“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?

I Am A Southern-born Evangelical Christian! What Are You?


Certain political events which have, fortunately or unfortunately, crossed over into the religious area lead to make that declaration and to write the following, which is in two parts. Note that I have written some of this before.

I am proud to say, without hesitation, that I am a Southern-born evangelical Christian. But that does not mean what you might think it means.

And when it is all said and done, I would, politely, ask “What are you?”

Southern-born

I am, as the saying goes, Southern-born and Southern-bred, and when I die, I will be Southern dead. But this doesn’t mean that I automatically adhere to all Southern traditions.

As the son of an Air Force officer, I moved around the country and it became very evident, especially when I was in junior high and high school that there were barriers in place that separated people in society. These barriers, no matter how they were phrased, were designed to separate people by race, creed, sex, and economic status. They were kept in place by the rich and powerful who were able to convince many affected by the barriers that those barriers were for their own good.

And because they didn’t have any way of knowing otherwise, they accepted the wisdom of the rich and powerful and kept the barriers in place. Only when they saw what was happening did they realize that the barriers kept them “in their place” as much as it did “the others”.

I see that today – the rich and powerful have convinced a group of people that there are “others” who will steal what they have unless they allow the rich and powerful to do the stealing for them (For more on this topic, see “It’s Not About A Piece Of Cloth”). But pretty soon, it is going to be evident that the freedoms we cling to so dearly have been taken away and the majority of the people in this country will be once again the chattel of a few rich (and white) old men.

Evangelical Christian

I am also born to say, and without hesitation, that I am an evangelical Christian. I was baptized as an Evangelical Christian, I was confirmed as an Evangelical Christian, and I have tried to live my life as an Evangelical Christian.

But it is quite clear that my definition and the current popular definition of what it means to be an evangelical Christian are entirely different.

I do not know or understand what those who loudly profess to be evangelical Christians believe, other than perhaps to say that “I have been saved from sin and you have not and you are going to live the rest of your life in Sheol.”

That, to me, is not evangelism and, to be honest, it is the very attitude that almost drove me from the church and which is probably driving many people away today.

For me, evangelism is about declaring the good news about what God is doing in the world today. Evangelism should challenge individuals to yield to Jesus, to let Jesus into their lives, and to allow the power of the Holy Spirit transform them into new creations. But it is more than that.

It involves proclaiming what God is doing in society right now to bring justice, liberation, and economic well-being for the oppressed. It means to call people to participate (nasty word there, don’t you think) in the revolutionary transformation of the world. Evangelism is what Jesus said it was: broadcasting the good news that the Kingdom of God is breaking loose in human history, that a new social order is being created, and that we are all invited to share in what is happening. God is changing the world that is into the world that should be and we are invited to live this good news by breaking down the barriers of racism, sexism, and social class.

Evangelism requires that we declare the Gospel not just by word but also by deed and we show God’s presence in this world by working to eliminate poverty, present unjust discrimination and stand against political tyranny. Evangelism call us to create a church through which God’s will is done, here on earth, as it is in Heaven. (borrowed and adapted from Tony Campolo’s foreword to Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel: Luke and Acts; for more see “Who Are You Following?” or “What Do We Do Now?” where I consider how to apply the thoughts of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as well as those of Clarence Jordan).

What Are You?

At the end of his television series, Cosmos, Carl Sagan suggested that this society, this country and the whole planet were at a crossroads. One road lead to the destruction of the planet and the other lead to undiscovered worlds. Those words echo the words of the prophet Jeremiah when he (Jeremiah) wrote:

God’s Message yet again:

Go stand at the crossroads and look around. Ask for directions to the old road,

The tried-and-true road. Then take it. Discover the right route for your souls.

But they said, ‘Nothing doing. We aren’t going that way.’

I even provided watchmen for them to warn them, to set off the alarm.

But the people said, ‘It’s a false alarm. It doesn’t concern us.’

And so I’m calling in the nations as witnesses: ‘Watch, witnesses, what happens to them!’

And, ‘Pay attention, Earth! Don’t miss these bulletins.’

I’m visiting catastrophe on this people, the end result of the games they’ve been playing with me.

They’ve ignored everything I’ve said, had nothing but contempt for my teaching.

What would I want with incense brought in from Sheba, rare spices from exotic places?

Your burnt sacrifices in worship give me no pleasure. Your religious rituals mean nothing to me.” (Jeremiah 6: 16 – 20, The Message)

There is nothing wrong with holding onto the traditions that define you. But when the traditions become more important that your self, there is a problem. No one can live in a world where yesterday was better than today for that prevents us from moving into the future.

I cannot help but think that many people today hold onto their faith as if it were a tradition and not a real part of their lives. Their acts, their words, their deeds all reflect a time past. Throughout his entire ministry, Jesus looked to the future and He moved to the future, even though He knew what that future held for Him. But He also knew that our future would be insured because He moved in that direction.

Can you say that you are moving in the same direction as Jesus, towards a better future, a future free from sin and death, a future where no one is hungry, sick, homeless, or oppressed?

We stand at the crossroads and we have to decide which road we will take.

And we have to say to God at some point in our life who we are.

Who are you?

A Rock And A Hard Place


A Meditation for 10 January 2016, the Baptism of the Lord (Year C), based on Isaiah 43: 1 – 7, Acts 8: 14 – 17, and Luke 3: 15 – 17, 21 – 22

The title for this week’s message comes from the heading for the reading from Isaiah as translated in The Message. I use this translation (along with Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospels) as it offers a more modern reading of the Scriptures without losing its meaning. I think this is critical in today’s society simply because it shows how the Bible is alive today; when you use an old translation or you do not provide for a modern setting, you risk loosing both the meaning of the words and the people who hear the words.

I suggested in last week’s post (“Seeing The Future”) that I felt that there was a need for a fourth great revival in this society. Now, there are some who might feel that having a revival is more the sign of a fundamentalist approach to Christianity than a progressive one but I think that it is just as appropriate.

It goes with the idea of today’s corporate church. Church has, for the lack of a better term, become part of our lives. We expect it to be there for the baptism and confirmation of our children, our marriages, and our funerals but we don’t expect it to be there at any other times. And, sadly, when there are schedule overlaps around 10 am on Sunday morning, we put church attendance on the back burner in favor of the other event.

I always found it interesting that Constantine, the Roman emperor who legitimatized Christianity was not baptized until just before he died. While his actions as emperor ended the legal persecution of Christians and he became, perhaps the single most important patron of the church in all of its history, he waited until the last moments of his life to be absolved of his sins. And I cannot help but think that too many corporate Christians see their baptism in something of the same way. Oh, they were baptized at some point in their life (as a child, a youth, or an adult) but they see only in terms of the end times. Oh, and by the way, I see the actions of too many fundamentalists in the same way. Only at that last moment in their conscious life will they call upon their baptism in a last ditch effort to save their souls.

Oh, they might do it and if they do, so be it; that is the nature of grace.

But baptism is also the sign of a new life, a new beginning. I have told the story before (“My Two Baptisms”) about how I was stuck in the dorm of a Bible college in Moberly, Missouri, during the spring of 1969 and being told by a soon to be preacher that my baptism as a child did not count. And as I said then, were it not for what happened after that baptism, that preacher-to-be would have been right. But I was raised to respect that baptism and, when the time came, to do what was expected of me.

The key points given in the reading from Acts and Luke for today point out that the Holy Spirit was involved. Through the Power of the Holy Spirit, lives change (as Luke noted John saying, it changes you from the inside out).

What I did not mention in the story of the two baptisms was what had taken place about week before that encounter in Moberly. And that was my meeting with Marvin Fortel, a meeting I have written about many times before and one in which I knew that my life had changed (“The Changing Of The Seasons”). While I know that my refusal to do the adult baptism was more me than my soul, I also had a sense that I was living the life one was supposed to be living and I understood why.

Most of you who read this have been baptized so calling for you to be baptized would be along the lines of that student preacher I met in 1969. So I call upon you to think about your baptism and ask if your life today reflects that baptism.

One of the things that I have thought about is where I am being called in my own ministry. And while I will still hold to the teachings of the Evangelical United Brethren Church in which I was confirmed and the United Methodist Church in which I have lived and served for the majority of my life since confirmation, I am beginning to think and believe that I need to be a little more independent. I see a need for something different, something a bit more progressive in nature. I am not entirely certain that the United Methodist Church will survive the upcoming 2016 General Conference; it might but what comes out of the conference may not be in a position to move forward the Gospel message that Christ charged us to follow.

I suppose that when you find yourself between a rock and a hard place (which was the subject heading for the reading from Isaiah for today), you can let yourself be crushed by the rock or you can move the rock out of the way. I am choosing to move the rock out of the way. What will you be doing?