“How Will They Know?”

This will be on the back page of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for Sunday, September 02, 2018 (the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B).

It is interesting that the Scripture readings for this Sunday come at a time when schools are starting in the area and have begun in many other areas of the country.

The “Song of Solomon”, along with the companion books in this section of the Old Testament and James in the New Testament are called the “wisdom” books.  The emphasis in these books is not so much what we know about God but how one lives in response to God.

Jesus chastises the “learned” ones for forgetting why the law was the law.  There were reasons why things were done but those reasons had become tradition.

When we teach something and say it must be learned but give no reason why it must be learned, it becomes something for the moment and quickly forgotten.

Our lives in Christ cannot simply be blind obedience to a set of laws set down so many years ago.  Rather our lives must be a true reflection of the nature of God.

Wisdom is more than just learning material; it is knowing what to do with it.                                                     ~~Tony Mitchell

A Certain Outcome

This will be on the back page for the bulletin for Fishkill UMC for this Sunday (August 26, 2018, 14th Sunday after Pentecost – B).

The one thing that struck me about the Old Testament Reading was that Solomon’s Temple was open to all.  People would come because of the greatness of Solomon and they would discover God in the Temple that Solomon built.

What does that say about today when people are turning away from the church out of distrust and anger or they are seeking alternative means of worship because they cannot find God in the church today.

And when I read Paul’s words to the Ephesians, I hear him crying out again the battles inside the church.  The problem is not that the world is evil or anything like that; it is that some people want to exercise their authority as if it came from God,  And it is hard to take on those people; it is hard to take on the tasks Jesus asked us to begin.

But in our faith, and through God, we have been given the tools, the skills, and the abilities to take on those tasks.

What will we do?  Will we give up the fight or will you join the fight?                                 ~~Tony Mitchell

The Early Church and Genesis

This is an excerpt from something I have been working on.

Why Was the Story Told in Genesis?

We can only begin to imagine what the author of Genesis might have been thinking when he or she recorded the words that chronicle the beginning of the universe and this world.

Perhaps it was the end of the day and families were gathered around the fire.  One of the children in the group may have very well asked one of the elders how it was that they had gotten to that moment in time and space.  And the elder may very well have responded, “In the beginning” and the lesson began.

It was a story told from the heart as well as the mind and it reflected the knowledge and understanding of the world at that time.  It was as much a story of how a group of individuals came to be and was an explanation of their relationship with God as much as with this world.  That story, how we came to be a group of individuals in a relationship with God, is still a valid story today, some three thousand years later, and one which needs to be retold time and time again.

What Did the Early Church Think Happened?

From the beginning, many early Christian thinkers saw Genesis 1 – 2 as an allegorical tale that became known as the Accommodation view.  In this view, Genesis 1-2 was written in a simple allegorical fashion to make it easy for people of that time to understand.  It should be noted that I developed my own idea of the Genesis tale before I learned of this idea of accommodation.

See John Walton’s Reconciling Science with Scripture and Denis Lamoureux’s The Ancient Science in the Bible and The Message-Incident Principle from the Science and the Sacred blog on Biologos web site. o understand how Genesis was interpreted during ancient times.

Origen, the 3rd century philosopher and theologian, provided one of the earliest examples on the topic of creation.  He opposed the idea that the creation story was an historical and literal account of how God created the world.  His views echoed that of even earlier voices advocating a more symbolic interpretation (Peter C. Bouteneff, Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008; cited in “How was the Genesis account of creation interpreted before Darwin?”)

Saint Augustine of Hippo, a North Africa Bishop in the early church, wrote several books that focused on Genesis 1 – 2 (Gillian Clark, Augustine: The Confessions, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993; cited in “How was the Genesis account of creation interpreted before Darwin?”).  He presented the argument in The Literal Meaning of Genesis that Genesis was written so that people would understand it.  He also believed that God created the world with the capacity to develop, a view in harmony with today’s understanding of evolution (Bishop of Hippo Saint Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Ancient Christian Writers, no. 41, New York: Newman Press, 1982; for a further discussion of Augustine’s perspective on creation, see chapter 6 of Francis Collins’ The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, New York: Free Press, 2006, as well as chapters 8 and 15 of Alister McGrath’s A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009; cited in “How was the Genesis account of creation interpreted before Darwin?”.)

Later Christian Thought

St. Thomas Aquinas, the thirteenth-century philosopher and theologian, did not fear the possible contradiction between the Genesis creation story and scientific findings.  In Summa Theologica, he argued in favor of the view that God created all things to have potential:

On the day on which God created the heaven and the earth, He created also every plant of the field, not, indeed, actually, but “before it sprung up in the earth,” that is, potentially.…All things were not distinguished and adorned together, not from a want of power on God’s part, as requiring time in which to work, but that due order might be observed in the instituting of the world (St. Thomas Aquinas, “Question 74: All the Seven Days in Common,” in The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, 2nd ed., trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1920). Also available online at “Summa Theologica,” New Advent (accessed Oct 21, 2011); cited in “How was the Genesis account of creation interpreted before Darwin?”).

John Wesley thought the scriptures were written in terms suitable for their audience. He wrote,

The inspired penman in this history [Genesis] … [wrote] for the Jews first and, calculating his narratives for the infant state of the church, describes things by their outward sensible appearances, and leaves us, by further discoveries of the divine light, to be led into the understanding of the mysteries couched under them.

Wesley also argued the scriptures “were written not to gratify our curiosity [of the details] but to lead us to God” (John Wesley, Wesley’s Notes on the Bible, Grand Rapids, MI: Francis Asbury Press, 1987, 22, quoted in Falk, Coming to Peace, 35. Also available online at John Wesley, “John Wesley’s Notes on the Bible,” Wesley Center Online, accessed Oct 21, 2011; cited in “How was the Genesis account of creation interpreted before Darwin?”).

B. Warfield, perhaps the most noted Princeton theologian of the nineteenth century, accepted evolution as giving the proper scientific account of human origins (Mark A. Noll and David N. Livingston, eds., B. B. Warfield: Evolution, Science, and Scripture, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000, 14; cited in “How was the Genesis account of creation interpreted before Darwin?”).


History has shown us that scientists and religious leaders were more often working in concert than they were at odds with one another. The discoveries of modern science do not serve as the cause for abandonment of one’s faith or being contradictory to the Scripture but, rather, to serve as a guidepost for a proper understanding of the Scripture’s meaning.

While those promoting a worldview that requires people to make a choice between faith and science do so for narrow sectarian reasons; most religious individuals need not make such a choice. Indeed, there’s nothing in their faith that precludes a full acceptance of the best that science offers (December, 2014, newsletter of the Clergy Letter Project).

Augustine offers this advice:

In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture (Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 41; cited in “How was the Genesis account of creation interpreted before Darwin?”)

How Did God Create?  Different Views Christian Hold (STEAM Grant Series)

Seeing Too Many Enemies of Science in a Faith-Full World – The Catholic Astronomer

Planet Earth is a world of the faith-full.  And, it seems Earth is likely to become yet more faith-full during the next few decades.  The scientific community will have to embrace that faith-full world if it wants a scientifically literate world. A few years ago the Pew Research Center published an article entitled “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050” that projected the growth of various religious groups.  Their projections, among religions, were for Christians and Hindus to maintain their share of the world’s population, for Muslims to grow substantially, and for Buddhists and Folk Religions to shrink.  However, Pew projected the overall share of the world’s population that identifies with a religion to grow—from 83.6% of the world’s population in 2010, to 86.8% in 2050—as the religiously unaffiliated, which includes atheists and agnostics, drops from 16.4% of the population today to 13.2% in 2050.  Pew notes that while there is a belief among some that increasing economic … Continue reading →

Source: Seeing Too Many Enemies of Science in a Faith-Full World – The Catholic Astronomer

“Curing the Plague”

This will be the back page for the bulletin at Fishkill United Methodist Church on Sunday, August 19, 2018 (13th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B).

As he lay dying in Romeo’s arms, Mercutio cries out, “ A plaque on both of your houses!”  His death is the direct result of the antipathy and hatred between the Capulet and Montague households and will lead to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.

John the Seer wrote of conquest, war, famine and death being the plagues that would destroy this earth, our home.  These plagues are fed by ignorance and fear.

In Ephesians, Paul calls on the Ephesians to “think outside the box”, as it were, for if they don’t, that “box” will become their coffins.

The recent Gospel readings have focused on Jesus as the Bread of Life and the refusal of many to understand what He is saying.  As I wrote last week, the people still see Christ as Joseph’s son; they lack a vision to see beyond. When Solomon became king, the one thing he wanted more than anything else was wisdom, the ability to see new solutions for the problems that he would face.

If we see Jesus as the carpenter’s son, as the people did, then we will never achieve what Solomon sought.  But if we accept Jesus with all our heart and all our mind, we escape the box and find the means to solve the problems that plague us.

~~ Tony Mitchell

“The Cries of the People”

This will be the “back page” for the bulletin at Fishkill UMC this coming Sunday, August 12, 2018 (12th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B).

David’s cry of “Absalom, Absalom” in the Old Testament reading is a cry of pain and anguish.  It is also a cry created by and through anger.

Paul points out that we must be careful when we are angry; that words said in anger may result in something we may not want.  Paul didn’t say that we couldn’t be angry; he just said that it shouldn’t devour your life.  Anger moves our focus away from God and what God desires.

The whole idea that Jesus represented the Bread of Life and that it was available to all who sought Him angered some people.  And that anger prevented them from envisioning the new vision Jesus offered.  It is an anger that is still present today.  It prevents us from hearing the cry of anguish from those in pain or who are lost, forgotten, or excluded.

Until we put the anger away and let Christ truly into our life, we will never be whom we are called to be.

~~ Tony Mitchell

“What Do You Want to Be?”

This is scheduled to be the “back page” for the bulletin at Fishkill United Methodist Church for Sunday, August 5, 2018 (11th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B).

In my opinion, we as humans and as a society have been given two great gifts, creativity and God’s grace.  The hardest thing that we must realize is that we haven’t been given those gifts solely for our benefit.  We have been given them to share with others. (from “The Gifts We Have Been Given.”)

I am not saying that you shouldn’t try to be the best you can be, but if you don’t share them, how will others know what you can do?  You may have the skills of leadership and ministry but unless you are in the lector rotation, who knows what you can do?  You may sing like an angel but only heaven knows if you don’t sing in public (choir rehearsals are on Sunday at 9 am).  You may write like Shakespeare but if the words are not published, they have no meaning (that’s a hint, by the way – 😊 ).

David was given the gift of creativity and it was evident in his leadership and his ability to compose poems and songs. Yet, he used his creativity to abuse the power of his position and, in the end, he paid the price for his greed and arrogance. (from “What Do You Do With The Gifts You Have Been Given?”)

To borrow from George Bernard Shaw, ours is to see things that never were and say why not.  Whatever it is that we want to be, the results will be magnified when we use our gifts so that others come to know Christ.                                                       ~Tony Mitchell