Who’s your God?

This was a sermon given by my friend, Lauriston Avery, at The United Methodist Church of Danbury on 31 July 2022

The Scripture readings for this message were from Hosea 11:1-11 and Luke 12:13-21

The hymns for this Sunday were “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (UMH #140), “Seek Ye First” (UMH #405) and “Take My Life, and Let It Be” (UMH #399).


Thank you for having me again, I am praying Kim is recovering well now, and that you won’t need me back again so, so soon!

Trigger warning, though. I plan to ask a lot of questions, hard questions, today. And I don’t have any of the answers!

First question: Who’s your god?

Every time I asked myself that as I was preparing for today, I heard the song by the Zombies . . .do you remember it? . . .

What’s your name? (What’s your name?)

Who’s your daddy? (Who’s your daddy?)

He rich?  Is he rich like me?

Has he taken (has he taken?) any time (any time) (to show) to show you what you need to live?

. . . It’s the time of the season for loving . . .

The Zombies – Time of the Season

Our scripture lessons deal with the human understanding and ambiguity of love, does it come from an earthly place or a divine place? Are we completely conscious of what we are doing in this life? Are we really connecting with God, or are we replacing God with something else? Do we know what we need to live?

So, who IS your God?

Is it Golf? My husband used to regularly skip church on Sunday and I would sit on the edge of the bed and show first my left hand, then my right hand and say “Golf? or your immortal soul? Golf? or your immortal soul?” ~it didn’t dissuade him from taking up his golf clubs (and not his cross) I’m sorry to say.

Is your God an ism? Communism or Socialism or Capitalism or Woke-ism or Progressivism, or Liberalism or Conservatism or Libertarianism? Do you think that society could be made right if ONLY we would adopt one of those isms, that there, in that societal construct, would be the answer to everything, all our problems?

Or maybe your sexuality is your God. Is your gender identity the most important thing about you? Do you live into your fantasy, or do you live into your fidelity?

Is Roe your God or is Dobbs your decision? Does God legislate a woman’s body or does God have an investment in a fetus’s chance at life? Is this complex situation an impossible one for we, who love God, to forgive one another?

How about fear, is fear your God? Are you afraid of what the world can do to you, or what a virus can do to you? Are you paralyzed by your fear, or do you flaunt your fear in dangerous risk taking?

Are you yourself your God? Do you depend on only yourself? Are you fully self-reliant in your own capabilities and depend on your own strength and productivity for your security? And how’s that working out for you?

Is politics your God? Tell me are you on the red team or the blue team?

We have an event every summer in our community called Shakespeare On The Sound. One year they performed Henry the fifth, and my dear friend took her young sons to see the play ~but they only got to see the first act and went home at intermission because it was too late for them to stay up. The next morning, she went to get her son out of bed and he popped up and he said “Mom! Who won? The red team or the blue team?” The play was about King Henry of England always at war against France. We seem to perpetuate that endless war, don’t we? What about us? We always seem to be at war between our red team and our blue team. And yet if we look at the things, we each accuse the other of, well it’s the same thing! When we are divided along those tribal lines, we seem to always achieve the same outcome: more division, more war, less love, more death.

Is no-God your God? I have a friend on Facebook who is an avowed atheist and anytime I post anything relating to my faith he comes and gives it the good old atheist attack ~he doesn’t take it kindly when I say to him “It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in God because God still believes in you.”

My atheist friend’s God is Science because he won’t believe anything until it can be absolutely proved empirically and for him the heavens are NOT telling the glory of God, that’s not evidentiary enough proof for him that God exists. (Say “evidentiary five times fast!)

In our Hosea passage the prophet points to his community still believing in the gods of Baal ~do you know what they did to worship the god Baal? They used to take their children and sacrifice them in the fire. This remains a continuing problem today, in the crime of human trafficking. The sacrifice of children goes on today and it’s just as horrific as it’s described in our Hebrew Scriptures. God did intervene when Abraham took Isaac to sacrifice him at the altar, in the fire. That was an important moment when God definitively eliminated the horrible practice of child sacrifice, God demonstrated his compassion and his loving care for his people. God rescued them, called them out from slavery in Egypt! But Hosea laments, that they continued to turn away from God, and they continued sacrificing their children to Baal.

But it is the true God, who is our God, who is bigger and more compassionate and eternally persistent than all these other false Gods, Hear O children of Israel, because our God is all, and in all. And yet, we, the heritage of Israel, we continue to turn away.

In our Gospel lesson Jesus is first confronted by someone who asks him to intervene with his (likely) older brother, to divide the inheritance with him. In those days, the eldest brother always got a double share of the inheritance. Jesus sternly calls him a word that means generically “human.” (The word would have referred to both men and women) He referenced Moses here, who intervened when two Hebrews fought with each other, but Jesus rejects the idea that he is a second Moses; he is not their judge and ruler, as the two Hebrews fighting demanded of Moses, but Jesus is their teacher, and savior.

Now he tells the story of the man who kept building bigger barns and relying on his harvest filling them; and it’s God, the true God, who laughs at him and who calls him “dummy!” Literally, dumb, like a statue, unable to speak, senseless in fact, a statue, an idol, a no-god. A fool! Because your soul is required of you tonight! Your immortal soul is required of you, and all you’ve got are bigger barns and NO TIME to eat drink and be merry. And all your wealth, whose will they be? An unanswerable question for sure. Maybe all those crops will become that younger brother’s inheritance, who was mad about his older brother’s double share.

Apparently, this human, foolish, dummy, fails to recognize that his immortal soul is at stake, that he is himself the harvest, and not his barn full of crops. God shouts at him “You can’t take it with you!” It’s worthless chaff, if you don’t have God.

I like to imagine Jesus telling this parable in true comedic style and that those who are listening to him might’ve been “rolling on the floor laughing out loud” because they were well aware of the fragility of life and they were well aware of how often, as the Yiddish saying goes, “Man plans, God laughs.”

And I imagine God, the loving father, and the doting mother in one, who, as described in Hosea, has taught his beloved Israel to walk, who took them up in His arms, but they did not know, they did not realize, that their God, their mother’s kiss, has healed their wounds, that it was God, God’s self, that led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love, who lifted them to God’s cheeks, it was God who bent down to feed them.

How can we resist the love of God? The overwhelming, never-ending reckless love of God, who sings over us? Who breathed his own life-giving spirit into us? Who has been so, so good to us? Who has been so, so kind to us?

Reckless Love

Oh these unanswerable questions, this deep and delicious mystery that we try to name and call God, our Yah-Weh, the breathing in and breathing out of God’s own spirit that is our source and sustaining life, our only source, our only sustaining spirit, this gift, this human life that is just wind, just spirit, the only Way, the only One to help us to find the true treasure, which is the divine life, a life richly blessed in God.

Even though we, God’s children, continue to turn away, to rebel and seek other gods, God loves us more than any human parent could, God’s love for us is unfailing, God’s love is a love that will not let us go.

Who’s our God? God is our God. The God, the One God, that is so much greater than any human thought or idea or thing or achievement. When we add up all we can do, God is greater than that, and God is requiring our immortal soul today, tonight, all days and all nights, because when we turn, return, toward God, there is no greater riches than to be at one, in God’s Love.

“It’s About the Parking Lots!”

This will be on the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for August 4, 2019, 8th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). Service is at 10:15 am and you are welcome to attend. We are going to have a hymn sing on August 18th; put your favorite hymns in the comment section.

I am not sure  why but the lectionary readings for this Sunday made me think of parking lots.

It is understood that there must have ample parking available if a church is to grow.  But I know of one mega-church  where it took between 10 and 20 minutes to get out of the parking lot after the morning service.

If I were trying to find Jesus, or perhaps just getting answers to some questions, I might think twice about attending such a church.  After all, how can I find Jesus if I am apt to get lost in a crowd?

So I go looking for another church.  But I am not likely to go to a church where I cannot find parking, right?  And if the parking lot is empty, how can I be sure that there is anyone there.

Clearly churches have two options here.  The first is to put a sign out front saying that they are open for business and seating is available.  But that makes a church like a restaurant or coffee shop and unless the church is willing to serve items that compete with comparable shops in the neighborhood, that’s not going to work too well.

But I am reminded of something John Wesley once said, “The world is my parish.”  And that means that the church needs to spend more time outside the boundaries of the sanctuary and its parking lot, reaching out to those who seek Jesus.  It starts , not by looking at the parking lot, but at the people searching for a parking place.             ~~Tony Mitchell

But I Don’t Know How

A Meditation for 10 July 2016, the 8th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The meditation is based on Amos 7: 7 – 17, Colossians 1: 1 – 14, and Luke 10: 25 – 37.

We woke up this past Friday morning to another shooting, another act of senseless violence. Was this shooting just the act of a senseless madman or a response, rightly or wrongly, to an environment that sees violence as the only response to violence? Or was it both?

Are we a society that sees itself as one group with many parts or are we so diverse, divisive, and separated that we can never see ourselves as one group?

As I have stated in the past, I grew up in the South, perhaps at the worst possible time to be growing up in the South. Parts of the South were still segregated and the parts that were being integrated were doing so slowly and somewhat reluctantly. And I know that many of those who grew up during that time, some of them my classmates, probably haven’t accepted those changes.

And today, with the reluctance of many, we haven’t accepted the idea that the statement “all men are created equal” applies to all, men and women, people of all colors, people of all economic status, and independent of gender or gender identity.

For some, the idea that some person, whom your grandparents may have considered inferior (or worse), is your equal is still a hard pill to swallow. We still somehow want to think that we are better than anyone else and we rejoice when some politicians tell us that. We rebel when others want to claim the equality that we have taken for granted.

And the Christian church, once the hope of the oppressed and forgotten, once the source of moral strength and whose members stood up against injustice and with those cast aside by society, was among the first to build a wall and keep people out. The sanctuary in too many churches across this country have become a place that keeps society out and allows its members to hide; it is no longer a place that welcomes the outcast and the forgotten; it is slowly becoming a place that says we don’t care who you are, we don’t want you here.

But the good news is that there are those who see the inequality and the injustice and work to end the oppression. There are those who are like Amos, who would rather just do the normal jobs. But God is calling them to take on the task, of speaking out against injustice and oppression, of saying that hatred and violence will never work.

Amos also pointed out that those whose only interest was in their own well-being and maintenance of the status quo would lose in the end.

Jesus was asked by someone who probably wanted an excuse to ignore the problems of society who was his neighbor. But Jesus wouldn’t give him that opportunity but pointed out that everyone was everyone’s neighbor and that you could not ignore anyone just because they didn’t fit some notion of correctness.

Paul reminds us, as he reminded the Galatians, that the Gospel still remains true and that grows stronger every day. But it still remains for each one of us to continue the work that began two thousand years ago in the back roads of the Galilee.

We may not know how to rid this world of oppression and hatred; we may be afraid to even try.

But we do know how to bring peace and justice to this world because we know the love of Christ and we know what Christ did for each one of us.

Because God loved us enough to send His son to die on the Cross for our sins and to bring us into freedom, we know what to do. And when we take that love into the world, things will begin to change.

“Who Will Be The One?”

I am presenting the message at the combined services of the South Highlands UMC and Cold Springs UMC at 10 am Sunday, July 14th, at the Cold Spring UMC. Come and join in the worship if you happen to be in the area tomorrow. The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, are Amos 7: 7 – 17, Colossians 1: 1 – 14, and Luke 10: 25 – 31. I will be reading the Gospel reading for Dr. Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel, with his added commentary.

I will be at the Modena Memorial UMC next Sunday. Service starts at 10. The Scriptures for next Sunday are Amos 8: 1 – 12, Colossians 1: 15 – 28, and Luke 10: 38 – 42. The title of my message is “I Am Not A Practicing Christian!”


Luke 10: 25 – 37 (as translated by Dr. Clarence Jordan in The Cotton Patch Gospels) with commentary

One day a teacher of an adult Bible class got up and tested him with this question: “Doctor, what does one do to be saved?

Jesus replied, “What does the Bible say? How do you interpret it?”

The teacher answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and will all your sould and with all your physical strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”

That is correct,” answered Jesus. “Make a habit of this and you’ll be saved.”
But the Sunday school teacher, trying to save face, asked, “But . . . er . . . but . . . just who is my neighbor?”

Then Jesus laid into him and said, “A man was going from Atlanta to Albany (GA) and some gangsters held him up. When they had robbed him of his wallet and brand-new suit, they beat him up and drove off in his car, leaving him unconscious on the shoulder of the highway.

Now it just so happened that a white preacher was going down the same highway. When he saw the fellow, he stepped on the gas and went scooting by.

Commentary by Dr. Jordan

Obviously his 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.

Shortly afterwards a white Gospel song leader came down the road, and when he saw what had happened, he too stepped on the gas.

Commentary by Dr. Jordan

What his thoughts were we’ll never know but as he whizzed past, he may been whistling, “Brighten the corner, where you are.”

Then a black man traveling that way came upon the fellow, and what he saw moved him to tears. He stopped and bound up his wounds as best he could, drew some water from his water-jug to wipe away the blood and then laid him on the back seat.

Commentary by Dr. Jordan

All the while his thoughts may have been along tis line: “Somebody’s robbed you; yeah, I know about that, I been robbed too. And done beat you up bad; I know, I been beat up, too. And everybody just go right on by and leave you laying ere hurting. Yeah, I know. They pass me by, too.

He drove on into Albany and took him to the hospital and said to the nurse, ‘You all take good care of this white man I found on the highway. Here’s the only two dollars I got, but you all keep account of what he owes, and if he can’t pay it, I’ll settle up with you when I make a pay-day.’

Now if you had been the man held up by the gangsters, which of these three — the white preacher, the white song leader, or the black man — would you consider to have been your neighbor?

The teacher of the adult Bible class said, “Why, of course, the — I mean . . . er, well, er . . . the one who treated me kindly.”

Jesus said, “Well, then, you get going and start living like that!”

SERMON: “ Who Will Be The One?” – Dr. Tony Mitchell

After I had completed the major part of this message I thought that maybe a better title might be “Who Are Your Heroes?” But that actually doesn’t work because we tend to overplay the idea of heroes in today’s society and I am more interesting in knowing who is going to do the work that many people shun. In terms of the big picture though, perhaps those who do the work, be in terms of our secular world or for Christ, that others shun are our heroes.

In 2005 I needed to find a way to continue my writing on a regular basis. That’s when I discovered blogging. Blogging is a verb derived from web log, which can be consider a recording of observations or thoughts that one puts on the world wide web. When I started the blog, I thought only in terms of keeping to a regular schedule of studying the Scriptures and writing something related to those readings.(see http://locustsandhoney.blogspot.com/2005/12/methodist-blogger-profile-tony.html). Interestingly enough, one of the first pieces that I posted (“Isn’t This The 21st Century?”) was a combination of faith and science, the two areas that tend to be the markers of my own life.

I was aksed in an on-line interview conducted shortly after I began blogging “who are my spiritual heroes?” I listed Peter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dr. Meredith Eller, and Clarence Jordan and gave a brief explanation of why I chose those four individuals. The reasons, though, had to do more with the secular world than the spiritual world. But as you will hear this morning, sometimes there is not much difference in those two worlds and we can often find the strength we need to deal with the secular world through our spiritual foundations.

The choice of Peter as a spiritual hero probably had to do more with what we have in common from reading about him. I think that if I were to prepare this list today and keep one of the twelve disciples on it, I would probably pick Nathaniel Bartholomew. It isn’t that Peter has dropped off the list but I find perhaps more in common with Nathaniel at this time of my life.

Nathaniel Bartholomew was said to be the scholar of the group. Tradition has it that he went to Georgia with Thomas on his mission trip after Pentecost. While the Georgia that Nathaniel and Thomas traveled to is not the Georgia in my own life, it offers a connection, both in terms of spiritual heroes and in terms of Methodism, that is so much a part of my life today.

I chose the other individuals because their lives gave something for me to use in my own life. And again, those contributions were contributions in the daily secular world, not the spiritual world. But on reflection, those contributions showed me how the spiritual world, the world of faith, plays such an important part in our daily life.

In 2005, I saw spiritual heroes in terms of my academic life and the role religion and faith played in my life. That is not to say that there were others who played an important part in my life. During the spring of 1969, I struggled with my own faith and it’s role in my life. This is the one question that we all have to deal with at one time or another in our lives and just as we need spiritual heroes to show us how to live in an increasingly secular world, we also need those who can show us the direction that we must take.

For me, that individual was my pastor at 1st United Methodist Church in Kirksville, Marvin Fortell. His role was more personal and what he said and did had a lot to do with the direction my life would take that spring. But the congregation at 1st UMC did not like his involvement with either the anti-war or civil rights movement and, quite honestly, forced him to leave the pastorate at 1st for another United Methodist church.

And while I struggled to find where my faith was leading me, there were also the events of the mid 1960s, the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement, defining how I would live my life as well.

As a chemistry major in college, I was required to take a sequence of history courses. I ended up taking 2 – 1/3 courses with Dr. Eller and I came to admire him as a professor.

When some of my fellow students at Truman (when it was still known as Northeast Missouri State Teachers College) and I began organizing an on-campus anti-war organization, he agreed to be our advisor. Now this was a brave move on his part. This was 1969 and Truman was and is deep within the very conservative heartland of Missouri and America. The risks that we students took in stepping forth in our opposition to the Viet Nam war were perhaps minor when compared to the risks that Dr. Eller was taking, both professionally and personally.

Dr. Eller would later show me a possible path that I might walk at a time when there was some uncertainty in the direction of my life. It was my understanding that while he was a history professor at Truman State University, he was also an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. During one graduation ceremony I kidded him about his doctoral robes being a little less shiny than the other members of the faculty. That was because they were his preaching robes and he used them every week.

Perhaps Dr. Eller’s background of history and religion was a more natural combination than my own background of chemistry and religion but it did show that one’s life on Sunday was not necessarily separated from one’s life on Monday.

My own involvement with the anti-war movement on campus would introduce me to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I met him as a leading player in the underground anti-Nazi/anti-war movement in Germany before and during World War II. Later on, I would discover his writings on the nature of Christianity and our lives. Bonhoeffer’s writing focused on what it means to be a Christian in today’s world and what we, as Christians, expect and what is expected from us as Christians. He was opposed to the rise of Hitler and Nazism and their suppression of civil rights from the very onset. But what may have disturbed him more than anything else, and what gave rise to his thoughts on Christianity and its cost, was the quiet acceptance of the persecution of people and the oppression of civil rights by the churches of Germany. It is interesting to note how eerily similar what transpired in Germany in the 1930s is taking place in so many places today.

I hope that Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words, thoughts, and action still influence what I say about Christianity and how I live a life in Christ.

I came to know Dr. Clarence Jordan sometime in the early 1990s when I first heard a reading from The Cotton Patch Gospels. As Southern boy, to hear the word of God written in terms of the Georgia countryside gave new meaning and life to those words. And as you heard this morning, the viability and vitality of the Gospel has the same meaning and is perhaps better understood when written and spoken in one’s own languages. And now you understand why I perhaps can connect to Nathaniel Bartholomew and his Georgian connection.

As one who grew up in the South during the 1950s and 1960s and experienced, though not at the level of some, the discrimination so prevalent at that time, I could understand why Dr. Jordan would choose to speak out against those, especially in the church, who would preach discrimination and hatred in the name of Christ.

Each person that I have listed as a hero probably never intended on being one. No one sets out to be a hero and those who try to do so are more often likely to be failures rather than successes.

Each was called by God to complete a particular task, though perhaps not the task they perhaps had in mind. Throughout our history, there have been those called by God to change the direction of their lives and go to where God called them, even if they did not want to go that way.

We hear Moses say to God that he can’t take on the task because he cannot speak. We hear Sarai laugh when God says that she and Abram will become parents at the age of ninety.

We hear Amos saying that he wanted to be a farmer and not a prophet. But God called Amos to preach even if there were some who didn’t want the Word preached. And we read the opposition to that preaching in the early verses of the Old Testament reading.

How many of the prophets would much rather have done something else than go and preach the Word of God to an uninterested and apathetic populace?

I would think and believe that Nathaniel Bartholomew would have been very happy being the scholar and studying the scripture. And yet he took the Gospel message to Georgia where tradition says that he died a violent death.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer had the opportunity to take a faculty position at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. But his concern for the Gospel and the people of Germany living under Nazi oppression took him back home to work against Hitler and the Nazis. Arrested in 1944, he would be executed in Buchenwald just a few days before U. S. troops liberated that concentration camp.

And while Dr. Jordan died peacefully while working on his translation of the Gospel of John, he endured persecution and opposition for his belief in equality. On more than one occasion the Klan (all who professed belief in the Risen Christ) attacked the Koinonia Farm that stood for equality and freedom.

I know what you are going to say, your heroes were all religious scholars, each had an understanding of the Bible and God. But Amos was not a religious scholar and his knowledge of the Scriptures was probably limited to what he learned when he was a young man.

I am not a religious scholar nor is my understanding of either the Bible or God at the level of Nathaniel Bartholomew, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Clarence Jordan, or Meredith Eller. It would be quite easy for me to say that they are my heroes and then go about doing my own thing, whatever it may be and wherever it may lead me.

But somewhere along the line, I have heard the call from God. It was perhaps a subtle call, a quiet nudge that forced me to change direction. I know, in my own life and time, I have met Christ even if it were not in the manner of Moses and the burning bush or Paul and his encounter on the road to Damascus. It began in the spring of 1969 when I was challenged by Reverend Fortel to understand what my statement about Christ being my Savior meant and what I was to do about it.

So I turn to you all this morning and ask the question that I hope you are asking at this moment, how will we know that God is calling us? How will we know what to do when God calls us?

The story of the Good Samaritan, whether told in the traditional way or put in the patois of Southern life, reflects that moment of God’s call.

There isn’t a person who has not, at some point in time, been in the position of each individual in this story.

I would hope that none of us have ever been in the position of the victim in this story, beaten, robbed, and abandoned on the side of the road. But we have met them, perhaps more than we care to admit.

Most people, I think, chose, as did the preacher and the song leader, to just walk on and not get involved. They will proudly tell you that they are Christians but that Christianity is a personal thing, something between Christ and them. They feel that they need not share their Christianity with anyone. They forget that while it is a personal thing, it is most definitely not a private thing.

It is one thing, they believe, to be against poverty, injustice, or oppression. All you have to do is nod your head knowingly as the preacher hums along; it is a totally different thing to put your life and career on the line and work against poverty, injustice, and/or oppression. Besides, the church has no business being involved in such causes; it has more important things to think about.

I never met Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Clarence Jordan; I only know that they made a choice that went against the flow. My limited encounters with Dr. Eller and Reverend Fortel only gave me snippets of their thoughts but I know that they too made choices that went against the flow of common thought and most certainly at great professional risk.

But in all these cases and in every case where the choice of any individual was counter to God’s desires and plans, there was a power beyond themselves that decided the direction of their life. Things like this – and we are constantly reminded that they are constantly happening – should convince us that the overruling reality of life is the Will and Choice of a Spirit acting not in a mechanical way but living and personal way.

We should also see that a spiritual life does not consist of merely an individual’s betterment or an assiduous attention to one’s own soul but in a free and and unconditional response to the Spirit’s presence and call, whatever the cost may be (from The Spiritual Life by Evelyn Underhill)

Each of us must take responsibility for the beliefs we hold and must personally wrestle with life’s most fundamental questions. But once we have decided to follow Jesus, we cannot help but live out our personal beliefs in public ways. The demands of the gospel refuse us the option of a purely inward spirituality. (from Jim Wallis – e-mail note on 11 July 2013).

And that leaves us with the third choice, to help that person whom we have never met, whose cry for help has fallen on deaf ears and blind eyes. The Spirit has called us to not walk by but to stop and offer assistance.

Like so many before us, this challenge is one that we have difficulty responding to. There are many reasons why we would walk on by but there needs to be only one reason why we would stop and help someone we have never met. Here the words of Paul again,

We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.

Who will be the one that stops and helps? Who will be the one who sees to it that those in need find assistance?

Let me tell you about another person, perhaps a hero in the eyes of some. This person was my mother. Now I know that mothers do the tasks of heroes and never get that sort of recognition. And I know that my mother, like everyone else, would say that she was not and never was a hero. She just answered the call that God made. After she was seventy some years old, she decided that she would be a rock star and go and sing Gospel music to the seniors at the senior centers around Memphis. So my brothers, sister, and I prepared a CD of songs that she could sing to and off she went.

But before she settled into the sedentary life of a rock-and-roll star, she ventured into fields many would say she should have never entered. Her church, Good Shepherd UMC in Bartlett, TN, decided to undertake a mission trip to St. Vincent’s Island, a small island in the Caribbean. This was perhaps one of the first VIM trips the United Methodist Church organized.

Some of the people went to work on the local school and took their hammers, saws, and other carpentry tools. Solomon Christian, a member of Good Shepherd, was also a dentist so he gathered his dentistry tools and went to take care of the dental needs of the people, adults and children. Because of the various restrictions imposed by the travel from Memphis to the islands, the amount of medicine was limited. So much of Solomon’s dental work was done without anesthesia or pain killers. And that is why my mom went on the trip. While she was a fair carpenter, there were plenty of carpenters on the trip. And she wasn’t a nurse and her medical training was confined to the typical cuts and bruises four children encounter growing up. So she wasn’t going to be much help in the medical field.

But children hurting, especially after a dentist pulls a tooth without a pain killer, need someone to hold them, hug them, and love them. So my mom went as the team’s DH, designated hugger. Every child who had dental work got an abundant supply of hugs from my mom to comfort and ease the pain.

My wife Ann started Grannie Annie’s Kitchen in November, 2010, in response to a need for a breakfast on Saturdays in the community. Since that time, we have opened the doors of Grace UMC in Newburgh on Saturday from 8 to 10 to offer the people of Newburgh a nice home cooked breakfast and a short devotional. Since February we have had, on the average, 52 people come for breakfast and 8 individuals come to help serve. The high temperatures of the past few weeks suggest that perhaps we shouldn’t be doing this but I don’t recall a mention of the weather when the multitudes were fed. It isn’t about what you do; it’s about what others receive.

Who will be the one to answer the call? History has shown that it could be just about anyone. It isn’t defined by how young or old one is or whether they are a man or woman or what skills and abilities they have or do not have. It is how one responds to the situation before them; with blind indifference or with the love of Christ in their hearts, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Who will be the one to answer God’s call? The choice is yours today. There will come a moment in your life where you will encounter Christ. You can walk on by as if nothing happened or you can stop and answer the call; it is your choice.

You Get What You Ask For

This is the message that I presented at Walker Valley UMC for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, 29 July 2001.  The Scriptures are Hosea 1: 2 – 10, Colossians 2: 6 – 19, and Luke 11: 1 – 13.  I also presented the message at the Stone Church in Cragsmoor, NY.


The title for this sermon is a two-edged statement. In some respect I see the Gospel reading in the sense of what Jesus said that day when he taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. "Ask and it shall be given."

But when you ask, be bold in asking and ask only for what is needed. Jesus used the boldness of the neighbor to see what was needed as example of the boldness one should use when asking God for something that is needed. But only ask for what is needed because we shall receive only that which is spiritually beneficial.

This parable also suggests, at least to me, that we can be the means by which other’s requests and prayers are answered. The passage in the Lord’s Prayer "do not lead us into temptation" is not meant to suggest that God leads us into sin as a test of our faith and loyalty but rather to suggest that to avoid sin, we must go where God leads us. And if that means that we must help others because they have requested help, so be it.

It is said that Eleanor Roosevelt personally supported a number of students financially. One student remembered getting a personal check for $75 monthly from her, even long after she ceased being First Lady.

It might have been a lot easier for her to refer him to some giant scholarship program and perhaps even write a nice recommendation letter. But because she was personally committed to education she supported students she felt worthy. More than twenty-five students received funds out of her personal account to meet their educational needs. She was the answer to their requests.

I have seen the reverse of this too many times to count. Whether it was in education or in private industry, I have seen people not do something because it wasn’t their job. If you say you are committed to a project then you must be willing to meet the demands of the project, not merely pass on the details to someone else.

I think that is why we have the Old Testament reading for today. The commentary on the chapter points out the Hosea quickly discovered that being a prophet was not easy task. More often than not, the Lord required His prophets to perform difficult and even humiliating object lessons as a compliment to their message. We read today that Hosea was told by God to marry a prostitute and to give his children names symbolic of the problems Israel was having at that time.

Hosea named his first born son Jezreel as a reminder of the atrocities that had occurred at that city. God was to judge Israel for these sins, apparently through a military defeat at that sin. If you will remember, every time Israel went into battle without the blessing of God, they suffered a terrible and humiliating defeat. Hosea was to name his second child, a daughter, Lo-Ruhamah, which meant "Not Loved." This was a sign that God was temporarily removed his love from Israel. The third child’s name was Lo-Ammi or "Not My People." This was God’s way of telling the people of Israel that their covenant was in danger of being broken.

I can imagine that Hosea must have said to himself that he didn’t ask for this. And I don’t think there is one of us who would disagree. The same is true today. We look at all that is around us and we wonder why it occurs, why God lets such bad things happen. But that is the same as the neighbor inside the building hearing his neighbor knock and asking for bread. What shall we do?

We must also remember that God never intended the punishment inflicted on Israel in Hosea’s time to be the final judgment. Hosea’s task was to show the people of Israel that they had been unfaithful in upholding their part of the covenant relationship with God. Through Hosea God announced that He would use severe judgment to free His people from the spiritual stupor and get their attention.

And while we might think that God intended to end the covenant relationship, we always know that has never been nor will it ever be the case. God’s intent is always to restore His people. When they repent of their sins, when they come to God and ask forgiveness, then life becomes better.

God loves us as His people and He will allow nothing to ruin this relationship and He will do everything to preserve it. Paul points out that Christ’s actions were solely to show this love and to maintain the relationship between God and us.

That is why the first thing that we should always ask for, the thing that God wanted from the Israelites in Hosea’s time, was forgiveness. The Israelites were told that if they repented their sins and turned away from their former ways, the glory of the kingdom of David would be returned to them.

Paul very vividly pointed out that everything Jesus did was so that all would be forgiven. What was expected of the people then and was expected of the people today was that we do God’s work, that we were to hold to the faith that has saved us.

But we must also remember that there are times when others ask and we are in turn asked by God. Sometimes the task that we are asked to do is not one we desire but in doing it, others will come to know Christ. As you go out this week, remember that you will get what you ask for. So ask for what you need and remember that you may be the means by which others get what they ask as well.

Are We Watching The Same Game?

I am at Hankins UMC this Sunday.  (Location of Hankins – the church is just past the intersection of NY 97 and NY Co 94 (on church road))  The service starts at 11 and you are welcome to attend.  The Scriptures for this Sunday, the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, are Amos 8: 1 – 12, Colossians 1: 15 – 28, and Luke 10: 38 – 42.


This has been edited since it was first posted (among other things, I forgot what time the service started).  🙂


I grew up as a fan of the St. Louis Cardinal’s baseball team. I can’t tell you exactly why that it is but I suppose that it has a lot to do with my roots being deep in the Midwest and especially St. Louis. Then again, I remember nights back in 1963 and 1964 when we were living in Denver, Colorado, and my father would set up his Hallicrafters radio receiver and stretch the antenna across the family room so that we could pick up KMOX radio. Back then, there were no baseball teams other than the Cardinals between the Mississippi River and the Rockies and if you could pick up KMOX, you listened to the Cardinals’ broadcast.

I would listen as Harry Caray and Jack Buck described the exploits of the team, especially and probably during the 1964 World Series against the Yankees. When we moved to the St. Louis area in 1965, I even got a chance to go to a couple of games. And it was interesting to do so, because if you listened to the game as Harry Caray described it while you were watching it, you sometimes wondered if you and he were watching the same game. Later, when we moved to Memphis and I listenedd to Jack Eaton broadcast the Memphis State Tigers basketball games on radio, I got the same feeling; that he saw an entirely different game than the one that was being played.

It isn’t that Harry Caray and Jack Eaton were bad announcers but rather that they were loyal to the teams whose games they announced. Loyalty is fine and I don’t want an announcer to be rooting against a particular team but, at the same time, I want to make decisions about the game myself.

I say this because, when I read the words of the Old Testament for today and the words of the prophets and I contrast them with the words of many today who profess to believe in the Bible, I wonder if we are reading the same words and looking at the same world.

When you read the words of the prophets, to a man they point out the fallacies of a society that favors the rich and ignores the poor. Despite what those who say that God wants everyone to be rich, provided, of course, that they send the minister the proper amount of seed money, the theme of the Old and New Testament is our relationship with people and more emphasis is given to the needs of the old, the infirmed, the helpless, the poor, and the oppressed.

In the passage from Amos for today, God spoke of those “Listen to this, you who walk all over the weak, you who treat poor people as less than nothing, who say, "When’s my next paycheck coming so I can go out and live it up? How long till the weekend when I can go out and have a good time?" Who give little and take much, and never do an honest day’s work. You exploit the poor, using them — and then, when they’re used up, you discard them.”

But what I see in this world today is such a world, a world in which the poor are exploited by the rich; where those who have so much care so little for those who have nothing. I see a world in which many so-called Christians care little for their fellow man and think that any expression of help is an expression of secularism or governmental interference or some “bleeding heart liberals.”

And it is a world where if one speaks out against the system, calls for compassion and repentance, of changing the values of society, they are apt to be called a socialist or some sort of secular humanist or ever worse.

Such a person is Jim Wallis. He has been writing and speaking out against the direction this country has been headed for many years now. He was asked to present a message to a Christian-based youth gathering in Wisconsin the other day. But from the screams and the outcry from some of the ministers in Wisconsin, you would have thought the devil himself had been invited.

I read the words of Jim Wallis and they ring true for me. Perhaps it is because I understand through my own life what he is describing. There comes a time in everyone’s life when you look around the world and ask yourself, “if there truly is a God, why then is there such hatred, violence, poverty, and despair in the world.” It is a question that demands an answer but it is a question that causes many people to turn away from the church because they see the church as either supporting the status quo or hiding from the reality of the world.

If I understand history and especially the history of the church and Methodism, even John Wesley asked that question. But John Wesley also saw in the Gospel message a promise of hope and renewal. It was the same message that I came to understand when I began to seek answers to the same questions.

But certain ministers in Wisconsin would tell you that Jim Wallis’ words and his thoughts are an expression of secular humanism and the youth of Wisconsin, who he was to speak to, would be in great “spiritual peril” if he was allowed to speak. I would think, as did others, that our youth should hear these words and begin to make up their own mind. The ones in peril are those who would deny individuals the opportunity to decide for themselves.

What I found most interesting in all of this was that this organized outcry against Jim Wallis and the “threat” that he posed to the youth of the state of Wisconsin was an echo of the very thing that they said he represented.

But the threat to the youth is not in denying them the right or preventing them from hearing someone like Jim Wallis speak; it is in the attitude that says that those who are in power know the answers and they will determine what answers will be given and what the people will know. And those who present this attitude also, in my mind, say that free thought and creative thought is not acceptable.

I shall make the assumption that many of those who wanted to deny Jim Wallis the opportunity to speak also openly oppose the teaching of evolution in the science classroom and argue for the inclusion of supposedly alternative theories for the process of life on this planet.

But these arguments are not based on the scientific process and amount to nothing more than (and I wish there was an easier way to say this) mind control. The theory of evolution is treated as a threat to Christianity and can only be opposed by limiting what is said or taught in today’s public classrooms. And while those who seek acceptance of their ideas decry the attempts of others to limit the publication of their ideas, they fail to mention the number of times that they have limited those who oppose them.

Now, I will also state that those who feel that religion is a threat to society are just as wrong as their counterparts who feel evolution is a threat. It is proper and permissible to oppose something that runs counter to what you think and what you believe but opposition through oppression is wrong, no matter what is being discussed. If we do not prepare ourselves and our children to think critically and creatively, then we will quickly find ourselves incapable of having visions. And people without a vision will perish.

And it should be noted that when Jim Wallis challenged his critics to explain why he was wrong, where in the Gospel his words contradicted Jesus or the prophets, but they could not respond or would not respond.

Despite the pressure and threats of those who opposed Jim Wallis and to their credit, the organizers who invited Jim Wallis to speak at their event did not rescind the invitation and Reverend Wallis was allowed to speak.

In the end, the pressure to keep Jim Wallis out of Wisconsin failed and he presented a message of hope and reconciliation to the youth of the state. But the ministers and the churches who argued that he shouldn’t be allowed to speak pulled their support for this Christian festival. (http://blog.sojo.net/2010/07/15/controversy-in-wisconsin/)

What Jim Wallis speaks and writes about is called in today’s society “social justice.” I came to know it as the social gospel, a way to live in today’s society that mirrors the words and actions of the people of the Old and New Testaments. Now, I will admit that what I first saw in the social gospel was the act of speaking out against injustice and oppression and of doing good works in life as a way through the door to heaven. In reality, it is the path that one walks after accepting Christ. There is a big difference and it is one that many people today still do not understand.

But those who oppose this message do so for one reason and one reason alone, selfishness. Oh, they couch their opposition in many different ways but it always comes down to the fact that they are unwilling to share the rewards of life with others. They think it is perfectly alright to take as much as one can and then take some more and not leave anything for the rest of the world. We are reminded that in the Book of Ruth that the people were commanded to leave parts of the harvest so that others would be able to have sustenance.

We live in a world today where we think it is perfectly alright for CEOs to earn more money in a year than many people could even dream of earning in their lifetime. We are more fascinated by the salary negotiations of sport superstars than we are the salaries of the teachers and coaches in high school who taught the superstars how to play the game. And someone needs to explain to me why it is permissible to allow the very rich to keep their tax cuts while the unemployed lose their benefits.

There are those who oppose what has become known as social justice, saying that it takes from the productive and gives to the unproductive. But what happened in the 40s and 50s when blacks sought to earn a livelihood and were denied the opportunity solely because of the color of their skin? What happened when women sought opportunities outside the home and in the traditional classroom? In the world of chemistry and physics, how many women (such as Rosalind Franklin, Marie Curie, and Lisa Meitner) made discoveries that changed the world but were met with opposition because of their gender?

Justice is demanded when laws are passed to maintain a system that maintains inequalities and injustice. (My thanks to “Liz” whose comment in response to the story at http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/07/07/christian-radio-station-jim-wallis-promotes-secularism-unholy-government-alliance/, assisted me in these thoughts.)

Is a message that speaks of justice for all and hope for all only for a select few, chosen by individuals here on earth or is it for everyone? Is a message which warns of danger if we do not treat everyone equally and fairly, if we do not give everyone an opportunity not an echo of the words of Amos and the other prophets, of Jesus and the Gospel?

Can we in this world even begin to think that these words should be denied or hidden? It has seemed to me for a long, long time that that those who do not want this message out into the world, who would seek to control what we can hear, what we can say, and what we think are the ones who would have agreed with Martha.

Martha was upset with her sister sitting in the living room listening to Jesus. From one standpoint, she had a right to be upset; considering the number of people who were probably visiting their place that day, she needed the help. But Jesus had begun his ministry by not limiting it and by going beyond the standards of the time. He ate with sinners; He broke countless religious-based medical and dietary laws; He treated everyone who sought Him with respect and courtesy. The traditional standards of society were replaced by a greater set of standards, equality in the eyes of God. If Mary wanted to be in the living room, that was her right and privilege in God’s Kingdom.

Too many people are like Martha in that they see each person they encounter as having a proper place in life. And they define what that proper place is. They see Martha’s place as in the kitchen and they want Mary to be there as well.

Now, and don’t get me wrong on this point, there are those whose ministry in this world is in the kitchen. They take the skills that enable them to prepare dinner for 20 or 30 or even 500 people and make sure that people who do not have a meal are fed. We should be encouraging them, not limiting them. But by the same token, when you say that someone’s place is only in the kitchen, then you have placed limits on them that shouldn’t exist. I have had the opportunity this week to hear and read about others who refused to let society’s restriction stop them from them from beginning ministries that reach out and touch the lives of countless people.

Social justice may not be the proper term but it speaks to the desires of each human to reach their potential. Anything done to limit that potential represents the worst that civilization has to offer.

If we see this life as a game, we have to realize that under the present rules it is a game that we are destined to lose. And some people, who understand this, see the only way to change the outcome is to control the players because they cannot control the game.

And the prophet’s words still echo throughout history; that those who control the players will suffer the greatest loss – go back and read the Old Testament reading again and tell me that Amos wasn’t speaking to the doom that faced the powerful and the greedy if they did not change their ways.

Go back and read Paul’s words to the Colossians again. Hear the words of promise and hope of renewal that come through Christ. It is not that we are watching the same game but, rather we are all participants in the game. And through Christ, the outcome of the game has changed.

I don’t want to just be watching the game nor do I want to be denied the opportunity to play in the game. In Christ, I have the chance and the opportunity to be in the game, even when others will deny me that right and that opportunity. The opportunity comes today to accept Christ as one’s personal Savior. The opportunity comes today to allow the Holy Spirit to empower your life and let you be a presence in the world.

Looking to the future

This is the message that I gave at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, 22 July 2007.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Hosea 1: 2 – 10, Colossians 2: 6 – 19, and Luke 11: 1 – 13.


In my collection of statements I find interesting is one attributed to Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the U. S. Office of Patents. In 1899, Mr. Duell is supposed to have said, ""Everything that can be invented has been invented." However, in a series of notes to the Chemical Information Internet list, it was discovered that Mr. Duell never said this. Kenneth W. Dobyns in his book on the history of the Patent Office, “The Patent Office Pony: A History of the Early Patent Office “, said that this quote was attributed to Mr. Duell by Richard Nixon in 1988.

It was the first Commissioner of Patents, Henry Ellsworth, who actually made the statement that became the basis for this quote. In his 1843 Annual Report of the Patent Office, Mr. Ellsworth wrote, "the advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity, and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end." (From a series on notes to the Chemical Information List on July 29, 1999)  Mr. Ellsworth’s view of the world can only come true if the day ever comes where we have no hope for the future and creativity dies.

I find it interesting that we could even consider a time when the creativity of the human race comes to an end, for that is to say that there is no future. But it is also not surprising when you stop to think that today’s society is more interested in the here and now than in what the future will bring. We live in a society of instant gratification. There are people who expect to have the fruits of the Christian life, joy, peace, trust, courage, confidence, and all the rest without the discipline of the Christian life. There are people who think that they can "get" the Christian faith in a weekend. But there is no quick, easy payoff when it comes to our relationship with God. (Adapted from "A Plea for Persistence" by William H. Willimon, Pulpit Resource, July, August, September 2004)

Many people say that God is distant from them. For them, prayers to God are simply times when they talk to themselves. God has never said or done anything to or for them. But the problem is that they have become distant from God, not the other way around. Their relationship with God is in their own terms and you cannot define this most important of relationships that way.

Paul tells us through his letter to the Colossians that we have to be careful that we don’t mix the philosophy of the world with our knowledge of Christ. There were those in Colosse who were attempting to combine worldly philosophies with the message of the Gospel. But in doing this, they created a system that was in conflict with the basic message of the Gospel. The mystery of the Gospel cannot be understood through the application of worldly philosophical systems.

This is because philosophers try to use portions of, not the whole part of the Gospel message. This makes it an incomplete system. Those who seek an understanding of God and an understanding of the Gospel in this way will never be able to do so, simply because it is incomplete. You cannot build a relationship on incomplete information and you cannot expect a relationship to exist if incomplete.

The focus of Hosea’s prophecy is Israel’s relationship with God in the present and what it might be in the future. The relationship is demonstrated to the Israelite nation in terms of Hosea’s own life. First, God tells him to marry a prostitute, Gomer, but tells him that she will then be openly unfaithful to him. This was to illustrate Israel’s own unfaithfulness in the covenant with the Lord. His children are to be named in terms that remind the nation of Israel of what it has done and what is going to happen to them. Hosea names his children Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, or "not loved", and Lo-Ammi, or "not my people." In naming his first child Jezreel, Hosea reminded the people of Israel of the atrocities that occurred in the city with the same name and the military defeat that was to come. Giving rather unfavorable names for children are meant to show God’s impending rejection of Israel and His termination of the covenant relationship with His people.

But Hosea’s prophecy and life were not always so gloomy. For in the same passage that tells us of God’s rejection of Israel, Hosea reports that Israel and its descendants will be as numerous as the sands on a beach. But this future can only come if the people of Israel change the way in which they live their lives, focusing once again on their relationship with God. In the coming passages of Hosea’s prophecy, we read of the reversal of the future that comes when the people of Israel make the changes.

It is interesting that this passage from the Old Testament is paired with the introduction of the Lord’s Prayer. But Jesus teaching his disciples to pray is also about relationships. In praying to the Father, we see a far different relationship from the one that existed before, when God was omnipotent and unreachable. Now, we see our relationship with God much like a loving parent with his children. Now, our prayers are to a Father who loves us enough to give us what we need rather than what we want.

Jesus used the accompanying parable to illustrate that the answers to our prayers only come through persistence. We have to be persistent in what we do, especially in terms of our relationship with God, or we face the likelihood that we will gain nothing and what we gain will be worthless.

The introduction of the Lord’s Prayer is also about the future. First, in our persistence, we seek a future; we are not willing to stand pat on what we have. Second, it is part of that relationship that we have with God. The disciples have seen Jesus in regular prayer, asking His Father for the support and strength that humans do not always have. So now they wished to be able to pray like Jesus. We know that the disciples did not know what the future was for them; for they never truly realized that Jesus’ ministry must end on the cross.

But they saw hope and promise in a prayer that reestablished the relationship between themselves, as children of God, and God Himself, their Heavenly Father. They began to see a new and different future.

So, as we look to the future, we have to ask ourselves what lies ahead? If we choose to do nothing, then we are faced with a future described over 160 years ago, a future that doesn’t exist, a time where there is no creativity, no results of human effort. Like the people of Israel as they see Hosea’s children, we will see nothing but doom in front of us. We see a world without a relationship with God.

But if we hold onto the relationship to God that we were given through Christ’s death on the cross, we see a better future. This is a future of hope, one in which the efforts of human endeavor come to the fruition of the Gospel message. It is a message that we can and must give to others. In a world that cannot see the future, or sees one bounded by the limits of today, through the Gospel we can give others a chance to look to the future once again.


Are You Waiting For The Lord?

This was the first of three Sundays where I was at the Mulberry (KS) and Arma (KS) United Methodist Churches.  This was the 8th Sunday after Pentecost and I used 2 Kings 4: 8 – 17, Colossians 1: 21 – 29, and Luke 10: 38 – 42 as the Scriptures.


I was reminded of the story about the two vultures sitting in the tree where one vulture turns to the other and says, "I am tired of waiting; I’m going to do something." Waiting is part of life for vultures, for they could not survive otherwise.

But waiting is somehow not in our makeup. Occasionally, our lives are made enjoyable because we are impatient. The excitement of the Indiana Jones movies comes from the transition between scenes as Indy is caught in one predicament after another.

Still, for the most part, we do not find it convenient to wait. Our news and view of life is based on sound bites, short scripts that we can ingest. It is said that the average attention span is around 15 minutes. If a politician wants to make a point, it has to be done in less than 15 minutes or we lose interest. A great deal of time and money has gone into the "fast food" industry. If we are in a hurry to eat at home, we "zap" things in the microwave. And if our lives are rushed so much that we don’t have time to even microwave things, then there are businesses which will deliver a complete dinner to your door (though I don’t know such a business here in the Pittsburg area).

Our impatience even enters into our church life as well. Many a pastor is judged not on the content of his sermons but only on the length of the message. Fortunately for me, as one of my preacher cousins has told me, my sermons are just the right length. But sometimes in our own church services, we begin to watch the clock rather than listen to the words. And many times we find ourselves saying, "I can’t come to church today but I will be there in spirit." Sometimes we can’t come to church. We might be on the road traveling (though I would hope you go to church somewhere) and I don’t think a person who is physically exhausted should come to church. But too often, when we get up on Sunday morning, it is that little ache which keeps us from going to church.

We find ourselves trapped in a paradox. Society demands a pace that we often cannot maintain and we find ourselves seeking a moment of rest. Yet, while Sunday was meant to be a day of rest, it was also meant to be a day of celebration of God’s presence in our lives.

So while Sunday still serves as the day of rest, we find ourselves too weak to celebrate. And when we begin losing touch with those things that give life meaning and purpose, then all the work and pressure put on us by society begins to takes it tolls. Jesus asked to consider the pace of our lives when he said "What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?"(Luke 9: 25)

Consider the Gospel message for today. Martha is busy in the kitchen and dining room getting dinner ready. This is a formidable task because there was a few more guests than normal and she wanted to make a good impression. Wouldn’t we all, especially considering who was visiting.

But there was Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, along with the other disciples. Consider how Martha felt, trying to get everything done, with more things to do than there was time and what was her sister Mary doing just sitting there listening to Jesus.

No wonder Martha exclaims "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me."(Luke 10: 40)

But, what does Jesus tell her? "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10: 41)

Jesus’ message is that our relationship with God and the time we spend with him is more important than whatever else we might do. This message suggests that we change the way we behave in society.

Human nature in Jesus’ time was no different from human nature today. In our rush to get things done, we miss the important parts of life. The prophet Amos said to the people of Israel, "Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it." (Amos 8: 12)

I think that was what Paul was trying to tell the people at Colossae.

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. (Colossians 1: 21 – 22)

Even with their faith in Christ, they were having trouble understanding when the promise of a life in Christ would come. Paul was cautioning not to turn back to their previous live because they did not see immediate results and to never lose hope, even if it meant waiting for the Lord.

When we turn to God in prayer, we often find that our prayers are not answered immediately. Often times, we are not prepared to hear the answer. Perhaps we did not hear the answer because we were too busy. We must pause in our daily, not weekly, lives so that we can hear His answer. In the resource that I use for my daily devotions comes the following

Complete serenity of mind is a gift of God; but this serenity is not given without our own intense effort. You will achieve nothing by your own efforts alone; yet God will not give you anything, unless you work with all your strength. This is an unbreakable law. ”The Art of Prayer”

While we may not understand the time frame that the Lord works on and we may find it very hard to wait, we know that there are rewards for what we do. The Shunammite woman offered to help Elisha and the reward for her help was a son, even though she and her husband probably felt they would never have children. Her waiting was rewarded. It is hard to tell but if Martha had taken time to hear what Jesus was saying, when He was done, everyone there would probably have pitched afterwards and the dinner would have come out okay.

Now I will not be the first pastor who has ever said this, nor will I be the last to do so. And I know that there are those who already start each day dedicating the work of that day to the Lord. Still, I want to remind you, as you go through this week, to take a few moments to enter into prayer. And when life gets a little hectic, stop and ask yourself "Are you waiting for the Lord?"

What Are Your Priorities?

I have edited this since it was first posted.

I cannot help but imagine how the conversation between Martha and Jesus in today’s Gospel reading (Luke 10: 38 – 42 ) will be accepted in many of today’s churches.

In many churches today, there is a division of labor prompted by gender and time served in the church. Certain things are done by the men, certain things are done by the women, and some things depend on how long you have been a member of the church. Yet, in the reading for today, Mary is sitting with the men listening to Jesus while Martha is in the kitchen trying to clean up.

The problem for Martha is that Mary’s presence with the men goes against the social norms of the day. But it was typical of Jesus to seek a change in such norms. It was also one of the attributes of the early church where all members were considered equal and the division of the labor was divided appropriately and equally.
Jesus gently chides Martha for insisting that Mary go along with society’s rules. We hear in Jesus’ words the same reminder to open our hearts and our minds to the possibilities of life, not to the limits placed on us by society.

The problem today is two-fold. First, we have allowed society’s norms to dictate the nature of the church. And we have allowed society to define the message of the church.

In churches today, the message is clear that certain people do certain jobs and one is not supposed to mess with tradition. When it is your time, you will get to do the job you want to do. Too many churches today hold views that are inflexible and unchanging. For too many churches and too many people, the role of women is limited and fixed by God in the Bible. Somehow the history of the early church gets lost when the words of God are carved into stone by these inflexible and unchanging minds.

There is a truth in God’s words but it does not come nor can it come from a view that is fixed and unchanging. The Bible is meant to be lived, not read. The Word of God must be guided by the Spirit, not directed by one’s prejudices, one’s fears, or one’s ignorance. And I fear that many of those who claim to speak these words speak through their own prejudices, fears, and ignorance.

There are four versions of the Gospel presented to people today. In one version, Jesus is our servant and the avenue and the means by which we gain wealth and prosperity. Poverty is the product of a sinful life and wealth is the product of a righteous life. Never mind that this is a concept that was held by people before Jesus. Never mind that it was a concept that Jesus quickly rejected. Never mind that the Bible emphasizes on taking care of those less fortunate and that wealth is to be used, not accumulated.

When Jesus began his ministry, poverty and sickness were considered the products of a sinful life, either by the individual themselves or through the sins of the individual’s parents. Jesus worked to show that this was not the case and that people who were blind, lame, deaf or could not speak should be treated for their illnesses, not cast aside or shunned.

The second version of the Gospel also casts aside the less fortunate members of society. In this version of the Gospel, God is hateful, vengeful and quick to anger. He is apt to destroy a town because of its sins and there is nothing that we can do. This is a god that offers no hope for the future. To those who accept this gospel the future will end in some sort of fiery destruction with non-believers perishing in the flames while they are lifted up to heaven. But who will be lifted up?

This view offers Christianity as an exclusive club that is only open to a select few. Heaven is truly open to all those who believe but the belief is not decided by those here on earth. Jesus points out that those who ignore the less fortunate, no matter how righteous a life they think they led here on earth, will not gain admission to heaven. To wait for the destruction of the earth in anticipation of admittance into heaven is to ignore all that is going on around you and is as much a sin as anything imaginable.

I have no problem with preaching against sin. I think that is what the church is supposed to do. But when we cannot preach against sins that are the product of our own prejudices, our fears, or our ignorance; to do so is as much a sin as preaching against murder or stealing.

You cannot preach a gospel of vengeance when God sent his Son so that we might have eternal life. You cannot preach a gospel of exclusion when Jesus Christ opened his teaching to all who would follow Him.

The prosperity gospel and the gospel of vengeance have one thing in common. They are self-centered messages and those who offer them cannot see beyond the walls of their limited existence. They are the ones who Amos speaks out against in today’s Old Testament reading.(Amos 8:1 – 12 ) People who forget parts of their own society are not going to gain what they seek. Rather, they will be destroyed because of their own indifference to society.

There are those who preach a gospel of social work today. But their version of the gospel is as self-centered as the message of those who ignore the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. This version of the gospel suggests that one is able to gain access to heaven by helping those less fortunate. It is a version of the 16th century church where people bought their admission through the purchase of indulgences. One cannot buy one’s way into heaven by any means and trying to do so will do little to change the actual nature of the world.To change the world requires a change in one’s view of the world. This is what I think Paul is saying to the Colossians in the 2nd reading for today. (Colossians 1: 15 -28) There was, at the time of his writing this letter, a conflict between various schools of thought about who Jesus Christ was, is, and would be. The various versions of the Gospel that we hear today are a continuation of that same argument.

There is one true version of the Gospel and it is the most difficult one to accept. As Paul noted in the letter to the Colossians, to follow Christ is to follow the path that He walked and to endure the same sufferings that He endured. It is perhaps one reason that there are other versions of the Gospel that are kinder and gentler. The alternative versions of the Gospel offer paths that are easier to walk and require nothing from the individual.

But in order to walk the path with Christ, we must repent of our old ways and begin a new life. We cannot accept society’s version of the walk because it doesn’t work. To walk with Christ is to walk in a new world and to see things in an entirely differently life. And, as Paul noted, it is a very difficult walk.

As we walk this new walk, we are going to encounter many who will reject what we think, what we say, and what we do. But there are going to be many who will want to walk with us for the same reasons that others will reject us. It is by our thoughts, our words, and our deeds that people will come to know Christ because they will see how He has changed our lives.

The question that we must ask ourselves is the same one that Jesus posed so many years ago. Are we going to be like Martha, guided and directed by the ways of society, or are we going to be like Mary, focused on the goal offered by Jesus and the changes that this new goal will bring. What are your priorities today?