 29, and Luke 8: 26 – 39.


Maybe I should have entitled this message “What are you doing here?” because that’s the question God asks Elijah. But I am, personally perhaps, more interested in the question implied in God’s question but not recorded, “Elijah, where are you going?” There is also another question implied, “And what are you going to do when you get there?”

When I look at the world around us today; when I read of the changes taking place all over the globe, and how people are reacting to those changes, I cannot help but think of what Elijah did.

Review the past few weeks – Elijah has challenged and brought to shame the authority of the leadership of Israel. For his efforts, proper and done in the name of God, he is now on the run for his life and wanting to die. I always get the feeling when I read this passage that Elijah is absolutely convinced that he has been abandoned, that there are no other believers left in the nation of Israel and no matter how good his work or how true to God he might be, it is all in vain.

And how much does that resonate in today’s world? Now, it is probable that the title of my message is more rhetorical than physical. I presume that you will be going home after church and to school or work tomorrow. But I also wonder and worry about where you might be going with your life.

I do not wish the following statement to be hyperbole nor do I wish to make it sound like a tired, worn-out cliché but this civilization, this society, collectively and individually may very well be headed in the wrong direction. And I fear that, under the present conditions, there is nothing that can truly change that direction.

 Our direction is based on what we perceive to be the state of the world and the state of the world is a question for the soul, not the body. I have become convinced that politics, the expression of the body, can no longer provide an acceptable answer.

 And if the body politic cannot provide an acceptable answer, then the answer must come from the soul. I have no direct evidence but I think that number of people who seek such answers, answers to question that come from the soul, is increasing. A portion of the population is appropriately named “the seekers” because they are seeking answers and they are, in my opinion, not finding them or not finding adequate answers.

 And it does not help that the one place, the one location where such questions can be answered is the church and yet the numbers tell us that each year, churches die. We are staring at a situation where the United Methodist Church as a denomination will be dead within the next twenty-five years.

 Now, I do not know about you but I am neither prepared for that nor do I wish to see it happen. What the United Methodist Church means to me is more than just a few hours on a Sunday and an opportunity to stand in various pulpits throughout the New York/Connecticut District of the New York Annual Conference. I like doing that but I do it because it is part of an unstated commitment I made many years ago. If the United Methodist Church had not been a part of my life when I was 18, when I was seeking answers to the question of the soul, the odds are very good that I would not be in this pulpit today and my soul would not have the certainty of Christ. I cannot speak to my physical presence but my spiritual presence would almost certainly have been lost.

 So where will those today who seek answers to the same sorts of questions that I had some forty-five years ago find their answers, where will they find Christ in their future if there is no church, if there is no gathered group of believers?

 How can I not work to make sure that there is a United Methodist Church beyond 2040, even if I am no longer a part of this world? And perhaps the rebel in me says that I have to do what I think God has called me to do and not what others may say or suggest?

To see the future, to know where, in those terms, one is going, we may very well need to remember where we have been. It is not so much, as the philosopher George Santayana once said, that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it but rather if we remember where we were headed perhaps we can determine how it is that we lost our way.

When I was in high school from 1963 to 1968, this country and this whole world were focused on going to the moon. Granted, most people saw this effort as a political race between the United States and the Soviet Union and it was as much as measure of the relative nature/worth of each form of government but it was also a scientific endeavor based on our own human nature to explore the boundaries of our world.

And while we were pushing the limits of knowledge from here on earth to beyond the moon and towards the stars, we were also pushing and refining the meaning of equality among people. We began to see the world and our relationship with others in a new way.

There are many who say that is when we lost our direction and began to move away from God. But was it not God who gave us the ability and the insight to find a path to the moon and beyond? Was it not God from Whom we got our sense of wonder and creativity and ability to ask questions and find answers?

Where did our sense of equality come from, if not from God?

But as the Viet Nam war took more and more of our resources, both in material and human terms, we moved further and further away from exploration.

And today, as we are engaged in another war in a faraway land, a war which continues to drain our resources and takes away the young, we are seeing the efforts to build equality fifty years ago stripped away by those who are happy with a status quo not unlike society was when Jesus walked the back roads of the Galilee.

There are those who seek the status quo, who proclaim poverty as the sign of sin and wealth a sign of righteousness, who seek to enact laws that tell us what to think and what to do and what to say, all in the name of God and security.

They would and are gladly turning our schools in factories where students graduate with only the ability to complete mindless tasks without question but are incapable of seeing into the future and questioning the state of things today. And sadly too many people today are quite willing to accept that type of society and the notion that it represents freedom.

When you accept that sort of society, when you allow others to tell you what to say and what to think and how to act each day, it does not matter whether it is today or two thousand years ago for it is slavery no matter how you look at it.

Paul told the Galatians that they were no longer children protected by their tutors and the law but adults free to move beyond the the boundaries of the law. I read Paul saying that there are great opportunities for the people of Galatia because they have found Christ. As Christ pointed out, he had come to fulfill the law and that gives us great opportunities.

John Kennedy, speaking in 1959, said that “when written in Chinese, the word crisis has two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.” There are many great opportunities and yet when we look to the future, when we see change, we see danger and refuse to go.

A few years ago, in preparation for using today’s Gospel reading, I read about the contradiction included in it. Jesus healed the man and drove the demons out of him and into some hogs, which then stampeded over a cliff. The people, instead of rejoicing that one of the friends had been cured were angry that the hogs had been destroyed and their income lost.

Why would they be angry at the lost of some hogs? Now, as a graduate of the University of Iowa and having grown up in the Midwest, I know several farmers who would be that way. But Jews do not eat pork, so why were they angry? Because, evidence suggests that the buyers of the hogs were the soldiers in the Roman garrison located in that town. And the main job of those soldiers was to enforce the Pax Romana by military power and the suppression of the people. I cannot speak for others but it boggles my mind that the Jews of this town would sell stuff to the very people charged with keeping them in slavery. Oh, I know some will tell me that those who raised the hogs were probably making a very good profit and that countered the oppression that they lived under.

I am also reminded of the time when Curt Flood was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies. According to the baseball rules of the time, he had to either accept the trade or retire; there were no other options available. Flood was making, I believe, something on the order of $90,000 per year, an exceptionally good salary in 1969 But he did not have the opportunity to negotiate his salary or decide on his place of employment. In one sense, he was a slave to the owners of the ball club. Most sportswriters at the time attacked his assertion that the reserve clause made him feel like a slave. When Howard Cosell asked him how someone earning $90,000 a year, one of the top salaries in the game at the time, could feel like a slave, he responded, “A well-paid slave is nonetheless a slave.” (http://money.cnn.com/2006/11/20/commentary/sportsbiz/)

The people in the town may have been well compensated for feeding the Roman troops but that did not give them their freedom. And we have too many people today who are quite willing to accept that same sort of situation because they believe it gives them their freedom. But look around and tell me if what is transpiring in this world is truly freedom, or merely a maintenance of the status quo and an enrichment of the ruling classes.

There is presently a discussion, perhaps an academic one, about the nature of Christianity and the seeming lack of a liberal Christian viewpoint. Now, if you haven’t figured out yet, I do not see how one can say that one is a Christian and a conservative. I have yet to meet a conservative Christian who would be willing to give up everything they have, including their life, for Christ. Their answers to an problem are to let someone else do it or that the people who are seeking help do not deserve the help or just looking for a handout.

I know that there are those who seek the handout but if that was true for all the poor, the homeless, the economically distressed, and the oppressed, why did Paul say to the Galatians that there was no difference between people in God’s eyes? Why did Jesus take pity on so many individuals that had been cast aside and thrown away by the society of his day, the man in today’s Gospel reading being a prime example.

I know that it is not fashionable to use the liberal word today but that is because it is so abused. And those who call themselves liberals are often no better than than those who call themselves conservative. But one thing is clear, a Gospel message that speaks of helping the homeless, the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, and the oppressed can hardly be conservative. A Gospel message that speaks of reaching out to all people and bringing them to the Kingdom of God cannot be called conservative.

I know that this is not a popular idea; as a society, we still cling to our 17th century belief about poverty. At least we don’t throw our mentally ill people into prisons for the criminally insane. But to preach the Gospel message that Jesus came for all and all who come to Jesus are saved is not a popular message. When one challenges the status quo, as Elijah did and as Jesus did, one risks running for one’s life as Elijah did or dying as Jesus did.

There are many who are not willing to go down that path. How about you? Shall we take the path that says that by following Christ, we can change the world? That is what we, the people called Methodists, have done and it is what we, the people called Methodists should be doing today.

I will conclude with idea presented by Dr. David Watson of the United Theological Seminary,

To be clear, as a Wesleyan, I am thoroughly committed to the Church’s role in transforming society. . . . Our work in society, however, must be grounded in a full-bodied conception of the nature and work of the Holy Trinity.” (“Issues-based Christianity”)

Three thousands years ago, Elijah was headed in the wrong direction, truly believing that there was no hope in the world. In a world that believed in the mighty and powerful, he found God in the small and the quiet things. And he turned around, went to Damascus, found a group of souls who hadn’t surrended to the world and changed the order of life.

Forty-five years ago, I was probably headed in the wrong direction, truly believing that what I was doing would get me into heaven. But my concerns for good works probably blinded me to the true path. Fortunately, I had a minister who cared enough about where I was headed and he helped me change the direction I was headed.

We have the opportunity and the challenge to change the direction that this society, this civilization, and this denomination are headed provided we listed to the directions from God, provided that we are grounded in the full-bodied concept of the nature and work of the Holy Trinity. It begins when we recognize that Christ is our Savior; it begins when we open our heart and our mind to the Power of the Holy Spirit and it begins today.

We may be headed home today; I will be going back to Grace UMC, Newburgh, to say good bye to our pastor Frank Windom (I will also be doing so at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen with the message “Two Roads”) but, if we have heard the call from God, we will go where He calls us and we will engage in the work that He calls us to do.

“Simple Gifts”

This was the message that I gave at Grace UMC in St. Cloud, MN, for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 19 July 1992.  This was the 2nd time that I had been in the pulpit and I was still using the model of a specific verse rather than the lectionary.  The scriptures that I used were Matthew 25: 31 – 46 and 1 Peter 4: 10 -11.

Have you ever wondered why John Wesley, an ordained minister in the Church of England, wanted to change his church?  Can you imagine how his father Samuel, also an ordained minister in the Church of England, must have felt?  Here was his son, a good son no doubt, trying to change the Church of England.  It must have been very embarrassing for the senior Wesley to meet with other pastors who wondered what John was trying to do.  I have a fairly good idea what my father would say if I were to try and make radical changes at St. Cloud State but I cannot nor do I dare repeat those words in church. 

Now, it should be pointed out that Wesley never considered himself a Methodist nor was he interested in creating a new church.  All he wanted to do was reform the Church of England.  The development of the Methodist Church, later the United Methodist Church, came as a result of Wesley trying to answer two questions:  What was the nature of salvation and what was the role of the church in dealing with society’s problems.  It is that second question that I will address today.

England in Wesley’s time was undergoing a series of rapid changes brought about in part because of the Industrial Revolution.  We tend to think of the Industrial Revolution in a positive light because it enabled more people to work, earn more money, and, in general, improve their way of life.   At the beginning, however, that was not always the case.  For many workers, the pay was low and there were no retirement or health care plans.  Because there were no child labor laws, it was not surprising to find children as young as 10 working in the factories.  People worked from sunup to sundown six days a week and dare not take a day off for any reason because they were likely to get fired.  If they owed someone money, they were likely to be put in a debtor’s prison until their family could get the money to pay the debt.  Alcoholism was not uncommon.  Welfare was dependent on the whim of the rich and the patience of the poor.

Against that background was the belief that being poor was a fate given to you by God and there was very little you could do about it.  If you were poor, it was because you lead a sinful life and were to be pitied.  To this, Wesley responded

“Has poverty nothing worse in it that this, that it makes men liable to be laughed at?…Is not want of food something worse than this?  God pronounced it as a curse upon man, that he should earn it “by the sweat of his brow.”  But how many are there in this Christian country, that toil, and labor, and sweat, and have it not at last, but struggle with weariness and hunger together?  Is it not worse for one, after a hard day’s labor, to come back to a poor, cold, dirty, uncomfortable lodging, and to find there not even the food which is needful to repair his wasted strength?  You that live at ease in the earth, that want nothing but eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand how well God hath dealt with you, is it not worse to seek bread day by day, and find none?  Perhaps to find the comfort also of five or six children crying for what he has not to give!  Were it not that he is restrained by an unseen hand, would he not soon “curse God and die”?  O want of bread!  Want of bread!  Who can tell what this means, unless he hath felt it himself?  I am astonished it occasions no more than heaviness even in them that believe.” (From John Wesley’s sermon “Heaviness Through Manifold Temptations”)

Wesley asked “How should the church respond?”  There were those who felt that the troubles of society at that time – the terrible working conditions, the lack of care the upper classes showed for those less fortunate, the terrible health conditions, the alcoholism – were an indication that God had lost faith in the people on earth. The Shakers, whose hymn “Simple Gifts” was the basis for the title of my sermon, were a Christian group formed as a response to these social conditions.  For them, the only solution was to leave the present society behind and create a new one dedicated to the glory of God.  The Shakers may have had the right idea because the movement flourished here in America during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  However, the Shaker movement did not last because the evils which caused the problems in the first place were never corrected. 

It was Wesley’s contention that society could be changed and that it was the church that could make that change.  It was through Wesley that the first Sunday school was started; not as we know it, but as a way of educating the populace (keep in mind that many children worked six days a week in the factories and Sunday was the only day when they could go to school).  It was also Wesley and his followers who took the lead in dealing with the alcoholism and substance abuse so prevalent in English society at that time.  Some argue that Wesley’s concerns and actions were one reason why there was no social unrest in England at that time. 

How would Wesley react if he were preaching today instead of the 1750’s? Historians are already calling the 1980’s the “Decade of Greed” or the “Me Decade”.  The prevalent attitude of these last few years has been that it is perfectly alright to earn as much money as you could and not worry about others because eventually the riches would reach them as well.  For some, Michael Milliken and Ivan Boesky are heroes.  Milliken is credited with finding a way to use what we call “junk bonds” to finance corporate takeovers.  For his work in 1985, Drexel Burnham, the company Milliken worked for, gave him some 550 million dollars as bonuses for his co-workers and himself.  He gave 50 million to his co-workers and kept the remaining 500 million dollars for himself.  Boesky was one of many who bought and sold companies using the bonds Milliken sold.  To earn this money Milliken and Boesky used a technique known as insider trading.  This procedure is illegal and both these gentleman went to jail and paid substantial fines.  The resulting legal problems also put Drexel, Burnham out of business even though many of the people who worked in the firm did nothing wrong.

During this same period, many individual bought stock in various companies. In doing so, the price of the stock rises.  In this way, and it is perfectly legal, they would make a profit when the stock was sold. However, other individuals combined this idea with a threat to take over control of specific companies if those companies did not buy back the stock at much higher prices.  In order to get the money to pay this “greenmail”, companies had to let workers go or sell parts of the company.  While some may have made money in this way, many others found themselves out of work.

While some may say the 80’s were a successful time for America, there are some economists who wonder if the current amount of corporate debt is too much and if we are not going to see more and more companies go bankrupt. Also forgotten in the joys of people earning more money than ever before is the fact that the number of homeless has increased; that the number of unemployed continues to rise; and substance abuse, both alcohol and drugs, is increasing.  We read where the R. J. Reynolds tobacco company has been asked to stop using “Joe Camel”, the symbol for Camel cigarettes, because it gives the wrong message to young children.  I find it very frightening that we have to spend time in school teaching our children what not to do rather than focusing on more positive things. I truly wonder what John Wesley might think of our society today. Keep in mind that Wesley was not against the rich or becoming rich. On many occasions, he preached that we should “gain all we could” and “save all we could”.   But we should do so in a manner that does no harm to others and to be careful that our gains are not made at the expense of others.  

But we need not worry, because it is not our fault.  All last week, we listened to the Democrats tell us that society’s problems today are the fault of the Republicans.  I do not doubt for a moment that when the Republicans meet in Houston next month, they will tell us that these same problems are the fault of the Democrats.

Now I chose the idea and scriptures for this sermon before the conventions began.  I feel, as I am sure Wesley would, that the solution to these problems will not come from the government.  In preaching that we should gain and save, Wesley also told us to “give all we could”. 

It was his feeling that the only way that someone will ever know that the Holy Spirit is present in you is through your works.  Wesley sought a church which cared for society and which would make the world a better place.  After all, as I read from the Scripture, Jesus told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or take care of the needy, not the government.  Jesus also warned us what the penalties would be should we ignore the needy:

“‘There was a certain rich man,’ Jesus said, ‘who was splendidly clothed and lived each day in mirth and luxury.  One day Lazarus, a diseased beggar, was laid at his door.  As he lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.  Finally the beggar died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham in the place of the righteous dead.  The rich man also died and was buried, and his soul went into hell.  There, in torment, he saw Lazarus in the far distance with Abraham.'”

“‘Father Abraham,’ he shouted, ‘have some pity!  Send Lazarus over here if only to dip the tip of finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in these flames.”

“But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing.  So now he is here being comforted and you are anguish.  And besides, there is a great chasm separating us, and anyone wanting to come to you from here is stopped at its edge; and no one over there can cross to us.'”

“Then the rich man said, ‘O Father Abraham, then please send him to my father’s home — for I have five brothers — to warn them about this place of torment lest they come here when they die.'”

But Abraham said, ‘The Scriptures have warned them again and again.  Your brothers can read them any time they want to.'”

“The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham, they won’t bother to read them.  But if someone is sent to them from the dead, they will turn from their sins.'”

But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even though someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19 – 31)

The message today is not about giving money to the church nor is it advice on how to vote this coming November.  Those are choices made individually and privately.  It is a message of action and using the gifts and talents that God has given us to bring the Holy Spirit, the same spirit behind Wesley’s words to “give all we can”, to St. Cloud today.  As Peter wrote

“God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God’s many kinds of blessings. Are you called to preach?  Then preach as though God himself were speaking through you.  Are you called to help others?  Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies, so that God will be glorified through Jesus Christ – to him be glory and power forever and ever.  Amen.” (I Peter 4:10 – 11)

There is no doubt in my mind and heart that Grace Church is alive and growing and that the Holy Spirit is present among us.  But for that growth to mean anything, we must go beyond ourselves.  A church which sits idly by will surely die.  E. Russell Praetorius, John’s father (the pastor of Grace UMC, St. Cloud, then and, as of this writing in 2012), wrote some twenty-seven years ago:

“Some churches die of self-centeredness because they never get beyond themselves.  They fail to recognize that the real purpose of Christ’s Church is not to enjoy itself but to save the world.  These lack a vision of world conquest for Christ and are satisfied with the status quo.” (A. B. Utzman and E. Russell Praetorius, 1965 Official Record of Minnesota Conference. Evangelical United Brethren Church.)

Jesus sought a church of action.  He was not content to sit in the temple, read the words of the Torah and wonder what they meant.  He was in the countryside ministering to the needs of the people.  As Wesley knew, the most difficult time any church faces is that moment when it decides to take its ministry outside the walls of the building and into the community.  By putting our beliefs into action, we earn the freedom from sin gained through Jesus’ sacrifice.  The question before us then is how do we use our talents?

We can use our talents in many ways.  Now, the work of the church is never easy but it is made easier when we work together.  And as Jesus promised, the rewards for doing his work are much greater.  Look at what is ahead for Grace Church and ask yourself “What can I do?” Our greeter program starts again in two weeks.  Will you be there when it is your turn to greet friends and visitors to Grace Church and make everyone feel like they have friends here?  Irene stills need Sunday School teachers, both as regular teachers and as substitutes.  Perhaps that is where you can help.  Will you be helping with the painting of the church this week?  Will you be here on October 11th to hear Ken Krueger preaching?  Will you help to see that each of one of these pews is filled for the services on the 11th, 12th, and 13th?

The UMW Bazaar, scheduled for October 3rd, promises to be the best Grace Church has ever had but that promise can only be met if you take part.  Today, the UMW starts “Operation Schoolroom”. This mission project provides students in Sierra Leone and Liberia the school supplies they need for the coming year.  You can help this project either by buying the supplies indicated on the insert in your bulletin or by helping put the kits together on September 12th.

Our Hog
Roast is also set for September 12th as a way to mark the beginning of our Stewardship Campaign and the beginning of Sunday School.  It has not been decided what we shall do with the money we raise from this event but with your help that will be a substantial amount.  There are many ways to help with this and I trust that when you are called to help you will do so.

(I will add some comments about the hog roast at the completion of this message.)

Are you a member of one of the work areas of Grace Church?  Do you participate when there is a meeting?  As chair of the Finance Committee, I am asking each of the work areas to consider how we can best serve the needs of the church and the community.  Can we find ways for Grace Church to answer Jesus’ call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and help the homeless?  These need not be big steps nor will we have to do it all by ourselves.  But what we give must be, as Wesley asked, all that we can give. 

Through your help, by participation or pray, the mission work of Grace Church, both in St. Cloud and elsewhere, can be accomplished.  As Peter wrote, our talents are gifts from God.  We have also been given a far more important and far more simpler gift.  In John 3:16 we read

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believed in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

I close by asking what will you do with that gift?

Some thoughts about the 1992 Hog Roast –

The year before, in 1991, we came up with the idea of a hog roast, even though no one in the church had any clue how to roast a whole hog. But everyone thought it sounded like a great idea and we went to work.  At that point in the discussion, I wasn’t involved.  Came the day of the hog roast, a Saturday, and we found out that it was also the day practice for the hockey season began (remember this was Minnesota).  So the turnout wasn’t that great and there was about 200 pounds of roast pork left.  What were we going to do with all that pork?

This is where I came in.  At the church in Odessa, Texas, where we had been members, each of the Sunday School classes was responsible for a meal each week during our mid-week services.  So my wife and I said that we would make sandwiches and sell them after church on Sunday. 

Sandra spent the better part of Saturday night preparing baked beans, chopping the pork while I went out and got the other materials we needed.  Following service on Sunday, the congregation gathered in the community room for a wonderful lunch of BBQ sandwiches.  When all was said and done and the expenses were paid for both Saturday and Sunday, we netted a profit of $4.50.

Now, let’s fast forward to the summer of 1992 and the plans for the next Hog Roast.  There were some on the administrative council who felt that the 1991 Hog Roast had been a failure and something not worth repeating.  I rose to defend the work and proclaimed that we had made a profit.  I did not mention how much of a profit it was; only that it was a profit.  And I took on the big step of organizing the 1992 Hog Roast.

We had learned from the previous year that the date was critical so we made sure that it did not conflict with other things, such as hockey games.  This allowed us to invite local college students.

Obtaining the hog was no problem; a member of the church was a hog farmer and all we had to do was give him a letter thanking him for the donation of the hog.  I came home from the administrative council meeting and told my wife to work on getting people to donate beans, salads, and deserts.  Then I had to focus on getting the cook since we had found out that no one really knew how to roast a hog.

But there was one member of the church who did but he didn’t come to church all that often.  So I went and asked if he would help roast the hog and he agreed.

The 1992 Hog Roast was a success.  I don’t recall how much money was raised though I am sure we did make a profit.  But then again this was never intended to be a fund-raiser.  It was designed to bring people to the church and in that regard it was very successful.  Not only did quite a few college kids come to the dinner and come back to church but the individual who I asked to roast the hog found his niche in the church and he became a big part of the church and the revival of the United Methodist Men.  I was able to turn the 1993 Hog Roast over to the UMM and go onto other things.

When I hear people talk about fund raisers as a way of balancing the budget and things like that, I cringe.  I don’t like fund raisers and I have said so.  In my sermon/message for today (“To Honor The Future”) I pointed out that there are many individuals who focus on paying the bills so that there is a church; for many such individuals, fund-raisers are a part of the process. But if we focus on the people first, then fund-raisers become superfluous.  In Grace’s case, the 1992 Hog Roast was part of the turn-around of a dying church and its rebirth.

All I will take credit for is getting the cook.  The rest took care of itself.

“To Honor The Future”

I was at Rowe United Methodist Church (Milan, NY) on Sunday. The Scripture readings for this Sunday (the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B) were 2 Samuel 1: 1, 17 – 27, 2 Corinthians 8: 7 – 15, and Mark 5: 21 – 43. Services start at 9:30 a.m. and you are welcome to attend.

That I am a chemist by training and vocation is a matter of a particular set of circumstances.  As I will relate in a few moments, it was a choice made that was based, figuratively, on where I was in time and what I had done in the past.

Now, I have often wondered what my major might have been if I had not had to make the decision at the beginning of my college studies to be a chemistry major.  In the words of a Rod Steward song from a few years ago, if I had known then what I know today, I might have been a mathematics and computer science major.  As it turned out, when I graduated from college in 1971 I had a mathematics minor to go with my chemistry major and more hours in computer science than the college offered (in part, because I took some courses at other colleges while home during the summer).

But computers in 1971 were still essentially people who performed mathematical calculations but with the aid of big (and I mean big) calculating machines.  They were not the small desktop setups that we have today that have more computing power than the computers on the Apollo spacecrafts that went to the moon.  And the uses of the computer today are hardly what many people imagined back then.  All one has to do is consider the following statements:

  • In 1943, Thomas Watson said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
  • In 1949, Popular Science magazine predicted that computers in the future would weigh 1.5 tons.
  • In 1957, the editor in charge of business books for Prentice-Hall stated that data processing was a fad that wouldn’t last a year.
  • An engineer in the Advanced Computing Systems of IBM asked in 1968 what good was the microchip.
  • Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, stated in 1977 that there was no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.
  • When Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak began working on what was to become the Apple computer, they went to Atari and said, “Hey, we got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us?  Or we’ll give it to you.  We just want to do it.  Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.”  And they said, “No.”  So we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, “Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t even gone to college yet.”
  • In 1981, Bill Gates proclaimed that 640K ought to be enough for everyone.  (see “Some Interesting Predictions”)

Each of these “prophecies” was made with a consideration for the current situation and what had transpired in the past.  But prophets don’t necessarily see the future; they merely tell the truth as they see it.  They point out the way things are, not the way people want things.  They can warn of dangers ahead if things do not change.; they do point out what they think is wrong.  (From “Should We Explain This?”)

To see the future requires that we understand the past.  But we have to be prepared to move from the present into the future, not merely look contemplatively at the past and say that is where we need to be now.  One of the first quotes that I collected was one by George Bernard Shaw which was also used by Robert Kennedy in the fateful presidential campaign of 1968,

Some men see things as they are and say why – I dream things that never were and say why not.”

While my studies and my inclination at the time would have dictated that I become an industrial chemist; my own decisions lead me into the chemistry classroom.  It may be that it was never part of the path that I chose to walk in 1966 but in walking that path I was able to do other things.  Even now, I find myself delving into the history of chemistry, especially when faith and science overlap; areas I would never have thought of almost fifty years ago.

I have discovered in the course of things that Robert Boyle, who is considered the father of modern chemistry, and Joseph Priestley, one of the discoverers of oxygen, were also intense men of faith and that their writings in the area of faith were as numerous as their scientific writings.  Coupled with the fact that Isaac Newton, more known as a mathematician and physicist, was also a chemist and also intensely interested in matters of faith and religion, I see a new path lying before me that results from the intersection of my interests in chemistry, faith, and religion.  (See “A Dialogue of Science and Faith”)

Seeing the future is not all that hard, provided one is willing to, and excuse me for using a cliche, think outside the box and go beyond the boundaries of conventional thinking.  I think one of the difficulties that we face as a society is that we
are unwilling to make that type of move; to use our background and experience in other areas or to dig deeper into areas which we find interesting.

We can read the Old Testament reading by itself and read a lament by David on the death of Saul and Jonathan.  There are a lot of people who do and don’t want to do anything more than that.  But that misses the point.

In the verses before today’s Old Testament reading we learn that Saul and Jonathan died in battle and that David was informed of their deaths by an Amalekite.  When this Amalekite told David that Saul and Jonathan were dead, he handed Saul’s crown to David, in effect making David the new king.  And it was this Amalekite, in at least one version of the story, who helped Saul to die.  The Amalekite’s action can be considered an act of mercy though David sees it as an act of treachery.

For David, mercy towards a dying man does not trump the presumption of anyone, least of all an enemy, to kill “the anointed of the Lord” under any circumstance.

It poses an interesting question for us today.  The Scripture records David’s decision but it does not record an evaluation of that decision.  It presents both David and the Amalekite’s stories and perspectives, shows their conflict and states the results.  The text, as is done so many times in the Bible, offers not one right answer but many questions for us to ponder and struggle over with one another and with God.

Are we more like David, committed at all costs to enforcing the social norms?  Or are we like the Amalekite, trying to show mercy and make the best of a dreadful situation.  Who saw beyond the boundaries?

For me, this is repeated in the Gospel reading for today as well.  The woman who sought to touch Jesus went outside the social norms of the day. Whatever the cause of her illness, she was considered unclean and society said, in no uncertain terms, that she was not to be a part of society.

Such an act as hers would have resulted in her being scolded and possibly even being stoned.  For those who were the keepers of the norms, her actions could not be tolerated.  And yet for Jesus, all she had done was exercise her faith.

Social convention was in play with the death of Jarius’ daughter as well. We hear of the mourners who had gathered to mourn the daughter’s death.  We are told in the commentaries that these individuals were professionals of a sort, paid to come and mourn.  The “right” thing would be to join in the mourning.  Clearly, for Jesus to tell them to stop the mourning because the girl was only sleeping was acting against the social norm.

Now, as I was writing all of this and knowing that for one to see beyond the walls of today to the paths of tomorrow, one has to break with tradition and societal norms, I kept wondering where I was going to put Paul’s thoughts to the Corinthians.  The letter to the Corinthians is one we all know too well for it is a discussion of church finances and the obligations of the church in one location to churches in other locations.  In reading this letter, we are reading of the connectionalism that is a part of Methodist tradition and practice.  And I know too many churches where the conversation always begins with church finances and the argument that if the bills are not paid, there can be no church.

But like the professional mourners who came to mourn the death of Jarius’ daughter or David’s reaction to the Amalekite’s bringing him Saul’s crown, this is also part of the social norm.

Have we somewhere along the line forgotten that the church began in first in hiding and then in people’s homes?  How many of us know why Paul had to even discuss the funds that the Corinthians had promised to send to the churches in Jerusalem?  Paul does not order the Corinthians to send the payment but he does suggest that it is for their sake that they do so.  You cannot begin to see the future when you are focused on the present and/or the past.  Paul does point out that if the Corinthians act to help Jerusalem now, Jerusalem will be in a position to help them later should the need arise.

I can imagine what administrative council meetings at the church in Corinth must have been like; I have been to quite a few such meetings in my own time.  But I have yet to hear people talk about the future of the church except in terms of the present, of saying that things that cannot be because they are not possible now.

The commentary notes that I used to prepare this message today indicate that we need to seek ways to teach or model ways to build positive community change where we are and for others elsewhere.  You cannot do this if your operating model fits within the social norm.  And I say that because the social norm for many churches today does not match what Christ was doing two thousand years ago. 

For many the church of today is not the church of two thousand years ago or even the church of John Wesley two hundred and fifty years ago. Today’s church is more likely to be one in which the actions of David in killing the Amalekite are applauded or people act in the role of the mourners in the Gospel reading.

In the middle of this week, we will pause to celebrate this country’s independence.  There will be many, many celebrations of what has happened; it is only natural.  But what I fear is that while many echo the words of the founding fathers their actions seem to reflect the actions of the British crown in stifling the dissent.  When we speak of independence this week, I hope and pray that it will be such that we will want to find ways to make the celebrations a way to speak of the future and what possibilities lie before us.

The same is true for the church today.  Chad Brooks wrote in his blog about why he became a Methodist.  He is in the process of becoming an Elder in the United Methodist Church and, as such, he must answer some very basic questions, one of which is “Why did you become a Methodist?”

Part of his answer was that “I found the practice of a Historic faith that also encouraged continuing to forward movement into contextualizing worship in the 21st century.”  (from “Why I Became A Methodist”)  When we understand that being a Methodist, no matter the path that one takes, is to take on the persona of a group of believers who saw beyond the social norm and chose a path that included all we are looking to the future.  There are too many people today who say they are Methodist but whose actions reflect the actions of David in upholding the social norm and who are more like the mourners in the Gospel reading, proclaiming that the girl is dead and nothing can be done.  If we are to honor the future, we must be like the Amalekite, showing mercy to even our enemies, and we must find ways to help those like the woman in the Gospel who sought Jesus.

Today is the day that we begin to honor the future.  In our vow to let Jesus Christ be our savior, we are looking to the future.  In our acceptance of the Holy Spirit, we are working for the future.  Today is the day that we begin honoring the future; let us begin.

Faith of Our Fathers

This was my Father’s Day message for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 23 June 2002, at Walker Valley (NY) UMC. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Genesis 21: 8 – 21, Romans 6: 1 – 11, and Matthew 10: 24 – 39.

It would be highly appropriate for me, on this Father’s Day, to speak in glowing and favorable words about my own father. But to do so would gloss over his relationship with me and with his family. Though he was a man of vision and many of his ideas had a great impact, he was like many fathers we have heard about, aloof and distant from his family. Immensely proud of his children’s accomplishments, he often failed to let us know of his pride in us.

Still, at the end of his life, I knew how proud he was that I had received my doctorate and how proud he was of my then fledging career in the ministry of the United Methodist Church. I also knew that, despite his initial objections to this choice, he had come to understand that it was a choice made in my heart. It was a choice that he accepted and endorsed. For he knew that the path in ministry that I was beginning to walk was a path shared by others in our extended family, the Schüessler family from whom my grandmother and his mother came. He was proud of that choice and was working to make my path a little bit easier.

I also knew that at the end of his life, he had come back to that same foundation and faith in which he was raised.

That is the way it is for each of us here today. We walk a path of our own choosing, guided by our wisdom and made in our heart. But it is a path made easier by our fathers and their fathers before them, our mothers and their mothers before them, by all those in our family, both close and extended who have traveled this path before us.

The challenge for us then is to move forward, to expand the path so that those that follow us have the same and perhaps greater opportunities than we did. But I see in today’s society people unwilling to move forward. I see in today’s society people who feel that the good days are the ones behind us; that there is no hope for the future and what we have today is the best that it will ever be. We have become a society unwilling or unable to go beyond the bend in the path before us, fearful of what might lie there.

We are a society that has accepted the here and now as the norm; we don’t look to the future; we are afraid to take risks. If our own political founding fathers had been unwilling to move into the unknown, then we might still be a colony of Great Britain today. But there were those in the small towns and villages of this country who saw the road to Independence for what it was, the only path to take, and so we moved forward. Beginning with the visionary and radical document we know as the “Declaration of Independence”, this nation has moved into the future. The question is whether we can continue to do so.

I am not sure that the spirit that led us to cheer when we heard that all men were created equal still exists today. I am not sure that we are a nation willing to put the values expressed then into practice today. We are not interested in long-term solutions any more. We want an answer now, no matter what might happen tomorrow. We react immediately and without thought. I will not minimize what happened on September 11, 2001. It was an act that defies belief and can only be explained in seemingly irrational terms.

But have our responses since that day solved the problems that caused the attack. Have the forces of evil that feed on ignorance, hatred, and injustice been removed from today’s society? Or, have each of our own violent responses been met with more violence? We must seek justice in this world but it must be within the boundaries of what we believe. We have repeatedly told the world that we are a Christian nation, so we hold to the Gospel message presented in the New Testament. Yet, we have stated that we are a people of the New Testament; as such, our responses seem to be more a rephrasing of the old Mosaic Law of an eye for an eye. The fact is that when violence is answered by more violence, there will never be peace.

The roots of hatred and violence run deep in this world. And in a world where self-interests seemingly come first, such roots are not easily removed. But if we would simply stop and think for a few moments about how we should respond, we could create a peace-based, non-aggressive response that would meet our goal while not portraying us as weak or inept. This is difficult to do, especially in a time when society demands violent responses and victory at all costs and belittles all those who do seek alternatives. But, in light of the Gospel before us today, we should not be surprised. For the Gospel message for today tells us that society is not often open to the liberating thoughts alternative solutions might possess.

Jesus is passing through the town and area of Gerasa. There He encounters a man possessed by seven demons. Because of this possession, this man has been driven from his home and forced to live among the tombs of the town cemetery. Society’s actions and condemnation have declared him dead and unfit to be in the real world.

He recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and his Savior. He begs to be healed and saved from that which is tormenting him. Not only does Jesus heal him, he elevates him to a status above those how who have scorned and condemned him. But what do the townspeople do?

Instead of rejoicing in this man’s healing and literal return from the dead, they are angry with Jesus. As we read in the Gospel for today, Jesus placed the demons that had tormented the man in a herd of pigs nearby, causing the pigs to jump over a cliff and fall to their death in the sea. The people were angry with Jesus for doing this.

It is very interesting that this was their response. For as devout Jews, the townspeople could not eat pork. So these pigs were not for local consumption. Rather, the people raised the pigs to feed the Roman soldiers garrisoned nearby. The anger comes from the fact that Jesus, in saving one person, has disrupted the ways of society; Jesus has disrupted the status quo.

Yet, the status quo served to keep the people of the area enslaved. Jesus comes as a liberator, offering an alternative. But He was rejected and cast aside by the very people that He came to free because His solution was not acceptable to them. Those caught up in the ways of the secular world are often not willing to accept liberation, especially if it interferes with the easy life of the status quo.

But you cannot liberate an enslaved people using the methods that enslaved them in the first place. There must be alternatives. Jesus offered an alternative then and today. Are we willing to look at the alternatives or shall we continue with the status quo?

John Wesley saw people trapped by poverty and societal indifference. English society in his day believed, as some in today’s society still believe, that poverty was a direct result of a sinful life. If you were poor, it was because you were a sinner. If you were rich and prosperous, then God must have smiled on you and granted the blessings of life. It did not matter if your riches came from the enslavement, abuse, and oppression of others; if you were rich, God was on your side.

Historians tell us that the England of John Wesley’s time was ripe for the same violent and bloody revolution that swept through France some fifty years later. They also tell us that one of the reasons why England did not have such a bloody revolution was because of the work of John Wesley and the early Methodists.

The early Methodists fought to improve the conditions that condoned child abuse and sent children as young as twelve into England’s mines and factories. The fought against the drug and alcohol abuse prevalent in society and, which for some was the only escape available. The early Methodists tried to change a society that found it convenient to throw people in jail for owing others money and keeping them in jail until the debt was paid. People in proverty were made to feel ashamed because they were poor; people were made to feel that God had forgotten them.

Instead of repression and humiliation, instead of making it impossible to better ones life, the early Methodists show people that they had not been forgotten, that God loved them as much as anyone else. More importantly, the poor and lower classes were given hope, the same hope promised in the Gospel message. And slowly but surely, the early Methodists changed the minds that looked inward first and caused to look around them and see what the world really was.

Do you remember the story of John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace” and a number of other powerful Methodist hymns? His life changed when he saw that the source of his wealth was the enslavement of others. Faced with the irony that by selling people into slavery was the cause of his own spiritual enslavement, he chose to walk away and seek a new life. Through his hymns and ministry, he helped bring about the quiet revolution in England.

This is the power of the Gospel; that is the power of faith in Christ. Jesus gave new life to a man condemned by society. John Wesley gave hope to people forgotten by society.

It is the same for us. Through Christ, we have been given the opportunity of life without slavery to sin and death. Salvation is ours through the power of the Gospel. And like the man in the Gospel message today, we are challenged by Jesus to take the Gospel message into the world, bringing others to Jesus.

But it requires that we change. It requires that we have that life-changing experience that the man in tombs underwent. It requires a change in one’s thinking and direction of life, as it was for John Newton.

We cannot simply rearrange the present in hopes of making the future better. The Galatians were one of the first Christian churches but like some many others, they were reluctant to change their thinking. They still saw themselves in terms of the old ways of life, using the law as a way of exclusion. Paul reminded them it was their faith that united them in a radical equality. Paul told them to cast away the old identities of Greek and Jew, slave and free and see themselves in the light of Christ and their faith in Christ.

You will tell me that this is all well and good but it will not work in today’s world. To live and preach the Gospel message will only bring ridicule and embarrassment. You will tell me that you cannot take on the world’s problems by yourself. What would you have done if faced with thousands of refugees who will die if you do not take action?

At the last P. A. P. A. (Peekskill Area Pastor’s Association) it was resolved that we would remember Aristides de Sousa Mendes this week. You may not have ever heard of this gentleman and he probably would have liked it this way. He was the General Consul of Portugal in Bordeaux, France during the spring of 1940.

At that time, the Nazi blitzkrieg had breached the French armies’ defenses and refugees of different nationalities, including thousands of Jews, were coming to Bordeaux in hopes of avoiding death by obtaining a transit visa to Portugal and from there to ports in South America. The Portuguese dictator, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, was a Fascist and supported Adolf Hitler personally even though Portugal remained neutral throughout World War II. Premier Salazar gave orders to all Portuguese diplomats forbidding them from extending visas to refuges and to Jews who had been expelled from their country of origin.

In spite of this, Sousa Mendes issued thousands of transit permits to refugees in Bordeaux, Bayonne, and Hendaye (a town on the Spanish border with France). It is believed that because of his actions 30,000 refugees, including 10,000 Jews, were saved from death in the Third Reich’s death camps.

On June 16, 1940, Sousa Mendes faced the crowd and said,

“I cannot allow you to die. Most of you are Jewish and our Constitution established that neither religion nor political beliefs can be used as an excuse to reject the staying in Portugal.”

“I will give a visa to whoever needs it, either he/she can pay for it or not. I will act according to what my Christian conscience tells me to do,” he used to say.

For his defiance of his country’s leader he was expelled from the Portuguese Foreign Service and lost all benefits. The utterance of his name was prohibited for decades and he lived the rest of his life as an outcast, homeless and in poverty until his death in 1954. In 1987, President Mario Soares posthumously awarded him the Order of Liberty and publicly asked his relatives for forgiveness for the injustices that had taken place.

In a letter sent to the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (another individual whose conscience dictated actions that were counter to public sentiment and who paid the ultimate price for his action), Francisco Sousa Mendes, the consul’s grandson, wrote “Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a diplomat. As such, he knew that he was a public official, somebody who should serve the people and, in no way could he take advantage of his position for personal benefit. But, even more important, more than a public official, my grandfather was loyal to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, particularly the one that prescribes us to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

When faced with the choice of doing what was right in the eyes of his people and what was right in the eyes of the Lord, Aristides de Sousa Mendes choose to follow the Lord, no matter what the cost it would be to him.

The prophet Elijah could relate to what happened to Sousa Mendes. Elijah took on the establishment, challenging the prophets of Baal and in direct confrontation with Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab. In showing these prophets to be fools and charlatans, Elijah embarrassed and enraged Jezebel, to the point that she put a bounty on his life.

In the wilderness, Elijah is convinced that he is alone, that there is no one who believes in God as he does. He believes that he will die in the wilderness, alone as the last of God’s witnesses. He is also convinced that God has forgotten him. Yet, God showed that he was neither forgotten nor alone. God showed Elijah that there are others and that there will always be others who believe in God and act in the same manner as Elijah.

You may see yourself alone in the battle but look around you. There are others whose presence today tells you their paths have crossed yours and the faith of their fathers is still present, as is yours.

Today, we are reminded that our fathers, like their fathers before them, worked to make our paths a little easier to tread. We are reminded that Jesus came to liberate and save us from sin and death. We are reminded, as our fathers before us and their fathers before them that the Gospel message is to be taken from this place and into the world. We are reminded again, in the words of the old Methodist hymn that the faith of our fathers lives on today.


Stairway to Heaven

Here are my thoughts for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 17 July 2011. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Genesis 28: 10 – 19, Romans 8: 12 – 25, and Matthew 13: 24 – 30.

If you were expecting something related to Led Zeppelin, you will be sadly disappointed. As much as I like that band, “Stairway to Heaven” was never one of my favorites. I think that may have something to do with when the song came out and the transition in music at the time. But that’s another story for another time.

No, the stairway to heaven in this case comes from Jacob’s dream in Genesis that was the Old Testament reading for today. How should we interpret this dream? Do we see it as a means of escape and, if so, an escape from what? This is a pertinent question, especially in light of what we read in the Gospel reading from Matthew for today.

Some of the notes that accompany the Matthew passage put the reading into an apocalyptic tone, of the sorting of the good from evil and the resulting destruction of evil. I have no problem with the destruction of evil. What I have a problem with is those who have created a version of the end times in which the good do nothing and yet survive. The attitude that I perceive among many who proclaim an acceptance of the current “end times” scenario is that they, the good and righteous, will survive while others, obviously evil and sinful, will be destroyed.

The problem is that in a few chapters Matthew will record Jesus as challenging the good and righteous about what they did to end the cause of evil, i.e., poverty, homelessness, hunger, and rejection by society. If the good are to survive, then they must do more than simply say to the evil that they are doomed. Sinners know they are doomed; the question is one of how to do we change the outcome?

Second thought – there are times, especially when I am watching a show on the development and history of the Bible that I begin to think that I am a gnostic when it comes to belief. Now, I am still struggling with the nature of Gnosticism as it was two thousand years ago. There is something about the way it is presented that I cannot get a handle on. But if Gnosticism requires that you think about your belief then I wonder whose belief system is not partially gnostic in nature. Our belief may be private but our journey is public.

As I looked at the three readings for today, I saw the struggle that Jacob was undergoing as one in his own mind as to where he was going and what he was to do. This is a struggle that each and every one of us goes through. Perhaps this is a better way to read the verses from Matthew; our own private attempt to separate the good from the bad in our lives, to gather the wheat while getting rid of the chafe and the weeds.

Paul’s words come into play. How are we, individually and personally, going to make that change? It comes when we make the conscious and definite choice to follow Christ, to accept Christ in our lives, our heart, our mind, our soul. What Paul tells the Romans is that there is a distinct difference between the life you lead before you chose Christ and the life you will have after you have made that choice.

But you see, it has to be your choice. And when we make that choice, we see the stairway that Jacob saw. What Jacob was more than a vision of angels; it was way out of his present live and into a new life, a life in the presence of God. It was a renewal of the covenant that Abraham had made. It may very well be that this renewal, coming as it does before Jacob’s encounter with God and his reunion with his brother Esau, is what he (Jacob) needed in order to handle those two major events in his life.

That is what we need if we are to escape the life we have. And this is where I differ from those who see the “end times” as a final ending. We cannot get out of life and we cannot say to others that they are doomed if we do nothing to offer an alternative. When I look around and I see self-proclaimed Christians who see poverty, homelessness, suffering and illness and say that is the way it is too be; when I see self-proclaimed Christians telling me that God intended for them to be wealthy and that anyone can do it, I have to wonder when they encountered Christ.

There may be an “evil one” in this world. I am not prepared to say one way or the other on that point. I will say, though, that there is evil in this world. And I will say that it is very easy to get trapped by that evil. I will also say that the only way that we will overcome evil is to not get trapped in it and that will require a stairway, a way to climb out. But that stairway will not magically appear, allowing us to escape without looking back. That stairway is Jesus Christ and as we climb that stairway, we are making a commitment to help others climb it as well. Those that climb it by themselves will find that they are going nowhere. Those that help others to escape the evil and despair of this world through working to destroy poverty, homelessness, hunger, and repression will find a stairway that leads to a grander place than we could ever imagine.

And for those expecting Led Zeppelin – “Stairway to Heaven”

What Cost Freedom?

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

As it came on the 4th of July weekend, I was faced with a dilemma, one that I think many ministers, preachers, and lay speakers have.  How do you speak of freedom in a political sense in a church?  The problem, that I didn’t sense fifteen years ago when I gave this message but which I think is far too common today, is that many pastors and too many laity put God at the head of our armed forces.  As one general said a couple of years ago, our God is better than their God.  The only problem with this statement is that their God is our God.

Freedom is more than political or military superiority.  I wonder when we are going to learn that?

So, here is the message that I presented on the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 2 July 1995.  The Scriptures (from the New Common Lectionary) are 1 Kings 19: 15 – 21, Galatians 5: 1, 13 – 25, and Luke 9: 51 – 62.


What is freedom? That may be one of the most difficult concepts man has ever been asked to define. Freedom could be considered one’s ability to choose and guide one’s own life. To a sixteen-year-old, freedom is a driver’s license. Freedom to worship at a church of one’s choosing, our very presence here today, was one of the reasons this country was founded. I really think that the political debates that we listen to over the course of the next few months, nor matter what is actually said, will center on a definition of freedom.  (As I noted in “Another One” where I related a story about my life, this story is one that I have used in the past as well.  This was the first time that I put the idea of freedom into the context of turning 16 and getting one’s driver’s license.  I expanded the story on other occasions.)

What is the cost of freedom? That is the hidden question. As we have discovered at some point in time, becoming freedom does not come cheap. To the sixteen-year old, having a driver’s license means nothing if there is no gas in the car, or for that matter, if there is no car. When we leave home and are finally free, we find out that we must still pay the rent and utilities.

I grew up on Air Force bases in the fifties and sixties and the price of freedom was seen by the B-52 bombers that flew from some of those bases. As long as those planes sat on the runway with the bomb bay doors open, we knew we were safe. For those planes were the alert planes, scheduled only to fly if we went to war with the Soviet Union. The cost of freedom in those days was eternal vigilance.

But today, I speak of a different freedom. What is it to live a life without sin? But what is the cost of that freedom? As Paul has written, in Christ we have our freedom from sin. But that freedom comes with a cost. To some, that cost and the freedom it gains is not worth the price. Faced with the perils and unknown of the wilderness in front of them and the Egyptian army behind them, the Israelites were willing to go back into slavery in Egypt rather than being free and becoming their own nation. In Exodus 14: 10 – 14 we read

When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they were in great fear. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord; and they said to Moses, "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness." And Moses said to the people, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today, for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still." (Exodus 14: 10 – 14)

Many people often think that being a Christian is dull and boring. In terms of early America, all we have to do is think of the Puritans and the seemingly humorless life they lead. Perhaps the Puritans, as we think of their lifestyle, overdid it the structure of life a bit. But we must realize that freedom without structure is a hollow freedom. In seeking the fruits of freedom without concern many people find out that their life is empty and without purpose. Without a structure, we allow sin to invade our lives. That is why the Israelites would have gone back to Egypt; there they had a familiar structure. It was the covenant that God offered them that provided the structure of freedom that they needed.

When we choose freedom, that is, when we choose to follow Christ, we choose a path from which we cannot turn back. In the passage from Luke, Jesus set his eyes on Jerusalem. We know that look; we have all seen it in others. It is the look of single-mindedness, of determination.

Jesus knew that his mission on this earth would only succeed when He went to Jerusalem and that nothing was going to stop him from that journey. Not even a village which ignored him.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence knew full well that signing that document put them on a single path. If the revolution was a success, they would have a new country. If the revolution failed, they would be hanged by the British as traitors. To them, freedom from England was well worth that price. And when the time came, there was no hesitation on their part to sign that document.

When Elijah came to Elisha and made him the offer to be his replacement, Elisha’s first response was hesitation. He thought that he would have time to say good-bye to his parents. That, of course, is the natural thing to do. Still, faced with the rebuke from Elijah, Elisha went forward. Elisha’s act of burning the yoke, killing his oxen, and using the fire to cook the food for his workers was as dramatic a step as the flourish John Hancock used when he signed the Declaration of Independence. Having destroyed all that was his previous life; Elisha could now go forward as Elijah’s successor.

William Barclay commented that "To Paul, a theology was not of the slightest use unless it could be lived out in the world." To John Wesley, your life had but one direction when you surrender it to Christ. That is why Jesus told the young man that he could not bury his father. He was not being callous or unconcerned about Jewish tradition. But if the young man was to follow Him, that path must be his first priority. When you choose to surrender your life to Christ, there is no other path you can follow; there is no other task that you can undertake.

The cost of freedom today is simple. Commit our lives to Christ. As Paul wrote some many times,

"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2: 20)

We are no longer slaves to sin; no longer are we prisoners to the sins of the flesh but our lives are centered on Christ and we can go forward knowing that our freedom is truly that. And a life in Christ serves us well in our work, be it the factory, the schoolroom, the desk, or the farm, and in our play. By living in Christ, God becomes a part of our everyday life and that is a reason to celebrate.