“A Matter of Priorities”


This will be on the back page of bulletin of the Fishkill United Methodist Church for 25 June 2017, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A).  It is based on the scriptures – Genesis 21: 8 – 21, Romans 6: 1 – 11, Matthew 10: 24 ‑ 39


To paraphrase Charles Dickens, these can be the best times or they can be the worst times.  We live in a world that many people see as devoid of hope or opportunities.

And we wonder how we can change this; how can we bring hope and opportunity to the world?

We can do great things but that it is not possible when we see faith as an individual thing.  When we do that, these times become the worst times.

You see, when we see our faith only in terms of what it means for us, when we hold onto our faith and do not share it, it becomes useless to us.  And such a vision of faith makes it very difficult to understand the faith of others.

When we share our faith with others, it allows others to share their faith with us.  And in this sharing of faith, opportunities arise.

 

“What Does It Take?”


This will be on the back page of the Fishkill UMC bulletin tomorrow, 18 June 2017 – the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A).

Genesis 18: 1 – 15, (21: 1 – 7), Romans 5: 1 – 8, Matthew 9: 35 – 10: 8 (9 – 23)

One of the ethos of desert living was that one never turned away a stranger, even if that stranger might be an enemy.  The desert was far crueler than any individual or group of individuals might be and there was an understanding that you helped those traveling in the desert and they would in turn help you.

That runs very much against human nature.  We do not want to help our enemies or those who seek to do us harm.  As Jesus pointed out to the Disciples in today’s Gospel reading, people were going to find fault with them because the message the Disciples presented was often in contrast to accepted beliefs.  But Jesus told them to just do what they could do and let those results show the people the future.

This can be difficult, if for no other reason that it is so often in opposition to the “get it now” mantra of society.  Put as Paul wrote, the key is patience – do what is expected of you and you will receive the rewards at the proper time.

“A New Start”


This will be the back page for the Fishkill United Methodist Church bulletin on 11 June 2017, “Trinity Sunday (Year A).  This is also Peace and Justice Sunday.


The key point about Genesis, at least for me, is not how God created the world but why He created it.  The book of Genesis, in fact the entire Bible, is about our relationship with God and our relationship with others.

It would be worth considering the words of today’s Gospel reading.  Often called the “Great Commission”, Jesus commands the disciples to go and make disciples of all the people.  But in the Cotton Patch Gospel and the Message, this passage speaks of the disciples teaching people in the ways that they were taught.

We are called to begin anew, to teach others what we have been taught, and to work for a world of peace and justice.  In the words of Senator Cory Booker,

Don’t speak to me about your religion; first show it to me in how you treat other people. Don’t tell me how much you love your God; show me in how much you love all her children. Don’t preach to me your passion for your faith; teach me through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give.

In a world where people view confrontation and conflict as the solution, we need a new beginning.  We need to seek opportunities to seek justice in new and peaceful ways.  Today can be that day.

Where Do You Meet Jesus?


Ordinarily, I would wait until the end of the post before answering the question that I use for the title.  But in this case, I will answer the question at the beginning.

I think that we will meet Jesus in the most unexpected and unusual places.  We will meet him when we are not ready or when it is the most inconvenient.  This is an uncomfortable answer for many today, simply because we want to meet Jesus on our terms, not His.

And I do that because, in the first weeks of the Easter season, on the day of the Resurrection and in the days following, the disciples and followers of Jesus were meeting Him in some rather unusual or unexpected places.  And from the gloom and despair that came on Good Friday came the joy and restoration of the Resurrection.  The movement, the ministry that had been three years in the making would not end but would continue.

And it must have been even more frustrating to the political and religious authorities that the movement, which they felt they had crushed, was still alive.  But it had to be frustrating because Jesus never did things the way they, the “experts”, had said religion was supposed to be done.

There were rules and laws which dictated the behavior of the people; there were places in which one was to worship God.  And Jesus went outside the boundaries set by the rules and the laws.  He extended the ability to worship God to people who were routinely excluded, for any number of reasons, from worship.

Jesus didn’t do things the “right” way, the way prescribed by the laws and the rules established by the religious authorities.  He understood those rules and those laws, but more importantly he moved beyond simply following them because he also understood that the rules and laws which prescribed the proper behavior served as a limitation, preventing individuals from truly encountering God in their lives.

During this Easter season, I have been looking for quotes from John Wesley to put on the back page of the Fishkill UMC Sunday bulletin.  I was interested in the more well-known quotes, though I did use three of them.  But I also found two quotes that spoke to John Wesley’s mind set about religion in 18th century England (see the entries for May 7th and May 28th).

It seems to me that Wesley was the ultimate Type A person, he also understood that others were not.  And while he demanded that those who wanted to be “those people called Methodists” follow the rules of the Methodist society, I don’t think that he demanded that all people do so.

And how ever one views Wesley, I think it is important to realize that the vision that he had for the church required that the church go beyond its physical boundaries.  Just as Jesus went beyond the boundaries of the established religion, so did Wesley do that as well.  Faith cannot grow, individually or collectively, if it is limited in vision and scope.  One has to be very careful that the rules and laws that one creates as the basis for operation don’t become restrictions and boundaries that prevent you from moving.

We live in a time where, if there is a vision for the future it is a bleak one.  We live in a time where some feel that being one of God’s children is determined by your race, gender or sexual identity, or economic status.  The world that Jesus sought to open is becoming very much closed.  And as we seemingly stare longingly at the past, we need to see that the England in John Wesley preached could very well have undergone the same violent and bloody revolution that France had recently gone through.

But history tells us that England did not undergo the same revolution as France, in part because of the Methodist revival lead by John Wesley.

In the 1930, Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw a world in which laws became even more controlling and limiting.  And while the laws that were passed directly limited the rights of a few, they, in effect, limited the rights of all.  And this is something that we in this country know quite well (or at least we should know quite well).  And, if I understand what took place, the effects of those restrictive and prohibitive laws, filled with hate, changed the way that Bonhoeffer saw the world around him and the role of Christianity in that world.

Today, we are seeing the same things happen.  We are seeing the passage or the attempt to pass secular and sectarian laws which limit the rights and privileges of a few.  And we would be sadly mistaken if we think that such laws do not affect us, for as it has long been said, when we seek to enslave one, we enslave all.

And the true nature of Christianity is being challenged, challenged in such a way that the church may not survive.  Now, I do not know and have never understand that one can claim to be a Christian and yet work for the oppression of minorities, deny healthcare to people, favor the wealthy over the poor and disposed, or even cast out the strangers in our lands.  I cannot conceive of anyone claiming to be a Christian but still seek a society that ignores even the basic message of the Gospel.  The world in which these people live is a restricted and exclusive world, a world in which even Jesus is excluded.

We are on the cusp of a great change.  How we respond to the changes taking place will decide not only our future but the future for our children and this planet.

Personally, I will not live in that world and I will work to make sure that the world in which I live is one in which one can meet Jesus.  You see, if we are who we say we are, when others meet us and when we meet others, there we will meet Jesus.


Quotes of John Wesley for the back page of the Easter Season bulletins for Fishkill United Methodist Church (service starts at 10 am on Sundays, click here for the location of the church; you are more than welcome to come and worship with us!

23 April 2017 – 2nd Sunday of Easter

In August, 1739, John Wesley went  to Bristol, England to begin a Methodist revival.

The  Bishop of the Anglican Church, Joseph Butler, told him, “You have no business here. You are not commissioned to preach in this diocese. Therefore, I advise you to go hence.”

Wesley replied, “My lord, my business on earth is do what good I can. Wherever, therefore I think I can do most good, there must I stay so long as I think so. At present I think I can –do most good here. Therefore, here I stay.”

And thus, the Methodist Revival began in England.

30 April 2017 3rd Sunday of Easter

I look on all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty, to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation. John Wesley, Journal (11 June 1739)

7 May 2017 – 4th Sunday of Easter

Condemn no man for not thinking as you think.  Let everyone enjoy the full and free liberty of thinking for himself.  Let every man use his own judgment, since every man must give an account of himself to God.  Abhor every approach, in any kind or degree, to the spirit of persecution, if you cannot reason nor persuade a man into truth, never attempt to force a man into it.  If love will not compel him to come, leave him to God, the judge of all.                      John Wesley

14 May 2017 – 5th Sunday of Easter – Mother’s Day

Help me, Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church. . . nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I am in Thy Presence.

Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley (as this was Mother’s Day, the quote came from John’s mother).

21 May 2017 – 6th Sunday of Easter

May 24, 1738 – the moment we called Aldersgate (let’s face, what quote would you use for this Sunday?)

I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death – John Wesley,

28 May 2017 – Ascension Sunday

This is the first of the four points John Wesley used in beginning the Methodist Revival in 1738 –

Orthodoxy, or right opinions, is, at best, but a very slender part of religion, if it can be allowed to be any part of it at all; that neither does religion consist in negatives, in bare harmlessness of any kind; nor merely in externals, in doing good, or using the means of grace, in works of piety (so called) or of charity; that it is nothing short of, or different from, “the mind that was in Christ;” the image of God stamped upon the heart; inward righteousness, attended with the peace of God; and “joy in the Holy Ghost.”

4 June 2017 – Pentecost Sunday

I have seen (as far as it can be seen) many persons changed in a moment from the spirit of horror, fear, and despair to the spirit of hope, joy, peace; and from sinful desires, till then reigning over them, to a pure desire of doing the will of God.

“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

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

Three People


This will be the “back page” for the Fishkill UMC bulletin this Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent (Year A), 26 March 2017.  The reading is from Matthew 27: 33 – 44.


There were three men on that hill outside Jerusalem.  They hung on crosses where everyone could see them to remind the people there were rules to society and you paid the price when you broke the rules.

Two of the three committed crimes against people directly but the other’s “crime” was simply to question the roles of society, rules that excluded people because of actual and perceived differences.  To question the rules of society was considered as bad as robbery or murder.

We live in a similar society today.  There are those who suggest that there is a standard for society’s membership and if you don’t meet that standard, you don’t belong.  Many people want a society where obedience to the law is greater than concern for the people.

The one criminal echoed the views of society then and perhaps today that Jesus’ mission was to ensure that the status quo was maintained at all costs and that there were people tasked with that maintenance.  He and society see Jesus in terms of earthly power and might, of the rule of law without compassion.

But the other criminal understood that Jesus had sought to move beyond the “law”.  He understood that Jesus’ mission was never about him but about His Father and how people were treated in God’s Kingdom. And in understanding this, the second man asked for forgiveness.

Which of the two are you?  And what will you do?