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 Legacy of the Wise Men

January 5, 2020

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of this Sunday’s (January 5) Bulletin at Fishkill UMC. We will be focusing on Epiphany of the Lord (Year A). Services start at 10:15 am and you are welcome to be a part of a new year of worship.

As you may know, I am a chemist and a science educator.  If you were to trace the lineage of my profession backwards in time, sooner or later you would end in some obscure laboratory in 17th century Europe.  More importantly, if you continued the travel back in time, you would also end up in an equally obscure laboratory outside 16th century Baghdad.

The wise men are the intellectual ancestors of today’s mathematicians and scientists.  While we call what they did alchemy, it was still a study of matter and its reactions, the basic definition of chemistry.  The driving force behind these studies was to gain a better understand of who God was and what God was doing.  It should be noted that Robert Boyle, considered the father of modern chemistry, was also a prolific writer of religious manuscripts and Sir Isaac Newton, in the preface to his most famous work, Principia Mathematica, wrote that he hoped that what he presented would lead the reader to a better understanding of God.

Did not Jesus, when asked if He was the expected Messiah, tell the questioners to look at the evidence before them?

The evidence before me tells me that the universe is not quite 14 billion years old and not, as determined by some quirky and faulty calculations, 10,000 years old.  But the evidence does not tell me why it was created.

If nothing else, that I am both a Christian and a scientist dispels the notion that one cannot be both or that one must sacrifice one for the other.  When I look at the processes of creation, I can understand how it occurred but it is though my faith that I begin to understand why it was created.

And in doing so, I continue the legacy of Boyle and Newton and those who saw the Star in the East and sought to understand the meaning of what they saw.

In including the wise men in the Christmas narrative, Matthew suggested that, like the wise men, we must seek our understanding of God.  In looking at the world around us, in trying to understand the world around us, we can better understand who God is and what our relationship to Him through Christ might be.

~~Dr. Tony Mitchell

Faith and Reason

The following links go to a series dealing with faith and reason posted on the Emerging Scholars Blog (updated on 8 June 2019):

Faith and Reason, Part 1

Faith and Reason, Part 2: Augustine

Faith and Reason, Part 3: Aquinas

Faith and Reason, Part 4: Locke

Faith and Reason, Part 5: Hume

Faith and Reason Part 6: Plantinga

Faith and Reason Part 7: Plantinga, Continued

Faith and Reason Series Part 8: Eleonore Stump

I am sharing this because reason is considered one part of the Wesleyan quadrilateral.  Your comments are welcome (please note that comments made here are not shared with the author of the posts so it would be wise to share you comments on the appropriate post.

That First Christmas

I am not sure if I have posted some of these thoughts before; I know I have mentioned them in passing. 

How many “first” Christmas do you remember?  I know that my first Christmas was on December 25, 1950 and that my parents and my grandparents were there.  There may have been a few of my North Carolina cousins there as well.  I also know that I looked absolutely fabulous in my baptismal gown.  I know that because I have a picture of my parents and I on that occasion.  But since I was only three months old at the time, that’s all I know about my first Christmas. 

There are the memories of my first Christmas with my wife and each of my daughters.  I remember the Christmas twenty years ago when Ann and I traveledto Memphis to meet my mother, brothers, and sister.  It would also be the first time that Ann had ever heard me preach.  I remember telling her just before we arrived at the church that she would be the only white women there. 

I also remember the broken bones and broken marriages, of lost jobs and being homeless at Christmas.  Against the backdrop of the Joy of Christmas, we must also remember that, for many individuals and families, this is not a joyous time.  If for no other reason that this is the season of giving, we must find ways to share our joys with those who suffer pain and loss.  We must find ways to bring hope and light into the lives of those for whom Christmas is often the darkest and longest night. 

We think back to that First Christmas some two thousand years ago.  Mary and Joseph knew that this was a special day but those around them only saw a couple in need of help, trying to find shelter on a cold and dark night where a baby could be born.   

I am sure that the innkeeper wasn’t thinking that this couple were by any means a special couple but just two people trying to find a place to stay in a town overflowing with people because the Roman government had insisted on a census of the population. 

And surely among all of Joseph’s cousins who had traveled to Bethlehem for the same reasons as he did were some mid-wives who would help with the birth of Mary’s child.  You did not ask who the child was; you helped the mother through a difficult time. 

But then the shepherds came.  Shepherds were the dregs of society and no one in proper society would even think of letting them visit; after all, there was no telling what they might do or take.  But some among those gathered that night must have thought that if the shepherds had been invited, something special must be occurring. 

Even those who weren’t paying attention to what happened in Bethlehem knew something must have happened when Herod imposed the wrath of Roman power on the rumor of the birth of a new King. 

So, in a society ruled by Roman and religious oppression, where success was guided more by your position in society and fealty to the law, some saw a light shining in the darkness of the winter night.  Though many did not know how special that night was, they knew something was changing.  And over the years, they would come to understand what happened that night and what it would mean. 

There is a darkness enveloping this world today and though light is returning as the seasons move forward, this darkness seems to be growing.  There are those today for whom the darkness totally envelopes their lives; there is no joy, there is no hope in their lives. 

Christmas has no meaning if it is not shared; we share it with those seeking light in a sea of darkness.  But more importantly, just as those who gathered that first night in Bethlehem, we too take what happened with us and we tell others.  

We all have our special first Christmas.  Let this Christmas be the beginning of the story that we share each day. 

What Does Advent Mean?

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for this coming Sunday, December 1, 2019, the 1st Sunday in Advent (Year A). I will be taking a brief sabbatical and allowing others to share their thoughts for Advent on the back page. I plan to return for January 5, 2020.

First, my thanks to Pam, Tom, Herb, and Jane for helping with the “Back Page” for this Advent season.  When I was asked what one should write, I just said, look to the Scriptures and tell others what they mean to you.  For me, Advent is the time of certainty in a time of darkness and fear.

Advent is always about preparation, preparing for the coming of Christ.  The thing is that we know how the story begins and how the story ends.  But what about those who have never heard the story?  What about those who came to the stable where Jesus lay that First Night?  The shepherds knew because the angels told them what to expect. 

Did the innkeeper know who that husband and wife seeking shelter were?  All he knew was he had no room, except for a space in his stable.

Did those who came to help Mary with the delivery of her first child know who this Child would become?  They only knew that this young mother needed their help.

There is, perhaps, a certain degree of uncertainty in our lives.  The times we live in almost guarantee that.  It seems to me that when we seek only certainty in our lives, we cannot move forward.  But with the certainty that Christ is coming into our lives, the fear that keeps us from moving disappears.

So, as we begin Advent, we begin preparing for Christ’s coming into our lives and the certainty that comes from his presence in our lives.

~~Tony Mitchell

“A Better Place”

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of the bulletin at Fishkill United Methodist Church for this coming Sunday, November 24, 2019, Christ the King Sunday (Year C). Services start at 10:15 and everyone is welcome to attend. If you feel up to it, come around 9:15 and practice with the choir.

For the record, I have probably written more on the idea of stewardship these past four weeks than I have in the previous twenty years.  This is due, in part, because I haven’t had to write on the topic, and in part because, as Pastor Micah noted a couple of weeks ago, it is not a popular topic.

In a “perfect” world,  we would not need to address the topic because it would be second nature to us.  But we do not live in such a “perfect” world and by our proclamation as Christians and as United Methodists, we must find ways to strive for such perfection.

Stewardship takes on many forms, from caring for this world on which we live to caring for those who live on this planet, no matter who they are or what they believe.  Stewardship, in its many forms, is one of the many ways that we can express our faith.

So, for a brief period of time each year, we focus on how we shall be good stewards of this place on which we live and the people with whom we share this place.

~~ Tony Mitchell