“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

“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.

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.

What Does It Take?

This Sunday I return to New Milford/Edenville United Methodist Church (Location of Church).  The service starts at 10:30.  The Scriptures for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost are 2 Kings 2: 1 – 2, 6 – 14; Galatians 5: 1, 13 – 25; and Luke 9: 51 – 62.


Here is the sermon – sorry that I was late in posting it but yesterday was rather hectic.

At the end of the sermon and the service, one person pointedly stated that they didn’t come to church to hear politics preached.  I think I know what “angered” this individual but I think it was when I referred to the Gulf of Mexico.  Interestingly enough, his comment reinforced what I was saying and have said about those who do not want to be reminded of the world outside the walls of the church on a Sunday morning.  But the world is out there and we cannot ignore what we have done and are doing.  If that is political, so be it.

Another person pointed out the one point that I should have stressed more and that was that our use of technology as a means of communication has virtually removed any one-to-one communication.


I have been developing a course or a presentation entitled “Technology in the Pulpit.” No matter how we may feel, technology is an integral part of our everyday life. And, as such, we should understand how to use it, when to use it, and more importantly when not to use it.

Now, if I were to make that presentation today, utilizing Power Point, I would start off with a picture of a scroll. Because when we first wrote down the words of the Holy Scriptures, they were written on a scroll. And we need to remember that when Jesus stood up in his home synagogue in Nazareth, he took the scroll and read the passage for the day.

Then somewhere in times past, someone decided to cut the scroll into pages and bind the pages into a book. And we are now at a point where the book has literally become a text message on a personal communication device or the screen of a computer. But there is something that we are perhaps not aware of when we look at this transformation of information over the ages.

First, literary elite of the early church days were very conservative and viewed the early books (or codices) with the same suspicion that many people view electronic publications today. They were very much attached to the older format of the scrolls and very reluctantly adapted to the new “technology”.

Since early Christians were poorly educated and generally from the lower classes of society, they had no secular literary tradition to preserve. And as a relatively new religion, they also had no religious traditions to preserve as well. So, they adopted the book immediately and universally.

And when Gutenberg invented the printing press, Martin Luther and the other reformers quickly saw the technology as a way of spreading the word through copies of the printed Bible (a move that was very vehemently opposed by the religious and political establishments of the day).

In light of how the technologies of the past have helped Christianity, perhaps we should be willing embracers of the movement. But, before we do so quickly and blindly, let us stop and look at the times of the church before we were a religion, before we needed the Bible to spread the word and to a time when to state in public that you were a Christian was tantamount to asking that you be persecuted and even killed. How then did the Word spread? How did people throughout the Roman Empire come to know the story of Jesus Christ and the message that he began in the Galilee two thousand years ago?

I have noted on a number of other occasions that many students today assume that Paul had a copy of the New Testament with him as he journeyed from town to town in Asia Minor and Greece. But he didn’t and he couldn’t be everywhere at the same time – think of what he could have done if communication in those days was done at the speed of today. The answer was that the Word wasn’t spread by printed texts (which many of those who hear Paul preach wouldn’t have been able to read anyway) but by one person telling another and that person telling someone else.

The beginning of Christianity was done in a very personal, one-to-one relationship. What we now call churches began as gatherings in one person’s home (often secretly because of the penalty that accompanied being a Christian or a follower of The Way).

I am not opposed to technology. If anything, the ability to type out the words that I wish to say is far easier than if I were to write them down with pen and pencil. But I see a reminder with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that we can rely on technology far too much and I remember last February when over half the people in Dutchess County were without power for almost a week. To lose electricity is to lose the ability to use telephones, computers, televisions, radios, refrigerators, stoves and the lights in one’s house. And I have this sense that there are a number of people who would literally freak out if they couldn’t use their phone to send a text message to a friend.

I am not opposed to technology but I wonder if we really truly understand what to do with it. I know of one report where technology is creating a cultural divide because not everyone can afford computers and the accompanying technology; there was a recent report that indicated that having a computer in the home doesn’t necessarily assure educational gains. And what I have seen in the classroom tells me that most students do not have an understanding of how to use the technology for better results.

To be sure, they can find information but how good is that information? When I was teaching introductory chemistry courses, I gave my students an assignment on ethics. Imagine my surprise and shock when I would discover that students believed that one particular individual, who won a Nobel Prize for his work in biology, had cheated. That he didn’t was beside the point; many students found what they thought was the answer to my question and copied it straight from the web page to the word document. They never bothered to think about the ramifications of what they had just read.

If they had gone just a little further in their research, they would have discovered that the accusation of cheating was directed towards a co-worker and that the co-worker was eventually absolved of any wrong doing. The individual that my students were looking for was guilty by association in the minds of others because he defended the accused. Technology is a tool to finding the answer; it is not the answer.

We are finding out that this is the case in church today. Technology can reach out to people. Did you know that there are 282 United Methodist Churches within 50 miles of this area? And of those 282 churches, 90 (or not quite a third) don’t have an e-mail address listed and of the 191 that did have an address listed, 31 addresses were wrong. So while 121 churches in this area may have a presence on the web (because that is how I found them), they did not get the note I sent out recently about some events happening at my home church because their use of technology was not up to date.

And having the address doesn’t mean anything unless you are willing to sit down and write a message that can be duplicated and passed on to others. Technology will not do the work for you; it will only make the work easier for you to do. We want technology to set us free when, in fact, it has enslaved us. Technology can be the tool that will set us free; it will not automatically do so.

When Clarence Jordan translated Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he wrote that he used “worshipping gadgets” as one of the sins in verse 19; even the translation offered by The Message reads “trinkets gods”. What is it that we are doing with all the devices that we have if we are not worshipping them?

Our lives are understandably hard and the one thing that we don’t want to do is work that much harder. But it should also be understood that we need to put forth the effort if we want the reward. When you ask John Wooden’s players what they remember about their coach and mentor, many will tell you how hard the practices were. By preparing them for the game, the game became remarkably easy but this is a point lost on society today when we desire success immediately and without much effort.

And I see in our efforts in education, where the buzz word is accountability and the key to accountability is testing, this same lack of effort. It is quite easy to test a student on what he or she was taught last week and it is quite easy to prepare them for such tests. But the true test of learning comes six months to a year later when what was taught is actually used. But when we live in a society of instantaneous gratification, waiting six months is an eternity and we won’t do it.

When Elijah asked Elisha wanted he wanted, Elisha replied that he wanted a double share of Elijah’s inheritance. Elijah rightly answered that such a request was a difficult one and that if Elisha really wanted that double share, he must be prepared to work for it.

We are not prepared to change our priorities; we are not prepared to make the effort that we must make in order to assure ourselves of freedom in this world and the next. Hear again the words of Luke from today’s Gospel reading, as translated by Clarence Jordan.

Then Jesus said to another, “Share my life.”

The man replied, “Let me first discharge my family obligations.”

Jesus replied, “Let the people of the world care for themselves, but you, you spend your time promoting the God Movement.”

Still another said, “I will share your life, sir, but let me first work out things with my relatives.”

To him Jesus replied, “No man who commits himself to a course of action, and then keeps looking for a way out of it, is fit material for the God Movement.”

Sadly, those are not the words we want our preachers and ministers to speak today. We want them to tell us how we can get the good life; we want to be told that others are to be blamed for the problems of the world. We want the church today to tell us that we can go to war because God is on our side, even when Paul reminds us in Galatians that such actions will lead to our own destruction.

We want to hear that it is alright to desire material goods and that we can destroy the environment because God gave it to us to do what we will with it. At what point does it become obvious that if we don’t keep a clean house, we aren’t going to have a place to live?

We want church to be a safe haven from the problems of the world; we don’t want to be bothered for a few hours on Sunday morning being reminded that there is work to be done “outside the walls.” There is too much change going on in the world today; for a few moments on a Sunday morning (and only on Sunday morning) we want a remembrance of church as it once was. We don’t want the minister fiddling with the order of worship, trying new things or singing new songs. Even if it means that there is no Spirit in the church, we want what once was, not what it can be.

Our age abounds in information and technology, but it lacks godly conscience, Christ-like compassion, and Spirit-enabled commitment, the traits of our Methodist heritage. It can be said that the early Methodist church in England had an impact on the social conditions of the day. The key to that early church’s influence was found in the traits of conscience, compassion and commitment.

If we are to be faithful to our age, then we must bring the riches of our heritage to our social responsibility, using what ever tools our age affords us that have moral integrity. The in-groups of our culture will not always approve of our agendas or our choice of methods. For that we will suffer their censure, as did Jesus in His day and Wesley in his. Yet both served many well by serving God most of all. That is what faithfulness to one’s age meant then, and it is what it means today. (”John Wesley, the Methodists, and Social Reform in England, Luke Keefer”) From “The Differing Voices of Truth”

Somewhere along the line, we shall realize that what it takes to get where we want to go is not what we thought it would be. We shall find out that what it really takes has been there right in front of us all the time? It doesn’t matter if we read it on a scroll or in an early book. It doesn’t matter if we read it as an electronic book or even as a text message sent to us by a friend.

What it takes is that we realize what Christ did for us. As Paul writes,

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.

What does it take to have the life you seek? It takes a decision on your part, a decision to follow Christ, to let Him into your heart. It takes a decision on your part; a decision to let the Holy Spirit enter your life and guide and direct you. The call is made; it is a call that you must answer. That’s what it will take.

“To Set Us Free”

This was the message that I gave at Tompkins Corners UMC for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 4 July 2004.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are 2 Kings 5: 1 – 14, Galatians 6: 1 – 16, and Luke 10: 1 – 11, 16 – 20.


If you think about it, today is an interesting day. It is the day that we celebrate our nation’s independence from Great Britain, yet nothing done this day some two hundred and twenty years ago made us actually independent. I think the problem is that we truly have no idea what independence and freedom are all about.

If we were to truly celebrate our independence from Great Britain, it should be on October 19th when General Washington’s army defeated General Cornwallis at Yorktown or even on the day the Treaty of Paris, acknowledging that we won the Revolution, was signed.

This day only celebrates the day a document written by Thomas Jefferson, with help from John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, at the direction of the Continental Congress, was read to the people of Philadelphia and later to residents of other cities in the thirteen colonies. It was a statement of our intention to be free and no matter how you read it, it did nothing to insure that such freedom would be granted. Everyone who agreed to those words knew that our actual freedom would only be gained through work and commitment to the cause and not by a mere reading of the words.

The problem is that we forget what it cost to gain our freedom. We see freedom in terms of what we can do, such as complain about the cost of gasoline while filling up a cost inefficient four wheel drive vehicle. We complain about the cost of energy but vote for politicians who create bills that stifle the development of and prevent the use of alternative energy research because we, the people, fear the consequences of developing nuclear and other alternative energy sources.

We think that because we have the freedom to say whatever we want wherever we want and whenever we want that we are truly free. We think that because we have the freedom to act in whatever manner we want, insulting whomever we want, we are truly free. But we do not realize that such actions contradict and threaten to take away the very freedoms that our parents, our grandparents, our colleagues and friends worked to gained.

In our efforts to show people how truly free we are, we find ourselves trapped and enslaved by the very things that we think our freedom gained. By our actions, we boast of our freedom; we want everyone to see just how free we can be. Like the "tribute" ancient kingdoms paid to conquering powers to stave off invasions, we say "look at what I have gathered in this life, look at my medals, my trophies. Admire me for what I am today. But don’t look at my soul; don’t look into the depths of my character, for even I am afraid to look there."

Paul seeks no admiration from his peers. He does not offer the Galatians any form of "tribute"; he does not enter into their game of boasting, no matter how subtle or unsubtle it might be. He wants people to know that there is only one thing they have to realize. He is a free man today because Jesus died on the cross so that he might live. It is not an achievement, quality or possession; it is not beautiful or stylish; it doesn’t even pertain to Paul himself. But it is the one thing that makes him free and that is all you need to know. (From "Dog tale" in "Living the Word" by Samuel Wells, Christian Century, June 29, 2004.)

This country is a free and independent nation, not because of words written on a piece of paper or because it was somehow inevitable. Rather, this country is free because men and women were committed to the cause of freedom regardless of the cost. We, as individuals, are freed from the bondage of sin and death, not because of what we might say or do but because Christ died on the cross so that we might live.

In last week’s Gospel reading it said that Jesus had his eyes set on Jerusalem and his meeting with the cross. So committed to walking that road was Jesus that nothing could distract Him. Our freedom in Christ today has to come with that same commitment.

This commitment is found not in doing whatever you want or going wherever you wish to go, but rather in letting yourself be wherever God places you, unwavering in your determination to be of one mind with God. (Quoted in the chapter on Prisoners in Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs, Howell)

Naaman was a great commander, yet his greatness was threatened by his affliction with leprosy. And the king of Aram, whose own greatness came from the victories of Newman’s armies, was prepared to give virtually everything he had to so that his general could be cured and their greatness, their freedom could be insured.

But the king of Israel knew that he could not cure the leprosy and was afraid that Israel would be taken over because of his failure. Elisha offered a solution, but it was a solution that Naaman was not prepared to accept. It was a simple solution, bath in the Jordan seven times, but it was a solution that did not recognize the greatness of Naaman or the value of his power or his possessions. It was a solution that required a commitment on his part rather than the simple incantation of words and the application of some useless magical potion.

Naaman gained his freedom from leprosy because he was committed to its cure. It was a commitment that required a change in his thinking, his attitude, and his approach to life.

In the early days of Christianity, there was an author name Boethius. Caught in a power struggle, he was arrested, imprisoned, and ultimately executed. While in prison he wrote, "the only way one . . . can exercise power over another is over [the] body and what is inferior to it, . . . possessions. You cannot impose anything on a free mind, and you cannot move from its state of inner tranquility a mind at peace with itself and firmly founded on reason.”  (Quoted in the chapter on Prisoners in Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs -Howell).

On the news last week I heard a story about Christians in China. Without commenting on the feelings of conservative Christians in this country on this subject, I found this story about the struggle of Christianity in China very interesting. The most important part of the story was the statement that the People’s Republic of China fears the Bible more than any other book ever published. The Bible inspires creativity and free thought, topics that no totalitarian government can ever endorse.

When Jesus came to us, he came not as a worldly king but as a servant. He showed that one could be free of the shackles imposed by religious and cultural law. But he warns those whom he has called to share his mission that they cannot hold onto what is in this world if they expect to follow him. If one holds on their worldly things, they can never expect to find the freedom that Christ offers. The reason that the Bible is such a powerful tool for freedom is that it gives every individual the chance to find out who Christ is and, in doing so, find out who they are really are.

We must be ready to leave the safety of the sanctuary in order to be his witnesses. We must be willing to leave behind those things that define us according to society and by which we often keep God imprisoned. In doing so, we are offered a freedom that cannot be found in this world, a freedom not hampered by a smallness of vision and obedience to the world. This is the freedom that is ours; it is a freedom that brings Christ to us and allows us to take Christ into the world. (From Faith in a Secular Age, Colin Williams)

It is that same freedom that the seventy took with them, which gave them the power to cast out demons and heal others. It is a freedom to help others, not condemn them. Note that Jesus told those who went out in His name that if the people of a town were not to accept them, just walk on by and leave the town alone.

On this day, when the fireworks go off and we celebrate our political independence, we must realize that freedom is more than just the victory of one army over another. We should celebrate but we must realize that, as Nelson Mandela said upon the legal dismantling of apartheid that, "we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free."

We must realize that no one can be free if the powers that take away freedom, fear, hatred, intolerance, injustice, still exist. We must remember that freedom is more than just cramming our time full of things that we can choose to do. It means that we have the chance to maximize our options and can focus on time, on quiet and concentrate on life. Freedom gives us the chance to explore the bigger questions of life, sense our connections with others and choose good over evil.

Jesus came to set us free. He did not, as some had hoped then and some now evoke today, a great army. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus came to set us free, free from sin and oppression. We have been challenged to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely, and to bring the message of hope through the Gospel to the oppressed. Having accepted Christ as our Savior, we now have the opportunity and the obligation to set others free. (Quoted in the chapter on Prisoners in Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs, Howell)

“The Task At Hand”

This was the message that I gave at Walker Valley UMC for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 8 July 2001.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are 2 Kings 5: 1 – 14, Galatians 6: 1 – 16, and Luke 10: 1 – 11, 16 – 20.


When you were growing up, I am sure there were tasks that you didn’t like doing, tasks that you would avoid at all costs. And there were tasks that you liked doing and would do no matter what. For me, it was cooking and doing the dishes. I didn’t mind cooking but I certainly hated cleaning up the kitchen.

My father graduated from Cornell University in 1943. And in his notes about his days at Ithaca were some comments about his time riding horses. My father learned to ride horses while in high school in Virginia and continued the hobby while in college. Now, my father attended Cornell because my grandfather, who was a Colonel in the Army at the time, had worked it out so that he was part of the R.O.T.C unit. This, in turn, allowed my father to attend Cornell.

Anyway, my father wrote that any time that he rode a horse, it was expected that he would clean the horse, the stalls and put everything back and the level at which the work was to be done was at a higher level than it was for any of the other unit members, because 1) he was the son of the unit commander and 2) he was also the R.O.T.C leader. Such tasks, as you can imagine, were not the most pleasant of tasks. But, any time my father took a date out for horseback riding, the sergeant in charge of the stables always told my father not to worry about taking care of the horses after the riding was complete; that he would look after everything.

Sometimes we are asked to take on a task that we don’t want to do but in the end provide us with some reward later on. In the Old Testament reading for today, the king grieves for what will be the loss of his kingdom. He takes the messages that are given to him to mean that he must personally heal Naaman. And he fears the consequences should he not be able to provide the healing that was sought. Elisha hears of the king’s worries and sends a message to him that he can heal the commander. Elisha sees the opportunity to demonstrate the power of the God of Israel.

The king thought that he had to solve this dilemma by himself. Time and time again, the Bible shows us that when faced with such situations, there are ways as a community that we can work together. In Genesis 2, the partnership between Adam and Eve is established to overcome loneliness and isolation. In Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law admonishes him for trying to personally take on too much responsibility. In Acts 4, the new Christian community pools its resources for the welfare of all.

Clearly, the biblical narrative offers the message that life’s burdens as well as its bounties are to be shared. Different people have different gifts for various tasks. We are obedient to God when we realize that we need one another and work to help each other.

As a community we are faced with a number of tasks. In September, we resume our Sunday school. As I mentioned last week, we are looking for a teacher for the older elementary kids. We will also start a junior high and high school confirmation class. To begin the new school year, we are hoping to revise the traditional "Rally Day". What can you do to help in each of these three parts of the Sunday school?

In October, we hope to bring a choir for New York City up. This event will require some publicity and planning. Will you be a part of that effort? The Bishop is coming to visit with us and preach on the first Sunday in December. Again, that visit (perhaps the first time the Bishop has come to this area in a long time) will require publicity and planning. Will you be a part of that special Sunday in the church?

Dennis Winkleblack, the District Superintendent, will be here the first Sunday in November to preach and then hold our Annual Charge Conference. I will be sending letters out to the members of the Committee on Lay Leadership (that’s the new title for what was known as the Nominations & Personnel Committee) to begin thinking about the officers of the Administrative Council and committee members for the coming year. The question, of course, that they must ask is "Who will serve Walker Valley this coming year?" What will your answer be?

And lastly, we set as our goal this year to reach out to every member of this church, to encourage them to return and be a part of this community. Part of that effort was a letter from Sandee Scheel, the membership secretary. Have you returned that letter? Even if everything in the information page was okay, did you return it? Have you taken the time during the week to think about someone that you haven’t seen in a while and given him or her a call, telling them that they are missed?

A number of people have indicated to Sandee that they wish that their names be removed from the membership list. I am not totally sure why some of these people have left. They may have felt that their church future was somewhere else. I know that some felt that there were no opportunities here.

But I also know that there are opportunities here to do many things and that many things can be done. They do not require that everyone in the church take part. That is not a requirement of a community. The one thing that I have discovered and the one thing that makes me personally certain about the future of the church is that the members of the church do work together, that a certain freedom is given to each person to take on whatever task is necessary and get it done, because it is what needs to be done. This is not the same as an individually deciding that they are the only one who can do something because they are acting individually without consultation with the community.

Our word for "strength" stems from a word that means "twisted together". It a comforting thought to realize that God strengthens us or twists Himself with humankind to help us bear life’s load. His Spirit intertwines with our spirit and demands that we strengthen others at their lowest times. The words that Paul wrote in the Epistle reading for today express that very idea. Prison, chains, torture, inquisitions, and questioning played significantly upon Paul’s mind. He could thank God that he had a Barnabas, a Silas, and a Luke who could strengthen him at his spirit’s inner depth.

Paul spoke of the community coming together in a fellowship or partnership, showing that the success of one of one was the success of the community and that the success of the community was the success of one.

The difficulty today is measuring success. In too many churches today, the measure of success is in numbers and other measurable items. But, if we tie the success of a church solely to a set of numbers, then we are asking for trouble. Such results are often so fleeting and so variable that the true results are burnout, discouragement, and weariness. Jesus warned the disciples that despite the fact that they were representing the Kingdom of God, not everyone would be interested or tolerant.

Some people do not want to serve Christ for they think that means doing mission work or preaching the Gospel. And I happen to agree that there are plenty of examples of people who approach the work of Christ in that manner, some good and some bad.

Though we do not all have to enter mission fields or preach the Gospel, we should, through our lives and how we live our lives, be able to show and tell others what Christ means to us. The Spirit given to us by Christ has a remarkable effect on our success. The seventy disciples came back from their first mission work filled with joy and happiness because they set out on their task with Christ in their lives.

Success should mean finding meaning, purpose, and happiness in life. The purpose of the church should be to give hope to those seeking hope, to be a haven for those seeking solace and safety, a place where people can find the purpose and meaning for their lives.

The task at hand for us today is not simply a matter of numbers; rather, it is finding ways to let others know that this place, Walker Valley United Methodist Church, is a place where hope exists, where peace can be found and that success, true success, can be obtained. All that we do in the coming months should be to allow others to know the joy and peace that come from knowing Christ.

The celebration of communion today is a reminder of the task at hand for us and the rewards that we will gain. For as we come to the table we are reminded that Christ knew what His future would be. He knew that it would be seen as a failure to some because He died on the cross. But the resurrection shows that His work was not a failure. We come to the table knowing that His death gives us the hope of eternal life. We come as well in celebration of the success based on that promise.

Find The Cost of Freedom

I am preaching at Pine Plains United Methodist Church in Pine Plains, NY. Here are my thoughts for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost.
Every year, for this particular Sunday, I have tried to write about the idea or concept of freedom. But over the past couple of years, I have begun to wonder if we have forgotten what the true cost of freedom is. We have come to equate the need for war with the need for freedom; we have come to think that we must expend the lives of our young in order to insure our freedom.

Last year, several comments were posted to my blog when I posted my thoughts about war and freedom. (1) The focus of these comments was that war was inevitable and that we needed to meet violence with violence. Perhaps war is inevitable but it is only so when we allow it to happen.

I do not believe military force is necessarily the proper solution to the problems of the world today. When Jesus stood before the people in the synagogue in Nazareth and pronounced the Good News, he had no army and no plans for an army. His message was a transforming message, meant to change the way people viewed and related to other people. The message of the Gospel was certainly not meant to be the domination of one individual over another by physical force. Many of those who rejoiced when they first heard Christ’s words quickly left when they found out He would not lead an army of soldiers to establish the new Kingdom.. They were unwilling to pay the cost for the freedom that Jesus was offering. Paul tells us that Jesus Christ came to set us free and that we should not submit to the yoke of slavery. (2) Yet, in the confinement of slavery, we seem to think that we are free. But it is only an illusion of freedom.

But it seems that, as a society, we have forgotten what the true cost of freedom is. This week we will hear speakers on both sides of the political aisle speak of the sacrifice of the young men and women who have died in the past year to preserve and protect our freedom.

We are in a quasi-state of war, but we are not fighting those who attacked us. We have used that attack as the excuse that we must go to war in order to prevent others from attacking us. And despite what our leaders may say, our young are not being killed in a war against terrorism but by both sides of a civil war. It is clear that there are those in this country (and that includes members of the various religious communities) who feel that war is the only solution to the problems that we face each day, at home and abroad.

I do not think so; our country’s decision to go to war required that we surrender our freedoms, not enhance them. The political freedom that this country has so long stood for has been given away in order to justify war. It becomes very difficult to accept the idea that we must fight in order to preserve our freedoms and remain safe. It angers me that politicians will use the occasion of this week to call for more war and will use the death of so many young men and women as the basis for this call.

Now, before I go on, like so many in this country I grieve at the loss of any one who has died while serving this country. My family was fortunate in that our grandfather, who served this country in World War I and retired as a Colonel in the United States Army, died at home during peace time. We are fortunate because if he had not been retired medically by the Army in 1943, he would have been in command of one of the regiments that landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

I am also the son of an Air Force Major, who began his service in World War II. He died in his sleep during a period of relative peace in this world but his service was during the most turbulent period of peace imaginable.

Throughout his service in the Air Force, we lived on bases that were home to both units of the Air Training Command and of the Strategic Air Command. Kids I went to school with during the 1950’s and 1960’s were the sons and daughters of the pilots and crews of the B-52’s that served as the air arm of our nuclear deterrent. We did not discuss their father’s work back then but I do know that later on families were told that in the advent of a nuclear attack the bases that housed the B-52 crews and their families as well as the Titan II and Minuteman missile crews and their families were prime targets for their Soviet equivalents and would have, in the event of a nuclear attack, been the scene of total destruction and devastation.

It was with some degree of dark humor that the keeping of the peace during the height of the Cold War was symbolized by the term Mutually Assured Destruction or its acronym MAD. This quaint little term expressed the idea that each side had the ability and more than enough capability to completely destroy their opposition. There is no better acronym in the history of mankind than the one coined for mankind’s destruction of itself.

From my grandfather’s diary and my father’s comments, I came to read and hear about the horrors of war. Yet, in our news broadcasts today, we see very little of the horrors of war; to do so would only aid the enemy in their cause.

We have attempted to remove the personal aspect from war so that it is easier to go to war. Civilian deaths are called collateral damage; we know that civilians are being killed but we have no idea how many civilians have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan since we invaded those countries. Our own military dead come home without fanfare and often in the middle of the night, noticed only by their families. Our wounded sons and daughters come home to a medical system that is over-taxed and under-prepared to deal with the nature of their physical and mental wounds. And after only a minimum of care, they are quickly forgotten, left on their own to find their way in an unknowing and uncaring world while politicians on both sides of the aisle will speak of their sacrifices, the losses of their limbs and lives, so that we may enjoy freedom.

Like so many families today, when my grandfather and my father were buried, my family received American flags with the thanks and appreciation of a grateful nation for their service. Honor guards will convey these same words to the families, to the parents, to the children of those who die this week but will their deaths, will the price that these young soldiers paid really be for our freedom?

No politician will speak about removing war from today’s vocabulary. No one, be they politician or minister, soldier or civilian, will speak of finding ways to remove the causes of war so that we, the parents and older generation, can stop burying our children. The Greek historian Herodotus quoted Croesus, the King of Lydia as saying “no one is as foolish as to prefer war to peace where fathers bury their sons instead of sons burying their fathers.” (3) Rather than remembering what General Robert E. Lee said about the horrors of war, “It is fortunate that war is so terrible, because we could grow quite fond of it,” we seek it out as the solution to our problems.

We are like James and John, the “Sons of Thunder”, in today’s Gospel reading (4) who want to send the wrath of God upon those who disagree with us. Because we see war as the solution, we chose to forget the horrors of war. We do not pursue peace with the same vigor that we do war.

It is not like others have not spoken out against war in the past. President Dwight Eisenhower said,

If men can develop weapons that are so terrifying as to make the thought of global war include almost a sentence for suicide, you would think that man’s intelligence and his comprehension… would include also his ability to find a peaceful solution.

General of the Army Omar Bradley said,

We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing that we know about living.

The recent Time article about the legacy of President John F. Kennedy pointed out that he understood the horrors of both conventional and nuclear warfare. The radioactive fallout from the nuclear tests that both the Soviet Union and the United States were conducting in the 1960’s was landing on grass and becoming part of the food chain. This frightened President Kennedy and led him to seek a different solution to the arms race and global conflict.

While many people during those times called for war of any kind, President Kennedy sought peace. In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 1961, he said, “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.”

In a speech on 10 June, 1963 at American University in Washington, D. C.(a United Methodist school, by the way), he expanded upon that idea by stating,

I have, therefore, chosen this time and place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth too rarely perceived. And that is the most important topic on earth: peace. What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.

I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age where great powers can maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age where a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all the allied air forces in the Second World War.

It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations yet unborn.

Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need them is essential to the keeping of peace. But surely the acquisition of such idle stockpiles which can only destroy and never create is not the only, much less the most efficient, means of assuring peace. I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary, rational end of rational men. I realize the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war, and frequently the words of the pursuers fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task. (5)

It is interesting that those who are familiar with the horrors of war in all of its forms are among those who argue against war. Yet, the prophetic words spoken at the height of the Cold War seem to have been quickly forgotten.

Despite all that we know, we still see war as the arbiter of peace and justice. There are those today who see war as the only answer and are quite willing to utilize nuclear weapons in the pursuit of their goals. But even one nuclear weapon dropped somewhere on the other side of the world will have consequences here in the United States. The fallout from a nuclear weapon will ultimately make its way to this country and will impact us in so many unimaginable ways. I can remember weather forecasts of the early 1960’s giving the amount of strontium-90 that was in the air. This radioactive isotope takes the place of calcium in the food chain; those who ingest this isotope develop bone cancer. And since the most common source of calcium in our diet is milk, the ones most affected by this will be the children of the world. It was this knowledge that led President Kennedy to seek the beginning of the end of nuclear testing. Are we so willing to engage in warfare that we will not only bury our oldest children but began to bury our youngest as well?

War is, if you will, an equal opportunity destructive force. It does not differentiate between a soldier and a civilian, an adult and a child. It creates poverty, misery, destruction and unemployment. And all that can come from this creation is more war

Paul’s words to the Galatians that were part of today’s Old Testament reading (6) become very prophetic. Paul wrote that we are called to freedom but this freedom is not to be the opportunity for self-indulgence. Rather than devouring each other, we are called to take care of each other. Interesting words when we hear others proclaim that only war will set us free.

Are not “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissentions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and things like these” (7) the very things that lead to disagreement and ultimately to war?

If we are to remove war from the vocabulary of society, then it must begin with us. We must be willing to take the steps that will bring peace into this world. John Kennedy pointed out that “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

Paul counsels the Galatians, and he counsels us today, to lead a life of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (8)

Black Elk, a traditional holy man and visionary of the Oglala Sioux, said

The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.

Thomas Aquinas said,

Peace is the work of justice indirectly, in so far as justice removes the obstacles to peace; but it is the work of charity (love) directly, since charity, according to its very notion, causes peace.

What cost are we willing to pay in order to insure that freedom through peace, not war, is accomplished in our lifetime?

Contrast the actions of the young man who wished to follow Christ with the actions of Elisha as he sought to inherit the spiritual nature of Elijah’s ministry. The young man was unwilling to give up his present life in order to follow Christ while Elisha was willing to see God is all His Glory and Power. This was at a time when it was believed that to see God in this manner would only insure your immediate and horrible death. Elisha was willing to go against the beliefs of society so that he could continue the ministry begun by Elijah. But the young man was not willing to do the same. He was unwilling to pay the cost.

If we are to find the cost of freedom, we must be willing to look for it in other places. If we are willing to pay the cost of freedom, we must be willing to do the things that bring peace and not continue to bring war. In proclaiming the Gospel message, Jesus spoke of healing the sick, feeding the hungry, bringing freedom to the oppressed. If there is to be peace in this world, should not the Gospel message not only be proclaimed but carried out?

Are you able to bear the burden that comes from freedom? Are you able to find freedom through Christ? Are you able to do the work that Christ asks you to do? If you are able, then you can find the cost of freedom. If you cannot, then you will never know true freedom and its cost will be beyond your reach.
“Study War No More”
(2) Galatians 5: 1
(3) From Herodotus’ “The Persian Wars”
(4) Luke 9: 51 – 62
John F. Kennedy’s speech to the graduates of American University of 10 June 1963
(6) Galatians 5: 1, 13 – 25
(7) Galatians 5: 21
(8) Galatians 5: 22