I was at Rowe United Methodist Church (Milan, NY) and Red Hook (NY) United Methodist Church this morning. The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 5th Sunday of Easter were Acts 7: 55 – 60, 1 Peter 2: 2 – 10, and John 14: 1 – 14.
I must have missed something last night. I was under the impression that the world was coming to an end. It sure seemed like a lot of people thought that it was. And given the state of the news this morning, of floods, hurricanes, and tornados ravaging the land, wars and violence over much of the globe, of greed and selfishness (and our pre-occupation with those who are greedy and selfish), of a separation of the people by economic status, race and gender, it might not have been all that terrible if the world had come to an end last night. If nothing else, such news sort of makes you depressed and crawl back under the bed covers in hopes that it will all go away.
To hear many modern day prophets and doomsayers, such news is an indication that God has forsaken this land, this planet and the people who live on it. They went to sleep last night fully expecting that, this morning, they would find themselves swept up from this world and now safely in heaven while the rest of us are left to our devices and doomed to live in some sort of existential never-never land. I hope that they weren’t terribly disappointed when they woke up this morning. Perhaps I didn’t miss anything at all.
Others will tell you that such news simply means there is no God. And this group woke up quite happy this morning, even if the world still seems like a bad place to live. Because, for all the shouting and announcements to the contrary, nothing happened and it can only mean that there really isn’t a God and religions are a waste of time and superstitious hoo-ha. Sadly, it is such events as this that are the basis for the rejection of Christianity.
Bob Herring, in his blog for Saturday, noted that there are many Christians who don’t have clear understanding about what the Scriptures do say about the end of the world and this will leave them even more confused, perhaps to the point that they will leave the faith and belief in Jesus Christ and try to find some other source of hope in this day and age. (Adapted from “I’m Planning a “We’re Still Here Party” for Sunday”)
It is sad that the public opinion of Christianity and what we can do in this world is hampered by those whose proclamation and prophecy is faulty and illogical and not by the work of those who were actually doing the work of God on this planet.
Now, I have a confession to make. I know that the world will come to an end. There is more to the destruction of this planet, this solar system, and the universe than predictions somehow buried deep within the text of the Bible. Current theories about the life of stars tell us that one day our own Sun will start to expand and engulf this planet. Theories about the creation of the universe tell us that it is expanding but at sometime in the far, far future, it will stop expanding and perhaps even collapse. But both of these events will occur long after our existence has run its course and are, at best, speculation at this time. Whatever may happen, it will be an event that we will miss.
I think that there have been at least five and perhaps more predictions for the end of the world during my lifetime. Each has been expressed with an absolute sincerity and an equally absolute sense of certainty. There have been over 1000 such predictions for the end of the world as we know it made in the 2000 or so years of what is now called the Common Era. You would think that such intensive and exhaustive study of the same data and the same scriptures by so many individuals would eventually yield some sort of positive result.
God did give us wisdom and He did give us the ability to use this wisdom to both create and destroy. It would seem to me that we are more bent towards destruction than creativity. Let’s face the facts! God doesn’t need to destroy this planet; we are doing a good job of it ourselves!
There are many who do not have to be reminded of the unstated horrors of thermonuclear war that dominated our thoughts and lives during the 1950s and 1960s. We can easily visualize what might have happened if our squadrons of B-52 bombers, armed with thermonuclear weapons, had taken off on their missions of destruction in response to an attack by the former Soviet Union. We were constantly reminded during the 70s and 80s how many cities and targets could be destroyed with the multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (or MIRV) on a single missile. I find it ironic that the more complicated the name we give for a nuclear weapon, the more destructive its capability.
Do we need to be reminded that the only thing that prevented a nuclear war in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s was the knowledge that such destruction was mutually assured (what better acronym is there for war than the one for “mutually assured destruction”, MAD)? We now know from the tapes made by President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962, that we were perilously close to nuclear war and that one wrong move by either side would have triggered Armageddon.
All we have to do today is look around and see what we have done, from the development of more horrific weapons of mass destruction to what we have done to the environment (be it caused by global climate change or not), and how we treat other people and then we can wonder why it is we haven’t destroyed the world already.
What I suppose bothers me most is that people have seen these signs but ignored them. They are resigned to the destruction of the world and hope that somehow, because they are the true believers, they will be the ones that God saves.
They feel they are the ones that Peter called the chosen ones, and somehow this makes it acceptable to be blind to the world around them. They miss or forget the words that follow, that speak of being the instruments of God’s work, of having to speak out for God and telling others what it means to be a Christian, to speak of the difference Jesus Christ has made in their lives. They miss the words that Jesus spoke to Philip of continuing the work that Jesus began.
Instead of doing the work of Christ, they spend all their time pointing out how others have failed to keep this rule or that, or how we have to keep the church clean and proper (and they are not talking about vacuuming the carpet or polishing the brass on the altar). They frown on laughter and applause in the sanctuary because that is not the proper way to worship the Lord. They are so busy working to keep the church that they miss seeing Jesus walk right on by.
They are the ones who encouraged the mob to stone Stephen because he proclaimed a vision of Christ but one they could not see. And since they could not see the vision that Stephen laid out before them, they felt that he was the blasphemer, not them.
I hope that you did not miss the significance of this day as far as being a United Methodist, though. Today is Aldersgate Sunday because it is the Sunday closest to May 24th, the day that John Wesley encountered the Holy Spirit. We should remember that once John and Charles Wesley were both such legalistic Christians. When we say that we are Methodists, and while I hope that we say it boldly and proudly, we are telling everyone that our heritage was once a very strict and legalistic one.
But John and Charles Wesley both knew that this approach wasn’t working. It is said that this same week, when John Wesley went to Aldersgate, Charles was lying on his bed convinced that he was going to die and die a failure. But when they both received the Holy Spirit things changed.
We have to come to believe that the word martyr means one who has died for a cause but it really means witness. Stephen was the first martyr, not only because he died for the cause but also because he spoke of what he saw and what he knew. We are not asked to die for the cause but we are asked to tell the world what we have seen and what we know.
Do we need to be reminded that when John Wesley and the early Methodists began, they were barred from preaching in their churches so they took to the fields? And the religious authorities, much like the authorities in the reading from Acts, encouraged the people to throw stones and rocks at these early Methodists.
I saw a note the other day that Wesley’s early ministry went against the social norm of his day. He went into the prisons, he fed the hungry, he even found ways to heal the sick. He did so because that is where he felt he would find Christ and that is where he felt he could show Christ.
People are going to through stones at us when we walk that same path; when we witness for Christ as we do so.
You have heard me speak before about Grannie Annie’s kitchen and the breakfast ministry that we have begun at Grace Church in Newburgh. Our philosophy is that each person who comes in on Saturday and Sunday will receive a breakfast. There is plaque that has hung in Ann’s kitchen for 40 years that says “let all guests be received as Christ.” How do we know that any one individual who comes to our table is not Jesus? Where does it say that Jesus will come either in a fabulously white robe or an elegant suit? Is it not better to feed all who are hungry than ignore the one? Is this not the same work that Christ empowered Philip and the other disciples and followers to do?
But like Thomas, we are uncertain about the direction we must take or even what it is we must do.
Several years ago, I drove from Memphis to St. Louis. I could have taken the easy route north by crossing the Mississippi River into Arkansas and heading north on Interstate 55. Under optimal conditions, one can make the trip in 4 hours. But I don’t like driving Interstate highways unless I absolutely have to.
I chose to take a route up the east side of the Mississippi, through Kentucky, across the Ohio River, and into Illinois. It was a little bit longer but more scenic and there were more options to stop. Now, on this particular trip, I was listening to a St. Louis radio station and paying attention to the traffic. What I was not doing was paying attention to the road signs and pretty soon I noticed that the countryside of Illinois that I was passing through bore no resemblance to what I remembered from previous trips. It would be easy to say that I was lost because I did not know where I was other than I was somewhere in southwest Illinois. Having a map was partially useful but also of no help without knowing exactly where on the map I was.
But, for the most part, country roads in Illinois run east-west and north-south; so it was just a matter of driving north on the road I was on and I would soon reach an east-west road that would allow me to go west and eventually run into the road I normally took. I had the basic knowledge and that knowledge would lead me back to the path I was supposed to be on.
In the same vein, Jesus is the basic knowledge, the truth, the life, the way. Peter’s challenge is not just be like babes but to grow and mature, to take the knowledge presented to us and use it in ways that Christ has taught us. We are to show the world who Christ is and what it means to be a Christian.
It is more than simply seeing the world. There is something missing when all we see is destruction and desolation; there is something missing when we see a world destroyed by and through greed and selfishness; there is something missing when people are abused or oppressed. There is something missing when a person is rejected by society because of their economic status, their race, their gender, or their lifestyle.
The one thing that is missing is the love of God and that is what we must provide.
The cynics in the world today want to see God, they want to see Jesus and they ridicule those who believe. It isn’t that they missed seeing either God or Jesus; they have never been shown either the Father or the Son.
Philip asked Jesus to show him the Father and Jesus replied that those who have seen Him have seen the Father. Jesus also told Philip that he, Philip would be called on to do the same work that Jesus had been doing. When we do the work of Jesus, when we feed the hungry or help the homeless find shelter or we heal the sick, people will see Christ in us.
On his blog this week, John Meunier asked who would miss us if we were not here tomorrow. If we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, quite a few people would miss us – those served by the food banks, those who come to the church for a meeting, those whose lives were helped by UMCOR offering or a VIM trip, those who brought their children to a pre-school during the week. (from “Who Would Miss Us?”) There is a new ministry beginning in the Newburgh area; it is called Family Promise and it offers hope to families where the parents may be out of work or have lost their home because of the economic times. This ministry, like the food bank and the day care center and the UMCOR projects and the VIM trips are not done with the expectation that such actions will open the doors of heaven; they are done because we love others as God has loved us. It is the love that God expressed to us when He sent His Son to die on the cross.
The call today is very simple. We are called to open our hearts and our minds so that we can see, feel, touch, and sense the presence of Christ. Through our words, our deeds, our thoughts, and our actions we are to lead a life that would allow others to know Christ. We are called to bring Christ to the world. We are called today to go out into this world and be the opportunity to show Christ to world. I do not know about you but that is something I do not want to miss.