“What Do We Do Next? – Thoughts on Easter, 2017


There are two parts to this message – the first being random thoughts on the preparation of a message; the second being the actual thoughts.  I think the first is needed to set the tone for the second.

Random Thoughts on The Preparation of a Message

The first few times that I gave a message I used specific scripture readings.  I was only preaching once or twice a year so this method worked (and it is something that I suggested beginning lay servants do as well).  This works well when you have sufficient time to prepare and think through what you want to say and do.

But I quickly found out that this didn’t work as well when you had to do it on a weekly basis.  (The first lay speaking assignments that I received were on a multi-week basis and not spot assignments; not the assignments a typical lay servant would receive today.)  So, I turned to the lectionary for the basis of my scriptures; first using the Common Lectionary outlined in The Guide to Prayer (published by the Upper Room) and then with the Revised Common Lectionary.

But whether I was using specific readings or readings from either lectionary, I wanted to make what I said a connection between the readings and what was taking place at that time and place.  I also made the decision to use all three of the lectionary readings (which is something that I have suggested beginning lay servants do not do).

But the Holy Week readings have always been, for the lack of a better word, a dilemma for me.  Over the years, I have begun to understand how it is all set up and the need to know what is happening at the church where I am to work out what I shall say.  And I came to the decision that works for me is to look at the complete story, not simply the story expressed by the Gospel writers.

I have, with unspoken thanks to others, also seen that there are other ways to give the message and have tried on occasion to take the message outside the confines of the pulpit.

And so, it is that I come to this Easter Sunday.

Thoughts on Easter Sunday, 2017

I assume that you, dear reader, are familiar with the Gospel readings for this Sunday (if not, the lectionary readings for today are Acts 10: 34 – 43; Psalm 118: 1 – 2, 14 – 24; Colossians 3: 1 – 4; and John 20: 1 – 8) so I am going to focus on the setting and the thoughts of those that were there and try to put where we are today, socially and spiritually, into that context.

Keep in mind that this day is a nexus.  It marks the end of one story and the beginnings of a new story.  We have the benefit of knowing this; those that were there that day do not.  But even today, we are faced with as much of an uncertain future as those who had followed Jesus two thousand years ago and, perhaps, we are, just as they may have been thinking then, wondering what it is that we do next?

Easter Sunday begins in a cloud of doubt and fear.  Jesus is dead, buried in the tomb, and the disciples are in hiding, fearful for their lives and not certain what, if anything they can do.  Everything they have done for three years has been destroyed.

Can they go home and pick up where they left off three years before?  Will they even be welcome?  What do they say to those who question their friendship and devotion to one now considered by religious and political authorities to be rebel and a criminal?  Can it ever be safe to talk about what they did when someone asked them where they have been or what they have been doing?

And what of all the people with whom they worked or encountered?  What do they say to all those people who were healed, fed, or comforted?  Was it a trick or a con?  What will they say to those who come to them now, seeking the same healing, the same comfort, or seeking to be fed?

Right now, the only answer that they have is that HE is not here anymore so you must go somewhere else.

Is this not how so many of us feel today?  We see our world being destroyed.  Our land is being taken away by corporate and political systems our water, our air is being poisoned, often with the support of religious authorities.  Religious and political authorities seemingly want to tell us what to think and how to act (all while they themselves think they are immune to the same laws).

And the church, which in the past was a sanctuary of hope for those without hope, a refugee for those cast out by society, has become a mirror of the church two thousand years ago, exclusive and restrictive, saying to many, “go away, you do not belong here and you are not welcome.”

The person who is called Jesus in these churches is not the Jesus who lives in me.  I do not know the person who would say to any person, “go away or you are not worthy.”  I do not know the person who would say that wealth is good and one should see all one can, even if it means that others go hungry or become sick or have no place to live.

The Jesus that I know, the Jesus that is in my heart and soul is the one who let the children come to Him at a time when children were ignored.  The Jesus I know feed the hungry, even when it seems as if there was not enough for one person.  The Jesus I know healed the sick, even when doing so would make it impossible for Him to enter the Temple because he had become unclean.  The Jesus I know looked at the person and not the law; he gave meaning to hope.

And somehow, I think those where the thoughts that had to have been in the minds of the disciples and the followers that first Easter morning.  And yet they were probably also asking what they were going to do next.

And then it happened.  The word came, first with uncertainty but then with clarity that the tomb was empty and Jesus was not there!  The word was passed from one to the next that He was alive and all that He had said and done for three years was did, in fact, have meaning.  And it meant that there was a future.

It would be a future that became a vision and then a reality, first by the Twelve and those that were there at the beginning, then by Paul, and then by generation after generation of believers until today.  It would be a message that reached the limits of the known world.

It would be a future expressed by John Wesley.  In a world of danger and despair, of revolution and revolt, John Wesley would gather together a band of friends and work out a system that would offer hope.  It has been said that England at the time of John Wesley was on the verge of the same violent revolution that swept over and through France.  And yet, England remained calm, perhaps because John Wesley saw that the way to avoid violence was to remove the causes of violence.

How is today not unlike the world in which Jesus began His ministry or the world that John Wesley saw when he began what became known as the Methodist Revival?

And, on this day, when our doubts and fears are removed as easily as the stone was rolled away from the tomb, is it not clear what we must do?

It will take more than one day (remembering that Easter is a season and not just a single day on the church calendar).  It will take a lot of effort; even if Jesus had not predicted the violent deaths of all but one of his disciples, I am sure that they knew it would not be easy.

It will make us outcasts in society but no more so than John Wesley who would be barred from preaching in churches or even the early Methodists in this country who could not build churches of their own.

But we who know the truth know in that truth we will be set free.  And we know that what we do will change the world, even if we are not here when that change comes.

So, we remember why Jesus came and we remember that death could not keep him imprisoned.  We remember that the lives of people were changed two thousand years ago and through the ages until today.  And then we will know what we must do.

“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?

“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.

“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.