“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?”

“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.

“Our Choices”


This is the message that I gave for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, 26 June 2005, at Fishkill (NY) UMC. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Genesis 22: 1 – 14, Romans 6: 12 – 23, and Matthew 10: 40 – 42.

Technically, Fishkill was my home church and had been since I moved up to New York in 1999.

But from 1999 to 2002, I was the lay pastor at Walker Valley (NY) UMC and from 2002 to 2005 I was the lay pastor at Tompkins Corners (NY) UMC. But I had resigned my position at Tompkins Corners a month before in order to effect some needed changes in the structure (which, as you now from reading some of the posts I have put about, didn’t work and the church closed two years ago). So I was available to preach and the call came to come to Fishkill.

It was that noted Eastern philospher and Hall of Fame catcher, Yogi Berra, who once noted that when you come to a fork in the road you should choose it (note added in publishing this piece – check out http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/6285 for a picture of a fork in the road – it is at the intersection of NY 199 and NY 308; when the churches in Milan and Red Hook were yoked together, you passed this in going from Milan to Red Hook). We are at a point in time where we have come to that fork in the road and we must choose which way to go. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” In other words, when you come to a fork in the road, take it. Unfortunately, the people to whom Jeremiah directed these roads answered “we will not walk in the ways of the Lord.” Theirs was not a good choice.

We are continually faced with choices and, sooner or later, we must make a choice. Sometimes the choices are mundane, should we use paper or plastic? Other times, they are deep and insightful. Unfortunately it seems like many of the choices that we make today are made out of fear or misunderstanding.

Ever since September 11th (a date we can say without a year), we have been bombarded with ideas and thoughts that are based on fear or misunderstanding. Travel across the electromagnetic spectrum and listen, if you can, to the myriad talk shows on television today and all you hear is fear. Many preachers, claiming to be “the true voice of God”, and other talk show hosts pour invective on those who disagree with them about abortion, homosexuality, war, evolution, gun control, and the role of government. Such preachers and talk show hosts call out the troops, marshaling them to swamp their elected representatives with phone calls and letter on this and that issue on which we are told our faith and freedom hinge.

It is possible that some will say that I am trying to strike fear in your hearts today. As loud and vocal are the commentators on the right, so too are the commentators on the left just as equally vocal in their pronouncements that those on the right are trying to take away our basic freedoms of thought and choice. We are at a point in time and society where if you publicly state that you are a Christian you are labeled a fundamentalist and conservative. And if you claim to be a liberal in today’s environment (and are willing to pubicly state such), then you are labeled a secular humanist who does not believe in God, Christ, or the power of the resurrection and the Gospel.

But this dialogue, by both sides, blinds us to the work of faith activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Clarence Jordan, and Dorothy Day whose work in the name of Jesus Christ and the Gospel is now considered to be “progressive”. And the arguments of both sides blinds them so that they cannot see the rigidity of their own ideological demands. It is almost as if we have turned the clock back in time to the days of Jesus and we hear the voices of the Pharisees and Sadducees seeking ways to discredit Jesus because they are blind to the message of hope, promise and justice that Jesus gave.

It has been said that the most common command in the Bible is “fear not.” It is a command that Jesus repeatedly gave to his disciples and followers; it is the command of the angel at the annunciation when Mary was told that she would be the mother of the Messiah. When God’s presence with humanity is palpable, it takes away fear – fear of enemies, fear of the future. Yes, there is sin in this world and it must be named and resisted. But we cannot move into the future if we are afraid or fearful. (Adapted from “Fear Not”, Christian Century, June 14, 2005)

In this day of division, hatred, and destruction, there are those who have made a choice, have decided to walk a different path. As John Danforth, former senator from Missouri and an Episcopal minister, recently wrote in the New York Times, these are the moderates of Christianity. Instead of claiming to possess God’s truth, moderate Christians only claim to be imperfect seekers of the truth. Instead of dividing society, religion is to be inclusive, seeking to bridge the divisions between people.

Rather than arguing with those with whom we disagree, we must practice humility and tolerance. In a world based on fear and hatred, in a world of division and exclusion, we must follow the Lord who sat at the table with the tax collectors and sinners and welcome all into our midst. We must replace an agenda based on hatred with the one we were taught as children, that we are loved by God and that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. (“Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers” by John C. Danforth, New York Times, June 17, 2005)

Against this background, it is clear that we must make a choice. It has to be a choice based on trust and understanding, not fear or blind obedience. Such an example of trust comes from the Old Testament reading for today.

Abraham was commanded to take his son Isaac to the mountains of Moriah where he is to sacrifice Isaac. From the very beginning of the story, it is clear that Abraham did not do this out of simple obedience to God, for he repeatedly says “Trust in the Lord.” I am sure that Abraham, given the choice, might have asked God about the wisdom of such a command. After all, God formed a covenant with Abraham in which he, Abraham, would be the father of many nations because he chosen to follow God. Abraham had already lost one son, Ishmael, and I am sure that he did not want to lose another one. But he does not question God, choosing rather to trust in Him.

At the end of the story God decides that his faith is worthy and provides a worthy and appropriate sacrifice to replace Isaac on the altar. Abraham’s faith and trust are rewarded. I do not think that we will ever see our lives tested in that same way, for we have already been given that worthy and appropriate sacrifice, Jesus Christ. But that does not mean that we don’t have to make a choice anymore; Rather, it means that the choices that we make take on an even greater importance.

Paul notes that we are free to choose the path we wish to walk but we have to be careful which one we choose. For if we choose the path and life that makes us a slave to sin, the reward is death. But if we choose to walk the path set before us through Christ, even if some would say that it is a slavery no different from other forms of slavery, our rewards are righteousness and everlasting life. When we choose to follow God, we reap the benefit of holiness which are eternal life.

This narrative that Paul offers us can be a very confusing one to follow. How can one who is a slave ever gain anything? Does not the slave-owner keep everything? Paul notes that if we are slaves to righteousness, we gain everything. If we are slaves to sin, then we gain nothing. We are asked to see beyond the limits of our world and the limits of our own understanding. If we do not do so, then we are trapped in the limits of this world, unable to see the freedom offered by Christ.

So we must make a choice. In fact, we must make two choices. First, we must find a way to let Christ into our lives and then we must find a way to take Christ’s message out into the world. For if we cannot take the message out into the world, we will be trapped in a world of darkness and fear, unable to see the hope and promise of the Gospel message. If we really wish to respond to the fear, the violence, the oppression, the hatred that seem so ever present in this world today we must do so in such a way that does not simply use the same approaches. For violence only begets more violence, hatred breeds only hatred, and injustice will only lead to injustice. We must begin to think more in terms of witness and less in terms of worldly solutions. (Adapted from “Mine Wars”, Scott Williams, Christian Century, May 31, 2005)

We again hear the words of Christ spoken so many years ago. As we welcome Christ in our hearts so too do we welcome God into our lives. We offer the cup of water or aid someone less than us not because we think it will get us into heaven or wipe the slate clean of our own transgressions but because we are Christ’s disciples. And in doing so, we do not lose the reward that we gain through righteousness.

We must be willing to teach and learn about Jesus, the Prince of Peace. We must come to a place in our lives where we make a thoughtful decision to apprentice ourselves to Him, being willing to rearrange our thinkg and living according to His teachings and example. Out of our apprenticeship to Jesus we will find a way to remove the darkness and fear from the world.

It will be this commitment to Jesus that will direct our interaction with people. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us that we should avoid treating our enemies with contempt or anger. It is very easy for us to become sinfully contemptuous of those with whom we disagree, no matter what the issue. But it is then we begin to lose the argument, no matter how logical, because we have abandoned the high ground and begun to disregard the teaching and example of Jesus.

(This was one of the times when I was confident enough to sing a solo as part of the sermon.)

Our words, our thoughts, our actions must be a reflection of our choice to follow Christ. That is how we will be able to stand up against the powers of war and destruction. That is how we will be able to silence the voices of evil and hatred that seek to divide this world. In opening our hearts to Christ, we will be to gain that which we do not have alone. Remember that he told us “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” If we ask Him, He will teach us. By His actions and words, we will be able to display gentleness, joy, and kindness in the midst of heated debate that will allow us to keep our heads while those around us are losing theirs. (Adapted from “What is Wrong With the World?” by Jim Hardenbrook, On Earth Peace, Summer, 2005) Our witness comes because of our response to Jesus and the way in which He came into this world.

Jesus came into this world humbly, not as an authority from above but as a humble servant. He came not to reveal an ideological system to be imposed on society but as the one who, in the way in which he gave himself, affirmed the need for human freedom and decision. He came as the one prepared to risk His truth and life within the openness of the secular world. When He was asked to identify Himself, either by displaying his authority or by giving a sign that would convince man of his supernatural powers, He refused. He had to be found and needs to be found within the openness of the secular world or not at all. This means that those who follow Him should not seek to impose our faith as a metaphysical form or as a religious or institutional means to provide society with stability and unity. Rather, we should seek to maintain an open secular world in which we claim no established rights over other views. In doing so, we accept the responsibility to witness for Christ by seeking to point to his presence as He works within history and this world. It will be our words, our deeds, our actions and our thoughts which serve as the basis for our witness. Yes, there is some uncertainity in what we do. But as we accept this responsibility we must be willing to expect the unexpected; we cannot fear the future if our future is tied that of Christ. As Abraham journeyed from his home to Mount Moriah without fear but trusting in the Lord, so do we journey into the world and society of today trusting in the Lord and not fearing the future. (Adapted from Faith in a Secular Age by Colin Williamson)

Now, you might say that this is all well and good but I am not prepared to make a choice at this time. I don’t even know what choice to make. So, as we prepare to sing our closing hymn this morning and close this service, I would like you to think about John Newton, the author of the hymn. John Newton was the captain of a slave ship plying the triangle trade between Africa, America and England. Ships would load up with guns, ammunition and manufactured goods in Britain and France, then sail for four months to West Africa where the cargo was exchanged for captured slaves. The ships would then make the middle passage across the Atlantic where the slaves were sold to individuals in the Caribbean and in the North American colonies. Finally, the ships loaded up with the sugar, tobacco and cotton produced in the colonies and sailed back to England and France where the raw produce was refined and re-exported to other countries. (http://www.nald.ca/fulltext/caribb/page12.htm)

But one day, during an extremely powerful Atlantic storm, Newton decided to accept Christ into his life. Contrary to common thought, he did not turn the ship around and return his human cargo to Africa; but he did change the way in which he treated his unwilling passengers and slowly but surely turned against the enterprise that made him a wealthy man. Eventually, he left shipping and began a study that would lead to his ordination in the Church of England. He also became an outspoken anti-slavery advocate. It was then that he began to write so many of the hymns that we sing today.

The words “that saved a wretch like me” are not metaphorical but a true biographical statement by a man who before he chose to follow Christ was a wretch. But in choosing to follow Christ, his life change and he was able to make changes in the world around him. He first made a choice to change his life and then to change the world.

So too are we faced with two choices. The first is to answer the call from Christ, no matter how it may come. The second is to take by our words, our thoughts, our deeds, and our actions the Gospel message of Christ into the world.

These are our choices today. We do not have to make a choice today. But if we do not, then the world remains cloaked in darkness, fear and doubt. But, by making the choice to follow Christ and take His message out into the world, we bring light and hope into a world of darkness of fear, doubt and despair

“Playing the End Game”


I was at the Bellvale United Methodist Church, 41 Iron Forge Road, Warwick, NY 10990 (service starts at 9:15 am) and Sugar Loaf United Methodist Church, 1387 Kings Highway, Chester, NY 10918 (service starts at 11 am) this morning.  I will be there next week as well.

Location of churches

The Scriptures for this Sunday, July 24, 2011, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, are Genesis 29: 15 – 28; Romans 8: 26 – 39; and Matthew 13: 31 – 33,44 – 52.

———————————————————————–

I had a couple of thoughts about the readings for this Sunday and where they may take me. First, it might have been interesting to know what happened to Jacob on his wedding night such that he wasn’t able to recognize who he actually married.

Second, I would like to have had Paul explain to me what he, Paul, meant when he wrote that God knew from the beginning what He, God, was doing. I have no doubt about the omnipotence of God but it seems to me that something is missing in the logic that Paul presents. If God knew the outcome, He might have saved Himself a lot of trouble by just skipping right to the end. And if God does truly know how it all turns out, don’t you think it would be nice if every now and then, He lets us in on the secret about what He is planning?

Now, by the same token, I don’t see God as some sort of supernatural deity who designed and built the universe, turned it on, and then walked away leaving us to figure it all out. But then again, maybe that is what God did. When God laid the groundwork for the Garden of Eden, he planted the Tree of Knowledge, the tree whose fruit would lead to our downfall. Creating us in His image means that we got part of His creativity and intelligence. He had to know that we would use that creativity and that intelligence. The question must be – that knowing that we have this creativity, knowing that we have this intelligence, – what are we going to do with them?

Ours is a history of following God and then rejecting Him; of being destroyed by our rejection and being reborn by our renewal of the covenant. The Bible tells of those times when the people followed God, kept the commandments and upheld the covenants; the Bible also tells us of the times when the people strayed from God, did not keep the commandments and forgot the covenants. When the people did the former, times were good; when the people did the latter, the times were bad. Invariably, when the times were good, many people began to think that it was their efforts and their work and that is when the bad times began to arrive. And when you read the Bible, you note that many times the bad times were worse than the good times were good.

I am not sure where we lie in that cycle of good times and bad times but I have seen enough that leads me to conclude that many see these not as bad times but rather as the beginning of the “End Times.” The sad thing is that there is enough evidence to suggest that many people today go out of their way to find evidence that would support this conclusion so that they can feel as if they will be one of the select few who shall be saved.

The view of Christianity today almost seems to be totally focused on the first few pages at the beginning of the Old Testament (Genesis) and the last few pages of the New Testament (Revelations). It is like reading a murder mystery where we don’t want to be burdened with literary devices such as a cast of characters or a plot. We know that something went wrong in the beginning so we just jump to the end to find out how it all turns out.

If we do bother reading the Old and New Testament, it is read so fast as to forget what it is that we read. Our knowledge of the Bible is shockingly limited and often wrong. We have a limited understanding of how the Bible came into being and why. And I think that what’s worse is that we have virtually no understanding of how we became Christians or even Methodists or why we are who we say we are.

I know that this may be difficult for many to accept but consider this. Look at what is happening in our schools today. My experience is that students are not interested in how we got the answer to a question, only what the answer might be and if that particular question will be on the test.

When I began teaching a number of years ago, I was introduced to the idea/thought of “wait time.” “Wait time” is the time that the instructor needs to wait after asking a question.

In most classrooms, students are typically given less than one second to respond to a question posed by a teacher. Research shows that under these conditions students generally give short, recall responses or no answer at all rather than giving answers that involve higher-level thinking. Studies beginning in the early 1970s and continuing through the 1980s show that if teachers pause between three and seven seconds after asking higher-level questions, students respond with more thoughtful answers and that science achievement is increased. This finding is consistent at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels and across the science disciplines.

However, some research studies have suggested that the benefits of increasing wait time may depend on factors such as student expectations and the cognitive level of the questions. In a study of increased wait time in a high school physics class, students became more apathetic in classes where the wait time was increased. This might have occurred because this strategy did not match students’ expectations of how a high school physics course should be conducted. In a study at the elementary level, a decrease in achievement was attributed to waiting too long for responses to low-level questions. (From http://www.agpa.uakron.edu/p16/btp.php?id=waittime)

What is surprising about these results is that forty years ago, we wanted teachers to wait for the answers. Now, we have become a nation that expects results immediately if not sooner and we do not want to work for the results. And we think that if we get good scores on the test at the end of the year, we have an understanding of the subject.

There can be no doubt that one of the greatest love stories in the Bible is that of the relationship between Jacob and Rachel. That he worked for her father for seven years in anticipation of marrying her speaks to Jacob’s love for Rachel. But how could he work and live with that family for seven years and not know that Rachel was not going to be allowed to marry until her sister, Leah, was married? Was he so focused on the end that he missed the story?

Daniel Boorstin, the Librarian of Congress from 1975 to 1987, once said that “You must collect things for reasons you don’t yet understand.” You hear this statement practically every time that Jesus told a story or a parable. He is giving insight into what will come but because people want the answers now, they are having a hard time learning what He is teaching. And when they see how hard it was to learn what Jesus was teaching, they quit following Him. They weren’t interested in what Jesus was saying; they were interested in how all of this turns out and where they were going to be when the Kingdom of God became a reality. Could it be that those who began the journey but quit early did in fact understand that it would be a difficult and arduous task to follow Jesus and they didn’t want any part of it?

We know, I hope and trust, that this walk with Jesus will never be an easy one. We do have Paul’s words that tell us that the Holy Spirit will be right there with us, supporting us in our efforts and struggles. But how do we get to the end? What do we do when it may seem like these are the “End Times?”

If you are like me, you were shocked and appalled by the bombing and the mass shooting in Norway on Friday. For my family, it was more than a story on the television. My wife and two of her children lived in Norway for three years; they still have friends in the country. Their friends are okay but friends have friends and in a country as small as Norway, only 4 million people, all of those deaths will reach deep into those friendships.

There is a tendency by many to demand retribution for these acts of violence. And I think that you could hear those calls for retribution when it was felt that these acts of violence came from outside Norway. But it is becoming more and more apparent that the one who did this was a Norwegian, one of their own. But amidst those thoughts came the words of the Norwegian Prime Minister that the people of Norway would respond to this attack on their democracy with more democracy and this attack on their society with more humanity. This is totally in character with the Norwegian people. It is part of their national psyche.

We live in a world where we need to spend more time doing that, responding to acts of violence and hatred with humanity and love, not with more violence and hatred. What we need to do right now is not play the end game and say that nothing can be done. Rather, we have to take that which we have been taught and put it into practice. We have to make the teachings that we were taught in Sunday school more than something to pass the time away. We have to look around and see where we can put them into practice. How are we to feed the homeless? How are we to find homes for the homeless? How do we heal and take care of those who are sick and injured? How are we to remove the injustice and oppression that is so often present in this world?

I know what I can do to answer these questions and I know what I can and am presently doing to answer those questions? These are difficult questions and often times we may not be able to answer them. But then we hear the words that Paul wrote to the Romans, in those times when we struggle, the Holy Spirit is there with us. And we know this, there was a promise made two thousand years ago on a hill outside Jerusalem that said that we will never struggle alone. To play the end game requires that we play the whole game.

That means accepting Jesus as our Savior and then letting the Holy Spirit empower you. Are you ready to play the whole game and not just take a peak at the ending?

The Road Taken


I once said that my last sermon would be entitled “Volunteer Just Once”.  I also think that everyone’s first sermon as a lay speaker, especially if they are certified and at a church other than their own, should be entitled “To Boldly Go” (with the appropriate sub-comments and soundtrack).

Now, I also know that many lay speakers do not travel as I have done, both in the church and in my own life.  If the statistics I quoted in one of my earlier sermons ( “Journey to the Promised Land”), most lay speakers stay at one church most of their life.  Granted, I have been at Grace UMC in Newburgh for going on five years now but I served three churches between 1998 and 2005 as well as being part of a team that served two churches in 1997 and 1998.  So there have been times when I had to say good-bye.

This particular sermon is one such sermon.  Given on the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, 30 June 2002, this was my last Sunday at Walker Valley UMC.  The scriptures for this Sunday were Genesis 22: 1 – 14, Romans 6: 12 – 23, and Matthew 10: 40 – 42.  You will not that the first two readings were included in the actual sermon.  I don’t remember why I did it that way but I might try it again.

Like Pleasant Grove, Alexander Chapel (“The Road We Travel” – Pleasant Grove UMC, Brighton, TN), and Neon (“The Time Has Come” – Neon UMC, Neon, KY), Walker Valley was special, , not just because I had a part in that church’s life but because of what each of those churches gave me and what they allowed me to do.  I would return to Walker Valley a year later as part of a ceremony celebrating the history of the church.

It should also be noted that I did not give a good-bye sermon when I left Tompkins Corners UMC in July, 2005.  Sometimes the pastor has to leave (in my case, it was my choice to leave) and not say good-bye.  I wish it had been the other way but it wasn’t meant to be that way.

Like my sermon at Pleasant Grove, this sermon contains a reference to the Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken.  I do not know if there is some deep, hidden meaning in this poem.  I just know that there have been times in my past and undoubtedly there will be moments in the future where I will stand at point and have to make a decision about the path I must walk.  That is something we all must do at some point in time.

——————————————————————————–

There comes a time when we are asked to walk on separate paths; when we come to points in life where decisions must be made. So it is that today the path that we have walked together for these past three years comes to a point where it splits apart.

The decision I had to make was not an easy one and it wasn’t made without deep thought and prayer. But as I look back to where this church was three years ago, I feel that I have done what was asked of me and the time was right to bring someone in to take Walker Valley in its journey, along its own path.

Bill Gates, in his book "The Road Ahead," looked at the nature of computers and technology in our future. Of course, as we know and as he points out, trying to determine the future is not an easy task. The best that we can do is simply to be prepared for whatever might come around the next turn. As I walk down the path that I have chosen, I hope that my experiences here have in some way prepared me for the future and that what I have done has prepared this church for the future as well.

A decision such as this one is never an easy one but then following Jesus, being a disciple of Christ in this day, has never been easy either. Consider Abraham and what he was asked to do. In the Old Testament Reading for today, God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his son.

The First Lesson – Genesis 22: 1 – 14

I wonder what went through Abraham’s mind when this happened. God has promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations and now he is being asked to sacrifice his only son after his oldest son is sent into exile. How does God plan to keep his part of the covenant that was made with Abraham so many years before?

Surely Abraham asked God what was going to happen. How could the future be what it was to be if God was going to take away his children? Surely, if nowhere else but in his mind, Abraham had to question if following God from his home in Ur to the Promised Land of Israel was the right decision.

But there was no indication nor has there ever been any indication that Abraham neither questioned God about this decision nor even questioned his own decision about keeping his faith. It was his faith in God that allowed him to reach this point; surely, it was his faith that kept him going in this moment of crisis.

There are times when we are tested; there are times when are faith is tested. But the only way we find out what God wants us to do is to do what God asks of us. At no time will God ever ask us to do something that we are not capable of doing.

It was certainly made clear to me in reading about the various servants of God that God asked each one of them to do what was in their ability to do.

And in those moments of crisis when we are tempted to chuck it all and take the easy path, we are reminded of what Paul told the Romans:

The Second Lesson – Romans 6: 12 – 23

The temptation to return to the old ways of life, to walk what seems to be the easy path means that we return to the slavery of sin and death. In God, through Christ, we have gained our freedom. It may not be the easiest path to walk but it is the one that we know has the rewards; it is the one which insures that we will reach the goal that we seek. That is the point Paul tried to make. If the path that we walk is the path of sin, then the result is death. But if the path that we chose to walk is with Christ, then the path on which we tread takes us to eternal life.

Jesus told us in the Gospel reading for today that there were rewards for what we do. And He commanded us to make sure that what was done for us, we do for others.

As we look to the future, we are not certain about what is ahead, what is around the bend in the road. But the only way that we are going to find out what is there is head down the road and find out. I doubt that anyone who has served Christ has known what the future held. But the uncertainty is only in the manner in which the future is reached, not in what the future holds.

Certainly none of the twelve understood what was asked of them when Christ asked them to follow him. Paul certainly had no idea of the journeys he would take after that moment on the road to Damascus. So it is today.. I don’t know where my path will lead; I do know that after a few months, I am probably going to find myself missing the routine that I have followed on Sunday morning these past few years and I will get back into lay ministry. I will watch from afar as this church continues to grow and be a presence in the community.

We come to a fork in the road. We have come to that point where our paths diverge. But the roads that we take as we continue on our journeys will always be with the knowledge and presence of Christ in our lives and with the assurance of the rewards that following Him, as He promised, will be there when the paths end.

It’s About The Family


Here are my thoughts for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost.

————————————————————————————

If the overlying theme of the Bible is care for the poor and downtrodden, then the second theme has to be the family and the relationship between members of the family and with God. From the very beginning of this story, it has been about the relationship between mankind and God. And in each chapter of the story, the subplot has been how we have rejected God’s direction and how God has always tried to direct us back to Him.

Now, the key thing about this story of the family in which God is the Father is that we, the children, are not the ones defining what the family is. And therein lays the problem; because too often, we tried to do just that. We try to tell God what He should be thinking and what He should be doing. I came across a very interesting reading as I was preparing this piece. Simon Tugwell wrote in Prayer,

It is assumed that if God is omnipotent he can do anything; but this is not strictly true. What God’s omnipotence does mean is that nothing can obstruct Him, nothing can prevent His being fully and eternally Himself.

But this means that it is actually a part of His omnipotence that God does not contradict Himself. He is free to determine the manner of His own working; and in fact, as we know from revelation, He has chosen to work in such a way that we can interfere, and interfere very drastically, with His creation. God made man such that man could rebel against Him, and set up his own “world” in opposition to God. Of course, God is not without allies even in “our” world; He knows that we can never really be satisfied with any world of our own devising, so that it will always be vulnerable to His influence in one way or another; and God exploits this to the full. But He always respects the freedom and independence that He has given us.

Abraham was told that he would be the father of many nations but he was told this when both he and Sarah were childless and Sarah was well beyond the natural years of child-bearing. As we know from the chapters preceding today’s Old Testament reading, they both conspired to seek a solution to God’s plan without involving God. Abraham has a son, Ishmael, with Hagar, Sarah’s servant.

And while Abraham may be celebrating the prophecy of God that he, Abraham, would be the father of many nations would be fulfilled through Ishmael, Sarah does become pregnant and gives birth to a son of her own, Isaac.

There is a rivalry born out of jealously and, if you will, natural law. For Ishmael, as Abraham’s oldest son, is the heir to the fortune and Isaac will be left with a minimal amount. So, as we read today, there is hardness in Sarah’s heart towards what she considers her son’s rival and his mother.

But even though she had been involved in the plan, Sarah quickly turns against Hagar and demands that Abraham cast Ishmael and Hagar out of his household. Our reading for today (Genesis 21: 8 – 21) points out that Ishmael will ultimately become the father of his own nation. We know today (or at least we should know today) that this prophecy is the basis for the founding of Islam and its spiritual ties back to Abraham.

There will be enmity between Isaac and Ishmael for years to come and it will only disappear when their father dies and they join together in the grief common to all families when the patriarch dies. But we still see that enmity today in the fighting that takes place in the Holy Land. We forget that the differences between Arab and Jew are not just differences found in modern-day politics but differences that are centuries old. They are resolvable differences, to be sure, but to solve these differences we must find a radical new way of thinking; one not based on force and violence but on peace and cooperation. It is not an easy solution as anyone who has had argument with their own siblings well knows. But there is an answer.

And I think that is what Jesus is telling us in the Gospel reading for today (Matthew 10: 24 – 39). I don’t think that He seeks to destroy the family nor do I think that He wishes war. But when our focus is on the world on which we stand, we are certainly not going to be focusing on the Heavenly Kingdom. How many times have children rebelled against their parents because they seek a different path than the ones the parents wish for them to walk?

With His teachings and actions, Jesus showed us a new way, one that differed greatly from the one offered throughout the generations. And for those that followed Him, it was a way that would cause grief amongst their relatives. Did not Jesus’ mother and siblings try to pull Him out of His ministry when it began? And did not Jesus seemingly renounce His family, proclaiming that those who followed Him were His true brothers and sisters? It was not that He gave up His lineage; rather He expanded it.

And that is what He wants us to do. We are not to see things from a limited view of things immediately around us. Rather, we are to expand our horizons and our views to include everyone, even those whom we may despise and those who would despise us.

The Bible tells us an interesting story of Father and child, of how the child rebelled against the parent, and wandered through the ages. It is a story of how brother fought brother, father fought son, and parents and children became estranged from each other. Throughout the Bible, we read the story of mankind separating into factions and groups, each with anger and hatred for others. In our anger and our hatred, we become lost in this world.

But, as Paul points out in his words to the Romans for today (Romans 6: 1 – 11), the Father sent His Son to save us from our wanderings and our indecision and our hatred for others. God sent Jesus to bring us back into the true family, the family begun at the beginning of the story.

When Abraham died, Isaac and Ishmael reconciled their differences to bury their father. God gives us the answer for the unity of the family. He provided the answer when He reunited the two brothers, Ishmael and Isaac, in grief. He provided the answer for each one of us when His Son died on the cross for our sins.

And so it is, the story of the Bible is all about the family, the family of God. A family separated at the beginning through jealousy, envy, greed, hatred, and anger but brought together when the Father sent His Only Son to die on the Cross to save his children from sin and death.