That One Moment

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of this Sunday’s (January 12, 2020, Baptism of the Lord, Year A) bulletin for the Fishkill UMC. Service begins at 10:15 am and you are welcome to join us.

When was that one moment when you knew that God was with you?  When did you feel in your heart, mind, and soul that you were a Christian?

A few years back, I came across a saying from the Talmud (though Google insists that Winston Churchill said it) that says,

“In every age there comes a time when leadership suddenly comes forth to meet the needs of the hour. And so there is no man who does not find his time, and there is no hour that does not have its leader.”

Some have said that Jesus did not need to be baptized by John.  Even John acknowledged that he, John, was not worthy of taking on that task.  But the baptism of Jesus by John and the subsequent anointment by the Holy Spirit tells us that things were going to be different.

In a statement similar to that given by the Talmud, Jawaharlal Nehru said that there is a point in time when we step out from the old age into a new one.

There are many challenges facing us as we begin the new year and the new decade.  How we answer those challenges will define us.  One cannot predict nor can one force the moment when God, through the Holy Spirit, asks you to take on a new task.  But one has to be ready when that moment comes.

As the old hymn goes, Jesus is calling us, softly and gently.  Will this be your moment, the moment when you answer the call?

~~Tony Mitchell

A Society of Laws

This is an interesting Sunday (at least for me) on the liturgical calendar. While this Sunday is the Baptism of the Lord, it can also be considered Epiphany Sunday.

If the Baptism of the Lord focuses on the relationship between God and society, then Epiphany Sunday is the relationship between science and society.

In the following thoughts, I have tried to addressed those two points, points that are critical to the future of society.

Ours is a society of laws. Some of these laws come from our understanding of nature; others come through interaction with others on this planet.

The laws that come from our understanding of nature come from a deliberate attempt to understand the world around us. The discovery and determination of these laws is often time laborious and difficult with the results often unintelligible to the untrained mind.

The basic premise of our human-based laws should be to do no harm or to prevent harm from coming to us. From the time that the Code of Hammurabi was first written, laws have been written to define relationships between people and groups of people.

The Ten Commandments given to Moses by God also outlined how the Israelites were to relate with God and others. From these basic tenets came some 600 or so other laws, some telling the people what they could do and others telling them what they could not do. Often, actions dictated by one law conflicted with actions dictated by other laws.

There are those today who would like to have a society based on “God’s law”, whatever such laws may be. But these laws merely seek to place one group of people in a position of power and superiority of others. And the implication of said laws is often done with a sort of discriminatory approach that borders on hypocrisy. Those who wish to have “God’s laws” in place would ban abortion, yet they are quite willing to support the death penalty for criminals and equally willing to go to war, even both of those actions violate the basic commandment that one shall not kill.

And in quoting biblical verses that one should seek an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, they ignore that such statements were never meant to be statements of vengeance and retaliation but rather limits for such action.

And such an approach, founded in a distorted view of the Old Testament, ignores the actions espoused by Jesus who often proposed an active opposition to tyranny and power.

And how do we, today, respond, to the imposition of rules and laws that are designed to discriminate and oppress? The answer comes from the same approach that Jesus used, active opposition to tyranny and power; it comes from the same processes that allowed us to discover the basic laws of nature – experimentation and examination and the use of free thought.

One must understand that this approach cannot tell you if something is good or evil. One cannot quantify good and evil like one can quantify the force of gravity or the speed of light. But if we understand the outcome of our work, we have a better understanding of what we can and cannot do.

We may see others as inferior or different from us but there is nothing in nature that supports that idea, so laws that treat people differently because someone fears the differences between them are unjust and illegal.

Our challenge today is very simple. Create a society in which we understand the world around us that allows us to understand those who share this same world. On this weekend when we celebrate the visit of the Magi, we are quietly saying that we want a world in which we seek the information that brings us to a better time.

“My Two Baptisms”

Here are some belated thoughts for Sunday, January 12, 2013 – Baptism of the Lord (Year A). The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 42: 1 – 9, Acts 10: 34 – 43, and Matthew 3: 13 – 17.

Been caught up in some other things so I didn’t have a chance to jot down my thoughts for this Sunday. Right now, it would seem that much of what I am posting is more in the nature of thoughts and not really something I would say, per se, if I had to give a message.

There are two baptisms in my life, the one where I was baptized and the one where I wasn’t baptized. Some of this is mentioned in some earlier posts related to the Baptism of the Lord Sunday but rather than link those pieces I will briefly summarize them.

I was baptized as an infant, three months after I was born, on Christmas Eve at the First Evangelical and Reformed Church in Lexington, North Carolina. Now, I realized that I know nothing about that night other than I had an absolutely stunning baptismal outfit and that my parents and my mother’s parents were there. It is possible that my father’s parents were there as well but I don’t have anything that tells me that.

The baptism that didn’t occur took place on a dark March night in Moberly, Missouri, in the spring of 1969 as I was trying to get back to Kirksville after spring break. I had gone home to Memphis and was trying to get back to Kirksville which, without a car, was a difficult thing to do. I had flown back to St. Louis from Memphis and was scheduled to fly back to Kirksville on Ozark Airlines.

Not knowing then what I know about traveling today, after I got to St. Louis, I sort of took my time wandering down to the Ozark gate. When I got there I found that my flight to Kirksville had been cancelled. Rather than letting the airline get me “home”, I opted to fly to the Columbia, MO, regional airport where they put me on a bus north to Kirksville. When I got to Moberly, I discovered that northeast Missouri was in the midst of a major late snow storm (and the reason for the cancelled flight).

So I ended up in Moberly, on my own and without any sort of travel voucher to get me the rest of the way home. I don’t know how it came about but I ended up spending the night at the local Bible College. And there is where and when the second baptism didn’t take place.

In a discussion with one of the students, a soon-to-be preacher, I was informed that my baptism as an infant didn’t count and that if I wanted to be saved, I needed to be baptised as an adult and now would be a good time to do it.

Now, I will be honest; I have never been comfortable with pastors who take a fundamentalist approach in religion and this college was one of the prime producers of such individuals. And I had been on the road for the better part of 24 hours and I was still 60 miles from school (and what was home for me). And there was the small matter that I had just endured the worst academic quarter of my career and was trying in the spring semester to bring some stability to my college life. I had also spent the better part of the first months of 1969 worried that I was going to be drafted and shipped off to Viet Nam because the paper work dealing with my requested deferment had not gone right.

Baptism cannot and should not be done under turmoil and that was clearly what was going to take place. So I declined the offer and have lived with the fact that at least one young preacher thinks that my life is condemned.

But when my parents brought me to the altar of that church in Lexington, North Carolina, that night in 1950, they brought a commitment to raise me in a way that would allow me to understand what it meant to be baptized. The difficult thing about infant baptism is that the infant may not realize what is going on and may not understand what is being done. But there are individuals present who do understand and who, by their presence, are saying that they will insure that the child one day understands what is being done.

I don’t recall if George Eddy, my pastor at First Evangelical United Brethren Church in Aurora, Colorado, asked me about my baptism when I begun the work on my confirmation and God and Country Award. I would think that he did because nothing was said or done otherwise. I made the conscious and public decision to walk that path and I don’t think I could have walked it without understanding somehow that I was baptized.

What bothers me today is the number of times we as a denomination and individual church baptize a child knowing that we may not see that child or his or her parents for several years and it is time to begin the confirmation process.

Do I think that we should deny a child that opportunity? I think not but I also think that we need to seriously think about how we counsel and advise the parents who come. I also know that we need to be real careful about how we do this because we run the risk of turning away a family who are shopping for a church and are turned away because we are too strict in our thoughts.

This is one of those questions where there is one answer but how we find that answer is dependent on who we are and the time and place the question is asked. In the end, we have to make sure that all who seek Christ know the role that baptism plays in that search and make sure that everyone associated with that individual know what they have to do to help that individual complete their search.

“The Meaning of Our Words”

These are my thoughts for 9 January 2011, the Sunday in the lectionary cycle known as “The Baptism of the Lord” Sunday. The scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 42: 1 – 9, Acts 10: 34 – 43, and Matthew 3: 13 – 17. I hope that what I write in this message holds to the thoughts and meaning of the Scriptures for today.

Six people were killed last Saturday; a congresswoman from Arizona was severely wounded as were some twelve others. But they weren’t the only ones to die by gun violence last week. There was the shooting incident in Omaha with a frustrated high school student; there was an earlier shooting in Arizona as well. And we are justifiably shocked by what occurred last Saturday. And we should be; but we should also be shocked by the simple fact of the matter that it happened in the first place.

But it strikes me that we are going to put labels on the victims, not so we can identify them but so that we don’t have to identify them. It becomes so much easier to label a victim because that way, once everything settles in and we get back to normal, we don’t have to think about it.

Let’s face it; we are not willing to accept the idea that six people were killed last Saturday. We are not willing to accept the idea that two people were killed in Omaha last week. And how many other people were killed by senseless acts of violence last week. As long as we can put some sort of label on the victims and the crimes, it becomes very easy to forget about what happened.

Labels make it easier to do things; after all, if we don’t label the files on our computer, we could spend ½ of our time looking for the one file that we need. But when we put labels on people, it becomes very easy to forget them.

If you follow this blog, you know that my wife has started a feeding ministry on weekends at the church. Primarily for the children of the neighborhood, we are not going to tell others that they cannot eat at the table. We are mindful of certain regulations and rules but we will never turn away a hungry soul.

On Sundays, because of the Sunday School, the breakfast is in the community room instead of the gym. About two weeks ago, one member of the congregation came up to me while I was at the serving table and asked me if this was the “poor” people’s food. My response was, essentially, that it was food for everyone. I could not help but think to myself that this person saw food given without question to someone poor or homeless was somehow different from the food that members of the church might eat. We make no distinction about who may partake of the food that we serve. The food, by the way, is prepared fresh every weekend and the ingredients are high quality; Ann doesn’t take any shortcuts when it comes to cooking.

But we are mindful of who does come to the table we prepare. This is the prayer that I wrote for the kitchen:

Our most gracious Heavenly Father, please bless this food and the workers who have prepared it this day. Help us this day to understand that it will be your Son, Jesus Christ, whom we feed this morning and may we treat Him well. May what we do this morning and in the coming mornings better express Your Love and help others to find Your Grace. AMEN

I am sure that every church in this country did something for individuals and families for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am just wondering how many churches are continuing this throughout the rest of the year. Hunger and poverty do not magically appear in the middle of November nor do they likewise magically disappear at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.

I am withholding judgment on what cause that young man in Arizona to go on that shooting and killing spree. It is interesting to note that witnesses stated that he was trying to reload his weapon while individuals were tackling him and stopping him from shooting. But we have to wonder if the words of hate and violence that have so dominated our culture did not somehow play a role in his decision process.

But, words cannot hurt people, you say. Was it the healing of the sick and the feeding of the poor that caused the religious and political authorities to fear Jesus? Or was it what He was saying?

It has been the words of many who have inspired others to do many horrible and terrible things; it has been the words of many who have inspired others to do many great things. We are seeing an epidemic of what is called cyber-bullying – the spreading of gossip and lies about individuals over the internet. The consequences of these words are now just beginning to be visible. Ask the family of the fourteen-year old in Ohio if words do not hurt people.

And then we say, sometimes to ourselves, sometimes out loud “How can these things happen? We are a Christian nation!” Personally, I wish we would quit saying that we are a Christian nation. We are a nation that loudly proclaims that we are Christians but we haven’t a clue what it means to be a Christian. Go back and read the words from Isaiah for this Sunday and tell me if that is what you do. Go back and tell me if you are like Peter, telling others what Jesus has done and then doing it yourself. How many of us are willing to go out and fight the system that says the poor must suffer while the rich enjoy the good life? How many of us are willing to let the rich keep getting richer while the number of those in poverty get bigger every year?

If we were a Christian nation, we would be a nation that speaks out when one individual has no health insurance. If we were a Christian nation, we would be a nation that made sure that every individual had the same opportunity. Christ did not check the identity papers of those who followed Him; he really didn’t care where they came from. Maybe His disciples were a little leery of letting those who weren’t clearly Israelites get close to Him but He didn’t care. He gave the same opportunity to everyone whether they were a Jew or Gentile, an adult or a child, a man or a woman. Can we, who proclaim that we are a nation that follows Christ, say the same thing?

Yes, there were times when Jesus was angry but where was His anger directed? It was towards those who oppressed the people, not the oppressed people. And when Peter attempted to use the sword to stop the arrest of Jesus in the Garden, Jesus stopped him (and healed the wounded soldier). Violence is not the path that we should be walking. We should be walking and building a path of peace.

If you want to express anger and hatred towards others on this planet, go right ahead. But don’t tell me you are a Christian. If you want to exclude individuals from your church because of the color of their skin or the nature of their lifestyle or the status of their checkbook, go right ahead. But take the Cross off the wall over your altar (if there is one even there) and take the word Christian out of the name of your church.

When Jesus came to John at the Jordan River some two thousand years ago, it was to affirm the purpose of His ministry. John wanted Jesus to baptize him and that is what we often want to do. We want Jesus to affirm what we do, not the other way around. When we are baptized, our old life is washed away and we begin a new life. I don’t think it matters when one is baptized; as long as one knows that they have been baptized and been raised with the understanding of what that means, the baptism holds.

That’s why it is so important for each and every one of us to stop and consider the meaning of our words. We proclaim by our words that we are Christian; we allow everyone to think that we have been baptized and have begun a new life. But do our words reflect the meaning of what we say?

If we have been baptized, if our sins have been washed away, then it is time that we start living the life that comes anew in Christ. It is time that the meanings of our words reflect the baptism that we sought.

“Why Did He Do That?”

This is the message I presented at Tompkins Corners UMC for the Baptism of the Lord Sunday (9 January 2005).  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 42: 1 – 9, Acts 10: 34 – 43, and Matthew 3: 13 – 17.


"What do you do" has been a question for the church for a number of years. As we look at the world around us today, we have to ask ourselves "What do we do to change the direction of the world from its path of sin and desolation?" What do we do when society around us is intolerant of poverty and shows no concern for its less fortunate members? These questions are not unique to our generation; they have been with us since Jesus began His ministry. The real question must always be "How shall we respond?

Martin Luther responded to these questions by posting his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg. John Wesley responded by going to Bristol to preach.

In 1514, Martin Luther was a theology professor at Wittenburg University as well as serving as the priest at the City Church in Wittenburg. He began to notice that many of the people in Wittenberg were not coming to confession but rather going to the neighboring towns of Brandeburg or Anhalt to buy indulgences.

The people had begun to believe that buying indulgences was a way to buy their salvation. As people began the practice of buying indulgences, they began believing that other parts of church membership, including confession, were no longer needed. To Luther, such practices were totally unacceptable. He believed that one lived a life of humility in order to receive God’s grace.

The other problem with the sale of indulgences was that the Papal Court in Rome was in great financial trouble and the sale of these paper scripts was being used to finance the church. When Luther read an instruction manual for indulgence traders, he wrote a letter to his church superiors hoping to get rid of this abuse. In this letter he included the 95 theses which were to be the basis for discussion on the topic. On October 31, 1517, Luther nailed a copy of the 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. This act, the beginning of the Protestant Reformation was akin to posting the topic on a bulletin board and opening the discussion for public debate. (Adapted from http://www.geocities.come/Heartland/1700/95theses.html)

Martin Luther posted the 95 theses because he saw a church headed in a direction away from the intent of the Gospel. He saw a people who were no longer willing to work towards their salvation through faith but rather by taking an easier way.

John Wesley struggled with these questions for many years. He could not sit idly by and watch his church ignore the plight and conditions of the lower classes. Following that evening at the chapel on Aldersgate when he became aware of the presence of Christ in his life and what that presence meant, Wesley left for Bristol, in what was open defiance of the Church of England.

In an exchange with Joseph Butler, the Bishop of Bristol, Wesley made it clear what he felt he must do.

Bishop Butler — "You have no business here. You are not commissioned to preach in this diocese. Therefore I advise you to go hence."

John Wesley — "My lord, my business on earth is to 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 the most good here. Therefore here I stay." (Frank Baker, "John Wesley and Bishop Butler: A Fragment of John Wesley’s Manuscript Journal", 16th to 24th August, 1739.)

John Wesley understood that a church and a nation that ignores members of its society could never expect worldly success, let alone success in Heaven. Having accepted Christ as one’s personal Savior, you could not sit back and wait for the Glory of the Lord to come to you. You had to take the message of the Gospel out into the world, both in thought, word and deed. To the elders of the Church of England, this call for action was unconscionable. How dare a pastor call for such radical action! This was a time when more and more people were getting wealthy every day so it was permissible to ignore those who were not quite so fortunate. Remember poverty in Wesley’s time was thought to be a reflection of one’s sinful life. If you were rich, it was because you lead a good life. If you were poor, it was because you were not living the right kind of life. It wasn’t the church’s fault that people were homeless and hungry; that medical care for the lower classes was almost non-existent; that only the rich could afford to go to school. Wesley would have felt right at home in the United States these last few years when concern for one’s own well-being was more important than a concern for members of society.

Today, I think we are in a similar situation. We give great lip service to the presence of God in our lives but our words and our actions do not always reflect this. While it is commendable for the outpouring of support by individuals and nations, why are we not always doing this? What will happen to the relief work of the various agencies in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa after a few more weeks? When all the American citizens have been found or accounted for, what will be the concern of American society?

And how can we justify the expenditure of 350 million dollars in relief for the people of Southeast Asia when we spend that much money in one or two days in the war in Iraq? I am not saying that we shouldn’t support the relief work; I am just wondering if our priorities are in line. Are we returning to the days of indulgences in hopes of buying salvation? Have we forgotten what salvation is and how it came that we might be saved?

And this comes at a time when the very nature of the church is coming into question. Are we a church that understands what Peter said to the gathering in Acts, a church that shows no partiality and is open to all? Or are we a church becoming closed both in mind and body? When he began his own mission work, Peter was among those who thought the church should be closed but through a vision from God, he came to understand that the message of Christ was for all, not just a select or chosen few? I think this is a message that has been forgotten by many pastors today.

I think that sometimes we also forget the message that Jesus sent to John the Baptist when he, John, was in prison. Herod had arrested John and placed him in prison. John knew that his mission on earth was about to end and he wondered if Jesus was the true Messiah, the one whose coming he, John, had been sent to proclaim. Remember that John should see the oppressed who were being freed, the sick and ill who were being healed, and the poor whose spirits were being uplifted. These were the people Isaiah refers to in his prophecy, the poor and the oppressed, the sick and ill, those who have lost hope in the Lord.

I cannot say for certain but I think those thoughts were in the minds of Luther and Wesley when they began their defiance of the church authority. You cannot have a church that ignores the people or takes away the basic message of the Gospel and have any credibility.

But if Jesus’ ministry was to have any credibility, Jesus could not come as a King but rather had to come as a servant. He could not be the King who ruled above the people but rather He had to be a servant who was with the people. He could not be the sacrifice that Isaiah prophesized unless He was the servant to the people. So, like us, Jesus had to be baptized by the water of repentance.

So, the question is "why did He do that?" So that the Gospel would have meaning and hope would be brought to people living in the darkness.

And we are reminded today of something else Jesus did. We are reminded that he gathered with His disciples that evening before His death and celebrated not His impending death but rather His resurrection and our victory over sin and death. He called them together and asked that they remember what they had done together and that they should carry the message of the Gospel into the world for all to hear. We are reminded once again that this celebration of life over death, this celebration of the defeat of sin is open to all, not just some, as long as one accepts Christ as his Savior.

The ultimate question perhaps is "why did Christ die on the Cross?" Because, in doing so, He gave us eternal life. That’s why He did it.

To Give Our Best

Here are my thoughts for this coming Sunday, The Baptism of the Lord.  I will be preaching at Dover Plains UMC, Dover, NY tomorrow.


The comments between John the Baptist and Jesus (1) that are the centerpiece of today’s Gospel reading are very interesting, if for no other reason that they speak highly of how we see our relationship with God today.

John understands the relationship between Jesus, his cousin, and himself and he is not willing to baptize Jesus as he has baptized others. He understands quite easily that he does not have the stature or the ability to truly baptize Jesus. Yet, as Jesus points out, John must baptize Jesus if righteousness is to be fulfilled.

We do not make that distinction. We accept quite willingly and almost deliberately the idea that Jesus is our servant, the person who does our biding. We quite willingly place ourselves, individually and as a society, above Jesus and expect Jesus to do whatever it is we ask of Him.

We are told today by so many self-proclaimed ministers of God that all we have to do is give them, the charlatans, our money and God will return it to us seven- or ten-fold, because that is the power of the Holy Spirit. We no longer see Jesus Christ as our Savior and God as our Father but rather a means by which we can achieve money or whatever we desire or seek.

We have confused the role of God in society. God is no longer the reason for what we do but rather the vehicle for what we seek.

We hear nothing today about the mission of Christ, which He Himself proclaimed in the synagogue in Nazareth some two thousands years ago, a mission first proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah. (2) At a time when I needed to know if there was ever an answer to the problems of the world, if it was ever possible to end war and hatred, segregation and injustice, I found the answer in the church. Now, it appears that the church supports war and hatred and is moving to increase segregation and injustice.

The awe and respect that we should give God has been taken away by those who seek to limit His presence to one or two hours on a Sunday morning. We measure the effectiveness of a preacher by the shortness of their sermons, not by how they inspire us to action. In Memphis and other parts of the South, even perhaps in other parts of this country, a good service is one that lets out early enough so that the congregation can get to Applebee’s or Shoney’s before the other churches do.

We hear too many preachers and ministers preach against sin yet repeatedly get caught in the very act they preach against. It is no wonder that the cry of hypocrisy that was first voiced by John the Baptist along side the River Jordan is voiced by so many young people today. The youth of this country are turning away from the church, not because the church doesn’t care about them (which is true) but because the church doesn’t care that its message is so often empty, meaningless, irrelevant and seen as an attempt to market the Gospel instead of telling the story and spreading the Word of God.

The God who may have inspired the first successful peasants’ uprising in history (the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt) is a God of revolution. Yet, it has often been said those who make up the three faiths that He has inspired (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) have failed to live up to this ideal and have transformed this God of revolution into a God of the status quo. (3)

We have been commanded to go out into the world and make disciples of all whom we encounter. And this we do quite readily, offering bribes to some and threatening others with death, so that they will convert. We do so without concern for where we are or whom we are with. We proclaim that our God is the only God, even when the historical records tell us that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all worship the same God. We expect the people whom we expect to convert to think and believe as we do. There are those who are quite willing to tell devout believers in other faiths that they, the devout believer, are doomed because they do not follow the same path of faith as others do. If we do not understand what and why others believe, then we have no business trying to explain what it is that we believe.

A person who walks the path of faith dictated by their religion is walking a different path than the one we walk. They will reach their goal if they hold true to their beliefs, just as we will. We should not be condemning them or chastising them just because their belief system is different from ours.

But those who proclaim a belief system but do not follow the belief system, those who flit between one system and another, and those who try to choose the best virtues of all systems must be shown that such an approach will not work. But to say that our system is the best system is egotistical at best and shows a great lack of understanding about what others believe.

It is true that when Peter spoke to the crowd that he repeated the commandment that Jesus had given to the disciples. (4) But Peter added two other comments that reflected what Jesus also said; respect those who know God and do it in the right way.

When mankind first came to know God, it was done with a certain amount of fear. We were to see God with a sense of wonder and awe but that was because we didn’t know who God was and what God meant. Through Jesus Christ we have come to know that God is our Father and that He loves us. Now, when we hear the word “fear”, we should realize that it means more to understand and know more than anything else. As Peter reminded the people, we are to respect those who know God.

In part, that is why we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. Last week we celebrated Epiphany, the Magi’s recognition of the true nature of the Christ Child. These are occasions that illuminate God’s nature. These are occasions when God chooses to reveal who He is. These are also occasions that not only demonstrate what God is like but also who God wishes us to be.

Baptism is like so much of the church today. It is something we desire but it is something that we don’t understand. We often forget that baptism is the celebration of the incomparable gift we have received from God. It gives us an identity. But it is also about fully engaging the responsibility that this identity entails.

Just as the baptism of Jesus initiated his public ministry, so to is it our call to the community of the church. It means that together as a church we are meant to be witnesses for peace in an often cruel and violent world. We are to bring a message of hope in a world of despair. Whoever the worldly powers may be, Christians are called to witness to another, greater power. (5)

It has often been said that Christianity began as a way of life, an alternative to a set of creeds and doctrines that demanded total agreement. Christianity was a reaction to a religion narrowly defined by law, by ritual, and by an angry God. It was a way of life that demanded radical inclusion, not exclusion, as an expression of faith in action. It offered hope and aid to those who needed it.

Yet today, we see a church that is becoming increasingly rigid and orthodox, a church that is becoming more and more exclusionary in nature. What we were taught by Jesus before Easter has become less important that the things the post-Easter church insists that we believe. We have created a God in our image.

God sent His Son as a sign that He cared about us. He did not send a substitute but the best. Are we able to say that when we represent the church in today’s society we show the best?

The readings from Acts (6) and Isaiah (7) offer us a glimpse of that quality that we profess but do not possess. We do not have a God who is limited by our understanding of baptism and what it signifies; we have a God who created humanity in His image and whose love for us is so great that it embraces all people with no exception. (8) He has given us His best and He expects us to do the same.

I have seen churches, both large and small, that were built by their respective congregations who gave of themselves in terms of time, money, and energy all for the Glory of the Lord. But I have seen too many churches, both big and small, that were built to glorify the building and the congregation.

I have heard and sung music that reflects the joy and power found in the Glory of God. I rejoice in music written and played that uplifts the congregation. But I have also heard music played in churches and in religious situations that is only played for the glory and enjoyment of the player. I have left those performances wondering why there was no feeling in the songs that were sung or the music played.

When He first articulated His mission, He proclaimed that He had come to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and bring hope and freedom to the oppressed. He stated that the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled in His presence. Yet, today there are still homeless and we probably have only an estimate as to how many there are.

The infant mortality rate in Orange County (and perhaps elsewhere in this country) rivals that of many third world countries. This country’s overall healthcare system ranks nineteenth among the major industrial nations in preventable deaths. I won’t even begin to comment on the ranking of our educational system when compared to those same countries. For a country that is so often pre-occupied with being number 1, we have a rather dismal record. We say that we are a Christian country but we are more interested in ourselves than we are others.

To give your best is probably the hardest thing you will be asked to do. But God sent His Son knowing that His Son would die on the Cross for us. His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, began His ministry at the River Jordan knowing full well that the path He walked would take Him to the Cross.

We are called to give our best, not just part of it. We are called to give our best each day, not just one day a week. It is a call that says “in the years of your despair, I called you out from the world to fashion for myself a people who know my grace and are formed by love; but now the hour has struck for you to see the signs of new hope that I am giving to my people in the world; and to join me in the midst of the struggle, interpreting that hope, struggling to keep it free, and helping people to know me as their Lord and Savior in the midst of the events of their daily lives?” (9)

Too many people today see Christianity as a part time thing, a hobby at best. But to be called by Christ is a full-time experience. It does not matter what you do in life, for each person’s role in life is different. But as Paul wrote to the people of Colossus, “whatever you do, do it from the heart, as though you were working for God and not men.” (10)

God gave us His best, so why should we not also do so?

(1) Matthew 3: 14 – 15

(2) Isaiah 42: 1 – 9

(3) Adapted from Karen Armstrong’s History of God, page 20

(4) Acts 10: 34 – 43

(5) Adapted from “Marked for a purpose” by Kathleen Norris, Christian Century, December 25, 2007

(6) See footnote 4

(7) See footnote 2

(8) See footnote 5

(9) Adapted from “Evangelism in Our Day”, Faith in a Secular Age, by Colin Williamson

(10) Colossians 3: 23