What Does Advent Mean?

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for this coming Sunday, December 1, 2019, the 1st Sunday in Advent (Year A). I will be taking a brief sabbatical and allowing others to share their thoughts for Advent on the back page. I plan to return for January 5, 2020.

First, my thanks to Pam, Tom, Herb, and Jane for helping with the “Back Page” for this Advent season.  When I was asked what one should write, I just said, look to the Scriptures and tell others what they mean to you.  For me, Advent is the time of certainty in a time of darkness and fear.

Advent is always about preparation, preparing for the coming of Christ.  The thing is that we know how the story begins and how the story ends.  But what about those who have never heard the story?  What about those who came to the stable where Jesus lay that First Night?  The shepherds knew because the angels told them what to expect. 

Did the innkeeper know who that husband and wife seeking shelter were?  All he knew was he had no room, except for a space in his stable.

Did those who came to help Mary with the delivery of her first child know who this Child would become?  They only knew that this young mother needed their help.

There is, perhaps, a certain degree of uncertainty in our lives.  The times we live in almost guarantee that.  It seems to me that when we seek only certainty in our lives, we cannot move forward.  But with the certainty that Christ is coming into our lives, the fear that keeps us from moving disappears.

So, as we begin Advent, we begin preparing for Christ’s coming into our lives and the certainty that comes from his presence in our lives.

~~Tony Mitchell

“A Better Place”

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the bulletin at Fishkill United Methodist Church for this coming Sunday, November 24, 2019, Christ the King Sunday (Year C). Services start at 10:15 and everyone is welcome to attend. If you feel up to it, come around 9:15 and practice with the choir.

For the record, I have probably written more on the idea of stewardship these past four weeks than I have in the previous twenty years.  This is due, in part, because I haven’t had to write on the topic, and in part because, as Pastor Micah noted a couple of weeks ago, it is not a popular topic.

In a “perfect” world,  we would not need to address the topic because it would be second nature to us.  But we do not live in such a “perfect” world and by our proclamation as Christians and as United Methodists, we must find ways to strive for such perfection.

Stewardship takes on many forms, from caring for this world on which we live to caring for those who live on this planet, no matter who they are or what they believe.  Stewardship, in its many forms, is one of the many ways that we can express our faith.

So, for a brief period of time each year, we focus on how we shall be good stewards of this place on which we live and the people with whom we share this place.

~~ Tony Mitchell

“24/7 Stewardship”

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the bulletin for this coming Sunday, 17 November 2019 (the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, Year C). Services start at 10:15 am and you are welcome to attend.

When I first looked at the Scriptures for this Sunday, I wondered how I was ever going to focus on the topic of stewardship.  But Isaiah’s words that we were building a new world reminded me that we, God’s children, have been tasked with stewardship from Day 1.

From its very beginning, humanity has been charged with care of this world.  Yet, even today, with the warnings of climate change echoing in our ears, there are some who ignore the call and think that the Earth is theirs is to do as they please. 

It is just as important that we understand that in the passage right before today’s reading from Thessalonians, Paul is complaining about those who are convinced that the 2nd Coming of Christ is imminent and have quit working.  It is not the poor and disadvantaged, as some would have you believe, that Paul is yelling at; it is those who put themselves above the needs of their community.

Jesus warns us to beware the false prophets and teachers, the long-tongued liars who preach hatred and exclusion, who preach that all that is in the world is for a very few and not to be shared.

Our stewardship of this planet goes beyond simple gardening duties; it involves caring for all the people, no matter who they are or where they live.  It has been our task from day 1 and continues on, 24/7, until we all reach the Kingdom of Heaven.

~~Tony Mitchell

The Continuing Story of the 1918 Armistice

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the guns fell silent for the first time in just over four years of fighting. 

In the diary that he kept during his time in France, my grandfather, then a Captain in the U. S. Army infantry noted, 


November 11, 1918 

A great day. The armistice was signed today. We were to resume our attack at 2 p.m. in case it was not signed. Slept in a German dugout last night. 

Following a period of time where his unit was involved in post-war occupation duties, my grandfather would come home to his young bride and began a career in the army and a family. 

My grandfather enlisted in the army in 1914 and rose in the ranks to Colonel, retiring in April, 1944.  I have some notes that suggest he was being considered for promotion to Brigadier General and that he would have participated in the D-Day landings on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. 

My grandfather was one of the fortunate ways.  He came home from two wars to live in St. Louis with his wife and experience the birth of four grandsons.  He would die at home in 1956 during a period of relative peace. 

My father served as an officer in the United States Air Force for just over twenty years.  For a number of reasons, I never discussed his participation in World War II or the following occupation of Japan.  The only time he volunteered any information was to confirm the briefing he had received just prior to the proposed invasion of the Japanese mainland.  He noted that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved the lives of over a million US and Allied soldiers. 

My father would also die at home in a period of relatively peace. 

But other families were and are not so lucky.  Their fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters are sent off to war, even if it is not called a war.  Some die in faraway lands; others return home, some with visible wounds, many with invisible wounds.  Forgive me if I sound cynical but it seems to me that we send people off to war and then forget them when we come home. 

That is part of the story of the 1918 Armistice. 

An armistice is an agreement to stop fighting so that negotiations for peace can begin.  What transpired over the next six months did not ensure the peace but rather, in my opinion, insured that there would be a second war.  And in fact, when one looks at the world today, the effects of those six months are still being felt today. 

We live in a world where war seems to be the answer, even when we don’t know the question.  It may be politically incorrect but I remember (and have often quoted) what Robert E. Lee wrote to his wife following the battle at Fredericksburg 

“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.” – 13 December 1862 

I don’t think there is a general officer in the Armed Services today who does not consider the cost of human life when contemplating war.  But there isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a general officer today who understands that war is not the first response but, rather, the last response. 

Countries like the United States created and perhaps continue to create weapons of war and then say to other countries that they are not allowed to have those weapons.   

There was, I believe, a discussion amongst the scientific community to publish the details of the first atomic weapons but the United States wouldn’t do that (in fact, they would not share the details with Great Britain, forcing Great Britain to begin its own weapons program).  The Soviet Union, through its established spy networks, was able to obtain the details for both the atomic and hydrogen bomb and have working models long before the United States government thought they would. 

During the period that my father was on active duty, we, as a country and as a planet, lived under the threat of nuclear destruction.  And the only thing that kept the threat from being actual was that both sides knew that no one wins in a nuclear exchange.  How appropriate that this was the MAD doctrine(mutually assured destruction). 

For the most part, the military and political leaders of the world during that time understood what an exchange of nuclear weapons would mean to life on this planet.  And while they did not shy away from war, they sought other forms. 

I don’t think that is the case today.  The actions taken at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 created divisions that are still being felt today.  The cause for war was not diminished by that conference; in fact, it was magnified. 

We do not see the buildup in military weapons that preceded World War I or World War II but over 50% of budgets of the major political powers on this planet are directed towards destruction.  And that can only mean that if you spend more on destruction than construction, no one wins! 

What will it take for countries to turn their weapons into plowshares, to the money that goes to weapons right now and invest it in education and research?   

On this day 101 years ago a story began.  The theme was that there would be no more war; that the war that had been fought was the “war to end all wars.”  But everything that was done in the days that followed ensured that there would be another war. 

Right now, the ending of this story must be “to be continued” while the closing chapters are written. 

Because we keep making weapons of war better, the next war will be the war to end all wars because we will have destroyed this planet and that will be the final chapter. 

But we can take the occasion of this day to change the ending of the story.  To move away from destruction to construction, to building new lives, to bring a lasting peace to this world.  It will not be a single chapter but several chapters. 

The 1918 Armistice was meant to be the end of war but it became the beginning.  Now is the time for us to write the conclusion as it was meant to be. 

“What’s Inside?”

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for this Sunday, 10 November 2019, the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year C. Services begin at 10 but you can come early and practice with the choir!

I always wondered why so many United Methodists churches in the Midwest look alike but then I found out that there was a collection of blueprints church designers and builders could pick from when building a new church.  Still, seeing the outside of the church really doesn’t tell you what is going on inside the church.  Does one feel the presence of the Holy Spirit or is it just another building?

Cynthia Bourgeault, in The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind, wrote

“Jesus never asked anyone to form a church, ordain priests, develop elaborate rituals and institutional cultures, and splinter into denominations. His two great requests were that we “love one another as I have loved you” and that we share bread and wine together as an open channel of that interabiding love.”

Haggai reminds the people of Israel that they were not simply rebuilding a building; they were building a home for God, a place for the Holy Spirit.  In doing so, they were able to better discern God’s presence in their lives.

Stewardship is about finding ways to make God’s presence in our lives through the ministry of the church.  It is not found in the old ways but in the new, of considering what Jesus did and how we can best continue to do that. ~~Tony Mitchell