Does Your Room Have an Exit?

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” for this coming Sunday, 26 January 2020 (3rd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A). Service starts at 10:15 am and you are always welcome.

At first, I couldn’t understand why the Old Testament reading for this Sunday began by focusing on the Birth of Jesus.  But the passage was also about a new light shining in the world.

The first to visit the Baby Jesus were the shepherds, the outcasts of society.  Throughout His ministry, Jesus reached out to the outcasts, the misfits, the “outsiders”.  His was a light in a darkened time.

Then came the Magi.  Strangers from a different country, they represented the light of the mind.  They sought to understand the light they saw in the sky.  Their  heritage was teaching and exploration.  The hallmark of Jesus’ ministry would be teaching and healing.

A few years later, when He was 12, Jesus would be in a dialogue with the Elders  in the Temple.  Think very carefully about this; in the society of that time, what 12-year-old boy would have even been allowed to be in the temple, let alone discuss the Scripture with the Elders?

Jesus’ ministry was a different ministry, one that saw the world differently.  And yet today, many individuals want to build walls  to keep out the strangers and keep new ideas from entering our minds.  But  they do not realize that building such walls creates a dark prison for them, a room with no exit.

We can build these rooms; they are quite easy to make.  But you cannot grow, you cannot, by any imagination, you cannot be free.

But if we tear down the walls and let the light in, we can grow, we can have a future, and we can be free.

~~Tony Mitchell

Now it is your turn!

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for this coming Sunday, the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany (Year A)

. . . it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not the object of our knowledge but the cause of our wonder — Based on Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, author 0f The Orthodox Way  

When I was in college and on my own (as it were), I figured that I would be able to sleep late on Sunday mornings and skip out on church.  But then I discovered that I needed to be in church.  College brought up a lot of questions, some about chemistry, some about calculus, one or two about English and history.  But there were also a lot of questions about who I was and I found that the answers to those questions came when I was in church. 

I was lucky.  The pastors that I meet and worked with in college didn’t give me the answers to those questions.  They showed me the way to find the answers on my own. 

There were some pastors, of course, who will tell you what the answers to the questions are and that you are not to question those answers.  I truly believe that had these individuals been my guide, I would have, as so many are doing today, left the church and the faith.

The invitation was and is always to “come and see”.  John the Baptizer told Andrew, Andrew told Peter, they told others.  We don’t know how many were invited and we don’t know how many accepted the invitation except to say that enough did so that some two thousand years later, someone invited you. 

Isaiah notes that we are given a set of skills.  Today, in the midst of all the troubles in the world, when there are so many people telling us that there is only one way and it is their way and that only a select few will be allowed to take that path, we stand here, with our skills and our knowledge, able to help those with questions find the answers. 

Many years ago, the Disciples told others to come and see what they had found. that they have found the Messiah and you should come and see for yourself.  Today, two thousand years later, it is our turn to say, “we have found the Messiah; let us help you find Him for yourself.”

~~Tony Mitchell

“Coming Home”

This will be the “Back Page” of the bulletin for this coming Sunday,
January 27, 2019 (3rd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C).


How does it feel to come home when you have been on vacation or away for several days? I would think that the Israelites in the OT reading for this Sunday would have been very happy.  Because now, freed from the Babylonian captivity, they could  begin rebuilding their community. 

Rebuilding the community required everyone work together, each using their own skills and talents.  This was the theme that Paul echoed in many of his letters.  The new Christian communities were groups of individuals with multiple skills and talents united by their common belief in Jesus as their Savior. 

But even from the beginning, when Christians met in the homes of believers, there have been some who said it wasn’t enough to just have a common belief; one must also have a common look.  Today it seems as if anyone who is different because of their race, economic status, and/or gender is not welcome.  It is as if the sign on the door reads, “We believe in Christ, but we don’t want them in our church, house or country.”

And if any of God’s children are not welcome, how can God be welcome?

In a little over a month, our denomination will decide who can call the United Methodist home.  It will be a decision of both mind and heart; it will be a choice between the darkness of fear, ignorance and hatred and the light of God’s Grace and Love through Jesus Christ.

There are many seeking God’s home; can we offer them that sanctuary?        

~~Tony Mitchell


This will be the back page for the Fishkill United Methodist Church bulletin for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany (Year B), 21 January 2018.  The service begins at 10 and you are always welcome.

As I thought about the Scriptures for this Sunday, I saw a connection between the three that dealt with time.  This thought lead me to a quote from Sir Winston Churchill,

“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”

Paul is telling the Corinthians that time is of the essence and they cannot waste it. The death of John the Baptizer was the sign that Jesus was to begin His ministry.  And note that James and John immediately left their nets to join the group.

Almost every prophet chosen by God to give His message to the people of Israel didn’t want the job.  For whatever reason, they did not want to do the job.  The story with Jonah begins when Jonah is given a second chance.

Throughout the Gospels, we hear of people being called to follow Jesus and losing the opportunity because they thought they had time to do it tomorrow.

If you are called today, will you wait?  Or will you take this opportunity, this moment in time to share the Gospel message?                                     ~ Tony Mitchell

Creating A Plan Of Action

A Meditation for 24 January 2016, the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C). The meditation is based on Nehemiah 8: 1 – 3, 5 – 6, 8 – 10; 1 Corinthian 12: 12 – 31, and Luke 4: 14 – 21

I happen to be a chemist by training. And when I began teaching after graduating from college I found that chemical education was something that interested me. This, along with bio-inorganic chemistry and statistics, became the foundation for my doctoral studies and later research.

My liturgical skills and interests came later in life but were, would be, and are supported and enhanced by the liberal art foundations provided by my research in chemistry and chemical education.

One thing that a lot of people don’t understand about teaching, be it chemistry, mathematics, English, or any other subject, is that it takes more than just knowing the subject (see “Thanks a lot, Henry!” and “The Crisis in Science and Mathematics (1990)”). You have to know how people think and learn and you have to have a plan.

And any plan you create has to take into consideration the skills and abilities of all those involved, not just a select few, and the resources that you have to work with. What will work in one setting is not necessarily guaranteed to work in another.

So when we look at the Old Testament reading for today, we should see two things.

First, teaching was involved. The people were coming back to Israel after years of exile in Babylon and they had pretty well forgotten the basis for their society, their country, and their lives.

Second, everyone, not just a select people, were taught. There is a specific reference to women being present as well as all those who were capable of understanding (which would be the youth of the community).

As I have written over the past few weeks, there is a crying need for a 21st century revival and it has to begin with teaching what it means to be a Christian today. This is necessary because so many churches today have changed the meaning of Christianity to meet their definitions (see “The Four Gospels of American Christianity”) rather than the ideas expressed throughout the Bible.

It is important to note that every one will be involved, not just a select few chosen by some establishment elite. And, as Paul pointed out to the Corinthians, each person will be called to utilize the skills they have as best as they can. Often times, we ask people to do things that for which they are not capable of doing or doing it at a level they cannot sustain. Some people are going to have to share in the tasks as well as understand that each person does what they can. Nor can we get upset because it would seem that some don’t do as much as others. The point is that we work together, using our skills and abilities to achieve the goals set forth by Christ that day when He stood up in His own synagogue and read the Scripture.

We are very much like the people who gathered that day to hear Nehemiah and the others. Our world is on the verge of destruction and we have been called to rebuild it; we have forgotten the nature of our faith and what that means in today’s world.

We are world of differences but that differences that when working together make the world a better place.

Each community of believers must and can create their own plan of action. And we must know what skills and abilities each member has, for what what community does may not be what another community does.

But the basis for action lies in the words of Christ first expressed in the synagogue two thousand years ago. We now are called to complete that plan.

“Parts of the Church”

I am at Sloatsburg United Methodist Church again this Sunday, the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany. Services there start at 10:30 and you are welcome to attend. The Scriptures (as somewhat noted in the message) are Nehemiah 8: 1 – 3, 5 – 6, 8 – 10; 1 Corinthians 12: 12 – 31; and Luke 4: 14 – 21. I also gave part of this message on Saturday at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen. I was also there last week; unfortunately I had a problem with my hard drive and the flash drive where I store my files. As a result, I lost the electronic copy of last week’s sermon (still got the hard copy though) and was unable to post it to the blog.

When I began thinking about this message, I was specifically looking at the Epistle reading for today (1 Corinthians 12: 12 – 31) and Paul’s thoughts on the gifts and talents of the people in the Corinthian congregation. And because of something one of my cousins, Paul Schuëssler, a Lutheran minister, gave me several years ago about the structure of church membership (see “The Structure of Church Membership”), I thought that was the path this message was going to take.

But then some other things happened and I began to wonder if there wasn’t another path that my mind and thoughts should take.

One of those things that changed the direction was the Old Testament reading for today (Nehemiah 8: 1 – 3, 5 – 6, 8 – 10). As I read it and thought about it, it occurred to me that thinking about the part of the church inside the church walls might be a little limiting.

You see, the passage from Nehemiah is probably the first time that women and children are specifically mentioned as being part of the gathering. Most of the time, when you read about a gathering of people in either the Old or New Testament, any discussion of numbers is always in terms of the men present; women and children are assumed to be present but only as an after-thought.

When the writer of Matthew refers to the feeding of the multitudes, first the 5000 and then the 4000, he is referring to the men that are there. In actuality, there may have been close to 20,000 men, women, and children present each time.

Now, how can you think about the people inside the church as being the only one who are parts of the church? Those individuals may be, as my cousin Paul described, the visionaries, the resources, the learners and the activists that guide and direct the nature of the church but there are many, many more people who are a part of the church, especially if you move, and one has to move, beyond the walls of the church.

And that is what brings me to the other thoughts that changed what I was thinking before I began writing these words.

I had the chance the other day to view the documentary “Ripple of Hope.” It is about the night of April 4, 1968 and what transpired in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Senator Robert Kennedy had come to Indianapolis to participate in a campaign rally in his bid to obtain the Democratic Party nomination for President. But as word spread across the nation about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that day, violence and anger seemed to erupt almost simultaneously. Many individuals, both city officials and Kennedy campaign staffers, felt that the threat of danger was too great and that for his own security, Senator Kennedy should cancel the rally.

But Senator Kennedy chose to attend the rally, perhaps fully knowing the risks involved and perhaps equally aware that individuals would seek to use the rally as a provocation for hatred, anger, and violence. But he was also aware that many individuals were already gathering at the campaign rally sight and were probably unaware of what was transpiring in Memphis and across the nation.

After telling the crowd that had gathered what had occurred in Memphis that afternoon, Senator spoke from his heart and soul as much as from his mind that he understood how people felt at that moment and how their natural instincts were to strike out in vengeance and retribution. But he also said that violence could never replace justice and to seek a violent solution would vindicate those who opposed Dr. King’s work, not honor it.

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black. (from Wikipedia)

Senator Kennedy concluded by reiterating his belief that the country needed and wanted unity between blacks and whites and encouraged the country to

“dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world.”

When he was finished, he asked the people gathered there to go home and pray for the people and the country. It is remarkable to note, that on a night marked by violence in every major city in this country, there were no riots or acts of destruction in Indianapolis, such were the power of the words that Robert Kennedy spoke that night.

At the end of the film is a scene at Senator Kennedy’s grave in Arlington Nation Cemetery. Carved in the granite wall memorial are words that he spoke in Cape Town, South Africa on June 6, 1966 for the University of Durbin’s “Affirmation Day” celebration.

It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. (from

Where are the ripples of hope in today’s society? It is a question that pertains very much to why we are here today (both at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen and at Sloatsburg United Methodist Church).

This is, as you well know, a United Methodist Church. I will not spend time on why it is a United Methodist Church but on why it is that we are those people called Methodists.

John Wesley never sought to create a new denomination; all he sought to do was reform the Church of England. He saw a church that failed to meet the spiritual needs of the people and a society that failed to meet the physical and social needs of the people as well. He saw a church community that built walls around the church in order to keep those outside the church from ever entering the church and he saw people who made sure that anyone from the outside would be very unwelcome should they ever find a way around the walls and barriers erected to keep them out.

He also had questions about his own salvation and what it would take for his soul to find peace. He saw the path to salvation as a strict obedience to the perceived laws of God.

In 1729, his brother Charles, along with a number of other students at Oxford University, found the Holy Club. They would gather on a regular basis and began to develop a systematic way of life that would enable them to answer the same set of questions that perplexed John Wesley; how does one truly achieve salvation? Because of this regular and systematic approach, other students derided them by calling them “Methodists.” This approach not only included regular prayer and worship but the beginnings of a prison ministry, a credit union to help the poor and indigent, a community health organization, and a Sunday School for the education of children. As a result, two things happened.

First, the early Methodist ministers, both in England and here in America, were barred from preaching in the pulpit of the Church of England. Wesley would go into the fields, the mines and the factories and preach because that was were the people were. He once said that it was easier to preach the Gospel there than in a church because the people in the fields would listen. And the people in the fields, factories, and mines were unable to come to the church, then perhaps the church should come to them.

The other thing that happened was something that actually did not happen. England in the 1700s was on the verge of a political and social revolution, the same revolutionary spirit that swept across America and created this country. Many historians will tell you that the only thing that prevented England from undergoing the same violent revolution that swept France a few years after the American Revolution was the efforts of those associated with the Methodist Revival and John Wesley.

Why did John Wesley seek to change the way his church worked? Why did John Wesley and those that formed the early Methodist groups and societies seek to reach out to others, others that the church ignored?

I think that the answer and our response today can be found in an earlier part of the speech that Robert Kennedy gave to the students at the University of Durbin. He said

We must recognize the full human equality of all of our people before God, before the law, and in the councils of government. We must do this, not because it is economically advantageous, although it is; not because (of) the laws of God command it, although they do; not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.

What are the right things that we must do? It seems to me that John Wesley and the early Methodists understood that it was imperative to treat all people the same if for no other reason that what Robert Kennedy would say later, it is the right thing to do.

When Jesus stood before the people in his home synagogue in Nazareth, he took the scroll and read,

God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”

Jesus would then begin his ministry, not there in the synagogue, but in the countryside, moving from town to town, healing people and offering words of hope. His call to the people was an open call, even to those who, because of some rule or regulation or perhaps because of where they were born, were barred from access to the Temple.

We know that there were many who did not like this ministry. Comfortable inside their own synagogues, they did not like to hear that Jesus and his followers would preach.

But those outside the walls of the church rejoiced in the message, for it was the first time anyone had ever paid attention to them because of who they were and not because those who came wanted to use them for their own selfish purposes. And the world changed.

The same was true when John Wesley and other early Methodists, fueled by the Holy Spirit, went into the fields, the factories, and the mines. This may have been the first time that the people there had ever heard the Gospel or known that other people truly cared about them. And the world changed.

It may seem, especially today, that one individual can do very little in the world. But Robert Kennedy spoke words of love and peace to people filled with anger and hatred and it changed the world.

Jesus preached the same message and told us to go out into the world, to preach the message of good news and announce the pardon of prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and to set the burdened and battered free. If we do as John Wesley did, seek to follow Christ and open our hearts, our minds, and our souls as so many others have done before us, then the world will change.

If we let the Holy Spirit come to us, as it came to Saul on the road to Damascus when he became Paul or as it came to John Wesley that night that we call Aldersgate, then we can create that ripple of hope that Robert Kennedy spoke of that will begin the wave that sweeps down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

We can begin to do that when we make our part of the world part of the church.

Saturday Morning Worship @ Grannie Annie’s Kitchen, Grace UMC (Newburgh, NY)

During the 2012 Advent season, we began a worship service prior to breakfast. As the New Year begins, we are going to continue this worship. If you are interested in participating in the worship service, contact me at TonyMitchellPhD (at) I have included the lectionary readings for the Sundays in January so that you can think about this. Because of the time frame, we ask that you pick one of the lectionary readings and prepare your message on that reading. Looking forward to hearing the many voices of United Methodists during 2013 at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen. Oh, and you get breakfast

Tomorrow, New Year’s Day, Grannie Annie’s Kitchen will be open from 11 to 1 for soup, bread, and other “goodies”. Come and join us in friendship and fellowship at Grace UMC (Newburgh, NY)

Worship from 8 to 8:30; Breakfast from 8:30 to 9:45

January 5th – Epiphany of the Lord – Isaiah 60: 1 – 6; Ephesians 3: 1 – 12; Matthew 2: 1 – 12

January 12th – Baptism of the Lord – Isaiah 43: 1 – 7; Acts 8: 14 – 17; Luke 3: 15 – 17, 21 – 22

January 19th – 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany – Isaiah 62: 1 – 5; 1 Corinthians 12: 1 – 11; John 2: 1 – 11

A New Understanding” – Tony Mitchell, Grace UMC (Newburgh)

January 26th – 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany – Nehemiah 8: 1 – 3, 5 – 6, 8 – 10; 1 Corinthians 12: 12 – 31; Luke 4: 14 – 21

Parts of the Church” – Tony Mitchell, Grace UMC (Newburgh)

“A New Way of Thinking”

I was at Trinity-Boscobel United Methodist Church in Buchanan, NY, yesterday (location of the church).  The Scriptures for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany were Isaiah 9: 1 – 4, 1 Corinthians 1: 10 – 18, and Matthew 4: 12 – 23.  Their services start at 10:30 and you are welcome to attend.


Four things happened this past week that influenced this message. Now, it should be noted that I created the title for this message first, as is my custom. But these events helped guide the writing of this message.

Two of the four things that happened were merely remembrances of things that took place some fifty years ago. The interesting thing is that when we listen to those words some fifty years later, we marvel at how prophetic they were.

But we have to be careful when it comes to visions. For we often make the visions that we see what we want them to be and not what they are meant to be or should be.

And that is the case with the two other things that happened this past week. They speak of what transpired and offer of a vision of what may be to come. But then again, it maybe a vision that we would want to avoid and thus allows us to seek an alternative vision.

Fifty years ago, President John Kennedy stood on the steps of the Capital Building and offered what many saw as a vision for the future, a vision that matched the brightness of the sunlight on that day. It was a speech of hope and promise, of a new direction, of a new path. It was offered to all the people, not just a select few, it was spoken to friends and foes, old and young; it transcended national boundaries and traditional barriers. The words spoken that cold January day gave a new generation hope that the words and thoughts that have echoed throughout this land had meaning.

Earlier that week, President Kennedy’s predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, gave his farewell address to the people. In his speech to the nation, President Eisenhower warned us of the danger of a military-industrial complex being created in this country. Much has been said about this and how his own life, both as a soldier and a politician, was deeply entwined in the very thing that he was warning us about.

Now, at the time that President Eisenhower spoke those words, I was living in San Antonio, Texas, where my father was stationed. As the son of an Air Force Officer and the grandson of an Army Officer, I was raised in that same environment. Now, growing up in that environment, I could have easily accepted the notion that the very thing that President Eisenhower was warning us about was normal and that there was nothing to worry about. (The text of President Eisenhower’s speech can be found at (

But my education encompassed five different states and I encountered many different things. And my parents allowed me the opportunity to develop my own thinking, to not be encumbered by society’s norms. But it should also be noted that they made it clear that I was responsible for what I did and if I did wrong, then I had to accept the consequences as well. My faith journey was part of that and perhaps I saw things differently. Still, I am proud of how I grew up and I would not change it for a moment.

But I was not trapped, if you will, by the environment in which I was raised. I was allowed to develop my own thinking and see beyond the present.

What President Eisenhower was warning us about was not just an entanglement of military and industrial interests but such an entanglement that would threaten to devour the resources of this nation. On at least one prior occasion, President Eisenhower lamented the fact that a single jet fighter cost more than most of the workers would built the plane would ever earn in a lifetime.

And in that same speech, he also cautioned against the incursion of Federal funds into academic research. But it would be research used to support weapons research and not necessarily peaceful uses. And we have to remember that the first major Federal legislation for education in the fifties, at a time when the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik and this country was still struggling to get a rocket off the launch pad, was entitled the National Defense Education Act. The funding to improve science and mathematics education came through this act, not because it would improve the education of our children but because it was seen as a part of the national security of this country.

In the words of that farewell address, President Eisenhower saw a need for education. It was a sentiment that would be echoed by President Kennedy a few days later and throughout the Kennedy administration. But the rhetoric of this nation’s politicians, including President Eisenhower and President Kennedy, was still the rhetoric of fear. And people who live in a world of fear can only see the power of the gun, not the power of the book.

Sadly, I believe the same is true today. Our rhetoric continues to border to be based on fear and lies. And our responses are based on hatred and violence, not reason. Instead of seeking the removal of violence from our lives, it is almost as if we are being fed of diet of violence and we have begun to enjoy it. Instead of the hope and promise that was so prominent in our lives fifty years ago, we now are faced with an ever deepening cynicism amongst the young and old alike.

Last week, at one of the three services I did, a father stood up and asked that we pray for his son, a recent graduate of a nationally known fundamentalist religious institution. It seems that his son told his father that he was renouncing Christianity because Christians were some of the most hypocritical people he knew. I received the impression that the father wanted his son to attend that university. So I suppose that this son had waited until after graduation to make this announcement out of fear that he would have been cut off from funds to get his education. Now, to be honest, I would have to agree with the son in his assessment of Christians but as I was a guest in that church, I was not in a position to say much. I have heard too many youth express the same thoughts as this young man and I know that these thoughts are based on the words of their elders and their parents, for I have heard the words of hatred and exclusion that far too many elders in the church speak.

But when I led the prayers that day, I not only prayed for the son but the father as well. And while I would hope that the son will return to the church, I also hope and pray that the father will begin to understand what caused his son to leave the church.

Our churches are dying and many blame society, saying that what is needed is a stricter world, one in which the Bible is the law. But such a world stifles creativity and independence; and it is also stifles faith. If you cannot think about your faith, if your faith is to remain unquestioned and unchallenged, it will die. We need to be able to think about our faith and find ways in which it can grow and develop.

Sadly, that may not be possible. A report was released last week that stated many of our college students are incapable of thinking creatively and independently (; they are unable to see the solution to a problem that is presented to them. And if they cannot solve the problems before them, how shall they solve problems that haven’t even developed yet?

A world that lacks creativity and independent thought is a dark world; it is a sad world; and it is a limited world. But that is not the world that we were promised with the birth of Christ. What was it that Isaiah said some three thousand years ago — a light has been given to the people, a path out of the darkness.

But if we are to receive that light, we must see life in a different way; we must find a new way of thinking. How many of us would put down whatever we were doing if Jesus were to come up to us and say, “Come and follow me.” The answer for many is too often the same answer that so many people gave when Jesus walked the roads of the Galilee.

Some will say that they have to take care of their family; others will say that they don’t have the time or the money; others are too busy with whatever they are doing at the moment to think about doing something different. Others would ask what would they gain from this and weigh the outcome against the status and power they have today.

But Peter, Andrew, James, and John put down their nets and immediately followed Jesus. There is no record of what James and John told their father or what Peter said to his wife. But there had to be something about being told that they would become fishers of men that spoke to their hearts and souls. Perhaps it was the words of Jesus that their lives would change. In a world where what one did was almost certainly determined at birth, such words would bring hope.

And as each day passed and they heard the words and saw the deeds, they need that something special was happening. But it required that they find a new way to think, for the old ways no longer worked.

Being Christian means thinking for one’s self, not as other would have you to think. Being Christian means seeing the world differently, not as society would have you see things.

We have allowed others to dictate what we will say and think. We are told that the care and feeding of the military industrial complex is necessary for our security but people will need to go hungry or sick or homeless. And we are told this, not only by our politicians, but by many pastors and ministers as well.

The issue for the Corinthians when Paul wrote that portion of the letter we read today was baptism. It was dividing the church because people were seeing that one method was better than another. That is what people in the church have been doing for the better part of the church’s history – telling others that they way they see things is the only way to see things and not the way the Gospel was written.

We have pastors today who tell us that Jesus was wealthy and we can be too, but only if we send them an offering of, say, $100. We are told that if you are in poverty, hungry, or homeless, you have only yourself to blame. Poverty is the sign of a sinful life; that wealth and riches are signs of a righteous life and that poverty is the sign of a failed and sinful life. It wouldn’t be so bad if these were just the words of Pharisee speaking with Jesus or a 19th century pastor, which they have been. They were the thoughts that drove John Wesley to rebel against his church and find a better way to express the Gospel message.

The problem is that they are the words of too many Christians, clergy and laity, today, who refused to be in the same room with a homeless person or who would prefer that the church’s doors be closed to the hungry and cold.

In the world in which we live, we desperately want some good news; we want someway to make this a better world for all and not just some.

If we but listen we can hear the good news. Isaiah spoke a child being born, of the people receiving a great gift. The people would finally walk in light after having been in darkness for so long. He spoke of the oppressor being defeated but he spoke of a child doing it.

But this was a child without an army, only the truth of the Gospel message. The Good News is that Jesus came to heal the sick, feed the hungry, help the homeless find shelter and free the oppressed. The Good News is found in the light that was turned on when Jesus was born.

It would be very easy to see what is transpiring in the world today as hopeless and beyond redemption. But that is a vision trapped in the old way of thinking. Jesus offers each one us, just as he did the disciples, a new way of thought and thinking. He offers us the opportunity, if we would but just follow him.

I leave you today with this thought. You need not do anything; you do not have to change a thing. But then the world tomorrow will be the same as the world today. But if you should choose to follow Jesus, to accept his challenge to be a fisher of men and women and not perch and bass, if you choose to see the world around you as those early disciples who walked with Jesus did, then the world tomorrow will be different; it will be brighter and there will be hope and a promise for all.

“What Time Is It?”

This is the message that I gave at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany (23 January 2005).  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 9: 1 – 4, 1 Corinthians 1: 10 – 18, and Matthew 4: 12 –23.


There are times when I read Paul’s letters to the various churches that he established and I get a sense of frustration. I don’t know if it is because he is not there while the churches are struggling with the issues that all churches must sometimes go through or whether it is because the churches are struggling.

Anyone who has ever begun a project knows that it cannot be completed overnight. Yes, you get the groundwork in but it still takes a couple of years before it is fully operational and self-sustaining. The operation of the Billy Graham Crusades can tell you that. The planning for a visit, such as the one that is coming to New York in the next few months, is an example. The people associated with the Crusade don’t just rent an auditorium and then let people know. There are planning meetings with local individuals, groups and churches so that people know what is happening and what to do when it happens. The Billy Graham Crusades are an epitome of planning and organization in addition to being one a classic evangelical event.

So too were Paul’s visits. He probably didn’t come to Corinth uninvited. His successes elsewhere probably cause the Corinthians to send a note inviting him to come. And his stay in any of the towns where he established a new church was never short. So, the preparation and effort to insure the success of the church were there.

But then you have the letter to the Corinthians that we read last week, today, and will read next week as well. Here is the frustration of Paul. He had left Corinth to continue his ministry at Ephesus when he received two letters from Corinth.

One of the two letters was a set of questions about marriage and singleness and Christian liberty. The second portion of 1 Corinthians provided answers to these questions and offered additional instruction in the areas of worship, the solemnity of the Lord’s Supper and the place of spiritual gifts.

The second letter was a disturbing report from the house of Chloe (mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1: 11) about divisions and immortality in the church. It is noted that the young Corinthian church had failed to protect itself from the culture of the city. Religious and sectarian events were mixed and the result was confusion. As we read today, the believers in the church were identifying themselves as followers of specific leaders (including Paul) rather than as followers of Christ.

There were four different factions in the church; each aligned with a prominent Christian leader. One group identified itself with Paul; this group may have been attracted to the church because of Paul’s emphasis on a ministry to the Gentiles. A second group identified itself with one of Paul’s fellow missionaries, Apollos. As noted in Acts 18: 24 – 28, he was an eloquent speaker and this allowed him to attract a following. A third group was identified with Peter. They were probably of Jewish background.

The final group associated itself directly with Jesus. Now, in the context of what Paul writes, we might consider this group the "godly" group but this was probably not the case. Paul commends none of the factions, pointing out that their professed allegiances were causing division and discord.

Paul’s response in the letter was to pose three rhetorical questions:

  1. Is Christ divided?
  2. Was Paul crucified for you?
  3. Were you baptized in the name of Paul?

Each of these questions would be answered with a negative answer. In doing so, he hoped that the people of Corinth would seek the absurdity of their divisions. Paul pointed out that in the act of baptism, a person identifies himself or herself with Christ, period. Baptism does not align the believer with any human leader or with any faction of Christianity, but with the Lord Himself. The Corinthians, who prided themselves on their wisdom and understanding, had misconstrued the truth. They had begun to identify themselves with the ones who had performed the baptisms rather than with Jesus Himself.

The commentary (The Nelson Study Bible) that I use notes that we might be tempted to write off this problem, attributing it to "those silly, immature Corinthians," if it were not for the fact that the tendency to exalt dynamic leaders is still prevalent today. Witty, engaging, Christian speakers and vibrant, charismatic spiritual leaders still have the power to mesmerize and motivate believers today. And there is nothing inherently wrong with such power. The danger comes when the speaker or leader, and not the message, becomes the focus of attention.

Christian speakers and leaders (and that includes all of us, not just a select one or two) are merely vessels through whom God’s Word is communicated. Exalting them for the message they proclaim is a misunderstanding of their purpose. We must guard ourselves against identifying too closely with human leaders or placing too much emphasis on them. Our loyalty and identification belong only to Jesus Christ and His message

If we take our focus away from the Gospel message, then we run into problems. And if we allow the problems that we run into, then we are apt to lose our focus. The one thing that I think dominates modern church thinking, at least from the standpoint of the person seeking a church home, is that focus on the Gospel message. If they do not find that focus in one church, they will go to another church until they find it. The problem for many churches is providing the true message of the Gospel.

It is the loss of focus that Isaiah speaks to in the passage that we read today. At the conclusion of chapter 8, Isaiah spoke of the coming darkness that would surround Israel. Though the term "darkness" has come to mean a moral and spiritual blight over the land, it also referred to the invasion of Israel by other nations. In this case, the darkness came from the armies of Assyria that would take away liberty and bring oppression. This invasion comes because the people have lost their focus. No longer are they focusing on God but rather on other gods and idols.

The first line of today’s reading completes the thought of the last verse of the previous chapter. The lands of Zebulun and Naphtali were to be the first to bear the brunt of the invading Assyrian armies. But against this gloom, this darkness Isaiah promises that a new light would come to illuminate the world. In a world of darkness and oppression, there would be a King to set the people free, to bring light into the darkness. Of course, in the light of history we know that Isaiah is speaking of Jesus.

We have to see those few days of Jesus’ ministry, those days when he calls the disciples to follow Him in the same light. We have to see that Jesus has a focus to His ministry that is communicated to the disciples from the very beginning.

That focus is evident in the response of the disciples. When called, they followed. But as Mark Ralls pointed out, not everyone followed. Are we to assume that when Jesus came to James and John and make the commandment to follow Him, he was only speaking to them? Matthew points out that the two "sons of thunder" were working with their father that day and we have to presume that the invitation to follow was given to him as well. But he chose not to follow.

The problem, perhaps, is one of focus. When Christ calls, He offers us abundant life. But with this offer comes a certain measure of risk. There cannot be change in the world unless we are willing to move beyond the safety of our known existence. For many, change is hard. We tend to think in terms of that which is familiar, that which is safe. But holding on to that which makes us feel safe makes it difficult for us to move forward. Our souls remained tethered to something other than the love of God. We hold ourselves back from what we were meant to become. We choose to stay where we are, safe and secure, even when the Son of God appears before us.

We cannot say what happen to James and John’s father Zebedee. We know that despite their intial enthusiasm Peter, James, and John were far from perfect followers. When the chips were down, Peter denied Christ. James and John fought over who would sit where by the throne of God instead of concentrating on what Jesus was trying to teach them.

There are going to be times when Jesus calls us. Sometimes we are up to task; sometimes we are not. When He does calls us, he beckons us beyond the point of familiarity, asking us to risk us doing something we don’t know how to do, to become someone we’re not yet sure we know how to be. It is a risk to do this but then again Christ is taking that same risk when he calls us. (Adapted from "What about Zebedee?" by Mark Ralls, from "Living by the Word" in Christian Century, January 11, 2005)

The title of today’s sermon is "What Time Is It?" And that is exactly what we have to ask ourselves. It is noted that in the final lines of the Gospel message for today, Matthew said that Jesus took the disciples and went through Galilee preaching the good news, the Gospel message.

For unbelievers, Jesus had but one word: "Repent!" It’s a tremendous word and one worth examining. We think of it mostly in terms of repenting our sins but the Greek word from which it is translated means "to change one’s mind for the better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins." So when Jesus called on people to repent, He really demanded that they change their way of thinking, abandon their false concepts, forsake their wrong methods, and enter upon a new way of life.

This must have come as a great shock to many people who heard him preach. The Pharisees, for example, who felt that because of their "good behavior" and "trust in the Lord’ assured them of divine favor must have really been disturbed. They felt they were already saved and just about the best people God had on earth. Jesus also felt that the wealthy, aristocratic, unscrupulous Sadducees needed to change their way of living. He called on the reliqious Zealots to change their attitudes.

Now, no one has a right to call on others to change their ways unless he or she has a more excellent way to offer. Forsaking the wrong way is only half of repentance; accepting the right way is the other half. So the call for repentance is accompanied by the announcement that kingdom of God is here. For Christ, it was the way, the only way, for people to live. (Adapted from "The Sermon on the Mount" by Clarence Jordan)

So what time is it? It is time to repent, to change our way of thinking, to change our attitudes, to change how we view others and ourselves. Gordon Atkinson, pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in San Antonio and host of the website writes:

I keep getting e-mails from people who say, "Your church sounds nice. I wish I could find one like that." So Atkinson responds: "Let me guess. You’re looking for a cool church, filled with authentic Christians who aren’t judgmental but also have convictions, and are hip and classic in just the right mixture. A church where people forgive each other, love children, and worship in meaningful ways. A church with a swingin’ preacher who makes the Bible come alive, tells great stories, is a wonderful inspiration — plays, too. A church that isn’t liberal or conservative, but seems to transcend weak-ass categories like those. A church where the hunger for truth is honored, and people can disagree but still love each other and share a plate of tacos.

That’s what you’re looking for? I got ya. I understand. Here are some tips to help you in your search:

  • You won’t find that church.
  • Surely, I don’t need to say anything about churches that have billboards and commercials featuring preachers with $200 haircuts.
  • Let’s talk about my first point again. As I said, you won’t find the church you’re looking for. Go ahead and grieve. You’ll have to make do with a silly bunch of dreamers and children prone to mistakes, blunders, and misjudgments. (Printed in the February issue of Context (originally from Christian Century, 11/16/2004)

The people looking for a church must change their way of thinking. But, by the same token, the churches these people are finding must make sure that they are focusing on the Gospel message. Too many churches today try to offer something for everyone but not offering the Gospel.

And, as Dennis Winkleblack pointed out in a message to the Town and Country Breakfast at last summer’s Annual Conference, the focus of too many churches in the New York Annual Conference is gone. He noted first "that we are confusing a tool for ministry – namely the church building – with Jesus’ call to be the church." He also noted that a few people in far too many churches are choking their church to death.

These individuals mean well but they insist on getting their own way. As he said in his remarks printed in The Vision, no one in history has lived long enough to see what happens if they are crossed, there is a great unspoken fear that these individuals will stop giving or leading or doing all the work. Or, worse, they will explode in anger as they have in the past.

The third crisis facing the churches of the New York Annual Conference is a crisis in the pastoral ministry. Too many of the pastors are staying in the ministry when their hearts are not. This is a question that not only the pastors of this conference need to look at but the people of the many churches that make us the conference. For what reason do we seek the ministry of the church? Is it for the money that is provided? (An interesting thought considering the salary and benefits for many of the full-time pastors in this conference.) Or is it because it is an expression of our faith?

The fourth point that Dennis pointed out was that there is a crisis of imagination. Be it the local church with all of its differences and problems or the Annual Conference with its own collection of differences and problems or the General Conference, where the differences and problems make national headlines, Dennis noted that we so caught up in fixing our problems and managing our finances that there is little energy left to imagine a whole new way of life.

When you read Dennis’ comments and you think of what you know is happening, you have to wonder if there is any hope. There are those who say that all that has transpired in the past few weeks, the earthquakes, the tsunamis, the floods, are signs of the coming apolycapse. But, if God really wanted to wipe this destroy this planet, we would certainly welcome earthquakes and floods. Perhaps we, once again, being given a sign that there is time to do what is right.

Jesus brings forth a message of hope and peace. But he begins that message with a call for repentance, a call to change one’s thinking, one’s attitude, and one’s behavior. What time is it, you ask? It is time to repent.

“The Call We Have To Answer”

This is the message that I gave at the Neon United Methodist Church for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany (24 January 1999).  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 9: 1 – 4, 1 Corinthians 1: 10 – 18, and Matthew 4: 12 –23.


It has been said that we are in the third great industrial revolution, one involving computers and communication. It seems like everyone today has e-mail and voice mail and a cell phone as well as a regular phone. Communications in the coming years will take place, as it already does, over the computer. It would seem that if you were not in the know where it comes to the new means of communication, you would be left out in the cold.

But these new methods of communication also come with problems. First of all, note everyone has access to such tools. When I was in Austin two weeks ago, one person kept reminding the conference organizers that the party line was still the basic means of communication in his region of southwest Missouri. So that meant that all discussion about the new Internet could not take place until up-to-date means of communication were put into place.

Second, a lot of people don’t know how to use these new communication tools. My brother often points out that one purpose of e-mail is to cut down on the use of paper in the office; yet, when most people get a e-mail the first thing they do is print it out. Certainly not the goal of the paperless office.

Another time, I was asked to submit an abstract on the use of e-mail in the classroom for an upcoming conference. So I wrote it up and sent it to the organizer by e-mail. After the conference was over, the organizer asked me why I had not submitted the abstract. She never read her e-mail.

All this suggests that as we move into the coming century, be it next year or the year 2001, and our society becomes more and more technologically complex, it is going to become more and more important that we know how to communicate. For as the means to communicate become easier, the harder it will become to make our ideas clearly.

To a certain extent, that is what Paul is telling the people of Corinth. In the Epistle reading for today, the people of Corinth are arguing about who baptized them and whose follower’s they are.

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “ I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ”.

Lost in all this discussion was the meaning of Christ’s presence in their lives. Paul then reminded them that the issue was not baptism but rather the preaching of the Gospel, the good news of Christ.

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

The Gospel message that Paul was called to preach, the message of the good news brought to us by Christ came at a time when the people thought that God had stopped talking to them. But, as is often the case, it was not God who had stopped talking to the people, it was the people who had stopped talking to God.

We look around us each day and we see the horrors and injustice of the world; each day we hear of new horrors in Kosovo and we wonder how a man such as Saddam Hussein could still be in power. We look at our own country and we conclude that God has forgotten us. We see the world in darkness and conclude that God has forgotten us. But the prophet Isaiah told the people of Israel that a light would shine in the darkness.

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan —

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.

For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.

To bring light into the world of darkness, God chose to communicate with us in the most direct way possible, through his Son. By sending his Son to this world, God was giving us a hope for the future. But we, with our human nature, see this hope with a certain degree of fear.

We don’t know what the future holds. We see all the changes around us and we can only think or wonder if we will ever be able to handle them. How can we hold out hope for a better tomorrow when we don’t understand what is happening today. And there is the matter of God’s calling to us.

In this day and age, how can we follow Christ? When Jesus started his ministry, as we read in the Gospel this morning, he asked his disciples to follow him. As was written, they stopped what they were doing and followed him immediately. We say to Christ today, “How can we follow you today? We have so much that has to be done?”

Following Christ is the most difficult task that we have each day. Being in obedience with God takes all of our skills and our courage. We are not the first to grumble about following the path of righteousness. From the day the Israelites were lead out of Egypt, they grumbled about the path God lead them. And whenever the going got tough, the Israelites were ready to throw in the towel and go back into slavery. That is same today.

We know in our hearts that what God has to offer is the one true path of life. Yet our minds wonder if we can make that sacrifice. Are we ready, like Peter and Andrew, to leave our nets and become “fishers of men?” Could we do so immediately or would we hesitate?

Obedience is indispensable. Not a static code, however helpful it may be at times. But obedience to God, who is present with us in every situation and is speaking to us all the time. Every obedience, however small (if any obedience is small) quickens our sensitivity to him and our capacity to understand him and so makes more real our sense of his presence. (From The Captivating Presence by Albert Edward Day)

We live in a world that seems so dark but yet there is a light. That light is Jesus Christ our Savior. To those that followed him, he offered a vision of the future that was greater than anything that they had ever known. So too is it for us this morning. There is a light in the darkness; it is the presence of Christ in our lives. The challenges we face, the difficulties we must overcome become easier when He is the centerpiece of our life. Yet, we often don’t want to accept Christ, to turn over our lives to him fearing that the obedience that He demands will take away our freedom. But this freedom that we don’t want to give up is cast in the darkness of sin and is not really freedom but death. As Paul told the Corinthians,

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Christ offers us the promise of eternal salvation if we would only accept His call. You can hear his call today, as clear as any phone call you might receive at home. It is truly the one call that we have to answer.