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.