A Name


Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for July 28, 2019, the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). On August 18th, we will be having a hymn sing so feel free to add a comment with your favorite hymn or two. I would also appreciate your thoughts on what the hymn means to you.

This is about  our collective name.  To say that one is a Christian means that one is a follower of Christ.  It has been that way for just over 2000 years now.  But what does it mean when we say we are a Methodist?

Now, if you have been attending the new member class, you know the answer to that question.  But just in case you haven’t been attending or if you forgot, we are Methodists because John Wesley, along with his brother Charles and a few of their college friends, to strengthen their faith developed a program of regular prayer and service.  This regular program, or method, was derided by their contemporaries.  But to John Wesley’s credit, he took this pejorative and made it a positive.

Instead of just being a personal plan, Methodism became the plan for taking the Gospel from inside the church to the people in the fields and factories.  Methodism changed the course of society. 

But just as Wesley proudly accepted the label, he also worried that those people called Methodists would become complacent, creating a situation very similar that lead to the rise of Methodism.

The world around us today calls for Methodists, individually and collectively, to again step forward, to make a public statement of faith and to speak out and work against injustice in all its forms.  We may be called names, just as those who came before us were, but we know that, with our faith in Christ and the method of our faith, we can change the world.  That is what our name means.                                                                 ~Tony Mitchell

How Does One Find Freedom?


A Meditation for 3 July 2016, the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The meditation is based on 2 Kings 5: 1 – 14; Galatians 6: 1 – 6 (7 -16); and Luke 10: 1 – 11, 16 – 20.

It has been said that one finds the cost of freedom buried in the ground (courtesy of Crosby, Stills, and Nash).

And for part of my life, I was reminded that the freedom in which we all lived was maintained by the B-52 bombers that were parked on the ready ramp with their bomb bay doors open. As long as those bombers were there, we were at peace; if those bombers took off, it was the beginning of the final war on this planet. The purpose of those bombers was to attack targets in the Soviet Union and I suspect that those flight crews knew that once they took off they were not coming back.

But how do we find freedom? What steps must we take that will insure that we can and continue to live in freedom.

I was privy to a conversation given to Air Force families living in western Missouri during the height of the Cold War that basically stated that western Missouri (where Titan II missile sites, prime targets for Soviet missiles, were located) would be a dead and devastated wasteland within a week if there was an exchange of nuclear missiles between the US and the Soviet Union.

The doctrine that allowed freedom to be maintained during the Cold War was called the theory of mutually assured destruction or, in one of the most appropriate acronyms ever created, MAD. But at what cost was such freedom paid for?

What happens when the majority of money is spent on weapons of war and the maintenance of power? What happens to meeting the needs of individuals, both at home and abroad? Perhaps the solution to finding freedom comes when one looks at the problem differently.

Naaman was one of the most powerful men in Biblical times and he expected that his military power would be sufficient to find a cure for his leprosy. But the threat of military power and the promise of wealth were not sufficient to heal Naaman.

The message in the healing of Naaman is found in the words of his servants who pointed out that he would have willingly done something hard and heroic when all he had to do was simply bathing in the river Jordan.

Like everything else, large amounts of wealth and large amounts of power (political or military) tend to make it hard to find that it is rather easy to find freedom. What is needed is an open mind and a willingness to see other options.

And the only way that you will ever see options is if you have an open mind.

Consider what Jesus told those he sent out on that first mission. Go ahead and make the announcement about why you have come to town but don’t make a big deal about it. Give the people an option.

I am sure that there were those among the seventy who would have wanted to seek some sort of response to the refusal of some to ignore their mission.

But Jesus told them to brush the dust of the town off and continue on their mission, leaving it to history to decide the fate of those with closed minds. He did not tell them to loudly proclaim how they were all sinners and doomed to a life in Sheol, just move on. He did not tell them to call on the heavenly powers to destroy the town (as some of the disciples often wanted to do), just move on. The mission will succeed because there will be people who will listen.

Those who chose not to listen lost, for the moment, the chance at freedom that was being offered. But that is and will always be the case; when your mind is closed, your options for freedom are limited.

I think that is also what Paul wrote to the Galatians. There were those who wanted to force people to follow them because it seems far easier than actually doing the work that we have been asked to do. I find it interesting that Paul points out (at least in The Message translation) that those who would force belief don’t do as they demand others do. And while that perhaps was directed at others, there are those who proclaim Christianity loudly today who do not follow Christ today.

If we are to find freedom today, we have to understand that it will not come through military action first. There may be a need for military action but it will always have to be the last option, not the first.

If we are find freedom today, it will not be through what others tell us to do or think, for they are only interested in maintaining the status quo and their own status. They have their own agendas which don’t mean freedom for others.

To find freedom, we must seek it and we must work for it. Our freedom will come when we open our minds, first to the power of the Holy Spirit, and then to the empowerment that follows. And we will keep our freedom when we help others to find theirs.

“It’s A Creative Thing”


These are my thoughts for the Sunday Evening “Vespers in the Garden” worship on 7 July 2013 at Grace UMC (Newburgh, NY).

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

I am using the Scripture readings for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (C), 7 July 2013 – 2 Kings 5 – 14; Galatians 6: (1 – 6) 7 – 16; Luke 10: 1 – 11, 16 – 20.

I will be at the combined services of the Cold Spring UMC/South Highlands UMC next Sunday (“Who Will Be The One?”) and at Modena Memorial UMC on July 21st(“I Am Not A Practicing Christian!”).  I will have links to the messages and church information later in the week.

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When I first read the Scriptures for this weekend, my first thoughts were on verse 1 of the New Testament reading from Galatians as it was translated in The Message, “Live creatively, friends.” Paul would later write, in verses 4 and 5, “ Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”

Doing the creative best that you can is one of the most challenging things we have facing us today. First, because we are not wiling to be creative; perhaps because we are somewhat afraid to venture into new areas of thought and activity.

But being creative does not necessarily mean that one has to be on the level of, say, an Albert Einstein or a Johann Sebastian Bach. It will require that you think about things in a different way.

This day, July 7th, has a special meaning for me in that it is the birth date of my oldest daughter Melanie. I am, of course, naturally proud of all that she has done but that was because I could see, even many years ago, how she would be successful in the endeavors she choose to undertake. When she was perhaps ten years old, we had a small father/daughter discussion that based on the fact that I was her father and she was my daughter and my decision perhaps carried more weight that her thoughts on the matter. At the end of the discussion, I said to her that she, who at the age was very tall, could tell me “no” when she could look me directly in the eye.

So, after perhaps a brief pause, she jumped on the bed so that she was now at more of an eye level and told me “no”. What could I do but acknowledge her refusal. (I do not know what her mother thought of this.)

To be creative is more of seeing beyond the moment; sometimes it can mean taking an ordinary task and doing it in a slightly different manner. Holding a worship service on a Friday or Sunday evening in the gardens of Grace Church would, I hope, be one such creative thought. Having a breakfast on Saturday mornings and serving the people with silverware and plates rather than plastic and paper would be perhaps another.

Yes, being creative can be a challenge! It means that you cannot accept the traditional path but sometimes follow a different idea. As Pastor Christy Thomas pointed out in a recent post, “Further Thoughts on the Texas Abortion Decision: Reframing the Question”, you can spend all of your time looking at a problem in traditional ways, i.e., “the bottom line”; or you can reframe the question in terms of what you are really trying to accomplish.  I also saw two other posts on the Methoblog that speak to thinking in different terms that speak to creative solutions.  Unfortunately, I forgot to write them down so I could put in the links.

Naaman, an important general in what we would called the Syrian army today, contracted leprosy. Of all the diseases, illnesses, and maladies that befell the people of the Bible, leprosy was perhaps the most feared because of the way it disfigured the body. Its victims were forced into exile, driven apart from contact with society. Its toil was more than just the physical aspects; in exile, one lost everything, power, prestige, position. So we can have some idea of what is going through Naaman’s mind when he knows what he has contracted. But what is his response?

His response is one of position, power, and prestige as if those items can somehow provide the cure. And response given by the king of Israel is also stated in terms of power, prestige, and position. He says that he doesn’t have the capability of providing what Naaman wants because he doesn’t have that same power, prestige, and position.

But Elisha suggests an alternative, one of course that Naaman doesn’t immediately accept for he, Naaman, still thinks in the traditional way that my power, prestige, and position will provide the cure.

Elisha offered a creative solution that required Naaman to see things differently. As one of Naaman’s servants pointed out, said, “Father, if the prophet had asked you to do something hard and heroic, wouldn’t you have done it? So why not this simple ‘wash and be clean’?”

I have always gotten a sense of rejoicing when I read about the return of the seventy from that very first mission trip that was the Gospel reading for today. It was not written but you have to get the sense that when they left they didn’t think that they could take on the task that Jesus was giving them.

But as Jesus pointed out, it really wasn’t the seventy who had achieved the great things that happened but rather God working through them. That they opened their hearts and minds to the power of the Holy Spirit enabled the work to be accomplished.

This is what Paul speaks of when he, I believe, speaks of the creative power of the Holy Spirit. If you are doing it for yourself or in the same old way, then failure is the only option. If you are doing it for others, then success will come.

Whether we are speaking of what we must do individually or collectively, we have to see that the same old ways, tried and true though they may be, no longer work. We see people looking for something, something more than can be found in the old pathways. We see people whose only thought is for themselves as if that will provide the answers.

And we hear others who say that Jesus is the answer, provided of course, that you do it their way. But when you do it their way, you are walking with them and not God. And it was only by walking with God that the seventy were able to be successful.

The creative thing only happens when you share what you have found with others and it starts with Christ. So we invite you all today to open your hearts and your minds to Christ, to let Him in so that the direction of your life, your walk changes. And in letting Christ into your life, you allow the Holy Spirit to empower you and embrace you and give you the ability to be creative.

Drawing a Straight Line


I am at the Cornwall United Methodist Church (Cornwall, NY – location).  The Scriptures for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (10 July 2010) are Amos 7: 7 – 17, Colossians 1: 1 – 14, Luke 10: 25 – 37.  The service starts at 9:30 and you are invited to worship with us.

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I do not know about you but I have only encountered the Verrazano Narrows Bridge twice. Each time, though, was in a peripheral way while I was teaching in Brooklyn.

The first time a student called to tell me that she would be late for lecture because of an accident on the bridge. She wasn’t sure if she could make the lecture but was certain that she would get across and make it to the lab. The second time occurred when I was somewhere in Brooklyn close to the Atlantic Ocean, when I actually saw the bridge.

Now, because of where I was, my unfamiliarity with New York City at that time and because it didn’t look like any of the bridges I saw on my daily commute, I wasn’t really certain which bridge I was looking at. But, as I looked at this amazingly long bridge and a brief examination of the map that I was using, I realized what I was seeing. That one could delineate features from so far away spoke of the true size of the bridge and made it a very awesome sight.

I was reminded of that because of a show on cable television the other day that talked about the building of the bridge. If you measure the distance between the towers, you will find that the tops of the towers are 5-1/8” further apart then the bases. That is because the bridge is so long that the curvature of the earth comes into play.

The towers themselves are perfectly straight and to our eyes, they appear to be parallel. But if you could hold a plumb line next to each of the towers, you would see that they are not parallel. The towers are in line with lines perpendicular to the surface of the earth that go through the center of the earth and, if you could see those lines, you would see that they are not parallel.

Now, the architects who designed the Verrazano Narrows Bridge understood that the curvature of the earth would have an impact on the bridge because of its length and they took that into consideration in its design. But it is a difference that we cannot immediately see and it has no essential impact on our daily lives.

But I do think that it does illustrate the opening verses of today’s Old Testament reading. It is the only time that the Hebrew word that translates as “plumb line” is used. In the opening of the passage, Israel is being compared to a wall that was built true to the plumb line, to the standards set by God. But the people of Israel no longer held to those standards and were now “out of plumb.” Because of their focus on earthly matters, they could not see that they have strayed from that line.

It seems to me that our country and our society have done that as well. Our treatment of the environment and the world on which we live, both in terms of the resources we have in place and our thought for the future speak of a people who have heard the word of God to be good stewards of the planet but who believe that we can do anything we please and that we do not need to fear the consequences. Our lack of concern for the future of the planet extends to how we treat people, both in this country and around the globe. We see war as the answer to conflict; we ignore poverty and sickness; we see greed as viable and acceptable. Each day we receive more news that says that we are further and further away from the line set by God.

Now, there are those who will hear these words or read these words on my blog and dismiss them as meaningless because they do not have God in their lives. They have abandoned God because they see no evidence that God exists; they wonder how a God could allow the evil and lack of caring that exists in the world today. They see no evidence to suggest that there is a God. But to borrow a quote from Carl Sagan, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. To find the presence of God, especially in a world that has perhaps rejected Him, is a daunting task but not an impossible task.

Now, there are those in this world who claim that we need to be forcibly returned to the goals and standards that God as set. They see the only solution as the creation of a government based on “God’s laws”. But such a government, besides being a mirror image of the government of Israel in Amos’ time, would be one where it is their interpretation of the law.

It would be a very legalistic and unbending world, with very little room for thought and creativity. It would be a world in which “that’s the way things are and one cannot question such things.” It would be a world where the godly person does not bother with the person on the street because such interactions would defile them. It would be a world in which the church is inside the walls of a building and access is limited to those who meet their approval. Those outside the walls of the church are cast off and forgotten. This world would be a world of the Old Testament, not a world of the New Testament.

There are those who acknowledge the existence of God but it is an accommodating acknowledge. Sunday is the day for God and it is best if God were kept on Sunday because there is no room for him during the rest of the week. For these individuals, Christianity is a part-time thing and a hobby, something to do in one’s spare time.

They remember the way church was when they were growing up and that’s the church they want today. We want the Bible to be “long ago and far away”, not “here and now.” They don’t mind being told about the Cross but they want a shiny and golden cross, not a wooden one soaked in blood.

All of this has allowed us to create a world in which we feel “one size fits all”. It is a world entirely devoid of creativity. It is a world where people speak of seeking their own individuality yet everyone appears the same. It is a world where we want people to draw only straight lines and not color outside those lines.

In preparing for today’s sermon, I first focused on the last part of the reading in which Amos points out to Amaziah that he never intended to be a prophet or a preacher and that he wasn’t trained to be one either. In that society, sons followed their fathers in their careers and Amos’ father was a shepherd so Amos was a shepherd. Now I am an engineer’s son but it became quickly evident that I would not become an engineer. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I cannot draw a straight line with a ruler. But it also was related to the fact that I was given an opportunity to take a different path; one that would allow me to become first a chemist and then a chemical educator.

Now, I supposed that, if I had walked along this typical straight and narrow path, this straight line that I was able, with some difficulty, to draw, I would never be standing here today.

But something about seeking information about the world around me, the task of a scientist, also allowed me to begin hearing God calling me to do something with my talents on Sunday morning. It is interesting in this society that there are those who feel that I can be a chemist or I can be a lay speaker but I cannot be both. It is an attitude that pervades our world today, that says that you can only do certain things and that because of who you are, where you live or how old you might be, certain things are off-limits to you.

But that is the message of society, not the message of Christ. Christ came to this world to show us what was possible, not what was limited. It is a world where drawing outside the lines was allowed, where creativity is an expression of God in you.

We live in a world where to discuss salvation is to focus on a single point or moment of decision in one’s life that determines one’s eternal fate. But the biblical notion of salvation has more do with what happens here on earth and is only secondarily concerned with otherworldly matters. Salvation should be more a question of “am I walking the right path” than “am I doing what others think is the appropriate thing” or “will I escape the fires of Sheol?”

To early Christians, being “saved” meant that you had converted from living for yourself to living for God. This put you on a new path or way of life. We need to recall that the early Christian movement was called “The Way”. It was on this path that you found your true identity and purpose, one that had been a part of you from the beginning but never really grew or blossomed until God

Somewhere in all of this, we have strayed from the line, the path that leads us to God. We offer reasons for not getting involved. What was the priest thinking when he walked by the injured man? What was the Levite thinking when he walked by? What was the Samaritan thinking?

Some years ago, I was introduced to a different version of the New Testament called The Cotton Patch Gospels. It was written by Clarence Jordan, a Southern Baptist preacher and scholar. Because he was a Greek scholar, he would often write his own translation of the scripture that he wanted to use. Ultimately, this lead to a version of the New Testament planted in the cotton fields of the south. As he wrote in his introduction to The Cotton Patch Version of Paul’s Epistles,

We ask our brethren of long ago to cross the time-space barrier and talk to us not only in modern English but about modern problems, feelings, frustrations, hopes and assurances; to work beside us in our cotton patch or on our assembly line, so that the word becomes modern flesh. Then perhaps, we too will be able to joyfully tell of "that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes and have felt with our hands, about the word of life"   (I John 1:1) (from http://www.rockhay.org/cottonpatch/intro-pauline.htm#01)

In his version of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest became a white preacher, the Levite became a white Gospel Song leader, and the Samaritan became a black man. In the footnotes, Jordan wrote the probable thoughts of each man.

The preacher’s homiletical mind probably made the following outline:

  1. I do not know the man.
  2. I do not wish to get involved in any court proceedings.
  3. I don’t want to get blood on my new upholstering.
  4. The man’s lack of proper clothing would embarrass me upon my arrival in town.
  5. And finally, brethren, a minister must never be late for worship services.

As for the Gospel song leader, Jordan noted that we would probably never know what his thoughts were but that he probably whistled “Brighten the corner, where you are” as we whizzed past. But the black man who stopped surely was thinking something like "Somebody’s robbed you; yeah, I know about that, I been robbed, too. And they done beat you up bad; I know, I been beat up, too. And everybody just go right on by and leave you laying here hurting. Yeah, I know. They pass me by, too."

Now, it does not matter whether you hear the Parable of the Good Samaritan in words that come out of the Deep South or words that came out of Israel or 17th century England, the message is still the same. There are those who walk a straight line but it is a line that they have defined themselves while there are those who walk a straight line that leads them to God. Others will look at that path and wonder where that person is headed because it doesn’t look straight. But, the journey to God, to salvation, is a journey of discovery, of finding who you are and what you are meant to do. No matter where we have been or where we are now, no matter what others see, the line that has been drawn for us is a straight line to God through Jesus Christ.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul speaks of how as one learns more and more about how God works it becomes possible to see what it is that one is supposed to do. We are reminded that we have been created in God’s image so we cannot, neither should we trust someone else’s conception of what we should be doing to know if that is the right thing to do. God will never call you to do something that you cannot do nor what will bring you alive.

Individually we are called to find that path that leads to God. But we are also called as a group to develop ways that will enable others to find that path. This is the most daunting task that I can imagine because it requires that we consider who we are and where we are.

We are not called to draw the line that will lead to God; it has been drawn for us. And if we look, we will see that it is a line pointed to a cross on a hill far away. But it is a line that goes beyond the cross and it is a line that says our journey continues far beyond that hill. No, we are not called to draw the line. We are called to find that line that has been drawn for us and to help others find their own line. We have been called and we must answer. How shall you do that?

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I utilized information from The Phoenix Affirmation in preparing my thoughts about salvation, and the path that we walk.

A New Way of Looking At Things


This is the message that I presented at Tompkins Corners UMC for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, 22 July 2001.  The Scriptures are Amos 8: 1 – 12, Colossians 1: 15 – 28, and Luke 10: 38 – 42.

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In his book, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", Thomas Kuhn coined a phrase that has developed a life of its own. The phrase in question is "paradigm shift" and is bandied about by commentators whenever there is a perceptual shift in public behavior. In actuality, a paradigm shift is used to explain a change in one’s thinking when one looks at a problem from a conceptually different viewpoint.

To Kuhn, the development of new theories could only occur when old theories could not explain new data. The shift from an earth-centered view of the solar system to a sun-centered view was such an example of a paradigm shift. It was possible to explain the observed motion of the stars and the planets in terms of the earth being the center of the solar system but, with each additional piece of information, such an explanation became more and more complicated. By making the sun the center of the solar system, the explanations became easier to accomplish. This change in the view of the solar system radically changed how other things were viewed, and thus could be considered a paradigm shift.

Now, it is possible to read today’s Gospel story about Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary in the old ways. But I think that, especially in the context of the Old Testament and Epistle readings for today, there is a new way of understanding what is happening in that house in Bethany.

The traditional view is that we should not put other things before our relationship with God. Martha is upset with her sister because Mary is not helping her clean up after the meal. Jesus calms Martha and points out that there are far greater things in the world, specifically one’s relationship with God, that are more important than doing the dishes.

But I think that there is a subtler message in what transpired in that house. Understand that in those days, women and children were on the peripheral edge of society. They weren’t counted in the census of the day and were often excluded from normal day-to-day activities. Keep in mind that when we speak of the multitudes fed by Jesus, the numbers that were given, 5,000 in Matthew 14 (Matthew 14: 17 – 21) and 4,000 in Matthew 15 (Matthew 15: 32 – 38), reported only the men who were there. In both cases, Matthew wrote "besides the women and children." We also know that on those occasions when children were present, the disciples were apt to push them away, only to be told by Jesus to, "let the children come to me." (Matthew 19: 13 – 14)

So, for Mary to be sitting in the room listening to Jesus teach is an indication that there is a change taking place. By societal conventions of that time, Mary should have been in the kitchen with Martha cleaning up, not listening to Jesus teaching.

But Jesus’ ministry was meant to change the ways of society, and that also meant the way individuals treated each other. There is nothing wrong with what Martha was doing but it was wrong to expect others to behave in the same manner. And this carries over into today’s society. We often expect others to behave in a manner similar to how we would behave. Or we hold to a hierarchy that may no longer be appropriate. What Jesus wants us to do is change our view of others and see them in the same light as God sees us, not in terms of how we might see them.

God’s presence changes the way things are seen. The presence of God in one’s life changes the way one is seen by people. But the reverse is also true. Taking God’s presence away also changes things.

Amos tells the Israelites that because they have angered God, he is pulling his support from them. Instead of a famine in terms of food, there will be a famine of faith. God’s words and works will no longer be present in their daily lives; the blessing bestowed on Israel will be removed. And while the Israelites may be celebrating the harvest and plenty, the season will actually be one of death, pestilence and destruction. Amos’ prophecy speaks of the promise of the final harvest of the year but in terms of it being the last harvest ever. What the people see is not what is reality.

The church today is much like the church back then, especially in terms of Paul’s words. Before Jesus, the view of the world was only in terms of the world itself. And a worldly view is one that is limited and bounded; it offers no hope and no possibility. But a view of the world through Christ changes what one sees and what is capable of doing.

In this world, we see conflict resolution in terms of greater force. If we have the greater force, then we will be able to resolve any problem. Our defense policies for many years were based on the realization that we had the power ten times over to destroy the world and that the Soviet Union also had the same power. This balance of power kept us from ever, hopefully, thinking of using this power.

We live in a different world these days. The Soviet Union no longer exists but that has not taken away the threat of violence and evil. It is just that such threats come from other sources, even as we still hold to traditional thoughts of evil being incarnate in the policies of other governments. Evil and violence are the products of mankind, not political systems; and the solution to evil and violence will never be found in similar approaches.

We also still seem used to this power mode of governance in our daily lives. We are reluctant to engage in politics because we are convinced that the rich and powerful control the process. We would much rather try to gain the power that others have and keep it for ourselves than seek ways to share power and make sure that all benefit.

If there is to be a radical shift in societal thinking, it has to come from the lowest levels. It cannot come from the top down. Interestingly enough, many of the great innovations in today’s business world have come, not from the top of the organization but from individuals working at the bottom who have been given the freedom to develop ideas.

I received a newsletter from another church organization the other day. In it were two statements that particularly appealed to me. But in looking at the newsletter a second time, I found a third statement of an equal value. If we are to see things in a different way, it sometimes help to step back and take another look.

There is a thought these days that peacemaking is something that happens "over there" or in some other country. But the issues that create dissension between peoples, which lead to violence and repression, are issues that are also found at home. While we may think of the problems in terms of a global vision, we must practice them in a local setting. Beverly Wildung Harrison is quoted as saying, "Like Jesus, we are called to a radical activity of love, to a way of being in the world that deepens relation, embodies and extends community, passes on the gift of life. Like Jesus, we must live out this calling in a place and time where distortions of loveless power stand in conflict with the power of love." The pastor who used this quote noted that the local expression of who we are is the congregation. So, if we are to be peacemakers in the world, we must be peacemakers in our own congregation. (From the On Earth Peace summer newsletter, page 1)

A second pastor noted that if we are committed to the cause of peace in this world, it must be because the Spirit and compassion of Jesus compel us. It would be very difficult to have that commitment simply because we happen to attend church and are nominal in our commitment to Christ. This same author noted that she was the pastor of a small church in Maryland and, as such, had to work hard to discern the various differences between the members of congregation. Such work is necessary so as not to be blown away by the conflicting opinions, personalities and factions.

But she also noted that this congregation has to work hard at bridge building and maintaining relationships so that the focus on peace that is brought back from conferences is not lost on the congregation. (Note from Paula Browser in the On Earth Peace summer 2004 newsletter)  Now, the focus of this church is on peacemaking in the world but it is a point well taken. If we are not in accord with what Jesus asked us to be, we are going to have a hard time accomplishing what Jesus asks us to do.

And it is that challenge of what Jesus asks us to do that is so difficult. In a world where the schedule seems to work against us, it seems easier to make a casserole for a grieving family than to offer words of hope. It is easier to welcome new neighbors with a fresh baked loaf of bread than to invite them to worship on Sunday. The former are acts that require no commitment or true effort on our part; the latter require that we show someone else who we truly are.

Our own view of the world has taken us away from the true sense of the Sabbath. Worship is no longer the focus of lives but just something else that must be crammed into an already crowded schedule. We end up so tired from trying to do everything we no longer have the strength or time to come to church on Sunday. While in keeping with the scripture that the Sabbath be a day of rest, it is a view that deprives us of being with God. It is a view of the scripture driven, not by a desire to be with God, but rather by the demands of the world. I can understand the need to have alternative services and have services at other times besides Sunday mornings. But are they services that bring people closer to God or are they services driven by this world’s schedule demands?

We know one thing that those in Mary and Martha’s house do not know. We know that hearing and doing are not parts of the law but rather parts of the Gospel. We know that the view of the world has changed because of Jesus’ ministry. (From "Living by the Word", Stephanie Frey in Christian Century, 13 July 2004)

In a world where power was the key, where economic status determined your future, Jesus showed that there was another view. He showed the world a view that was free from political or economic status; He showed a view that offered hope and promise. It was a new way to see things.

And as those who have heard Jesus’ call we are called to love one another, to break down the walls of hostility, to build bridges across differences, and to make conscious choices about how we act in this world and how we treat others. We are asked to show others that Christ is in our life.

We see the choice very clearly. The prophet Amos tells us that when the people ignored God and the covenant they had made, they were forgotten. What they saw as celebration was death; what they saw as prosperity was poverty. But, as Paul pointed out, there was a way out of that world. But, in accepting Christ as our Savior, we see the world differently.

Perhaps, at a time when we are struggling, we need to stop and find a way to look at things in a new way. Instead of looking at or to the world for the solutions to our problems, perhaps we need to invite Jesus into our hearts and see the world through the presence of the Holy Spirit.


The Opportunity We Have


This is the message that I presented at Walker Valley UMC for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, 22 July 2001.  The Scriptures are Amos 8: 1 – 12, Colossians 1: 15 – 28, and Luke 10: 38 – 42.

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Word on a Wire
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This week’s readings deal with the theme of justice, with a specific focus on wealth; as disciples, our source of hope and life must be God alone. Through Amos, a shepherd turned prophet, God calls those "who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land" to account for their greed. The consequences of such idolatry will not be fire and brimstone, but "a famine upon the land, not…of bread or thirst for water but for hearing the word of the Lord." For a people formed and nourished on God’s Word, this was a bleak prospect indeed. And for Christians, for whom the Word is now flesh, the threat of famine is utterly unthinkable.

The cover story in last week’s issue of Fortune was entitled "GOD and Business — The Surprising Quest for Spiritual Renewal in the American Workplace" (Marc Gunther, Fortune, July 16, 2001). This was quite ironic when you consider the passages from Amos that was this week’s reading from the Old Testament and Luke that was this week’s Gospel reading.

The story speaks of how people have found that goals based on material success are not always the goals that will guarantee true happiness and success. Like Jesus reminding Martha, spending all your time working does not necessarily give you the opportunity for spiritual success. Jesus’ comment to Martha indicates that Martha was spending too much time worrying about ordinary matters while Mary was right in devoting all of her time to Jesus’ teaching.

Amos pointed out that many of the people who heard his prophecy were more interested in profit and gain in the material world than they were in doing what was right and just.

One of the points that was made in the Fortune article was that we spent much of our time in the 60’s trying to find freedom. What many found was that freedom comes with a price and responsibilities; that the concept of total freedom was in actuality total slavery because, at some time, one would be called to pay for all that one had done.

The time of the late 70’s and the 80’s brought about a time of trying to find that which would you give the stability and the structure needed for gaining the freedoms brought about from the 60’s. And now, people are finding out that stability, that structure cannot come from material gains.

To that end, many churches are trying to find ways of providing that stability. But I believe that they are doing it wrong. At a time when people should be finding Jesus and being given the opportunity to bring Him into their hearts, churches are presenting a world in which one set of secular rules are changed for another set of secular based rules.

Many churches today try to provide an insight into Christ through an adaptation of today’s technology. In one of the many e-mail newsletters that I receive each week was this little article,

Soul Works
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Lord’s Prayer for cellular believers
The Lord’s Prayer has been translated into the language of the text message as part of a new plan to send church services to worshippers on their mobile phones. "Our Father, who art in heaven" has become
dad@hvn while "forgive us our trespasses" is rendered as "4give r sins."
Other prayers, readings, and meditations are also to be translated to give worshippers an entire service in text message format. The idea is to bring Christianity to a generation that is "too busy to go to church." The Muslim community has already seen the benefits of text-messaging believers with their five daily "calls to prayer."

The mobile phone church services will be launched at the Greenbelt arts and music festival in Cheltenham, UK, in August. When their messages arrive, it is hoped the young people will stop what they are doing and read them aloud to friends around them, creating a new form of simultaneous virtual worship.

The idea came from a religious service conducted by text messages in Germany. The Lord’s Prayer was conceived after an on-line competition to find the best version, cutting it from 372 characters to 160 or fewer. A history student at York University came up with the accepted version. (SOJO Mail, July 20, 2001)SOJO Mail, July 20, 2001)

The only problem that I have with something like this is that it trivializes the Lord’s Prayer. Nor does it place the idea of church and worship in the context that it needs to be in. After all, if the people receiving such text messages are too busy to go to church, how is abbreviating the text to a short sound byte going to make it easier for them to understand what the words of the prayer mean.

I have spoken before about the new "virtual" churches that are springing up almost daily on the World Wide Web. For me, one crucial aspect of worship and renewing my connection with Christ comes from the time I spend here on Sunday morning among people. Also, as we were constantly reminded throughout the Old Testament, there were always people around Jesus; to be in a situation where I am not among people makes it very difficult to achieve what worship is about. To go to church on the web does not give me the satisfaction that I have found being in the sanctuary on Sunday morning.

I am not opposed to technology but technology is not always the answer. In the same issue of the newsletter that told me about the new version of the Lord’s Prayer was an article about a church in England that had bought a karaoke machine because the organist had moved away.

Religion & Society
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Vicar in tune with karaoke hymn-singing

By Maurice Weaver

UK Telegraph

A vicar has improved the singing of hymns in his church by installing a karaoke machine. The Rev. Brian Duckworth’s congregation failed to make the heavens ring after their organist moved away. But the karaoke machine has made all the difference to services at St. John the Evangelist’s Church in Hucknall, Notts.

Rev. Duckworth can control the karaoke machine from his pulpit and even take it with him for outside services. "After the organist departed, one of our worshippers stepped in with a guitar but then she left, too," said Duckworth. "Our services were getting very dull. I’m afraid singing unaccompanied just wasn’t the same," he added.

Stephen Langford, assistant secretary of the Southwell Diocese, which approved the vicar’s music-making idea, said: "This machine is making its mark on St. John’s in a way the original organ probably did 100 years ago." The congregation raised £2,850 to pay for the Digital Hymnal, an American-made ecclesiastical version of the Japanese sing-a-long device. It plays 2,400 hymns. (SOJO Mail, July 20, 2001)

Also I also think that many churches today are wrong in their notion that in order to come to know Christ, you must follow a particular path or set of steps. Giving a set of rules does give structure and discipline to one’s life and that is what many people are seeking in order to gain the peace and security that they crave. But a reading of the Bible tells us that the Israelites let the rules and order of their life take them away from the connection with God. One of the primary reasons that Jesus came was because the Israelites spent more time dealing with the structure of daily life and making sure that they followed the rules than they did in fellowship with God.

Amos warned the people that a time would come when there would be a famine, not of food, but of God’s word. There would be a time when people would seek God and His word but not be able to find it. The story in Fortune struck a chord with me. How can we give people to the opportunity to find God’s word in this society?

Over the next four months, we are going to have four church brunches. These brunches are the beginning of many opportunities for this church to reach out to those seeking to find a connection with Christ or renew their connection.

One of those brunches, scheduled for November 4th, is associated with our annual charge conference and will be essentially for church members and family. It will not be a closed meeting, for I don’t think that would be right. But it is the one meeting that is devoted to the work of the church for the coming year and thus would not be a good Sunday for others to come.

The other three meetings are ones were we have the opportunity to bring the community to Walker Valley United Methodist Church. The Sunday after Labor Day brings back our traditional "Rally Day" and the resumption of Sunday School. This year we will have a class for the older students seeking to be confirmed in the church. If you know of any student in junior high, high school, or who has just finished high school, have them get in contact with me so that we can begin making plans for that class. Also, we need at least one person and I would like to get several people to help with the middle Sunday School class. Some might say that it was requires a special person with special training but I know from my own experience that you must simply be willing to work with kids in order to be successful. It does require some training but that is easy if you are willing to work with the children of this church. Even if you don’t think that is how you will serve, make sure that you let everyone know that our Sunday School is starting and that all children are welcome.

The brunches in October and December are paired with special services and are our opportunities to have the community come to Walker Valley. Each of these services will require work and planning on the part of the congregation.

There are a number of vacancies in the church administrative structure that need to be filled most notably that of Lay Member to Annual Conference and Lay Leader. The Lay Member to Annual Conference is this church’s representative at Annual Conference. Walker Valley has not been represented at either of the last two Annual Conferences and, if this congregation is to have any input into the work of the United Methodist Church in New York and the country, this position must be filled.

The Lay Leader position also has been vacant for the past two years. While the Lay Member position takes up about four days in June plus some administrative work (this person is on the administrative council, the finance committee, and the PPRC), the Lay Leader is more of an active participant in the day-to-day operations of the church. The primary role of the Lay Leader is to serve as chief representative of the laity of the church and provide an awareness of how the laity, i.e., the congregation can make the ministry a part of their life, both in the church and in the community. This is a tough position to fill because of the demands that it places on the person. The Lay Leader is not the chair of the Administrative Council, though in some churches the same person fills both positions. Similarly, the Lay Leader is more than just a liturgist, sitting in the other seat and reading the lessons each Sunday, though that is something many Lay Leaders do. In fact, in many churches, that is all the Lay Leader does.

Lastly, I want us to think about opening the church on a couple of nights each week. I don’t want anything special to happen, at least in the sanctuary. I don’t want special music playing in the background, I don’t want the sanctuary lit up with candles to create a special mood. I simply want the church open so that someone coming by can come in and pray. To the person lost in the world seeking comfort and solace that may be all that is needed.

Now, I am also a realist. Someone needs to be here, simply as a guardian. But they can be in the education wing, quietly working on other things. Perhaps, it will be a Bible Study, not a Bible Study designed to provide an entrance into heaven but rather an active discussion of what the writers were trying to tell the people about God and the impact it has on daily living.

One night a week we should have set aside for the youth, especially the high school youth. Perhaps it will be nothing more than a time of studying and preparing for their classes. Perhaps it will be a social time. If nothing else, it will be a time where they can gather.

Some might say that these are times to present the Gospel and have times of pray. But I would say, and I hope that you agree, that these are also times that we simply have to let people know that Christ is a part of this community and that He is here today. I do not want these times to be overburden with the trappings of a spiritual world that drives people away. I want these times, and I hope that you all do too, to be a time for people to come to Christ, just as He wanted people to come to Him.

All of this requires people willing to do the work. It turns out that being a Christian is not as easy as people think it is. It does require work; that is why Paul’s words to the Colossians are so important today. A struggle to do Christ’s work in this world is tough and the rewards are not always immediate but the rewards go beyond simple material pleasure.

The opportunity that we have today is not a fleeting one. It will always be here; after all, that is one of the things Paul stressed about God, that He was always here.

How often do we miss out on the voice and presence of God? One of the themes throughout the Bible is to hear the word of God. To stop, to sit still, like Mary in the Gospel lesson and pay attention to the Divine in our presence. For God is always seeking to speak to us, if we will listen. Sure, God can be heard in the temple, in worship. Our texts today challenge us to pay attention to the myriad ways God comes to us and speaks to us. It is also a challenge for us to find ways so that others can do the same.

But the longer we wait to take advantage of these opportunities, the harder it will be to make them actualities of life. Our challenge this day is to make those opportunities come true so that others may come to know what we already know and what we sing about in our closing hymn, that the victory of life is a victory in Jesus.


Who Will Work For The Lord?


This was the last week that I was with the Elk Falls, Longton, and Elk City United Methodist Churches.  They received a new pastor and he began the next week.  I was asked to lead the Mulberry and Alma, Kansas, United Methodist Churches for three weeks starting on July 23, 1995.

It was during this five week assignment when I would leave my apartment at about 5:30 or so in the morning and drive across Kansas back roads to Elk Falls for the 8 am service, then drive to Longton for the 930 service, then drive to Elk City for the 11 service and then finally back home to Pittsburg (a total of 185 miles) that I began to think that maybe I could do something in the ministry.

As it turned out, it was not to the full-time ministry that I was called but rather to be something of a 21st century circuit rider, filling the pulpits of the various churches in this district during the summer.  (see “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” and “On The Road Again” for summaries of 2008 and 2009.)  I am in the midst of a five week series of assignments that began two weeks ago at the New Milford United Methodist Church (“What does It Take”) and continued on July 4th at a combined services of the Fort Montgomery United Methodist Church and the United Methodist Church of the Highlands (“The Problem With Change”).  I will be at the Cornwall United Methodist Church this coming Sunday, July 11th (“Drawing A Straight Line”) and Hankins United Methodist Church (“Are We Watching The Same Game?” on July 18th and "To Build A New Community" on July 25th).  On August 1st, I go back to Ridges/Roxbury United Methodist Church and The United Methodist Church of Springdale (“Time Has Come Today”).

After I originally posted this, I got the request to go to the Van Cortlandtville Community Church on August 8th (“The Answer To The Question”)

So I began working for the Lord back in 1995 and I continue to do so today.  Here is the message that I presented to the Elk Falls, Longton, and Elk City United Methodist Churches for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, 16 July 1995.  The Scriptures for this Sunday (from the New Common Lectionary) were 2 Kings 2: 1, 6 – 14, Colossians 1: 1 – 14, and Luke 10: 25 – 37.

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The title to my sermon last week was "Are You Working for God?" I think that best represented what I was trying to say. The title of today’s sermon, which I feel best expresses the ideas brought forth in the script, is "Who Will Work for the Lord?"

In the passage from 2 Kings, we have the transition from Elijah to Elisha as prophet to Israel. The dramatic story of Elijah’s ascension to heaven in a storm constitutes the climax of the narratives about this mysterious figure. Of all of the acts of power associated with him, this is the one that has most intrigued readers and fueled speculation about the prophet’s character and eventual return. By the end of the OT period he had already been connected with the coming of the "day of the Lord", while later Jewish and Christian traditions associated him with the Messiah.

As we read some weeks ago, there were people in Jesus’ time who thought that Jesus was only Elijah returned to earth. But these people were thinking of Jesus in terms of the old church. Jesus was offering a vision of a new church, one not bound by the tradition of law but one responsive to the needs of the people.

And, the passage from Luke deals not only with the question that we as Christians must answer but with the question of how the church interacts with and in society. In teaching the lawyer about whom his neighbor was Jesus provided guidelines for how the church should continue.

A lawyer, or as some translations give it, a teacher of the law, engages Jesus in a scholarly dialogue. But the course of the dialogue changes from reaching eternal life to a question which is still with us today, "Who is my neighbor?"

In the first part of the dialogue and in the traditional sense, a neighbor is one who receives kindness, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself (my emphasis) (Luke 10: 27)

This is what the law required. But the law often times never told how one meets the requirements. That may be why the lawyer then asks "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10: 29)

The parable of the Good Samaritan points out that simply following the law does not always meet the requirements of the law. For while the two individuals who passed by the injured traveler did nothing wrong according to law which stated they should avoid contact with a half-dead person, they did nothing to help the individual. But the Samaritan, the one person that Jewish society shunned more than any one, was this person’s neighbor because he went beyond the law in providing aid to this individual.

In effect, Jesus was asking who did the work of the church. This, in itself, may be considered a revolutionary thought. No one had thought of the church in terms of reaching out to help their neighbors. Yet, in his message and in his actions, that is what Jesus tried to do throughout his entire ministry.

These were same questions that John Wesley struggled with for many years. He could not sit idly by and watch his church ignore the plight and conditions of the lower classes.

When you think of England in the 18th century, you might not be too sure that it is not America today. I have always wondered if Wesley were to come to America today if he might not thing it was England of his time. It was a time when more and more people were getting wealthy every day. Poverty in Wesley’s time was thought to be a reflection of one’s sinful life. If you were rich, it was because you had lead a good life. If you were poor, it was because you did not live the right kind of life. It wasn’t the church’s fault that people were hungry and homeless; that medical care for the lower classes was almost non-existent; that only the rich could afford to go to school. The conditions of the last few years have made me think that were Wesley to come back to America in the 1990’s, he would not see many differences. On the subject of poverty and one’s neighbors, Wesley said

"Has poverty nothing worse in it that this, that it makes men liable to be laughed at? … Is not want of food something worse than this? God pronounced it as a curse upon man, that he should earn it" by the sweat of his brow." But how many are there in this Christian country that toil, and labor, and sweat, and have it not at last, but struggle with weariness and hunger together? Is it not worse for one, after a hard day’s labor, to come back to a poor, cold, dirty, uncomfortable lodging, and to find there not even the food which is needful to repair his wasted strength? You that live at ease in the earth, that want nothing but eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand how well God hath dealt with you, is it not worse to seek bread day by day, and find none? Perhaps to find the comfort also of five or six children crying for what he has not to give! Were it not that he is restrained by an unseen hand, would he not soon "curse God and die"? O want of bread! Want of bread! Who can tell what this means, unless he hath felt it himself? I am astonished it occasions no more than heaviness even in them that believe." (From John Wesley’s sermon "Heaviness through Manifold Temptations")

John Wesley understood that a church and a nation which ignores members of its society could never expect to reach worldly success, let alone success in Heaven. Having accepted Christ as one’s personal Savior, you could not sit back and wait for the Glory of the Lord to come to you. You had to take the message of the Gospel, both in thought, word, and deed, out into the world.

It was through the Methodist Societies that Wesley and his followers that the first Sunday Schools were created. These schools, which became the foundation for our public school education, were offered on Sundays because it was the only time many children had the opportunity to come to school as they were working in the factories and mines the other six days. Here the Societies taught the Gospel and preached the Salvation of Jesus Christ.

What I have always found interesting in reading and following the development of the early Methodist Church is the reaction of the organized church, the Church of England. Instead of supporting the work of Wesley and his followers, the authorities barred them from using existing churches. This did not stop the Methodist Revival. Wesley and the other early Methodist ministers simply began preaching wherever they could find the space. If that meant preaching in the fields, they preached in the fields.

When we look at the world today, I sometimes think that we see much the same as Wesley did some two hundred and fifty years ago. The world is crying for a spiritual revolution. The actions of many people simply speak to a loss of direction.

Paul did not start the church in Colossians as he had other churches that he wrote to, but showed a great interest in what happened there.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians shows this personal interest in the people and is meant to warn them against falling back to their previous life style. He wrote that he and others were praying " that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1: 10)

William Barclay, the writer of many commentaries, wrote

"As Paul grew older, he came more and more to see that what matters is individual people. The church is people. The church is not a kind of vague abstract entity; it is individual men and women and children and as the years went on Paul began to think less and less of the church as a whole, and more and more of the church as individual women."

Today, people no longer see the church in those terms but one which no longer cares about people and is indifferent to society. If the church is to have an impact on today’s society in more positive terms, it must respond in the manner that Jesus showed us. Elton Trueblood wrote

Because we cannot reasonably expect to erect a constantly expanding structure of social activism upon a constantly diminishing foundation of faith, attention to the cultivation of the inner life is our first order of business, even in a period of rapid social change. The church, if it is to affect the world, must become a center from which new spiritual power emanates. While the church must be secular in the sense that it operates in the world, if it is only secular it will not have the desired effect upon the secular order which it is called to penetrate. With no diminution of concern for people, we can and must give new attention to the production of a trustworthy religious experience. (From The New Man for Our Time, Elton Trueblood)

The people of Jesus’ time no longer heard a message of a Loving Father who cared for His children. Many people at that time probably did not even know that their God cared for them. The rules and regulations of the church made it impossible for them to do so. It wasn’t that they had left their religion but that their religion had left them. The message they did hear held no promise or hope.

But with Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross, the church began anew. As Paul wrote in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians:

"He (speaking of Jesus) is the one who has helped us tell others about his new agreement to save them. We do not tell them that they must obey every law of God or die; but we tell them there is life for them for the Holy Spirit. The old way, trying to be saved by keeping the Ten Commandments, ends in death; in the new way, the Holy Spirit gives them life. (2 Corinthians 3: 6)

The problem that one gets into by simply following the law is that you start putting limits to your actions. It would be the same as going through life with your fists clenched, unwilling to grab new opportunities as they pass by. As I close today, I want us to consider that statement from Paul. Can we live up to this standard; are we working for the Lord?

What We Are Supposed To Do


Here are my thoughts for this Sunday, the 7th Sunday after Pentecost.
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I have decided to start my own church. I am going to start on the Internet and after the contributions and donations start to roll in, I will begin televising the services. Maybe we will pull in enough to even buy an old auditorium or arena and turn into a worship center.

The name of my church is going to be the “1st Internet Worship Center of the Gospel of Prosperity.” We aren’t going to call it a church because that will scare away the customers (oops, sorry; I meant to say congregants). I probably will decorate the web site and the church with a dove and, since this will be a world-wide ministry, most definitely a globe. Don’t go looking for a cross or any references to Jesus; market research has indicated those things tend to make people uncomfortable.

Since it is an internet site, you can come anytime; we will be open 24/7 and the attire is informal. That’s good because it seems that the dress code for preachers today is blue jeans and Hawaiian shirts. For right now, I will settle for t-shirts and sport shirts. Maybe when we start televising the services, I will have enough money to buy a few Armani suits.

Ours will be a Biblical ministry but each sermon will be decided by input from focus groups. People want their churches to be biblical in nature but they want their pastors to avoid mentioning the Bible. By using focus groups, we can accommodate the wishes of the people.

Most certainly, since this is a church of the gospel of prosperity, we are going to focus on how one can use God to become wealthy and prosperous. We believe that poverty is a product of sin and wealth is a sign of a righteous life.

Ours will be a church (oops, sorry – meant to say to say worship center) that celebrates life. Ours will be a celebration of family values, so if you are not part of a traditional family you will have to go some place else.

If by now you haven’t figured it out, the above paragraphs were written with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. They come from impressions of many of the churches that are on television and the Internet today. They are what people are looking for because it gives them what they are looking for. Is that what a church (and I mean church) is supposed to do?

I don’t think so. A church is a place of hope. A church is a place to call out against the sins of the world. It is a place where the Spirit of the Lord is present. But it is not a place where the people decide what the words of God are to be. It is not a place where people decide what sins are.

In the Old Testament reading for today, the prophet Amos is warned by the chief priest to take his message of repentance elsewhere as it is not welcomed in Israel. Amos’ message is a warning to the king and the people that they are headed in the wrong direction and they need to change direction. But the people don’t want to hear such words; they only want to be told good things, even if good things aren’t the truth.

And many of the churches that I see and hear today have no use for those that don’t fit their concept of Christian. Family values are a political term that many ministers have accepted and use to prevent those who need the church from benefiting from what a church can offer. Instead of opening the church to everyone, family values have become a way to close the church to outsiders.

Who should be in our church? Who is our neighbor? The Gospel reading for today is the story of the Good Samaritan. The point of the story is not just that everyone is our neighbor but that self-righteousness is as much a sin as anything else. The first two men to walk by the wounded man had valid and Biblical reasons for not helping. But their reasons, however valid, were self-centered reasons. No matter how hard we try to justify something, if we use the law to justify not doing what the spirit tells us we should do, then we are as guilty of sin as those who attacked and robbed the victim in our story.

I am not planning on opening a church on the Internet. There is too much to do in the real world. Amos tells us that we need to focus on telling the truth and the Gospel reading for today reminds us of what we are supposed to do. As Jesus told so many people after they had heard the story and understood the message, so He tells us today to go and do likewise. That is what we are supposed to do and that is what we should do.