“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.

“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.”

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?


The Family Business


This is the message that I presented at Neon (KY) United Methodist Church for the 6th Sunday of Easter, 9 May 1999.  This was also Mother’s Day.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 17: 22 – 31, 1 Peter 3: 13 – 22, and John 14: 15 – 21.

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Some years ago, I was at a family reunion where I presented the devotional on Saturday evening. At that time, I pointed out that Jesus was born at a family reunion.

In those days a decree was issued by the emperor Augustus for a census to be taken throughout the Roman world. This was the first registration of its kin; it took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone made his way to his own town to be registered. Joseph went up to Judea from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to register in the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was of the house of David by descent; and with him went Mary, his betrothed, who was expecting her child. While they were there the time came for her to have her baby, and she gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn. (Luke 2: 1 – 7)

I think the most interesting part of Jesus’ ministry was its family orientation. The first four times we hear of Jesus – his birth, his baptism, the family’s flight to Egypt, and the trip to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve, He was with His family.

It is interesting to note how Mary and Joseph acted as they returned home from that trip to Jerusalem.

When the festive season was over and they set off for home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know of this; but supposing that he was with the party they travelled for a whole day, and only then did they begin looking for him among their friends and relations. (Luke 2: 43 – 44)

They did not worry about their son because they thought that he was among their friends or family.

True, there were times when it appeared that Jesus had forgotten his own family,

“His mother and his brothers arrived but could not get to him for the crowd. He was told, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, and want to see you.’

He replied, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act upon it.” (Luke 8: 18 – 21)

Some might say that Jesus was cruel to ignore His family in such a way; it was obvious that Jesus saw the entire world as potential members of His family. But though Jesus might have had difficulty with his own family, He still kept them in his mind. Even on the cross, at the point of near death, His own thoughts turned to His mother.

Seeing his mother, with the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, Jesus said to her, “Mother, there is your son”, and to the disciple, “There is your mother”; and from that moment the disciple took her into his home. (John 19: 26 – 27)

And while today is Mother’s Day and it is a celebration of our mothers, both present and past, it is also a celebration of our families. As I noted in the bulletin, today is an outgrowth of efforts by a Methodist some 90 years ago to honor her mother. So, if you will bear with me, I thought that I would take a few moments and talk about my mother and my father’s mother.

My mother, Virginia Hunt Mitchell, was born in Lexington, N. C. “several years ago.” It comes as a surprise to many people when they find out that not only is my mother a grandmother but a great-grandmother as well. That’s because she doesn’t look her age nor does she let her age dictate what she is going to do. That, by the way, was also a characteristic of my father’s mother, my paternal grandmother.

For all the things that I could say about my mother, I think the greatest thing she ever did for me was to lay the foundation for my spiritual growth. She saw to it that I was baptized on 24 December 1950 at the Evangelical and Reformed Church in Lexington. And, as I mentioned last week, she took us to Sunday School every week. Even now, something isn’t right if I am not in church somewhere on a Sunday morning.

My grandmother, Elsa Schuessler Mitchell, was just as interesting a person. When I was going to school in Kirksville, MO, it was easier for me to visit her in St. Louis than to go home to Memphis. And when I would visit her, my parents would always tell me to help my grandmother with the housework and the yard work, especially during the hot humid Missouri summers. Yet, try as I might, I never could do so because she would get up early in the day and spend an hour or so working on the yard before the day got too hot or humid.

And though my grandmother died in 1985, her memory lives on. The flowers and shrubs that she so tenderly cared for were transplanted to my mother’s yard in Memphis and continue to grow to this day.

My grandfather served in the army from 1916 through 1943, often separated from his wife and two sons. The burden of raising my father and uncle thus fell to my grandmother. In all the memories of my grandmother, I remember her attending one church, a few blocks from her home in St. Louis. Though the church changed denominational affiliation at least twice, the core of the church were descendants of the German Lutherans who helped settled St. Louis and the surrounding area. The church was a central part of my grandmother’s life. And when my father died in 1993, I found out something about my grandmother and the church that was just as lasting a memory as the flowers, the shrubs, and the trees that were her avocation in life.

As the pastor who knew my father from the Boy Scouts was recounting that night just before my father died, he asked my father if he knew Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. My father acknowledged that yes, he did know Christ in his heart. And then they prayed. When they were done, the pastor, a Southern Baptist, said that my father gave the sign of the Cross. The way the pastor said it, you knew that he did not understand my father’s actions. But I knew that my father had been raised as a Lutheran and all I could think was how proud my grandmother, his mother, would be to know that my father was coming home.

Neither my mother nor my grandmother was “easy” and I have many memories, unpleasant they are, of what happened when I crossed them. But I know that both my grandmother loved me as her oldest grandchild and that my mother still loves me as her oldest son.

When I read the scriptures for today, I was struck by the caring and love that our Heavenly Father has for us. It is that same love that mothers have for their children. It is the same love that would have a daughter seek to honor her mother and all mothers. That we should honor our mother and celebrate our families today should not be surprising.

That the Heavenly Father loves us should not be a surprise. After all, as Paul spoke to the people of Athens, ”We are his offspring.”

As the children of God, we know that there is a place for us in heaven. Jesus pointed out to his disciples that he would not leave them as orphans. And just as we love our parents, as shown by the significance of today, so too do we love our Father in Heaven.

But how do we show that love? As Jesus also told his followers, our love for Jesus comes from following his commandments. But that is not always the easiest thing to do. In fact, it could very well be the hardest thing we can do. But what do we have to fear?

Peter wrote,

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who ask you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

If we follow Jesus commandments, then what to we have to fear?

Over the past few weeks, we have seen the need for God’s love in this world. The tragedy in Colorado, the repeated scenes in Canada, and the cruel jokes that have even played on the students in Letcher County all show the need to bring God’s love back to the world. I think that people stopped showing God’s love because they were afraid of what others might say. And yes, in some areas, people have suffered for simply believing in God and His salvation.

But that should and cannot stop us. The challenge that we have before us today, this day when we celebrate our mothers and our families is to show the world that we are all part of God’s family. Remember, what Jesus told his mother that day some 2000 years ago when they found him in the Temple with the elders, “but didn’t you know that I had to go about my father’s business?”

The work of the church in the community today is the family business. From the beginning of Jesus ministry to its end, the focus was always on the family. Yes, it would seem that there were times when he forgot his family but Jesus knew that His family, with God as the Father, were all those who believed in him and followed him. It is a most difficult task to take care of our own family today, let alone the whole world. Every time Jesus told a parable about the lost sheep and the efforts of the shepherd to find that single lost sheep, He was telling us of the Love that the Father has for his children.

The God-who-is has always been searching for me. By his choice, his relationship with me is 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 of the Invisible. If we want to penetrate this 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. (From The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto.)

The work of the church today is the family business, not only in that Jesus Christ was God’s son and we are his children as well but also we must offer a place where the family can regain its place.

I have spoken the last two weeks of the vision that is held for this church in this community. John Wesley first expressed the vision of the church and its need to minister to the community in this interchange with Joseph Butler, Bishop of Bristol:

Butler – “You have no business here. You are not commissioned to preach in this diocese. Therefore I advise you to go hence.”

Wesley – “My lord, my business on earth is do what good I can. Wherever therefore I think I can do most good, there must I stay so long as I think so. At present I think I can do most good here. Therefore here I stay.” (Frank Baker, “John Wesley and Bishop Butler: A Fragment of John Wesley’s Manuscript Journal)

And when the church becomes a part of the community, its impact is wide. Bishop Earl Hunt, who served as President of the United Methodist Council of Bishops spoke of the impact of the church in a community.

“. . . whenever the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is turned loose in a community to help human beings and meet their needs and lift up the name of Jesus Christ, that church becomes indispensable in the community.”  (pages 173 – 174, New Life For Dying Churches!, Rose Sims)

There is a vision for the rebirth and growth of the United Methodist Church in the state of Kentucky. That vision extends to Neon and the Neon United Methodist Church. As we come closer to Pentecost and the day the followers received the Holy Spirit, I want us to think about how we can help that vision. Just as Wesley told Butler that here was where he needed to be, so to must we understand that here is where the church needs to be. And just as Jesus told his mother some 2000 years ago, so to must we say that we have to go about our Father’s business.

Is God Unknown Today?


Here are my thoughts for the 6th Sunday of Easter.

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I cannot help but wonder how Paul would react in today’s world, especially in light of the first lesson for today (Acts 17: 22 – 31). Or rather, how would today’s society react?

For back then, as Paul spoke in Athens, he spoke of an idol dedicated to an unknown god. In a world where there was a god for just about everything, we have a utilitarian sort of god, one that covered everything that wasn’t already covered. Today, the problem isn’t that we need such a god but rather we don’t have this god. In fact, the God whom I personally call Father and who sent His Son so that I may have eternal life is virtually unknown today.

The atheists and secular humanists of the left would have us believe there is no god at all but they offer no option other than a religion of rational thought and logic. Instead of promoting their new “religion”, they simply attack other religions, often (I think) in anger because they asked for something and they didn’t get it.

By the same token, fundamentalists and other religious conservatives offer a god that bears little resemblance to the Father that Jesus Christ told us about. The god of the fundamentalists is an angry god, quick to seek retribution and vengeance, militaristic in nature and blind to the problems of the world. Their god is an authoritarian god, one that does not allow questions and forbids the seeking of the truth. They seek a world in which knowledge is limited and no one outside a select circle is allowed to know the truth.

And it would seem that the only god that the atheists and secular humanists see is this god. We live in a world where the one true God is unknown.

Fortunately, as Paul himself stated to the Athenians some two thousand years ago, God tends to overlook the ignorance of human beings. In that same speech, Paul makes it very clear that it was God who created the heaven and the earth but Paul does not offer a timeline. He does say that mankind would search for Him. To me, this is an affirmation of both the Genesis story and the nature of evolution. We are created by God and we are to seek God. We cannot do that in a realm limited to faith or logic alone. We must do it in a world of faith and logic.

There are those of us who believe in this God because we understand in our hearts the sacrifice His Son made on the Cross for us. We are a minority of believers however. We are the ones to whom Peter wrote his letter (1 Peter 3: 13 – 22), encouraging us to speak out and led the kind of life that Jesus taught us to live and those in the first Christian communities sought to live.

Ours is not a God of war and violence but one of peace. Ours is a God that cares for His children, seeking to include every one of them even when they do not know they are included. We understand the promise Christ made that we would not be alone; we understand that it is not easy, especially when those on the far right and the far left have louder voices and offer easier solutions.

It is easy to blame others for the ills of society; it means that you do not have to do anything to fix the problems that create the ills. It is easy to say there is no god but then you have to develop one to explain the things that logic and reason cannot explain.

God is not unknown; it is just that too many people are not looking for Him. They look around and they see death and destruction, they see sickness and disease, they see poverty and homelessness and they wonder why. And then they look around and they see people who, in the name of Christ and God, seek to exclude people, not include them. They see people who in the name of God and Christ seek destruction and violence instead of creation and peace. They see people who in the name of Christ and God seek to limit the knowledge of this world, not increase knowledge of this world. And they see those who argue against such people but offer nothing in return.

This is a time when we who are Christians must live up to our name. This is a time when those known as Christians must be the ones who seek peace, who seek to heal, who seek to bring freedom to the oppressed and who live according to the ways we were taught. It will not be easy to live this way; it will not be easy to get people to listen to you in a world that demands quick fixes and physical proof.

The fix will not be quick but the proof will be physical. For we have been offered the Holy Spirit (John 14: 15 – 21) and we have been give a new life. In us people will see the proof and they will wonder why. And then they will know that God is not unknown but among us today.