“Who Is Your God?”


Here are my thoughts for 17 May 2020 – 6th Sunday of Easter (Year A)

In our first reading for this Sunday, Luke notes that there was a monument to an unknown god; a simple statement that even the people of Athens had a “god of the gaps:”, the god they could turn to when none of their regular gods was available or could solve the problem at hand.

Some years ago, one of my students suggested that as humankind became more intectually capable, it eliminated the need for gods.  Unitl Abraham, society had always had created gods to deal with the problems of the world.  If rain was needed to water the crops, we prayed to the god of rain.  We prayed to a goddess of fertility if we wanted things to grow (or if we wanted to have children).  There was gods for the wind and rain and it was clear that we, humankind, had to have done something wrong when our society was beset by a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or some other natural disaster.

But as we began to understand the world in which we live, the needs for these gods diminished and ultimately disappeared.  But, as I suggested, to my student then, this approach could not provide an adequate explanation for why there is good and evil in this world.  And despite the suggestions of some, a better understanding of science does provide answers for the “why” questions of life.  Science cannot explain why mankind is created or even why there is good or evil in this world?

It could be that we have a gene that determines whether we will be good or evil but that begs the question of what we will do if this is the case.  We have seen what has happened when society has sought to remove those deemed less desirable.

So if good and/or evil are not an integral part of our lives, then there must be something else.  Throughout the history of mankind, we have sensed the presence of another God, one above all the minor gods, the gods that we can explain through our experience in this world (from https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2008/03/01/a-particular-moment-in-time/)

I have sensed the presence of God in my life many times and in many ways.  It is that same sense that allowed Isaiah to know that God knew him before he was born; it was the same sense that allowed John Newton to write “I once was loss but now I am found.”

These are times when we might feel lost.  Our daily lives have been interrupted and there is a sense that we will never return to that routine.  It is a time when we might feel lost or at least confused.

It is at times like these when we remember that Jesus said that He would not leae us, that we would not be alone.

Thomas Paine wrote of the times that tried our souls.  They were times where the struggles of the world were clear and the choices to be made perhaps clearer.  These are the times that try our spiritual souls; our struggles are not perhaps as clear.  

But in these times, in our moments of solitude, we have the opportunity to reconnect with Christ.  We are not bothered by outside noise so we can, in this earthly peace, find the moments to reconnect with Christ.  And in this time with Christ we can begin to think of those moments when we will again be a part of this world.

Poet, novelist, and environmentalist Wendell Berry writes in What are People For?:

“We enter into solitude, in which we also lose loneliness.

True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. 

In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. …

After having returned from the woods, we remember with regret its restfulness. For all creatures there are in place, hence at rest. 

In their most strenuous striving, sleeping and waking, dead and living, they are at rest.”

This season we can cultivate a healthy practice of solitude in creation and recover our humble place in the communion of all creatures. A solitude practice can be especially challenging when you already may feel isolated. But remember, solitude is not a lack of connection; it is a deliberate spiritual discipline that allows us to become fully attentive to other lives – to God’s voice, to the voices of other beings.   (from Sojourners e-mail, 15 May 2020)

The thing is the world in which we will go tomorrow is not the world we left behind yesterday.  Which means that the way we may have connected with Christ may not be there when we go back out into the world.  But in these times of solitude and contemplation, we will find ways we never knew to be better disciples of Christ.

The Vision That We Have


Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the bulletin for this Sunday, May 26, 2019 (6th Sunday of Easter, Year C) at Fishkill United Methodist Church.

The theme of the Scriptures today, it seems to me, is one of vision.  With these readings, we are reminded of what is written in Proverbs, “if we are without vision, we shall perish”

Some years ago, I came across a quote from Joel A. Barker,

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

Paralleling that was quote by Willie Nelson,

“one person cannot change the world but one person with a message can.”

https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2014/08/28/changing-the-world/

Neither Luther nor Wesley sought to create a new expression of faith; theirs was vision of how to best express one’s faith.  Wesley had a “method” for implementing that vision.

There are those today who say they have a plan for the church, but it is a plan without a vision, one beset by rules and regulations, one without concern for the people of the church and the people who seek the church.  In their plan, if you don’t meet the qualifications as set by the rules they have made, you are not eligible to be a part of the faith.

This attitude, I feel, is the same attitude religious authorities two thousand years ago voiced.  It was the same attitude voiced by their Wesleyan era counterparts.  As a plan based on rules and regulations, it was stiff and formal, with no room to be creative and no room for those outside society.  It was a plan created without love and without a vision for the future.

A sightless world is a limited one, one in which fear and ignorance dominate,

What Jesus did was change the vision of the world, to see a new future.  Through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we can put that vision into action.

~~Tony Mitchell

The Music We Hear


This will be on the back page of the Sunday, April 22, 2018 (4th Sunday of Easter, Year B) bulletin for Fishkill United Methodist Church.


If you haven’t figured out by now, music is very much a part of my life.  Music, however you may choose to do it, is a cooperative effort.  Looking at the Scripture readings for today, I should be referencing Jefferson Airplane.  But since I used that reference a couple of weeks ago, I will settle for the Grateful Dead!

Mickey Hart, the drummer for the Grateful Dead, wrote:

“To fall in love is to fall in rhythm.” It is love for each other by which we know we are followers of Jesus, the ever-attentive shepherd. In the face of societal rules and attitudes that strive to foster “everyone for themselves,” they will know we are Christians by our love. How can we listen to the music that draws us together, “falling in rhythm” with neighbor to build up the whole?

We must understand that we are a part of a world and what we do in this world affects others.  Our lives are lived in a rhythm with others, whether we want to or not. If we live in a world in which we are only for ourselves, how can we even care about others and then call ourselves Christian?

One of my favorite hymns includes the line, “my life flows on in endless song.”  Our lives are in rhythm with those around us and our lives are a song of love and hope.  As Christians, how can we not keep on singing?

~ Tony Mitchell

“Where Are We Headed?”


Mediation for 6th Sunday of Easter (Year A)

25 May 2014

Memorial Day

The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 17: 22 – 31, 1 Peter 3: 13 – 22, and John 14: 15 – 21.

The title for this piece was going to be “The One True God” and I was going to focus on Paul’s comments to the Athenians about their unknown god and our society’s focus on other gods, such as money and material.

And part of what I was going to say was how we have transformed a day to honor all those who have died in the service to their country into a day to satisfy our own needs. I was going to also point out (and I had this thought long before the present scandal in the VA erupted) that while we give some degree of honor to those who have died, we care very little about those who were wounded, injured, or maimed during the course of the combat activities or as a result of their combat. And this lack of care goes a long way back and is not limited to just the current administration. It was also pointed out by some that those who blame the current political administration of this country were among those who voted against increasing or at least maintaining benefits for current veterans.

I wish that was the only problem we were facing at this time but the shooting in the Santa Barbara area Friday evening along with the shooting in Brussels on Saturday spoke to our preoccupation with violence as a solution to our problems. I don’t know all the details about the Brussels shooting but it would be an easy guess that it was predicated on violence and hatred, perhaps not of the three who were killed but on a group of people.

And it would be easy to blame the system for failing to warn us about the young man in California. We can’t blame the guns because he bought them legally and cleared all the proper legal checks. And no matter what his mental state was, he saw the solution to his own problems in terms of violence.

And while all of this individual versus individual violence was going on (and how much more happened that we did not hear about?), there were at least three violent attacks against society with car bombs and armed militia involved. The one thing that I think these attacks have in common is that they were initiated by religious fundamentalists who seek to impose their version of religious law on the populace.

There are days when I think that we are on the verge of the end times, what with all the weather-related problems and the societal-problems. But I also know that those who would loudly proclaim such news also say that the solution to the problem is the imposition of their own version of religious law. The book that these fundamentalists use may be different from the book that the other fundamentalists use and their methods, for the moment, may be less violent but in the end they want to impose their own beliefs and values on all the people of this globe, no matter who they are or what they believe.

And the hallmark of fundamentalists, at least for me, is that you are not to question the authority of those who lead, only blindly accept what they say as the truth.

Within the United Methodist Church is a group of 80 pastors who have this view and they are willing to destroy the denomination if that means that their views are the dominant ones. These 80 individuals hide behind the curtain of anonymity and no one outside their own group knows who they are. But they have made it clear that theirs is the view that counts the most and that makes me wonder.

First, since I don’t hold those same views, what will they do with me if they gain control of the denomination. What will they do to my chosen vocation of chemistry and science when I am ordered to believe that this universe, planet, and the life on it was created in a span of six days? Will their drive for a legal truth destroy the lives and careers of people who seek the truth using the mind that God gave them?

Perhaps the scripture that I should have used was from last week when Thomas asked Christ where we are headed and Philip asked how would we know when we got there.

I see a society that may not believe as these unknown leaders do but they are not willing to say anything against them. There seems to me a blind acceptance of the moment by too many people in society today, a willingness to accept what is happening with perhaps a hope that something better will come.

There is clearly a societal wide fear of the unknown, a fear so large that we are unwilling to venture beyond the safety of our present state, no matter how hypocritical that might be.

My greatest fear is not the unknown but that we are unprepared to solve the next problem. We actually know all the answers to the present questions (though not all are in the back of the book) but we don’t know the answers to the questions that haven’t been asked and we don’t have the ability to find the answers.

In his words to the congregation today, Peter points out that we do have the answer, though we may have forgotten it. The words of Christ, written in John today, speak of what we have been given as well.

Christ did not give us a set of rules; He gave us a way of Life. He spoke of the Way, the direction we needed to be headed.

With yesterday (May 24th) being Aldersgate Day, we are reminded of what happened to John Wesley and how his legalistic, formal approach to living really didn’t work. But that moment that he accepted the Holy Spirit, things began to change.

Perhaps it is time that we forsake the gods of violence and hatred, of money and material. Perhaps it would be best if we sought the solution instead of relying on others to lead us. Quite honestly, I don’t think they know where they are going.

Perhaps it is time that we seek Christ. Then we will know where we are headed.

“Chosen By God”


During the month of May, the New York Annual Conference Board of Laity conducts a morning devotional in preparation for its Annual Conference.  I was asked to do the devotion for today, Thursday, May 22, 2014.

Good morning, my name is Tony Mitchell and I attend Grace United Methodist Church in Newburgh, NY. The scripture for this morning is from Romans 5: 1 – 11; I will read Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel version, “The Letter to the Christians in Washington.”

Since we have been put in the swim with God because of our faithfulness, we have a close relationship with Him through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Through Him, we also got an open door into this favored position we hold, and we get “status” from the confidence we receive from God’s greatness. Not only so, but we also get “status” from getting banged up, being fully aware that getting banged up makes us tough. Now toughness makes for reliability and reliability for confidence, and confidence doesn’t let you down. For God has given us a love transfusion by the Holy Spirit he provided for us.

While we were real sick, in the nick of time Christ died for people who couldn’t care less for a loving God. Hardly anybody will die for an ordinary person, and it’s possible that someone might screw up enough courage to give his life for a truly good person. But God convinces us of his love, because while we were still sinful trash, Christ gave His life for us.

So now that we have been taken on board by his sacrifice, shall we not all the more be saved by Him from “the life away from God.” For if, while we were rebels, we were won over to God through His Son’s death, how much more, having been won over, shall we be saved in His life. And on top of all this, we get “status” with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have been won over.

This reading to the Christians in Washington (or Rome if you will) prompted me to think of a particular sports metaphor. Actually, two came to mind.

You know how it is when the Super Bowl is over and the MVP of the game has been announced. The announcer goes up to this player and asks, “Now that you have won the Super Bowl, what are you going to do?” And the player responds, “I’m going to Disney World!”

I get that impression sometimes when I hear someone tell me that they are a Christian, that they have won the fight and are going to heaven. I probably wouldn’t mind this so much except that the announcement is made in such a way that seems to say that I am not going to get the same rewards; that this outcome is for them and them alone. It is this attitude of exclusiveness that is causing so much trouble for the church today. When the doors of the church need to be open, people are finding them closed. And the people who need to be opening the doors are the members and not necessarily the clergy.

That’s why I think that the more appropriate metaphor for this reading, one that would apply to our having been selected or chosen by God, is the recent NFL draft, the upcoming NBA draft, and the Major League Baseball draft, whenever that is held.

Players in the draft are chosen for the skills and talents that they can bring to a team and history tells us that players in the later rounds of the draft have as much or a greater impact on the fortunes of the teams that select them than those players who get all the glory for being picked in the first round.

We all know Paul’s words, elsewhere, that each of us has been given a particular set of gifts and that we need to utilize those gifts for the betterment of the community, not simply or solely for our use.

Our society is very much a selfish, self-centered society. Society teaches us that each person should look out for themselves and that society should help the individual. Paul will point out that what we receive through the Holy Spirit, what empowers our gifts and our abilities, is very incompatible with this selfishness and self-centeredness. Your energies are wasted when they are focused inwardly but they multiply when focused outward, to helping others (from “Two Roads”)

Yes, there is something special in being chosen by God and, as Paul wrote so many times (including today’s reading), it eases the pain and makes the difficult times a little easier to endure. And we gain confidence in our ability to do something when we know that! But we should also not let the possibility of pain, difficulty or failure quenches the Spirit and lets the wonderful talents that we have be wasted.

I really began to understand what it meant to be a part of the United Methodist Church when I realized that, having been saved by and through the actions of Jesus Christ, I had to do something with and in my new life.

People will see the fire of the Holy Spirit in us, the same fire that danced around, over, and through the people gathered together that first Pentecost some two thousand years ago.

We know too well that fire destroys everything foreign to it and everything akin to it gives it strength. The fire of zeal lets each person use their different skills and abilities in different directions (adapted from Art of Prayer)

It is not that we all do the same thing; that might be rather boring. And while we are empowered to do our own thing, it is so that the community of which we are a part can grow in Christ.

I close with this simple thought, “if not now, when?”, and “if not I, who?”

Let us pray.

Our Gracious and Loving Father, we thank thee for finding us amidst the turmoil and strife of everyday life. We thank thee for sending your Son whose sacrifice on the Cross saved us from a life of sin and death. And we thank thee, O Father, for the gifts that you have given to us. Now, be with us as this day begins and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, let us use those gifts so that others may come to know You as we do. In thy name we pray.

And all the people say, “Amen.”

“What Does Your Church Look Like?”


I am at Sugar Loaf (NY) United Methodist Church this morning (May 5th). The message is “What Does Your Church Look Like?” and is based on the Scriptures for this Sunday, Acts 5: 27 – 32, Revelation 1: 4 – 8, and John 20: 19 -31. Services are at 11 and you are welcome to attend.

I will be at Monroe UMC (Monroe, NY) on May 12th; services are at 8:30 am and 10:15 am and you are welcome to attend. The message for Mother’s Day and Ascension Sunday is “The Gift of Love” and is based on the lectionary readings for May 12th, Acts 16: 16 – 34; Revelation 22: 12 – 14, 16 – 17, 20 – 21; and John 17: 20 – 26.

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When I began thinking about this message, it was first based on the last lines of today’s reading from Acts,

After she was baptized, along with everyone in her household, she said in a surge of hospitality, “If you’re confident that I’m in this with you and believe in the Master truly, come home with me and be my guests.” We hesitated, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Here was a woman, who at the very moment of her conversion, opened her heart and responded to the Gospel message of Paul. Now, in an effort to understand this moment, I turned to one of my favorite references, the Cotton Patch Gospels of Clarence Jordan.

This translation of the New Testament is a distinctly Southern version of the New Testament written by a Southern Baptist preacher and Greek scholar who sought to make the words of the Bible relevant to the people of the South and in terms that related to the world of the South in the 50s and 60s to the time when Jesus walked the roads of the Galilee. Sadly, Dr. Jordan died while working on the translation of John so I am not able to read how the Gospel of John or the other books attributed to John would have been expressed.

This, I think, is important. If you cannot put the words of the Bible into the context of your own time, then the words of the Bible become somewhat meaningless. I knew when I was in high school where the church in Corinth that Paul was writing to was but I am sure that many people in the Memphis, Tennessee, area where I went to high school would have first thought of Corinth, Mississippi, before thinking of Corinth, Greece. And when I hear of Mount Moriah I am as apt to think of the most dangerous streets in Memphis as I am to think of the place where God told Abraham to take his son Isaac.

So it was when I read of Dr. Jordan’s translation describing Paul’s journey through Louisana and Mississippi and going to St. Louis, I could not help but think of my own journey and my ties to St. Louis and Missouri. As a graduate of the University of Missouri, I can relate to the Holy Spirit telling Paul not to go to Kansas. But I should also add that my own journey as a lay servant/speaker began in Odessa, Texas.

So while I was thinking of the hospitality of Lydia and what it means for us today, I was also thinking about my own journey throughout the South and up here in the North. I began thinking about the fact that I can often tell if a particular church that I see before me is a United Methodist Church long before I see the sign in the front. That was the case when I first came here to Sugar Loaf.

Sometimes you can see what you know is a church from miles away. I still recall the first time I ever saw the cathedral in Conception Junction, Missouri rising above the plains of northwest Missouri. I don’t know how far away I was but I could see that it was a church and it was something that I wanted to see up close (I wrote about this encounter for the Fishkill UMC back page in “A Reminder”.

Sometimes, that’s not the case though. There is a church in Springfield, Missouri, that looks like a three-story office building, square in shape and in the middle of a parking lot. It is not that different from the other office building along its street. The only way that you could ever know that it was, in fact, a church (besides the sign) is that the windows on the street side of the building form a cross.

And in the hills of eastern Kentucky you will see houses that could only be best described as run-down shacks; yet they are the homes of active Pentecostal churches.

Now, I have never been inside that church in Springfield, Missouri nor the Pentecostal churches that dotted the roads of eastern Kentucky (probably because I was on my way to my own small non-descript but decidedly United Methodist Church in Neon, Kentucky). I have been inside the church at Conception Junction and can understand why the people built it as an expression of their faith in the late 19th century.

But I also know of the massive cathedrals in Europe, built as an expression of faith, but now, for the most part, lie empty or serve more as tourist destinations than places to find God.

But it is not the outside but the inside of the church that tells you what a church looks like. I return to Lydia and her act of hospitality. Luke, the writer of Acts and companion on the journeys of Paul, probably included that note in his recording because Lydia probably began a church in her own home as did so many others in the early Christian church.

You may recall that many of what are know established United Methodist churches in this country, especially in this area began as gatherings in homes because the religious establishment would not let them meet in churches or build a church of their own.

It was the faith and desire to meet God that brought people together, even when it was perhaps difficult and possibly illegal to do so. And we can only imagine what it might be like to have been invited to visit one of these early home-churches or even a church today. (There was a great discussion on a blog that I follow on whether or not to invite a fellow Christian to one’s church.)

Some of us, I know, first came to church because someone invited us to come with them. Others, perhaps, were dragged kicking and screaming and not necessarily as children (though that perhaps describes my own situation).

There is a pastor in the New York Annual Conference who will tell you about the time before he was a Christian when he was told that he needed to be in a particular church on a Sunday morning for the baptism of a sibling’s child. And he will show you the bulletin for that Sunday that he still keeps on his desk so many years later that reminds him of that day and the lady who helped him get a cup of coffee after the service.

He will tell you how he found that bulletin a few weeks later and how he came back to the church, not kicking or screaming or rather reluctantly, but quite willing. He will gladly show you the spot at the altar rail where he answered the call and gave his life to Christ. This, by the way, was and is a United Methodist Church. It was the church that gave him the push and the backing to change his life and become a minister.

These are the stories that we want and need to hear; of people finding Christ and people, through simple acts helping some one to Christ.

This pastor told his story in that very church a few weeks ago. Unfortunately and rather sadly, there were some in the congregation who did not want to hear the story and who were complaining, before the service was over, how long the service was going. Instead of being time with Christ, church was, for them, a brief moment on Sunday mornings and not to interfere with their daily routine.

My own journey is perhaps a little different. Yes, I was brought kicking and screaming to church when I was in school and I could think of so many Sunday mornings when I was in college when I would have rather stayed in bed. But I made a decision to follow Christ when I was in high school on my own and the Holy Spirit spent much time and energy reminding me of that commitment. And while I may not have wanted to go, I also knew that I needed to be in church on Sunday morning, perhaps for reasons not yet evident.

I do know this; were it not for Marvin Fortel, the pastor of 1st United Methodist Church in Kirksville, Missouri, when I began attending college there, my own journey with Christ, let alone my journey as a lay servant/speaker would have taken a different path and I probably would not be standing here today.

His words and his actions showed me the walk that I needed to walk; his counsel and the counsel of others at that time put the Gospel message in the context of my own life and gave me hope for the future. But I also know that Reverend Fortel’s words, thoughts, and deeds, with regards to the civil rights movement and his opposition to the war in Viet Nam which were similar to my own words, were not easily accepted by the other members of that congregation and he was asked to move on.

It does not matter what a church looks like on the outside; what matters is what is in the hearts and souls of the people inside the church. Have they built walls that exclude others? Have they built walls which they think protect them from the world outside but actually lock them in a prison?

The first Christian churches were in the homes of the followers because there was no other place to meet and to meet in public somewhere almost certainly meant the followers would be arrested. The first Methodists in this country met in homes as well because they were barred from meeting in the churches and they built meeting houses because the laws would not allow them to build churches of their own.

They met because they wanted to be with Jesus and help others meet with Him, even when the establishment would not allow it.

But there are no such rules and laws in place today in this country that prevent us from meeting openly in a church of our own, no matter what it may look like.

But what is it that people see. In the Gospel reading for today, Jeuse tells us that a loveless world is a sightless world. The world cannot see Christ if the love of Christ is not present. It was perhaps that knowledge of the love of Christ that prompted Lydia to extend her hospitality to Paul and Timothy. It was that expression of hospitality that allowed one man to get a cup of coffee and begin walking a new path.

It is that hospitality that says to the world that this is a place where one can be among friends and find Christ. John Wesley once said (I hope) that the world was his parish, that his call to ministry extended beyond the walls of the church where he preached.

There is a crisis in this world that is not just a counting of the number of wars or acts of violence. It is a crisis in that we see war and violence as the answer to our problems. We as a society, not just here but throughout the world, are not willing to seek other solutions, even when present solutions do not seem to work.

The other day, I heard Willie Nelson say that one person could not change the world but that one person with a message could. The message that Jesus carried across the roads of the Galilee and to Jerusalem is the prime example.

Many people today see the words of Revelation as the end, the end of everything. For them, these words are dark and exclusionary, meant only for a select few. But John the Seer may have written them knowing that darkness could not win, that darkness and evil will not and would not prevail. If we read the Book of Revelation with the thought that God has won and that evil in whatever form it may take has lost, then we see and hear words that tell us what we must do.

John wrote that the Tree of Life will yield twelve kinds of ripe fruit but who is to pick the fruit and distribute it? The leaves of this Tree are for healing nations but who will heal the nations and the people?

There are people outside the walls of the traditional church seeking to come in and find Christ. Would it be better if, perhaps, the people inside the church were to go outside and show them what Christ is like through their words, their deeds and their actions? What might happen in this world today if we extended the love of Christ to all we meet?

It is a frightening thought but perhaps no more frightening than that first time you came into the church, perhaps reluctantly, perhaps kicking and screaming. Jesus told the disciples

I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.

So we know that we can go out into the world, we know that we can as Lydia did, invite the world into our homes, perhaps not all at once but surely one person at a time.

The call goes out today to follow Jesus, to accept Him as savior. And the call goes out to allow the Holy Spirit into your life, to empower you and provide you with the strength for the task before you.

What does your church look like? I think it looks like each one of us for in each one of us, people will see Christ and we will see Christ in those we meet.

“A New Plan”


This is the message that I presented at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church, Brighton, TN on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 4 May 1997. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 10: 44 – 48, 1 John 5: 1 – 6, and John 15: 9 – 17.

I should note before I start that I have been told preachers should never preach about money. This sermon, though it may sound like it is about money, is not about money but rather, is about planning.

You have probably heard, read, or seen something dealing with financial planning. Now it may have been an ad from some financial institution or an investment firm talking about retirement; it may been about handling debts. Whatever the ad said, for any financial plan to be successful, it will take a long period of time.

Even if you are planning on winning the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes, it takes several months of action on your part for the people with the balloons, the cameras, and the check to appear on your doorstep.

Similarly, God’s plan for each one of us requires a long period of time. From the very beginning, God has been thinking of us. I think it the one great mystery of salvation that God has known us and about us long before we ever came into existence.

The God-who-is has always been searching for me. By his choice, his relationship with me is a presence, as a call, as a guide; he is not satisfied with speaking to me, or showing things to me, or asking things of me. He does much more.

He is Life, and he knows his creature can do nothing without him; he knows his child would die of hunger without bread.

But our bread is God himself, and God gives himself to us as food.

Only eternal life can feed one who is destined for eternal life.

The bread of earth can nourish us only for this finite earth; it can sustain us only as far as the frontier, the bread from our fields is not sufficient; if we want to march along the roads of the Invisible, we must feed on bread from heaven.

This bread from heaven is God himself. He becomes food to us walking in the Invisible. “The God Who Comes” by Carlos Carretto

And Jesus told His disciples that He picked them, not the other way around.

You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I call you friends, for everything I learned from the Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (John 15: 14 – 16)

Through all of history, God has never forgotten His plan. Whether it was His promise to Noah and his family after the flood

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you — the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you — every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the water of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all l living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.” (Genesis 9: 8 – 17)

or his promises to the Israelites wandering through the wilderness, God has always shown his commitment to the plan. It would seem that every prophet from Isaiah to Joel has spoken of God’s caring for us. We know that God sent His son Jesus because he cared for us, because he had a plan for us. As written in John 3: 16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that who so ever believed in Him would have everlasting life.”

But God’s plan is not single-sided. Though it is by God’s grace that we have been given this plan, we cannot simply stand idly by. Action on our part is required. We cannot know God’s Grace if we do nothing! Even if we wait until that last minute before death to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we know that we will receive God’s grace.

If our hearts, like those who listened to Peter preach, are open to the Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit will be there for us.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who came with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit has been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. (Acts 10: 44 – 48)

The most difficult thing about following God’s plan is that we often feel that it is too hard, that we cannot meet the challenge. But Jesus only gave us one commandment to follow

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15: 9 – 14)

Granted, this commandment is a hard one. It challenges everything we hear and see today. Consider the Pope. After he had recovered from the attempted assassination, he went to the jail where the assassin was and forgave him. The love that Jesus wants us to show others is like this. While we might agree with the penalties someone must pay for their crimes, how is it that we can forgive someone for their actions? Sometimes, it seems a lot easier to take the easy way out. The recent meeting in Philadelphia shows such a conflict. How many people are willing to volunteer, how many people are willing to help others? I have always been amazed that those who help others often times are not far removed from the situations that the ones they are helping are in. Consider the following thought:

We should try to be so closely united to Our Lord that we reproduce his life in our own, that our thoughts and words and actions should proclaim his teaching, so that he reigns is us, lives in us. He so often enters within us in Holy Communion. May his Kingdom reign in us.

If he sends us happiness let us accept it gratefully. Like the Good Shepherd he sets us in rich pasture to strengthen us to follow him later into barren lands. If he sends us crosses let us embrace them and say ‘Bona Crux,’ for this is the greatest grace of all. It means walking through life hand in hand with our Lord, helping him to carry his Cross like Simon of Cyrene. It is our Beloved asking us to prove how much we love him. Whether in mental suffering or bodily pain ‘let us rejoice and tremble with joy.’ Our Lord calls us and asks us to tell him of our love and repeat it over and over again all through our sufferings.

Every cross, great or small, even small annoyances, are the voice of the Beloved. He is asking for a declaration of love from us to last whilst the suffering lasts.

Oh, when one thinks of this one would like the suffering to last forever. It will last as long as Our Lord wishes. However sweet the suffering may become to us, we only desire it at such times as Our Lord sends it. Your will be done, my Brother Jesus, and not mine. We long to forget ourselves, we ask nothing, only your glory. (“Meditations of a Hermit” by Charles de Foucauld

Life today is not easy. There are cynics among us who would ridicule us for believing in Jesus today. But I think that many of these people are probably leading very miserable lives today.

I can imagine John sitting down writing those letter to his friends and thinking about the problems he had to endure as a disciple of Jesus. But he could remember what Jesus told his disciples.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15: 12 – 14)

Today, John tells us

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is the one who came by water and blood — Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is truth.

God’s plan is very simple actually. Accept Jesus Christ into our heart and then live a life which shows that Christ is a part of our lives, loving others as we know Christ has loved us.

Defining Love


I am at Trinity-Boscobel United Methodist Church in Buchanan, NY, this morning (location of the church). The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 6th Sunday of Easter and Mother’s Day, are Acts 10: 44 – 48, 1 John 5: 1 – 6, and John 15: 9 – 17. Their services start at 10:30 and you are welcome to attend.

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I am at the end of a three-week journey as a lay speaker. Two weeks ago I spoke about the continuation of the church and how, among other things, how the local church is part of the community (“Passing the Torch”). Last week I spoke of the encounter one has with Jesus (“A Chance Encounter”). I mentioned that I felt that each person’s encounter with Jesus was unique and that one should not necessarily expect others to have an encounter like their own nor should they expect their encounter to be like someone else’s encounter.

Our personal journey with Christ is just that, a journey and a personal one. Our role as individuals and as a church in all of this is to be of assistance, to help the journey begin, to help with the encounter, and to help after the encounter. It is simply a matter of being there.

For no matter where your journey may lead you, it is not always going to be an easy one. There are going to be rough times as well as good; there are going to be moments of sadness as well as joy. And while we would like to just have the good times, we have to realize that there will be bad times as well. And we need a place where we can share the joys and find support for the bad times. And if the church is not there, where will many people find the support and comfort needed on their own journey? How will people find that support and comfort? Where can people share their joys and sorrows?

For me, one of those bad times was the spring of 1969. Not much had gone right the previous few months and I had just completed the worst quarter of my academic career, one that effectively killed any hopes of receiving any sort of academic honors when I graduated from college. I was not failing by any means but sometimes failure is a selective standard and I was not at the level where I wanted to be.

The pressure that I felt internally was increased by pressure from my family and compounded by questions about the draft. For the record, I was not nor am I necessarily opposed to military service; how could I as the son of an Air Force officer and the grandson of an Army officer? I just didn’t, and I still don’t, like the idea of a draft. The idea of the draft seemed, to me, undemocratic; if you want someone to serve in the Air Force, Army, Navy, or Marines, give them reasons that make sense; don’t force them to join.

Now, because of how I began college, I turned 18 one month after the start of my sophomore year in college and I dutifully attempted to register for the draft. At Christmas that year (1968) I found out that I had not, in fact, registered for the draft when I thought I had. And while I corrected that matter rather quickly, I spent the better part of the beginning of 1969 worried that I would be called into service. And with the poor winter quarter grades that I received, I was certain that I would be in Army by the summer of 1969, a future that I did not want or even envision.

It did not help matters much that by 1969, the justification for the expansion of the war in Viet Nam was fast disappearing. The arguments being made for the war at that time were no longer being accepted by the American people and they could not or would not view the combat losses as acceptable losses (an interesting counterpoint to today’s society, to say the least). So I became involved, or it would be better to say that my involvement in the anti-war movement on my college campus increased. It wasn’t a big movement as it was on other, far larger campuses, but it was there, though not readily accepted by the college administration or the town. Truman State, then known as Northeast Missouri State Teachers College, was and is in the heart of conservative farm country and most people felt that it was your duty and right to serve in the Army and to do so without questioning the reasons or the rationale.

Do I follow my heart and mind or do I follow the crowd? That’s one of the great questions that every college sophomore, in fact every person has to answer at one point in their life. I found the answer myself because one of the things that I learned at Truman was to think and to think independently. And while I found support for my decisions in the pastors of the college community churches, including the pastor of the 1st United Methodist Church in Kirksville (Marvin Fortel) and the pastor of the Wesley Foundation (Dick Todd), I also found a part of my soul as well, something I will come back to in a moment.

And so it was that as Mother’s Day, 1969, approached, amidst all the turmoil in my life, I had to come up with something to give my mother for Mother’s Day. And it happened that I discovered an organization called “Another Mother for Peace”. They made a necklace that had on it the statement “War is not healthy for children and other living things”. It was a statement of the times, it was a statement that I could believe in then and now, and I thought it would be a good gift for my mother. And for the record, “Another Mother for Peace” is still active today and has its own web site at www.warisnothealthy.org.

But after my mother received this gift from the heart of her oldest son, she wrote a very stern letter indicating a disapproval of my extra-curricular political activities (you should have heard what she said when I was involved in a civil rights protest later that same spring but that is a story for another time and place (see “Side by Side” and “Side by Side” if you can’t wait). But, and what is so important to the meaning of today, she told me that she would keep the necklace because I was her son and she loved me.

Later she would tell my niece, her third granddaughter, in an interview for a high school project that she was relieved that neither my two brothers nor I were drafted and required to go off to war.

If I were to define love, it is with the understanding that it will not be done from the traditional standpoint of the three definitions from the Greek word for love. That is a philosophical exercise that has been played out too many times in the past. Rather, it has to be done within the framework of my mother’s reaction to that 1999 Mother’s Day gift.

I know that neither of my parents approved of my anti-war stance nor my civil rights stance but they never stopped loving me. My journeys in life would take far from my home in Memphis but never far from the heart of my mother.

Love isn’t always the automatic acceptance of someone but the ability to accept what they do. My mother’s love was unconditional.

It was part of the foundation that she laid down for each of us, my two brothers, my sister, and me. She laid the foundation so that we could choose our own path, knowing that no matter where it may lead, we would be supported in our efforts. In our Momma we knew there was a home to come to in times of strife, struggle, and celebration.

When I married Ann in 1999, Momma rejoiced. She jokingly told Ann that now she, Ann, was stuck with me and that I couldn’t come back home. But in a more serious vein, Momma told Ann that she was happy that I had found someone to love and care about me; that now she didn’t have to worry so much about my happiness.

Momma was patient with us, teaching us right from wrong. Rewards came when we did well. We were encouraged to, if you will, do our own thing. This doesn’t mean that we could do just about anything that we wanted. If we did wrong, we could expect punishment. It was sometimes harsh, sometimes hard, and sometimes stern but always, always with the understanding that we were still loved. Still, we had to eat the Brussels sprouts that were every so often a part of the supper meal.

But against that was the incident somewhere in Louisiana in the early 1960s when we were traveling from Texas to North Carolina. We had spent the night in a motel and were ordering breakfast. Breakfast on the road was a treat for us because we got to order what we wanted. Each of us, my two brothers, my sister and I, each ordered something (though I think my mother ordered from my sister who was only two or three at the time) and we anxiously awaited this joyous repast to begin our day of travel.

Each of us received the breakfast that we had ordered but each plate also had on it a mysterious white, gelatinous-like substance on it. In a single voice, my two brothers and I asked, “Momma, what’s that white stuff??” To which she, a Southern born and bred mother, replied, “Those are grits; you don’t have to eat them.” A mother’s love can be expressed in many ways and allowing us the privilege or opportunity to not eat grits that morning in Louisiana was one such expression.

Were my parents perfect? Far from it; there were times when we thought they were the most horrible and terrible parents one could ever imagine. Did we want them to express their love in perhaps the more traditional ways, say by buying us a car or new clothes when we didn’t need them? Of course we did. And there were times we would have liked to have heard it stated more clearly that everything was going to turn out alright or that we had done a fine job or made a valiant effort. Every child wants to hear those words. But in the end, what our parents did was give us the opportunity to be who we were to be, not who they wanted us to be.

But I know of too many parents today where love is conditional, where receipt of the love, in whatever form it may be wished, comes with a price, a price that sometimes cannot be paid. There are many parents who will say to their children that they must go to this school or get this degree or marry this person if they want their parents’ love. And there are many children who feel that they must do something like that if they are to gain their love and support.

Such love is a far cry from the love that Jesus expressed in the Gospel message for today, an unconditional love that reaches out, that creates and demands respect, that lifts people up and offers them hope. The love that we are to have is a love that is an expression of our love for God. Remember what John called those who would say that they loved God but did not love their brothers and sisters? He called them hypocrites. He reinforces that sentiment today. If we love the one who conceived the Child, then we will surely love the child who was conceived. The proof is in our ability to keep God’s commandments and the first of these is to love others as you would have them love us (yes, I am paraphrasing several thoughts).

But I fear that today we have forgotten how to love in this way. We find it so much easier to hate. We find it easier to put labels on people that enable us to make them a second class or lower. There are those who would have us create a society much like the Old Testament with clear lines of demarcation between peoples, a society in which the chosen are protected and the others are cast aside. They would create a society where God’s gifts are only available to a select few and not the many and where they, the select few, get to decide who will receive those gifts.

Look again at the reading from Acts for today. Those who had come with Peter that day could not believe it when “outsiders” received the Holy Spirit in the same manner that they had. I can imagine what some of those in the Church of England must have said when Wesley reported on his work in the prisons and the mines, in the mills and the countryside. But I also can imagine how those who received the Holy Spirit that day recorded in Acts must have felt and I am sure those who heard Wesley’s words and the words of others in the Methodist Revival of the 18th century must have felt when they were told that they were loved by God through Christ as much as those who lead the rich and privileged life.

There are many today who have heard the words of the United Methodist Church spoken at the General Conference held the past two weeks. They heard the words of hatred and ignorance, words that would seek to expel people from the arms of God because they are different. Growing up in the south, I have heard those words before; one cannot help but remember hearing people who say they are Christians speak of other human beings as lesser persons because of the color of their skin or the nature of their religion. Those who say they are Christian but act this way go to great lengths to twist the words of the Bible and science to justify their policies, policies which have and continue to lead to the death of thousands.

On day when the words from the pulpit will speak of a mother’s love for a child and a child’s love for their mother, it is perhaps discomforting to hear that we find it easier to hate. But John, writing to the people, noted that those who believe in Christ, who have experienced and live the love of God through Christ, will win.

In a world where violence and strife seem to be constant occurrence, where the words of hatred and prejudice seem so commonplace, how can love prevail?

The good news is that there are those who have rejected those words, those attitudes, and that culture. They are the ones who began a journey two thousand years ago, who traveled a path known as “The Way”. They shared their property, their gifts, and their story about Jesus Christ with all who they meet along the way. Persecuted at the beginning, they changed the world.

This journey continued when a group of friends gathered on the Oxford University campus in England to pray together, read the scripture and go forth to the mills, mines, and prisons in England. Called “Methodists” by those who ridiculed them, they wore the name as a badge of honor. And when John Wesley understood deep in his heart that he was loved by God, the movement that became the Methodist Revival swept across England and through the American colonies and changed the world.

I know two things today. I know of my mother’s love for me. I know of Christ’s love for me, even when I strayed from the path that He would lay before me. I know that were it not for the presence of 1st United Methodist Church in Kirksville and its pastor at the time, Marvin Fortel, and the presence of the Wesley Campus Foundation and its director, Dick Todd, my story would be a different one today and I might not be here at all.

You will also note that the changes brought by the early Christians, the followers of “The Way”, and the members of the Holy Club who would become the founders of Methodism were not the leaders of the church. They were the people of the church who understood through their own experience the love of God and the need to show and express that love to others, no matter who they might be. They sought to open the doors that others had shut.

As I was preparing this message I found these words, written in the aftermath of General Conference.

We are called to love people and reflect God’s presence in whatever culture surrounds us. Love often involves accepting people where they are, in what they believe, and in how they live because that is where God meets each of us and calls us. That means being with and among the people, bearing their suffering, hearing their cries, celebrating their successes, laughing and rejoicing with them, and weeping with them in their pain. I will not meet a single individual today who is not precious to God. From “Reflections on Following Jesus, Culture Wars, Loving People, and Radical Discipleship”

It is clear to me that one thing that came out of the General Conference proceedings was that the top-down model that was to be the salvation and saving model for the church will not work. But then again, anyone who has ever studied how excellence is created in an organization could have told you that; effective change in an organization begins at the local level. Effective change occurs when the local church looks at where they are and what they can do and should be doing. I followed Rebecca Clark’s blogs as she traveled from Vermont to Tampa to participate in General Conference. What she wrote was often not easy to read because she wrote of the strife and struggle she and others encountered during General Conference. But out of that came an opportunity to seek and effect change. In one her latest blogs, she quoted a colleague and friend on Facebook, Pastor Deb, as saying “vital congregations cannot be legislated, or mandated, or created by statistical reporting. The Spirit has begun to empower the people.” (From “Diary of a Delegate: in the end, Hope.”)

Becca Clark also indicated that there is the making of a conversation about the nature of the United Methodist Church and what the future of and for the denomination will be. And this is being done at the local, albeit a 21st century version of the local level, with a TwitterChat. I do not Twitter but if you do or are interested look for #dreamUMC. Further information can be found in Becca Clarks’s post, “Diary of a Delegate: in the end, Hope.”

I am also going to echo some of the thoughts that she posted in next post, “I’m still here.” There are some who would have individuals like Becca and I leave this church, this denomination. She could easily leave and she has options that would allow her to do so. But she is staying in the United Methodist Church because there are others who cannot leave. She concluded her blog by writing,

I’m giving my all for a church that practices the grace we say we believe in, and that orders itself with love and compassion around Wesley’s rule to do no harm and do all the good we can, and I hope we can someday live into his invitation: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

I do not have the options that she has. I have thought about it and I have to think about the love that has been shown to me; the love of the people at 1st UMC and the Wesley Foundation that supported me in a time of crisis; the love of pastors who pushed and prodded me to continue my journey of faith. And then there is the love of a mother that sought to lay a foundation for me so that I may begin a journey.

Love is defined in many ways but it is best defined by that one verse that we as children memorized, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that we could be saved.” If you have not done so, you are invited this day to know that you are loved by Christ; if you have accepted Christ this day, you are invited to open your heart and soul to the power of the Holy Spirit so that you can go out into the world and show the love of God to His Children.

On The Road Again


These are my thoughts for the 6th Sunday of Easter, 29 May 2011. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 17: 22 – 31, 1 Peter 3: 13 – 22, and John 14: 15 – 21. This is also Memorial Day weekend and I will try to have something on that sometime this weekend.

As the title states, I am traveling this weekend, though not to a preaching assignment. Rather, with this being the 4th weekend in May, I am going to the U. S. B. C. Open. The tournament this year is again in Reno and this will be my 34th consecutive tournament.

My tournament participation history has been in several stages. I bowled in my first tournament in St. Louis way back in 1979 as a substitute. I was supposed to have bowled in the 1978 tournament in Oklahoma City but circumstances forced me to drop out. In the parlance of auto racing, “I lost my ride.” I regained my spot for the 1980 tournament in Tampa Bay and got my own spot for the 1981 tournament in Memphis.

Those early tournaments were always near the beginning of the tournament but we had the option to move to a later date and that is how we came to bowl the fourth weekend in May now. I use we when I speak of bowling because this is first, and foremost, a team event. Since 1981 I have bowled with Sam Howell and since 1982 Ken Baker has been a part of the team. This will be Sam’s 32nd tournament and Ken’s 28th. This year, I have four teams and we have a combined average of 9 tournaments per bowler.

As seasons go, this was not a good season. I struggled for most of the season as my swing mechanics went to pieces. But, with the help of Barry Winter, I got things back together. I turned things around at the end of the season and hope that this carries over into this weekend.

Now, what does this all have to do with church and my normally blogs? Well, as I pointed out in “Bowling and the Church” there is a relationship between connection between bowling and the church. But the connection between bowling and the church, at least this year, is more related to something I said last week in “Did I Miss Something?”

If nothing else, our lives are a journey, a travel down roads most often known but sometimes unknown. There are times when something distracts or pulls us away from the road we are supposed to be on. And when that happens, we need to have some support. Sometimes it is just being with friends whom you see each year (this year I renewed a friendship with Steve Weimer that has been almost as long as my friendship with Ken and Sam). Sometimes it is getting with your coach to work on the problems in one’s game.

But there are times when we have to move beyond our friends and those who can help us with the physical life. Sometimes we have to go beyond the physical world. What do we do when our lives are out of kilter or things just don’t seem right? In a world where the emphasis has been on the physical world and the spiritual world has been pushed aside or completely forgotten, what do you do?

And we hear Paul’s words to the Athenians about a monument to an unknown god. It made sense for the Athenians to have this “unknown” god. They had a god for practically everything else that was important in their life so it made sense to have an auxiliary god to handle the little things or things that no one thought of that might occur.

That’s what we do. We have moved God over into the “if-needed” category, trusting in our resources or physical things to supply the answers when the questions get to tough. The problem is that when we get lost, we have lost our bearings it becomes very difficult to remember where we put God.

But Paul was quick to point out that God isn’t over in the country but out in the world, if we were but to look for Him. But to see God in this way requires a radical change, a radical re-visioning of one’s life. This is something that we are sometimes not willing to do; other times we are incapable of doing it. It is not that we cannot do it but that we are so tied to the world around us that we cannot see the world as it is supposed to be.

How do you radically change your life? Two thousand years ago, Jesus began a walk. Along the way, as He walked down the road that would ultimately lead to the Cross, He stopped and asked twelve individuals to stop what they are doing and go with Him. Fisherman, farmers, a tax collector, revolutionaries and even a scholar each said yes and began the walk. And as this journey progressed others not named began to follow. How is this not an example of a radical change, to give up all that you had and begin a walk with no idea of where it may end?

The disciples and perhaps many of the others who were part of the journey had to have second thoughts about this journey when they gathered together in the days following the Resurrection. And at that moment of doubt and indecision, when each person wondered where the road would lead them, Jesus offered an assurance that He would be there and that He was sending the Holy Spirit to empower them.

This road we walk is not an easy one. Peter makes it very clear in his letter that we are more than likely to encounter difficulties than we are to encounter success. But that doesn’t mean that we should give it up. If Jesus had given up before he finished the journey, where would that have left us?

I will be honest. The journey that I have been on these past few years hasn’t been an easy one. It has been extremely frustrating but it has also been just as a rewarding. It has been frustrating developing a ministry that has not always been easily accepted. For some, the journey will end because of a lack of support. Perhaps we should end the ministry that we have been developing. But if we do stop our ministry, then a group of individuals will go without breakfast and they will see the local church as just another institution that cares only for the ones who are inside and not for the ones on the street.

We have been fortunate in that we do get some support and there are indications that others will get involved. All we can do is continue to show people that Jesus Christ is found on the road of life and not just inside a church sitting over in a corner somewhere to be pulled out in the case of an emergency.

So we continue the journey, going out onto the road, finding Christ and being the image of Christ in the world. What we know is that we will find Christ in the world and others will see in us that Christ is not hiding. So let us return to the road again.

 

Other pieces where bowling is a part of the blog:

For What Price?


This is the message that I gave at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church (Putnam Valley, NY) for the 6th Sunday of Easter, 1 May 2005.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 17: 22 – 31, 1 Peter 3: 13 – 22, and John 14: 15 – 21.

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It is interesting that the first lesson for today is Paul’s speaking to the people of Athens about their “unknown god.” I find this interesting because the God that is so prominent in the various forms of media today is one that I do not know. The Jesus of the Gospels is nothing like the Jesus that appears on television and radio and in the printed media. The Jesus that I grew up learning about and accepting as my Savior understood that ambiguity and doubt should not be feared but are simply facts of life that a great teacher uses to guide his followers on their own paths toward conviction and belief.

But this is not the Jesus that so pervades the mass marketing that churches engage in today. The Jesus of the mass market is the dead Jesus, the one found in movies like Mel Gibson’s “Passion of Christ”. In that movie, the Sermon on the Mount is just a few seconds. More time is spent on his death than on his resurrection and his living amongst us today.

But it makes sense to present Jesus in this manner. If Jesus is dead and not a part of our life, then we do not have to deal with the questions that He asks. We do not have to appreciate or ponder his ideas. Why in the debate over posting the Ten Commandments in public places do we not include a discussion of the Beatitudes? The Beatitudes are a natural extension of the Ten Commandments but no fundamentalist or politician is willing to put those words, the core of the Sermon on the Mount, alongside the Ten Commandments. Why, you might ask?

Because, we can understand the meaning and the context of the Ten Commandments; we struggle with the meaning and context of the Beatitudes. The Ten Commandments are very authoritarian; the last seven all start with “Thou shall not.” The Beatitudes require that we think and ponder their meaning. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers; blessed are the poor in spirit.”?

What’s even worse is that Jesus did not leave us with the answers. He made us answer the questions when we look to Him to do that for us. Jesus presented religion in a new way; he challenged his followers to think for themselves. Why, when we hear modern day fundamentalists preaching, do we not hear them say what Jesus said? Why do we not hear them ask, as Jesus did when he taught, “what do you think?” (Adapted from “Jesus was no GOP Lobbyist” by Jack Hitt, The Los Angeles Times, 26 April 2005)

People are searching for an experience of the divine. It may be in reaching for the highest high, the biggest vehicle, the most extreme sport, the sordid confession on a reality show. Others search for the experience by looking to other religions and denominations.

This “experience” has even become a part of our worship experience. The importance of a “personal experience” often takes on religious overtones. Christians grope for God by cultivating mountaintop emotions, not unlike Peter’s decision to make an altar on the mountaintop when Christ was transfigured, in worship and prayer time. Preachers have reported that members of their congregation will remark that they feel they have worshipped that Sunday if the sermon made them laugh or cry. Shouldn’t it have made them think?

Others are like the Athenian philosophers that Paul was preaching to; they seek God as a concept. They are quite willing to learn about God as if He were lines in a textbook. They are like students who feel that answering the questions on a test will give them sufficient knowledge for understanding God. But this doesn’t make God a part of their lives and it does not yield action.

The problem today is that we cannot sense God as an emotion nor can we simply categorize God as something we have learned. Those who seek God as an emotion or an experience distrust those who find God through learning and those who seek God through learning distrust those who seek God through emotions. Yet, people of both types are apt to be sitting together in a sanctuary on a Sunday morning. So what are we to do?

First, we need to heed Paul’s call to repent, realizing that none of us has a corner on understanding God or living as Christ’s disciple. And since repentance involves concrete acts of turning away from the old and toward the new, we are to behave like a family, the family that God created through baptism. We are made in the image and likeness of God, not in the image of the other gods that so pervade our lives. We are obligated to listen to one another, and to discuss our differences across denominational lines, theological persuasions, and even across the center aisle of the sanctuary (where one side prefers Paul Tillich and the other the novels of Tim LeHaye). (Adapted from “Idol Behavior” by Jenny Williams in “Living by the word”, Christian Century, April 19, 2005)

Those who seek a church of absolutes do so because they fear the unknown. They want a god that is easily defined and easy to understand. They want a church where safety is measured in terms of the here and now, not in terms of tomorrow or later. But Peter writes that there is nothing to fear in the future, for the future has been secured. And in the Gospel reading for today, Jesus tells us that we will not be left behind, that our lives will not end if we believe in Him.

And those who seek a god through abstract learning find the concept too great to understand, unless something is done to make it a part of one’s life. Again, the call for repentance changes the nature of God from just words in a book to actions within one’s soul.

Whatever the basis for our searching, we are not always willing to pay the price that must be paid. We see Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and fear that we must make such sacrifices. But we are reminded that we do not have to pay the price the Christ paid so that we can come here today. Our searching for Christ should not be in terms of finding God. After all, God is not far from each one of us. It should be in terms of bringing people to God, not the God of some book or some emotion, but the God who cared enough that He sent His Son to die on the cross and be resurrected so that we could live free from sin and death.

Just as Christ redefined what God meant, not the arbitrator and developer of rules, but rather the source of hope and understanding, we have to understand what we are asked to do in a world where fear and doubt are so prevalent. Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran archbishop who was murdered for standing up and facing oppression and evil, wrote,

This is what we are about: We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are the workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. (From the May, 2005 issue of Context)

We need not worry about the price that we must pay for what price did Christ pay so that we might live? We need not worry about the price that we must pay if we know that Christ’s death and resurrection pay countless times. Be not worried nor afraid, Christ tells us. What price can we pay for the peace and salvation that comes from knowing Christ as our Savior?