Tag Archives: politics

To Live is to Learn — The World Is My Classroom

For me, “to live is to learn” in the great classroom we call “the world.”  When I reach the point where this is no longer true for me it will be time for me to permanently check out of this life.

This great classroom is full of things to be learned. The physical world around me with all of its beauty and splendor;  the world of ideas in history; in philosophy; in  biography; in theology and spirituality and religion and in science. I am also constantly learning from the people I’m surrounded by and interact with.  All are also part of the great classroom I inhabit day after day.

I always have been an avid reader and my interests are varied and widespread. For example, currently I’m reading a book by Walter Brueggemann Out of Babylon that compares the Jewish exiles living under the domination system of Babylon to Christians in the U.S. living under  the domination system of American empire. Both try to answer the basic question How do we retain  our identity as Jews or Christians under the domination systems we are currently living under?   I’m  currently reading Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr, which is about the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous applied to Christian spirituality. I just finished a biography of President George Herbert Walker Bush, The Power and the Destiny (a book on tape that was read to me, which was 625 pages in length), and another biography of John Newton, famous for his life as a slave trading sea captain and begin transformed by his conversion to Christ. He wrote the wonderful hymn Amazing Grace to describe that transformation. I’m now listening to a book on tape, The Indigenous Peoples of North America.

Besides books, I learn each day from people who visit me–my ministers, my family, my friends, my hospice team–They are all part of my classroom.

I learn from the media as they report and editorialize on the news of the day. Programs such as: PBS Newshour, Washington Week, CBS’s 60 Minutes and the morning and evening news programs.

I long ago crossed the threshold of learning because I had to do so (as at school) to learning because I loved to do so.  That is the true test of success for our educators  today.  It is “to enable children to emerge from schools with the life-long desire and love of learning, while having the tools to do so.

As students go back to classrooms this Autumn, I pray that teachers, administrators, board members and legislators keep this lofty goal always in their minds. We need to produce students who strive to and love to learn–not because it is necessary to pass some test, but because it is necessary to satisfy the craving to learn that is a trait of all people if it is not smothered out by those who are preparing them.

Advancing to the Rear!!

Make America Great  Again!!  Let’s go back to the Good old Days!!! These are currently  the “marching orders”  that Trump is trying to give to the Republican Party as the slogans for this Presidential election.  The acceptance of these slogans by the working class in great numbers is a portrait of the extreme ignorance of the history of their country that these people have . O.K. folks.  LET’S SEE WHAT  YOU WISH TO RETURN TO!   Let’s go back to 1870s to early 1920s.  That’s period is  known as the  “Gilded Age”  and indeed it was ‘gilded”‘ if you had the gold and were a member of the Upper Class. I  don’t see many of those people at Trump’s rallies. I  see a lot of working people struggling to make a  living, in debt up to the hilt,  not trusting the well educated and too  ill-educated themselves to separate Trump’s lies from the truth.  The  perfect audience for a demagogue.

There are things we need to remember about the “Good Old Days.” I’ll close with some pictures of life during the years between 1870s and 1920s:

  • Are you prepared to give up Social Security and Medicare? Going back will mean that most of you will  either have to be taken care of by your families or you will end your days in a “county poor farm.”
  • Don’t get sick as antibiotics have not yet been discovered.
  • The scourge of a crippling or fatal polio epidemic is always present, especially in the summers. There will not be a polio vaccine until the 1960s. Flu shots are unknown also.  Only measles can be inoculated against.
  • Most of you will work from dawn to dark around dangerous machinery as the Industrial Age really kicks in.  There is no 40 hour work week; it will be 70-80 hours. No days off; no paid vacation.
  • If you are injured on the job, you will be fired.  There is no workers’ compensation. You will be given what you are owed in wages up to the point of injury and sent home. Disability, a part of Social Security, is not law yet.
  • There is no OSHA so working conditions are bad—See Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle for an example of the working conditions in the meat packing industry during this time.
  • When you go to town, the best roads will only be gravel. After heavy rains most country roads will be quagmires and you will have to go on horseback. You’ll have to use them as most of you will still live in rural areas—only 10% in cities and the rest of the population on farms.
  • Many of you, if you are lucky, will get an 8th grade education, a smaller number will go to high school and a very small number of the elite will go to college.
  • You will be chopping wood for your heating stoves in the winter. There are no air conditioners, so it will be miserable to try to sleep on hot summer nights after those 12-14 plus hour days you will be working.
  • Take a vacation? Are you kidding? Have to be home as farmers (which most of you are) must be there to feed the livestock, milk the 15-20 cows, and turn the separator to separate the cream from milk—all by hand—remember, no electricity. No days off for farmers.
  • Need to go to the bathroom at night—use a “slop jar” in your room to be emptied in the morning. During the day, it is a trip to the “outhouse.”  When it’s hot, you will have to fend off the flies and wasps, as well as the smell. When it is cold, you will have to contend with a frozen “behind.”  Neither is pleasant.
  • For much of your time during these years, draft horses will be the chief source of power for your farm implements such as mowers, grain binders, cultivators, plows & drills. Horses usually work in twos—teams were often composed of a mare and a gelding—so your first task in the morning is to put on their harnesses (as well as feed and otherwise keep them ready to do their work).
  • If you were of age to go to school in the Fall to Spring, and your parents could spare you on the farm, you went to a Grade 1-8 country school. There were no school buses—you walked. Very seldom did you get a ride. Quite often your teacher would be a young woman just out of high school who had taken “Normal Training” in high school so she could teach. When she got married she would not be able to teach in most school districts. Those who allowed teachers to be married would cancel the contract with the first sign of pregnancy. The teachers who are married have no access to birth control except the “rhythm method’ or abstinence.

Are you still wanting to “Advance to the Rear” and go back to the “good old days”?

The New America???

If you want to get a picture of the “new America” and the “new Americans” go to a Trump Rally.    The large numbers of supporters he has for his ideas of what America should be and the actions they are willing to take to support these ideas are telling us something.    He has attracted large numbers of meaner, rougher, less civil supporters who are not interested  in social justice, rule by law, the homeless, the immigrant—-or really any human life but their own.   They are only into themselves and their wants and desires.   They think so and they have the right to think and do whatever they wish in their minds, without regard for consequences for the general welfare of the country.  

It’s an America that will carpet-bomb enemies with no regard for loss of innocent lives. 

It’s an America that will put other ethnic and religious groups into ghettos so they can be patrolled and controlled.

It’s an America with no regard for the poor, the needy, the mentally and emotionally challenged, the homeless men, women and children.  It’s an America where children and the elderly will die for lack of nutrition and adequate medical care.    It’s a selfish and self-centered America  where “compassion” drops out of our vocabulary.

It’s an America where the rich get richer and the middle class keeps getting poorer until finally there will be only two classes—the very rich and the poverty class.

It’s an America where Medicare and Medicaid and Health Care wll be privatized and run for profit  and the bottom net profit line on the profit sheet will replace good and adequate medical care.   And you will have to pay for that care, so the old, those in poverty, homeless people, children, and the elderly will just have to  “die” and as Scrooge said in a Christmas Carol—“get rid of the excess population”

We are going down this road and your vote for any of the GOP Presidential candidates will speed our progress toward the America described above.

America will no longer be what we sing of in our National Anthem—“the land of the free and the home of the brave.”   Instead, it will be “the land of power and control and the home of the fearful.”

Are we going to let this happen to our beautiful country??!!

 

 

Where is America Going?

“Give America Back” is the common slogan of most conservative Republicans running for President.    They never spell out what that it means to give America back, but I take it to mean  that we must go back to the past—but what past do they have in mind?   Having lived 80 years and having taught U.,S. History for 34 of them, I have reached the conclusion that the past was often not so great.    I, myself,  have no desire to return to life as it was in my past with no electricity, with no antibiotics,  no polio vaccines, no social security,  no medicare, etc.   What I would like to see—if we are going back to the past— is to go back to the principles on which our nation was founded .    Those principles are found in the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution  and we have lost sight of them.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure Domestic Tranquility, provide for the Common defence, promoet the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

By “going back” to these principles  America will really be moving forward into the future, for they are principles that communicate the hopes of the “founding fathers’ for the kind of nation they wanted to build.  We have a long way to go to return to those principles.   More and more I see our country and my state of Kansas not following these principles, and , in fact, going in the opposite direction..  For example:

Instead of “striving for a more perfect Union” we are politically divisive and uncompromising.   We are full of mistrust for each other and fear of  each other.  That leads to disunion rather than perfecting our union.   Being politically divisive and uncompromising as several of our G.O.P candidates have been and say they will continue to do led to our Civil War and it can do so again today.

We have only  established justice for those who can afford it.   We often confuse “justice” with “vengeance” in most cases—-getting even.    An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth justice.    We recoil at the idea of social justice which involves an equal opportunity for all, regardless of color, gender, ethnic characteristics or wealth. Those at the bottom of our society today are disregarded as not important and we say they need to work and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps—-but our laws have taken away the bootstrap, and often the boots themselves.    We now value people based on their “market value” in a capitalistic economy that favors the rich and is based on taking away from the poor.

Domestic Tranquility.   I’ll ask one question?    Has the law that everyone can open carry a gun in Kansas produced safety and domestic tranquility?   No it means that every night there is a shooting in Wichita, either accidental or planned.   It has resulted not in tranquility but in fear of your life lest you get caught in the crossfire of someone who does not know how to handle a gun.  When the Constitution said to “provide for the common defense”  do you think they actually meant that everyone should carry a gun to protect us from each other?    No—they were talking about the defense of a nation, not personal defense against our fellow Americans.

Finally, “promote the general welfare” is the last principle I’ll discuss.    We have lost two things that would do this:  (1)compassion for the poor and those at the bottom of the society who are struggling to survive; and (2) putting aside our selfish wishes for the good of the nation.    We see the lack of this principle  in a Congress that tries to repeal Obamacare instead of improve it so that all can have health insurance.  .   We see that in the state of Kansas state in favoring the rich at the expense of the middle class—raising taxes to pay for a tax cut for businesses.    Somehow it doesn’t see that anyone is interested in my general welfare when my Kansas income taxes and sales taxes both go up!   Political advantage gets in the way of promoting the general welfare—-providing what is good for all of our citizens, not just the rich and the powerful who finance the politicians who pass the laws.

 

Our founding fathers had a deep belief in a Supreme Being—the one that Jesus revealed to us

Some of  the things that Jesus emphasized as most important when he revealed the heart of God are found in his inaugural sermon given in the synagogue at Nazareth, his home town:   “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.   And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.   The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.   Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your midst”.      As Jesus expanded on the meaning of this message, those in the synagogue tried to take him and throw him over a cliff.

Jesus  spent his time healing and recognizing the outcasts of society—the leper, the mentally ill,  the poor,  the rejected.He was interested in the general welfare of society—-a he showed us all are equal in the eyes of God and all deserve to be treated as God’s children.

America and my state of Kansas are doing the opposite!   We are not carrying out the teachings of Jesus even though the governor and legislature say they are Christians.   Neither are we fulfilling the dreams of our founding fathers.  We who say we are following Jesus are disregarding everything in the message Jesus brought that are reflected in  principles of the  founding fathers of our nation.

I think if our founding fathers came back to life now they would be appalled and disappointed over the direction of the nation they founded.

I think that if Jesus came again tomorrow, he wouldn’t last a week until we crucified him, because he would stand for all the things that we feel are unimportant—-like feeding the hungry, giving all an equal opportunity.   He would stand for fixing the system that causes great poverty—not just throwing the poor an occasional crumb from our table. He would take a stand for mercy and forgiveness in the face of our hatred and desire for vengeance.   Yes—I’m sure we would crucify him within the week!

Sorry, Jesus, we still “just don’t get it”!!

Many people in our country, and especially in our government say that they are disciples of Jesus—but they just don’t get it!    We don’t get what Jesus was about, what and to whom his mission was,  and what his priorities were.   We don’t get it!     Our behavior reveals our ignorance of what following Jesus means, and it speaks much louder than the worshipful words we might use.

I’ve been teaching a Home Fellowship Bible Study on the Gospel of Mark, and one of the characteristics of his gospel is the multiple times that Jesus is exasperated and frustrated because his disciples just don’t get what his mission is all about.   They just don’t get that his mission was to the poor, the outcast, the blind, the leper, the rejected by society, the tax collector, the sinner.  This last session we read these words in Mark 9:  3-11  and discussed them:

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and after three days rise again.  He said all of this quite openly.  Then Peter took him aside  and began to rebuke him.   But turning and looking at the disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Peter just didn’t get it!   And neither did the rest of the disciples.   So Jesus further taught them in these words:   “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers , let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and the sake of the gospel, will save it.   For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?  (Mark 8:34-37)

The disciples did not get that to follow Jesus meant to share his care and love for the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the bereaved, the rejected, the leper, the aged, the children.    To follow Jesus was to take care of what we would call the “dregs” of society.   WE STILL DON’T GET IT TODAY!   To follow Jesus is to serve these who are created in God’s image, not to be served by them.   To love the poor, not to shame them.   And yet by our actions today many times we do just that—we shame the poor.   This is especially true of our government at the state level.  E.g.:

A recent article in the Wichita Eagle stated that one of the surprises that states  have is the large number of people who enrolled in Medicaid, once it was extended in their states.   Politicians quoted stated concern  about the future costs of Medicaid,  rather than being concerned how many citizens were without health insurance.   They were concerned about money.   We just don’t get it.

Scott Walker, Republican Governor of Wisconsin  and a Baptist preacher’s son, insists his marching orders are from God.   He wants to make it a requirement that  anyone who applies for employment, food stamps, or other assistance programs would have to prove their sobriety.  He says:   “This is not a punitive measure.   This is about getting people ready for work.    I’m not making it harder to get government assistance.   I’m making it easier to get a job.”   Who is he kidding??   The aged and the disabled poor get a job???   He is a so-called Christian, who just doesn’t get what following Jesus is all about!

Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas, who styles himself as a born-again Christian, recently signed a bill that prevents welfare recipients from spending their assistance on “expenditures in a liquor store, casino, jewelry, tattoos, nail salons, lingerie shops, vapor cigarettes, movie theaters, swimming pools, cruise ships, theme partks, dog or horse racing, etc. etc.  The act sets a $25 limit on withdrawals from ATM machines.    The author of this bill that the governor signed is State Sen. Miachael O’Donnell, the son of a pastor who likes to mention Jesus when he explains his opposition to helping the poor.   He recently told the Topeka State Journal “We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used in the way intended.  This is about prosperity.   This is about having a good life.”   (But he’s not talking about  a good life for the poor I might add!)

The late William Sloane Coffin sums it up well:   “It is ironic  to pray for the poor on Sunday, and spend the rest of the week complaining that the government is doing something about it.”

Pope Francis sees clearly that American Christians just don’t get it!  He says “We have created new idols.  The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new  and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”

Far too many Americans who call themselves Christians are worshipping at the idols of money, self-gratification, and political power.   We Christians keep re-electing the governors and legislators who take punitive actions against the poor, the aged, the sick, the children.   So we must also say…..

SORRY, JESUS—-MOST OF US JUST DON’T GET IT AFTER ALL THESE YEARS!

 

 

 

Where have all the teacher’s gone?

Today’s newspaper reported that the number of teachers retiring, quitting teaching for other work,  and moving out of Kansas to teach has accelerated alarmingly over the past two years.   Meanwhile enrollment in Education Courses in colleges in Kansas has dwindled.

Where have all the teacher’s gone??

That is not difficult to determine if you have been paying attention the past two years!  Low salaries might be part of the problem but that has been true for a number of years, so the source of the present problem is deeper than just low salaries as teachers have never been paid what they are worth.

At the core of the problem is the state legislature, the governor, and the state Board  Education.  They have continued to de-value the worth of teachers at every turn..

They have taken away the right to appeal dismissal by removing tenure rights for teachers,   leaving good teachers at the mercy of administrators who are on power trips and are threatened by anything but blind obedience to their dictates.

They have tried to abolish teacher’s rights to bargain for anything but salary—not to be able to bargain on classroom conditions, etc.

They have voted out the funding formula for schools  that has been developed through the years and frozen funding in block grants—-largely to avoid having to carry out the Kansas Supreme Court decision that they are acting unconstitutionally.    They have lied about the block grants to the people of Kansas,  not telling them that much of the money in the block grant is going to makeup for past legislative failures to adequately fund the teacher retirement system and that the money going to classrooms has actually been cut.

They have threatened to pass laws to allow teachers to be charged with felony offense, if they teach something the community doesn’t approve.

As a final blow, they have discounted the preparation and education that teachers possess by now trying to meet the teacher shortage by  allowing any college graduate to get a teaching credential—-even if they have never spent a day in the classroom and know nothing of how students learn or how to teach.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of a teacher and think what all of the above means to him or her.  As a teacher who spent over thirty-five years in the classroom let me try to show you what the above looks like through a teacher’s eyes.

When they take away tenure it causes me to remember a high school principal who visited my classroom to “evaluate me”.   I was teaching a civics class and the students were in the midst of a great discussion which I was leading with many students participating and all engaged in listening.    I thought, “What a great time to be visited”.  Wrong!!!   This principal sat for a few minutes and listened to the discussion and then got up and walked out, telling me on the way out that “I’ll be back when you are teaching!”    I was being evaluated by someone who did not recognize great teaching when he saw it!   I needed protection from the kind of administrators who if you crossed them, as I had done, will try and get you fired unless you have some protection.  Most administrators I knew were not educators.   They were  paper shufflers—and had escaped the classroom a.s.a.p. because they disliked teaching.   They were on power trips, and were excellent in playing the school district political power games.   In all my years of teaching I had one high school principal who I felt was a true educator!

When I see the right to negotiate anything but salary, and the accompanying inability to strike, it brings to my mind the powerlessness that I felt as a teacher.  Those making policy decisions about education were uninformed school boards and uninterested administrators.  And then I think of my home and family and the low salaries that I received, which practically always dictated a summer job and also a part-time job during the school year—taking away time with my children and wife.  And I remember the way I used my sick leave to catch up grading essays for my Advanced Placement American History classes that were too large but needed to learn to write if they were to pass the exam.  I had a high rate of passing the A.P. Exam—I don’t remember ever being congratulated for that.    I remember class sizes of 35  X  5 = 175 students to deal with each day and plan for,  grade papers,  maintain discipline. etc.    Powerlessness to do what you know needs to be done in the classroom is not a good feeling!

I remember the passage of the infamous Proposition 13 in California where I taught in a high school and the apprehension that I might lose my job because of the drop in educational funding due to it.    That’s what lack of sufficient funding means to teachers.  Teachers have families.   They have college debts that they incurred in getting the education needed to be teachers.   Lack of school funding  also means to teachers that there will be a lack of basic materials to teach with, lack of support for special education students mainstreamed in our classes,  and it means more students per class.

When I see no education requirements except a college degree for licensed teachers, I think of the education classes I took at the University of Chicago and time and money I spent in acquiring the needed education to meet the requirements for a teaching credential.  I also remember the many student teachers I supervised as a Master Teacher through the years, who came to me with no experience and no idea what teaching classes day after day entailed, and the ones who succeeded under my tutelage and the ones who did damage to students learning.     And I think of the student teachers who were not good in dealing with 150 to 175 students on a daily basis  and decided after their  student teaching that they would seek other careers.   And then I read a statement from our Kansas State Board of Education that in lifting the Education requirements for teacher licensing that they are putting the students first—not the teachers—-and I gag at the lack of knowledge about education that these political hacks who set educational policy for the state of Kansas are showing.  They seem to view teachers as just warm bodies that are in the classroom—unimportant to the educational process.

Teaching subject matter is just one of the tasks that a good teacher does.   A teacher is the one that sees the students every day—sometimes spends more time with them than their parents.    A good teacher is one that students feel confident in coming to for advice and help with the stresses of being teenagers.   Good teachers inspire their students to explore and  develop their potential.   Good teachers show care for their students.  They celebrate their accomplishments and cry with them in their failures.   In my career as a teacher I found my high school students were more likely to come and confide their problems to me than they were to their school counselors.

Teachers are the backbone of the education system in Kansas—-from Kindergarten through college.   They deserve respect.   They deserve support.  They deserve thanks for the often thankless job they do every day.  They deserve decent salaries.   They deserve protection of their jobs which are often hazardous these days due to lack of funding for schools and lack of tenure.     They DO NOT DESERVE THE TREATMENT THEY ARE RECEIVING FROM THE KANSAS LEGISLATORS,  GOVERNOR BROWNBACK AND THE KANSAS BOARD OF EDUCATION.

Where have all the teacher’s gone?

They are taking their talents and skills elsewhere to a place where they will be valued, respected and appreciated.   And our students in Kansas are the real losers!!!

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Get Out of the Boat

Text:  Matthew 14:22-33

Theme:   The church needs the passion of Peter to risk leaving our safe boats to walk on the water with Jesus. 

            “Crazy Simon Peter is doing it again!”   I wonder if that is what the disciples in that boat thought about the events that were unfolding before their eyes.    Peter was known for being impetuous.   He was known for speaking before he thought about what he was saying and doing things on the spur of the moment, without thought.   He was known for his passionate nature.   He was the disciple, re remember that drew his sword the night the soldiers came to arrest Jesus and cut off the year of the servant of the high priest.   Jesus told him to put away his sword that time and healed the ear of the servant.   Peter was the disciple who at one moment was saying that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (what we refer to as the Good Confession) and the next moment he is being told by Jesus to “get behind me, Satan” for what he said.           

            Peter was passionate.   He was the kind of person who took risks.   And the story we read in the text today is another chapter in the saga of this passionate and impetuous man.   Let’s take another look at it…..

 Jesus had left the disciples to go pray alone and sent them on ahead of him in the boat he had used to speak to the crowds.      The Sea of Galilee is known for its sudden, fierce storms; and the disciples had been caught in one of those storms and it was blowing them out to sea.   They had been rowing all night trying to keep the boat from capsizing by rowing into the wind towards the shore.   They were  exhausted.   They were frightened by the ferocity of the storm.    Then they saw something that frightened them even more—-they saw a man walking on the sea towards them!   Who was it?  Was it a ghost?  Were they hallucinating?   And then the man spoke to them and said:   “Take heart, it is I?”   Was it Jesus?   Was it really him?

            That’s when impetuous Peter said—-“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water!”   Good old crazy Simon Peter!!! He’s done it againf!    And Jesus said one word to him:   “Come”.   

            So Peter stepped out of the boat and began to walk on the waves that were tossing the boat to and fro.   He’s not just walking on calm water—he’s on a stormy sea!    Suddenly, he had second thoughts—what in the world is he doing here??

What made me do this crazy thing? 

            And he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink!   He cried out:  “Lord, save me!!”  And immediately Jesus reached out to him and pulled him back up, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

 You have probably heard many sermons given on this story.   While Mark and Luke also have the story of the calming of the sea, the story of Peter trig to walk on the water to Jesus is found only in Matthew’s gospel.    Some sermons may have emphasized that we must keep our eyes on Jesus and when we fail to do so we sink.   And they are right!    Other sermons you may have heard have been on the faith that is necessary to be a disciple of Jesus   And they are right!

            I would like for us to consider this story, however in terms of an allegory about the church.    

We must remember the Gospel of Matthew was written late in the first century—probably around 90 A.D.,  and it was written to a church that was suffering persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire.   Think about the disciples on the boat as being like the church.   They are on stormy seas.  The wind is against them.  But note several things:

            First, when Jesus comes walking toward them they don’t recognize him!  The church doesn’t recognize Jesus???  Whoa!!

            Note secondly, that they do not give  up—they keep on rowing.   But with Jesus not being with them in the boat, they seem to not be getting anywhere, but are just surviving.

Sound familiar?    Do you ever feel that way?   Do you feel like you labor and strain in working for the progress of the church and nothing much happens?     Might it be because we don’t have Jesus in the boat with us?

            Note thirdly, that only Peter is willing to get out of the boat.   The rest of the disciples keep rowing and stay in the boat.   

            Next note   that it is when Peter, in faith, stepped out of the boat that he reaches out to Jesus who saves him!!              

Finally, note a that it is only when Jesus is back in the boat that the storm abates and the seas become still!!

 How very much like the church today are those disciples  in the boat!   Most churches are like a bunch of Jesus’ disciples that are battling to stay alive in an increasingly hostile environment.   Small groups of Christians are rowing like crazy into this life’s  storm that is beating on their church,  and are getting worn out; and it seems like all they are doing is holding their own against a stormy world or worse, they are losing ground.

And it is a stormy world.   It is a world that threatens to enguls us.   To swallow us up.

A world that is in direct competition with the church for the lives and time of Christians.    That schedules events on Sunday mornings to entice Christians away from worship of God.

A world that schedules sports events for children on Sunday and tells us that is more important than children being in church and Bible Study. 

A world that pushes an immoral way of life as being “fun” and the “in thing” to do in movies, TV, music and rap.

A world that is full of violence and hatred.  One in which terrorists kill innocent human beings in behalf of their political and religious agenda.   A world where rulers kill peaceably assembled protestors of their regimes.

A world that threatens large numbers of adults and children with starvation and violence at the hands of their own governments.

 A world where disease threatens and takes lives on a daily basis—-disease that is curable if the cure was available to those who are dying of the diseases.

 A world where drugs are pushed on our children; where our children are not safe from the attacks of child molesters and child pornographers.

 A world where families are split apart by governments”getting tough on immigration, by divorce,  and by poverty and whre families are dysfunctional , with children drifting and lost.

A world where poverty leaves children and parents hungry and without adequate medical and dental care because Kansas will not expand Medicaid

 Richard Hamm, former General Minister of DOC and now retired described the world of today in these words in his book From Mainline to Frontline.  Written 10 years ago, sadly it is still very true.   If things have changed, it is only that they are probably worse!   He writes….

 “See that mean-spiritedness is everywhere, impatient automobile drivers, who seem more bent on making a point than getting somewhere; parents in the supermarket who slap their children around; politicians who deliberately belittle and lie about those who oppose them;  radio talk show hosts who do not simply differ from the ideas and positions offered by others, but who seek to assassinate the character of those with whom they differ;  people who want to win and will crush their opponents in any and every way possible to do so.

            The world is a greedy place….The world is a place where racism is part of everyday life;  where sexual orientation becomes more important than one’s humanity in defining a person’s value.

Hamm continues

            The world is a place where certain people are expendable.   A world fueled by consumerism.  To be attractive or to have value, you must buy this product or that product.  You must have this car.  You must use this toothpaste.  You must wear this designer label.

{End of Quote}.

The world is also a place where our governments try to balance  their budgets with cuts that adversely affect children, the elderly, the poor, and the sick…while giving huge subsidies to oil companies that net billions of dollars each year in profits that they pay little tax on.  This is a frightening world.  It is a world that desperately needs the church to take a stand on the above issues and to be there to heal and help those who are being tossed about or being thrown away.

 The church in this world needs to listen carefully to the words spoken by the prophet Micah long ago:       

“With what shall I come before trhe Lord, and bow myself before God on high?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?   Will the lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?   Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  He has showed you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice,  and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”

 And where is the church in this stormy world?

I fear the church is too often fearful and  cowering in the boat, being buffeted by the storms of this world, and trying to row by themselves instead of getting out of the boat and taking risks with Jesus by their side.   

I fear Jesus is not in the boat with us and we are afraid to get out of the boat and go and meet him on the stormy seas of this life.   We feel safe in the boat, rowing hard, but getting nowhere.  Nowhere is something that we are familiar with.   Better not to take a risk by getting out of the boat and going toward Jesus.

 But Jesus comes to us on life’s stormy seas and says“Come”.  Are we willing to answer that call?   Are we willing to look Jesus in the face and climb out of our safe boat and take risks in walking in the storm that surrounds us with him?

The church needs the passion of Peter to leave  to leave our safe boat and walk on the stormy seas of this world with Jesus!!

Passionthat is what we are missing.   We like to play it safe.   Jesus words “Do not be afraid” mean more than “rest easy”.   They mean something like “take heart”; “have courage”;  “be open and willing to receive what is coming”;  get ready for a new thing that God is about to do in your life.”   It is an invitation to welcome rather than retreat from walking with Jesus and the new future that goes with that for us and our world.

It is not always easy.

It is easier to complain than to try a new way of living that heals and forgives and reflects God’s mercy and love to others as Jesus did. 

It is easier to live with disappointments than to venture changes leading to unknow possibilities.

Easier to keep fighting the battles that we know than to undertake an entirely different approach to living by walking with Jesus the Christ in His Way.

 So what does the church need to do to survive the storms they are battling?   I would suggest three things:

FirstWe need to be passionate about what we are doing. We are too comfortable.   We must be willing to take risks.   We need to get our of our safe boats and walk toward Jesus, believing and trusting that he will keep our heads above the stormy waters if we do so. 

 Secondly, we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  We need to invite Him into our church and into our hearts in a transformative way.   We need to sit at his feet in the Gospels and learn of His Way.   

 Finally, we need to trust that God will help us if we risk much.   That God, through Jesus will be there for us if we falter  

 

There is a story about musicians at a nightclub who complained about an old piano.   The keys would often stick and the sounds was truly hideous it was so out of tune.   After months of listening to the grumbling, the nightclub owner finally decided to do something about it­—he sent the piano out to be painted.

 Painted???  Painted????  What good would that do???

 I think that is something that we Christians in our churches often settle for—-a paint job when we need a full tune up and overhaul.      It is so easy to play church without actually being one.   But what people too often see and hear from the church is like the old piano that just had a paint job—we need a tuneup and an overhaul, not just a paint job.  And so many turn away from the church like the musicians did from the old piano. We are out of tune with the world around us that has changed dynamically in the last 50 years.  We don’t need a paint job as a church—we need a full tuneup and overhaul of the way we go about being church. It is so easy to  seek comfort instead of challenge; to want rest, not responsibility.

            We too readily accept complacency and the status quo and surrender our passion for God.  If we look for a paint brush rather than a tool box to fix our churches we will find that we will not solve our problems.

 Remember one thing:  Jesus is here with us as we face the storms of life that beat upon us as Christians and upon our church.   He will walk with us and reach down and pick us up if we stumble—-if we reach out to him as Peter did and say:  “Lord save me!”  

But first we have to get out of the boat and take the risk of walking with Jesus on the stormy sea!!