“Which Team Do You Root For?”

This will be the back page for the Sunday, July 22, 2018 (9th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B) bulletin at Fishkill United Methodist Church.

What do Southern Methodist University, Duke University, and Boston University have in common?  They are three of over 100 colleges and universities supported by the United Methodist Church.

Now, it does beg a question.  When SMU plays Baylor University (a Baptist institution) in football, or Duke plays Wake Forest (another Baptist institution) in basketball, or Boston University plays Boston College (a Roman Catholic institution) in hockey, who does God root for?

I graduated from Nicholas Blackwell High School in Bartlett, TN.  The school mascot is “The Panthers”, the school colors are red and blue, and the fight song is “Down the Field”.   I don’t know why the Panthers were selected as the mascot, but the school colors are the same as the University of Mississippi and the fight song was the same as the University of Tennessee.  It was a merger of several ideas that produced the sports identity of Bartlett High School.

Now, Paul points out that when you proclaim that you are a Christian, you forsake your national identity or heritage (a point not often understood today).

And as a people without a national identity, we reach out to all the people, no matter who they may be.

~Tony Mitchell (I root for Truman State [’71], Missouri [’75], and Iowa [’90], but you already knew that!)

“The One Person”

A mediation for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), 26 July 2015 based on 2 Samuel 11: 1 – 15, Ephesians 3: 14 – 21, and John 6: 1 – 21.

A few years ago I found a thought by Willie Nelson, “one person could not change the world but one person with a message could.” But what perhaps is the message?

Uriah could have easily done what David wanted him to do and no one would have said anything. But Uriah knew that his men didn’t have the opportunity for the comforts that David was encouraging him to enjoy. I am sure that other generals and military leaders would have done exactly that. I think that leadership sometimes requires that leaders understand what is taking place in the field.

A number of years ago there was a movement in business to seek excellence. Two of the outcomes of this movement were 1) most innovations occur at the basic level and not in the upper levels of management and 2) good leaders managed by “walking around” and studying what was happening at the basic levels of the company. In one sense that is what Uriah is saying, “my men do not have these privileges so I will not enjoy them.”

Of course, in this particular case, Uriah’s insistence on holding onto his vision of what was right lead to his own death as David attempted to cover up his own problems. But David paid a penalty for his sins and errors in the cover-up and we need to keep that in mind.

In the Gospel reading for today, Philip (and probably the other disciples as well) does not immediately see the solution to the problem of feeding all the people on that hillside. Now, John the writer notes that Jesus already knew what He was going to do but He wanted Philip to begin to see the answer. And, of course, the answer was provided by the young man who had brought a lunch of bread and fish.

There seems to be a problem in society today. Faced with numerous problems, we tend to think in terms of traditional answers. And we bang our heads against the wall time and time again trying to make the traditional answer work. The traditional answer for Uriah would have been to take advantage of the benefits of his position but that would have done anything for his men. The traditional response for the disciples would have been to tell the people to get their own lunches but while that may have worked, it would not have not opened the minds and spirits of all the people, including the disciples, to what God can do in their lives.

I have said it before, your encounter with Christ is likely to change your life. You will see the world in a different way. In one sense, that is what Paul told the Ephesians. You cannot lead the same life you were living after you encounter Christ (as he well knew).

One person with a vision can change the world – I don’t know if Willie Nelson was thinking of Christ when he made the that comment but I do know that Jesus Christ saw the world in a different way and He worked to make that vision a possibility. Our response today is to hear the call that Christ is making and understand that in accepting it we can change the world.

“I Am Not A Practicing Christian!”

I am at the Modena Memorial UMC this coming Sunday. Service starts at 10. The Scriptures for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost (C) are Amos 8: 1 – 12, Colossians 1: 15 – 28, and Luke 10: 38 – 42.


I want to first thank you all for your generous donation to Grannie Annie’s Kitchen. It is and was appreciated.

It is interesting that I would be here on the Sunday when the Gospel reading involves Mary and Martha. In this very familiar reading, Martha is busy in the kitchen while Mary sits with the company and listens to Jesus teach. It must have been pretty hectic for Martha, who probably wanted to be out there with Mary, but needed to prepare the meal for the twenty or so guests that suddenly appeared at her door.

Those who have ever been at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen on a Saturday morning know how that is. The doors open at 8 and in the next ten minutes or so some thirty individuals will come in. They will get their coffee, juice, fruit, and cereal and take a seat in preparation for the morning worship.

That’s why we really appreciate those, such as Pastor Lynn, Kim, and Anthony, who come early and help meet the people and serve them. It means that everyone has the opportunity to sit and hear the words that feed the soul.

Now, you need to know that Grannie Annie’s Kitchen is not nor has it ever been a soup kitchen. Yes, it is a kitchen and yes, the soups that Ann makes are some of the finest in the area but Grannie Annie’s Kitchen was never intended to be a “soup kitchen.” Over the almost three years that it has been in existence, we have sought to make it a community and a part of Grace Church. True, there are individuals who come on Saturday morning expecting a “soup kitchen” with paper plates and plastic utensils. It is clear that they have never had a meal where they were served on plates with silverware. But if Jesus were to be a guest at your home, how would you serve Him? Is it no wonder that Mary was so busy in her kitchen?

I would have thought that some of the disciples, having had some experience feeding large groups, might have offered to help Martha but the purpose of the Gospel reading is to focus on hearing the word and not being distracted by other duties.

Now, at this point you are wondering what all this has to do with the title of this message. To do what we do every Saturday morning requires a little more of a commitment than many people realize.

One of the most common phrases heard today is “practicing Christian.” Neither Ann nor I are enamored with that that phrase, in part because of what we think it implies.

You have to know that I played in the band in junior high, high school, and my freshman year in college. I really liked playing in the band and being on the football field at half-time. But the one thing that I absolutely hated was practice and that is why I wasn’t a good musician. Understand that I didn’t consider attendance in band class practice; it was part of the assignment and going out onto the field to prepare for each week’s half-time show or concert wasn’t really practice but more of a rehearsal. Practice is that time that each individual spends working on technique or skills; musicians and many others will tell you that you must set aside 1 or 2 hours a day for individual practice if you wish to improve.

I think the problem in too many church’s today is that most people are “practicing Christians”. They come to church for one hour on Sunday and perhaps another hour during the week and they feel that they have meet their obligation to the church, Christ, and God. They give little concern to what is going on around them the rest of the time. Their lack of concern for others may not be as extreme as was set forth in the Old Testament reading for today but any lack of concern for another person is, in my opinion, too much.

If, as Paul writes, to the Colossians, in words that echo the opening verses of the Gospel of John, Christ is a part of this world and has been a part of this world from the very beginning, we cannot simply pick the time and place where we want to meet Him; we cannot pick the time and place to be a Christian.

The focus of your life has to be on Christ, as Jesus pointed out to Martha. In all you say and do, people need to see Christ. God’s anger with the people of Israel is because their lives were not focused on Him and being the Chosen People but other things, things that took them away from Him.

Being a Christian means more than practicing the tenets of your faith; it means living them out every day. Anyone can run a soup kitchen and give those who are hungry a simple meal. But if you are feeding others so that you feel good, you are simply practicing your faith. Would you serve such a meal to Jesus? Or would you bring out your finest linens, best china and silverware? How do you know that Jesus is not among those standing in line, waiting to be served?

Being a Christian needs to be more than just a label. I know of people, who having proclaimed themselves to be followers of Christ, will only buy their books at a Christian book store and the only music that they listen to is on the local Christian radio station. They will search far and near for Christian businesses so that they are not contaminated by non-Christians. But is that any sort of life?

Several years ago, when I was living in Memphis, a Christian restaurant opened up. My mother and I went because some friends of ours from church were playing that night. It was a nice restaurant, clean with a friendly staff, but it lacked the one thing that every restaurant must have in order to succeed. It did not have good food. No restaurant can expect to survive if it does not offer good food; no gimmick is going to entice customers to come back if the food is not good.

Ultimately, this restaurant closed and the owners blamed society, saying society was not ready for a Christian-based restaurant. Faith-based businesses will succeed if their product is better than the competition and not because it is a faith-based business. If one treats those who walk through the door as if they were Jesus Christ, their business will succeed.

No profession is lower than that of a prophet, priest, or king and one quickly discovers the beauty of being alive when you use your talents to serve God. But you can’t do that if you only practice being a Christian. Paul will write to the Colossians in chapter 3, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3: 23 – 24).

When I was a sophomore in college, I thought I had it all pegged but what sophomore in college doesn’t have it all figured out? I was getting ready to go back to Memphis for spring break but before I left Kirksville, I wanted to take communion. While I knew that communion would be part of the Sunday service at the Bartlett Methodist Church where my parents and siblings attended, something inside me said that I should find a way to take communion at the church were I was a member, 1st UMC of Kirksville.

My pastor, Marvin Fortel, was somewhat surprised by this request, in part because most of the students who attended 1st were not members. Still, he agreed to meet with me and we sat in the chapel at 1st and discussed the parts of the communion ritual. I still remember today, some 44 years later, asking why we were not worthy of sitting at the banquet table. Didn’t being a Christian give us the right to sit at God’s table?

In short, that day I began to learn, first about God’s grace and second, doing good does not automatically get you into heaven. I also learned that in accepting Christ and declaring that I was a Methodist meant that I needed to seek the perfection of Christ each day of my life. I probably will not reach that level but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try.

So I am not a practicing Christian but one who tries each day to live out his life to the best of the ability that God gave me. Sometimes I don’t do such a good job at it. At the end of the day, I thank God for what has transpired, apologize for what went wrong and ask that tomorrow be a better day.

And the opportunity is given to you today and each day that we gather together in worship and celebration to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. And the opportunity comes as well to allow the Holy Spirit to enter into your lives, to empower you to find the talents that you have deep within you that will allow you to live the life that you were meant to live.

I always loved being on the field during half-time; all that we did during the week was about to pay off. How many times have we heard the phrase that the service has ended and now service begins?

This is one of those times where our lives as Christians begins; the practice is over and life begins.

Thoughts for a week in August

I am at the Henderson Settlement in Kentucky this week (7 August – 13 August) with my home church’s youth group.

The Sunday blog

I didn’t get a chance to post my normal Sunday thoughts because of the trip preparation so I figured that I would do so now. A colleague was basing her sermon for Sunday in part on the passage from Romans. Here are some of the thoughts I put down for her when she asked for my thoughts.

As to the passage from Romans, consider Paul’s question.  If one does not know of Christ and/or God, how then will they ever get into heaven?  There is a philosophical argument that says that if you know nothing of sin, you cannot be a sinner. But once you become aware of sin, then you find that you are a sinner.

I don’t necessarily think that Paul is stating that one must go through Christ to get into heaven.  A devout Jew has a path separate from ours but if they deviate from their path, then they are in deep trouble (this is why I think Paul is referring to Moses at the beginning of the passage).  For us, Christ was sent as alternative and is the One whom we can trust to be there in times of need.

If I were writing a sermon, I would point out that Joseph’s brothers did not like him, let alone trust him and they had no use for the prophecies that came out of his dream.  They felt that Joseph had the good life and they had to do all the hard work.  No one likes a visionary who does not work.

Of course, we can look to the next few chapters and know how that comes out.

And there are times when our faith is tested to the max, when our eyes are no longer on Christ and we find ourselves slipping fast in the ocean of despair.  Who did Peter call on when he began to sink into the Sea of Galilee?  Whom shall we call on?

Those were my thoughts in part on the passage from Romans and how I saw the passages from Genesis and Matthew relating to it. I probably would have entitled the sermon “Trust is a Must”, a portion of a saying from the Hall of Famer bowler Billy Welu (trust is a must or your game is bust).

Notes on Henderson Settlement and the surrounding area

For those that don’t know, the Henderson Settlement is part of the Red Bird Missionary Conference of the United Methodist Church. It is located just outside Middlesboro, Kentucky in the southeast corner of Kentucky. But in one sense it is another part of the world. Cell phones don’t work in these hills and unless you have a reliable wireless network for the internet, communication is limited to regular phone lines.

In a country where the poverty line for a family of two adults and two children is set at about $21,000, the median income for this county is $22,000. There are two population centers where there is work so they raise the income but when you get outside those centers, the average income drops rather dramatically. And the poverty of the area is not limited to just this one county. The county where I lived when I was preaching at Neon UMC is about two hours north of here and its income numbers are very similar to the ones for this area.

For the youth of this area, there isn’t much hope. The only jobs are in the coal industry and we aren’t using as much coal as we did once upon a time. But using coal brings with it a variety of problems. To get to the coal, you must strip the mountain tops which destroy the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. And you have to deal with one of the most insidious diseases ever discovered, black lung disease. Let’s just say that this disease is appropriately named and you can imagine what it does and has done to many a miner.

Those who can only imagine why it is so important to fight for the unions in this country need only look to Appalachia and the fights that went on between the miners and the mine owners.

So the youth of this area stay in the area and work in the mines or they try to get out. I was told today that this area ranks in the top ten for prescription drug abuse among teenagers in the country.

Against this backdrop that is vaguely similar to the times of John Wesley and England in the early 18th century stands the church, especially the United Methodist Church, offering hope and a promise.

It is the promise that the people of this area will not be alone and that there are people who care enough to give of their time and resources to spend a week helping the people of the area. Some of this work involves building and repairing the houses of the people; other times it involves work on the settlement property (our youth did renovation work on the community pool and completed some other tasks that earlier groups had begun but were unable to complete).

For many of the youth, this trip is a life-changing experience. We often see poverty in abstract terms and we often tend to overlook the existence of poverty in own neighborhoods. But when one travels to another part of the same country and discovers conditions that one only can imagine happening in 3rd world countries, it changes one’s perspective.

This week, besides our group, there was group from New Jersey and one from Ohio. The Ohio group first came several years ago and returned each year since that original trip. I think that many of those in the New Jersey group are repeaters. I was the only one in our group that had never been here before.

It is not an easy time and if you think of it as a vacation, relaxing in the sun and swimming in the pool, don’t plan on coming. Each day starts at 7 with vespers (more on this in a moment) and then breakfast at 7:30. The work starts at 8 and you work until 11:15 when you get a break for lunch. The afternoon shift is from 1 to 4 or thereabouts. Dinner is at 5:30 so the time between the afternoon shift and dinner is used for cleaning up. (By the way, the cooks are a great bunch and they are to be applauded for the work they do preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day!)

There is a group meeting on Monday nights to give everyone some of the history of the settlement and the work done at the settlement. On Tuesday, a local bluegrass band offers up some traditional mountain music. This Thursday we will go to the local United Methodist Church for an ice cream social to support the church’s (Hope United Methodist Church, Frakes, KY) youth ministry. Friday will be a closing worship at Hope and then Saturday morning the long drive home.

I will be honest. We often toss around the idea of doing mission work without ever understanding what it is that we are speaking about. The trip to Henderson is part of the Volunteer in Mission program (or I think it is) and should be a part of every church’s plans. Maybe your church doesn’t have enough individuals to come down alone but you could always pair up with another church.

The plans for my home church next year involve staying at a United Methodist Church about ½ way down so that the drive is split into two parts. This way, the connections between Methodist churches is shown.

Giving to Henderson Settlement can be done in a number of ways and are listed on their website. We speak of supporting the church with our prayers, our tithes, our gifts, and our support. This is one way to do it.

Monday’s Vespers

As we gathered together on Sunday evening for the orientation, each group was asked which morning vesper/devotion they would like to do (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday). Our group chose Tuesday. Since no one chose Monday, I volunteered to do it.

The theme for this week was “Open Doors.”

I chose as my Scripture Luke 10: 1 – 24. I looked at the fact that 72 were sent out to do mission work. And I wondered what happened to the 60 (I assumed that 12 of the group were the 12 disciples) after they came back. I can only imagine that those 60 others went to their home and continued the work that began when they went on that first mission trip. Doors were opened for them and they had great opportunities in front of them.

And as I stood on the hillside that morning, looking at some fifty people I had never meet, I spoke of the doors that were opening for them as well as my own group and me this week. Will we go home and close those doors or we will seek the opportunities that lie before us?

Tuesday’s Vespers

For Tuesday’s vespers, I chose Mark 10: 13 – 16 as my scripture. In this passage, Jesus tells the disciples to let the children come to Him. I reminded those that were there of the Gospel reading from a couple of weeks ago where Matthew recorded that only 5000 were fed and how that was only the number of adult men that were present. Too often we forget that women and children were also there (how does the story go? That a child offered his lunch?)

I pointed out that many times that we marginalize the efforts of the youth in our churches and yet it is the youth that is the hope and future of the church. I also pointed out that we do this work, both at Henderson and at our own church, not for what we might gain but because it is part of our reaching for the perfection of Christ.

When we say that we are Christians, what does that mean? Does it mean that we have some sort of guarantee or does it mean that we may have to work just a little bit harder? What does it mean that we say that we are Methodists? Is it just another title or is there substance behind what we do?

I hope that I offered a challenge to those who heard my words on Monday and Tuesday and I hope that you will ponder the ways that you can full the statement that says, “why yes, I am a Christian. I am also a United Methodist!”

“Journey to the Promised Land”

This is the message that I gave at Grace UMC, St. Cloud, MN for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, 31 July 1994. The Scriptures that I used for this message were Exodus 13: 17 – 22 and 2 Timothy 1: 6 – 7.

This is (was) the 11th sermon I ever wrote. I am not sure what Sunday in the church calendar this particular Sunday represented nor what the regular lectionary readings were. I was still developing as a lay speaker and followed the pattern used my pastor of one reading and a selected verse that may or not have come from the reading. My own style would begin to develop the following summer when my role as a certified lay speaker would change from an occasional Sunday or two to a weekly service and message to three churches in Kansas (see “Hide and Seek”).

The significance of this message, at least for me, is this is the first time that I had to say good-bye to a church where I had been more than just a member. Grace was a church that had given me an opportunity, and a church where I may have helped change it’s direction.

An interesting note – after the service was over and I was greeting everyone (and saying good-bye) a visitor came up and said that she wasn’t sure about coming to a Methodist church. She had been at the other Methodist church in town and the pastor there was leaving. She came to Grace and I was saying good-bye. I pointed out that I was not the pastor and that he would be back next week and she should come again. Of course, since I was gone, I never found out what she did.

This has been edited since it was first published.


A recent report on CNBC stated that the average American makes eleven moves during their lifetime. This is an interesting piece of information. First it tells us that our society is a very mobile society. This mobility is also increasing because a few years ago the average number of moves an individual made was three. We have become a society seeking a direction.

This report also tells you something about me; something that my mother has known for some time, that I am definitely not average. Because my father was a career military officer, a job that required that my family move often and the other moves I have made professionally, the move I will make at the end of August will be something on the order of my fortieth move.

Now, moving from one place to another can be a traumatic event. The same report that gave us the statistics about moving also reported that moving is the third leading cause of stress, behind death and divorce, in families today. It is not easy to move from familiar surroundings to strange or new ones. All you have to do is ask Sandra about our first move to Odessa, Texas, back in 1989. Even the Israelites would have rather stayed in slavery in Egypt than move to the new and yet unknown Promised Land. In Exodus 14: 10 – 14 we read

“When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them; and they were in great fear. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord; and they said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.”(Exodus 14: 10 – 14)

But even if you were never to move from your place of birth (and there must be three people who have never moved in order for the statistics to work out), the journey through life can still be frightening and uncertain.

Consider two individuals, both young men in their mid-twenties. The first young man, fresh from college, was uncertain about what the future held and was also uncertain as to what was in the world. He was not ready to venture out into the world. The second young man, also just out of college, was certain that he knew the secret to life and the promises it held. With this confidence, he set forth in his life to make the world better.

The first young man was Peter Jenkins, whose travel across America I have discussed before. When he graduated from college in the mid 1970’s, he felt lost and unsure of his future. In an effort to answer these unsettling questions, to find out who he was, he decided to walk across America. That walk led him to Mobile, Alabama, one early spring night in 1975.

After finishing dinner and promising to meet a friend at a party, Peter saw a sign advertising a revival meeting in downtown Mobile. More curious than anything else, he went to that revival. After all, he had been to parties before. And besides, as many young people have come to find out, the thrill of alcohol and drugs quickly wears off. At the call of the evangelist, Peter began to feel like

“I was going to die. The deepest corners of my being were lit with thousand-watt light bulbs. It was as if God himself were looking into my soul, through all my excuses, my dark secrets. All of me was exposed in God’s searchlight.

When the question ended its roaring echo, I decided for the first time to admit I needed God. This must be the God I had been searching for, and the same One they worshiped back in Murphy (N.C.) at Mount Zion.” (Peter Jenkins, A Walk Across America, page 261)

With the revelation and knowledge that Jesus Christ had died for him, Peter Jenkins accepted Jesus Christ as his own personal Savior. He then could appreciate how the Holy Spirit could guide him and how it can guide us today.

In the dark in downtown Mobile as I walked home, I felt the smile on my face and the glow of heaven around me. My soul had been like a wavering compass needle, but now it finally pointed to true north. I had found my lifetime direction. (A Walk Across America, page 261)

Even the Israelites were afraid of the trip from the certain and safe surroundings of Egypt into the unknown wilderness they called the Promised Land. Yet they still knew that it was God who guiding them.

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. (Exodus 13: 17 – 22)

The other young man in my story was John Wesley. Some two hundred years before Peter Jenkins began his walk across America, John Wesley came to America. While Peter Jenkins may have not been certain as to what he was going to do, there was no uncertainty in the purpose of John Wesley. Having recently graduated from Oxford, Wesley was ready to put into practice the methods that he, his brother Charles, and their friends had worked out during their studies at Oxford. It was tehse methods which he felt were the key to achieving Salvation.

John Wesley came to Georgia with a great deal of joy and expectation. But he left in a cloud of fear and failure. Prepared as he and his brother, Charles, were with the understanding that one cannot find peace in life outside Christ, neither felt that they had truly found the Peace of Christ. Despite their training, despite their background, neither Wesley was willing to say they trusted the Lord. John Wesley returned from Georgia feeling that he was a failure because he had not fully accepted the Holy Spirit.

The symbol for the United Methodist Church, as we see in the tapestry to my left, is the Cross and the Flame. It is by the Cross that we have the promise of Salvation through Jesus Christ and it is the Flame of the Holy Spirit which guides and illuminates us.

Only at that moment we have come to call the Aldersgate moment when Wesley accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior did the movement that became the Methodist Church become successful. Only when he accepted Christ as his personal Savior did John Wesley understand the direction his life was to take. By turning his life over to Christ completely and fully, did Wesley gain the confidence needed to make the Methodist revival possible and successful.

Neither the success of Grace Church these past few years nor the success of Grace Church in the future will be because one person did great things. No single person present today has the power or the capability to accomplish what Grace Church has done. Just as Paul wrote to Timothy

“That is why I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God which is yours through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1: 6 – 7)

The success of Grace Church today is because we have allowed the Holy Spirit to become the empowering force in our lives. When Sandra, the kids, and I first came to Grace Church some three years ago, only one member of this church other than Pastor John and his family said hello. Now, visitors often say they cannot leave without everyone in the church saying hello. Three years ago the average attendance was around 70 and the discussion of each Administrative Council meeting was which bills to pay. Today, the average attendance is over 110 and tonight we are having a special Ad Council meeting to discuss the purchase of land for the new Grace Church.

If we let the Holy Spirit into our lives, it creates a fire which cannot be put out. It is like magnesium burning, hot and intensely bright. Magnesium was the metal used in the first flash bulbs (remember Christmas past when someone took your picture and you had a dot in front of your eyes?). It is that flame, the flame of the Holy Spirit burning inside each one of us which provides Grace Church with its power and strength. And as others receive the Joy brought about by the Salvation offered by Jesus Christ, this fire gets hotter, brighter and larger.

We are at a time when many people have lost their direction and are looking for guidance. Just as the Holy Spirit guided the Israelites through the wilderness with the cloud by day and the flame by night, so too does it guide Grace Church today. And it is the Holy Spirit which can let Grace Church be the guiding light to St. Cloud and Minnesota. As Jesus said

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 14- 16)

But the choice is yours. Will you today accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? Will you let the Holy Spirit light the fire that warms your soul and provide direction to your life? Without Him, we wander through the wilderness. With Him, we can complete that journey to the promised land.

To Build a New Community

I am again 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 9th Sunday after Pentecost, are Hosea 1: 2 – 10, Colossians 2: 6 – 19, and Luke 11: 1 – 13.


The other day, someone (“Kyle”) added a comment concerning the paradox I had placed into my piece/sermon, “Who Cuts the Barber’s Hair?” The paradox is a classic one invented by the mathematician and logician, Bertrand Russell. It states

A barber posts the following sign in his window, "I cut the hair of all those men in town, and only those men in town that do not cut their own hair."

This particular paradox was created to illustrate a problem in set theory and logic. It is related in part to the page in most legal documents that states “this page is intentionally blank.” Of course, there is writing on the page so it is obviously not blank. And that is a paradox; a statement or situation which seemingly defies logic.

The paradox in the Bertrand Russell problem is that if the barber cuts his own hair, then he belongs to that group of men who cut their own hair. But that is the one grouping of men whose hair the barber does not cut. If someone else cut’s the barber’s hair, then he does not cut his own hair and the sign says that he does. Either the sign is wrong or nobody, including the barber, can cut the barber’s hair.

Now, “Kyle” tried to make a big deal out of this problem by pointing out, among other things, that such a situation doesn’t occur in real life. I didn’t say that it did and I pointed out that it was a created problem to deal with a particular set of situations that we might encounter.

Now, as it happens, sitting on my desk is a book by the philosopher and economist, Charles Handy, entitled “The Age of Paradox.” It is a companion to his book “The Age of Unreason” and it speaks to the contradictions of society. I really hadn’t thought that I would be using it this week. But as I began to re-read the book, I encountered some interesting thoughts.

Handy pointed out that we live at a time where it seems that the more we know, the more confused we get. And as we increase our technological capacity, we also seem to become more powerless. And while we have developed some of the most sophisticated armaments in the history of the world, we can only watch impotently while parts of the world kill each other and we are entrapped in wars of our own making (italics added as my own thought). We grow more food than we need but we somehow cannot feed the starving. We can unravel the mysteries of the galaxies yet we cannot understand other humans.

We know that learning takes time but we demand immediate results from education. We call for quality education but we seem to think that funding education is wasteful. We call for an end to wars in this country yet we see the solution as more war. We call for an end to poverty but our solution is to allow the rich to keep their money but over the past few years the gap between the rich and the poor has increased, not decreased. We call for an end to hunger yet the solution of food pantries and food banks only seems to create more problems, such as diabetes. We say we are solving the problems but in doing so only create more problems.

We demand the truth and we will listen to any prophet who can tell us what the future holds. But prophets do not foretell the future. What they do is tell the truth as they see it; they warn of dangers ahead if the present course is not changed. They point out what they think is wrong, unjust or prejudiced. They offer a way to clarify and concentrate the mind.

But they cannot tell the people what to do, despite the fact that is what many people want them to do. It was Jesus who told us that we should seek the truth and the truth will set us free but we are afraid of that truth.

When Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, TN, on April 4, 1968, Robert Kennedy was in Indianapolis. There were those who feared that violence would erupt in that city when the news of Dr. King’s death was announced and that the city should be prepared to meet such violence should be met with additional force. These authorities also recommended that Senator Kennedy not go to a planned political rally that night, saying that they feared for his safety and that they could not provide the protection that he needed. It seems to me that the only ones who feared for their safety and unwilling to do their job were the authorities, the ones charged with keep the peace and insuring the safety.

On that night, when violence erupted in 76 cities across the United States, no violence erupted in Indianapolis. And I will always believe that it was because Robert Kennedy spoke the truth to the people that night, just as he had spoken the truth so many times during that ill-fated 1968 Presidential campaign. (See “A Quote from Bobby Kennedy” and “A Ripple of Hope”, a movie about that night in Indianapolis)

But what people probably don’t remember is a speech that he gave earlier that day at the Indiana University Medical School. It was a speech to a largely white audience and they were extremely uncomfortable hearing him speak of his vision for the future. Several students asked the same question, “where would the money for his programs come from?” And he replied, bluntly, “From you. I look around this room and I don’t see many black faces who will become doctors. Part of a civilized society is to let people go to medical school who come from ghettos. I don’t see many people coming here from the slums, or off of Indian reservations. You are the privileged ones here.” The students reacted by hissing and booing Kennedy. As one observer pointed out, only Senator Kennedy or perhaps Jimmy Stewart’s “Mr. Smith”, Robert Redford as Bill McKay in “The Candidate” or Warren Beatty as “Jay Bulworth” could have responded in such terms. (http://www.wsws.org/articles/2006/dec2006/bobb-d21.shtml, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-a-palermo/robert-f-kennedys-indiana_b_99363.html, and http://www.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/books/06/06/review.rfk/index.html) I cannot help but think that there isn’t a political candidate who would say what Senator Kennedy said on that day or would have said anything at all without first making sure that the polls agreed with his comments or that a focus group thought they were appropriate. We only want to hear the truth that we want to hear, not the truth that sets us free.

At a time when there should be great opportunities for personal fulfillment, society demands more and more of our time. We have gained many freedoms over the year but it seems that they come with less equality, more misery, and ultimately feeling that success comes with a highly disproportionate price.

Too many people today see themselves as cogs in someone else’s machine, hurtling God knows where, destined to be a nameless number on a payroll or the raw material for some sociologist’s or economist’s statistical report. We try to walk a path that leads somewhere but which ends up nowhere. What others may call progress only seems like an empty promise.

We hear the words of Jesus to ask and we shall receive but we don’t really know what to ask for. We are told to seek and we shall find but we don’t know where to look. We are told to knock and the door will be opened but we don’t know which door to knock.

These are the paradoxes of our age but to call them paradoxes only puts a label on the situation; it does little to solve the problems that have been created.

Could it be that in our search for our own well-being and comfort we have misplaced our priorities? Could it be that in our focus on our own lives we have failed to remember that we are a part of a community?

In re-reading Charles Handy’s thoughts, I discovered that Adam Smith, author of “The Wealth of Nations” was a professor of moral philosophy and not economics as one might presume. His theories on the nature of economics come from the basis of a moral community. Before he wrote the book that we most know about, he had written another book, “A Theory of Moral Sentiments, in which he argued that a stable society was based on “sympathy”, a moral duty to have regard for one’s fellow human beings. All financial markets are to do is provide a mechanism for separating the efficient from the inefficient; they are not a substitute for responsibility. (Adapted from “The Age of Paradox”, Charles Handy)

What is missing from the equation in this time and place is a sense of responsibility. Perhaps it would be better if I used Genesis 4: 1 – 8 as the Old Testament reading for today. (And for those who have forgotten, this is the story of Cain and Abel.) Are we our brother’s keeper? Do we not have some sort of responsibility to take care of other people? And perhaps I should have used the Gospel reading from two weeks ago and asked who we count as our neighbor?

What expectations do we have in this society today? Are we a community of people or just a collection of people living on the same planet?

If we think about it, the beginning and middle of the Gospel reading for today is about such a community, a community in which, no matter how we may feel, we have an obligation to take care of each other.

The first thing that Jesus did when He began His ministry was to form a community. To follow Jesus meant that one would be willing to share His life. At the beginning, many followed and were willing to join but as it became clear what was expected of them, many quit. And even when the authorities thought that they could disband the community through death and oppression, it continued to grow. We are reminded that the early church was actually a movement known as “The Way.”

It was an open community, known as a caring and sharing community, especially sensitive to the needs of the poor and the outcast. It was a community founded on a love for God, for each other, and for the oppressed. Their refusals to kill, to practice racial discrimination, and to bow down before imperial deities were a matter of public knowledge. Theirs was a life-style based on faith and a testimony to that faith. (Adapted from “The Call to Conversion”, Jim Wallis, 2005)

We see the beginning of that community in the Gospel reading for today. We may not like it when a neighbor knocks on our door late at night but if the request is a reasonable one, we are apt to respond favorably. What good would it do to give a scorpion if a person needed an egg? We would only do so if we were selfish and greedy. But, in the Kingdom of God, our care for others is as great as it is for each of us.

The words of Hosea become strangely prophetic today. We have to wonder what the people thought when Hosea married Gomer, a prostitute. And then he named his son Jezreel. Now, Jezreel was the name of a place and a town in Israel associated with the bloody violence of the power politics that the kings of Israel had used to gain the throne and power. It was to reinforce the message of God’s coming judgment. Similarly, by naming his daughter “Lo-Ruhamah” and his next son “Lo-Ammi”, Hosea was communicating to the people of Israel their loss of God.

Now, I know that there are some who relish in this prophecy; who see in Hosea’s prophecy a justification for their own pronouncement of judgment and vindication of their vision for the future of this country. But their vision runs counter to the vision offered in the Lord’s Prayer, of a community open to all. When we say “grant us” and “free us”, we are not speaking individually but as a community.

But the loss should not be seen as a permanent one because God has rejected His Children. The promise made to Abraham still remains in effect, provided that we respond. In Christ, we are reminded that there is a covenant between God and us. If we are to find our way in this world, we will find it through Christ. As I read Paul’s words to the Colossians, I am reminded that we are responsible for our own faith. We cannot nor should we expect others to tell us what to do or where to go.

Now, there is a fine line between living in a community where one presumes leadership means control and direction and one in which we work together. We live in a world where too many people want the former when what is needed is the latter. The former leads us to a life without direction, without meaning, and down a path to nowhere. It is a life without Christ and one in which, as Paul wrote, one in which we are dead.

But in Christ, we find a new life. And in this new life, we begin anew, to build a new community, a community in which people can find their direction, their purpose, and their life. It is not an easy task, to be sure, but one in which we are called upon to begin today with our acceptance of Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

“A Vision of the Future”

This is the message that I gave at Walker Valley United Methodist Church for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, 5 August 2001.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Hosea 11: 1 – 11, Colossians 3: 1 – 11, and Luke 12: 13 – 21.


It is always interesting to see how the future has been viewed by people of the past. And while there have been visionaries such as Jules Verne whose vision of the future through his novels have been remarkably accurate, the majority have not been so prophetic. Consider the following statements:

  1. "Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction." — Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872
  2. "The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon." — Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria, 1873
  3. "This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." — Western Union internal memo, 1876
  4. "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." — Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895
  5. "Everything that can be invented has been invented." — Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899 (see a note at the end of the post concerning this particular quote)
  6. "Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value." –Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre
  7. "The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?" — David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s
  8. "Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools." — 1921 New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard’s revolutionary rocket work
  9. "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" — H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927
  10. "Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau." — Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929
  11. I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper." — Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in "Gone With The Wind"
  12. "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
  13. "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons." — Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949
  14. "I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year." — The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957
  15. "We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." — Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962
  16. "But what … is it good for?" — Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip
  17. "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." — Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp. in 1977
  18. "640K ought to be enough for anybody." — Bill Gates, 1981

The probably with seeing the future is that it is seen with eyes centered on the present and based on values and methods set in the present.

  1. "Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy." — Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.
  2. "The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible." — A Yale Univ. management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)
  3. "A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make." — Response to Debbi Fields’ idea of starting Mrs. Fields’ Cookies
  4. "If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this." — Spencer Silver on work that led to the unique adhesives for 3-M "Post-It" Notepads
  5. "So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.’" — Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and H-P interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer.
  6. "You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development across all of your muscles? It can’t be done. It’s just a fact of life. You just have to accept inconsistent muscle development as an unalterable condition of weight training." — Response to Arthur Jones, who solved the "unsolvable" problem by inventing Nautilus

The point to be made is that the future can never be thought of in terms of what is present now but rather with an open eye to what might be. During the 1968 presidential primary campaign, Robert Kennedy repeatedly quoted George Bernard Shaw, "You see things; and say ‘why?’ But I dream of things that never were and say ‘why not?’" (George Bernard Shaw) Because the future is and will always be about what we can do, not what we can’t do.

If we want to know what the future holds, we must see beyond what the present offers. And that is a most difficult task. We are comfortable with the present and we want the future to be something we can be comfortable with as well.

Our culture is a "see it to believe" society. We want the tangible; we want to hold things, measure them, and examine them. We have little room in our lives for transcendental things, such as heaven or faith. Transcendence cannot be measured or examined; we cannot put heaven under a microscope. It makes us uneasy to talk about faith because we cannot hold it in our hands. The brother who came to Jesus asking (actually demanding) that He command his brother to share the inheritance was that way. The rich man in the parable that Jesus told was also.

Both wanted things that they could hold as a means of defining the future. But the future must be defined in terms of another plane, another way of seeing things. When we view the world as Paul suggests in his letter to the Colossians, then we are able to have that view.

When we speak of heaven and faith in terms such as Paul has written about, we talk about a hope that transcends material possessions. We speak of a joy that moves beyond shallow happiness. We speak of a faith that enables us to claim that which we cannot see. And we receive a grace that loves us unconditionally. The only problem is that none of that can be accomplished when we are fixed with our eyes on earth and our ways set in the present and based on society’s demands.

Some might have said that Paul was being a Pollyanna, offering an escapist theology when he wrote these words. But he definitely had an ethical motive in mind. Paul presumed that the behavior of the Colossians, and of all Christians, would be based on a behavior. Paul noted that in order to see the world with a new vision, the Colossians must get rid of their old ways. They must leave the life style they had and choose a new life style, motivated by the Love of Christ, not by earthly materials.

When our minds are set on things above us, our view of the world changes radically. Relationships are seen differently and we no longer treat people in the way we once did. Because our view of the world is different, our actions are different.

My vision for the future, at least as it pertains to Walker Valley United Methodist Church, is a simple one. It is that this church be here prepared to help those who seek Christ find Him, now, tomorrow, and for the next five years and beyond.

Admittedly, it is not much of a vision. There are no grandiose plans, no mission statement. It is a vision not designed by the most modern of church building techniques. All it assumes is that over the next five years, people will come to this area in ever increasing numbers. They will come because it is cheaper to live here while still working in the city and they will come because they seek to find a security and a peace that they have not been able to find at the present time.

You have heard me question the plans for evangelism that many churches today have developed. I don’t think you can build a church on an idea that there must be programs for everyone and every group. Yes, there must be programs but it is not programs that will build a church. If programs offered peace and security, then the Israelites might have found their peace with the gods of Baal and the gods of their neighbors so many years ago.

But the Israelites were driven to seek other gods because they had forgotten, as Hosea reminded them, Who it was that brought them out of Egypt, Who it was that gave them peace and security in the first place.

What is needed today are not programs but opportunities. Opportunities provide the chances for people to find Christ, not get lost in a maze of tasks. A couple of weeks ago I suggested that we open the sanctuary one or two nights a week. During this time, people will be given the opportunity to come into the sanctuary and sit quietly and pray or mediate. This time of discernment is to allow moments that block out the noise and distraction of the world so that you can hear to hear God calling to you. There will be no music playing in the background, there will be no one there to offer prayers or read the Bible with you or to you. It is simply a chance to sit and be with God.

That is not to say that people will not be in the church. While the sanctuary is open, so too will the education wing and we can have things going on in there at the same time. There are a number of people who like Bible study and they can meet at that time if they so desire. And I am certain that there are other things that can on while the sanctuary is open. This time of discernment must be a quiet time, not disturbed by everyday voices.

I also think that we need to bring the youth of the church back. At least one night a month (and may be more as it develops), we should have a youth night. This would be time for the youth to gather in a place of safety and security. It is not clear to me what the format for these gatherings will be, for I don’t know which youth will come. But it will be an opportunity for the youth to come knowing that the pressures of the everyday world will be lifted for a few moments.

This does present another problem. It has been privately pointed out that the meetings that we have already scheduled for the next few months along with such activities such as the youth gathering will require that we clean up the kitchen and the fellowship hall downstairs.

The first gathering of people to occur this fall should occur in the next few weeks and it should be for the express purpose of cleaning the kitchen and fellowship hall. Now the one thing that I have found out about Walker Valley is that such things can occur without much prodding. It has amazed me that when we have had church lunches, how easily things are planned and accomplished. I am hoping that this one task, necessary for future activities, will occur that way as well.

Lastly, there is a need to think about the leadership for the future. We need to think about whom will serve as the leaders of this church. This is not meant to be derogatory or insulting to the present leaders; for without their efforts we could not begin to even think about the future. But there is a need to bring others into the leadership and there are certainly opportunities for others to help with the leadership. You, whether you are a member of the Committee on Lay Leadership or not, are challenged to think about what you can do and you are challenged to help the Committee find individuals willing and able to serve.

A vision for the future defined by the present times is one that will lead to failure. It is a vision rooted in the everyday aspect of life and thus unable to go beyond today. Hosea came to the Israelites to remind them that their hope for the future was not in the present but in God. Paul told the Colossians that a life based on earthly standards could never reach the heights of heaven. And Jesus reminded his disciples that preparing for the future in terms of today’s standards would always end up as a failure.

Through Christ we are offered a vision of the future. We see what we can have. To achieve this vision of the future, we must look beyond the things of today, we must seek a higher plane with which to view life. This can be accomplished when we let Christ into our hearts and into our lives.

Concerning the quote attributed to Charles Duell about everything had been invented and that the US Patent Office could be shut down

From a note to the CHMINF list on 29 July 1999 by Grace Baysinger <graceb@STANFORD.EDU>

Hello, I have a patron who is interested in seeing the original text that contains the following quote:

Quote: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

Charles H. Duell who was the Commissioner of the US Patent Office in 1899 made this quote.

I searched the Quotations file on Dialog and in Academic Universe. Also searched SSCI to see if Duell had been cited (he had not).

Any suggestions on where to look next would be appreciated. Thanks!

Grace Baysinger

Stanford University


Date: Thu, 29 Jul 1999 11:14:42 -0400

From: Nancy Adams <Nancy_Adams@UMIT.MAINE.EDU>

Subject: Re: Reference Question – Help Needed


The book, “The Patent Office Pony: A History of the Early Patent Office “, written by Kenneth W. Dobyns, contains information about this quote. It was attributed to the first Commissioner of Patents, Henry Ellsworth. The actual sentence that he wrote in the 1843 Annual Report of the Patent Office was, “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.” This has evolved through the years to, “Everything that can be invented has been invented”, although he never actually said that. Dobyns also states that Richard Nixon, in his 1988 book, “Victory without War”, attributed the erroneous statement to Commissioner Charles H. Duell, who also never said it.


Nancy Adams

Nancy E. Adams, M.L.I.S.

Science and Engineering Center, Fogler Library

University of Maine

Orono, ME 04469

207-581-1678 FAX 207-581-1653 e-mail:



Date: Thu, 29 Jul 1999 11:18:33 -0400

From: Nancy Adams <Nancy_Adams@UMIT.MAINE.EDU>

Subject: Re: Reference Question – Help Needed

Grace: In my last message I forgot to add that the actual text of the correct quote is found on page 5 of the 1843 “Annual Report of Commissioner of Patents”. The report is House of Representatives Document No. 177, from the 28th Congress of the U.S., 1st Session.

· Nancy Adams

Nancy E. Adams, M.L.I.S.

Science and Engineering Center, Fogler Library

University of Maine

Orono, ME 04469

207-581-1678 FAX 207-581-1653 e-mail:



We Gather Together

This was the second of three Sundays that I was at Mulberry (KS) and Arma (KS) United Methodist Churches.  As I will allude to in the message, this was the Sunday following the completion of Vacation Bible School.  It wasn’t part of the “assignment” but since the church did not have a regularly assigned pastor (which is why I was there for three weeks), I spent the mornings at the Arma church helping where I could and leading the daily devotions.

Now, it turned out that one tradition of VBS there was that the children picked the Scripture readings for the Sunday service.  The Scripture readings that were selected were 1 Kings 19: 11 – 13, Matthew 14: 13 – 21, and John 20: 24 – 29.  Not quite the regular lectionary and I suppose if I had had more experience, I might have picked one of the three and focused on that particular scripture.  However, I was just beginning and I thought that you needed to use all three readings, and this Sunday, with the children having picked the verses, it was especially important that I use all three.

So here is the message for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, 30 July 1995.

(I would also add that I had the pleasure of meeting Rose Sims two years before while I was still living in Minnesota.  It turns out that we shared a common bond of having both gone to the University of Missouri and having John Voth as an teacher.)


I chose the title for this sermon, "We Gather Together", for three reasons. First, this particular hymn we sang as the prelude today has always been one of my favorites.

Second, it reminds us that Jesus will always be in our presence whenever two or more are gathered in his name.

And third, it helps us to answer the same question that God asked Elijah "What are you doing here, Elijah" (1 Kings 19: 11)

Today we celebrate the completion of a successful Vacation Bible School. Now to some, Vacation Bible School is simply a summer time activity the church puts on for its children and those in its community. But we should also realize that it is through Vacation Bible School that we honor in part the tradition of a bible-based education, one mark of the Methodist Church since its founding some two hundred and fifty years ago.

Jesus said "Let the children come to me; do not try to stop them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." (Mark 10: 14)

Throughout time, children have had little or no place in society. As we read in the last verse of the passage from Matthew, women and children weren’t counted. That makes the feeding of the multitude even more amazing because there may have been between 12,000 and 15,000 people feed. Jesus command to his disciples came because they, the disciples, still early in their own ministries, saw children as non-entities in society.

Even in the days of John Wesley and early 18th century England, children as young as 11 and 12 commonly put in 60-hour work weeks along side the parents and other adults in the mines and factories. For them to learn anything, it would have to take place on Sunday. John Wesley started the first Sunday School because it was the only way many children would get any education and to show them that God had not forgotten about them.

But the challenges facing children have changed much in today’s "enlightened " society. Consider the following report written in June, 1987 by Don McCrory for Eternity.

"In the next 30 minutes, 285 children will become victims of broken homes, 685 teenagers will take some form of narcotics and 57 kids will become runaways. The incident of divorce in the U. S. will likely remain the highest in the world (1986 Census Bureau Predictions). Of the 3.6 million U. S. children who began their formal school in the US last September (1986), 14% were born to unmarried parents’ 40% will live in broken homes before they reach the age of 18; as many as one-third are latchkey children with no one to greet them when they come home from school. Some 100,000 of America’s children are homeless on any given night, and that doesn’t include those who have run away from home or been kicked out by their parents. That National Academy of Sciences – not the church – called it a ‘national disgrace that must be treated with urgency that such a situation demands" (page 169, New Life For Dying Churches, Rose Sims)

When we hear facts like those, even some eight years later when the situation has not improved, we realize how important it is for us to have Jesus in our lives. This celebration of Vacation Bible School is not just for the children. It is also a celebration of Jesus’ presence in our own lives today as well. Remember that after summoning the children, He told the crowd and His disciples, "Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." (Mark 10: 15)

To the people of both Jesus and John Wesley’s times, it was almost as if God had forgotten them. The prophet Elijah was running from Queen Jezebel’s hired killers. Having defeated the priests of Baal, he was a marked man fearing for his life and on the run. He came to that cave after forty days of running, convinced that he was only believer of God left, convinced that God had left him.

God said to Elijah to go outside the cave and watch him pass by. But God was not in the "wind, earthquake, and "fire, the natural phenomena traditionally associated with God. It is that singular silence, the passage of the silence, "and after the fire a sound of sheer silence" (1 Kings 19: 13), that reminds us not to look for God in the wind or the earthquakes or the fire because He is always here with us.

Even in the worst times one can imagine, when one feels left all alone, there are still other believers. And that was the case in Israel at that time. If you read further on in that chapter you find out that about seven thousand believers left. Every time God struck down the people of Israel, he always left behind a core of true believers. And as long as the believers were there, so was God.

Today we look at the church and the impact it can have on a community. I believe that there were more children at VBS. this summer than every before and that many of the children were not from this church. In fact, that is one reason why we have Vacation Bible School, to reach out to those who do not know Jesus. Bishop Earl Hunt, who served as President of the United Methodist Council of Bishops spoke of the impact of the church in a community.

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

Can you imagine the impact the feeding of the multitudes, not once but twice, had on the community of Israel? The people of Israel were already hearing stories of the power of Jesus. And as more and more people heard, they came to hear him and be near him and be healed by him. The crowds had grown to the point that for Jesus to escape, He had to take to a boat and sail across the lake. It was to get away from the crowds that lead to the passage in Matthew that we read today. While very few people may have had a great understanding of who Jesus was or what his mission was, they did know that what he offered was far greater than anything they had received up to that time.

When Jesus died on the cross, some of his followers may have again felt like God had forsaken them once more. Many may have given up and gone home, convinced there was hope of being saved, of gaining the freedom they so long cherished. But just as Elijah was not alone, there were some who were not ready to stop believing. Those that believed in his resurrection kept the faith.

Still doubts remained. Thomas would not just accept the word of his friends as proof of the resurrection; he had to see the proof. Our world is much the same way today. There are those today who wonder if our society and country are headed in the right direction. We demand proof that Jesus is still here.

My friends, the proof is there. As Jesus told Thomas, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." (John 20: 29)

The effect of the first Bible School started by John Wesley can be seen in what happened to England at the time France was undergoing its bloody revolution. Changes occurred in England, changes which made society better without the cost of blood. We see it in the eyes of the children who came to Vacation Bible School every day; we see it in the eyes of people at Gentry House as the kids sang for them on Friday.

I believe because I have seen the Spirit of the Lord work to turn around a church from the point almost closing to closing the purchase of 5 acres of land for a newer and bigger church within three years of the ministry. The words that Bishop Hunt spoke were spoken at a small country church in Florida that a few years before it too was about to be closed. Hope for the presence of Christ in that community would have disappeared were it not for Rose Sims. She became the pastor of that church and with the assistance of the congregation turned it around and made it a force in that community.

The best description of her work with this church was written by a reporter for the Tampa Tribune, George Lane.

Once the rural church was the strength of America, and the Methodist Church in Trilby and hundreds of other towns like this are fertile soil for the church’s rebirth in Florida, America, and maybe the world. What is happening at the Trilby Methodist Church offers new hope. When the world is at its worst, that is when the church must be at its best." (New Life For Dying Churches, Dr. Rose Sims)

If you ask Dr. Sims how all of that was accomplished she will tell you it was because the work done at Trilby was done for Jesus. The secret behind the rebirth of the Trilby Church was that the preaching of the Gospel was accompanied by work in the community.

We gather here today to ask the Lord’s blessing because we know that through Jesus Christ, it becomes possible for us to answer God’s question to Elijah. And on that day when Jesus was uplifted into heaven, He told His disciples

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28: 19 – 20)

And while Vacation Bible School is through for the summer, our gathering here today in its celebration helps us to renew this great commission.

What Shall We Say?

I am preaching at Dover United Methodist Church in Dover Plains, NY, this morning.  Here are my thoughts for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, 29 July 2007.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Hosea 1: 2 – 10, Colossians 2: 6 – 19, and Luke 11: 1 – 13.


I have edited this since it was first posted.


Several years ago a member of the congregation where I was serving asked me to present a message about the meaning of the Apostle’s Creed. His concern was that the congregation was merely saying the words from memory and was not concerned about what it was they were actually saying.

No, as it happened, I did not give that message. But this member of the congregation did and thus began his own lay speaking career. His concerns prompted me to begin a practice of using the various creeds found in the United Methodist Hymnal instead of solely relying on the traditional Apostle’s Creed.

A creed is a statement of what we believe. If we merely say what we were taught in confirmation class, we are quite likely to forget the meaning of the words that we are saying.

The same can be said about the Lord’s Prayer. It is entirely possible that each one of us learned a different version of this prayer. Even the version in the Gospel that we read this morning (Luke 11: 1 – 13) is slightly different from the version presented in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 6: 9 – 15). If anything, we need to know what the words themselves mean and what it means to say them.

First, as Jesus Himself reminded us in Matthew (Matthew 6: 7), we are to pray in this manner, not necessarily simply pray these words. There is a strong temptation to reduce this prayer to just an empty recitation. This is exactly what Jesus did not want His disciples or us to do.

So, how do we learn what these words mean and what it is that we are actually saying? Well, we could go and get original copies of Luke’s and/or Matthew’s Gospel and read the words in the original Greek. Or, we could get a copy of Mark’s Gospel or a copy of the mysterious “Q” document that served as the source for Mark in the writing of his Gospel. But there is no copy of the “Q” document available and it has only a theory that there was such a document available to Mark, Matthew, and Luke as they wrote their Gospels. And I don’t speak much Greek, let alone read it so that would not help us. So we must look at how others have translated or written the Lord’s Prayer. For me, that means a trip to the cotton patch.

The Cotton Patch Gospels are a translation of the New Testament prepared by Clarence Jordan. Dr. Jordan was a Southern preacher committed to the fulfillment of the Gospel through words and action. In the early 1940’s, he fought against segregation by creating the Koinonia Farm in Georgia. Though the citizens of Sumter County, Georgia, did everything they could to destroy the farm and scare off the residents, the farm has remained a witness to non-violence and equality to this day (http://www.koinoniapartners.org/History/brief.html). The testimony of the message that this place has carried over the past sixty years is that it is the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity. It is also where Dr. Jordan worked on his two loves, agriculture and the church. He had earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Georgia and then worked on a doctorate in Greek from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He used his agricultural background to help Georgia farmers and he brought new meaning to the Bible through his translation from the original Greek into what is called “The Cotton Patch Gospels.”

This version of the New Testament expressed the words and works of the early church in Southern dialect and uses Southern places and Southern terms in place of places and terms that we do not understand. This is how Clarence Jordan wrote the Lord’s Prayer as it is found in Luke’s Gospel.

He said to them, “When you pray, say, ‘Father, may your name be taken seriously. May your Movement spread. Sustaining bread grant us each day. And free us from our sins, even as we release everyone indebted to us. And don’t let us get tangled up.’” (From Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospels, Jesus’ Doings 11: 1 – 13)

When we hear or read this prayer in a different setting, it becomes easier to understand what we are saying ourselves.

We are not praying for the establishment of a religious-based government here on earth when we pray that God’s kingdom will come. We are praying that the revival that began with Jesus and continued with John Wesley will continue today. This, of course, does not set well with a number of people who today seek the imposition of a such a religious based government as a means of solving the problems of today’s society.

But the society that Jesus worked and lived in was just such a society. It was a society that was impersonal and uncaring when it came to those on the fringes of society. Jesus was saying that we should pray for a society in which all its members were welcomed and in which all of its members were cared for. That was not the case then and I fear that it is not the case today.

Second, when we ask for our daily bread, we are remembering the days in the wilderness when the people of Israel began the journey from slavery to freedom, from Egypt to the Promised Land. The daily bread was the manna that God gave them each day. Each person received what they needed and they only took what they needed. Those who took more than what was needed quickly found out that the extra manna spoiled and was of no use to them.

Yet today, we hear so many preachers claim that we can ask God for just about anything that we want and God will give it to us. Jesus said that we should only ask for what we needed and nothing more.

The second portion of the reading from Luke for today would seem to suggest that we can in fact ask God for whatever we want. But when we stop and look at what Jesus said to His disciples, we see that we can only ask for what we need and we will only gain that which is spiritually beneficial.

This passage was also put in terms of a community, not an individual. That is the other note we should make about this prayer and how we pray. The Lord’s Prayer is a community prayer, meant to be said in community, not individually. “Grant us” and “free us” are not words we say by ourselves but with others.

Putting in this context reminds us of the communities that began some two thousand years go. Those were communities that cared for all the members.

Early Christians were simply referred to as people of “the Way.” They were associated with a particular pattern of life, one that produced a discernible lifestyle. This lifestyle grew out of their faith and their testimony to that faith. To all who saw them, there was no mistaken them for any other group; Christian belief became identified with a certain behavior. Unlike today, it was one that was recognized by believers and non-believers alike.

They became known as a caring, sharing, and open community that was especially sensitive to the needs of the poor and the outcast. Their love for God, for one another, and for the oppressed was central to their reputation. Their refusal to kill, practice racial discrimination, or bow down before imperial deities was a matter of public knowledge.

It is also important that we recognize that they were a community as well as individuals. The first thing that Jesus did when he began His ministry was form a community. To follow Jesus meant sharing in His life and sharing it with others. From the beginning, it was clear that the Kingdom would manifest itself through a common life (Adapted from The Call to Conversion by Jim Wallis, 2005).

Putting the Lord’s Prayer in the context of the community also reminds us of the early Methodist societies that established schools and hospitals to benefit all members of society, not just those who could pay for the services.

Is it not time for us to think about what we have said this morning? We say that we are a Christian nation yet we are quick to close the doors of the town hall to those who differ from us by their economic status, their origin, or their lifestyle. We say that we are a Christian nation but while we may have compassion for the less fortunate among us, the sick, the homeless, the needy, and the oppressed are quickly left behind in our own personal desires for earthly riches.

The prophet Hosea was presented with possibly the most unenviable task any of the prophets ever undertook. First, he was to marry Gomer, a known prostitute. And he knew that she was going to be repeatedly unfaithful to him during their marriage. Second, he was to name each of his own children with names that would remind the people of their unfaithfulness to God and their rejection of Abraham’s covenant with God. It does not say in the Bible how the children felt about their names but it does note that Hosea later rescued Gomer from slavery caused by her unfaithfulness. Hosea’s actions serve as a reminder that we are the ones who forget what God means and what God can do (Hosea 1: 2 – 10).

How much is the contrast between the prophets of the Bible and those today who say they are prophets of God? Which of today’s prophets would be willing to do what Hosea did? Which of today’s prophets would be willing to give up the riches their ministries have amassed? Which of today’s prophets would be willing to say that their life styles are worthy of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross?

Paul warned the Colossians to be wary of those who seek to take them away from the path of Christ. Listen to Clarence Jordan’s words as he warns us today of the same modern day charlatans and their destruction of the Gospel.

Keep on walking in Christ Jesus the Lord just as when you first received him. Sink your roots in him; bet your life on him; plant your feet firmly in the faith as you were taught it; bubble over with joyful thanks.

Watch your step now and don’t let anybody make a sucker of you with his intellectual jazz and his smooth-sounding baloney, which is based on human concoctions and worldly standards, not on Christ. For the whole spectrum of Deity resided corporately in him, in whom your own lives find meaning. He’s the boss over every ruler and big shot. And by him you’ve been initiated into his fellowship—I don’t mean physical initiation—when he relieved you of your lower nature. This indeed is Christian initiation. Likewise, in baptism you were buried with him, and with him you have been raised by the inner working of faith in God who raised him from the dead. And to you all, corpses rotting in your sins and moral estrangement, God gave new life along with him. He freely forgave all our wrongdoing; he scratched out the signed charges against us which were then pending, took them out of the courtroom and tied them in the noose! And having frisked the top brass and the power boys, and made them his prisoners of war, he publicly exposed them.

Therefore, don’t ever let one of those big shots jump all over you about official regulations or special observances or denominational programs or Sunday activities. Such things are but forms, whereas Christ is the real stuff. And don’t let anybody browbeat you into an assumed piety and into prayers to saints, insisting on some vision he has had. He’s a worldly-minded muddlehead who has lost his grip on the true Head, under which the rest of the body, outfitted and bound together by its joints and muscles, grows into God’s maturity (From Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospels, The Letter to Christians in Columbus 2: 6 – 1).

Now, listen to those today who claim to hear God’s voice or who claim to be God’s prophet. They ask only for themselves and their lifestyles. They would take us away from the path that we should be walking.

When we pray as we were taught to pray, we are praying for the Gospel to come true. When we pray as we were taught to pray, we are praying not just for ourselves but for our community. And when we pray as we were taught to pray, we are saying that we will work to make those words come true.

We are reminded that John Wesley saw his life in Christ in such terms. After Aldersgate, Wesley could no longer remain the country preacher of his training. No longer content with preaching or saying words with little meaning, he sought ways to bring the Gospel into action.

John Wesley saw his ministry as a challenge, both in terms of place and the way that it would be conducted. On August 18, 1739, Wesley recorded the following dialogue between Joseph Butler, the Anglican Bishop of Bristol, and himself.

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

Wesley – “My lord, my business on earth is do what good I can. Wherever therefore I think I can do most good, there must I stay so long as I think so. At present I think I can do most good here. Therefore here I stay. “ (Frank Baker, “John Wesley and Bishop Butler: A Fragment of John Wesley’s Manuscript Journal (also noted in http://frterry.org/History/Chapter_15/Chap.15%20Handout_205.htm))

So we have said the words that we were taught. What shall we say then when Christ calls us to carry out those words? What shall we say when we are called, when God asks who to send out into the world?



What Do You Do With The Gifts You Have Been Given?

I am preaching at Lake Mahopac United Methodist Church (map) this Sunday, the 9th Sunday after Pentecost  (2 August 2009).  The Scriptures for this Sunday are 2 Samuel 11: 26 – 12: 13, Ephesians 4: 1 – 16, and John 6: 24 – 35.


The events of the past few months have lead me to conclude that our collective vision of the future may not be what we think it will be. We speak of new technology and how the new technology will change the world. We marvel how dissidents in Iran used Facebook and Twitter to communicate their dissatisfaction with the election results. Of course, this requires that we understand what Facebook is and how Twitter works. But, in the end, the dissension in Iran was quickly shut down because the Iranian government was able to block those means of communication.

The dissension in Iran may yet turn into revolution if the dissidents can harness their collective power and use the creativity behind Facebook and Twitter to bring about true and radical change. Until that time, the changes in that society, like any society which is repressed, will be small in size and slow to change.

Technology can only work if people understand what it can and cannot do; the advent of text messaging (of which I take Twitter to be a form) is proving to be a more serious driving hazard than driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

In 1942, this country began what became known as the Manhattan Project. In combination with physicists and chemists from Great Britain, Canada, and many of the occupied countries of Europe, we began working on the atomic bomb. This was done in part because there was a fear that Nazi Germany was undertaking a similar project. It was well understood that this weapon would be one of immense destructive capability and that the first country to create this weapon would dominate the world for years to come.

In the end, it was discovered that the Nazi atomic weapon program was nowhere as advanced as the Allies had believed. And while that may have been sufficient rationale for the suspension or stoppage of the project, the rising number of casualties in the Pacific and the rather conservative estimate of some 1 million casualties in an invasion of the Japanese islands prompted many to think of using the atomic weapon as a means to ending the war. It is also known that President Truman was confident that the United States would be the preeminent power in the post-World War era since it was thought this country alone held the secrets to such weapons. It was not known in 1945 but became quickly known in the years following the war that the Soviet Union, through the efforts of its spies, also had knowledge of the weapons and would build weapons that would match the destructive power of the United States atomic arsenal.

And while those whose creativity could see that the immense power held within the nucleus of an atom could also be used for more beneficial reasons, it was the destructive capacity of the weapons that would dominate our thinking for almost sixty years. There were those who understood what unleashing the genie of atomic energy in the form of weapons meant but their voices were silenced by those who saw power only in terms of brute force and political manipulation.

In my opinion, we as humans and as a society have been given two great gifts. The first is that very gift of creativity, the ability to see beyond the limits of the real world and well into the future, to see things that never were and say why not (borrowing from Robert Kennedy and George Bernard Shaw).

But too often we use the creativity for our own purposes, to gather things for ourselves rather than for all. David was given the gift of creativity and it was evident in his leadership and his ability to compose poems and songs. Yet, he used his creativity to abuse the power of his position and, in the end he paid the price for his greed and arrogance. The prophet Nathan tells David that his child with Bathsheba will die and that his later years will be marked with tragedy and tumult. The glory that David sought and which should have been his will go to Solomon (whose own creativity and insight will be both renowned and reviled).

We live in a world where people are starving and dying, where even living at some minimal level of existence is more often than not hoped for rather than a reality. In an effort to bring food to starving people, we destroy acres and acres of rain forest and turn the lands into grain fields and pasture land. But in doing so, we alter the ecosystem of the planet. The Sahara Desert increases each year, moving further and further southward because people chop down what trees are standing for firewood to cook what food they might have. But in removing the trees, barriers that would prevent the expansion of the desert are removed and what is gained in the short run is lost in the long term.

Even in this country, amidst the rhetoric and debate over health care, we forget that each year the number of individuals without health care coverage of some sort rises. It may be proper to debate the cost of health care coverage but what happens when there are many who have no health care and cannot pay for it?

How can anyone who proclaims themselves to be people of God argue that healthcare reform costs too much when there are so many who cannot afford what is out there right now? How can anyone say that we should not rush this decision because it is too important when each year the number negatively affected rises?

In the Gospel message for today, Jesus rebukes the people for seeking Him out because He fed them for free. They were more interested in what they could get from Jesus for themselves than they were in what they could give in return. Their interests in the bread from heaven were self-centered and selfish while Jesus offered them something more important. But many of the people then and throughout the Gospels would not commit to a path of walking with Jesus if it meant giving up what they had. To each one of those individuals who was given the gift that Christ offered but who turned it down, the present was more important than the future. Their own well-being was more important than the well-being of others; yet when one helps others, we are helping ourselves. We cannot live in a world where some may have and others may not; any plan that provides for one without providing for all is not a good plan and has no vision of the future.

We have been given two gifts, the gift of creativity and God’s grace. With them, we can do wonders. Paul tells us that the gift of creativity takes many forms. We only need to see what God has given us.

And we find that in God’s grace. For it is through God’s grace that our future is secure. But when we reduce what we have been given to our own selfish interests, then we basically say that we have no desire to be a part of the body of Christ. What the gift of creativity does is give us a means to find a way to make a difference in the world, to help people find their own self-respect and dignity, to make sure that people have a safe place to sleep, to have a warm meal today and grow food for tomorrow.

Our faith comes becomes we believe but our faith is nothing unless we use the gifts that God has given us. What are you going to do with the gifts that you have been given?