“Top Posts for 2012”

Here are the top posts for 2012. Since I really didn’t post much new stuff this year, the list looks a lot like last year’s list (“Top Posts for 2011”).

I am not sure what 2013 will look like from a blogging standpoint. We are continuing the Saturday morning devotionals at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen and if I give the devotional, then it will be posted. (Get in touch with me if you are in the Newburgh area and want to present the devotional some Saturday).

  1. The Chemistry of Bowling – July 26, 2008 (#1 in 2011)
  2. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch – November 18, 2009 (#3)
  3. What is a part per million? – February 19, 2010 (#8)
  4. Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday? – March 13, 2008 (#2)
  5. Who Cuts the Barber’s Hair? – September 15, 2009 (#5)
  6. A Collection of Sayings – January 17, 2008 (#4)
  7. John Wooden – A Review of “A Game Plan for Life – the power of Mentoring” by John Wooden and Don Yager– October 9, 2009 (#7)
  8. What Does Stewardship Mean to Me – November 6, 2005 (#13)
  9. Hearing God Call – January 7, 2009 (#12)
  10. A Brief History of Atomic Theory – April 27, 2011 (#9)
  11. The Dilemma of Modern Christianity – April 18, 2009 (#6)
  12. The Twelve Disciples – Were they management potential? – October 3, 2008 (#14)
  13. A Child’s Book Report on the entire Bible” – November 6, 2005 (not ranked)
  14. What Does It Mean To Be Called? – August 30, 2008 (#16)
  15. The Difference Between Football in the North and South – October 8, 2006 (#10)
  16. A Cake Without Baking Powder” – October 8, 2006 (unranked)
  17. Just What Is The Right Thing To Do?” – June 28, 2008, (unranked)
  18. The Difference Between Republicans and Democrats” – November 27, 2008, (unranked)
  19. Describe Your Pastor” – March 11, 2008, (unranked)
  20. A Scout is Reverent – February 2, 2010 (#19)

My all-time list is

  1. The Chemistry of Bowling (#1 in 2011)
  2. Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday? (#2)
  3. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch – November 18, 2009 (#4)
  4. A Collection of Sayings (#3)
  5. John Wooden – A Review of “A Game Plan for Life – the power of Mentoring” by John Wooden and Don Yager– October 9, 2009 (#5)

“What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?”

This is the message I gave at Neon (KY) United Methodist Church on 20 December 1998 for the 4th Sunday in Advent (A). The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 7: 10 – 16, Romans 1: 1 – 7, and Matthew 1: 18 – 25.

Some years ago I bought a book entitled “What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?” (“What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?”, D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe) It is an interesting outline of the impact Christ’s birth had on this planet and on our society. Of the various areas that the authors identified, there were two that were especially interesting to me.

Were it not for Christ and the development of Christianity, the university system that we are familiar with today would probably not exist. Education at all levels flourished because of the need by the common people to be literate so that they could read and understand the Bible. The development of Sunday School is a singularly significant outcome of the early Methodist church. With children as young as 11 or 12 working 60-hour work weeks along side their parents and other adults in the factories and mines of industrial England, Sunday was the only day that they could get any schooling. John Wesley started the first Sunday School so that these children could get some education and to show them that God had not forgotten about them.

And lest we not forget, the first universities in this country were founded to prepare individuals to be preachers. And John Wesley continually encouraged preachers to be literate so that they could study and further understand the Gospels.

Another area where Christ’s presence on earth was felt was in the area of science. It stands to reason that as we become more educated, we become capable of asking more questions. The central point to any research is to answer a specific question but we have to realize that 1) not all questions are answerable within the framework of science and 2) for every question that we do answer, we are likely to discover two more questions. And while science and technology may offer many solutions, they can also create additional problems.

In Genesis 11: 1 – 9 is the story of the Tower of Babel.

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As mean moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” The used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language that have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all over the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel – because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Here the people of the world at that time sought to build a tower that would reach to the heaves; in essence, making them equal to God. The commentary for verse 6 said that if the whole human race remained united and successful in this proud attempt to take its destiny into its own hands, the earthly kingdom of man would replace the heavenly Kingdom of God.

If we begin to think that the solution to all our problems comes from a faith in ourselves, then we will quickly find ourselves failing. For a world seen through a primarily empirical viewpoint is a life devoid of spirituality. And in this world, we quickly find ourselves like Ahaz in the OT reading for today.

Ahaz was too busy to listen to God that day feeling that problems such as a threat to invasion should be taken care of by more practical means. To merely trust in God, as Isaiah suggested, was naive. Ahaz was not the first king of Israel who felt that protection for the kingdom of Israel lie in the material world. And every king that felt this inevitably lost the battles he was preparing for. As the prophecy of Isaiah suggests, the battle that Ahaz was preparing for would also be lost.

Ahaz choose not to listen to God. But it is proof of the grace of God that He continued to try and communicate with this errant king. Many times we are like Ahaz, choosing to following our own paths and ignoring the presence or signs of God’s presence in our life.

God is not real to most of us because of the conditions of our consciousness. He is closer to our minds every moment than our own thoughts. He is nearer to our hearts than our own feelings. He is more intimate with our wills than our most vigorous decisions. If we are not aware of him, it is not because he is not with us. It is, in part, because our consciousness is so under the sway of other interests that it cannot turn to him with the loving attention which might soon discern him.

Did you ever encounter, on the street, a friend whose physical eyes looked at you without seeing you? You walked right into him before the alien look on his face changed into one of recognition. Then he confessed that he had been so absorbed in thought about some other matters that had not been aware of you, until your intentional collision with him. You were there, yet he did not see you. Though actually in your presence, he was nevertheless as unconscious of you as if you did not exist.

That is a persistent failure of the unemancipated consciousness. It can be so preoccupied by lesser realities that it does not sense the presence of the divine Reality surrounding and sustaining it. Something has to happen to end that absorption in other affairs, so that it can turn its attention to God.

Sometimes events will do it. One encounters God in a crisis that, as we say, “brings one to one’s senses.” Death, disaster, sickness, the collapse of friendship, are like the collision on the street. They shatter the tyranny of an idea or a dream, and release consciousness for the awareness of something greater than the idea or the dream – God himself.

It would be a very poor sort of life that was aware of people only when it collided with them, or was brought up standing by some decisive act of theirs. And it is a tragic life that becomes conscious of God only in those events that shatter its habitual thoughts and dreams and compels it to recognize his presence and activity.
What makes life splendid is the constant awareness of God. What transforms the spirit into his likeness is intimate fellowship with him. We are saved – from pettiness and earthiness and selfishness and sin – by conscious communion with his greatness and love and holiness. (From Discipline and Discovery by Albert Edward Day)

Such a collision of thoughts occurred when Saul went to Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus. But meeting Jesus on that road not only softened Saul’s heart and opened it to the Word, it changed his life and Saul became Paul, not the persecutor of Christians but rather the first missionary to spread the Gospel. As Saul, he was lot like those he wrote to in Romans.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God –the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

The people of the world had heard the prophets, they knew that God was going to keep his promise to send a sign, a young child who would be named Immanuel. But though the people had heard the word, they did not know what it meant because they had strayed from God and would not listen.

Joseph could have easily divorced Mary, either through public humiliation and stoning as was the law of the time. This was the case in John 8 when the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery before Jesus for judgement, though the Pharisees changed the meaning of the law in Deuteronomy to meet their own needs. But Joseph chose not to do that because he was a righteous man. And because he was a righteous man, he heard and understood the words of the Holy Spirit who told him why his betrothed wife was pregnant.

God made us a promise. This week we celebrate that promise. But what if our mind and heart are not open to the message of that promise? By being open to the Holy Spirit, both Joseph and Mary were able to understand all that was to take place at this time so many years ago. No longer should we ask what would have happened if Jesus had not been born, for that is a discussion for the philosophers. What if Jesus is trying to talk you today? In this time of celebration and reflection, are you prepared to hear his voice?

Did They Think He Was Joking?

This was the message I gave for the Holy Week Services in Whitesburg, Kentucky, on April 1, 1999. The message was based on John 13: 1 – 17.

Today is April 1st, known throughout the world as April’s Fool Day. It is a day dedicated to playing practical jokes on people and just having fun; though I think that for many today, the events in Europe and the world are not much of a laughing matter.

The origin for this day is actually tied to our celebration of Easter. Because the Julian calendar caused problems with the celebration of Easter in the springtime, Pope Gregory determined to modify the calendar and bring Easter back in line into the spring. The calendar, known as the Gregorian calendar, is essentially the calendar we used today.

Prior to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, the New Year was celebrated on April 1st. With the new calendar, several countries decided that it was better to celebrate the New Year on January 1st. But, like many things, there were still those who choose to celebrate the New Year on April 1st. Those who clung to the old celebration were called “April Fools” and sent fake party invitations and funny gifts by those who used the newer calendar.

But Jesus and his disciples were not celebrating April Fool’s Day this Thursday some 2000 years ago. They had gathered in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover Feast, a far more serious event.

The Passover Feast was the celebration of the night the Angel of Death passed over Egypt, killing the first born of every living thing, and ultimately freeing the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. The Israelites who put the blood of a lamb on their door were spared this, the most devastating of the plagues.

“On that night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn – both men and animals – and I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

This is the day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord – a lasting ordinance. (Exodus 12: 12 – 14)

But I think that the disciples must have thought that Jesus was pulling some type of joke on them when Jesus, as John wrote,

“got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”

After all, a Lord does not wash the feet of his servants. To some extent, that is why Peter at first refused to let Jesus wash his feet.

We probably would respond the same way were Jesus to appear before us and offer to perform this act of superb humility. I think that the most difficult think for us to accept, as it was for His disciples, is the idea that Jesus came to be our servant, that He would die to save us. Yet that is exactly why He came.

For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22: 27)

The washing of a guest’s feet was supposed to be done by the host’s servants, not the host, when the guest arrived. But for some reason, it was not done that way this evening. Whatever the reason, by performing the washing during the meal, Jesus sought to emphasize the point of humility and selfless service.

All through his work, Jesus emphasized that He had come to serve the people and that His disciples should do likewise. And while Peter’s rebuke shows that he understood the point of humility, for he (Peter) could not allow his Lord to wash his feet, it was also a matter of pride that he could not let Jesus perform this task.

Peter knew that he was a sinner and that he was not worthy of having his feet washed by Jesus. But, like all of us, his pride wanted to dictate what Jesus could do and could not do for him.

It is our pride that stands between Jesus and us. We, like the disciples that evening, have trouble understanding Jesus’ act of servitude. And like Peter, we put up barriers that keep Jesus from us. But, as Jesus told Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part of me.” If we do not allow Jesus to be our servant, if we do not understand the sense of servitude and humility that was part of his message to us, we can never have Christ as our Savior.

On that first Passover, God protected those that He loved but they had to put the blood of a lamb on the door to their dwelling or they would be killed. When Jesus gave his life so that we could live, He did so out of His and His Father’s love for us. Yet, unless we allow Jesus to be our Savior, his sacrifice on the cross is meaningless. And if we pay no attention to what he said to the disciples that evening, “no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them”; we will not have heard his message.

The message of loving one as Jesus loved us takes on a more serious meaning today as we hear of the tragedies taking place in Kosovo. How can we stand by and say it isn’t our problem or in our interest when Jesus died to save us when we hadn’t be born yet.

We might be like the disciples and think that Jesus was joking but we know that their attitude quickly changed as the events of that evening transpired.

If God loved us enough to send His Son to be our servant and Savior, can we, like Jesus asked his disciples, show that same type of love as we go into the world?

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

His commandment that we love others as He loves us is very much true today. The events that occur in the world, both today and those that happened some 2000 years ago, are not a joke and the world is not laughing this morning. Jesus asked us to be servants to the world, to love others as He loved us. That is the challenge that we take into the world today.

“The Time Has Come”

This is the message that I presented on Pentecost Sunday, 23 May 1999, at Neon (KY) United Methodist Church. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 2: 1 – 21, 1 Corinthians 12: 3 – 13, and John 7: 37 – 39.

This was the last Sunday for me at Neon. I would leave for New York following the service to begin a new ministry with the Walker Valley United Methodist Church and a new life with Ann. But I left knowing that this small little mountain community church would continue and I hope that it is going well today.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”

A time to be born and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

A time to kill and a time to heal;

A time to break down and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to seek and a time to lose;

A time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend and a time to sew;

A time to keep silence and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate;

A time for war, and a time for peace (Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 8)

This passage from Ecclesiastes, assumed to be written by Solomon or someone known as the Preacher, was talking about the passage of time through the ages. It has always been one of my favorite passages from the Bible. I suppose that it is because it was one of the first folk songs to ever be a rock and roll hit. And I am sure that there are many people who sing this song who have no idea that it comes from the Bible.

The measurement of time has always been a challenge to mankind. While we can say for sure that it is 1030 a.m. on Sunday, May 23rd, the telling of time has not always been so precise. In John Wesley’s time, clocks were bulky and highly unreliable. For the people of Jesus’ time, time was measured by the hourglass and by noting certain events (as noted in the Gospel reading for today — “On the last and greatest day of the Feast”)

So it was that time was seen in terms of the passage of seasons and the completion of tasks. But there are times separate from seasons and tasks. Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” While he was referring to the early days of the American Revolution when things were not going good for the colonists, such a sentiment could be justly as easily expressed today.

We look around us and see countless examples of problems for which we feel there is no solution. We feel hopeless and unable to comprehend what is going on.

But, while there is not a lot that we as individuals can do, there is a lot that we as a church and a community can do. While we may think that Jesus spent most of his ministry preaching the Good News, the majority of His time was spent building a community. Jesus knew that if His work was continue beyond His time on earth, it would have to be through the community of believers.

Paul writes

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

But for the body to function, it must be filled with the Holy Spirit. Throughout the time between Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus told his disciples to stay as a group so that they could receive the Holy Spirit.

For without the Holy Spirit it is not possible to accomplish the great things Christ asks us to do. And without the community, there is no place to do His work.

The challenge is two-fold. As individuals, we must have a place where we can go to celebrate the presence of Christ in our lives. As a community, we must offer a place where others can see and hear what Christ is all about. And in this time when people are crying out for comfort and solace, the church must be ready to offer such.

But no matter how hard we might try, we cannot do it by ourselves. Paul noted that there are many different kinds of gifts and many different kinds of service. How we work can vary but it is only accomplished through the Holy Spirit. The miracle of Pentecost, what this day is all about, was possible because the people were filled with the Holy Spirit. As Paul noted also, no works could be accomplished unless each individual first received the Holy Spirit by accepting Christ as his personal Savior.

The Talmud, the Jewish commentary on the Torah, offers the following comment,

“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.”

The time has come. The offer has been made. Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

Jesus offers to all who believe in him the gift of living water, the gift of the Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit in us, great things can be accomplished, both by individuals and by communities.

The Family Business

This is the message that I presented at Neon (KY) United Methodist Church for the 6th Sunday of Easter, 9 May 1999.  This was also Mother’s Day.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 17: 22 – 31, 1 Peter 3: 13 – 22, and John 14: 15 – 21.


Some years ago, I was at a family reunion where I presented the devotional on Saturday evening. At that time, I pointed out that Jesus was born at a family reunion.

In those days a decree was issued by the emperor Augustus for a census to be taken throughout the Roman world. This was the first registration of its kin; it took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone made his way to his own town to be registered. Joseph went up to Judea from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to register in the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was of the house of David by descent; and with him went Mary, his betrothed, who was expecting her child. While they were there the time came for her to have her baby, and she gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn. (Luke 2: 1 – 7)

I think the most interesting part of Jesus’ ministry was its family orientation. The first four times we hear of Jesus – his birth, his baptism, the family’s flight to Egypt, and the trip to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve, He was with His family.

It is interesting to note how Mary and Joseph acted as they returned home from that trip to Jerusalem.

When the festive season was over and they set off for home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know of this; but supposing that he was with the party they travelled for a whole day, and only then did they begin looking for him among their friends and relations. (Luke 2: 43 – 44)

They did not worry about their son because they thought that he was among their friends or family.

True, there were times when it appeared that Jesus had forgotten his own family,

“His mother and his brothers arrived but could not get to him for the crowd. He was told, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, and want to see you.’

He replied, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act upon it.” (Luke 8: 18 – 21)

Some might say that Jesus was cruel to ignore His family in such a way; it was obvious that Jesus saw the entire world as potential members of His family. But though Jesus might have had difficulty with his own family, He still kept them in his mind. Even on the cross, at the point of near death, His own thoughts turned to His mother.

Seeing his mother, with the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, Jesus said to her, “Mother, there is your son”, and to the disciple, “There is your mother”; and from that moment the disciple took her into his home. (John 19: 26 – 27)

And while today is Mother’s Day and it is a celebration of our mothers, both present and past, it is also a celebration of our families. As I noted in the bulletin, today is an outgrowth of efforts by a Methodist some 90 years ago to honor her mother. So, if you will bear with me, I thought that I would take a few moments and talk about my mother and my father’s mother.

My mother, Virginia Hunt Mitchell, was born in Lexington, N. C. “several years ago.” It comes as a surprise to many people when they find out that not only is my mother a grandmother but a great-grandmother as well. That’s because she doesn’t look her age nor does she let her age dictate what she is going to do. That, by the way, was also a characteristic of my father’s mother, my paternal grandmother.

For all the things that I could say about my mother, I think the greatest thing she ever did for me was to lay the foundation for my spiritual growth. She saw to it that I was baptized on 24 December 1950 at the Evangelical and Reformed Church in Lexington. And, as I mentioned last week, she took us to Sunday School every week. Even now, something isn’t right if I am not in church somewhere on a Sunday morning.

My grandmother, Elsa Schuessler Mitchell, was just as interesting a person. When I was going to school in Kirksville, MO, it was easier for me to visit her in St. Louis than to go home to Memphis. And when I would visit her, my parents would always tell me to help my grandmother with the housework and the yard work, especially during the hot humid Missouri summers. Yet, try as I might, I never could do so because she would get up early in the day and spend an hour or so working on the yard before the day got too hot or humid.

And though my grandmother died in 1985, her memory lives on. The flowers and shrubs that she so tenderly cared for were transplanted to my mother’s yard in Memphis and continue to grow to this day.

My grandfather served in the army from 1916 through 1943, often separated from his wife and two sons. The burden of raising my father and uncle thus fell to my grandmother. In all the memories of my grandmother, I remember her attending one church, a few blocks from her home in St. Louis. Though the church changed denominational affiliation at least twice, the core of the church were descendants of the German Lutherans who helped settled St. Louis and the surrounding area. The church was a central part of my grandmother’s life. And when my father died in 1993, I found out something about my grandmother and the church that was just as lasting a memory as the flowers, the shrubs, and the trees that were her avocation in life.

As the pastor who knew my father from the Boy Scouts was recounting that night just before my father died, he asked my father if he knew Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. My father acknowledged that yes, he did know Christ in his heart. And then they prayed. When they were done, the pastor, a Southern Baptist, said that my father gave the sign of the Cross. The way the pastor said it, you knew that he did not understand my father’s actions. But I knew that my father had been raised as a Lutheran and all I could think was how proud my grandmother, his mother, would be to know that my father was coming home.

Neither my mother nor my grandmother was “easy” and I have many memories, unpleasant they are, of what happened when I crossed them. But I know that both my grandmother loved me as her oldest grandchild and that my mother still loves me as her oldest son.

When I read the scriptures for today, I was struck by the caring and love that our Heavenly Father has for us. It is that same love that mothers have for their children. It is the same love that would have a daughter seek to honor her mother and all mothers. That we should honor our mother and celebrate our families today should not be surprising.

That the Heavenly Father loves us should not be a surprise. After all, as Paul spoke to the people of Athens, ”We are his offspring.”

As the children of God, we know that there is a place for us in heaven. Jesus pointed out to his disciples that he would not leave them as orphans. And just as we love our parents, as shown by the significance of today, so too do we love our Father in Heaven.

But how do we show that love? As Jesus also told his followers, our love for Jesus comes from following his commandments. But that is not always the easiest thing to do. In fact, it could very well be the hardest thing we can do. But what do we have to fear?

Peter wrote,

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who ask you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

If we follow Jesus commandments, then what to we have to fear?

Over the past few weeks, we have seen the need for God’s love in this world. The tragedy in Colorado, the repeated scenes in Canada, and the cruel jokes that have even played on the students in Letcher County all show the need to bring God’s love back to the world. I think that people stopped showing God’s love because they were afraid of what others might say. And yes, in some areas, people have suffered for simply believing in God and His salvation.

But that should and cannot stop us. The challenge that we have before us today, this day when we celebrate our mothers and our families is to show the world that we are all part of God’s family. Remember, what Jesus told his mother that day some 2000 years ago when they found him in the Temple with the elders, “but didn’t you know that I had to go about my father’s business?”

The work of the church in the community today is the family business. From the beginning of Jesus ministry to its end, the focus was always on the family. Yes, it would seem that there were times when he forgot his family but Jesus knew that His family, with God as the Father, were all those who believed in him and followed him. It is a most difficult task to take care of our own family today, let alone the whole world. Every time Jesus told a parable about the lost sheep and the efforts of the shepherd to find that single lost sheep, He was telling us of the Love that the Father has for his children.

The God-who-is has always been searching for me. By his choice, his relationship with me is presence, as a call, as a guide; he is not satisfied with speaking to me, or showing things to me, or asking things of me. He does much more.

He is Life, and he knows his creature can do nothing without him; he knows his child would die of hunger without bread.

But our bread is God himself, and God gives himself to us as food.

Only eternal life can feed one who is destined for eternal life.

The bread of earth can nourish us only for this finite earth; it can sustain us only as far as the frontier of the Invisible. If we want to penetrate this frontier, the bread from our fields is not sufficient; if we want to march along the roads of the Invisible, we must feed on bread from heaven.

This bread from heaven is God himself. He becomes food to us walking in the Invisible. (From The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto.)

The work of the church today is the family business, not only in that Jesus Christ was God’s son and we are his children as well but also we must offer a place where the family can regain its place.

I have spoken the last two weeks of the vision that is held for this church in this community. John Wesley first expressed the vision of the church and its need to minister to the community in this interchange with Joseph Butler, Bishop of Bristol:

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

Wesley – “My lord, my business on earth is do what good I can. Wherever therefore I think I can do most good, there must I stay so long as I think so. At present I think I can do most good here. Therefore here I stay.” (Frank Baker, “John Wesley and Bishop Butler: A Fragment of John Wesley’s Manuscript Journal)

And when the church becomes a part of the community, its impact is wide. Bishop Earl Hunt, who served as President of the United Methodist Council of Bishops spoke of the impact of the church in a community.

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

There is a vision for the rebirth and growth of the United Methodist Church in the state of Kentucky. That vision extends to Neon and the Neon United Methodist Church. As we come closer to Pentecost and the day the followers received the Holy Spirit, I want us to think about how we can help that vision. Just as Wesley told Butler that here was where he needed to be, so to must we understand that here is where the church needs to be. And just as Jesus told his mother some 2000 years ago, so to must we say that we have to go about our Father’s business.

“The New Cornerstone”

This is the message that I gave at the Neon (KY) United Methodist Church for the 5th Sunday of Easter, 2 May 1999.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 7: 55 – 60, 1 Peter 2: 2 – 10, and John 14: 1 – 14.


"And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

With those words, Jesus laid the cornerstone for his church.

In everyone’s life there must be a cornerstone; there must be a foundation upon which live can be built. Some years ago, as you know, I moved to St. Cloud, MN. The reason for the move was ostensibly to become an assistant professor of Chemistry at St. Cloud State University. But the more I think about it, the more I have come to believe that God wanted me there to be a part of Grace United Methodist Church.

When I first came to St. Cloud, I knew nothing about Grace Church, having only been told about the two other United Methodist Churches in St. Cloud. But one summer day, as I was wondering around the town, I discovered Grace. Later, when John Praetorius asked me on which committee I would serve, I told him that I would serve on any committee except stewardship. I just did not want to get involved in money raising. So John made me chair of the Finance committee and I was involved in the money raising anyway.

As chair of the Finance committee, I was asked to give the first testimonial when the Stewardship drive for 1992 began. In part, I said

I am a second-generation military brat. This means that both my grandfather and father served in the military and that much of my early life was spent traveling from air base to air base. As such, I do not have a home church; a church that I could say to others "This is the church where I grew up."

But having a home church is something that I never worried about. Having a church home has. What I have looked for, especially in the last few years when my life was taking a beating spiritually, was a church home.  (What Grace Church Means to Me – My Church Home, Stewardship Moment, October 18, 1992, Stewardship Sunday; I revised and adapted this piece for later use – “What does stewardship mean to me?”)

As the son of a career military office, I attended ten different schools during my pre-college education. Because of these early family travels and my own professional career, I have made over forty moves. Through all of these moves, it has been Jesus Christ and the church upon which I could base my life. As I look back, I realize that Jesus has always been a part of my life, protecting me as I sought what He wanted me to do. During periods of my live when I was going through some difficult personal troubles, my faith in Jesus Christ and the early foundation that provided comfort and strength. Were it not for this foundation, I do not believe I would have the success that I have had.

I might add that this foundation was actually laid before I was born. In records going back to 1650, the family history notes 13 members of the family who have served as ministers in the Lutheran Church. While I have chosen to follow the path set by Wesley, Otterbein, Asbury, and the many Methodist and EUB preachers rather than that of Luther, I consider the tradition and honor of my family to be an important part of my life. I would also add that I did not know this history until after I had begun to think about the lay ministry.

My mother saw to it that the foundation was laid early. She saw to it that I and my two brothers and sister were baptized as infants. I was baptized on 24 December 1950 at the First Evangelical and Reformed Church in Lexington, North Carolina. As I, my brothers, and sister grew up, and though we made many moves, we always attended Sunday School and church. Though later in life, when I found myself straying from the fold, I would sense something was missing on those Sundays when I missed church.

The way we live, the paths that we follow is often decided early in life. As Jesus told his disciples as noted in the Gospel reading today,

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.

But we can be like Thomas, who had said “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” To some extent we are like Thomas. We can get confused and not know where Jesus is going so it is impossible for us to know the way. And to some extent we are like Philip as well. Simply put the proof in front of us and it will be easy for us to believe.

Belief in the Father requires belief in Jesus. For each of us, having come to Christ, such belief is possible. But what of others who have not come to Christ? How do these people come to know Christ, so that they too can know the Father?

The first reading today is an interesting reading in the context of stones and building the foundation of the church. Stephen professed a belief in Jesus and God that many devout Jews felt bordered on being blasphemous. When I read the passage where they covered their ears and yelled at the top of their lungs, I could not help of thinking of how little children act when they don’t want to hear something.

To some people, the next sentence in that passage, “the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul,” suggests that Saul was the person who organized the stoning of Stephen. But others simply state that Saul’s presence was simply there so that Luke, the author of Acts, could introduce him. Whatever the reason, Saul saw the power of the Holy Spirit and the comfort that it gave Stephen. Saul may have at first felt that the stoning of Stephen was the proper thing to do but I would like to think that it gave him pause to consider just what he himself thought. We all know that shortly after that episode, Saul came to know Christ personally as Paul, became the missionary of the first church.

Peter spoke of “living stones”.

As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

This spiritual house that Peter spoke of is the church. Two noted church builders of today, Herb Miller and Tony Campolo, have both said that it was the church that is the ultimate instrument by which Christ has chosen to save the world. The church today, as in the past, must be the rock upon which people can build their lives. If you know the history of the United Methodist Church and John Wesley, you know that Wesley saw the church as such an instrument.

The United Methodist Church began, in part, because of the direction that society was taking. Though the upper class may have benefited from the Industrial Revolution, the lower classes were often forgotten. Only those in the upper class were immune to the problems of long hours working in intolerable condition and with limited health care that the working class and poor had to deal with every day. To cope with the stress that such conditions and society produced, many people turned to drugs and alcohol. There are times that I think that if John Wesley were to come back today, he would not believe that it was almost the 21st century and not 1799.

It was Wesley’s contention that society could be changed and that it was the church that was the instrument of change. Through Wesley, Sunday school was started. It was not school, as we know it but a way that the populace could be educated. Remember that in Wesley’s time, many children, as well as adults, worked six days a week in the factories and Sunday was the only day they could go to school. It was also Wesley and his followers who took the lead in dealing with the alcoholism and substance abuse prevalent in English society at that time. Historians today agree that because of what Wesley and the Methodist Revival did, England did not undergo the violent revolution that France went through at much the same time.

John Wesley understood that it was the primary purpose of the church to present the message of Salvation through Jesus Christ but a church blind to the needs of its members or the community that it was in could not do its work. You cannot preach the power of the Saving Grace of Jesus Christ when people are hungry, homeless, or suppressed by an indifferent society. John Wesley also understood and preached that it was the responsibility of each individual having accepted Jesus Christ as his own personal Savior, had to go out into the community.

About 5 years ago, I heard Dr. Rose Sims preach at the Red Rock Camp in Minnesota. It turned out that we shared a common bond. While I was working on my Master’s degree at the University of Missouri, she was working on her doctorate. As it turns out, her major advisor served on my graduate committee. She was asked to take over a church in south Florida that had 7 members, all over 70 years of age. It was in the part of Florida that some have described as part of the Third World. For all practical purposes, the district considered the church closed and she was there to perform the funeral. Yet when she came to Red Rock that summer in 1994, the church had grown to over 350 members and had become the central strength of a small town. George Lane, a reporter for the Tampa Tribune, wrote the best description of her work. He wrote

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

The secret of the rebirth of the Trilby Church was that the preaching of the Gospel was accompanied by the work of the church in the community.

Each day we are reminded of the need for the church and the presence of Jesus Christ in our daily lives. We shake our heads when we hear of children who threaten others because they feel left out. We wonder why it is that children resort to violence to respond to the taunts and behavior of their classmates. To kill someone because they taunted you is wrong, there is no doubt about that. But it is also wrong for someone to make fun of someone for whatever reason. How then do we deal with the problems of society?

I firmly believe that the answer lies in the church. The church’s presence in the community can offer the cornerstone, the foundation that is needed for a life in Christ. Without that foundation, it is impossible to have a stable life. We have a hymn (UMH 529) that speaks of this foundation, “How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent word! What more can he say than to you he hath said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?”

As I said last week, there is a vision for this church in the community. It does not matter what the size of the church is, for if Christ is among you and I am sure that it is, the power of the Holy Spirit transcends size. It was the power of the Holy Spirit that transformed the Trilby Church, it was the Holy Spirit that transformed St. Cloud Grace.

As we approach May 23rd and Pentecost, I am asking you to think of someone who needs that foundation in the Lord, that person who lacks the rock upon which they can build their life. Between now and the 23rd, we need to be praying for those individuals. And we need to be thinking about who we can invite to church, not just on the 23rd but next week and the week after that. Just as Saul saw the power of the Holy Spirit in Stephen, so too will people see the power of the Holy Spirit present in the Neon United Methodist Church.

There is someone in this community who needs to rebuild their life. Through the presence of the Neon Church, they can find that new cornerstone in life.

“Why Are We Here?”

This is the message that I presented at the Neon (KY) United Methodist Church for the 4th Sunday of Easter, 25 April 1999.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 2: 42 – 47, 1 Peter 2: 19 – 25, and John 10: 1- 10.

At this point, I had served Neon for six months but the situation required a change in my life and a move to New York at the end of May.  As I wrote and spoke in this message, I was trying over the course of the next five weeks to prepare for the change and pastor and a possible renewal of the church.


Two weeks ago, after I learned that Pam Ison would be my replacement, I had an opportunity to call her and talk about a number of things that I could do to help her. And I was flying to New York later that week, I began to think about how the next five sermons would go. From one standpoint, I have to look at the sermons almost as one item because, with everything that is going on, I almost have to work on the last three sermons together.

The vision that Pam has for Neon United Methodist is one that I have and one that I am sure that every one of you has as well. And I found out yesterday that this vision of building the church in Neon is one shared by both the District Superintendent, and Bishop.

So it was that I as flew to New York last weekend, I was thinking about what I could say to make that vision clearer. Then when I came home from school Tuesday evening I found out about the tragedy in Littleton, Colorado.

I suppose that these shootings were a little closer to home because I was a freshman in high school in Colorado at a school probably about 30 miles from Columbine. And as a teenager, the son of a career Air Force officer, I knew some of the loneliness that the shooters felt.

In my case, I moved from school to school each year. That made it very hard to develop friendships that would last. And because friendships are a central part of the high school experience, not having them makes one very lonely.

Why those two students decided to take such violent action is something that I don’t think we will every truly understand. But I think it is important that we know what we can do, even here in Neon, so that no one, child, youth, or adult feels the need to take such drastic action.

In the Epistle reading for today, Peter speaks of the persecution that Christ endured and asked us how we would respond?

“For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.

If we are aware of God, then we can endure all that others do to us. What those students did was wrong and anyone who feels that the only way to get attention is to do something violent is also wrong. Doing something wrong just because others do you wrong is never a justification for actions.

So what are we to do? There are those who decry society’s impact on students saying that it is because society has allowed violence to be such a part of our day to day life that violence is seen as the only alternative. Yet, in condemning society, these critics fail to realize that we are society. It is the easiest thing in the world to criticize. Now is not the time for criticism; now is the time for action.

I keep meeting people who say that the problem with schools today is that we took prayer out of the school. But I wonder about that. Schools are continually being asked to do that which the parents should be doing. I also question how valid a prayer in school can be, especially in today’s diverse society. After all, with all the denominations, can we agree on a prayer? And with the possibility of Jews and Muslims, how can one prayer be from the heart? The problem is not within the schools but within each of us.

Keep in mind that every time a sinner came to Jesus for forgiveness, Jesus asked them to change their lives. Be it Nicodemus, the tax collector, the Samaritan woman at the well, or the woman about to be stoned, after meeting Jesus, they changed their life. Jesus did not criticize; He asked that they sin no more.

In the Gospel reading today, John writes “that sheep follow him because they know this voice.” In this parable, the sheep “will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not the voice of strangers.” But in today’s society, how do we hear the voice of Jesus? How do we come to know Jesus?

Last night, Ann and I spoke about our growing up and we both agreed that it was because we knew God as a loving father that we were able to endure the loneliness that came from being “different” from our classmates. Back in February, I told you that I came to Christ as a freshman in high school and I know that it was that single decision that provided the strength and foundation that I needed later in life.

When I started college in 1966, the first decision I made was to have my church membership at First United Methodist Church in Kirksville. That was because I knew that I need Christ in my life, especially at times when I would be alone. As I look back on my life and the wandering through the wilderness my soul endured, I know that it was Christ’s presence that made the difference.

The responsive reading for today, the 23rd Psalm, was very much appropriate for today. David wrote of the comfort that the shepherd provided to the lambs, “he makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.” And in a time when many dangers existed, David knew that God would protect him, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me, your rod and staff comfort me.”

Why is Neon Church here? What are we to do? In the reading from Acts today, the new Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The reading speaks of them being together and having all things in common.

The saving of souls, as described in Acts, was a result of the people of Christ coming together for the common good. There are two questions that kept coming up as I thought, prayed, and prepared for this sermon. How can those who felt left out hear in the din of today’s society the voice of Jesus calling them home? Society is loud and as hymn #348 tells us, Jesus is softly and tenderly calling. There must be a place where people can hear that call. This is the place. There must be an alternative to feeling alone and left out. This is the place.

As we go out into the world today, I want you to think about what Neon United Methodist Church can do. I want you to think about the question that this sermon is about, “Why are we here?” And I want you to spend time in prayer each day, asking for God’s support for this church. Lastly, you know someone who has been searching for a calmness in their live, you know someone who should be coming to Neon United Methodist Church. I would like you to invite your friends to join us on May 23rd, as we gather together on the Day of Pentecost like the early church did some two thousand years ago.

“Believing Isn’t Necessarily Seeing”

This is the message that I gave for the Second Sunday of Easter, 11 April 1999, at the Neon (KY) United Methodist Church.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 2: 14, 22 – 32; 1 Peter 1: 3 – 9; and John 20: 19 – 31.


If there ever was a passage on the meaning of faith in everyday life, I think it has to be the Gospel reading for today. All the disciples except for Thomas are gathered in a closed room when Jesus appears to them. I think it is very easy for us today to imagine how the disciples must have felt on that day when Jesus appears to them, seemingly out of nowhere.

Easter and the resurrection of Jesus is just a week past and the disciples still fear for their own safety. That is why the room was locked and the meeting somewhat secret. And how are the disciples to feel upon seeing Jesus again? After all, to the greatest extent, they abandoned Him at the time when He needed them most. If the disciples were not scared, they had every right to be that way.

Yet, Jesus’ first words to His disciples were “Peace be with you!” Though this was a traditional greeting, Jesus has always used this in a slightly different manner. No longer a simple greeting, it becomes a means of speaking about the salvation that Christ’s redemptive work will achieve for the disciples – total well being and inner rest of the spirit, in fellowship with God. When Jesus greeted his disciples, he sought to calm their fears and tell them that there was a true peace.

But, as the Gospel reading tells us, Thomas (the Twin, as the Greek word Didymus tell us), wasn’t there. And despite the joy that must have been in the voices of those who spoke to him, Thomas wasn’t buying it. Now, for us today, just as it is easy for understand the fears of the disciples on seeing Jesus appear without warning, it is just as easy to understand Thomas’ reaction to his friends’ exclamation of joy. Don’t we want to see things before we too believe?

Several years ago, the junior bowling program that I directed held its awards program. Earlier that year, the manager of the bowling center had hosted a dinner for his two grandsons’ basketball team. At that dinner, he had given the coach a plaque in appreciation for the work that he had done that year.

Now, as we were gathering for our awards ceremony, I saw that he had brought a box about the size of an appreciation plaque. As we ended the evening, I challenged Claude to give me the plaque that I was certain he had brought with him.

To make the story short, Claude pulled a fast one on me and gave me the empty box. That, of course, deflated me, for I was certain that he had a plaque to give me. Of course, after playing the joke, he did give me the plaque to honor me for the work I had done that year. How many times do we think we are getting something, only to come up short? And how many times do we get something when we least expect it?

My commentary noted that hardheaded skepticism could hardly go father than Thomas’ response that day. But Jesus response to Thomas is a response to all of us who feel the necessity to see the resurrection in order to believe, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

If we do not believe in the empty tomb, then Jesus’ task on earth was in vain. It is interesting to note that action of the Pharisees when they were told that the tomb was empty. Remember that they had put a guard on the tomb to prevent the disciples from stealing the body

“The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard. (Matthew 27: 62 –65)

After the Resurrection, the Pharisees circulated the story that the tomb had been robbed.

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling the, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. (Matthew 28: 11 – 15a)

As is the case in many things, it is easy to understand why the Pharisees would feel this way. After all, they did not believe in what Jesus said to them. As Jesus pointed out, “the blind cannot lead the blind.” If you do not believe, then you cannot understand.

There are those today who do not believe that the tomb was empty that Sunday morning one week ago. They look around and see the wars, the poverty, and the crime and ask where is God in this world. If God so loved us, why does this all occur? I cannot answer the question of why God allows bad things to happen other than to say that the answer to the question lies in what we do after we come to Christ.

But I do know that we have to come to Christ; that we have to believe that Christ died for our sins. For the hardest part of being a Christian is not what we do in our lives but simply believing. When Christ came to this world, salvation was seen in terms of following the rules, of obeying the laws. What makes Christianity stand out from all the religions in the world is that replaces one’ behavior with one’s belief and it replaces rulekeeping and rituals with the single, all-embracing motive of love.

Christ’s presence in the world changes how we view the world. It is interesting to note that the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus reported that their hearts were burning when they talked to Him. Did not John Wesley report the same burning feeling in his heart when he came to realize that Christ died for his sins?

As Peter spoke to the people, he quoted David

“’I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope,

Because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

Peter continued,

“Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.

We know that Christ died to save us from sin. We do not need to see the tomb to know that it is empty. For we know in our heart that it is so. When Jesus came from the tomb, even His disciples did not recognize Him. When He came into the room, they did not recognize Him. But when the Spirit guided them, the disciples recognized him. It is the same for us today.

Like Wesley at Aldersgate, we must come to know that Christ died for us. And we know that by a simple act of faith, our lives will change. What did Peter write in his letter?

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even thought refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him know, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of you faith, the salvation of your souls.

Our lives change because Christ died for us. We do not need to see the empty tomb to know that Christ is alive for we know he is alive in our hearts.

“The First Easter”

This is the message that I gave at Neon (KY) UMC on Easter Sunday, 4 April 1999.  The Scriptures that I used were Acts 10: 34 – 43, Colossians 3: 1 – 4, and John 20: 1 – 8.


A few years ago, my mother gave my two brothers, sister, and I photo albums for Christmas. She had took all the photos that she had taken or collected of each of us, both individually and with each other, and arranged them in a year by year story of our life. There always seemed to be one or two photos of the four of us taken at either Christmas or Easter. You could always tell the Easter photos because it was spring like outside and it seemed like my sister had a new dress and my two brothers and I had new suits or sports jackets.

I think that is one thing we always remember about Easter. It is the time that we got new clothes. Easter has always been a celebration not only of Christ’s resurrection but also of springtime. I think that the celebration of springtime sometimes takes precedence over the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Still it is important to think of some of the first Easters that we have taken part in.

Today will be one of those Easters for me because it is the first Easter sermon I have had to write. I also remember the Easter back in 1969 when I went to the pastor of the Methodist Church in Kirksville, Marvin Fortel, and asked if I could take communion early that year because I wasn’t going to be in Kirksville for Easter that year. I think it took Reverend Fortel by surprise when I asked him because he wasn’t used to students asking to do that. But Kirksville was my home church and I didn’t want to miss that part of Easter.

But while we celebrate Easter, either by the gathering of the family or a special dinner or some new clothes, we have to remember that the first Easter, the day of Christ’s resurrection didn’t start off as a celebration.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

For while Jesus had been telling his disciples that he would rise from the dead, they didn’t quite believe him. But like many things, this is a moment when everything that we are taught suddenly all clicks and we understand. The other disciple, after first afraid to go into the tomb, went inside and then when he saw that Jesus was not there, he understood and believed that Jesus had told them truthfully.

In the movie “Field of Dreams”, only those that understood what the baseball field was about saw the players playing baseball. If you did not understand what it was all about, you did not see the players. Interestingly enough, the players could see everyone. But people came to see the field of dreams because they wanted to believe. As Peter said in Acts,

but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

But what about those of us who were not there? How is it that we know that Christ overcame death and arose from the dead? There comes a time in our journey when we simply have to believe that Christ is our Savior. We have heard the stories, we know the message but are we ready for the truth behind the stories and the message?

How can we believe when around us, things look so sorrowful? When Mary came to the tomb that morning, she was distraught because Jesus was not there. Are we not like that? Are there not moments when we wanted Jesus to be there for us and it didn’t seem like He was there? But at those times, when the world seems the darkest, all we have to do, like Mary, is turn around and find that Jesus is standing right there.

This first Easter offered the believers hope for the future. In my prayer guide is a story about an Easter in prison. I don’t know the reason why the author was in prison, where he was in prison, or when he was in prison.

Today is Resurrection Sunday. My first Easter in prison. Surely the regime can’t continue to keep almost 10,000 political prisoners in its gaols! In here, it is much easier to understand how the men in the Bible felt, stripping themselves of everything that was superfluous. Many of the prisoners have already heard that they have lost their homes, their furniture, and everything they owned. Our families are broken up. Many of our children are wandering the streets, their father in one prison, their mother in another.

There is not a single cup. But a score of Christian prisoners experienced the joy of celebrating communion – without bread or wine. The communion of empty hands. The non-Christians said: “We will help you; we will talk quietly so that you can meet.” Too dense a silence would have drawn the guards’ attention as surely as the lone voice of the preacher. “We have no bread, nor water to use instead of wine,” I told them, “but we will act as though we had.”

“This meal in which we take part,” I said, “reminds us of the prison, the torture, the death and final victory of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The bread is the body which he gave for humanity. The fact that we have none represents very well the lack of bread in the hunger of so many millions of human beings. The wine, which we don’t have today, is his blood and represents our dream of a united humanity, of a just society, without difference of race or class.”

I held out my empty hand to the first person on my right, and placed it over his open hand, and the same with the others: “Take eat, this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Afterward, all of us raised our hands to our mouths, receiving the body of Christ in silence. “Take, drink, this is the blood of Christ which was shed to seal the new covenant of God with men. Let us give thanks, sure that Christ is here with us, strengthening us.”

We gave thanks to God, and finally stood up and embraced each other. A while later, another non-Christian prisoner said to me: “You people have something special, which I would like to have.” The father of a dead girl came up to me and said: “Pastor, this was a real experience! I believe that today I discovered what faith is. Now, I believe that I am on the road.” (From Visions of a World Hungry by Thomas G. Pettepiece)   — This was probably the first time that I used this story but it is not the first time that it was published – see “The Message Is Clear”, especially the comments.

To those who did not know what Christ’s death was about, this was a sign of hope. To those who knew but were not sure, it was a sign of renewal that their faith is true.

If Christ had not risen from the dead, there can be no hope for us. If Christ had not risen from the dead, then sin would have be victorious and we would have been in the prison of sin, without any hope. But Christ did rise from the dead and the hope is given that life is more than what it might seem.

But, for the tomb to be truly empty for us, for Christ, we must understand that Christ can rise from the dead, we must have faith in Christ. Like Wesley in Aldersgate, we must know in our hearts that Christ died for our sins, our sins alone. When this occurs, we will know it. For Wesley, he felt his heart strangely warmed.

We called those who came to the tomb that morning his disciples. We often think of disciples as “students of a teacher” but the word better means “a follower of somebody.” Discipleship in the New Testament means following Jesus, taking the journey with him.

To be on a journey with Jesus means to be a itinerant, a sojourner; to have no single place to call home. It means taking our lives from a day-to-day existence, trapped in sin to that of a life in and with the Spirit.

As Paul told the Colossians, we must no longer live in this earthly world but rather to set our lives above.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is in your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

This journey means listening to Jesus’ teaching – sometimes, like the disciples, not quite getting the message but then understanding it. It is not an easy road that we travel. Like Peter on the night of the crucifixion who denied Jesus three times, there are going to be times when we too will deny or even betray him.

But being a disciple of Jesus also offers the opportunity for us to eat at his table, to experience the banquet. Peter told the people in Acts “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” To sit at Christ’s table, means that we will be fed and nourished by Him. The journey may be a long one but like the five thousand Jesus feed, it becomes easier when Christ eases the journey by His presence in our lives.

The journey may be a long one but we know that we are not alone. Nor is the journey complete. Having come to Christ, having accepted Christ as our Savior, we must do as Peter spoke to the people in Acts:

He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

On day in Israel some 2000 years ago a group of people gathered. At first the gathering was one of sorrow because Jesus was dead and all that they had sought for three years was gone. But the sorrow changed to happiness and joy when the disciples learned that He was alive and that all He said came true.

It is that way for us. This is a day of celebration, of knowing that the first Easter was still true today, that Christ has risen and that He lives today.

The Unfinished Journey

Here is the message that I gave on Palm Sunday, 28 March 1999, at the Neon (KY) United Methodist Church.  The Scriptures I used for this Sunday were Isaiah 50: 4 – 9, Philippians 2: 5 – 11, and Matthew 27: 11 – 54.


This has been edited to remove some bad links.


We are a society that most definitely likes a winner. The effort put into the NCAA basketball tournament, the Super Bowl, and the buildup to a NCAA football championship are indicators of this. And with the same fervor that we put in pushing our team to number 1, we often try to get rid of the coach or team when the effort fails.

Back in 1989, one of the high schools in the town where I lived was not only the best in the state of Texas but also ranked as the number 1 high school football team in the whole country. At the end of that season, the head coach moved to a position with a nearby university football program and it was up to the new head coach to continue the tradition of winning.

Unfortunately, when the 1990-football season opened, this team was put on probation for holding illegal practices during the summer. And when the team lost its first game of the season, the anger of the fans boiled over. The Saturday morning after the loss, a number of for-sale signs appeared in the front yard of the coach’s house and a number of realtors, not ware of the lose or the situation, called with serious offers to buy the property.

We do like our winners and we hate losing with the same passion. This is not something unique to our society or our times. The same people who cheered Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem were probably among the crowd who called for his crucifixion several days later.

There have always been a number of questions raised about what happened that week in Jerusalem. Why did the crowd change its attitude? Why were those who on Palm Sunday the entrance of the new king willing to doom their own lives for the crucifixion of Jesus just a few days later?

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27: 24 – 25)

Why was Jesus willing to go through the trial without saying anything?

When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you? But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge — to the great amazement of the governor. (Matthew 27: 12 – 14)

Why was Jesus willing to die on the cross, perhaps the most painful method of torture and death ever devised by man? Why did Pilate, knowing that Jesus was innocent of the charges, still have him crucified?

The season of Lent is one of preparation, one of a journey. The end to Jesus’ journey began with his entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday but it could not end with the celebration that the people wanted. For Jesus knew that His journey could only end with His death on the cross. I think that, for us, this is the hardest thing we could ever conceptualize. Why should Christ give up His life; why should He give up everything in heaven to die for us? As Paul wrote,

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, (Philippians 2: 6)

Jesus did not consider the high position that he held in heaven to be something he could not give up. In today’s society, giving up the ultimate in success, being number one, is something that is just not done. No wonder people, both in Jesus’ time and today have difficulty with what Christ did for us. We are taught from the beginning that success is all that counts and here we have the Son of God giving it up.

That Jesus would give up everything for us explains a lot about what transpired during that week so many years ago. After Jesus challenged those in church authority to be more responsive to the needs of the people. Jesus’ place in heaven was secure but he was willing to be our servant, to humble himself by a death on the cross.

But made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! (Philippians 2: 7 – 8)

The idea of being a servant to the people is a very difficult one for us to understand. After all, having fought and scrapped, we want to keep what we have gained; we don’t want to give it up; we don’t want to be the servant for others when we are on top.

When I was a senior in college, I invited the new president of the college to be my guest for dinner in the cafeteria where those in my dormitory ate. You should have seen the looks on the faces of the students and workers when they found out that the man eating dinner with me was not my father but rather the president of the college. The previous two presidents would never have consented to such a thing and it was assumed that all presidents would do this. This president did not play by the rules of his predecessor and it should be noted that changes begun under his administration have lead to Truman State University being a better university today.  (This is probably the first time that I told this story but I first published a more detailed story in “What I See”.)

The crowd could not see Jesus as a servant, one willing to humbly serve the people. They wanted a king to lead them, to show strength and power just as the Romans showed strength and power. Many of the people never understood the message that Jesus gave.

But what can be gained when we seek a life of power, strength, and wealth? All that we gain from a life in sin is death while a life in Christ is an eternal one. There is nothing wrong with seeking what others called the good life but it must be a GOOD life in all senses of the word.

Some years ago, when I received the call to the ministry, I struggled with just what it was to be a Methodist. I was comfortable with the notion that the United Methodist Church was a liberal church with a progressive social policy. Now, I can’t say that the United Methodist Church is as liberal as some might think because I know quite a few preachers who are very (very!) conservative.

And I have come to learn that the social awareness of the church is only possible when we have first come to Christ. As Wesley pointed out, once one comes to Christ, it is our duty to become more like him. While can actually never be like Christ, the Christ-like qualities he showed are still something to be attained, like a prize we do not yet posses.

Christ’s death on the cross changed the world and the way we look at things. By accepting Christ as our Savior, we can know God as a loving father, accessible to us all. It was noted in the Gospel reading today,

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. (Matthew 27: 50 – 51)

The tearing of the curtain in the temple is symbolic of the removal of the barriers that would keep us from God. And in knowing God, we gain the strength we need to overcome obstacles. Jesus said nothing during His trial because there was nothing He could say. After all, the authorities wanted Him dead and were going to do it, no matter what. When we are faced such pressures, what can we do. The Old Testament reading tells us what Jesus was thinking that night so many years ago.

The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.

The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back.

I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.

He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me!

It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me. Who is he that will condemn me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up.

What would have happened if Pilate had had the strength to go against the crowd. Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent but he also knew that if he had done what he knew was correct, the Jewish authorities would have complained to his bosses and not only would Jesus still have been crucified, he (Pilate) would have also be punished. Just like today, Pilate took the action that was the safe route rather than the correct route.

For us, this week can mark the end of one journey and the beginning of a new one. By accepting Christ as our savior, our life in sin is over and a new life can begin. Christ’s commitment to us, his desire to save us from sin and death, was so strong that even in the pain of his own death, he sought to save others.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t’ you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23: 39 – 43)

It has always been a mystery when the centurion was included in the story of Christ’s death.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27: 54)

Did the centurion begin to understand the truth of who Christ was? Or did he take the next step in his own journey of life and become a Christian knowing that Christ died for his sins, just as he died for our sins?

That day some 2000 years ago, the centurion began a journey. That journey is our journey as well. But while there may be doubts as to what the centurion did, there are no doubts about where that journey will lead us. Christ died for us; our journey can be finished when we accept Christ as our Savior. Christ’s journey had only one ending, the cross. But His journey changed the way our journey could end. What path will you take; how will your journey end?