“What Do You Do?”

This will be on the back page of the bulletin at Fishkill United Methodist Church this Sunday, July 29, 2018 (10th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B).

A few years ago, I wandered into a meeting dealing with chemistry and teaching.  A friend of mine quipped, “Well, speak of the devil!”  What could I say but, “No, I work for the opposition.”

When you stop to think about it, I shouldn’t have had the career as a lay speaker and pastor as I did.  After all, my training and background were in chemistry and teaching chemistry, areas that do not naturally lead to theological leanings (in fact, many think such a background would lead me away from such areas).

But I felt the call to lay speaking and the skills that I acquired as a chemist served to learn and understand other areas, and in that regard, allowed me to travel the roads of Kansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and New York.

When you think about it, none of the those who Jesus choose to be his disciples were qualified for the job.  But sometimes you don’t want those who are “experts” in their field to take on the task of bringing God’s Kingdom to Earth.  Each was called to that task, not because of what they knew, but because of who they were.

The same is true for us.  We are called by God because of who we are.  God then uses us, with the skills we have, to take us to new places in life.  It isn’t so much that we ask God what can we do but, rather, when do we start?

By the way, I am also the tenor. Tony Mitchell


“The Missing Ones”

Here are some thoughts for this coming Sunday (July 29, 2018, 10th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B).

One mark of a good leader is how he or she treats those they lead.  In the Old Testament reading for today, Uriah declines the offer for personal leave because the troops he is commanding would not get the same benefit.  It may be that the other Israelite commanders were of such a mind to leave the battlefield if the opportunity presented itself but that is something we do not know.

Even without being named, Uriah’s troops were a part of the narrative.  Now, we have all been taught that Jesus fed the multitudes not once but twice.  Still, the numbers that we are told were present only counted the men; any women or children that would have been there would not have been counted.  It was part of the culture of that time that women and children were considered “non-persons”, even though they were there.

The one thing that we know about Jesus’ mission was his desire to bring the missing, the forgotten, and the lost back to God.  It is still part of the mission today, even though there are many who would disagree.

How can we say that Christ’s mission is fulfilled, and the God’s Kingdom is at hand when there are people missing, forgotten, or cast aside?

~ Tony Mitchell


“Seeing Around the Corner”

This will be the Back Page for the 13 August 2017 (10th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A) bulletin at  Fishkill United Methodist Church.  It is based on the lectionary readings for this Sunday.

There is a common misconception that our ancestors thought the earth was flat.  After all, as early at 240 B. C., the circumference of the earth had been measured (with a remarkable accuracy).  But there was something about watching a ship disappear over the horizon into unknown territory (often written on maps as “Terra incognito”).

Even today, we seem more secure in holding onto what we have and are less certain about moving into the future.  Even though Joseph offers a promising vision of the future, it is one that his brothers cannot accept.

Peter is given a vision of great promise but his inability to focus on the vision and his grasp of the present sends him flaying about in the water.

We have been offered a great promise of the future but to reach it requires that we do things that we are not necessarily willing to do. There was a point in John Wesley’s ministry when he, John Wesley, didn’t think he had the ability to go on.  He was advised to preach about faith until he had it, and then because he had faith, he would be able to be able to preach faith.  This was the beginning of a ministry that looked around the corner and allowed Wesley to do extraordinary works for God.

As Paul points out, it is our faith that allows us to see around the corner, to peer into the future without fear.  So, because of our faith in God and His Son, we can not only see around the corner but venture around it into the future as well.

“Who Do You See?”

This will be the “Back Page” of the Fishkill United Methodist Church bulletin for 6 August 2017 (9th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A).  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Genesis 32: 22 – 31, Romans 9: 1 – 5, and Matthew 14: 13 – 21.

This is a continuation of the idea that I wrote last week.  Each of today’s Scripture readings has one thing in common and it is perhaps something you didn’t realize was a need of life.

John Wesley recognized that there were certain basic needs of life – a place to stay, food to eat, and adequate healthcare among them.  If these basic needs are not met, then the Gospel message has no meaning.  These needs are discussed in the Old Testament and Gospel readings for today.

But each of the readings for today also discusses the need for one’s own identity.  It is quite clear that Jacob wanted his own identity and it is quite clear that Paul worried about the split between the Jews and Gentiles and the acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  And we know that there were at least 20,000 people eating the meal that Jesus blessed that day.  In the society of Jesus’ day, not everyone was counted.  Some 15,000 individuals were invisible to society that day.

But they were not invisible to Jesus and they have never been invisible to God.  Jesus constantly went out of His way to make visible the invisible, to give identity to those without identity.

Ours has become the society of the invisible and the visible and some people are quite happy with that.  But what does it say when we see, or rather do not see, groups of people?  Who are we like when we do this?

“Which Path Will You Take?”

A Meditation for 2 August, 2015, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), based on 2 Samuel 11: 26 – 12: 13, Ephesians 4: 1 – 16, and John 6: 24 – 35

When the first “Cosmos” television series concluded, Carl Sagan suggested that society was at a crossroads. One path lead to the exploration of the universe and beyond; the other path lead to death and destruction through violence and war. At that time, we were still technically in the Cold War and President Reagan’s rhetoric did not help an image of some sort of nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Of course, shortly thereafter, the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and Soviet-style communism. Much to the dismay of many, I don’t think that we can create President Reagan for this outcome. Oh, I don’t doubt that he had a part in it but I don’t think that increasing military spending will ever be the answer because, sooner or later, you end up having to justify all that spending and that means going to war.

It is now some forty years later and we are again, I think, at another crossroads. And while one path perhaps leads to new discoveries, the other is still a path that leads to destruction. We are a society that still believes that the answer to violence is violence and we are becoming a society where concern for the other person is minimized. It seems to me that the rich and powerful will do whatever is necessary to hold onto what they have and to continue getting more, no matter what the consequences of their actions might be. And if we continue on this path, if we continue to hold onto the notion that we must hold onto what we have and gather more, then there will come a time, when there won’t be anything left.

Think about it; if one person gathered up all the resources in the world for themselves and allowed no one else to have anything, either nothing would get done or the other people would rise up in revolt.

The time is now to make a decision, not to try and gather everything we can for ourselves (and Jesus told at least parable about the outcome of such actions) but rather to insure that everyone has enough. And we have to realize that all the material stuff that you gather but will never use can never provide the solace and comfort that your spirit and soul needs.

And if your spirit and soul are not comfortable, there is no way that you can discover new things or seek new ideas.

Jesus spoke of the Bread of Life, the food that would feed your spirit. What we have to do is find ways to feed the spirit and soul of the people. We don’t have to lead them to Christ but show them the way. We cannot force people to follow Christ but we can show them the way.

So, as we come to these crossroads, we have to make a choice. One will give us a good life but it is a life that will be limited; the other choice will lead to a good life that goes beyond what we can see or envision. Which path do we take?

“The Path That We Walk”

The title for this message comes from my initial thoughts after reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians encouraging them to get out and walk on the road that God has called. For most people this is and can be a very daunting task; the road that God calls for you to walk may not be the road that you want to walk. The road that God calls for you to walk may not a smooth paved road but one filled with unknown dangers. And it is entirely possible that you will not even know the destination that lies at the end of the road that you will walk.

As we gather tonight, the Mars rover, “Curiosity”, is preparing to land on Mars. It is a special landing because there is a camera on board the rover and we should get video of the actual landing. There is danger in this because we are not controlling the landing, relying on computers to accurately guide the rover to a landing somewhere on Mars. There is a time lag of some 14 minutes so we are not able to immediately make changes in the path of descent. The only other alternative would be to have send humans on this flight but we have sort of decided that no human will go beyond the orbit of the moon for some time to come.

Our history of sending spacecraft to Mars is a checkered one to say the least. In the history of space exploration, our ability to successfully land a spacecraft on Mars has proven to not be very good. We have lost more spacecrafts than we have landed, so each attempt at landing is risky at best. And many times we don’t know why the landing failed; though I sometimes wonder if those who might live on Mars don’t want us bothering them. 🙂

I am looking forward to watching the video of the landing when I get back home, on the assumption that “Curiosity” landed safely and we are able to see videos of the landing. But I truly fear that if this landing is a failure, there will be cries from many that we need to stop wasting our money on such foolish projects. There are some who have voiced their opinion that, no matter whether the landing is successful or not, it is a waste of money.

I cannot help but wonder why, when the subject of government waste arises, it is always the social and scientific programs that are cut and not the military and defense expenditures. If we do not explore other worlds, if we do not stretch our imagination, it will be very difficult to walk a path other than one that only leads to death and destruction.

To say that you are not the least bit interested in what lies around the corner and down the road a bit is to say that you wish to go nowhere. Perhaps you are happy with the status quo but look around and tell me if what you see when you leave this place is what you want for the years to come.

Still, we do not have to leave home and travel to another planet to walk another path. It is quite easy to do so right here, for all we have to do is stretch our minds and open our imagination. It is common to quote Proverbs 29: 18 (without vision, the people perish) in times like these but perhaps it would be better if we though of Jeremiah 6: 16 instead.

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 the people said, “nothing doing. We aren’t going that way.”

Now, this is one of those readings where you have to know something about what was going on before interpreting the passage. The people of Israel had once again veered from the path of God and Jeremiah was warning them that trouble lied in the direction they were headed. God’s message was to return to the true path, the correct path, the path towards God. And the people would not have it. It was too much work to follow God. And later on God will say through Jeremiah that the people of Israel have nothing but contempt for God’s teaching. And contempt for teaching, for me at least, is the sign of a closed mind and a lack of vision.

The people came to Jesus seeking food and that is what He offered them but it was not the food that they wanted. They were unwilling to see beyond the loaves of bread and fishes that fed the multitudes and see the Bread of Life that was being offered to them. Oh, some will begin to understand, others will know later on but too many of those who followed Jesus that day didn’t want to veer from the path that they were walking.

Time and time again, Jesus offered a new path and yet the people wanted to stay on the same one. We read over and over again in the Gospels of how the people came in multitudes at the beginning but dropped out as they became aware of what was being asked of them.

But it is possible to see the new path. In the Old Testament reading for today, David mourns the loss of his child, the result of a rather ill-conceived union with Bathsheba. Because of his adultery and his lack of attention to his own duties, God has told him that this child would die. And David sought mercy from God, hoping against hope that God would save the child.

And when the child had died, David began his life again but this time the path he walked was a little different. He understood what had transpired and though the scriptures don’t necessarily say so, he decided to walk another path, one that would lead to the birth of Solomon

When John wrote his Gospel two thousand years ago because he thought that it was important for others to know what Jesus said. I would think that he was aware of what Paul was doing and his travels, travails, and punishment. So John wrote his Gospel in part to support the work of Paul.

But John didn’t write those words for Paul; he wrote them for those who would encounter Christ later. He wrote them so that we would know that, no matter what might happen when we walk with Christ, there would be provisions to support our efforts.

Just as we begin a new exploration of the planet Mars and hopefully venture into unknown parts of the solar system, so too do we have the opportunity for new ministries, new ways of making the Gospel message more than just words.

To change the world requires that we change the path that we walk, to walk with God and not away from Him. To walk this path, to change the direction of one’s life, means accepting Christ. And then, having accepted Christ, allowing one’s heart and mind to be opened so that the Holy Spirit can empower you. We have been given the Bread of Life so that we can walk this path. Let us rejoice in that and proceed.

“The Results of Our Work”

This is the message that I gave at the Bethel Home on 28 July 2002 (the 10th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A). The Scriptures were Genesis 29: 15 – 28, Romans 8: 26 – 39 (which I didn’t use because of the time frame for the service), and Matthew 13: 31 – 33, 44 -52.

Jacob loved Rachel. This is one of the basic ideas of the Old Testament, one that is used to illustrate the reason for Joseph being sold into slavery. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son because Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife. In the Old Testament lesson for today we find out that Jacob worked seven years for Rachel’s father Laban in order to marry her. But when the wedding feast was over, Jacob found out that he had married Leah, Rachel’s older sister.

As Laban explained it to Jacob, he could not marry Rachel until Leah, the older sister had been married. This was the custom of the time. So it was that Jacob, the trickster had been tricked. Most commentary points out the irony of this. For Jacob had tricked his older brother Esau and then his father Isaac in order to gain the birthright and inheritance that came with it. It is only fitting that the trickster gets tricked when the time came. But Jacob loved Rachel enough that married Leah and worked another seven years in order to marry Rachel.

I am not sure if Jesus was thinking of Jacob when he taught his followers the parables that were the Gospel reading for today. But the points that he made in the lesson could be related to what happened to Jacob. If our focus is on the immediate results of our work, we can easily lose track of what we seek.

What good does it do for us to sell all that we have just so that we can get the one pearl of value? How shall we get anything else? The treasures might be in the field that we buy but they are still buried and beyond our reach.

The mustard seed is small and almost impossible to see but the rewards gained when it is planted and allowed to grow are incomparable. The value of the yeast is not in what it is now but in what it does to the loaves of bread.

In the parables we heard today, Jesus pointed out that the keys to the kingdom of heaven were not in the things we do today. He made it clear time and time again that there was only one way to gain that entrance.

It is not always that easy. The things around us can easily sidetrack us from what we seek. But when we have made Christ the center of our life, when we let Christ be our guide, then our work takes on a different meaning. Instead of rewards gained now on earth, our rewards are the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

And at times when we might feel weak, at times when it seems like we cannot gain that reward, we are reminded that Jesus died so that the keys to heaven were guaranteed. The results of our work may never be enough, but if our focus is on Christ and his presence in our lives, then like the mustard seed which grows beyond what it is, then our work goes beyond the immediate and the keys to heaven become our reward.