That One Moment

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of this Sunday’s (January 12, 2020, Baptism of the Lord, Year A) bulletin for the Fishkill UMC. Service begins at 10:15 am and you are welcome to join us.

When was that one moment when you knew that God was with you?  When did you feel in your heart, mind, and soul that you were a Christian?

A few years back, I came across a saying from the Talmud (though Google insists that Winston Churchill said it) that says,

“In every age there comes a time when leadership suddenly comes forth to meet the needs of the hour. And so there is no man who does not find his time, and there is no hour that does not have its leader.”

Some have said that Jesus did not need to be baptized by John.  Even John acknowledged that he, John, was not worthy of taking on that task.  But the baptism of Jesus by John and the subsequent anointment by the Holy Spirit tells us that things were going to be different.

In a statement similar to that given by the Talmud, Jawaharlal Nehru said that there is a point in time when we step out from the old age into a new one.

There are many challenges facing us as we begin the new year and the new decade.  How we answer those challenges will define us.  One cannot predict nor can one force the moment when God, through the Holy Spirit, asks you to take on a new task.  But one has to be ready when that moment comes.

As the old hymn goes, Jesus is calling us, softly and gently.  Will this be your moment, the moment when you answer the call?

~~Tony Mitchell

“The Power of Water”

I am again writing the “Back Page”. This will be the back page for the bulletin at Fishkill UMC for this Sunday’s bulletin (January 13, 2018, The Baptism of the Lord, Year C).

The role of water in our lives cannot be overplayed.

From the early days of the alchemists, it was seen that water was the universal solvent, able to dissolve just about anything and everything.  Our search for life on other planets and in the universe is predicated on the existence of water.  Without water, life on this planet would be improbable and non-existent.

And water is the singular mark of baptism.

Baptism is an act of repentance.  John the Baptizer’s famous words to the Pharisees and Sadducees (“you brood of vipers”) remind us that even those who proclaim that they hold the power are subject to the cleansing waters of baptism.  Our baptism reminds us that we have cast aside the secular world so that we could live in the Heavenly Kingdom.

Baptism is an act of unity.  With the water poured over us during our baptism, we are united in one body with Christ.  From the days Jesus began His ministry, baptism has been the unifying act.  We are reminded that Samarians and Jews, long divided by tradition, became one through baptism.

Even today, when someone is baptized in the United Methodist Church, every member of the congregation renews the vows they made or where made from them when they were baptized.

I hope, trust, and pray that you will reflect on your own baptism and what that has meant to you throughout the years.  We are given the chance today to, in part and in some way, renew our vows and walk with Jesus in the coming days.

~~ Tony Mitchell

“And it begins again”

This will be on the back page of this coming Sunday’s bulletin at Fishkill United Methodist Church.  It is based on the scripture readings for the Baptism of the Lord (and/or the Epiphany, of the Lord, Year B).

Yesterday marks the beginning of the season of the church known as “Epiphany.”  January 6th is the day tradition states the Magi arrived to worship the baby Jesus.  The Season of Epiphany runs until Ash Wednesday on February 14th.

The word “epiphany” can be defined as the moment of sudden and striking realization, that moment when you understand something (a point I make in “The AHA! Moment”).

I personally find it interesting that we use the word “epiphany” in relation to this moment.  However, we may view the Magi today, two thousand years ago, they were considered scientists, searching the skies and the world around them for new knowledge and a better understanding of this knowledge.

The Magi’s presence reinforces an idea first put forth by the writers of the Old Testament who identified the five books of wisdom (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon); that wisdom and understanding are very much a part of the faith process.

In addition to honoring Christ with our minds as well as with our hearts, the visit of the Magi also reminds us that the announcement of Christ’s birth was not just to a select few but to the whole world.

We each have our own epiphany, that moment in our life when we come to understand who Jesus is and how our lives change as a result.  And it does not end there; for just as the Magi left with the message of His Birth to tell the people in their own lands, we serve as a source of light and understanding for those seeking Christ in today’s world.

~ Tony Mitchell

A Society of Laws

This is an interesting Sunday (at least for me) on the liturgical calendar. While this Sunday is the Baptism of the Lord, it can also be considered Epiphany Sunday.

If the Baptism of the Lord focuses on the relationship between God and society, then Epiphany Sunday is the relationship between science and society.

In the following thoughts, I have tried to addressed those two points, points that are critical to the future of society.

Ours is a society of laws. Some of these laws come from our understanding of nature; others come through interaction with others on this planet.

The laws that come from our understanding of nature come from a deliberate attempt to understand the world around us. The discovery and determination of these laws is often time laborious and difficult with the results often unintelligible to the untrained mind.

The basic premise of our human-based laws should be to do no harm or to prevent harm from coming to us. From the time that the Code of Hammurabi was first written, laws have been written to define relationships between people and groups of people.

The Ten Commandments given to Moses by God also outlined how the Israelites were to relate with God and others. From these basic tenets came some 600 or so other laws, some telling the people what they could do and others telling them what they could not do. Often, actions dictated by one law conflicted with actions dictated by other laws.

There are those today who would like to have a society based on “God’s law”, whatever such laws may be. But these laws merely seek to place one group of people in a position of power and superiority of others. And the implication of said laws is often done with a sort of discriminatory approach that borders on hypocrisy. Those who wish to have “God’s laws” in place would ban abortion, yet they are quite willing to support the death penalty for criminals and equally willing to go to war, even both of those actions violate the basic commandment that one shall not kill.

And in quoting biblical verses that one should seek an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, they ignore that such statements were never meant to be statements of vengeance and retaliation but rather limits for such action.

And such an approach, founded in a distorted view of the Old Testament, ignores the actions espoused by Jesus who often proposed an active opposition to tyranny and power.

And how do we, today, respond, to the imposition of rules and laws that are designed to discriminate and oppress? The answer comes from the same approach that Jesus used, active opposition to tyranny and power; it comes from the same processes that allowed us to discover the basic laws of nature – experimentation and examination and the use of free thought.

One must understand that this approach cannot tell you if something is good or evil. One cannot quantify good and evil like one can quantify the force of gravity or the speed of light. But if we understand the outcome of our work, we have a better understanding of what we can and cannot do.

We may see others as inferior or different from us but there is nothing in nature that supports that idea, so laws that treat people differently because someone fears the differences between them are unjust and illegal.

Our challenge today is very simple. Create a society in which we understand the world around us that allows us to understand those who share this same world. On this weekend when we celebrate the visit of the Magi, we are quietly saying that we want a world in which we seek the information that brings us to a better time.

A Rock And A Hard Place

A Meditation for 10 January 2016, the Baptism of the Lord (Year C), based on Isaiah 43: 1 – 7, Acts 8: 14 – 17, and Luke 3: 15 – 17, 21 – 22

The title for this week’s message comes from the heading for the reading from Isaiah as translated in The Message. I use this translation (along with Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospels) as it offers a more modern reading of the Scriptures without losing its meaning. I think this is critical in today’s society simply because it shows how the Bible is alive today; when you use an old translation or you do not provide for a modern setting, you risk loosing both the meaning of the words and the people who hear the words.

I suggested in last week’s post (“Seeing The Future”) that I felt that there was a need for a fourth great revival in this society. Now, there are some who might feel that having a revival is more the sign of a fundamentalist approach to Christianity than a progressive one but I think that it is just as appropriate.

It goes with the idea of today’s corporate church. Church has, for the lack of a better term, become part of our lives. We expect it to be there for the baptism and confirmation of our children, our marriages, and our funerals but we don’t expect it to be there at any other times. And, sadly, when there are schedule overlaps around 10 am on Sunday morning, we put church attendance on the back burner in favor of the other event.

I always found it interesting that Constantine, the Roman emperor who legitimatized Christianity was not baptized until just before he died. While his actions as emperor ended the legal persecution of Christians and he became, perhaps the single most important patron of the church in all of its history, he waited until the last moments of his life to be absolved of his sins. And I cannot help but think that too many corporate Christians see their baptism in something of the same way. Oh, they were baptized at some point in their life (as a child, a youth, or an adult) but they see only in terms of the end times. Oh, and by the way, I see the actions of too many fundamentalists in the same way. Only at that last moment in their conscious life will they call upon their baptism in a last ditch effort to save their souls.

Oh, they might do it and if they do, so be it; that is the nature of grace.

But baptism is also the sign of a new life, a new beginning. I have told the story before (“My Two Baptisms”) about how I was stuck in the dorm of a Bible college in Moberly, Missouri, during the spring of 1969 and being told by a soon to be preacher that my baptism as a child did not count. And as I said then, were it not for what happened after that baptism, that preacher-to-be would have been right. But I was raised to respect that baptism and, when the time came, to do what was expected of me.

The key points given in the reading from Acts and Luke for today point out that the Holy Spirit was involved. Through the Power of the Holy Spirit, lives change (as Luke noted John saying, it changes you from the inside out).

What I did not mention in the story of the two baptisms was what had taken place about week before that encounter in Moberly. And that was my meeting with Marvin Fortel, a meeting I have written about many times before and one in which I knew that my life had changed (“The Changing Of The Seasons”). While I know that my refusal to do the adult baptism was more me than my soul, I also had a sense that I was living the life one was supposed to be living and I understood why.

Most of you who read this have been baptized so calling for you to be baptized would be along the lines of that student preacher I met in 1969. So I call upon you to think about your baptism and ask if your life today reflects that baptism.

One of the things that I have thought about is where I am being called in my own ministry. And while I will still hold to the teachings of the Evangelical United Brethren Church in which I was confirmed and the United Methodist Church in which I have lived and served for the majority of my life since confirmation, I am beginning to think and believe that I need to be a little more independent. I see a need for something different, something a bit more progressive in nature. I am not entirely certain that the United Methodist Church will survive the upcoming 2016 General Conference; it might but what comes out of the conference may not be in a position to move forward the Gospel message that Christ charged us to follow.

I suppose that when you find yourself between a rock and a hard place (which was the subject heading for the reading from Isaiah for today), you can let yourself be crushed by the rock or you can move the rock out of the way. I am choosing to move the rock out of the way. What will you be doing?

“My Two Baptisms”

Here are some belated thoughts for Sunday, January 12, 2013 – Baptism of the Lord (Year A). The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 42: 1 – 9, Acts 10: 34 – 43, and Matthew 3: 13 – 17.

Been caught up in some other things so I didn’t have a chance to jot down my thoughts for this Sunday. Right now, it would seem that much of what I am posting is more in the nature of thoughts and not really something I would say, per se, if I had to give a message.

There are two baptisms in my life, the one where I was baptized and the one where I wasn’t baptized. Some of this is mentioned in some earlier posts related to the Baptism of the Lord Sunday but rather than link those pieces I will briefly summarize them.

I was baptized as an infant, three months after I was born, on Christmas Eve at the First Evangelical and Reformed Church in Lexington, North Carolina. Now, I realized that I know nothing about that night other than I had an absolutely stunning baptismal outfit and that my parents and my mother’s parents were there. It is possible that my father’s parents were there as well but I don’t have anything that tells me that.

The baptism that didn’t occur took place on a dark March night in Moberly, Missouri, in the spring of 1969 as I was trying to get back to Kirksville after spring break. I had gone home to Memphis and was trying to get back to Kirksville which, without a car, was a difficult thing to do. I had flown back to St. Louis from Memphis and was scheduled to fly back to Kirksville on Ozark Airlines.

Not knowing then what I know about traveling today, after I got to St. Louis, I sort of took my time wandering down to the Ozark gate. When I got there I found that my flight to Kirksville had been cancelled. Rather than letting the airline get me “home”, I opted to fly to the Columbia, MO, regional airport where they put me on a bus north to Kirksville. When I got to Moberly, I discovered that northeast Missouri was in the midst of a major late snow storm (and the reason for the cancelled flight).

So I ended up in Moberly, on my own and without any sort of travel voucher to get me the rest of the way home. I don’t know how it came about but I ended up spending the night at the local Bible College. And there is where and when the second baptism didn’t take place.

In a discussion with one of the students, a soon-to-be preacher, I was informed that my baptism as an infant didn’t count and that if I wanted to be saved, I needed to be baptised as an adult and now would be a good time to do it.

Now, I will be honest; I have never been comfortable with pastors who take a fundamentalist approach in religion and this college was one of the prime producers of such individuals. And I had been on the road for the better part of 24 hours and I was still 60 miles from school (and what was home for me). And there was the small matter that I had just endured the worst academic quarter of my career and was trying in the spring semester to bring some stability to my college life. I had also spent the better part of the first months of 1969 worried that I was going to be drafted and shipped off to Viet Nam because the paper work dealing with my requested deferment had not gone right.

Baptism cannot and should not be done under turmoil and that was clearly what was going to take place. So I declined the offer and have lived with the fact that at least one young preacher thinks that my life is condemned.

But when my parents brought me to the altar of that church in Lexington, North Carolina, that night in 1950, they brought a commitment to raise me in a way that would allow me to understand what it meant to be baptized. The difficult thing about infant baptism is that the infant may not realize what is going on and may not understand what is being done. But there are individuals present who do understand and who, by their presence, are saying that they will insure that the child one day understands what is being done.

I don’t recall if George Eddy, my pastor at First Evangelical United Brethren Church in Aurora, Colorado, asked me about my baptism when I begun the work on my confirmation and God and Country Award. I would think that he did because nothing was said or done otherwise. I made the conscious and public decision to walk that path and I don’t think I could have walked it without understanding somehow that I was baptized.

What bothers me today is the number of times we as a denomination and individual church baptize a child knowing that we may not see that child or his or her parents for several years and it is time to begin the confirmation process.

Do I think that we should deny a child that opportunity? I think not but I also think that we need to seriously think about how we counsel and advise the parents who come. I also know that we need to be real careful about how we do this because we run the risk of turning away a family who are shopping for a church and are turned away because we are too strict in our thoughts.

This is one of those questions where there is one answer but how we find that answer is dependent on who we are and the time and place the question is asked. In the end, we have to make sure that all who seek Christ know the role that baptism plays in that search and make sure that everyone associated with that individual know what they have to do to help that individual complete their search.

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)

“The Meaning of Our Words”

These are my thoughts for 9 January 2011, the Sunday in the lectionary cycle known as “The Baptism of the Lord” Sunday. The scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 42: 1 – 9, Acts 10: 34 – 43, and Matthew 3: 13 – 17. I hope that what I write in this message holds to the thoughts and meaning of the Scriptures for today.

Six people were killed last Saturday; a congresswoman from Arizona was severely wounded as were some twelve others. But they weren’t the only ones to die by gun violence last week. There was the shooting incident in Omaha with a frustrated high school student; there was an earlier shooting in Arizona as well. And we are justifiably shocked by what occurred last Saturday. And we should be; but we should also be shocked by the simple fact of the matter that it happened in the first place.

But it strikes me that we are going to put labels on the victims, not so we can identify them but so that we don’t have to identify them. It becomes so much easier to label a victim because that way, once everything settles in and we get back to normal, we don’t have to think about it.

Let’s face it; we are not willing to accept the idea that six people were killed last Saturday. We are not willing to accept the idea that two people were killed in Omaha last week. And how many other people were killed by senseless acts of violence last week. As long as we can put some sort of label on the victims and the crimes, it becomes very easy to forget about what happened.

Labels make it easier to do things; after all, if we don’t label the files on our computer, we could spend ½ of our time looking for the one file that we need. But when we put labels on people, it becomes very easy to forget them.

If you follow this blog, you know that my wife has started a feeding ministry on weekends at the church. Primarily for the children of the neighborhood, we are not going to tell others that they cannot eat at the table. We are mindful of certain regulations and rules but we will never turn away a hungry soul.

On Sundays, because of the Sunday School, the breakfast is in the community room instead of the gym. About two weeks ago, one member of the congregation came up to me while I was at the serving table and asked me if this was the “poor” people’s food. My response was, essentially, that it was food for everyone. I could not help but think to myself that this person saw food given without question to someone poor or homeless was somehow different from the food that members of the church might eat. We make no distinction about who may partake of the food that we serve. The food, by the way, is prepared fresh every weekend and the ingredients are high quality; Ann doesn’t take any shortcuts when it comes to cooking.

But we are mindful of who does come to the table we prepare. This is the prayer that I wrote for the kitchen:

Our most gracious Heavenly Father, please bless this food and the workers who have prepared it this day. Help us this day to understand that it will be your Son, Jesus Christ, whom we feed this morning and may we treat Him well. May what we do this morning and in the coming mornings better express Your Love and help others to find Your Grace. AMEN

I am sure that every church in this country did something for individuals and families for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am just wondering how many churches are continuing this throughout the rest of the year. Hunger and poverty do not magically appear in the middle of November nor do they likewise magically disappear at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.

I am withholding judgment on what cause that young man in Arizona to go on that shooting and killing spree. It is interesting to note that witnesses stated that he was trying to reload his weapon while individuals were tackling him and stopping him from shooting. But we have to wonder if the words of hate and violence that have so dominated our culture did not somehow play a role in his decision process.

But, words cannot hurt people, you say. Was it the healing of the sick and the feeding of the poor that caused the religious and political authorities to fear Jesus? Or was it what He was saying?

It has been the words of many who have inspired others to do many horrible and terrible things; it has been the words of many who have inspired others to do many great things. We are seeing an epidemic of what is called cyber-bullying – the spreading of gossip and lies about individuals over the internet. The consequences of these words are now just beginning to be visible. Ask the family of the fourteen-year old in Ohio if words do not hurt people.

And then we say, sometimes to ourselves, sometimes out loud “How can these things happen? We are a Christian nation!” Personally, I wish we would quit saying that we are a Christian nation. We are a nation that loudly proclaims that we are Christians but we haven’t a clue what it means to be a Christian. Go back and read the words from Isaiah for this Sunday and tell me if that is what you do. Go back and tell me if you are like Peter, telling others what Jesus has done and then doing it yourself. How many of us are willing to go out and fight the system that says the poor must suffer while the rich enjoy the good life? How many of us are willing to let the rich keep getting richer while the number of those in poverty get bigger every year?

If we were a Christian nation, we would be a nation that speaks out when one individual has no health insurance. If we were a Christian nation, we would be a nation that made sure that every individual had the same opportunity. Christ did not check the identity papers of those who followed Him; he really didn’t care where they came from. Maybe His disciples were a little leery of letting those who weren’t clearly Israelites get close to Him but He didn’t care. He gave the same opportunity to everyone whether they were a Jew or Gentile, an adult or a child, a man or a woman. Can we, who proclaim that we are a nation that follows Christ, say the same thing?

Yes, there were times when Jesus was angry but where was His anger directed? It was towards those who oppressed the people, not the oppressed people. And when Peter attempted to use the sword to stop the arrest of Jesus in the Garden, Jesus stopped him (and healed the wounded soldier). Violence is not the path that we should be walking. We should be walking and building a path of peace.

If you want to express anger and hatred towards others on this planet, go right ahead. But don’t tell me you are a Christian. If you want to exclude individuals from your church because of the color of their skin or the nature of their lifestyle or the status of their checkbook, go right ahead. But take the Cross off the wall over your altar (if there is one even there) and take the word Christian out of the name of your church.

When Jesus came to John at the Jordan River some two thousand years ago, it was to affirm the purpose of His ministry. John wanted Jesus to baptize him and that is what we often want to do. We want Jesus to affirm what we do, not the other way around. When we are baptized, our old life is washed away and we begin a new life. I don’t think it matters when one is baptized; as long as one knows that they have been baptized and been raised with the understanding of what that means, the baptism holds.

That’s why it is so important for each and every one of us to stop and consider the meaning of our words. We proclaim by our words that we are Christian; we allow everyone to think that we have been baptized and have begun a new life. But do our words reflect the meaning of what we say?

If we have been baptized, if our sins have been washed away, then it is time that we start living the life that comes anew in Christ. It is time that the meanings of our words reflect the baptism that we sought.

“Why Did He Do That?”

This is the message I presented at Tompkins Corners UMC for the Baptism of the Lord Sunday (9 January 2005).  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 42: 1 – 9, Acts 10: 34 – 43, and Matthew 3: 13 – 17.


"What do you do" has been a question for the church for a number of years. As we look at the world around us today, we have to ask ourselves "What do we do to change the direction of the world from its path of sin and desolation?" What do we do when society around us is intolerant of poverty and shows no concern for its less fortunate members? These questions are not unique to our generation; they have been with us since Jesus began His ministry. The real question must always be "How shall we respond?

Martin Luther responded to these questions by posting his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg. John Wesley responded by going to Bristol to preach.

In 1514, Martin Luther was a theology professor at Wittenburg University as well as serving as the priest at the City Church in Wittenburg. He began to notice that many of the people in Wittenberg were not coming to confession but rather going to the neighboring towns of Brandeburg or Anhalt to buy indulgences.

The people had begun to believe that buying indulgences was a way to buy their salvation. As people began the practice of buying indulgences, they began believing that other parts of church membership, including confession, were no longer needed. To Luther, such practices were totally unacceptable. He believed that one lived a life of humility in order to receive God’s grace.

The other problem with the sale of indulgences was that the Papal Court in Rome was in great financial trouble and the sale of these paper scripts was being used to finance the church. When Luther read an instruction manual for indulgence traders, he wrote a letter to his church superiors hoping to get rid of this abuse. In this letter he included the 95 theses which were to be the basis for discussion on the topic. On October 31, 1517, Luther nailed a copy of the 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. This act, the beginning of the Protestant Reformation was akin to posting the topic on a bulletin board and opening the discussion for public debate. (Adapted from http://www.geocities.come/Heartland/1700/95theses.html)

Martin Luther posted the 95 theses because he saw a church headed in a direction away from the intent of the Gospel. He saw a people who were no longer willing to work towards their salvation through faith but rather by taking an easier way.

John Wesley struggled with these questions for many years. He could not sit idly by and watch his church ignore the plight and conditions of the lower classes. Following that evening at the chapel on Aldersgate when he became aware of the presence of Christ in his life and what that presence meant, Wesley left for Bristol, in what was open defiance of the Church of England.

In an exchange with Joseph Butler, the Bishop of Bristol, Wesley made it clear what he felt he must do.

Bishop Butler — "You have no business here. You are not commissioned to preach in this diocese. Therefore I advise you to go hence."

John Wesley — "My lord, my business on earth is to do what good I can. Wherever therefore I think I can do most good, there must I stay so long as I think so. At present I think I can do the most good here. Therefore here I stay." (Frank Baker, "John Wesley and Bishop Butler: A Fragment of John Wesley’s Manuscript Journal", 16th to 24th August, 1739.)

John Wesley understood that a church and a nation that ignores members of its society could never expect worldly success, let alone success in Heaven. Having accepted Christ as one’s personal Savior, you could not sit back and wait for the Glory of the Lord to come to you. You had to take the message of the Gospel out into the world, both in thought, word and deed. To the elders of the Church of England, this call for action was unconscionable. How dare a pastor call for such radical action! This was a time when more and more people were getting wealthy every day so it was permissible to ignore those who were not quite so fortunate. Remember poverty in Wesley’s time was thought to be a reflection of one’s sinful life. If you were rich, it was because you lead a good life. If you were poor, it was because you were not living the right kind of life. It wasn’t the church’s fault that people were homeless and hungry; that medical care for the lower classes was almost non-existent; that only the rich could afford to go to school. Wesley would have felt right at home in the United States these last few years when concern for one’s own well-being was more important than a concern for members of society.

Today, I think we are in a similar situation. We give great lip service to the presence of God in our lives but our words and our actions do not always reflect this. While it is commendable for the outpouring of support by individuals and nations, why are we not always doing this? What will happen to the relief work of the various agencies in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa after a few more weeks? When all the American citizens have been found or accounted for, what will be the concern of American society?

And how can we justify the expenditure of 350 million dollars in relief for the people of Southeast Asia when we spend that much money in one or two days in the war in Iraq? I am not saying that we shouldn’t support the relief work; I am just wondering if our priorities are in line. Are we returning to the days of indulgences in hopes of buying salvation? Have we forgotten what salvation is and how it came that we might be saved?

And this comes at a time when the very nature of the church is coming into question. Are we a church that understands what Peter said to the gathering in Acts, a church that shows no partiality and is open to all? Or are we a church becoming closed both in mind and body? When he began his own mission work, Peter was among those who thought the church should be closed but through a vision from God, he came to understand that the message of Christ was for all, not just a select or chosen few? I think this is a message that has been forgotten by many pastors today.

I think that sometimes we also forget the message that Jesus sent to John the Baptist when he, John, was in prison. Herod had arrested John and placed him in prison. John knew that his mission on earth was about to end and he wondered if Jesus was the true Messiah, the one whose coming he, John, had been sent to proclaim. Remember that John should see the oppressed who were being freed, the sick and ill who were being healed, and the poor whose spirits were being uplifted. These were the people Isaiah refers to in his prophecy, the poor and the oppressed, the sick and ill, those who have lost hope in the Lord.

I cannot say for certain but I think those thoughts were in the minds of Luther and Wesley when they began their defiance of the church authority. You cannot have a church that ignores the people or takes away the basic message of the Gospel and have any credibility.

But if Jesus’ ministry was to have any credibility, Jesus could not come as a King but rather had to come as a servant. He could not be the King who ruled above the people but rather He had to be a servant who was with the people. He could not be the sacrifice that Isaiah prophesized unless He was the servant to the people. So, like us, Jesus had to be baptized by the water of repentance.

So, the question is "why did He do that?" So that the Gospel would have meaning and hope would be brought to people living in the darkness.

And we are reminded today of something else Jesus did. We are reminded that he gathered with His disciples that evening before His death and celebrated not His impending death but rather His resurrection and our victory over sin and death. He called them together and asked that they remember what they had done together and that they should carry the message of the Gospel into the world for all to hear. We are reminded once again that this celebration of life over death, this celebration of the defeat of sin is open to all, not just some, as long as one accepts Christ as his Savior.

The ultimate question perhaps is "why did Christ die on the Cross?" Because, in doing so, He gave us eternal life. That’s why He did it.