“The Cost of Freedom”


This will be the back page for the bulletin at Fishkill UMC on Sunday, July 1, 2018 (6th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B).  Services are at 10 am and you are welcome to attend.


If there is one common theme for this week, it would have to be freedom.  And invariably, when I think of freedom, I think of the flags Ann and I have but which we do not fly.  I also think of Richie Havens singing “Freedom” at the opening of Woodstock and Crosby, Stills, and Nash singing “Find the Cost of Freedom.”  The freedom of which CSN sang is the very freedom represented by the flags that the families, such as ours, were given by a grateful nation.  But the cost of freedom is also represented by Richie Havens singing.

Freedom doesn’t come automatically but after much effort; while Havens was improvising much of what he sang that day in August 1969, he couldn’t have done it without preparation and study.

Our own freedoms also do not come automatically but as the result of much effort by each of us and those who came before us.  To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, we can never be truly free if there are others who are not free.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul commended them on their desire to excel.  But his commendation comes with a caveat; you cannot succeed at the expense of others, a thought later expressed by John Wesley.

Our freedoms today cannot be measured in society’s terms, for society sees things unequally.  If we are to be truly free, we must be willing to help others find the same freedoms we enjoy.

Christ died so that we may live; our freedoms are found through Christ.  Are we willing to help others find that same freedom?

~Tony Mitchell

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“Who Built Your Road?”


This will be the back page for the 16 July 2017 (6th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A) bulletin of Fishkill United Methodist Church.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 30: 18 – 29, Romans 9: 30 – 33, and Matthew 16: 13 – 20.


It has been said that one reason for Paul’s success as an evangelist was the roads the Romans built throughout their empire.  Using stones and other local materials, these were roads carefully planned to facilitate military traffic between Rome and the provinces to keep the Pax Romana.

Some of these roads still exist today, providing paths for many people to walk.  Now, whether they were intended or not, the existence of these roads made it very easy for Paul to achieve his goal of spreading the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire, in effect working against why the roads were built (but that is for another time).

Our journey with Jesus is never an easy one.  But when we take the rocks that we often stumble over and make them part of the road on which we walk, the journey becomes a little easier.

Today, we need to consider two very simple questions, “Who cleared the path and laid the rocks so that your journey would be smoother?  Who built the roads on which you took your journey?”

And then there is another set of questions, “Are you helping build roads for others?  Are you doing the things that build the roads that help make the journey for others a bit smoother?”

Which Way Will You Walk?


A Meditation for 29 June 2016, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The meditation is based on 2 Kings 2: 1 – 2, 6 -14; Galatians 5: 1, 13 – 25; and Luke 9: 51 – 62.

This is about our legacy, that one thing that will be here after we are gone, our bones have turned to dust, and our soul is in Heaven. In the movie “A Man For All Seasons” Sir Thomas More suggests that Richard Rich should be a teacher.

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

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

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

These are simple times, times which define history. History is not determined by complicated issues but rather simple actions by everyday people.

And whether we like the idea or not, the decisions we make, no matter how insignificant they may seem, will have a lasting impact on what happens next.

Paul points out that God has called us to a new and free life. But this freedom comes with a price; it is not an excuse to do whatever we want because that only costs the very freedom we gained, and in the end, leads to our destruction.

I believe that there are perhaps four different types of people in this world: 1) those whose only intent is evil (and I hope that are not too many of these individuals), 2) those who see acts of evil as a manifestation of good, 3) those who perform acts of good but solely for their own benefit, and 4) those whose acts of good and kindness are for the benefit of all.

Admittedly, this is a very arbitrary scale and I don’t know how one fits onto it but, to be quite honest, there are people who do fit into the first three categories and those who are in the fourth category are in a distinct minority. I would presume that most individuals are in the third category who only do good when it is best for them to do so.

But it is quite clear that this is not the choice that Jesus demanded from those who choose to follow Him, either two thousand years ago or even today. As Paul wrote, it is not just what you think but what you do that counts.

There comes a time when each one of us has to make a decision about what we are going to do and the path we will walk. Time and time again, the prophets of the Old Testament pointed this out. The decision by Elisha to follow Elijah, to take his cloak and continue his work is the decision we are called to make today.

Will you walk your own path, knowing only that it does lead anywhere (no matter what you might think at this time)? Or shall you walk with Christ, knowing that it leads to total and complete freedom?

“It’s A Matter Of Vision”


A Mediation for 5 July 2015, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) based on 2 Samuel 5: 1 – 5, 9 – 10, 2 Corinthians 12: 2 – 10, and Mark 6: 1 – 13


I have always said and thought that one of the hardest messages to prepare is the one for the 4th of July weekend Sunday. At a time when the country is celebrating the beginning of a revolution, it is sometimes very difficult to talk about peace.

Granted, when our founding fathers gathered together in Philadelphia that fateful summer of 1776, their vision of the coming months was undoubtedly one of war and not peace. Even Patrick Henry, in his memorable speech of March 23, 1775, noted “The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms!”

A couple of years ago I came across a quote that said,

Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”

I initially thought that the author Arthur C. Clarke had said it. But I found out that it was an individual named Joel A. Barker. I have never heard of this individual but I discovered that his claim to fame is that he took the notion of the paradigm shift, first proposed by Thomas Kuhn in relation to the idea of scientific ideas, and applied it to business models (“What’s The Next Step?”)

Borrowing from my doctoral notes on the nature of scientific philosophy, a paradigm can be considered the boundaries that define our practices. There comes a time, however, when our practices cannot meet the needs of the system and there needs to be a paradigm shift, the development of new practices and possibly new ideas. Such changes come with great difficulty and much fighting (from “The New Paradigm”). Intellectually, this comes about when our thinking processes make a radical change, when we stop trying to apply rote memory for solving problems (trying to solve a problem that we have always done so) and actually solve the problem.

It goes without saying, I suppose, that our founding fathers understood this point very clearly; that they needed to take action to make the Declaration of Independence a real document and not just words on a piece of parchment. But is the same true today?

How do we effect change today? Can we change the world without resorting to the gun or the other countless weapons of mass destruction that we have at our beck and call? Are we to understand, as Chairman Mao once stated, that “Political power grows out of the barrel of the gun.” If that is the case, then there is no answer except for war and violence. And, it would seem to me, that if that is the case, then it isn’t necessarily a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong but whoever has the most destructive weapons. I am not willing to accept that as the the future for this world or society.

And so we are at a point where we can continue operating under the same system as before or we can create a new paradigm.

What was Jesus trying to do when he sent the 12 out on that first mission described into today’s Gospel reading? Wasn’t he trying to show them (and the others identified in the other Gospel readings) what was possible? Was Jesus not offering a new vision for the future instead of the one that everyone currently had?

Paul writes about his own personal transformation, of being a different person than the one many people knew. Again, Paul was offering the possibility of a new vision, something unexpected.

The interesting thing about this change, this transformation, is that one has to be personally involved with the process. It does not come automatically, nor does it come from simply reading about it or even perhaps acknowledging it. You must become actively involved in the process.

As I have recounted numerous times in the past, my own involvement in the anti-war and civil rights movements of the late ’60s and early ’70s (limited as they were) stemmed in part from the thought that my works would get me into heaven. Of course, it is granted that it is only by God’s grace that we have such access but does that mean that we are not to do good works, only accept Christ?

If you do good works and expect that by doing so, you will gain that coveted access, I think you will be sorely disappointed. Because you did not do the works for others, you did them for yourself. On the other hand, you might find yourself in a situation similar to the one John Wesley found himself in.

Immediately it stuck into my mind, “Leave off preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?” I asked [Peter] Böhler, whether he thought I should leave it off or not. He answered “By no means.” I asked, “But what can I preach?” He said, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.” — John Wesley, Journal, 4 March 1738

I think this is also what Paul is pointing out to the Corinthians; his salvation was not of his doing and perhaps his doing may have been leading him in the wrong direction. But that moment when he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus was a life-changer, in more ways than one. For us, today, Paul’s conversion allowed us to gather together today. His efforts in telling the world about Christ, no small task in itself, created changes that resounded through the world.

Our task today is very similar but I think we need to see it in a different way. It is clearly evident that telling people about Jesus and doing so in a way that literally forces them to believe is wrong. Did not Jesus tell the disciples that if they were welcome in a town to continue walking?

Second, we have to understand that not everyone has the same sense of Christ that we do. So telling them about Christ has no effect, since they haven’t got a clue what you are talking about.

But, if we do that which we have been asked to do, to do what the disciples did on that first journey of their own, we can show what it means to be a Christian and what Christ has done for us.

If we see the world as it is, we cannot change it. And if we try to force the world to change by the same methods we have been using in the past, then we will destroy the world.

On the other hand, if we have a new vision of the world, a vision in which we help others, in which we reach out to all the peoples, then perhaps we will see change. We will not see change overnight but it will come. Our vision of the world has to be the vision Christ had; otherwise we will not have a vision.

“Hard Times”


Meditation for July 20, 2014, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 28: 10 – 19, Romans 8: 12 – 25, and Matthew 13: 24 – 30, 36 – 43

And the scripture tells us that Jacob took a stone and made a pillow out of it. Even now, so many years after I first read that passage, I still don’t see how Jacob slept that night.

My pillow is very special to me; I once had a pillow that carried my head at nights while growing up and going to school. It finally died, of course, and I have sought to find another one that gives me such comfort.

Maybe that’s why Jacob had the dream of the angels climbing the stairway to heaven. With a stone for a pillow, you aren’t going to be comfortable and perhaps a little more open to a dream. But in the end, that hard pillow leads to an encounter with God that says the future will be better than the present.

I cannot help but think that we are experiencing hard times. I will even admit that when I see the news and all the troubles that circle this world I begin to think that maybe those who have predicted these are the End Times may be right after all.

But the problem with that scenario, at least for me, is that those who prophecy that these are the End Times feel that only certain people are going to win and that it is all fixed. I have never really liked the idea that the outcome was fixed before we even started, though there have been times when I was certain I wasn’t playing on a level playing field (read the Bartlett High School in band competition in 1966 and 1967; but that’s for another time).

The Gospel reading for this Sunday would also suggest that there is a fixed outcome and that, come Judgement Day, the good will be separated from the evil, the good will survive and the evil will perish.

Where does that leave us? First, what seed are we that got planted in the field. In Clarence Jordan’s translation of Matthew, he uses the term “certified seed”. Farmers know that is seed that is clean and ready to plant, with no weeds or other items that might interfere with the planting process. That is seed that has been prepared for the planting; the seed that the enemy sows has just about everything imaginable in it and when it is planted, who knows what might pop up.

So, are we the seed that was certified? Are we the seed that has been processed and purified? If we are to be planted in the fields, it would be nice to know that we are ready to be planted.

My problem with a vision of the End that says that certain people will win and others will lose always says that this is worked out in advance. And that doesn’t give much hope to those people who aren’t on the “good” list.

But that isn’t what Jesus said or did? Yes, he did say that the good will survive and the bad will lose. But He also gave us the opportunity to become one of the good and cast away our bad life. And yes, that is a hard choice to make at times. We want the good life now, not later.

And yet, that is what Paul is telling the Romans; the good life comes later but you have to give up the bad life right now!

One of the things that you learn in chemistry is that reactions don’t always go right away. Certain factors have to be in place and occasionally you have to add a little something to the process to get the reaction going. But after the reaction gets going, things go pretty well.

Sure these are “hard times” but they will only remain such if we let them. We have been given a great opportunity to see a future that is beyond description but we have to make some choices right now.

Maybe we don’t need to sleep with a stone fr a pillow but I know that the decision not to follow Christ could cause us to toss and turn all night long, undoubtedly like Jacob must have done. In our discomfort, perhaps we will see the path that we will lead us out of our own hard times and into the good times.

But it doesn’t take a pillow of stone for us to change our lives; all it takes is for us to open our hearts and minds to Christ and give up the hard life of sin and death for the good life in Christ.

“Two Roads”


These are my thoughts for the Friday evening “Vespers in the Garden” worship and Saturday morning worship service at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen at Grace UMC (Newburgh, NY).

This is the fourth year that we have held the “Vespers in the Garden” series on Fridays and the third year that we will hold the service on Sundays. The gardens at Grace are an interesting place as they offer an interesting counterpart to the street scene of Newburgh. And on a hot summer day, there is more often than not a cool breeze passing through the garden.

Vespers in the Garden start at 7 on Fridays and Sundays and will run through Labor Day. Come on over if you get the chance and let me know if you might be interested in presenting the message one time or providing the music.

We open the doors of Grannie Annie’s Kitchen at 8 am on Saturday morning, have a brief worship service at 8:10 and then serve breakfast at 8:30. Generally, we stop serving at 9:45. Everyone is welcome to come and be a part of this Saturday morning community.

I am using the Scripture readings for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (C), 30 June 2013 – 2 Kings 2: 1 – 2, 6 – 14; Galatians 5: 1, 13 – 25; Luke 9: 51 – 62.

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It is always interesting to see how the lectionary, a collection of readings formed by a committee many years ago, always offers the right words for the right time. There are, of course, many ways that one could look at why this is and perhaps one day we might do that.

But that would, I think, turn into academic discussion of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin (see “Quantum Gravity Treatment of the Angel Density Problem”). Such discussions are perhaps best left for the quiet solitude of some ivory-covered tower though I did discover that currently safety standards impose a 4-angel limit because Congress passed the Angel Safety Law which also requires that the pin be inspected for structural defects twice a year.

Still, if the the words contained in the Bible are to have any meaning in and for today’s society, they must speak to the moment at hand. If they do not, the Bible quickly becomes a tired old book of history languishing on someone’s bookshelf. And that is what the readings for this weekend do; they speak to the moment at hand what we must do at this moment and in this place and time.

And in looking at the Old Testament reading I thought of the Robert Frost poem which gives me the title for the message, “The Road Not Taken.” And while the poem speaks of the author leaving, it is perhaps the scene of the two roads that diverge that is appropriate for this time and place.

I knew, when I first looked at the Scripture readings for this weekend that this would be Pastor Frank’s last weekend at Grace, though I did not know where he was going nor did I know who was coming to continue the work of the ministry that has been in this place for so many years. I also did not know at that time that this would also be Pastor Mike’s last weekend.

And so, on a weekend where there is a transfer of power and leadership in so many United Methodist Churches, the Old Testament reading today talks about the transfer of power and leadership from Elijah to Elisha. There is, perhaps, a certain degree of fear in Elisha’s voice as he insists on going with Elijah, even when he does not know where Elijah is going. And Elijah knows that Elisha really can’t go with him.

But Elisha insists on tagging along until he receives some token of Elijah’s life. When Elijah asks him, Elisha says that he wants Elijah’s life repeated in his.

Pastor Frank and Pastor Mike, each in their own way and manner, had done that, provided something in leadership, wisdom, and guidance that takes the ministry of Grace (Newburgh) to the next level. They have provided a sound foundation for Pastor Hooker to take Grace where it needs to go, even if that destination is still unknown.

The impetus for this Saturday worship came from Pastor Frank and when we gather together next Saturday and each Saturday after that, our gathering will be a reflection of the ministry that he brought to Grace when he came last September. And each one of us, whether we have worked with Pastor Frank and/or Pastor Mike or just visited and talked with them, will know that they have had some influence in the path we know must walk.

And as they walk their own paths, their encounters and their work with each one of us will have some influence on where they walk and how they work with their new congregations.

But it isn’t just a matter of Pastor Frank and Pastor Mike walking down some road, leaving us standing at a crossroads not knowing which way to go or hoping that Pastor Jeff has a road map. It is about where each one of us is headed.

Do we go home and resume our regular lives, as if nothing happened? Or has something happened here and now that says perhaps we need to walk down a different path, a different road?

Susan Engle, Paducah (KY) District Lay Resource Leader (Memphis Conference), wrote the following about what the laity of the United Methodist Church needs to think about in the coming days and discussion about the life and vital of the local church:

Worship on Sunday is not entertainment, and we are not the audience. Worship is a time for us to gather, hear God’s word, get filled up, and go in the power of the Spirit to change the world. If you go home and nothing changes, in you or in your world, it’s time to stop and consider where you are disconnecting. Where there is life, there is growth. If all of your God stories are from years ago, it might be time to take your spiritual pulse. “Things for the United Methodist laity to unlearn – from a lay person’s POV”

Worship, be it on a Friday or Sunday evening in the garden, a Saturday morning in the Fellowship Hall, or a Sunday morning in the sanctuary, is meant to be a time of connection with God. But you cannot leave that connection behind.

It is easy, I know, to let our life get in the way that we want to walk. Sometimes it it is the mundane things; sometimes it is the extraordinary things. But whatever the reason, we quickly see our walk with Christ as a secondary thought, something that is done after all the other stuff is taken care of and as long as it doesn’t get in the way.

Paul speaks of legalism, of using the law to justify what one does. For some it was the law that gave them the power and authority to tell others what to say and do. But such laws bind one to a life of slavery, not freedom. Even today, people create laws to divide society, to say who can do what, who has the power, or how one can live.

And we, individually, create our own internal laws, saying that we can only do this or we can’t do that, if only to justify that which we do each day. We spend so much time trying to justify our present condition and life that we cannot see how trapped we have become. We speak of our freedom and yet we live as a slave.

Paul points out that we have a choice in how we live. It is very interesting that what some would call freedom, Paul says is slavery. And he, very pointedly, points out the difference between the two.

I don’t know if Paul was thinking of the future when he wrote his letters to the early churches and gatherings. Someone once said that if he was doing that he should have been more careful in what he wrote. We know that he was writing to a group of people in a specific time and place and yet his words apply very much to this time and place. That may speak to our own inabilities and not his ability to see the future.

Our society is very much a selfish, self-centered society. It is very much what is best for the individual and how society can help the individual. Paul points out that the free spirit is very incompatible with this selfishness, this self-centeredness. Your energies are wasted when focused inwardly on your self; they multiply when they focus outwards, to helping others

So we come to this time and place, a crossroads not only in the life of this church but in our own lives. In a few days, Pastor Mike and Pastor Frank will be with their new churches and our new pastor will begin the process of settling in to his role.

And there we will stand, contemplating which road we must walk. We can choose to walk the road that is the same road we have walked each day, convinced that nothing we do can change our lives.

Or we can choose to walk that road that Jesus is walking, leaving behind all of our baggage and all that has burdened us and kept us enslaved.

The choice to walk the road with Jesus is our choice and our choice alone. We cannot force others to walk with us nor should others force us to walk with them. As much as some of the disciples wanted to bring wrath and destruction down on those who refused to walk with Jesus (and how many times have we heard that in today’s society), Jesus just said leave them alone and just continue the walk.

Some will not like the uncertainty of that walk, favoring to continue their own private walk that keeps them entangled in slavery.

But others will begin to understand that to walk with Jesus is a chance to be free from slavery to sin and death and, as Paul pointed out, a chance to open up and express the freedom of the spirit.

Each of us has come to that crossroad, that intersection of two roads. Which path will you take?

“The Power of the Gospel”


Here are the thoughts that I presented for the Sunday Vespers in the Garden series on July 8th.   I based my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 12: 1 – 10 and Mark 6: 1 – 6.  If you are in the area, we hold the Vespers in the Garden on Fridays and Sundays at 7 in the evening.  If you are interested in leading one of the Vespers, let me know and I will tell you who to contact.

There are presently three pieces sitting on my “desk” right now that all, in some manner, shape or form, deal with God. The first, which is to be the 1000th piece posted to my blog and comes almost seven years to the date after I posted my first piece, deals with the Higgs boson and what it means to me. – see “The God Particle and the Search For Truth”

For the uninitiated and uninformed, this interesting little sub-sub-atomic particle was nicknamed the “God particle” by someone in the press because practically every physicist who dabbles in the make-up of the atom believed long before the actual discovery that the particle did exist. It as an act of faith, if you will, that someone would discover it.

The second piece on my desk and which I hope will be published deals with the relationship between God and government. This too comes at an appropriate time, with the celebration of the 4th of July last week and the 2012 Presidential election well in motion. But it is not a description of the role that Jesus offered when he pronounced that we give to Caesar what was Caesar’s and we give to God what was God’s. Nor will it be in the manner of Paul who spoke of the allegiance that we are to give the government while at the same time maintaining our allegiance to Christ. Rather, it is more along the lines that our allegiance to God leads us to disdain and ignore government, almost to the point of anarchy. I have already discovered in the process of thinking about this article that anarchy need not be the violent, revolutionary model that is often associated with it and that there is quite a bit of writing on Christian anarchy. If nothing else, it may shake the dust and cobwebs out of the minds of some people.

The third article that I am contemplating is one that I wrote many years ago but could never get published. The magic of writing a blog is that one becomes one’s own publisher and I thought that I should put this one up before I forget where I stored my notes. It is an article about my brief encounter with George Burns, who as we all know played God. See “George Burns and I”.

But what is important for us is that we see the link that binds them together. For such is the power of the Gospel, to take one beyond the limits of mind and body. This is, in part, what Paul is referring to in the passage from Corinthians that we read this evening. Did Paul, who was of course referring to his transformation from Saul to Paul, actually lifted up to the heavens? What the transformation an actually out-of-body experience? Paul won’t say, in part because the expression of heavenly experiences were often used as a means of claiming divine authentication. In addition, Paul’s opponents would use such an approach in opposition to Paul’s message.

What Paul is trying to do, in what is called his fool’s message, is show the transformation that comes through the Gospel. No longer is the man before you Saul, the persecutor, but Paul the evangelist. What Paul is telling the Corinthians, what he is telling us today is that we can undergo the same transformation, we can have the same life-changing experience. How we see ourselves is really dependent on how we see God in our lives and what we are to do with that transformation.

This can be a frightening thing, for both ourselves and for those around us. We will see the world around us in a new way just as others will see a change in us. For each one of us, this change is also a challenge because we cannot do the same things that we have done; in fact, we are often challenged to do more.

The beauty of the discovery of the Higgs boson is that is shows us what happens when we open our mind. And I have to think that Jesus wanted us to open our minds as well as our hearts. His lessons were not always easy to learn until we stopped and thought about them; his parables were simple stories with a deep meaning that only came when we stopped to think about them. There were those who had ears but could not hear and eyes but could not see. We know that the disciples had trouble with the stories; they feared the challenges that were placed in front of them. But they were also told that they would never do it alone, that the Holy Spirit would fill them and envelope them and empower them.

There are those, of course, who would have us limit what we see, especially when it comes to the Bible and our faith. Now, these individuals need not be fundamentalists who would seek some sort of Old Testament theocracy or even extreme secular humanists who would have us deny the existence of God in all manner, shape, and form. These individuals are more likely to be what I have come to call “Sunday Christians.” They dutifully come to church every Sunday, never missing a service. But they don’t do much when the service is over. And if someone should attempt to fiddle with their Sunday morning service and its accompanying ritual, make no mistake, someone will receive a full measure of wrath and fury.

Don’t even think of altering the music; it has been organ music since time immemorial and it will be organ music until the day that they die. It doesn’t matter that such persons only know one or two songs in the hymnal; that is really all that is needed, now isn’t it?

But don’t get me wrong. There are some in this vein who have adopted the more contemporary music style and it was a hard fought fight to make the change. And since we made that change, it would be best if we kept it for awhile, even if most of the music means or says little in relationship to the Gospel.

And don’t fiddle with the Bible; the King James version has worked for over almost 500 years, why change? Didn’t Jesus speak in Elizabethan prose with thees and thous sprinkled liberally through his parables?

And don’t mess with the starting time. Church was meant to be at 10 am in the morning; who ever heard of having a church service on a Sunday evening at 7 pm in the summer. And church services are supposed to be held inside, not outside with all the traffic noise! Church services are supposed to be quiet and orderly, with everyone nodding in agreement with the lofty and pompous words of the pastor, if they are not nodding off.

Yes, I am being sarcastic (and it’s not the first time either see – “What Are We Supposed To Do?”). But it goes to the mindset of church today, a mindset that encompassed the people of Nazareth who could only see Jesus as Mary’s boy, brother of James, Justus, Jude, and Simon. They could only see Jesus as Joseph’s son, the carpenter.

But they weren’t the only ones. When Nathaniel Bartholomew was first introduced to Jesus by his friend Philip, what did he say, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” We do that today, characterizing someone by where they are from, how they speak, or any other number of social and economic measures. If you are only willing to see Jesus as Mary’s boy, Joseph’s son, a carpenter or someone from Nazareth, then you are unlikely to hear or see his message and the good that comes from it.

And we have to remember the opposition that John Wesley received when he tried to make changes in the Church of England. First he was barred from preaching in the churches, a ban which was applied to Methodists here in what were the colonies. Then when he began preaching in the fields and over the countryside, people were encouraged to disrupt the services and thrown stones at Wesley and the other Methodist preachers. These were not easy changes for Wesley either. Trained and comfortable with the formal sermon approach, to go into the field and preach extemporaneously was definitely outside Wesley’s comfort zone. But he understood that he must make the change if the people were to hear the Gospel and be empowered by the Gospel.

I suppose that it is possible to be transformed by the Gospel, to accept Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior, and to accept the Holy Spirit as the empowerment in your life. But I don’t see how that would work. To say that you have been changed but then do nothing is to forsake all that you have been given. If Paul were here today, he would tell you of the great opportunities that lie before you because of your encounter with Christ. The power of the Gospel is that is gives you a new life, a life to do great things. How can you say no to that?