“What Comes After Baptism?”


This will be the “back page” for the Fishkill UMC bulletin this Sunday, Palm Sunday (Year A), 9 April 2017.

It should be noted that I have spoken of this incident on a number of occasions in the past.

One week after I found out that my understanding of Christianity was a little bit off (see What Does It Mean to Be Baptized?), I was told that my baptism as an infant didn’t count.  And, if I wanted to be saved, I needed to be baptized right then and there.

Without going into the details, these were not the best times for me and, quite honestly, I didn’t need that type of pronouncement for my future. So, I politely declined the offer of baptism.

Now, in one sense, the person who told me that was right.  Had I not be raised to understand the nature of my baptism or if I had not been given the opportunity to begin my journey of faith, then my baptism would have had no meaning.

But my parents raised me to understand what my baptism meant and gave me the opportunity to choose the path I wanted to walk.  But I didn’t do it alone; I was fortunate to have many ministers and lay people to serve as companions and mentors on this journey.

Our journey begins when we are baptized and we become part of a faith community.  Through our faith community, we find the path that we are meant to walk and because we are members of a faith community, we are there to help other begin and continue their own journey.

~ Tony Mitchell

Advertisements

What Does It Mean to Be Baptized?


This will be the “back page” for the Fishkill UMC bulletin this Sunday, the 5th Sunday of Lent (Year A), 2 April 2017.  The reading is from Isaiah 58: 6 – 12.

It should be noted that I have spoken of this incident on a number of occasions in the past.


There is no doubt in my mind that my faith was challenged during the season of Easter in 1969.  I didn’t understand (though I thought I did) what it meant to be a Christian and then (as I will describe next week) my own faith journey was questioned.

With the war in Viet Nam and the Civil Rights movement constantly in the news, one could not help but think about the correct thing to do.  I was, as many people know, active in the anti-war and civil rights movements on my college campus (much to my parents’ concern).  My participation was based on the idea that it was the right thing to do and it would open the gates of heaven when the time came.

But I found out that you do not do good things to get into heaven; you do good things because it is what you have been called to do when you accept Christ as your Savior.

I believe only you know when Christ calls you to accept Him.  But I know that I could discern that call because I was baptized and raised to understand that my baptism was more than an event in my life.

The challenge is we must build a community that helps people find Christ and that makes the act of baptism the first step on that journey.

What does it meant to be baptized?  It means that we, individually and collectively, have decided to begin a journey with Christ.

~ Tony Mitchell

“I Dreamed of a Church: Christ’s Representative”


This will be the “back page” for the 19 March 2017, 3rd Sunday of Lent (A), bulletin at Fishkill UMC.  The reading for this Sunday comes from Matthew 25.  I have told this story before but it speaks to the point of our participation in someone else’s baptism.

I have been fortunate to have been directly involved in the baptism of several individuals, both as a pastoral assistant and as a member of the family.  Perhaps the greatest joy was when I presented Casey, my granddaughter, and George, my grandson, to the congregation on the day of their baptisms.

But the story that strikes a chord with me is not my story but rather that of a current United Methodist pastor.  At the time of this story, this pastor-to-be was a bouncer in a local bar (which seems to be the career path of choice these days).  He was present at the baptism as the result of a direct command from his sister.  So, he came to church that Sunday morning after a rather long night at his regular job.  At the end of the service, one of the “saints” of the church saw that he was desperately searching for a cup of coffee and directed him to the church’s Fellowship Hall.

A few weeks later he found the bulletin for that Sunday in his coat pocket.  With the remembrance that someone had shown him some kindness, he returned to that church on his own accord.  Shortly afterwards, he made the decision to accept Christ as his Savior and he was baptized.

As it turns out, there was more to this than simply accepting the call to follow Christ.  It began a journey that has lead to becoming a minister in the United Methodist Church.

We all take part in the baptism of an individual.  In our participation, we welcome friends and strangers.  And while we never know how this will all turn out, we need to understand that one time someone offered a cup of coffee to a stranger and a life was changed.                                                – Tony Mitchell

How has baptism changed your life?


Here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday in Lent (A), 12 March 2017.  They are based on Psalm 13.  This is also part of the Fishkill UMC “Back Pages” series.


I have talked and written about my own baptism on a number of occasions; I have also included a discussion about a baptism that didn’t take place (See “My Two Baptisms” for what happened then; I will be addressing that topic again later in this Lenten series.)

To answer the question posted as the title to the post, It is safe to say that had I not been baptized, I would not be here today.  But because of when I was baptized, a path was set before me that I would, sometimes knowingly but often unknowingly, follow all my life.

My parents understood what my baptism meant and they made sure that I walked a path that would eventually allow me to understand it baptism meant.

There was a time in my life that I have come to call “my wilderness period.”  Life was rough during this period but I never felt lost.  Perhaps it was because the Holy Spirit was a part of life, even if I did not know it.

But when I more fully recognized the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life, I knew had to do some things, things that have lead me to this place and time.  I was lucky; I knew that God was there and all I had to do was look.

The Psalmist knew what it was like to be lost and out of God’s site.  He welcomed being able to be in God’s Grace once again.

Our baptism is never the end of the journey but its beginning.  For some, it sets the path they will follow; for others, it offers a new path.

Baptism represents an opportunity for all.


One of the “themes” for Lent this year is our journey to baptism.  To that end, I came up with these questions.

I would be interested in your thoughts about these questions.

5 March 2017 – “Child of God: Naming Each Other” – Who are you named after?

12 March 2017 – “How Long: Renouncing Evil” – How has baptism changed your life?

19 March 2017 – “I Dream of a Church: Christ’s Representative” – What was it like to be a part of someone else’s baptism?

26 March 2017 – “I Choose Love: Communities of Forgiveness” – How do you feel when you watch someone else gets baptized?

2 April 2017 – “God Has Work for Us to Do: Faithful Disciples” – What does it meant to be baptized?

9 April 2017 – “The Day Is Coming: We Are One”– What comes after baptism?

A Society of Laws


This is an interesting Sunday (at least for me) on the liturgical calendar. While this Sunday is the Baptism of the Lord, it can also be considered Epiphany Sunday.

If the Baptism of the Lord focuses on the relationship between God and society, then Epiphany Sunday is the relationship between science and society.

In the following thoughts, I have tried to addressed those two points, points that are critical to the future of society.


Ours is a society of laws. Some of these laws come from our understanding of nature; others come through interaction with others on this planet.

The laws that come from our understanding of nature come from a deliberate attempt to understand the world around us. The discovery and determination of these laws is often time laborious and difficult with the results often unintelligible to the untrained mind.

The basic premise of our human-based laws should be to do no harm or to prevent harm from coming to us. From the time that the Code of Hammurabi was first written, laws have been written to define relationships between people and groups of people.

The Ten Commandments given to Moses by God also outlined how the Israelites were to relate with God and others. From these basic tenets came some 600 or so other laws, some telling the people what they could do and others telling them what they could not do. Often, actions dictated by one law conflicted with actions dictated by other laws.

There are those today who would like to have a society based on “God’s law”, whatever such laws may be. But these laws merely seek to place one group of people in a position of power and superiority of others. And the implication of said laws is often done with a sort of discriminatory approach that borders on hypocrisy. Those who wish to have “God’s laws” in place would ban abortion, yet they are quite willing to support the death penalty for criminals and equally willing to go to war, even both of those actions violate the basic commandment that one shall not kill.

And in quoting biblical verses that one should seek an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, they ignore that such statements were never meant to be statements of vengeance and retaliation but rather limits for such action.

And such an approach, founded in a distorted view of the Old Testament, ignores the actions espoused by Jesus who often proposed an active opposition to tyranny and power.

And how do we, today, respond, to the imposition of rules and laws that are designed to discriminate and oppress? The answer comes from the same approach that Jesus used, active opposition to tyranny and power; it comes from the same processes that allowed us to discover the basic laws of nature – experimentation and examination and the use of free thought.

One must understand that this approach cannot tell you if something is good or evil. One cannot quantify good and evil like one can quantify the force of gravity or the speed of light. But if we understand the outcome of our work, we have a better understanding of what we can and cannot do.

We may see others as inferior or different from us but there is nothing in nature that supports that idea, so laws that treat people differently because someone fears the differences between them are unjust and illegal.

Our challenge today is very simple. Create a society in which we understand the world around us that allows us to understand those who share this same world. On this weekend when we celebrate the visit of the Magi, we are quietly saying that we want a world in which we seek the information that brings us to a better time.

I Am a Citizen of Two Kingdoms, Are You?


If by chance, I had been born some one hundred years earlier than I had, in 1850 instead of 1950, I would probably have proclaimed that I was a citizen of Virginia (where I was born) first and a citizen of the United States second.  But one outcome of the Civil War was that people no longer necessarily saw themselves as citizens of the state first but citizens of a United States first (though there are some even today who hold onto those old allegiances).  So it is that I was born in Virginia, the son of an Air Force officer and the grandson of an Army officer.

And it should have been that I would have become an Air Force officer as well, choosing to follow in the family tradition.  But when it came time to make that choose, we were involved in the Viet Nam war.  Granted, growing up as I did, that should have had no effect on any decisions I might make about military service.  But with the Viet Nam war came the draft.

And long before I opposed the war, I opposed the draft.  When you are brought up in a system whose stated purpose is the defense of freedom and one of those freedoms is the freedom to choose, being told that you will serve in the United States Army and that you will being sent to Viet Nam, all without goes against the very notion of those freedoms and what this country stood for.

And as this country found its way falling deeper and deeper into the morass of Viet Nam, we were also engaged in a struggle for civil rights, another battle that came about because people saw the inconsistency and hypocrisy of saying that this was a nation founded on the notion of freedom and equality while denying both freedom and equality to many individuals, solely because of their race or creed (and even today, their sexuality).

And while this was going on, I was discovering that I was not only a citizen the United States but a citizen of God’s Kingdom.  At first, I didn’t understand that I was such a citizen or how that all came to me.  Quite honestly, I figured that access to God’s Kingdom came from what I did in the secular world and the more I did, the better my chances were that the door to this Kingdom would open for me.  Opposing the war and standing for civil rights were things that I had to do if I wanted to enter God’s Kingdom.

But I was wrong.  Doing what was and is right doesn’t necessarily open a door that had already been opened.  It was, of course, my acceptance of Christ as my personal Savior that had opened to this Kingdom.

And once I understood that I was living in and a citizen of God’s Kingdom, doing good wasn’t a pre-requisite but a requirement, the responsibility of citizenship.  And I also understood that there were times when the requirements for citizenship in God’s Kingdom conflicted with the requirements for citizenship in the secular world.

The challenge of any citizenship is to do what is right and when the requirements for citizenship in God’s Kingdom are in conflict with the requirements for citizenship in the secular world, then you have to follow the requirements for God’s Kingdom.  But when you live in both kingdoms, you have to be careful that you know which is which.  You had better make sure that what you feel are the requirements for God’s Kingdom are what you say they are and not what people say are the requirements.

When I began my journey with Christ I also began a journey that would lead me to become a scientist and a chemist.  And as I looked at the secular world around me, I marveled at God’s creation and I searched for the evidence that would allow me to understand that creation as well as marvel in its beauty and complexity.  But there are those today who say to me that one cannot be a citizen of the Kingdom if one does not blindly and totally accept the notion that this world and this universe were made in six days some ten thousand years ago.

Somehow, I have never accepted that idea of kingdom citizenship.  If anything, seeing the development of the universe in all of its complexities only makes the wonder that much more and pushes me to learn more about the world and the God who created not only the universe but me as well.

I know this today.  I seek answers to nature’s questions and in finding those answers I am able to better understand who I am and who God is.  And the better that I understand who I am and who God is, the more I need to help others to do the same.

And my job, my responsibility as a citizen of God’s Kingdom is to help those who live in the secular world, people who are hurt, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  I cannot enter God’s Kingdom and ignore the secular world.  I cannot enter God’s Kingdom and then try to shut the door that I never opened in the first place behind me.

I have a responsibility to live in two worlds, the world of God’s Kingdom and the secular world in which it resides.  It is not part of my responsibility to make others citizens of God Kingdom; it is my responsibility to help others find God’s Kingdom.  I cannot, as a citizen of God’s Kingdom, ignore the hurt, the sick, the naked, the lonely, the abandoned because someone told me that they were not worthy of being a member.  God has proclaimed that all are worthy and can come in if they want; I must help to remove that pain and anger that prevents that from happening.

Many years ago, I made decisions that allowed me to be the citizens of two kingdoms.  Did you?