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Worship/Preaching

Durso, ed.

“This beautiful collection sings with the energy of the spirit. An important tribute to the power women bring to the word. Amen, sisters!” —Susan Sparks Pastor, Madison Avenue Baptist Church, New York

“A powerful reminder that God does what the Bible says God does; pour out the Spirit of proclamation on sons and daughters with no regard for whether they happen to be sons or daughters.” —Chuck Poole Pastor, Northminster Baptist Church, Jackson, Mississippi

Mary Yangsook Ahn Robin Bolen Anderson Patricia A. Bancroft Faithe Beam Bonnie Oliver Brandon Katrina Stipe Brooks Amy Butler Eileen Campbell-Reed Dorisanne Cooper Lynn Dandridge Isabel N. Docampo Elizabeth Rickert Dowdy

Pamela R. Durso Kristy Eggert F. Sue Fitzgerald Tammy Jackson Gill Elizabeth Evans Hagan Amber C. Inscore Essick LeAnn Gunter Johns Andrea Dellinger Jones Martha Dixon Kearse Julie Merritt Lee Jewel M. London Nora O. Lozano

Molly T. Marshall Amy Mears Robin Norsworthy Suzii Paynter Julie Pennington-Russell Suzanah Raffield Nancy Hastings Sehested Sarah Jackson Shelton Amy Shorner-Johnson Sarah Stewart Lisa L. Thompson Joy Yee

Pamela R. Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry in Atlanta, Georgia, and is an adjunct professor at McAfee School of Theology.

This Is What a Preacher Looks Like

Contributors


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Our Good Shepherd Psalm 23

Julie PenningtonRussell. A friend of mine in California received a phone call early one morning, the kind every parent dreads. Her daughter, who was in her mid-thirties and a successful executive living in Tennessee, had been battling anorexia for several years. She had been hospitalized and was close to death. My friend immediately flew to Nashville and stayed with her daughter around the clock while she fought for her life. Happily, the young woman recovered. She now has moved back to San Francisco to be near her family and is doing pretty well, actually. But during those dark weeks in that Nashville hospital, we thought she might not survive. One morning, during the worst part of the ordeal, the girl’s mother was close to despair. Having sat awake the night before by her daughter’s bedside, my friend was exhausted and terrified. She decided to take a walk to clear her head. She meandered through the hospital corridor and ended up in a little chapel not far from the cafeteria, a quiet space that opened into a lovely garden. At that time my friend did not consider herself at all religious, and in fact, she referred to herself as a “functioning agnostic.” But her boat was going down in that dark sea, and she was grabbing for whatever lifeline she could find. The little chapel was an interfaith one. On a large table lit with candles, among a scattering of sacred books, was a large, ornate King James Bible. My friend was biblically illiterate, did not know Genesis from Jell-o, but she recalled a text from somewhere in her past. So she traced a finger down the table of contents, not remembering if the Psalms were in the Old Testament or the New. Finding the text for which she was looking, she read that psalm and read it again and again. Read it silently. Read it aloud. Wept over it. And later my


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friend told me, “The words of the Twenty-third Psalm performed CPR on my broken heart that day. It felt to me as if they were pounding on my chest, blowing oxygen into my lungs. It was the first time in my life that I actually perceived God holding me, and I thought, ‘This is what it feels like to be cared for by God.’” I have no doubt that it was the spirit of God hovering over my friend that day. But I have also found myself wondering—what, specifically, in the Twenty-third Psalm spoke to her in that desperate hour? It may have been that these words come from someone who appears to have walked through fire and made it to the other side. Perhaps my friend was able to trace her own silhouette in the lines of the psalm. Psalm 23 expresses such a simple, almost childlike, faith. But it is faith on the far side of some real pain, which makes it a faith worth paying attention to. Or maybe my friend was overtaken by the image of God presented in the psalm: God as my shepherd. Of course, if God is a shepherd, guess what that makes us? Baa. This shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures. Some of us really do need someone to make us lie down and rest. This good shepherd cares for us in our exhaustion. And he leads us beside still waters. Some of us lead such fragmented lives; we need to be guided into a way of being that is not so splintered, but is integrated and whole. Sometimes I feel like the woman in Margaret Atwood’s poem: Most hearts say, I want, I want, I want, I want. My heart is more duplicitous . . . It says, I want, I don’t want, I want . . . How can one live with such a heart?1

When our family lived in San Francisco, sometimes we would go down to Fisherman’s Wharf to watch the street artists perform all sorts of outlandish acts. I remember one juggler who could keep five or six bowling pins up in the air at once while riding a unicycle across a tightrope. That street juggler reminds me of me sometimes—trying to remain balanced while keeping all of my priorities airborne. Toss this pin up for God, this one for family, this one for church, this one for my friends. No wonder I feel dizzy and split apart so much of the time! This psalm comes along and immediately wants to knock down our pins. You and I will never sit beside still waters until we come to understand that God refuses to be one of our priorities—not even the first priority. God


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is the entire ground beneath our feet and the gathering sky under which our priorities have any hope of making sense at all. Until we get clear about that, we are still stuck in “I want, I don’t want. . . . I want, I don’t want.” The good shepherd cares for us in our agitation. When we have rested in green pastures and drunk from still waters and it is time to hit the road again, our shepherd leads us down a good one. Even when we do not realize what the shepherd is up to, there he is—preparing the ground, scouting ahead, and scanning for wolves and thickets and scary ravines. I can give a word of witness about that. Today is my father’s birthday. Dad died nine years ago of cancer, but today he would have been seventy-four years old. Because I have been thinking about my father and this psalm all week, I have found myself mulling over a warm memory from my childhood. Part of my story has to do with a particular piece of God’s providence at work in my life, even before I was born. I come from a family of coal miners. Both my mother’s father and my father’s father mined coal in Alabama for Republic Iron & Steel. One terrible day in August 1943, both of my grandfathers were burned to death when a series of explosions ripped through the Sayreton mines near Birmingham. In all, thirty mine workers died, including William Pennington and Staples Bailey, my grandfathers. My mother was four years old at that time, and my father was eight. Dad’s family was desperately poor, poorer than my mother’s family, largely because there were so many of them to feed. My father was one of eleven Pennington children, and the only one who finished high school. Some years later, in 1956, four years before I was born, my father realized that he was not going to be able to go to college because he needed to work to help support the family. Dad was faced with a decision: work in the same mine where his father had died or go downtown to the Air Force recruiter’s office and sign up. Dad’s decision to enlist pretty much changed my life, although I was not even yet born. His decision took our family out of Alabama. I do not have a thing in the world against Alabama; it was a great growing-up place for my parents. But Birmingham in the 1960s was, as you know, a broken city. And so while my cousins were growing up in that place with the fire hoses, bombings, and segregation, my brother and I were out in California, living in base housing next door to the Schwartzes, who were Jewish, and the Washingtons, who were African American. We shared a courtyard with the Awohis, who were native Hawaiians. Their children were my playmates, and I loved them.


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That experience shaped my life in powerful ways. Besides the broadened racial perspective, I also perceived a delicious freedom in California from a lot of the gender stereotypes that I had observed in the South. In those days, Helen Reddy was singing, “I am woman, hear me roar,” and in my young heart a seed was planted. The years we spent in the San Joaquin Valley of California when I was in junior high and high school were some of the most formative of my life. Memories of that time later drew me back to the West Coast when I decided to go to seminary. Somehow God took that colossal disappointment for my father, the closed door to college, and used some of the broken pieces of his dream to make a path for me that to this day feels beautiful beneath my feet. “He leads me in right paths.” Sometimes, however, a season comes when the path does not feel right at all. You receive a call from the doctor: “Your tests have come back, and there is some cause for concern.” The jungle drums start beating in the back of your head. Or your spouse says the words you never imagined you would hear: “I am not sure that I love you anymore.” Or your children fall into some terrible hole. You cannot reach them, cannot rescue them, and the ceiling presses in. Life has never seemed darker. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow.” Where is the green pasture now? Where is the still water? And, for that matter, where the heck is the shepherd? Such a place is where David, our psalmist, finds himself, and what does he do? He does what a child would do. He reaches a hand into the darkness, desperate to find a hand reaching back, and what do you know, the hand of the good shepherd is there. “I will fear no evil . . . you are with me.” And it’s enough. For hapless and harried sheep that are lost and afraid, the shepherd’s nearness gives us courage enough to keep walking. And if we do—if we trust the one who is walking just ahead, beating back the thorns with his staff—in time, we will find ourselves emerging into the light. Not the same old light, mind you, but a brand new light. When David finally steps out of the shadow, he gets a brand new way of looking at God and a new way of seeing himself as well. At the beginning of this psalm, the writer sees himself as a sheep with the shepherd. But now, on the far side of despair, what does he see? A table. A cup. Sweet oil for his head. Suddenly this barnyard sheep has been promoted to honored guest at the Lord’s own table, and God the shepherd has become the welcoming host. So can you say it yet? “My cup runneth over.” Some of you can. Some of you have a cup like a Florentine fountain these days. You need a manager


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just to keep track of all the goodness. Some of you cannot say it now because you are walking through a season of shadows. But keep walking. Keep leaning in with faith. Keep praying, “You are with me. You are with me.” Listen to God’s own promise: There is a cup with your name on it on the far side of this valley, a cup deep and full of joy for you. There is a table of welcome for you. There is a home in God’s own house for you. The cup, the table, and the home are ahead of you as you trust the shepherd in the shadow as well as in the meadow. What does this kind of trust look like? It is probably different for every life, but here is what it looks like for me: Once I was in such a particularly dark valley that I needed to go away for a time in order to find my footing again. I went to what had become a place of renewal for me, a Catholic retreat center about forty miles from Waco, Texas. Before leaving on retreat, I got an e-mail from a good friend and mentor, a woman who is a spiritual director for many. She wrote, Julie, so glad that you are going on retreat. I hope that the time with Jesus in nature will break down big chunks of the devil’s scare tactics so that you can see that really, you are riding on Jesus’ shoulders, and he is knocking the problems out of the park for you because he is big and you are small. Remember, he loves for you to be part of what he’s doing, but he never would leave the load of these problems on your slender shoulders. Take in love and deep rest, dear friend.

Maybe your soul is completely restored these days, and if so, that is wonderful. Celebrate it. But if your life feels frantic and frayed and seriously unmanageable, know that there is a shepherd who loves you and wants nothing more than to swing you up on his shoulders and carry you to a safe place of rest and peace. All thanks and praise to our good shepherd, who has the power to lead us—even through the dark valley of death—because he has been there, and he knows his way out. And since that day, there has not been a grave that could keep holding any of God’s children. Talk about good news. Note 1. Margaret Atwood, “The Woman Who Could Not Live with Her Faulty Heart,” TwoHeaded Poems (Oxford University Press, 1978) 14.


Worship/Preaching

Durso, ed.

“This beautiful collection sings with the energy of the spirit. An important tribute to the power women bring to the word. Amen, sisters!” —Susan Sparks Pastor, Madison Avenue Baptist Church, New York

“A powerful reminder that God does what the Bible says God does; pour out the Spirit of proclamation on sons and daughters with no regard for whether they happen to be sons or daughters.” —Chuck Poole Pastor, Northminster Baptist Church, Jackson, Mississippi

Mary Yangsook Ahn Robin Bolen Anderson Patricia A. Bancroft Faithe Beam Bonnie Oliver Brandon Katrina Stipe Brooks Amy Butler Eileen Campbell-Reed Dorisanne Cooper Lynn Dandridge Isabel N. Docampo Elizabeth Rickert Dowdy

Pamela R. Durso Kristy Eggert F. Sue Fitzgerald Tammy Jackson Gill Elizabeth Evans Hagan Amber C. Inscore Essick LeAnn Gunter Johns Andrea Dellinger Jones Martha Dixon Kearse Julie Merritt Lee Jewel M. London Nora O. Lozano

Molly T. Marshall Amy Mears Robin Norsworthy Suzii Paynter Julie Pennington-Russell Suzanah Raffield Nancy Hastings Sehested Sarah Jackson Shelton Amy Shorner-Johnson Sarah Stewart Lisa L. Thompson Joy Yee

Pamela R. Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry in Atlanta, Georgia, and is an adjunct professor at McAfee School of Theology.

This Is What a Preacher Looks Like

Contributors

This Is What a Preacher Looks Like  

This Is What a Preacher Looks Like: Sermons by Baptist Women is a collection of sermons by thirty-six Baptist women. Just imagine—the work o...

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