“I Saw the Light”


This is an expanded version of what appears on the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for 26 February 2017 (Transfiguration Sunday [A]).

One of the thing that I was thinking about was the song “I Saw the Light”.  This is a country-gospel song that was written by Hank Williams (which I think most people didn’t know).

When I began teaching, I knew the subjects that I was teaching (chemistry and other physical sciences) and I was learning how to teach.  But as this was all taking place, I found myself thinking about how my students learned chemistry.

We all learn in different ways and at different rates.  And, as an instructor, I am tasked with helping each student reach that point of understanding; that point we call the “AHA! Moment”.  It is that moment, and we all have had such moments in our own lives, when we understand what we are learning.  This is a major moment in our lives because it takes us past simply “knowing” the right answer to understanding why it is the right answer.

I don’t think that it makes a difference whether we are speaking about secular or sectarian learning.  And while I realize that this moment of understanding is different for each person, our educational process, both secular and sectarian, must be directed towards helping each person reach that moment of enlightenment.

And I realize that achieving this moment requires a great deal of effort, both by the teacher and by the student.  How many times did we get the feeling that Jesus was frustrated by the lack of learning exhibited by the 12.  They were his primary students and yet, time and time again, they didn’t seem to get the point of the lesson.

That is, until the First Easter and the Resurrection.  Then they understood and when the Holy Spirit came to them on that First Pentecost, they became empowered to take the Gospel message into the world.

John Wesley knew what was needed but until that moment that we call Aldersgate, he didn’t quite understand how to achieve what he sought.  The success of the Methodist Revival only began when the Holy Spirit warmed his heart and he understood who Christ truly was.

For Peter, James, and John, that moment was on the Mount with Jesus; for Paul, it was that moment on the road to Damascus.

Each of us has that same moment, that point when we understand that Christ is our Savior.  Each person’s moment of understanding, of seeing the light is unique and we should never try to force our moment on others.  But, we can and must help others find their moment.

Today marks the day that the Disciples began to see the light.  Their lives began to change.  Each of us has that moment; that moment when we realize that Jesus Christ is our personal Savior.  And this gives us the opportunity to begin helping others find their moment.

“Leave Room for Dessert”


For some time, I have been writing some thoughts that my church (Fishkill United Methodist Church) puts on the back page .  Here are my thoughts for this Sunday, 19 February 2017, the 7th Sunday after the Epiphany (Year A).


Have you ever wondered why we are “the people called United Methodists?”  The “United” comes, of course, from the 1968 merger of the Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist churches but the “Methodist” part is a little bit older.  In 1729, Charles Wesley and some of his college friends started what they called the “Holy Club”.  John Wesley joined shortly after and became its leader.  The goal of this group was to achieve salvation through a rigorous and legalistic approach to faith.  Because of this approach, others would ridicule them by calling them “Methodists”.

Yet, until that time that we have come to call Aldersgate, the plan was a failure.  Yes, things were accomplished that helped others but there was still a feeling that success and accomplishment was lacking.  The plan was not working.

But when one creates a set of laws, one must be careful that you are not setting the conditions that imprison you.

The focus of today’s Old Testament reading is not about a legal structure for a community but on the relationship between the members of the community.  The Israelites were counseled to leave something behind when they harvested the crops so that there would be something for everyone.  It was important that the Israelites see everyone as part of their community and that they treat everyone fairly.

We leave room for dessert because we want a complete meal.  Our relationship with Christ can never be complete if we do not share it with others.

Evolution Weekend


With Evolution Weekend coming up this weekend, I figured I should up date this particular piece.

As I have noted in the pieces that I list below,

Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. One important goal is to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic – to move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith. Finally, as with The Clergy Letters themselves, which have now been signed by more than 13,000 members of the clergy in the United States, Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy. – “The Clergy Letter Project”

This project began in 2006 and I have participated, either with a sermon or a blog post, since 2009. The following is a list of those messages and posts. This has been edited since it was first posted to correct a link.

February 1, 2009 – Lake Mahopac (NY) UMC – “The Differing Voices of Truth”

February 14, 2010 – “That Transforming Moment”

February 13, 2011 – “It’s about Commitment”

February 12, 2012 – “To Leave the World A Better Place”

February 3, 2013 – “Removing The Veil”

February 9, 2014 – Sloatsburg UMC – “The Master Lesson”

February 15, 2015 – “Transfiguration Sunday or Evolution Weekend?”

February 14, 2016 – “Where Are We Going?”

February 12, 2017 – “The Past Can Never Be Our Future”

It should also be noted that this weekend is also the weekend of Boy Scout Sunday, which has additional meaning for me.

“The Balance of Life”


This was initially written for another publication (Fishkill UMC “Back Pages”.  Part of what I have written may be used in another piece that I will be posting shortly.

When I began working on my doctorate, I was introduced to the book “Two Cultures” by C. P. Snow.  Snow presented the argument that we lived in two cultures, one based on the humanities and the other based on science and technology, a division that appears to still be present today.

I think we also have another division of cultures in our time, with some proclaiming the need for a solely secular/non-religious life while other proclaim that what it is needed is a sectarian/religious life.

But life is and has never been an either/or choice.  Ideas presented in the secular world tell us how to solve problems but do not always indicate what is the best use of that solution.  And it is only through the sectarian view of the world that we come to understand our relationship with others in our community and around the world.

Jesus never said that we should totally abandon the secular world for the sectarian world; he merely wanted us to view things with a sense of priority.

And that means that while one works in the secular world, it is important to maintain a presence, constant and on-going, in the sectarian world as well.  A world that does not include time for thoughts about God (be it in worship, prayer, music or communicating with others) can be a lonely and desolate place.

 

Lexington, North Carolina


As noted, this was a message I presented back in 2005.  I am reposting it because I described my own personal encounter with segregation when I was about 12 years old.


This is the message that I will present this morning at Vails Gate UMC (Vails Gate, NY). Please let me know what you think; also, if you want to use what I have written here, please let me know.  (This post was edited on 12 March 2008 to remove some programming errors)

Thanks!

In peace and with Christ – Tony Mitchell


When I began reading the Scriptures for today, my first thoughts were of my mother’s home town of Lexington, North Carolina, and the times we spent visiting there while growing up. Hence, that is the title for this sermon. But as I struggled with and worked on this sermon, my thoughts changed from the days past when I was growing up to the days present.

For me, growing up in the south, hurricanes are not just items on the evening news or something read about in the newspaper. So the impact of Katrina has hit me just a little harder than perhaps it did you. And the knowledge of what is happening in New Orleans has added to what I was thinking a few weeks ago.

The three scriptures that we have for today have two common points, fear and trust. While decided several years ago, it is quite evident that they are very appropriate and evident for today.

Very few people seem to be asking what sort of a spiritual impact this disaster will have, and whether we are going to let it affect our consciences and our collective soul. Shouldn’t we all be praying for a spiritual renewal, and for a new era of justice and love? To me, that is the sort of question we should be asking.

Having said this, I’m sure that the people who have been personally devastated by Katrina are dealing with these deeper issues, and I pray that they find the nearness of God like never before.

Our world today is filled with unknowns and fears. Not only have we had to deal with Hurricane Katrina, we read of forest fires in Portugal and the western United States, mudslides in the Alps, the continued violence, destruction, and despair in Iraq, and the on-going famine in Darfur.

Others fears, both real and imagined, gnaw at the back of many minds. We cannot begin a day without hearing what the color of the day is; we have been encouraged to view any stranger we encounter as a threat, either as a terrorist or as one who will steal our identify from us. It is no wonder then that the enthusiasm of the young is being stifled and gradually replaced with caution, reserve, and apathy. (Adapted from “Searching for the Mountaintop – Finding a purpose in a Time of Fear” by Johann Christoph Arnold)

Our politics have almost totally become politics of fear. Politicians no longer campaign on the good things they will do but rather on what terrible things their opponents will do.

I am the son and grandson of career military officers. It is quite likely that my grandfather passed through this region as his infantry regiment was transferred from Fort Meade, Maryland, to Plattsburgh, NY, in 1921. Because my father made his career as an Air Force officer, we moved around quite a bit.

Lexington, North Carolina, is my mother’s home and a place that we visited from time to time. It was the place where I was baptized, and as such, it is a place that I consider one of my hometowns.

One summer during the early 1960’s we were visiting my grandparents. While there my two brothers and I went to the movie theater in town. While trying to find a place to sit, we inadvertently wandered into what one would politely call the “colored” section. Even though the theater was a public theater, this was the south and it was still a time of segregation.

What I remember of that moment was that while it was easy to pass from the “whites only” section, it was very difficult to pass back. The gate that separated the two sections only swung one way. It was easy enough to figure out that you needed to pull the gate back rather than push it forward. But when you are in a darkened theater with two younger brothers, it is a frightening and uncomfortable situation. It is such a situation in which fear can quickly grow.

Unfortunately, the legacy of segregation and the fear that can come from that odious practice is still with us. The news coming out of New Orleans is just a hint of the decades of oppression and fear that was imposed on the minorities in this country.

It was also fear that drove Matthew to write down the words of the Gospel that we read this morning. In all of Jesus’ parables, he challenged the listeners to hear the Gospel of God’s love in different ways, through different experiences, and with different languages. This passage goes beyond anything we might comprehend; it goes beyond the tokenism of inclusiveness to a radical inclusivity where we take others seriously, listen to each other and dare trust that he or she belongs in God’s love as much as we do. (Adapted from “A Careful Read” by Deanna Langle, The Christian Century, August 23, 2005)

If you stop and think about it, these cannot be the words of Christ. As you read this passage, you have to be struck with the paradox posed. If you have a problem with a member of the church, meet with them in private. If there are still problems, then bring along some witnesses and try to work out the problem. If that fails, then they were to be expelled from the church.

Did Christ not seek all those who had been excluded from church? Did not Christ seek those who were expelled from society? So how could He say throw out those with whom you disagree?

There are those who feel that this passage from Matthew comes from the later church and not from Christ. How could Jesus have been speaking for the church when there was, at that time, no church? Would He really have said treat someone as a Gentile or a tax collector when His own actions ran counter to those words? Remember that on a number of occasions He healed Gentiles and even had dinner with Zaccaheus, a tax collector. Even Matthew (or Levi in some translations), one of the twelve was a tax collector. So there are problems with this passage. It is possible that these verses are the reflection and thoughts of the early church.

These words still have a meaning for this day and time, for this is a passage of patience and gentleness. When you feel that you have been wronged by someone, you should make the first approach. When you point out that fault that has produced the rift between the two of you, it is to be done in love and friendship. One should use such a visit as this for the purpose of regaining a lost brother or sister, not for humiliation or condemnation.

Even if this private visit fails, the individual should not be branded as anything publicly. Two or three others, chosen for their Christian grace, are to be told so that their urgings can be added. It is only if they fail that the whole congregation should be told but not so that they can thrust this individual from their company and compassion. Only the individual’s own actions can drive them from the church.

These passages offer us a glimpse into the problems of the early church. Even then, there were careless and wayward members; sometimes there were even open scandals. The epistles confirm this picture of the early church. When we re-read verse 18, we see that it has been fulfilled. The church sometimes determines what interpretations should be forbidden (bound) and which should be sanctioned (loosed). The church, both the early one and today’s varieties and versions, have not been as gentle in discipline as the Gospel reading proposed. The church many times has acted with cruel vigor. The curse and penalty discussed in 1 Corinthians 5:5 (“hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature (that his body; or that the flesh) may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5: 5) is not gentle and it has been carried far beyond Paul’s time.

Matthew has combined in this writing a call for Christian patience and a great yearning for unity in the church. (Adapted from The Interpreter’s Bible – a commentary in twelve volumes, Volume 7 – Abingdon Press, 1951)  There was truly a fear that there would be those whose work would destroy the building of the church and perhaps there was a need for such scripture. But fear should never drive what we do or we should we use fear to disenfranchise people.

We should never see the Bible as closed and only an answer book. To do so would be a grave error on our part. We will continue to use scripture to attack others and thus perpetuate violence against one another and justify harm in God’s name. When this is done, we limit God.

We must listen and read passages such as these very carefully and honor the questions and tensions that they raise in us. If we listen with “new ears” we always will hear something different from what we expect. What we should take from this passage is that we are encouraged to remove the divisions between people, not building up walls that divide. We are encouraged to unite people with Christian love and grace, not separate people through fear, hatred and condemnation. And do we not sing

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me….
I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now, I see.
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares we have already come.
T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…
and Grace will lead us home.

The Lord has promised good to me…
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be as long as life endures.

In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr., came to Memphis to help the garbage workers in the strike against the City of Memphis. On April 3rd, he spoke not knowing what would transpire the next day. On that night he said,

We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop…and I’ve seen the Promised Land…I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

On the next day, Dr. King was shot down on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Martin Luther King foresaw his death. He knew without a doubt that it was coming, and he had every right to be afraid. But he wasn’t. So why should we?

There can be no doubt that there was fear in the minds of the Israelites that first Passover night. What if the Angel of Death should not see the blood smeared on the door to their house? What if the Pharaoh would not heed this last warning from God and let them go? What were they going to find as they went out into the desert? There truly must have been fear in their minds. But they trusted God.

And just as they trusted God to lead them through the desert and to the Promised Land, so too must we trust in God. So too must we work to show others that God has not forgotten anyone. In the reading from Romans for today, Paul quiets our fears. We know that our future is secure through Christ’s death and sacrifice on the cross. The blood of the lamb smeared on the doors of the Israelite homes in Egypt is now the Blood of Christ soaked into the Cross on Calvary. With this, how can we be afraid of what might come before us.

We must, as Paul encouraged us from centuries past, to replace fear in this country with true Christian love. If we allow fear to control our lives, it will conquer our lives. And if fear conquers, it will breed anger; and anger will bring hate. We must bring, through our words, our deeds, our thoughts and prayers the light of the world that was brought in our lives when we first accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior.

In a time when disaster seems to bring out the worst and causes mankind to distrust mankind, we must work to bring out the best in people. In a world where people see disaster and question the very existence of a loving and kind God, we must use our skills and talents to show that God is a positive presence in every ones lives.

For me, Lexington is just one of many places that I call home. It is where I came to know Christ as a baptized infant. Though it was a place where I came to know one manner of fear that people used to control others, it was a place in which my journey with Christ also began. We each have such a place in our lives; we must work to make sure that others do so as well.

The Methodist way of preaching


This is a fascinating piece and brings to question what each of us does when asked to present the message.

John Meunier

By 1751, John Wesley had become concerned about a new kind of preaching that was taking hold in some Methodist societies. The men who were preaching this new way called themselves “gospel” preachers. The preached only the promises of Christ and none of the law. In Wesley’s account, indeed, they even mocked the original style of Methodist preaching that was careful to preach both law and gospel as warranted by the state of the hearers.

In his “Letter on Preaching Christ,” Wesley describes both the methods by which law and gospel were to be preached and decries the damaging effects of the gospel preaching. He points out that in several cities that once had thriving societies, the numbers had been seriously eroded by the gospel preachers. Without the starch of the law, Methodist zeal and discipline waned.

In contrast, Wesley highlighted the contrary example of a society in Yorkshire, which…

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“The Life You Lead”


Mediation for October 19, 2014, the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Laity Sunday

Exodus 33: 13 – 23; 1 Thessalonians 1: 1 – 10; Matthew 22: 15 – 22

I wrote some notes about these three passages a couple of months ago with the thought that I would be in the pulpit somewhere this Sunday. But in re-opening this file I noticed that what I wrote back then does not match what I am thinking today, which is often the nature and case.

I don’t know why this particular Sunday was picked to be Laity Sunday. I suspect that if one were to go back into the history of the denomination and examine old copies of The Discipline I think one might find a legal paragraph or two that mandates that lay speakers do one service a year in their own church.

I have a sense that such a rule/paragraph existed at one time and I know that it doesn’t exist today. In one sense, if it did exist, it would be a little impractical, especially in those churches with more than one active lay speaker. Of course, there really isn’t such a thing as a lay speaker anymore, having shifted to the title of lay servant and preaching or presenting the message is no longer the primary task of the lay servant.

But in one sense, having changed the focus from speaking to service makes every Sunday a Laity Sunday.

I was in a discussion with a friend the other day about the nature of the sermon and whether it served primarily as a call to respond to Christ or to provide information to the assembled people or some other purpose. I hope that we concluded with the idea that a particular sermon serves a particular purpose based on the situation and needs of those in attendance. But it also served as a call for each member of the church, the laity, to respond in some way.

Now, hold onto that thought for a moment. I will come back to it shortly.

In addition to time being set aside to recognize the laity of the church, this is also the time that many churches begin their stewardship campaign. And unfortunately most of these campaigns are simply pleas for money to operate the church and its functions for another year (see “Creative Stewardship” and “What Does Stewardship Mean To Me?” as my response to that approach).

Stewardship has to be more than simply giving money for the operation of the church. When everything is expressed in terms of operating the church, then I fear that we have elevated the building to a status similar to a false idol. This is not to say that the building is not important but then again, how many successful churches today are operating outside the framework of a permanent structure?

Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees, again looking for a way to entrap him. This time, the issue is taxation, an extremely sore point with the religious establishment who could not stand that money taken by the Romans was money that could have been given to them. And Jesus replies that one gives to the government what should be given to the government and one gives to God what should be given to God.

Let’s not get into a discussion on the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of citizenship (of course, back then the Israelites were not necessarily considered Roman citizens). But too many people, I think, use Jesus’ thought of giving to the government and giving to God as an excuse to not give to God because they have to give so much to the government.

But that can only occur when God is not the priority in your life, when His presence is a slot of time on Sundays and sometimes during the week. In the Old Testament reading for today, Moses challenges God to make His presence known to the people so that they will know and understand the special relationship they have with Him.

I think the problem is that, while God is among us today, we are blind to His presence. We speak of the unique relationship that we have but we don’t acknowledge it. And if we do not acknowledge it, we can’t be aware of it.

I wrote a prayer a few years ago that hung in our feeding ministry’s kitchen. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a copy of it on my hard drive. But I remember that one line I wrote acknowledged that Jesus Christ would be one of those who we feed that morning. How can we give to God what is God if we do not treat everyone as if he or she was a representative of Christ?

Second point, how can we see God if our lives are lived in such a way that it doesn’t reflect what we believe? When you read Paul’s words to the Thessalonians for today, note how he commends them for leading a life that shows the presence of Christ and what that means to others. Others see in the Thessalonians the way to live and the openness in which that live works.

And now I go back to the idea that every Sunday is Laity Sunday and that we, the laity, take with us at the end of the service is the knowledge that we serve Christ with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind.

You cannot split your life into parts as far as Christ is concerned. You either live it fully in and with Christ or you do not. And if you do not live it fully in and with Christ, then you had best do what Jesus Himself first called upon the people to do, repent of your ways and begin anew.

You cannot expect people to accept you as a Christian if your life does not show the love of Christ. What was it that cause the people to notice the behavior of the Thessalonians if it was not a change in their life?

In response to such a challenge last week, I wrote that “generosity requires a change in thinking.” Anyone can be generous with their money but how many people are generous with their lives?

On this Sunday, we need to understand that it is not a recognition of what we have done but rather what we are going to do. It is a recognition that the life we lead is one that leads to Christ and helps others find Christ in a troubled and disturbed world. It is a life that does truly lead to peace and justice for all.