“A New Life”

Here are is the message I gave at Walker Valley UMC for the 7th Sunday after the Epiphany (Year B), 20 February 2000.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 43: 18 – 25, 2 Corinthians 1: 18 – 22, and Mark 2: 1 – 12.

As I was preparing my message for next Sunday (7th Sunday after the Epiphany (A), 23 February 2014, at Sloatsburg UMC) I discovered that I had not posted this message nor did I have some sort of summary for this particular Sunday in the liturgical calendar.  I think that part of the reason for this is that I haven’t preached on this particular Sunday that often (in the fifteen years that I have kept records there have only been six 7th Sundays after the Epiphany and only 2 of them have been Year A in the cycle).

But I have rectified that and have identified all the posts that are related to this particular Sunday in the liturgical calendar.


Every Sunday, as I drive towards Walker Valley, I am always impressed amazed by the mountain as it rises from the plain of the Hudson Valley. It is hard to explain but, to me, there is a certain majesty and beauty in that setting. I suppose that part of that comes from the fact that my own background includes the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and the Appalachian hill country of Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee. With that in mind, I have a sense of the historical and geographical barriers that the mountains represented to the early settlers of this country.

Exploration of the country in its early days was pretty well limited to the land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Appalachian Mountains simply because there was no easy way to get over the mountains. And going around them was not as easy as it would seem, especially if you were in the middle section of the country where the mountains were the western borders. And, if I am not mistaken, there were also legal restrictions about who could go into the territories to settle.

But it was possible to get over, or rather through, the mountains at places called Cumberland Gap. This passage through the Appalachian Mountains in the southeastern most part of Kentucky from Virginia is as equally impressive as the mountains that it is a part of. For it is perhaps the widest valley and provides a relatively easy passage through the mountains rather than having to go over them. It was through this gap that Daniel Boone first took settlers from North Carolina and Virginia into the Kentucky heartland to settle the interior of the new territories, thus beginning the movement west and the settlement of the entire country. And, as settlers moved into these new areas, Methodist ministers closely followed them.

Why was it that people moved from the relative safety of the East Coast of the newly founded United States for the unknown parts of the territories west of the Appalachian Mountains? What did they hope to find? For the most part, I would think that it was to find a new life or to escape an old one. New territories bring new hope and new chances, especially when you seem stifled with your present life. Through time, people sought ways to find a better life. In the 1800’s, it was gold in California. Today, it is the stock market and the possibility of getting in on the ground floor of some new and exciting technology stock. We see the people and read about the stories of those who have made their fortune in the stock market and we wonder why we can’t do it as well.

Of course, the problem is that such solutions are not as easy as one might think. For those moving from the relative safety of Virginia and North Carolina into the relative unknown parts of Kentucky, they had to take everything with them for there was nothing waiting for them when they got to their final destination. And you couldn’t get on a wagon train from Kansas City to California unless you had everything necessary for the long, arduous journey. Even today, for those that think that day trading is a glamorous and exciting way to make money, they quickly change their mind when they find that a substantial cash reserve is needed before they can begin buying and selling. And, when you read the fine print for all the ads offering stock purchases with low commissions, check the fine print. They too require a substantial cash reserve to get the good bargains.

I think that the problem today is not that we seek a new life through monetary gains. I am not, as it might seem, against making money. Like Wesley, I would like to earn all that I could. But it should be done in a manner that does not exploit others and, having earned all you could, save all you can, and more importantly, give all you can. I think the problem is that many people do so because they are lacking something more central.

The paralytic in the Gospel reading for today came to Jesus to be healed. This paralytic wanted a new life and he had faith that Jesus would be able to give him one. The faith of his friends that this could occur was so powerful that they took the roof off the building in which Jesus was so that they could lower their friend down.

I find this passage of particular interest this week. Just as four people helped a friend come to Jesus, so too can each one of us, not just a select few, reach out to those we know who have not been to church in a while and make the offer to come and visit and perhaps stay awhile.

As the Gospel reading says, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”” Of course, this did not set well with the scribes and others present who did not understand who Jesus was. That is why Jesus offered the option of saying “Your sins are forgiven” or “Stand up and take your mat and walk.” As the paralytic got up and walk, to begin a new life, those who saw it were amazed.

It is relatively easy to start a new life. All you have to do is decide that is what you want to do. But, for all those who ventured into the uncharted wilderness, there were just as many that chose to stay at home, deciding that it was too risky.

There will always be a substantial risk to starting something new, being willing to risk all that you have for something unknown. When faced with the prospect of something new, there is always reluctance on our part to begin. Often times, as we try to move forward, we hold on to the past.

But as we heard in the Old Testament reading for today, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.” God, through Isaiah, told the people of Israel that even though they had consistently forgotten to do what they were supposed to do, He had not. And even when they burdened Him with their sins, He forgave them and chose not to remember them.

As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, God’s promises are always a yes. God’s concern for this world was such that He sent Jesus to be our Savior, in the words of Isaiah, the new thing that was to be done.

God tells us today, just as He told Isaiah, that he blots out our transgressions and does not remember our sins. So why should we? There is an old hymn that speaks of surrendering all (#354), of giving everything to Jesus. To us, it sounds strange to surrender all, yet come away with a new life.

The paralytic came to Jesus with the aid of four friends and walked away with a new life. The offer is presented to you and, through you, to others as well. If the burden in your heart is great and the journey seems too long, remember that a new life awaits when you let Jesus be your Savior.

What Will They See?

It has long been noted that this country goes through stages of evangelical revivals.It would appear that this is one of those stages.This is a time of great questioning, brought about by the Indian Ocean tsunami, the hurricanes that ripped through the Gulf Coast of this country and the on-going war and terrorism that seems to be a daily occurrence.

The people read the first part of Matthew 24: 6 (“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars”) and look around them.They hear the many preachers on television proclaiming God’s wrath will be directed towards those who have angered Him.They see the popularity of the Left Behind series and begin to think that this may be a good time to rethink one’s life.

Of course, most people will not look at verses 4 and 5 (“For many will come in my name, claiming ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.”)And in their fears, they will not read that Jesus closed verse 6 with “but see to it that you are not alarmed.”

There is no doubt that many people today are looking for solace but the question must be, “will they find it in today’s church?”They see in many churches an exclusiveness which shuts them out; they see in many churches a hypocrisy that mirrors the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ time.How can they go to a church that claims to follow Jesus but walks in the footsteps of his persecutors and critics?

The growth of megachurches today suggests that they have the answer.Clearly they are welcoming many of those called “seekers.”But are they providing the Gospel or just providing a social outlet for these individuals?People seek answers to questions they do not understand and they are willing to go wherever they can find those answers.So it is not likely that they will see that what these megachurches offer is not really what they are looking for.

It is the same thing with the rise in what is called the “prosperity Gospel.”God shines his blessings on those that are righteous and lead the good life; it is clear that those who are poor or homeless must be sinners because God would never let a righteous individual be that way.It was this attitude that Jesus fought against in his mission through Galilee.It was this attitude that led John Wesley to begin the Methodist revival in the 1700’s.One’s life does not reflect sin nor do we always see the sin in one’s life.

At some point, we must realize that the church today must offer that which people are really looking for, the hope and promise stated in the Gospel.Consider the Gospel reading for today. (1)  A paralyzed man wanted to get to Jesus because he had heard of Jesus’ healing powers but the crowds around the place where Jesus were so great that those bringing him could not get through.But this man’s desire to be near Jesus was so great that his friends took him to the top of the building and dug a hole through the roof so that they could lower him down.

The challenge that churches today face is stated in the Old Testament reading for today. (2)  Speaking to the Israelites, Isaiah says to not remember the old things or consider the old things but remember that God was about to do something new.If the way we bring people into the church is to turn the church into a gigantic social club, then we are doing nothing new.If we hold to the old ways, insisting that the way things have always been done will work in the coming days then we are doing exactly what Isaiah said not to do.If we preach a version of the Gospel that blames sin for one’s social standing, then we haven’t learned anything from what the Bible says or what the church has done in the past.

The paralyzed individual was lowered down to Jesus and Jesus commended him for his faith, telling him that his sins were forgiven.He also commanded him to pick up his mat and go home.The Pharisees could not accept this, for one’s sins dictated one’s health.Jesus offered a new world, a new way; one that the Pharisees could not see, understand or accept.

There is no doubt that we have to reach out to those in the population who have never been to church or have not come in a long time.But do we offer them what they already have or do we offer them something new.Do we offer them social programs in the name of the church or do we offer the Gospel, the promise of hope for tomorrow?

Our challenge is to not look back for solutions for tomorrow’s problems; our challenge is not to think in terms of today for that which will come tomorrow.Our challenge is to accept Christ as our personal Savior and to let his presence in our lives be seen by others.Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, notes that it was God who established us with Christ and anointed us.That is what people will see.

The challenge we face is to let the Holy Spirit be present in our lives and to let the Holy Spirit be evident to others.I will admit that I cannot offer a quick and easy solution that will allow this to happen.It happens on an individual basis but when it happens everyone knows.As it noted in the Gospel, “they were all amazed and glorified God, saying ‘We have never seen anything like this!’” (3)

Mark 2: 1 – 12

  • Isaiah 43: 18 – 25
  • Mark 2: 12