“Seeing the Future”

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” for this coming Sunday’s (November 3, 2019, 21st Sunday after Pentecost, Year C) bulletin at Fishkill UMC. This and the next couple of weeks will be a focus on stewardship.

In the classic story, “A Christmas Carol”, Ebenezer Scrooge becomes a new man after seeing his future.  It would be interesting to know if Charles Dickens was thinking of Zacchaeus when he created this seminal literary character.  In one sense, Zacchaeus sees the future when he seeks Jesus that day two thousand years ago.

The prophet Habakkuk writes of concern for his people and is given of a vision that one can assume would be the coming of Christ.  As Paul notes, our future is found in Christ.

We set a path for our future when we decided to follow Christ.  In our decision to be a United Methodist, we accepted the ideas first proposed by John Wesley some 250 years ago.  Ours is a faith motivated by the desire to bring hope to the hopeless, bring healing to the sick, and find sanctuary for the homeless, the goals set forth by Jesus Himself that day in the synagogue in Nazareth.

There are those in this world who would qualify as a Zacchaeus or a pre-Christmas Ebenezer Scrooge.  One can only hope that they will find Christ or see the future as it lies before them and change their ways.

In the meantime, the rest of us are faced with a quandary.  We see the same desolation, pain, and suffering that Habakkuk saw.  But we know what he could only envision; we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to make a change in this world.  Evil can only exist if we allow it to exist.  Through the gifts we have been given, we have the resources to make the changes.

Stewardship is about using the gifts that you have been given so that the Word of God can be expressed, so that the homeless find shelter, the hungry get fed, the sick are healed, and the oppressed find justice.  Over the course of the next 30 days, take the time to think about how your future will look and what you can do to make it the better for the Kingdom of God.

~~ Tony Mitchell

“The Music of Our Lives”

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” for this coming Sunday, 27 October 2019 (20th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C). The music this Sunday will have a jazz orientation, highlighting the skills of our music director, Art Labriola. Service begins at 10:15 am and you are more that welcome to attend.

A few years ago, I was working in my office on campus.  As usual, the door to my office was open and I had the radio on and was listening to a 60’s oldies station.  One of my students paused at the open door and as they listened to the music playing asked, “Weren’t you listing to classical music this morning?”  In reply, I said, “Yes, I just changed the century.”

As you know, music is and has been very much a part of my life.  From the beginning of my ministry, I sought to incorporate hymns that reflected the thoughts of the message that I was presenting on that Sunday.  It was something that the Psalmist knew very well, music was another way to connect with God.

Our connection is not just something made in our heart; it is made in our mind as well.  It comes for our study and preparation; it comes from how we live our lives.  Our connection with God is thus based on our composition and our performance, which just happen to be the key elements of jazz.

Jazz requires a structured part, the composition/created part but it gives the musician or musicians the opportunity and freedom to do something with that created part.

Each day God takes each one of us, the created part, and creates something new, the performance part.  The created part is the same each day but the performance part depends on the day, the time, and the place.

A couple of weeks ago, Pastor Micah asked who our mentors were.  In today’s New Testament reading, Paul is passing the torch, as it were, to Timothy.  As we think about who mentored us, let us remember that each day we mentor someone.  We may not know who that someone is; we may not know how it is that we are mentoring them; but just as jazz musicians take the written music and create something new, so too do we take our lives and create something new.  The music of our lives is another form of jazz.

~~Tony Mitchell

A Call to Worship for Laity Sunday

I will not be posting a “Back Page” for this coming Sunday, October 20, 2019, We will be celebrating Laity Sunday and this is the call to worship that I prepared for the service. It is based on based on Micah 6: 8, Corinthians 12: 4 – 11 and Ephesians 4: 7 – 13.

On this day, we honor the tradition and the history of the United Methodist Church.

As United Methodists, we are called to act with justice, to love tenderly, to walk humbly with God, and serve one another.

In answering the call, we offer an expression of our faith and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives each day.

In the tradition of the United Methodist Faith, we answer that call in many ways.

Some are called to be preachers, others to be teachers.

Some are called to be comforters, others to be healers.

Some are called to lead, others to organize.

Some are called to sing; all are called to pray.

We give thanks this day for the laity that have come before us and in the tradition of the United Methodist Church, we affirm that we will use our skills, talents, and gifts to continue what they began.

What does a Christian do?

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for this coming Sunday, October 13, 2019, the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C). Services start at 10:15 am and, as I wrote last week, “You all come”.

One of the ideas that popped in my head when I read today’s lectionary was the question as to what Christians do?  Jeremiah tells the Israelites in their Babylonian exile that even though they are far from home and under great stress they should continue their normal lives.  It is one way to maintain the connection to their far away homeland.

But what does it mean to continue one’s normal life?  For us today, it would be things like attending church regularly, reading the Bible on a similar regular schedule and taking time for prayer each day.  But is there anything else we can do?

One of the things about faith that John Wesley wrote about was the need to seek perfection.  Lead the life that exemplifies what Jesus taught us two thousand years ago and seek to make each day better than yesterday.  Lead the life that tells those around you that you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus.

But how do we do that?  When Jesus stood before the people in the synagogue in Nazareth, He said He had come to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and free the oppressed.  He set the guidelines for what Christians should do.

And therein lies the rub.  Our history as Christians tells us that, in the words of the prayer of  confession,  we have not always done what we should have done but done what we should not have done.  In the 1930s, Christians in Germany turned their back on the plight of the Jews.  In the 1960s, Christians in this country sanctioned the repression of blacks who sought the same rights as their white counterparts.  Even today, there are many Christians who sanction the repression of many simply because of the color of their skin, their lack of income, or where they came from.  Despite their claim to be Christian, it is quite clear that their allegiance is to a more political god.

This is more than a theological question.  Can a person support repression and terrorism and still be considered worthy of the name Christian?  Can a denomination which sanctions (quietly or openly) repression of individuals because of the color of their skin, their lack of financial status, or even their gender or sexual identity be worthy of being a Christian denomination?  It leads us back to the beginning question, “What does a Christian do?”          

~~Tony Mitchell

“Grinder’s Switch United Methodist Church”

Here are my thoughts for the ‘Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for this coming Sunday, October 6, 2019 (17th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C). This is also World Communion Sunday.

Yes, I know that Grinder’s Switch*, like it’s northern counterpart, Lake Wobegon, is simply the product of the fertile imagination of its most famous inhabitant.  But just as I have found towns that could replicate the life of Lake Wobegon, I have also found towns that could replicate Grinder’s Switch.  The main difference is that while there are only two churches in Lake Wobegon, there are probably several churches in Grinder’s Switch.  The United Methodist Church has been a part of Grinder’s Switch since the first settlers came through the Cumberland Gap and settled into the rich heartland of Tennessee.

It is a church that has survived its share of war (there is a rumor that several Union soldiers are buried in the church’s cemetery) and hard times.  For a while, the church relied on lay speakers and the monthly circuit rider but they now have a regular pastor, Pastor Lucy.  Oh sure, there were some who don’t like that their pastor is a woman but they do admit she does know the Bible and when she preaches the Gospel, you can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Society’s lines were always clearly drawn in Grinder’s Switch but, while some still try to draw them, they have faded.  Even when the lines were almost walls, the people of Grinder’s Switch knew who needed help and how to get it to them.

There is always a sense of welcome at the GSUMC.  That’s not to say all is perfect but the people know that the future is theirs to behold.

And while Pastor Lucy will never share  the pulpit with her counterpart in the local Southern Baptist church, she and the other pastors are putting together a community Thanksgiving service and potluck dinner.  And the choir at Grinder’s Switch UMC has even challenged the choir of the local Pentecostal church to a Gospel sing-off.

There is a peace in Grinder’s Switch, not the peace that blocks out the distractions of the world but the peace that comes when one builds  God’s Kingdom in this time and in one’s own little corner of God’s world.

 As just as the lay leader at the Grinder’s  Switch is likely to  use “How – dee!” as part of the call to the worship, so too does the invitation that “you all come!” come from the heart and the soul.

~~Tony Mitchell

“Grinder’s Switch is just outside Nashville, TN, and is the fictional home of Minnie Pearl of the Grand Ole Opry.  If I am not mistaken, this is how Garrison Keillor got the idea for Lake Wobegon.”  ~~ Tony