“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

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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.

“Pardon Me, Do You Know The Way To Bethlehem?”


Here are my thoughts for 5 January 2014, the Epiphany of the Lord Sunday (Year A). The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 60: 1 – 6, Ephesians 3: 1 – 12, and Matthew 2: 1 – 12.

A couple of things – I didn’t post anything for last Sunday but if I had I would have compared what transpired in Israel with the slaughter of the innocents with what is transpiring in this country with the cuts being made in our social programs and what is transpiring in other countries such as Syria where children are being killed with the same ease as those who are intent on fighting. Somehow I just can’t escape the notion that we haven’t learned that when you do harm to the welfare of the young and innocent, you don’t give yourself much of a future.

The second note I wanted to make was that I had promised to write something with the title of this post for a youth group to give as a devotional. I want to apologize to that group for not getting it done. In my defense, I am finding it difficult to be creative at the moment. I might be able to use what follows later and prepare something that can be done by a group.

Along those lines, I chose the title because this is the Sunday that the wise men (number unknown) arrived at the home of Joseph and Mary. We know from the scriptures that they were essentially astronomers (thought we would probably call them astrologers today) and had determined by their observations of the night sky that something unique was taking place.

Now, just as I would have compared the situation in Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth and Herod’s rage with what we are doing to our children last week, let us think about what is transpiring with our society, country, and throughout the world today.

Each day we get evidence that we are getting dumber and dumber each day. Whether it be in what we know about human qualities or science matters, we are unwilling and unable to sufficiently analyze the information before us and make informed and accurate decisions. I don’t have any data but I suspect that if we were to quantify the number of conspiracy based theories floating around the universe and/or the Internet today, we would find that the number has increased significantly over the past twenty years or so.

And I would be willing to wager that our standing relative to other countries in terms of mathematics, science, history, and reading has fallen at the same time.

Let’s face it; we are quickly becoming incapable of thinking for ourselves. And there are quite a few individuals who would be glad and are working towards reaching the goal where they will do our thinking for us.

Now, some people will gladly point out that religion has a hand in it but it is not religion that is leading us astray. It is those leaders who feel that they and they alone know what is the best path to take and what are the best thoughts to think. These leaders work very well in the darkness of ignorance and will do whatever it takes to keep the people there.

But the prophet Isaiah calls for the people of Israel to be in the light, to see what is coming. You know that if you keep people in the dark, they can’t see what’s coming and if you can’t see what’s coming, you will not be prepared.

I have said it before and I will keep saying it. Our schools are not preparing students for the unknown problems; they are preparing for the problems that are already solved. Ask any teacher and they will tell you that when they assign problems for homework, they have to make sure that the answers are in the back of the book. If they give any other problems, they will hear about it from the administration and the parents.

Even Paul points out that, under normal situations, he might not understand much of what he writes. But he also acknowledges that there was a moment in his life when he gained that understanding.

In some circles, that is called the “AHA Moment”, that moment when a hard problem becomes very easy to understand. We should have all had such a moment in our life but it only comes when your mental skills and thinking processes are tested. And I think that we would all agree that Saul was truly tested that one day on the road to Damascus, sufficient that not only was his mind opened to Christ but his life changed and he became known from then on as Paul.

The wise men were clearly students of the sky, seeking answers to many questions. Whatever it was that they saw, individually and/or collectively, was sufficient to cause them to leave their lands and travel to Israel and seek out Jesus.

You cannot seek out Jesus if your heart is closed; you will never know who Jesus is for you unless your mind is open as well. In our churches today, we are faced with a dilemma. There are those who come to the doors of many churches asking where the child born in Bethlehem may be found. But they do not get an answer because many people do not know the answer or they are unwilling or unable to share the knowledge.

So, do you know the way to Bethlehem? Can you help a traveler find the way?

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) optimum.net. 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)

Guided by the Light


These are my thoughts for January 1, 2012, the Epiphany of the Lord Sunday.

There probably isn’t going to be much reference to the Scripture readings for this Sunday but I will be, as the title suggests, guided by the light of the star that guided the Magi from their homeland to the new born Christ Child.

I have been blogging since July, 2005, which is probably a long time in the blogging community. My blogging allowed me to be part of some other blogs and that was a good thing. I started off blogging as a way to continue the writing that was part of sermon preparation that had been a part of my life since 1998. And I thought that people would take notice of my writing and this would lead to some other possibilities. Sadly, I have come to conclusion that isn’t going to take place.

Yes, my writing lead to my being asked to contribute to RedBlueChristian (link removed on 15 May 2015; the site is pretty much dead) as a voice for the liberal/progressive side of the spectrum. I liked that idea but I am not sure how many people actually visited that blog, especially since most of the contributors, including myself, put the same pieces on our own blog. I fear that this blog, which has not had much activity in the past six months or so, has run its course and will shortly disappear into the vastness of cyberspace.

I am thinking that I need to do something else with my writing. As I have written before, I never bought into the “publish or perish” model of academic success. I published research and other articles that I found interesting. Unfortunately, if you are not connected with a college or university and not putting out three or four manuscripts a year, you are not considered worthy of employment in today’s academic world. I have also come to the conclusion that my thirty years of experience, coupled with the Ph. D., are too much of an expense for many schools that need introductory chemistry instructors. It is far cheaper to take a rookie with a brand new degree and maybe a year or two of post-doctoral experience. And it is better if they can bring with them an active research program.

I am finding that even community colleges are seeking research oriented individuals, no matter if there are research facilities on the campus. Research means grants and grants mean money. If a professor can get grants for research, it means that part or all of his or her salary can be paid from the grant and this relieves the school from that burden.

The only problem is that the research I am interested in doing is related to chemical and science education. To too many “purists” this isn’t real research but something to dabble in late in life. The only problem with this attitude is that ignores problems with chemical education. Right now, it seems to me that our whole basic education process, not just the introductory chemistry process, is to give students a stack of material to memorize for a test and offer no connection between the course and the world. We see it in the vestiges of “No Child Left Behind” where all that matters is the test score. This is now very much a part of the mentality students bring to their college work. Having spent the better part of high school taking tests, they think that all they have to do is the same thing in college.

We have lost our focus on the purpose of education. No longer are we interested in developing thinkers and questioners; rather we want students to come out school blindly accepting authority and doing what the powers-that-be demand. For me, this is especially true in the area where science and religion overlap. There should be no conflict between the two areas but, unfortunately, too many individuals in one area distrust their counterparts in the other area and this is leading to some very bad times ahead. Our misunderstanding of climate change is just a tip of the literal iceberg; our lack of understanding about science in general is far greater than many people would suspect.

And the distrust that many people feel with regards to the church wouldn’t be there if religious authorities were more focused on their real job rather trying to keep their positions safe. There are times when I feel like Job and I want to question God. Some would say that is not possible but if it were not possible, then why is Job included in the present canon? Yes, I know that Job acknowledges he pushed the envelope but all he wanted was the chance to do so. And only a loving God would be willing to let one of His children push the envelope, don’t you think?

So I am going to take a break from blogging on a regular basis. I will continue to add pieces as I find the time and the need; if nothing else, the on-going and seemingly never ending presidential election process offers plenty of opportunities. I will add a piece each week that links my previous posts for the particular Sunday as well.

Now, the reference to Magi – when I wrote “To Return Home Another Way” I pointed out that while we today consider the Magi astrologers they were, in fact, some of the first scientists. I also pointed out that their lives were changed by that encounter with the Christ Child. I also pointed out that Isaac Newton was as much a theologian as he was a physicist. I discussed this in “A Dialogue of Science and Faith” and pointed out that other individuals such as Robert Boyle and Joseph Priestley were also involved in theology as well as science.

I think that I should spend some time this year considering the joint path of theology and science that I have developed over the years. I will, most likely, continue as a certified lay speaker and, on those Sundays, when I am on the road somewhere, you can expect my message to be posted. Each week, I will post a summary of the four or five pieces that I have written and posted over the past seven years or so.

And as I prepare them, pieces on science and religion or chemistry will appear. I also have some obligations that I have let slide and feel that now is the time to get caught up on that. These will also involve the joint areas of science and religion.

As we end 2011 and begin 2012, it is clear that God has been a part of my life. But I need to evaluate the path that I have been walking and see if there is another path that I should be taking in the coming months. Be assured that, just as it has in the past, this new path will be guided by the light.

“To Return Home Another Way”


I am at Dover Plains UMC this morning (Location of church) this morning.  The service starts at 11 and you are always welcome to attend.  The Scriptures for this Sunday, Epiphany Sunday, are Isaiah 60: 1 – 6, Ephesians 3: 1 – 12, and Matthew 2: 1 -  12.

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I suppose that I have some sort of kinship with the Magi in today’s Gospel reading. After all, they were considered the scientists of their time and my training and professional career have been areas of science. And at some point in each of our lives, we have encountered Christ and it was and continues to be an encounter that changed our lives.

Now, to be sure, we would call the Magi astrologers today but we often fail to realize that they were the ones who made the observations and asked the questions that allowed astronomy, chemistry, and physics to develop. Our view of what the Magi did back then is very much linked to our view of the world today. In fact, our view of the great scientists of the past, such as Isaac Newton, is predicated on our thoughts today and not on what they were doing back then. We see Isaac Newton as the developer of calculus and classical physics but either forget or don’t know that he was also an alchemist of the highest order. And many are not aware that much of Newton’s writings were actually religious in nature. But, by the same token, Newton’s beliefs as a Christian ran counter to the orthodox view of his day, so it is most likely that this information wasn’t easily passed down from one generation to the next (see “A Dialogue of Science and Faith” for further information on 18th and 19th century scientists and their beliefs).

But, to the point of the Magi, while we understand that there is no relationship between the movement of the planets and stars and our daily lives and we have to wonder about those who perhaps still do, we also have to understand that the Magi sought to find relationships between what they saw in the evening skies and what was transpiring in the world around them. And what they saw and what they knew could only allow them to conclude that something special and unique somewhere in a country to the west of their homeland was occurring.

And, just as their scientific worldview was tied to the times in which they lived, so too was their political worldview. And logic dictated that if a new king was born in a land to the west, this child must be have been born in a royal setting. And protocol demanded that any visitors seeking this new king must first call upon the old or present king and congratulate them. In this case, that meant visiting with Herod.

Those verses in Matthew that describe the encounter of the Magi with Herod and his court suggest that the political and religious authorities were not prepared for this moment. And it begs the question, “Did they not see the same signs?”

They clearly knew the prophecies because they were able to tell the Magi that Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem. But why were they surprised? Could it be that the status for each one of them was so linked to Herod that they were afraid to say anything? Was their own personal status so dependent on the status quo that they were blind to the changes occurring around them?

True revolutions occur when the powerful are blind to what is happening to the people and are more concerned with their own position and status than they are with the people. And a revolution began that day. We would not see the outcome of this revolution for some thirty years or so but it is clear that it began the moment the Magi told Herod that a new king had been born.

It began when the Magi returned home. It began when the angels told them to return home by another route. When you look at a map of the Middle East, you can see that there are alternate routes from Israel to Babylon. The same is true for Dover. When I look at a map of the area, I can see at least four different ways to get to this church every Sunday; the only difficulty is that I haven’t figured out the best and most logical way to get here or go home in case of bad weather.

But that may not have been the case with the Magi. It may be that they took the same route home that they followed when they sought out the Christ Child, though they clearly avoided contact with Herod on the return journey. But their return was a far cry different than they may have thought it was going to be because of that encounter with Jesus.

I have come to the conclusion that they would not have traveled as far as they did to worship a newborn child and then gone home and said nothing. How could they have not said something! This child that was before them was, according to all the signs, to be the new king and yet He was born in less than a noble setting. The angels sang to this child and shepherds were the first to be told; what king on earth could say that?

These were individuals who spent all their lives studying the skies, analyzing what they saw, and then made conclusions. When the angel warned them about returning to Herod, it could only have confirmed what they saw. So how could they keep quiet?

There is that passage in the Old Testament reading for today where Isaiah speaks of the people smiling on their return to Israel after years of exile in Babylon. Interestingly enough, we presume that the Magi returned to Babylon after traveling to Israel. Clearly, the people of Israel were smiling upon their return. Could it not be said that the Magi were smiling as well when they returned home?

And why should they not have been smiling? Their lives would have changed just as much as the Israelites’ changed? In a world of trouble and strife, the Magi and those they encountered would have known that their lives had been changed by the encounter with the Christ Child in Bethlehem.

To return home and do nothing would be to have written off the trip as a waste of time. And I really don’t see how they could have done that. Unfortunately, in today’s society, there are a lot of people who do just that; they come to church on Sunday morning, sit passively for the hour or so that the worship takes, and then they go home. And if you were to ask them, they would tell you that it was probably a waste of time but they didn’t have anything better to do so they came anyway.

But we came here today, I hope, just as the Magi did so many years ago seeking the Christ Child. It is that encounter that will change our lives and change the lives of the people we meet, if we let it. Paul writes to the Ephesians about how his encounter with Christ changed his life and how he was doing things that he never thought possible.

He speaks of the mystery of Christ and how it is explained to all those who are open to the ideas. Everyone gets the same message but not everyone is open. But he also points out that everyone who does hear and does receive the message is given the opportunity, in a manner perhaps unknown, to tell others about what has happened.

And that is where we are at today. We may very well go home by the same route that we came to church; we may very well do the same thing tomorrow that we have always done on Monday. But this time, this time, maybe we will encounter someone who needs a little encouraging or is searching for something and this time, you will have the answer to give them. This morning, you are given the opportunity to return home another way, not as who you were when you walked in the door this morning but as one who has encountered the Christ Child and has allowed the Holy Spirit to transform and change your life. It is a decision that you have to make.

The Magi had to return home but they did not have to return home silently and quietly. We have to return home as well; we can try it by another way as well.

“I See the Light”


Here are my thoughts for Epiphany Sunday, 3 January 2010. The Scriptures for today are Isaiah 60: 1 – 6, Ephesians 3: 1 – 12, and Matthew 2: 1 – 12.

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This is an interesting Sunday as far as the lectionary goes. We have gone from Christ’s birth on Christmas Eve to his journey to the temple when He was twelve and now have gone back to the time when the Magi arrive with their gifts. Following the lectionary can at times be confusing but what fun would we have if it was straight forward and simple?

In that vein, I took the title for this message from an old 60s song, “I See The Light” by the Five Americans but I will tell you that I will use the the old Gospel song, “I saw the light” at the end of this message.

The word “epiphany” has two meanings in my life. The first, of course, is today when, by tradition, the wise men came to visit Jesus. The second meaning has a more scientific meaning, as when someone suddenly understands the meaning behind an event or a discovery. It is, if you will, what has been termed “the AHA moment”.

It is a moment that we all have experienced at some point in our lives, a moment when a difficult problem suddenly becomes very clear and we wonder why we didn’t understand it before. But to get to that point, we have to be involved with the study of the problem and the mechanics of solving it. And that is where we, as a society, are quickly failing.

We don’t want to do the work that will enable us to solve problems. We apply the same old answers to new solutions. The answers to the economic crisis over the past several years have been expressed in terms of supporting the systems that caused the crisis in the first place rather than helping those were suffering. The answer to the problems of healthcare in this country was seen in only a continuation of the same system instead of insuring that people had real healthcare. The answers to the problems of terrorism only seek to increase the terrorism, not end it. If the links to the aborted Christmas Day bombing on the Northwest flight are to be found in Yemen, attacking Yemen will not stop future terrorism.

The problem is that we are not willing to go that extra step that is needed; we are not willing to push the boundaries necessary to learn something new. The wise men were men of learning and they spent their time learning about the world around them. Something happened to disturb the world that they were observing; but instead of simply making note of the event, they investigated it. And that required they leave the “laboratory” and venture westward to where the star pointed them.

But we are too often like King Herod, reluctant to accept new ideas or information, choosing instead to hold to the one ways and the old ideas. While our reactions may not be as violent as Herod’s, our reluctance to accept new ideas is about the same. Why is it that we think that rebuilding the banks that trashed the economic system will make things better? Why do we think the only kinds of jobs that we can create are traditional jobs rebuilding the infrastructure? Why is it that healthcare is predicated on one’s economic status? Why, when we know the causes of terrorism, do we insist on doing things that only feed terrorism?

Maybe we need to encounter Christ as Paul did on the road to Damascus. Maybe, instead of seeing things through our old eyes, we need to be blinded by the light as Paul was. And when our eyes open again, maybe we will see the world through different eyes, in a different light.

As Isaiah told the people, perhaps we should look up and look around! And if we do, then we shall see a new world, a new world of hope and promise. This new vision, this new light is echoed in the words of Paul. In Christ, we have the new vision, the new light.

As Paul pointed out to the Ephesians, the older generations didn’t have that insight. They were locked into a vision that saw the solution in the old ways. But in the vision of Christ we can see new solutions.

When the wise men came to Christ, they were filled with excitement. It was not simply that they had come upon the Christ child but that their visions had given them insight into a new world. And we know that their lives changed because they took a different way home. They understood the meaning of the message of the angels that to return to Herod was to destroy all that they had done.

We cannot but wonder if they didn’t take the message of Christ’s birth to the people where they lived. But instead of wondering, we should follow their example.

We have the vision; we have seen the light. And we know what the light brings. No longer are we limited by the old ways, Perhaps as this new year begins, we can see new solutions that focus on all the people, not just those who already have and want more. Each year we pray for peace in this world and perhaps this year we can find that peace through the Gospel message, to feed the hungry and heal the sick, to free the oppressed and bring hope to the forgotten people of the planet. Because to do otherwise will turn the clock back, not forward.

We have the opportunity, let us rejoice.

“I Saw The Light”