“Transformed by Love”

This will be the back page for the Fishkill United Methodist Church bulletin for 26 November 2017 (Christ the King Sunday, Year A).  I will be singing a solo this Sunday (hence the references to “Come Sunday” by Duke Ellington; I hope to have a video of that to put in on Sunday).

The back page writings will take a break during Advent to allow others to share their gifts and resume after the first of the year.

Music has always been, in some form, a part of my life since I was in Junior High School.  Now, it should be noted that that I am not the best musician in my family.  That honor goes to my brother Terry and my youngest daughter Meara.

I started playing in the band and then moved on to the church choir.  When I began lay speaking, I was fortunate to have ministers who showed me how to include music in the service, both with the hymns and combined with the written word.  And I am equally blessed to have music directors who pushed me to expand my skills and go beyond my boundaries.

In picking “Come Sunday” as a piece today, I was first thinking of the jazz it represents but then I discovered some things about the piece.  When Duke Ellington wrote this piece, he was pushing the boundaries of jazz.  Ellington always characterized his music as “beyond category”, a point he made about life as well.  We are all one people (https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/come-sunday).

Too many individuals today say that they are Christian but theirs is a religion defined by exclusion and division.  They see Christianity as a convenient label, something one can wear and take off when done but not something that is a part of their life.

If God is a part of your life, you find ways to express that.  As I worked on this piece, I came across the thought that everyone worships in their own language and that there is no language God does not understand (http://nepr.net/post/duke-ellingtons-eulogist-fr-gerald-pocock-rip-1925-2017#stream/0).

To paraphrase Paul, some of us are writers and some of us are musicians.  But we all have some talent, a talent that we can use to express our own love of God.  And no matter what your talent may be, the expression of your love of God will transform the world.                         ~~Tony Mitchell

A Particular Point In Time

I was at the Van Cortlandtville Community Church in Cortlandt Manor, NY, this morning (location of church). The service is at 10:30 and you are welcome to attend. The Scripture readings for this morning were Ezekiel 34: 11 – 16, 20 – 24; Ephesians 1: 15 – 23; and Matthew 25: 31 – 46. 


This has been edited since it was first posted.


I began this message with a thought about how this is Christ the King Sunday and not the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost. The nature of the liturgical calendar always makes the identity of a particular Sunday very interesting. And the changing nature of the liturgical calendar and how it is dependent on Christmas and Easter lead me to a thought more appropriate perhaps for my chemistry lab than the pulpit.

One of the things that you learn in chemistry is that you may be able to determine the position of an electron with reference to the nucleus or you may be able to determine the velocity of the electron but you cannot determine both. This is the foundation for what is called the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle. This is also part of the basis for the quantum mechanical model of the atom. Quantum mechanics can take us into some very interesting areas of chemistry and physics, none of which have any immediate impact on our lives today but perhaps might in the coming years. It also leads to some interesting thoughts and possibilities, possibilities that lead Albert Einstein to reject the notion of quantum mechanics and state quite categorically that “God does not play dice with the universe.”

Einstein was never comfortable with the uncertainty that came with the development of quantum mechanics, firmly believing in a deterministic model of the universe; that is, there was an underlying reality in which particles, such as electrons, do have well defined positions and velocities and that this would ultimately become known to mankind (adapted in part from “Does God Play Dice?”)

As I was writing this, I began to think that there might be some sort of correlation between the deterministic model of the universe favored by Einstein and first developed by Isaac Newton in the 18th century and the deterministic, pre-destination model of theology developed by John Calvin.

John Calvin (1509 – 1564), the 16th century theologian, proposed that everyone is born a sinner and there is no escaping the penalty for sin. A simple way of saying it would be that good things happen to good people; bad things happen to bad people and if you were one of the bad people, then you had no hope in this world. It is a model that has been rejected by most theologians because if it were the operating model for our faith, then there would be no reason to have Jesus in our lives. Our escape from a life of sin and death is predicated on the presence of Jesus in our lives; if we cannot escape sin, then we have no need for Jesus or even God for that matter.

To some extent, this idea, that our lives were fixed and determined by God before we were born, was the basic understanding of the people of Jesus’ time. Illness, poverty, misfortune were all the signs of a sinful life; good health, riches, and a fortunate life were all the signs of a righteous life. How many times was it said that the children suffered because of some sin either or both of their parents did? It was, if you will, the central point of Jesus’ message to say that all had a hope and a possibility, one that came through Christ.

Unfortunately, John Calvin preceded Newton by almost 100 years and if there was any link, it would be in terms of what Newton thought, not what Calvin thought. So I will leave it to others more versed in theology to determine if there is a relationship between John Calvin’s deterministic ideas and those of Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727). There may be such a link because what most people don’t know is that Isaac Newton wrote more about the Bible and faith than he did about any other area, including optics, calculus, or gravity (See my notes on Newton – “A Dialogue of Science and Faith”)

Still, some 600 years after Calvin, it is interesting to note that many people still believe that one’s life is determined at birth and riches come to the righteous while poverty comes because one leads a life of sin. Many people today are quite willing to believe that they will be the ones who will receive the stated rewards of heaven because they are, if you will, the “true believers”. But their actions often times don’t reflect their faith.

Oh, these “true believers” do come to church on Sunday but when the sun rises on Monday morning, in fact by the time the referee blows his whistle to start the football game on Sunday afternoon, what has been said and done on Sunday morning is often forgotten. They heard the pastor speak about the equality found in Jesus but practice inequality in their daily lives. They nod with knowing approval when someone gets up to say that the local food bank needs donations and volunteers but they always seem to find things on their calendar that somehow take precedence. They tell all their friends about how they were part of a mission trip to Biloxi or Haiti or Mozambique but they are not willing to help with local missions as it is a waste of time and only encourages the poor to stay poor. Their day to day lives are more reflective of the people of the Old Testament who ignored the sick, the needy, the hungry, the oppressed and were more interested in their own lives.

It takes more than coming to church on a Sunday to be a Christian or giving lip service to the call of the many; to say that one is a Christian is to say that one has a new life, a new view of the world. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians,

At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

If we leave Christ behind when we leave the church then it is impossible for Christ to be in the world. If our lives during the week are not reflective of the time we spend in the church on Sunday, then we haven’t learned anything. It becomes easy then to not see the hungry or the homeless, the sick or the oppressed. When our focus is not on Christ and His message, it becomes very easy to become blind to the world.

When your life in Christ is limited to a few hours a week in a single building, you are not likely to see Christ as He walks by you on the street each day. When your focus is on the world in which our bodies lie, it is very hard to see the world in which our spirit tries to live. The Gospel reading today is a very stark reminder of what can happen. When our vision of Christ is an image on the wall in a building called a church, it is very hard to see Christ any other way.

It isn’t always about doing mission work far away from one’s home; it is about doing mission work anytime one walks out of the church and into the world. It is about seeing Christ not in the building they left but in the world outside the building.

It is quite easy, then, to understand why the people responded the way they did in the Gospel reading. I am utterly convinced that people today would respond the same as those who read the words in Matthew when they were first written two thousand years ago. They do not see the homeless, the hungry, the sick, or the imprisoned. Christ is viewed only in terms of the building they called the church, not the person who walked the dusty back roads of Galilee and taught others about the love of God the Father, who healed the sick and brought comfort to people who were convinced that they had been forgotten.

I find too many examples today where that is the case, where the church, despite its teachings and its history, ignores the poor and needy and favors the rich and powerful. Oh, I know that there probably isn’t a church in this country who is not conducting a food drive this week. But what are they doing next week? What are the people of the churches today doing to insure that the Kingdom of God has a chance in this world?

It takes more than a few words and some limited actions one week a year. It takes a change of heart; it takes a new vision. To see each person you encounter as Christ, not just another person on the street.

Some years ago, I took my mother to a new Christian restaurant in Memphis. That was how it was advertised. It was clean, it had a nice environment and no alcohol was served. It was a nice, clean place to take your family to eat. It should have been a booming success. Unfortunately it failed.

Now some will tell me that our society doesn’t like Christian-based businesses. They will tell you that this restaurant’s failure was based on society not wanting anything to do with a Christian theme business. But I will let you in on a little secret; if the food at a restaurant is not good, calling it a Christian restaurant won’t make it better. But the food was lousy and, in the end, a restaurant that serves lousy food is not going to be successful, no matter what its name. If the owners had been more of the Spirit, perhaps they would have understood this. I will be honest; I thought that their attitude was one in which the name would be enough.

What would you serve Christ for a meal? And if you were to serve the best for Christ, what would you serve his children? And that points out something very critical about our lives, do you treat each person that you meet, that you work with, that you encounter as you would treat Christ? Will you know it when you encounter Christ?

I am reminded of a church that one day welcomed a stranger into their midst. But just because he was a stranger, he wasn’t treated as such. He was welcomed as a friend and as a neighbor. It is my understanding that he never returned after that single visit. Some years later, the church received a check from the estate of this man, a check that enabled them to buy some property and build a new parsonage and turn the old parsonage into a Sunday school house. The stranger was welcomed into the church and he remembered that welcome.

I am also reminded of an individual who is a United Methodist preacher today but some ten years or so ago was a bouncer in a local bar. You would never have thought that this individual would become a preacher and even he would tell you that back then it was the furthest thing from his mind. But one day, he came to church because a family member insisted he needed to be there for a baptism. Someone helped him get a cup coffee and he stuck the bulletin for that Sunday in his coat pocket. A couple of weeks later, he discovered that bulletin and remembered the offer about the coffee and he came back. That particular bulletin sits on his desk as reminder that he once was a stranger and he was made welcome in a church.

I recognize that many times we come to church because we are looking for Jesus. In many modern day churches today, that is a hard thing to do. Too many churches today have made that a very difficult thing to do. For one thing, we sometimes don’t really want to find Christ because He will remind us of the things we are supposed to be doing. For another, we want Christ to be in one place when He is very likely to walk through the door as a visitor or a stranger in need. If you leave with one thought it is that we need to see Christ outside this place, not necessarily here.

This day is called Christ the King Sunday. It serves as a reminder of what the focus of our life should be. When John Calvin put forth his brand of theology, he told the people that many of them would lead lives of despair and grief; that was the way it was with God. But Jesus came into the world, not to condemn but to lift up and offer hope, to show that there was another path to take.

We stand at this particular point in time, staring at a choice we must make. We can choose to continue as we have done in the past, hoping against all hope that we will have an opportunity at some other time to choose to follow Christ. Or we can choose to follow Christ, to open our hearts, souls, and minds to Him. And as we leave this place today, we leave knowing that we are going to encounter Christ, not leave Him behind.

The End Of The Year

I am at Lake Mahopac UMC this Sunday; service is at 10 am.  The Scriptures for this Sunday, Christ the King Sunday, are Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24, Ephesians 1: 15- 23, and Matthew 25: 31-46.


When I first read the Scriptures for today and considered the significance of this Sunday in the church year, I could not help but think of Robert Frost’s poem, “Fire and Ice.”

Fire and Ice by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

This is the last Sunday in the church year and next week we begin the season of Advent. So it is that today we can truly look forward to the coming of Christ. But these are not the “End Times” that so many people equate with the coming of Christ; it is merely the end of the year.

Still, there are those who say that these are the “End Times”, a time when God will destroy the earth and all of His creation in a fit of rage because of our sins. It seems to me, though, that those who so loudly proclaim this apocalyptic forecast are among those who, into today’s Gospel reading, ask Christ who were the sick, the homeless, the needy and the oppressed.

It strikes me, and I have had these thoughts for as long as I can remember, that those who proclaim the sinfulness of this world and the need to repent are among those who ignore the less fortunate and are quick to cast out from their church any who do not meet their criteria when it comes to race, gender, or economic status. Those whom Jesus said would be cast into the fires of hell are those who proclaim their own self-righteousness and say that those who are less fortunate than they have only themselves to blame.

In today’s world, it seems to me that too many self-proclaimed Christians have no problem equating sin and poverty but will not speak out against those who grow fat from the labors of others. That was the warning that Ezekiel gave to the people in today’s Old Testament reading. Those who had grown fat and lazy off the efforts of the workers were the ones who would feel God’s wrath.

And while it would be easy to find such individuals in the news of the day, we have to be very careful about how we read such news. We are in the process of quickly returning to the same attitudes that dominated society in England and America in the early 1700’s, the time when John Wesley began to take a critical look at his church, the Church of England.

The church of Wesley’s day showed little concern for the poor, the sick, the homeless and the ones caught up in the Industrial Revolution. It was a time of increasing drug and alcohol addiction; it was a time of child labor and no medical care for the lower class. It was a time when people believed that poverty was a sign of one’s sins and that it was your sins, or the lack of them, that determined your success in life. If you were successful in life, then it was obvious that God had smiled on you and rewarded you for your diligence and righteous life; if you were not successful in life, then it was obvious that you had incurred God’s displeasure. It is an attitude that is very much a part of today’s society as well.

We still see and seek riches as a means of measuring success; we are only interested in those things that will bring us wealth and power. But wealth and power will not necessarily gain one’s admittance into heaven.

Jesus told the story of the rich man who was condemned to hell, even though he had led an apparently righteous life. But in his daily passage to the Temple to meet his religious obligations, he ignored the beggar by his door. And because he ignored the beggar by his door, his actions at the Temple carried the mark of hypocrisy.

Jesus told the rich young man to give away everything he owned and to follow Him on His mission; the rich young man walked away because he was unable to give up that which he had and because he was unwilling to walk a different path.

We have lost track of the fact that life cannot be found in riches but in what one does with one’s riches, no matter how much we have or how little we have. We have also lost track that there are many who do not have anything and, as Wesley himself so often pointed out, it is very difficult to think about the Kingdom of Heaven when you cannot put food on the table for you and your children or clothes on your back or your children’s backs.

As we come to the end of this current year and begin to prepare for the true coming of Christ, we have to ask ourselves what this means for us today and what we shall do.

Shall we continue to walk down the path that we have been walking? It is clear that to do so would only end in turmoil, destruction, and death. We do not need for God to destroy this world; we are doing quite a good job of it ourselves.

Those who say that these are the End Times use the words of the Bible as a weapon and as words of hate and exclusion when the words of the Bible are words of love and inclusion. We do not need words of hatred and destruction; we need words of hope and promise.

Last Thursday would have been Robert F. Kennedy’s 83rd birthday. During that fateful Presidential campaign of 1968, he said many things but no words carried more weight than the ones he spoke on April 4, 1968, in Indianapolis.

That was the day that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN and as news of Dr. King’s death spread across the country, the anger of the people for such an act exploded in rage and violence. What Senator Kennedy said that night in Indianapolis still holds true today.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black — considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.

Senator Kennedy continued by saying,

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

If we are to make those same words true today, for I think we have forgotten them and what they mean, we must see the world in a different light. And to see the world in a different light, we must have a change of heart.

If we do not change our heart, we cannot change our mind and will find ourselves no better than we are now. Changing our heart will lift us out of our present state, a state of selfishness, arrogance, pride, idolatry, sensuality, and slavery. To change one’s heart is a call for repentance, to begin a new life found in the liberation of the Gospel message.

In the Gospel we find a new path, a path that transcends all cultures, all human constructs, all civilizations and conventions. The Gospel is eternal, while politics and culture, including Christian culture, are fixed in time. (Adapted from I, Francis by Carlo Carretto)

And yes, this is a call for repentance, a call first given by John the Baptist in the Wilderness, a call given by Jesus, by Paul and all the disciples. For to repent is to begin a new life, a new life found in Christ, to go beyond the limits of time.

Yes, Jesus is coming but this does not mean it is the end of the world. It is only the end of the year and it means that we have an opportunity to seek a better world. We do have that chance and we should take it.

How Do We Say Thanks?

This is the message I presented at Tompkins Corners UMC on Christ the King Sunday, November 24, 2002.  The Scriptures were Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24, Ephesians 1: 15- 23, and Matthew 25: 31-46.


When you listen to the “Prairie Home Companion” with Garrison Keilor, there is always that moment when he speaks about what has transpired in Lake Woebegone during the last week. It is always nice to listen, especially when he gives the report about what the pastor of the Lutheran Church said during his sermon. Lake Woebegone only has the one Lutheran Church so I can only imagine what the Methodists in town, if there are any, might have heard that week. It seems that this was one of those weeks or times when I could use that type of approach.

First, there was the report of the ossuary that is supposed to contain the bones of James, the brother of Jesus. This revelation has the potential of striking at the central core of the Christianity, especially if one is a Roman Catholic. It seems that the one of the tenets of Catholicism is that Mary was always a virgin and therefore could not have any more children so Jesus could not have had any more natural brothers or sisters. The Orthodox churches get around this by saying that any other children mentioned in the bible were Joseph’s by a prior marriage.

But no matter whether one develops a theory within the context of a scientific or religious context, the rules are the same. And the rules say that when a theory must be stretched or twisted in order to explain an idea, then it might be a good idea to look at the theory again. So maybe we should just take the words of the bible as they are written and accept the idea that Jesus did have brothers and sisters and that James was his brother and that James became one of the leaders of the church upon his death.

With James comes another thought about Christianity, especially at this time of the year. In the letter attributed to James, one gets the idea that service and works can precede faith and allow for salvation, an idea that does not get along well with Paul’s view of faith alone as the source of salvation. How then do resolve this disparity between works and faith.

What first caused John Wesley to question the nature of his church, to label it a “lukewarm” Christianity was its lack of concern for the downtrodden, the poor, and the homeless, those whom the Industrial Revolution had left behind. It was a belief then, and perhaps today, that poverty was a result of sin; that your sins determined your success. If you were successful, then it was because you had led a godly and righteous life.

Wesley questioned those who would forget those who did not or could not benefit from the riches of society. He challenged people by his words and his actions to take the Gospel into the street. It is not a message you are likely to hear from evangelists today.

The message given today is about the one, a “me-first” theology as one writer put it, and when you look at many of the evangelists today, the one they are talking about is themselves. There seems to be no compassion, any caring about others in their message. It seems that people want to find salvation and peace but are not willing to take the steps that make it possible.

Having faith is the first step but remember what Jesus told the rich young ruler, that if he wanted to enter into the kingdom, he had to give up all his riches. And Jesus told the story of the man who was condemned to hell because, though he had led a godly and righteous life, he had ignored the beggar outside his door. Life is not found in the riches one has but rather what does with the riches one have, no matter how many they are.

But that was the message Ezekiel gave to the people of Israel; it was the central point of Jesus’ ministry. It was of little concern to Ezekiel where the lost sheep were or who the lost sheep were; what mattered was that they were lost; and, if they were lost, they must be found. Judgement about who was lost and why they were lost was left to the Shepherd, not to others.

Jesus spoke of the homeless, the sick, the poor, the downtrodden and oppressed as if He were one of them. He challenged his disciples to find His presence among them. Of course, the reply was that they did not see Jesus there. If we do not feed the hungry, help the downtrodden, visit the sick and needy, how then can we ever expect to find Christ. The condemnation came not to those who suffered but to those who would not help.

Wesley knew, as we must today, that works alone cannot bring the peace found in Christ. All we have to do is read of the struggles that Wesley went through, of all the pain and agony that he brought upon himself as he struggled with the issue of what Christ meant, to understand that you must have faith first before you can find peace. Only by trusting in Jesus and allowing faith to be the central part of your life can peace be found.

The one tenet that we have in the Methodism is that having come to Christ, then we must help others.

As I read the notes about Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I have to ask ourselves how it was that Paul heard of the Ephesians faith and the love that they had for each other. The central theme to this letter is the transformation that the community underwent after the people had accepted the Gospel. But how do you hear of faith and love? How do you hear about the sharing that takes place in a community? If a person is transformed, it is through the actions that he or she makes after the change. And that comes back to the works that we do. That makes the Gospel reading for today so relevant and meaningful for today.

We are in the midst of a stewardship campaign. I want to emphasize that it is a stewardship campaign and not simply a financial drive. Stewardship is more than money. Yes, we need the money in order to maintain the presence of this church in this community but we need to look beyond simply keeping the church in the community. Stewardship means taking the message of Christ beyond the boundaries of our own lives.

Later this week, we shall stop and take time to be thankful. It is a time long fixed in the memories of our country, to pause and remember the difficult start many people had. It was a time of remembrance and thanksgiving to the Lord for His presence in their lives. So too should it be for us. We will gather as families to feast on the turkey and all the fixings that go with it. We hopefully will pause a few moments to thank the cook and the helpers.

As you go through this week I trust that you will give thanks to the Lord for the blessings of family and home that have been given to you. But I also hope that you find other ways to say thanks, that you find ways to take the faith that has brought you safe thus far (to borrow from my favorite hymn) and help others to be thankful as well. We are reminded that others only know of our faith and love through what we do and how we live. As we live and show the presence of Christ in our lives, that is how we best say thanks.

If Not Now, When? If Not Us, Who?

This is the message I presented at Walker Valley on Christ the King Sunday, November 21, 1999.  The Scriptures were Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24, Ephesians 1: 15- 23, and Matthew 25: 31-46.


The Scriptures for today had me thinking about what type of church we have and the type of church we would like it to be. Now, you must remember that I come from a part of the country where the church is a part of the social fabric of society and many people get uncomfortable when the church is called to work in society.

The church throughout its history has always been a society of people. But, for many people, this means that the church has taken on the form of a social club where like-minded people gather together and have fun and fellowship and generally support one another. Now, I see nothing wrong with those activities; they are essential parts of the life of a church. But I do see something wrong when people view themselves only in those terms and refuse to look beyond the boundaries of the church. I can remember the horror people had at one church when it was suggested that one week out of every fifteen the church house two or three homeless families and that the members of the church assist in the feeding of the families. Those things were just not done in polite society.

But that is the other side of the coin. Whatever breaks down in society, the church needs to be involved. In needs to stand up for what is right and good. Over the years, the church has stood for good education, equality among all peoples, civil rights, and stability in society. The church has often been seen as the one institution that stands ups for what is right. But the difficulty in this approach to the church’s work is that it is often seen as a means of achieving the goal of Christianity.

The difficulty for any church is finding the balance between what it does for its members and what it does for members of society.

Humanity has always wanted to help God. But it has always been done with the feeling that we could meet God halfway. Many people work hard in the church, serving on committees, helping out with any number of church projects. But if we are not careful, we begin thinking of our much God appreciates our work. When this happens, it is not very hard for the church, the body of Christ, to become a club or social organization where God is secondary.

John Wesley understood the importance of good works. The fruit of one’s good works are always and everywhere a response to what God has done. We respond to God through our appreciative works.

Is it possible to avoid good works? Jesus’ command, as hear in the Gospel reading for today, is simple. If you hear the message, live accordingly. By and of itself, the act of doing something good for someone is a meaningless act for us. It will help the other person, that is true, but it will do nothing to help us get into heaven. There is a living relationship established between God and us. That is what the message from the Old Testament tells us today. God went out looking for each of the lost sheep, be they the Israelites exiled in Babylon or elsewhere. He wanted to find each one of us; that is why He ultimately sent his Son to save us from our sins. It is by God’s grace that we are saved.

Because of this act of God’s grace exists, a relationship between God and us. It is living relationship with the Father through Christ who inspires our thoughts, words and deeds.

It follows then that we have a role in our relationship with God. We are the other party in the covenant established many years ago. We contribute to this living, dynamic fellowship. The question is, of course, how can we contribute to this relationship? How can we respond to God’s presence in our lives?

Each person in Christ has a specific calling. Each person has a unique personality and lives in relation to unique things. Each person draws together other persons, times, places, and events. The excitement of the Christian life is living out or doing good works within our own unique daily life. We are called to be a witness to what Christ has done for all humanity.

When I first began the preparation for this sermon, I thought of the church’s involvement in the political and social actions of the sixties. I thought about how the church was involved back then and is still today in the fight for human rights. Many churches were divided about the proper action of the church, its pastor, and its congregation in the fights that occurred back then. And even today, as I alluded to earlier, churches can be divided about what the role of the church in society should be.

As this decade ends and the new one begins, as we turn from the season of Pentecost to the season of Advent, what role will the church have in society? The United Methodist Church has, out of necessity and history, always been a social action church. There are those today who suggest that we need to review this tradition of the church. But such a change would take away the presence of this church in the world. As one who has looked at planning before, I know that what one church does is not necessarily the right thing for other churches to do. There is a role for every church, be they a very little one or one of immense size.

The question arises how. In my daily readings, I have had the opportunity to read the writings of Carlo Carretto, who wrote a biography of St. Francis of Assisi. One of those writings is especially true today.

When I, Francis, heard the call of the Gospel, I did not set about organizing a political pressure-group in Assisi. What I did, I remember very well, I did for love, without expecting anything in return; I did it for the Gospel, without placing myself at odds with the rich, without squabbling with those who preferred to remain rich. And I certainly did it without any class hatred.

I did not challenge the poor people who came with me to fight for their rights, or win salary increases. I only told them that we would be blessed – if also battered, persecuted, or killed. The Gospel taught me to place the emphasis on the mystery of the human being more than on the duty of the human being.

I did not understand duty very well. But how well I understood – precisely because I had come from a life of pleasure – that when a poor person, a suffering person, a sick person, could smile, that was the perfect sign that God existed, and that he was helping the poor person in his or her difficulties.

The social struggle in my day was very lively and intense, almost, I should say, as much so as in your own times. Everywhere there arose groups of men and women professing poverty and preaching poverty in the Church and the renewal of society. But nothing changed, because these people did not change hearts . . .

No, brothers and sisters, it is not enough to change laws. You have to change hearts. Otherwise, when you have completed the journey of your social labors you shall find yourselves right back at the beginning – only this time it is you who will be the arrogant, the rich, and the exploiters of the poor.

This is why I took the Gospel path. For me the Gospel pat was the sign of liberation, yes, but of true liberation, the liberation of hearts. That was the thrust that lifted me out of the middle-class spirit, which is present to every age, and is known as selfishness, arrogance, pride, sensuality, idolatry, and slavery.

I knew something about all that.

I knew what it meant to be rich, I knew the danger flowing from a life of easy pleasure, and when I heard the text in Luke, “Alas for you, who are rich” my flesh crept. I understood. I had run a mortal risk, by according a value to the idols that filled my house, for they would have cast me in irons had I not fled.

It is not that I did not understand the importance of the various tasks that keep a city running. I understood, but I sought to go beyond.

You can reproach me, go ahead. But I saw, in the Gospel, a road beyond, a path that beyond, a path that transcended all cultures, all human constructs, all civilization and convention.

I felt the Gospel to be eternal; I felt politics and culture, including Christian culture, to be in time.

I was made always to go beyond time. (From I, Francis by Carlo Carretto)

I struggled with this sermon because it calls for us to take actions. Fortunately, I can take comfort in the words Paul wrote to the Ephesians encouraging them and asking that God give them wisdom so that they could better know him and understand what it is that He would have us to do.

And while I struggle with how to do it, I am reminded by what was said back in the sixties when people were questioning the timing of much of what was going on. That challenge, the title of the sermon today, is as valid today as it was thirty years ago. There is work to be done; there are those in need who seek our help. If we do not do it, who will? If it is not done today, when will it get done?

The coming revival

Here are my thoughts for tomorrow. They were prompted in part by the vote in the House of Representatives on the upcoming budget. But the Scriptures that I refer to are the Scriptures for tomorrow. Take that as a sign if you will.


There are going to be few Christians conservatives out there who are going to rejoice with what I am about to say and there are a few Christians liberals out there who are going to be aghast by the same statement. Now, if it is not clear, I am a liberal in every sense of the word; I am also an evangelical in every traditional sense of the word. But I think the time has come for a true Wesleyan revival in this country.

But, before the conservatives really rejoice and the liberals lament, I don’t think that this revival is the one that the conservatives are clamoring for; I think we need to stop worrying about throwing all the sinners out of the church(after all, who would be left?) and start worrying about what the Gospel message is about.

This past week the House of Representatives passed a budget that places an unfair and unreasonable burden on the poor and needy in this country. Cuts were made in food stamps, child care, child welfare, and higher education funding. And while programs that benefit the least of our nation, the richest of our nation continue to reap major tax cuts. What bothers me more than anything else is that those who voted for these cuts in funding for the poor and decreases in taxes for the rich claim that they are Christians.

I am not going to take a poll and find out what church, temple, or synagogue members of Congress (both Senators and Representatives) attend and/or are members. But the past series of elections have revolved around values and faith. The majority of the members in Congress have allied themselves with the conservative and fundamentalist version side of the Christianity, so by either association or otherwise, they claim to be Christians. So how can it be that such a budget could even pass? Why is there even such a discussion or consideration?

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Old Testament reading for today is from Ezekiel.(Ezekiel 34: 11 – 16, 20 – 24) Ezekiel tells us that it was the leaders of Israel who failed the country. Throughout the Bible we are reminded that the leader of people will care for those under his charge just as a shepherd cares for and loves his flock. A good shepherd will feed the flock, tend to the weak and the sick, search for the lost, guide and protect the flock, and give his best. We read in the Bible that a bad shepherd is more concerned about feeding himself, worrying about his own health, guiding with a heavy hand, abandoning or scattering his flock and keeping the best for himself.

When we read the Scriptures, we see the comparisons where leaders are exhorted to be good shepherds for their people. A good leader is one who is concerned with his or her people’s needs and that care is being provided for the sick and needy. A true leader looks for those who have fallen away. He leads like a shepherd by providing direction and correction, not with a fist but with a loving hand. A good leader protects those under his care and does not leave them to the wolves – to those who would lead the people astray. A good leader gives of himself to those under his charge. This is the reason why Ezekiel speaks out against the leaders of Israel; It is his prophecy in this passage that speaks of Christ’s coming.

It has been pointed out the major theme that runs throughout the Bible is poverty. If you cut out any passage in either the Old or New Testament that relates to the poor or the needy, there would be nothing left in the Bible. The care of the needy and the poor is what we should focus on, not giving to the rich in the hopes that they will give to the poor.

The one dominant theme of John Wesley’s ministry was his desire to see the poor in England taken care of, not ignored or cast aside. His desire to bring relief to the less fortunate was brought about by the callousness of the Church of England. It has long been said that England avoided the violent revolution that occurred in France at the same time because of the Wesleyan revival begun and lead by John Wesley. So I think that now is the time for another Wesleyan revival; one in which we, those who call ourselves Christian, renew our commitment to the Gospel message that we have for today. (Matthew 25: 31 – 46)

In this passage Jesus is bluntly telling us that we cannot expect to gain much on earth if we ignore those on this earth who do not have anything. Jesus is telling us that whenever we ignore those who are hungry, thirsty, in need of clothing or shelter, or oppressed, then we should never expect the rewards of heaven.

I realize that there will be some who will say that what I have to say in this piece today is political. But I did not make the matter in question political; I am not the one who made one’s faith a political issue. But I am going to be the one to say that if you say you are a Christian and you do not care for the weak, the sick, the oppressed, and the less-fortunate of this country, then you either do not know what it means to be a Christian or you are a hypocrite, no better than the Pharisees and Sadducees that fought against Christ some two thousand years ago.

Were I an ordained pastor in a regular church, the IRS might investigate me and the church for bringing a political statement into the pulpit. But I am not the one who made this a political issue; I am not the one who has said by my vote in Congress that caring for the poor, the needy, the less-fortunate is not my concern.

But I am the one who is saying that a Wesleyan revival is needed. We need to remember who we are and what we say we are. Paul writes to the Ephesians (Ephesians 1: 15 – 23) and says that he has heard of their faith in Christ. What would he say about us? In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of one’s loyalty; where is our loyalty?

There is a need for a revival in this country. As Methodists, inheritors of the original revival, it is up to us to begin that revival. Like John Wesley, we must first open our hearts and let Christ in. For without Christ leading us, we are nothing and we can gain nothing. But ours is all to gain when we have Christ in our hearts and when we let Christ lead us. And if we have Christ in our hearts, it is much easier for us to let the Holy Spirit empower and give us the strength and knowledge that will bring all to the throne of God.

We have heard the words of Ezekiel and know that our leaders are the ones to whom he is speaking. Just as the leaders of Israel failed their people, so too have our leaders failed us. We have heard the words of Christ, calling us to task because we have also failed to take care of those less fortunate than us. Now is the time to change; now is the time for us to say who we really are. There is a need for a revival; the time is now and it is up to us.