“Permanent Resident or Passing Through: Reflections for Evolution Weekend and Boy Scout Sunday”


Scripture readings for Transfiguration Sunday

2 Kings 2: 1 – 12

Psalm 50 — UMH # 783

2 Corinthians 4: 3 – 6

Mark 9: 2 – 9


On the liturgical calendar, today is Transfiguration Sunday.

Transfiguration Sunday marks the end of the Season of Epiphany and serves as a marker for the being of Lent with Ash Wednesday this coming Wednesday.  Were these “normal times”, we would begin planning for Mardi Gras and pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.  I suppose one could still have pancakes on Tuesday, but any sharing of the celebration would, by necessity, must be virtual.

This Sunday, the second Sunday in February, has a more personal meaning for me.  The second Sunday in February is Boy Scout Sunday and on this Sunday in 1965, in the process of completing the work for the “God and Country Award”, I became a member of the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church (now the 1st United Methodist Church) of Aurora, Colorado.

Since 2006, this has also been “Evolution Weekend”, a celebration of Charles Darwin’s birthday sponsored by the Clergy Letter Project.  As noted on its website, “The Clergy Letter Project is an endeavor designed to demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible and to elevate the quality of the debate of this issue.”

The goal of Evolution Weekend is to show that faith and science are compatible and not adversarial in nature. I have participated in this event since 2009.  The theme for this year Is “climate change”.

Let me pause for a moment and offer a bit of science.  To understand what climate change is, we must first understand what weather and climate are.

What is weather?

Weather is what is happening outside your house right now.  It can be raining or snowing; the temperature could be up or down.  Weather changes from day to day and even at times from hour to hour.

Going to school and living in Missouri, I remember that statement that if you did not like the weather now, wait one hour.  And the renowned Missouri author, Mark Twain, once remarked that the if you did not like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.  And it does appear that he never said that the coldest winter he ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco (for more on this memorable non-Twain quote, see https://www.anchorbrewing.com/blog/the-coldest-winter-i-ever-spent-was-a-summer-in-san-francisco-say-what-says-who/.)

What is climate?

Climate is more what the weather is over a long period of time.  While the weather may change over a period of hours, climate changes take longer periods of time. 

One might think of weather as being what clothes you are going to wear each day, while climate is what clothes you have in your closet.

And therein lies the rub; what causes climate changes?  The changes in the climate that have been observed since the mid-20th Century can be directly attributed to human expansion of the “greenhouse effect”.  This effect is caused by the increased production of gases which when released into the atmosphere trap heat radiating from Earth into space.  Most of these gases are a result of human activity.

How do changes in the climate affect the weather?  As a result of this increased production of greenhouse gases, the Earth is becoming warmer. Such warmer conditions lead to an increased evaporation of surface water and precipitation overall, but the effects will depend on the region.  Increased global warming will raise the temperature of the oceans, partially melting glaciers and ice sheets, which, in turn, will lead to an increased sea level rise.

The evidence suggests that, with a 95% probability, human activity over the past 50 years has warmed this planet, with increased production of such greenhouse gases as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are the cause.  Industrial activities have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 414 ppm in the past 150 years.  (“The Cause of Climate Change”)

Despite the efforts of some to discredit the science behind climate change (many who also support the inclusion of creation science), the evidence is clear that humankind is a contributing, and perhaps major, factor in change of the climate.

From almost the beginning of creation, humankind has been tasked with the care of this planet.  As descendants of Adam, we are also charged to be stewards of this world.

God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflect our nature

So, they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle,

And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”

God created human beings; he created them godlike.

Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.

God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!

Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.” ().

Genesis 1: 26 – 28, The Message

We need to be reminded that throughout the Old Testament the writers emphasized that this world was God’s creation and that we must answer to Him when it is done.  Remember that at the end of the Book of Job, God reminds Job that it was He who was responsible for the creation.

And now, finally, God answered Job from the eye of a violent storm. He said:

“Why do you confuse the issue?  Why do you talk without knowing what you are talking about?

Pull yourself together, Job!  Up on your feet! Stand tall!

 I have some questions for you, and I want some straight answers.

Where were you when I created the earth?  Tell me since you know so much!

Who decided on its size? Certainly, you’ll know that!  Who came up with the blueprints and measurements?

How was its foundation poured, and who set the cornerstone?

While the morning stars sang in chorus and all the angels shouted praise?

And who took charge of the ocean when it gushed forth like a baby from the womb

That was me! I wrapped it in soft clouds and tucked it in safely at night.

Then I made a playpen for it, a strong playpen so it could not run loose,

And said, ‘Stay here, this is your place. Your wild tantrums are confined to this place.’

“And have you ever ordered Morning, ‘Get up!’ told Dawn, ‘Get to work!’

So you could seize Earth like a blanket and shake out the wicked like cockroaches?

As the sun brings everything to light, brings out all the colors and shapes,

The cover of darkness is snatched from the wicked—they are caught in the very act!

“Have you ever gotten to the true bottom of things, explored the labyrinthine caves of deep ocean?

Do you know the first thing about death?  Do you have one clue regarding death’s dark mysteries?

And do you have any idea how large this earth is?   Speak up if you have even the beginning of an answer.

Job 38: 1 -18

For too long, humanity held the view that the charge to be good stewards of this world meant we could do anything we wanted.  We dumped our trash in the streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans, confident that there was always going to be fresh water left over.  We filled the atmosphere with noxious gases, confident that the size of the atmosphere would be enough to eliminate the threat. 

But we have begun to see that there is a limit to the damage we do to this world; we are beginning to see that what we once were unlimited resources are beginning to run out.  In our greed and ignorance, in our lack of care for the welfare of this world, we have sown the seeds of our own destruction.

But if we are responsible for the care of this world, we must understand that what we do to this world, its resources, and those with whom we share this world has consequences.  Mike Hulme (“9 Groundbreaking Scientists Who Happen to Be Christians”) is the author of “Why We Disagree About Climate Change”, which was one of The Economist ‘s four science and technology books of the year in 2009. Ever since receiving his Ph.D. in climatology from the University of Wales, he has been a leading Christian voice on the reality of climate change, which he has summed up in five severe but notably levelheaded lessons (“Five Lessons of Climate Change” a personal statement):

  1. “Climate change is a relative risk, not an absolute one.”
  2. “Climate risks are serious, and we should seek to minimize them.”
  3. “Our world has huge unmet development needs.”
  4. “Our current energy portfolio is not sustainable.
  5. “Massive and deliberate geo-engineering of the planet is a dubious practice.

For a variety of reasons, I do not consider myself to be an environmentalist, but when I was in the Boy Scouts, I was taught to always leave the place where we were camping a better place than we found it.

Perhaps because today is also Valentine’s Day and we speak of our love for our family, friends, and others, we might want to also consider how much we love this world on which we live.

Pertaining to the title of the piece, do we treat this world as if we are its owners or simply temporary residents?  Can we, as permanent residents, do whatever we want to our home, or because we are simply temporary residents, just passing through, do we leave this place for the next generations?

In the Old Testament reading for this Sunday, Elisha is concerned about what Elijah, his mentor and friend, was going to leave him.  What are we going to leave those who come after us?

The Season of Epiphany is one marked by illumination; it began with the Wise Men seeking the light that they say, it ends with illumination of Christ.  Yet, there are many, both secular and sectarian, who would rather live in the darkness of ignorance.  We live in a world teetering between the darkness of ignorance and the light of wisdom; as so often happens, we must decide which direction we as society must take.

In the 2nd lesson for today, Paul speaks of a message being obscured, not because he is holding back some information but because the people are not giving it serious attention.

Theirs is a voice which calls the notion of climate change fake or false science.  They are like many who heard Paul’s words to the Corinthians without listening and are blind to what they see happening to this world.

We see the growing seasons for crops changing; we see the average amount of rainfall changing, and we wonder why we see more hurricanes every year wonder why the intensity of hurricanes seemed to be increase with the numbers.  To borrow a phrase from “The Guess Who”, we see the seasons change but we do not wonder why.

When we look at the empirical evidence (remembering that Jesus told the disciples of John to return and tell him what they saw when asked if He, Jesus, were the coming Messiah), we see the signs that there is change and humankind is responsible.   The good sign is that we also have the capability to fix the errors that we have caused.

On this day, when Elijah insured the future for Elisha, we need to think about what we will be leaving for the generations to come.

On this day, when the world of the disciples was enveloped in the Light of Christ, how can we live in the darkness of ignorance.

We are reminded that this is God’s world and while we may feel that we are the permanent residents and owners, we are just temporary residents passing through.  Do we do as we please or do we leave this world a better place?


Notes on climate change (https://www.rff.org/publications/reports/climateinsights2020/)

“Finding God in The Details”


This is not necessarily a post for Transfiguration Sunday (11 February 2018) as much as it a post for Boy Scout Sunday and Evolution Weekend; “A Reminder” serves that purpose.  Still it helps to realize that this weekend is a marker in my life.

On the 2nd Sunday in February 1965, I was confirmed and received into membership with the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church of Aurora, Colorado (now 1st United Methodist Church of Aurora).  A little over one year later, I was accepted in the High School Honors Program of Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Truman State University).  In June of 1966, I choose to become a chemistry major.  Each of those decisions defined the path that I would take over the coming years.

The simplest and easiest way to summarize my beliefs is found in what is commonly called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, “Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason (The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline).  And since I see my faith in living and real terms, it is it is better to describe the relationship between the elements in a 3-dimensional tetrahedral – The Wesleyan Tetrahedron – rather than a 2-dimensional square (hey, I’m a chemist, remember!)Tetrahedron

Perhaps I spent more time 50 years ago focusing on my education and I know that I certainly have spent several years wandering in the wilderness, as it were.  But even if it were not a dominant part of my life, my faith has been as much a part of my life as have been my chemistry studies.

And that brings forth the questions, “Can one be both a scientist and a Christian?  Can one both appreciate the beauty and wonder of creation and still ask how it all came into being?”

Today, there are those who see science as a threat to religion, and especially Christianity.  And there are those who see religion, and especially Christianity, as nothing more than superstition and meaningless today.  There is, I believe a comment on one of my early posts on this blog that questions the validity of my PhD. in Science Education considering my being, at the time, a lay pastor in the United Methodist Church.  I can assure you, gentle reader, that my PhD. is a valid one and that I have done research in both chemistry and chemical education.  Those interests are very much part of my life today.

But there was a point in my life when I was asked to provide long-term pulpit supply for a number of churches and it was a very valuable experience (see the notes with “Who Will Work For The Lord?”.)

After I left the pulpit, but did not give up lay speaking, I discovered that there was a connection between my chemistry and lay speaking ministry.  In “A Dialogue Of Science And Faith” I discovered that Robert Boyle and Joseph Priestley, both chemists, were also heavily involved in matters of faith as they were in matters of science.

And while detractors today may say otherwise, scientists from Copernicus and Galileo to Boyle and Newton and onto this day have never sought to prove or disprove the existence of God, only to understand what He has done.

Perhaps the one defining characteristic of humankind is its curiosity.  From the very beginning of our consciousness, we have looked at the world around us and wondered “why?”  And our answer to this, at once the simplest and most complex of all questions, has lead us to seek beyond the horizon and to the stars and see answers in our soul, even if we are not sure what we were looking for or if we would know the answer.

And we would could not find the answer in the physical world, we often turned to the supernatural or spiritual world to find the answer.  But just as easy as it easy to find the answer in the physical world, it is often just as hard to find the answer in the spiritual realm.  And so, in our own way, we create simple spiritual answers to the most complicated of questions.

When the star that is called Sirius first appeared in the spring, we knew that river was going to flood, and it would be time to prepare.  But instead of tying two physical occurrences, we saw it as a sign from the gods.  When the rains didn’t come, we blamed the rain god.  We knew that if the crops didn’t come in as expected, perhaps we needed to appease the god of crops.  Of course, today we have scientific explanations for most, if not all, the physical phenomena that once was attributed to spiritual or supernatural forces.  But even so, we still search for explanations for good and evil, truth and beauty, and the most important question of all times, why are we here in this time and place.

This search for the answers has lead us in many different paths.  When the writer of Genesis wrote that Adam was given the task of naming all the plants and animals in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2: 19 – 20), Adam became, other things, the first biologists.  And when Abraham was told to count all the stars (Genesis 15: 5), he took on one of the tasks of an astronomer.

Understand that the Bible is and should never be considered the same as a biology, chemistry, physics, or geology/earth science textbook.  From the very day that the first writer put the words of Genesis on papyrus, it has been about our relationship with God.

The Psalmist looked the world around him and at the skies above him and saw the Glory of God,

I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry,

Moon and stars mounted in their settings.  Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,

Why do you bother with us?  Why take a second look our way?

Yet we’ve so narrowly missed being gods, bright with Eden’s dawn light.

You put us in charge of your handcrafted world, repeated to us your Genesis-charge,

Made us lords of sheep and cattle, even animals out in the wild,

Birds flying and fish swimming, whales singing in the ocean deeps.

God, brilliant Lord, your name echoes around the world.  (Psalm 8: 3 – 9, The Message)

And how was it that Jesus could use the habits of foxes and birds or know how mustard seeds and grow in his parables if He had not studied science when he was growing up.

Science can give meaning to what we see in this world, but it cannot explain why it is here.  Science can never explain there is good and evil or why there is suffering and pain in this world.

Science can never show you God; it can only show you, through nature, the works of God.  Science has always been driven to know things about the world in which we live.  Scientists from Copernicus through Newton and even into these days used the process of science to understand the works of God, not disprove the existence of God or displace God.

Science gives us the opportunity to know what is happening in this world; it is up to our faith to know why it is happening.  It is our faith that will provide the guidance that we need to use what science shows us.  It is through our faith that we can discern the path that we should take, to use our scientific discoveries for good.

Science can open avenues of research whose answers will help feed the people of this planet and cure sickness and disease, but science cannot eliminate injustice and oppression.  For all that science can do, it cannot do all things.  And for those things that science cannot do, you must have faith, faith in things unseen, faith that will lead you to find ways to use the knowledge that you gain from science.

We look at the world around us and wonder why and how.  As we ask how things came to be, we find ourselves marveling at the works of God.  And as we begin to understand the works of God, we began to understand ourselves just a little bit better.

A Reminder


This will be the back page for the Fishkill United Methodist Church bulletin for February 11, 2018, Transfiguration Sunday (Year B).  This is also Boy Scout Sunday and Evolution Weekend (I will have something else posted this week that focuses on those topics.)


Several years ago, I was headed to a college in northwest Missouri.  Driving across the plains of northwest Missouri that day and nearing Conception Junction, I saw a cathedral rising from the plains about ten miles away.  It wasn’t what I had planned but I had to see what this was.  After all, when does God check your schedule when he has something for you to do?

Conception Abbey postcard from 1908 postcard – By Unknown – postcard, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19493851

Conception Abbey was built in the late 19th century to provide the local Irish and German immigrants of the area a spiritual home.  That day, it served as a reminder that I had made a covenant with God in 1965.

A covenant with God is not a promise but an agreement one makes with God; It is an agreement that each party will do something.  Throughout the ages, God always keeps His part of the covenant; we are often the ones who forget what we said we would do.

Seeing that cathedral, literally rising from the plains, reminded me that I had made a covenant and that it was time to fulfill my part of the agreement.  As I continued my trip that day, I began to think about how I could fulfill that covenant I made in 1965.  How could I use my skills and talents that I had been given and developed over the years?  In one sense, I am here today because of the sudden appearance of the Presence of God in my life.

Each of us, in one way or another, has had that same moment, where God suddenly appears to us.   How will you respond?

~Tony Mitchell

Notes on Transfiguration Sunday


Here is a compilation of my sermons/messages/posts for Transfiguration Sunday, as well as some thoughts for what I would have said this Sunday.

February 14, 1999 – Year A – Neon (KY) UMC – “A Scout is Reverent” – (This was also Boy Scout Sunday – see Boy Scout Sunday)

March 4, 2000 – Year B – Walker Valley (NY) UMC – not on file

March 25, 2001 – Year C – Walker Valley (NY) UMC – “The Mountain Top”

February 25, 2002 – Year A – Walker Valley (NY) UMC – not on file

March 2, 2003 – Year B – Tompkins Corners (NY) UMC – “That Moment in Time”

February 22, 2004 – Year C – Tompkins Corners (NY) UMC – “Mornings in Whitesburg”

February 6, 2005 – Year A – Tompkins Corners (NY) UMC – “The Mountaintop Experience” – (This was also Boy Scout Sunday – see Boy Scout Sunday)

February 26, 2006 – Year B – “Let Us Tell The Story”

February 18, 2007 – Year C – Dover Plains (NY) UMC – “Encountering God” (sermon)

February 3, 2008 – Year A – “Transformation Sunday”

February 22, 2009 – Year B – “The View From The Mountaintop”

February 14, 2010 – Year C – “That Transforming Moment”– (This was also Boy Scout Sunday – see Boy Scout Sunday and Evolution Weekend – see Evolution Weekend)

March 6, 2011 – Year A – United Methodist Church of the Highlands (NY) – Seeing Through The Clouds

February 19, 2012 – Year B

As I was preparing this list, I got a note that I might be needed at a local church. It was one of those situations where the call would come at the last minute. This has happened twice in my career; once when I was just beginning (see “What Do You Do?”); then a few years ago (see “Hearing God’s Call”). As it turned out, I wasn’t needed this Sunday so I didn’t finish what I was writing.

But had I presented the message, it would have been entitled “A Lasting Monument”. I thought about how Peter wanted to build a stone monument to the moment of Jesus being transfigured and how we have turned so many of churches into empty stone monuments celebrating the past accomplishments of individuals who are long gone and perhaps forgotten. Do you have any knowledge of why your church has the name it does?

I thought about what Paul wrote and how translated into the actions and deeds of today’s churches. And I thought about what we are being asked to do in the United Methodist Church today. What needs to be our response to the “Call to Action”? In part, I think we need to find ways to answer that call and I wanted the “Missional Manifest for the United Methodist Church” that John Meunier and Jay Voorhees created – my link to their efforts is at https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/missional-manifesto-for-the-umc/

And finally I thought about the transition from Elijah to Elisha and how that applies to each one of us in today’s church. It is reflected in the dialogue between Sir Thomas More and Richard Rich in the play, “A Man For All Seasons.”

Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.

Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?

Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.

We do not need monuments of stone that stand in quiet remembrance of something that happened a long, long time ago. Nor do we need monuments that are in memory of someone no one knows or who did something that no one can recall. What we need people who will continue to do God’s work and spread the message that Christ gave to us. That will be the best and most lasting monument.

The View From The Mountaintop


Here are my thoughts for this coming Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday, 22 February 2009. The Scriptures were 2 Kings 2:1 – 12, 2 Corinthians 4:3 – 6, and Mark 9: 2 – 9.

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There is something about the view from the top of a mountain that is always awe inspiring and breath-taking. We stand on the summit of even the shortest of mountains and marvel how clear the air is and how far we can see. And as anyone who has ever traveled in the South knows, you can see six states from the top of Lookout Mountain, though you have to imagine that the signs are there on the horizon telling you which state you are looking at.

And our journey to the mountaintop is also interesting. Sometimes, it is a clear day and you can see things as you move up the side of the mountain; other times, it is a cloudy day and you drive through a fog. But when you break through the clouds and into the sunlight, the clarity and brightness overcome you.

Perhaps it was that sort of brightness and clarity that overcame Peter, James, and John when they stood on the mountaintop and watched the Transfiguration of Jesus. And too many times, it is that vision that we see on the top of the mountain that we want to keep in our minds, clear and unobstructed, unfettered by the noise, grime, and pollution that inhabits the world far below us.

Each step that we take up the mountain takes us further away from where everything is taking place. And when we get to the mountaintop and look back at where we came from, we can barely see the people and the problems that are so much a part of our world.

Too often we are like Peter at that moment of the transfiguration who wanted to build a monument to the moment in order to remember it forever. Building a monument to the moment makes it easier to forget what you left behind and what you must sooner or later return to.

Unfortunately, too many times in our society, the mountaintop is where we want it to be. We don’t want to be reminded about the problems of the world; we don’t want to be reminded about what is happening outside the walls of our safe enclave that we call the church. We have put the church up on the mountaintop where we have a wonderful view of the world and where it is safely out of reach of the people who need the presence of the church in their lives the most.

Maybe that’s what Paul is writing about in the passage from Corinthians for today. There are those outside the church who do not see the message of the Gospel. They see the vision and hear the message but call it superstition and irrational thought. They believe that good and evil are fixtures in this world and it is best if one looks out for themselves. But there are as many within the church also blind and deaf; they do not see the vision, they do not hear the message.

It is not easy to see the vision if you are trapped by the boundaries placed on you by society; it is not easy to hear the message when society drowns it out with a cacophony of other sounds and noises. And that is why there must be a church; there must be a place that offers the peace and quiet often times only found on the mountaintop.

But sooner or later, you have to leave the mountaintop and return down the mountainside. Keep in mind that Elisha had to go to the mountaintop in order to see Elijah be taken away; in return, he was granted a double share of Elijah’s inheritance.

But he could only use that inheritance if he were to leave the mountaintop and return to doing the work that Elijah was doing. The same is true for each one of us; we can visit the mountaintop and we can find peace and solitude there. But we need to use that time not to escape from the world but to come back into contact with Christ. When we return to the real world, we will have regained that which the world seeks to take away from us and we will have the strength and courage to move on.

We live at a time when the old visions don’t work; the old messages have grown old and stale. And until we go to the mountaintop and have that same experience as Peter, James, and John did, we will never gain a new vision of the world around us.

Go to the mountaintop and look around but bring that new vision down and put it to work in the world so that everyone can have the new vision.

Let Us Tell The Story


Here are my thoughts for this Sunday, 26 February, Transfiguration Sunday.

————————————————–

If it has not been evident by my past writings and statements, let me state it now that I am not all that crazy about “seeker-sensitive services”, “megachurches”, or the current trend towards “a prosperity gospel.” I do not see how we can serve the Lord or advance the Gospel message when we concentrate on removing all signs of Christ in our churches or we seek to bring people into church with the promise that there will be something at the church that they can do anytime they want to. Nor can we change the Gospel message from a promise of hope and redemption to one of reward for effort and virtue.

Yet, these are the things that we are doing in our churches today. We have removed the Cross and references to Christ from our services for fear of scaring away those who have never heard of Christ. We have modified our music to be more what the seekers are likely to hear during the week; we have modified our music to be more performance than participation. Again, all in the name of not wanting to scare off those who don’t know of Christ or the power that church hymns bring to the individual.

We use models of church growth based on the growth of megachurches where, as I understand it, the goal is to create “mini-churches” within the main body of the church. Each of these “mini-churches” is based on common interests of the members of the church. So it is possible to have a variety of social activities going on at the church, each in the name of bringing people closer to Christ. But the descriptions that I have heard make it sound more like a collection of social activities rather than a gathering for worship and prayer.

And the message that is broadcast through many of these churches is one that God will reward you for your efforts; God will reward you for leading a virtuous life. It is more “Christians are supposed to be wealthy and healthy; if you are not, then there is something wrong with you.”

We are reminded that this approach to the Gospel message was the impetus for John Wesley to rebel against the Church of England and its lack of consideration for the poor and downtrodden of 18th century England. We are reminded that Jesus began his ministry “in Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to release the oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4: 15 – 19 (with the internal quote coming from Isaiah 61: 1 – 2)

But this is not the message that most people hear in church today. As a result, as Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4: 3 – 4)

Clarence Jordan, the noted Southern preacher “translated” that passage in Cotton Patch Gospels as (starting from verse 1), “So then, since God has shared this responsibility with us, we are not going to chicken out. And what’s more, we’re making a clean break with shameful secrets and with playing the imposter. Nor are we going to twist the Scriptures. On the contrary, by coming out plainly for the truth we lay ourselves, in God’s presence, squarely on the conscience of every man. So even though our good news is unclear, it is unclear only to those whose lives are falling apart at the seams. They have let the god of things blind their faithless minds so that the illumination of the glorious news of Christ, who is the very image of God, could not penetrate them.” (2 Corinthians 4: 1 – 4 (Cotton Patch Gospels by Clarence Jordan).

Whether you read the version in the lectionary or Clarence Jordan’s translation, I think the answer is very clear. We cannot answer the questions asked by those who seek answers in ways that mirror the world around them. They, speaking of the seekers, are expecting those answers since their minds are still in the world around them, the god of this world as Paul writes or the god of things as Clarence Jordan writes.

Even the disciples were like these seekers of today. When Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him to the mountaintop and they saw Jesus received the blessing of God (Mark 9: 2 – 9), Peter’s first reaction was to build a monument to the event. This would have been an act typical of the world in which they lived. Encounters with God always resulted in some sort of monument. But Jesus counseled the three not to do or say anything because it was not time. As the commentaries point out, the fulfillment of Jesus’ ministry would not be done until Jesus went to Calvary. To celebrate the Transfiguration as the fulfillment of the ministry would be an incomplete celebration.

But that is what many people do today; they celebrate the presence of Christ before the suffering because they do not want to hear about the suffering. They do not want to see the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven as something that requires sacrifice and an event yet to come; in our modern day instantaneous society, what is happening now is more important that what may come. Do not speak of sacrifice or what is to come; tell me what I need to know now. And make it simple so that I do not have to think about it. All this does is create a new religion that though it calls itself Christian is a perversion of the true meaning.

What should we be seeking? As Elijah walked down the road and his meeting with God, Elisha ran after him, afraid of what is to come. Elisha expresses many of the fears of today’s seekers for his mentor and leader was about to leave him, putting the burden of the ministry and the prophecy on his (Elisha’s) shoulders.

Elisha’s cry was for a double share of Elijah’s spirit. In that society, the principle heir received a double portion of the father’s goods. Elisha wanted that concept to apply to the transfer of spirit as well. As the reading from the Old Testament (2 Kings 2: 1 – 12) indicates there were many prophets who could have easily become Elijah’s successor. It can be assumed from what transpires in the later chapters of 2 Kings that Elisha’s request was not done out of pride but rather out of humility. He wanted to be the man of God who would follow Elijah’s model. His request indicated that it would take the God-given spiritual power that Elijah had received.

But the seekers of today, though grasping at the “cloak of Elijah”, are doing so out of pride rather than humility. How can they understand what Elisha wanted when they are being told only half of the story?

Our challenge today is not to fall into the trap that so many churches and pastors have fallen into; we cannot simplify the message when it means changing the message. We must tell the Gospel message and we must act out the Gospel message through our words, our deeds, and our lives.

It will be alright in this process to use new music but let the music hold the power of the Gospel; let the music express the power and glory of Christ, not simply chant a few verses that have no meaning or message. It is alright to change the way in which we worship; let us not change the power that can be expressed and felt in a genuine worship of our Lord and Savior.

Let us tell the message of the Gospel; let us offer words, deeds, and actions that tell the poor and downtrodden that they are not forgotten; let us offer words, deeds, and actions that tell the sick and dying that healing is coming; let us offer words, deeds, and actions that tell the prisoners of the world, those in prison, those oppressed, those in the jail of their mind, that freedom is near. Let us tell the world the story that brought us to this place; let us tell the Gospel message that there is hope and promise.