“Seeing the Future”

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” for this coming Sunday’s (November 3, 2019, 21st Sunday after Pentecost, Year C) bulletin at Fishkill UMC. This and the next couple of weeks will be a focus on stewardship.

In the classic story, “A Christmas Carol”, Ebenezer Scrooge becomes a new man after seeing his future.  It would be interesting to know if Charles Dickens was thinking of Zacchaeus when he created this seminal literary character.  In one sense, Zacchaeus sees the future when he seeks Jesus that day two thousand years ago.

The prophet Habakkuk writes of concern for his people and is given of a vision that one can assume would be the coming of Christ.  As Paul notes, our future is found in Christ.

We set a path for our future when we decided to follow Christ.  In our decision to be a United Methodist, we accepted the ideas first proposed by John Wesley some 250 years ago.  Ours is a faith motivated by the desire to bring hope to the hopeless, bring healing to the sick, and find sanctuary for the homeless, the goals set forth by Jesus Himself that day in the synagogue in Nazareth.

There are those in this world who would qualify as a Zacchaeus or a pre-Christmas Ebenezer Scrooge.  One can only hope that they will find Christ or see the future as it lies before them and change their ways.

In the meantime, the rest of us are faced with a quandary.  We see the same desolation, pain, and suffering that Habakkuk saw.  But we know what he could only envision; we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to make a change in this world.  Evil can only exist if we allow it to exist.  Through the gifts we have been given, we have the resources to make the changes.

Stewardship is about using the gifts that you have been given so that the Word of God can be expressed, so that the homeless find shelter, the hungry get fed, the sick are healed, and the oppressed find justice.  Over the course of the next 30 days, take the time to think about how your future will look and what you can do to make it the better for the Kingdom of God.

~~ Tony Mitchell

“A Nonconformist In A Nonconforming World”

This is the message that I gave at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (Grace UMC, Newburgh) on Saturday, October 12th, for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The Scriptures for this Sunday were Jeremiah 29: 1, 4- 7; 2 Timothy 2: 8 – 15; and Luke 17: 11 – 19; I focused primarily on the passage from Timothy but used thoughts from the other two readings as well.

Last Sunday I got a note about an interesting book written back in the late 1960s. It was entitled “How To Be A Nonconformist: 22 Irreverent Illustrated Steps to Counterculture Cred from 1968”. It was written and illustrated by a 12-year old girl over in Connecticut. There were two things that were interesting about this book and its author; the author would go on to lead a decidedly nonconforming life and it was the only book that she wrote by herself.

At the end, after listing and illustrating the various rules that one needed to follow, she wrote “Now, you are ready to be a nonconformist.” You turned to the next page and there it read, “just like everyone else.”

I think that 1) that was a pretty good description of our society back then and 2) it still applies today. We seek to be an individual who does his or her own thing yet we end up looking and acting like everyone else. We find our individuality in the common things we share with each other. I am not sure that is being a nonconformist.

I would like to suggest that being a Christian today, in the greatest sense of the word, is to be a nonconformist. In fact, I know that many individuals, Christian and non-Christian today, who would object to that description because they are anything but nonconforming.

And yet, when you look at the work of Jesus as walked the roads of the Galilee you are looking at an individual who did not conform to the rules and regulations of His society. How many times did Jesus heal the sick by touching them, in direct violation of normal rules of society? How many times did He include women and children in His group, again a direct violation of normal behavior? If Jesus’ ministry was anything, it was nonconforming.

And Paul, whose instructions to Timothy are the center of today’s message, was just as much a nonconformist as Jesus was. As Saul, he would seek to persecute Christians because they went against the accepted norms of society. He was very much the conformist, seeking to arrest, persecute, and execute anyone who offered any view that didn’t conform with his society.

But, as Paul, he would continue the preaching the Gospel message that Jesus began and quickly became a nonconformist. And he was sufficiently nonconforming, sufficiently against the standards of society to warrant arrest and persecution. That’s why we heard in the passage this morning that Paul was writing from jail.

Even the early Methodist church was nonconforming; it represented an alternative way of life to the self-indulgence, hedonism, and social fragmentation of society. In a society where admission into God’s Kingdom was believed to be based on who you were and your status in life, the early Methodist church said that all were welcome.

Just as Jeremiah told the people of Israel, returning to their homeland destroyed by war and invasion, when many of what may call the best and brightest were taken away in captivity and slavery, that God had not forsaken them, that there was hope and that they would be able to rebuild their broken lives, so too did the early Methodist church speak out against the norms of society that said hope was impossible for all but a select few.

But we live in a world today where it seems that not much has changed. It is a world where it seems as if people no longer have any hope, that lives cannot be rebuilt and should just be thrown away, where your admittance into God’s Kingdom is still based on the statistical things and not one’s character.

The church must exist as a alternative to that world, it must not conform to the ways of society, it has to be a light to the world and a beacon of God’s coming kingdom that reaches beyond race and class, economic standards and social norms. The church through its people must show the love of God in a world where there is no love. The church through its people must show its concern for and friendship with the poor, the despised and vulnerable people of the world. It has to announce to all that God is present among all the people, including the marginalized, the abused, and the outcast and not just on a Sunday morning at a given hour of the day.

The church through its people must show a moral integrity and commitment to justice that is a prophetic witness to God’s holiness and righteousness. In all that is said and done, the people of the church must stand as an alternative to a society that relies on success, prestige, wealth and power as a means to happiness and salvation.

Paul was preparing Timothy to lead the church when he gave those instructions to him that we read this morning,

Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they’re not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul.

What is that Paul is saying here? He is saying that how we act has a lot to do with where Christ is in our lives and where we are in Christ. If our words are not backed by our actions, then our words are hollow. If we speak of God’s love but have no love, then we do not mean what we say. You cannot say “this is mine and you can’t have it!”

Now, here comes the “tricky” part. The Gospel reading for this weekend is the story of the healing of the ten lepers. The healing of the lepers was one of those acts that literally got Jesus in trouble because it violated so many of society’s (not God’s) rules. Jesus healed ten lepers, ten outcasts, and brought them back into society. And yet, only one of the ten truly understood what had transpired and he came back to say thank you.

I am sure that the other nine were healed just as well as that tenth one was but I wonder how long they stayed healed and cured. It is our nature to take something and not respond; ours is a society where it is me first and no one else (in part, I think that is why Paul was talking about what Timothy had to do).

What happened to those nine lepers who were healed by Jesus but didn’t come back and say thank you? Who knows? They were happy to have been healed and given a chance to get back into society. But the odds are that they didn’t change the way they lived and probably found themselves with the disease again as a result.

Society doesn’t require that they say thank you; God doesn’t ask for a thank you either. God’s grace is free and unlimited to everyone and you can do with it whatever you wish. He gives us His Grace freely and openly; we are the ones who need to be saying thank you, in our words, our thoughts, our deeds, and our actions to God for what He has done for us.

Each day, we are given the opportunity, to accept God’s grace and change the way we live. Instead of being one who tries to be a nonconformist by confirming to the wishes and desires of society, we can find our individuality and soul by being one with Christ.

The challenge for each one of us is to make that decision – shall I accept Christ or shall I continue along the path that I have walked. The first choice gives me the opportunity to be who I am; the second just makes me one of the crowd. The choice is yours today.

“Who Will Teach The Children?”

Here are my thoughts for this Sunday, the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, 17 October 2010. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Jeremiah 31: 27 – 34, 2 Timothy 3: 14 – 4: 5, and Luke 18: 1 – 18.

This is also Laity Sunday and I will be taking part in the message at my home church, Grace UMC. I hope to have a video of this message posted and when I do, I will let you all know.


I had thought of writing this from the perspective of three different people (a disciple, a parent, and a circuit rider) but it wasn’t flowing like I wanted it to. So it will be from a individual perspective. Still, I am a parent (and a grandparent), I am a circuit rider, and I hope that I am a disciple.

The key thing about the Scriptures for today, especially in light of this being Laity Sunday, is the need for people to learn what is in the Bible and how that that learning is going to be accomplished. Actually, the title of this blog should be “How will the children learn?” because we have “taught” our children already. Unfortunately, we haven’t taught them well.

I would be willing to bet that if someone were to take a survey of Biblical knowledge at this time next year, the results would be viewed as appalling. But why should that be a surprise? After all, most of us viewed the results of the recent Pew Survey with alarm and amazement. (See “What Do You Know? For some, apparently not much!”) How is it that we still, after years of teaching people about the Bible, have people who cannot name the four Gospels? Why, after all these years of teaching, do the majority of Christians still not understand what it is that they believe? And when you look inside the Methodist denomination, you still see a woeful lack of understanding about who we are as a denomination and what we believe.

We think we have taught our children but we taught them what we knew and since we do not know much, there is no way that they can know much either. Paul tells Timothy to remember what it was that his mother and grandmother taught him and to take those teachings to heart. And perhaps that is where we are missing the point. We see the words, we memorize the words, but we do not take them to heart. We do not make the words of the Gospel more than words in our minds; we leave them out of our heart and soul and thus we have not learned them.

The difference between teaching and learning, at least to me, is that learning is a two-way process. Teaching is the transmission of knowledge from one person to another. That’s all we are doing in our schools (both on Sunday and the rest of the week) right now. We teach our children and expect them to memorize the answers and then “spit” them back on the test.

But what do they learn? Six months after the test, how much of the knowledge that they so laboriously studied do they remember? How much of the confirmation class that many of our youth and young adults is still a part of their lives? If the truth were told, I don’t remember much, if any, of what I was taught in confirmation class back in 1964 and 1965.

There is a certain degree of responsibility when it comes to learning something. And what we do as teachers goes a long way to insuring that our students learn the material, instead of just knowing it. What good does it do to speak of God’s love for all mankind when the actions of a congregation do not reflect that love? What good does it do to speak of missions to the world when the people of the congregation are more concerned about the building?

I do not expect the laity of the church to totally understand the nuances of a Greek translation. But I do think that they should be able to understand what’s in a Bible and why there are different translations. I expect the laity of the church to have a basic understanding of what the church is about and what is expected of them.

God spoke to Jeremiah of a new covenant, not one given to the leaders who will share it with the people, but one written on the hearts and in the minds of each individual. Jeremiah writes of there being no need for schools where we teach others about God because the teachings will be written on our hearts.

That may remove the schools from the picture but that will not remove the learning. In fact, it will make what we do on Sunday (or whenever we might worship) even more important. It will become a time when there is meaning to the words that are said and feeling to the songs we sing. It will be a place where the Holy Spirit is alive again.

I am not sure where the church is headed in the coming days. I see so many churches who offer a muddled, escapist type of religion. They are so much like the judge in the Gospel reading who doesn’t want to hear the cry of the widow.

But the world outside the church walls is crying out and it would seem that many are not listening. They aren’t looking either. They wonder why their church is dying, or perhaps just lifeless. They wonder why there are no youth in the church anymore. The youth were taught in the church but they saw that the words spoken had no meaning and the songs had no feeling. So they left looking for meaning and feeling somewhere else.

Laity Sunday holds a special place in the United Methodist Church. We are the only denomination that puts an emphasis on the laity’s role in its operation. In the early days of the denomination in this country, it was the laity that spread the word from place to place. So, the answer to the question that frames this message is that it will be the laity that teaches the children. And if the laity does not know the answer, then it would be best that they seek it out themselves.

There is a new covenant found in Christ. It was promised by God through Jeremiah and it was lifted up by the disciples and the early teachers. Some were parents, some were leaders, but all were disciples. Our call today is to accept Jesus Christ in our hearts so that we can renew that covenant; our call today is to accept the Holy Spirit into our hearts, minds, and lives so that we can go forth into the world and teach the world and show the world the power of Christ. If we live the words that we speak then the children will not only be taught but they will learn as well.

“How Shall We Be Judged?”

This is the message that I presented at Tompkins Corners UMC for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, 24 October 2004.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Joel 2: 23 – 32; 2 Timothy 4: 6 – 8, 16 – 18; and Luke 18: 9 – 14.


It has to be hard being a Christian in today’s society. This is a society where there is a contradiction between the expression and the practice of one’s faith. On the one hand, we cherish religion along with all matters of private conscience. This is partially why we justly celebrate a strong tradition against state interference with private religious choice. But, at the same time, many are coming to the view that the interjection of religion into the public moral discourse is a tool of the radical right for reshaping American society. The result seems to be that while trying to keep religion from dominating our politics, we have created a political and legal culture that presses the religious faithful to be other than themselves, to act publicly, and sometimes privately, as though their faith does not matter to them. (Adapted from The Culture of Disbelief by Stephen L. Carter)

And if you should happen to express publicly your religious beliefs, you are looked upon as some type of aberration or weirdo. And if you happen to express the thought that you are evangelical in your outlook about Christianity, you are apt to be labeled a conservative and perhaps Neanderthal in your outlook.

With many conservative Christians expressing their views openly and actively, we see a contradiction between what they are saying and the teachings of the Bible they say they support. It is hard to say you are a Christian when people think that Christians want to dictate all factors of other people’s lives while being free to do whatever they please. It is hard to say that you are Christian in today’s society when people think that Christians feel that wars in the name of God are the solutions to the problems of the world. How is that we can say that Jesus is the Prince of Peace but so vividly celebrate war?

We live in a society today where Christians appear to be more like the Pharisees in the New Testament rather than the disciples. We live in a world where the actions of Christians are to persecute or at least ignore the least deserving of society, not bring them up in stature and thought.

There is clearly a contradiction between the Jesus, His words and His actions and the words and actions of today’s public Christians. The problem is, of course, that those who might understand this contradiction too often are silent, not willing to point out the contradiction. And this leads those seeking to find an answer in this world with very little choice.

The primary issues for Christianity in today’s society were birthed when Jesus spoke the profoundly prophetic words found in Matthew 25: 32 – 46. These scriptures reveal God’s heart for the poor, the sick, the needy, and the oppressed, not just in the days two thousand years ago but today.

I have always said that I saw Jesus as one of the world’s first revolutionaries. The religious and social structure of his day hated and crucified Him because of His actions, words, and deeds. He rebuked the religious leaders of His day because they embraced the letter of the law instead of the Spirit. He saw the hypocrisy of their lives and rebuked them. They saw in His life everything that they opposed. He challenged the religious orthodoxy of His day. He aligned Himself with the poor and the oppressed. He liberated women and minorities. He healed on the Sabbath and forgave adulterers and prostitutes. He associated with drunks and other social outcasts. He loved sinners and called them to be with Him. For all that Jesus did, He was hated. (From a note the Buzz Flash website by Gary Vance of Loretto, TN – "Wasn’t Jesus a Liberal?")

This is the Jesus that I learned about growing up and through my own experiences. Yet, this is not the Jesus that I see through the many conservative Christians today.

And I think that is where we have a problem. We live in a society where many feel that it is the Pharisee in today’s Gospel reading who should be rewarded, not the repenting tax collector. We see those who follow the rules and do the right things as the ones who should be rewarded. We cannot understand how it is that the tax collector, one of the dregs of society, who is openly contrite and seeks God’s forgiveness for his sins, receives the rewards of God’s heaven.

But the problem with this is that the Pharisee expects a reward because of what he has done. The tax collector expects nothing because he knows that he is unworthy of any reward. Second, the Pharisee’s expectations are self-centered. All of his actions are based on that expectation that he will gain something. All of his actions are done for his benefit, not for the benefit of God.

The letters that Paul wrote to Timothy were among the last of his letters to anyone. Paul knows that his time has come and that shortly he will get his reward. The difference between Paul and the Pharisee in today’s Gospel is that Paul has, first, worked constantly for the benefit of God and, second, any rewards that he might receive only come at the end of his life, when his work is done. Contrast that to the Pharisee who is expecting his reward now. In today’s vernacular, the Pharisee is seeking instant gratification for something that will only come at the end of one’s life.

On the other hand, the tax collector knows that his actions have done damage to others. He knows that because of his actions, harm has come to others. He knows that there are no rewards for him, now or later, unless he repents of what he has done.

The prophet Joel is speaking of the rewards that the people of Israel receive. But they are rewards received because of repentance. As with most of the prophets, the people of Israel have rebelled against God, going against the direction that He has set for them. The people of Israel feel that they have a better understanding of what God wants than God does Himself.

And we know through history that any one individual or group who deems themselves worthy enough to know the mind of God probably knows nothing. And the results of actions that are based on nothing generally result in nothing being accomplished. That is the case with the people of Israel prior to this passage. They have presumed to know God’s will and have gotten into trouble.

But the interesting thing to note is this time; the people of Israel repent. They come back to God and seek repentance. God will always grant repentance and with repentance comes rewards. Repentance comes with humility. You cannot simply ask God to forgive you if your heart does not hold the same thoughts as your mind. Humility is necessary.

The tax collector is clearly humble in his actions as reported in the Gospel; the Pharisee is not. This is not made clear to the people of today; too many people feel that there is no need for repentance, there is no need to act humbly before God.

They have done what it is right, even if they have ignored those around them less fortunate in mind, body, and spirit. They have come to expect that their adherence to the letter of the law transcends their need to adhere to the Spirit. They have allowed their pride and arrogance to allow them to demand things from God.

But we have to stop and think for a minute. Why exactly did God send His Son, our Lord and Savior, to this world? Why exactly is the centerpiece of our being Christian a wooden cross? In the times of Christ, to die on the cross was the most shameful way to die; yet, we hold that one death in glory. In the times of Christ, those who held to the views that they knew best for their people were put to shame by an itinerant preacher from Galilee who served the people first rather than expected the people to serve Him. As we go through this day, as we go through this week, as we prepare to think of the future of this church, perhaps we should each ask ourselves which of the two men on the corner is the best representation of our lives to date? Which of the two would we rather be? Today is not about judging others, it is about considering how we shall be judged.

“Our Visions, Our Future”

This is the message that I presented at Walker Valley UMC for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, 28 October 2001.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Joel 2: 23 – 32; 2 Timothy 4: 6 – 8, 16 – 18; and Luke 18: 9 – 14.


Before John Kennedy went before the United States Congress in May of 1961 and present his plan for the greatest scientific challenge of my generation’s lifetime, he spoke at Rice University in Houston about the reasons for going to the moon. I have always wanted to find a copy of that particular speech, in part to see if he quoted George Mallory and to find out if what I have in mind about that speech is correct. In giving reasons why we should go to the moon, we are reminded of what George Mallory said about climbing Mt. Everest.

When asked why he wanted to and continued to attempt climbing Mt. Everest, Mallory gave a very simple answer, “Because it is there.” And when we think about going to the moon, we wanted to go because it was there. But President Kennedy also asked, in regards to wanting to go to the moon, “Why does Rice play Texas in football?”

One reason why Rice played Texas in football back then is that they were both members of the Southwest Athletic Conference and it was a requirement that they play each year in order to determine the champion of the league. Of course, back then Texas was a regular powerhouse and the game with Rice, be it in Austin or Houston, was generally a victory for Texas. But Rice continued playing each year because it knew that sometime in the future it would beat Texas.

Having a vision of the future, knowing that there is hope is what life is about. Life in and of itself means nothing if we have no vision of the future. Was it not Isaiah who wrote that a people without a vision of the future have no future?

That is why we are holding our Charge Conference next week. One reason is to see the future as the United Methodist Church sees it. Another is set the future for this church through the election of the Administrative Council officers and members of the various committees.

The work of the Trustees over the past two years has done a lot towards insuring that there will be a Walker Valley Church building. We are still looking for two or three people to serve for the next three-year term. Those who serve on the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee will be charged with meeting with the District Superintendent over the next few months to decide on who will replace me as the pastoral leader. This committee will be looking to you for input on this most critical decision. Again we are looking for two or three people to serve on this committee for the next three years. Finally the Committee on Lay Leadership will continue to ask, as they have done these past few years, for people to serve in the areas of the church.

We need to understand that a vision of the future is not a mission statement. A vision of the future is about where we are going and how we intend to get there. A vision statement is more about where we want to be rather and how we intend to get there than anything else. It is a statement about what one thinks the future will be.

When I first read the passage from Joel for today, I didn’t know what I would do with it. While it speaks of the future, it also speaks of death and destruction and it makes it seem like God will vent his wrath on his people. But I believe that God will not do that and I struggled with what Joel was trying to say.

But as I read the passage again and studied some commentary, I came to understand that what Joel was speaking about was how faith comes to help us view the future. The time in which Joel wrote his prophecy was a time of fading glory for Israel. It was one of those times when the people of Israel had forgotten who God was and what their relationship with him was.

When we hold onto our faith, there is a bright and promising future. But if we let our faith slide, if we let other things distract us, then things are not so promising. That is what Paul was saying to Timothy.

When you read the words Paul wrote in this passage of the second letter, you can almost feel the pain that Paul must have been suffering, especially when he was first arrested and all those whom he had encouraged and supported neglected him. But Paul had kept his eye towards the future, towards the vision he had received on the road to Damascus. Paul knew where his future lie and he knew that as long as he kept his focus on that vision, he would reach that future.

Paul’s vision of the future was based on faith. Joel knew that a future of hope and promise came from a faithful life. But we have to be careful that we don’t get so burdened by our faithful life that we forget what faith is about. That is why Jesus made such a point about the Pharisee in the Gospel reading today.

The Pharisee was more concerned about his faith than he was his relationship with God. It isn’t one’s acts that determine one’s faith but rather how one’s faith determines one’s acts. The Pharisee was quite content to list what he had done as evidence of his faith but those things that he had done showed that he had no concern for anyone else. The tax collector was aware that he was not worthy of God’s mercy; he was aware of who he was and that it was necessary for him to have God in his life. Jesus pointed out that it was the tax collector’s prayer that was answered because he made sure that God was first in his life.

The vision that we have for the future must come from our faith. And it is from that faith that our actions will come. Next week, as we meet for Annual Conference, we will begin taking steps towards establishing a vision of the future, the vision of our future. It is a vision based on faith, a vision that comes from our heart.

Planting Gardens

Here are my thoughts for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost.  This is also Laity Sunday and I am presenting the following as part of the message.


While I live in New York and consider it home, I still call Memphis, Tennessee my home. It is where we ended up after my father retired from the United States Air Force and where my mother still lives today. But if home is where your roots are or where they run deep and strong, then the state of Missouri is also on that list of places that I call home.

It isn’t just because I started college there or that I started a family there. When I was one year old, my family planted a Christmas tree in my grandmother’s garden. And to the best of my knowledge, that tree is still growing on the northern edge of the property in St. Louis that was for so many years the center of my life.

The Christmas tree

The north side yard at 3603 Union (taken in July, 1952). The young spruce tree was called “Tony’s Christmas Tree”.

2nd view

Another view of the northern boundary of the property (looking at the northwest corner of the property.

For as long as I can remember, my grandmother’s house in St. Louis County was a place that we could always go. It was my grandparent’s home after my grandfather retired from the United States Army and it was the place that grandchildren and great-grandchildren could come and play. It was an anchor in our lives that enabled us to roam the country and yet never feel lost. The one thing that I remember most about that home was the garden that my grandmother started when they first moved in. This was not your typical flower box garden but an effort that spanned the perimeter of the 1/4 acre property. It was, I think, my grandmother’s statement that this is where we are going to live and this is where we are going to stay.

I learned many things over the years watching my grandmother work in her garden. But the greatest thing I learned was what love and care can do. Trees do not grow tall and straight nor will flowers survive generation after generation if there is no love present in the garden.

around 1985

The north side of 3603 Union some 30 years later – that is my grandmother

Ann never met my grandmother but I am sure that if they had met they would have bonded immediately, sisters of the soil so to speak.  And I can hear my grandmother today encouraging me to get out there and help Ann in the garden.

In his letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 3: 14 – 4: 5) Paul encouraged him to remember the love and care that surrounded him when he was growing up. Remember how you were raised as you bring the Gospel message, Paul wrote. He was also encouraged to “proclaim the message, be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable, convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.” (2 Timothy 4: 2 ) I would think those are almost the same words that John Wesley and Francis Asbury used when they sent out the first circuit riders some two hundred and sixty years ago.

Circuit riders were usually laymen who rode on horseback or in a carriage from town to town bringing the Gospel message to the various Methodist societies of the time. Today is Laity Sunday and we are celebrating that heritage of the United Methodist Church. The Hudson River Valley is home to some of the earliest and oldest circuits in the history of the Methodist Church.


Figure 4 – “Methodist Circuit Rider” – engraving, early 19th century (from 200 Years of United Methodism – An Illustrated Historyhttp://oldwww.drew.edu/books/200Years/gallery/gal050.htm)

The early church and its circuit riders faced many problems helping this new church grow and survive. In the early days of this country, when we were still part of England, Methodists were considered part of the Anglican Church. They were able to receive communion in their local churches.

But, as the American Revolution began to separate colonies from the mother country, so too did Methodists separate from the Anglican Church. And, when many Anglican priests left for England because of the Revolution, there was no way for Methodists could receive the sacraments. As laymen, circuit riders had no authority to baptize or offer Holy Communion.

In today’s Gospel reading (Luke 18: 1 – 8), we heard the cries of one person for justice and the action of a judge to bring about justice, even if that is not what he wanted to do.  That was the cry of the American people some two hundred and sixty years ago.  Without the sacraments, there was a feeling of incompleteness and emptiness that no circuit rider, however good a preacher he might be, could fill.

It was a problem that John Wesley struggled with for a long time. Wesley was a firm believer in the rules of the Anglican Church. As such, he did not feel that he had the power or the authority to ordain ministers who could administer the Holy Sacraments. But the Anglican Church in England would not answer the cries of the American people, so Wesley took it upon himself to solve the problem by ordaining Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke as bishops.

Thus the Methodist Episcopal Church was formed in 1784. But even then there were still too few elders to offer the sacraments on a regular basis to the increasing number of Methodists in this country. During the decades of the circuit rider and laity led church services, communion was offered on, at best, a quarterly basis. Eventually most Methodist Churches were served by ordained elders. (Adapted from This Holy Mystery) But without the use of circuit riders and the laity, the Methodist Church would not have grown in those early years. And even today, there are many times when lay speakers are called upon to carry the Gospel message to the people of the church.

As we celebrate the past and the growth of the church through the years, so too do we look to the future. Today Grace Church is planting three gardens. Each of these gardens, in their own way, will have roots that run deep. Each of these gardens will be nourished by the love and care that comes from the members of the church. The first garden is in the corner of the parking lot and will be a place of memory and meditation. The second garden will be in the plot of land between Broadway and the parking lot. This will be a garden for the future, planted by our children. With love and care, these two gardens will have roots that run deep and strong and will last long after we are gone.

The third garden also has roots that run deep and strong. It is the garden found in our soul. It is the garden that grows when we bring the Holy Spirit into each of our lives. In today’s Old Testament reading (Jeremiah 31: 27 – 34), we heard Jeremiah announce to the people there was a new covenant, a new agreement between God and the people. Just as He watched the people tear things down and allow evil to be in the land, so too will He now watch people build and plant.

None of these gardens will grow if we do not tend to them with love and care. This is especially true when it comes to tending the garden of the spirit. For, if people hear false words or follow their own desires, they will quickly turn away. Paul warned Timothy about this and his words are prophetically true today. Words of false hope or selfishness will kill gardens but words of truth guided the Spirit will help the garden grow.

So, as we come to the Table this morning, we remember that night some two thousand years ago when the disciples gathered with Jesus in the Upper Room. We hear the words that have been spoken throughout the ages at gatherings such today; that is where our roots lie. As we celebrate our heritage as Methodists today and in the coming days, so do we also celebrate the presence of Christ in our lives.