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R E P O RT F R O M TH E F R O NT L I N E—TH E PASTO R’S I SS U E

WINTER 2008–2009

ed! d u l c n I CD

FEATURED Claude R. Alexander ■ Oscar E. Brown ■ Wayne E. Croft Sr. ■ James A. Forbes Jr. ■ D. Darrell Griffin ■ Samuel DeWitt Proctor ■ Sandy F. Ray ■ Jasmin Sculark ■ Edward L. Wheeler ■

…and more

ISBN: 978-0-9820169-1-6


CONTENTS

Editorially Speaking Report from the Front Line: The Pastor’s Issue Eugene L. Gibson Jr. and Frank A. Thomas

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Pastoral Poetics Remembering Who We Are: A Poetic Meditation LaDonna M. Sanders

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Articles I Believe in Miracles: A Critique of Insensitive Pastoral Theology Kesslyn A. Brade

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What Does Exegesis Have to Do with Preaching? Larry L. Enis

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Our Life and Our Community: Health Concerns in the Church Patricia Garrett

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Preaching in the Transition Zone, Part II D. Darrell Griffin

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Grace in the Wilderness: Empowerment for Pastors Serving Rural Areas Michael Thomas Scott Sr.

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The Pastor’s Ministry Life Cycle A Pastor’s Installation Sermon: The Valley of Decision Oscar E. Brown

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A New Pastor Preaches: Lord, Make Us One Ambrose Carroll

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A Pastor Preaches His Father’s Funeral: A Candidate for the Hall of Faith Wayne E. Croft Sr.

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CONTENTS

A Pastor’s Farewell Sermon: Trusting the Spirit to Lead Us James A. Forbes Jr.

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A Pastor’s Anniversary Sermon: Yet Holdin’ On; Still Lookin’ Up Edward L. Wheeler

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General Sermons A Friend of the Bridegroom Claude R. Alexander

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When Affliction Is Good! Alvin C. Hathaway Sr.

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EDITOR’S NOTE

A New Thing Regina Langley

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Jesus Went Farther! Cultural Conformity and the Mind of Christ Samuel DeWitt Proctor

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A Voice in the Wilderness Sandy F. Ray

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Facing Fears Jasmin W. Sculark

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Why Do You Treat Me This Way? Daniel Corrie Shull

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The Pastor’s Library The Pastor’s Pentateuch: Five Essential Books for Any Pastoral Library Nelson Jerome Pierce Jr.

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Several of the lectures, sermons, and articles in this issue have been abbreviated for publication.

OUR ACCOMPANYING CD CELEBRATES

Sandy F. Ray preaching his sermon “A Voice in the Wilderness”

Anthony Walker playing “Holy Holy Holy”

Samuel DeWitt Proctor preaching his sermon “Jesus Went Farther! Cultural Conformity and the Mind of Christ”


A quarterly journal that serves as a repository for the very best of African American preaching and provides practical and creative resources for persons in ministry. VOLUME 12, NUMBER 1 / WINTER 2008–2009 (ISSN 1094-0111)

Chief Executive Officer of Hope for Life International, Inc. President and Publisher Coexecutive Editor Advisory Board Members

Theological and other opinions expressed by the editors and contributors are not necessarily those of Hope for Life International, Inc. or the publisher. Unsolicited manuscripts that are received and considered for publication must be original unpublished works. Please see our submissions guidelines at www.TheAfricanAmericanPulpit.com or call 412-364-1688 for further information. Please e-mail submissions to mcgoeyeditor@comcast.net. INDIVIDUAL SUBSCRIPTION RATES: Prices include postage. In the U.S.—1 year (4 issues): $45.00; 2 years (8 issues): $80.00. Library subscription rate: $64.00 per year. To Canada—1 year (4 issues): $60.00; 2 years (8 issues): $110.00. To All Other Countries—1 year (4 issues): $75.00; 2 years (8 issues): $150.00. Subscribers outside the United States, please remit in U.S. funds. Seminarians receive a special discounted rate; call for information. All prices are subject to change. Subscription orders should be sent to The African American Pulpit, P.O. Box 381587, Germantown, TN 38183 or call 800-509-TAAP. ADVERTISERS: For information about advertising in the journal or on the website, please call 800-453-0093, e-mail TAAPads@yahoo.com, or address queries to Advertising Manager, The African American Pulpit, 1825 Riverdale Road, Germantown, TN 38138. The publication of advertising in The African American Pulpit does not constitute endorsement by Hope for Life International, Inc., The African American Pulpit, its publisher, its editors, or its advisory board members. Advertisers and their agencies assume liability for all content of advertisements printed or representations made therein. BACK ISSUES: Please contact Customer Service at 800-509-8227 or www.TheAfricanAmericanPulpit.com. ADDRESS CHANGES: Send subscription questions and address changes to: Customer Service, The African American Pulpit, P.O. Box 381587, Germantown, TN 38183, call 800-509-8227, or go to www.The AfricanAmericanPulpit.com. The Post Office will not forward 3rd Class Media mail. Copyright © 2008 by Hope for Life International, Inc. Printed in the U.S.A.

Visit our website: www.TheAfricanAmericanPulpit.com

THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

Frank A. Thomas Martha Simmons Eugene L. Gibson Jr. Brad R. Braxton, Leslie D. Callahan, Marcus D. Cosby, Cynthia L. Hale, Sean Henderson McMillan, Otis Moss III, Joan S. Parrott, Robert Smith Jr., Gina M. Stewart, Gardner C. Taylor (Emeritus), Alyn E. Waller, Matthew L. Watley, F. Bruce Williams, and Richard W. Wills Sr. Project Manager Victoria McGoey

Back Issues On Sale! 3


E D I T O R I A L LY S P E A K I N G

Report from the Front Line:

THE PASTOR’S ISSUE Eugene L. Gibson Jr. and Frank A. Thomas

W

THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

e present a special and important edition of The African American Pulpit (TAAP)—“The Pastor’s Issue.” In this issue, we attempt to address some of the needs and the concerns of pastors. We believe that being a pastor is a difficult job in these perilous times, and we want to provide resources to uplift, undergird, and encourage our pastors. Pastors are on the front line in the war for truth and righteousness, and in this issue we bring reports from the front line through articles, poetry, and sermons that are insightful, stimulating, and challenging. Many of these front line warriors are doing critical reflection on relevant ministry in the world and are masterfully preaching the Good News of Jesus in effective, creative, and powerful ways. In this issue we offer important articles for pas4 tors and guidance for the

pastor’s library, and we feature several sermons from what we call the “The Pastor’s Ministry Life Cycle”: Oscar Brown gives us an example of a pastor’s installation sermon, Ambrose Carroll gives us a sermon that a new pastor might preach, Wayne E. Croft Sr. walks us through the pastor’s grief and pain as he preaches his father’s eulogy, James A. Forbes Jr. offers a farewell sermon for a retiring minister, and Edward L. Wheeler preaches an effective pastor’s anniversary sermon. We also have several powerful general sermons, including Claude Alexander’s “The Friend of the Bridegroom” and Jasmin Sculark’s “Facing Fears.” As a special bonus, we include classic sermons by two of the greatest preachers in the history of the African American Church— Samuel DeWitt Proctor and Sandy F. Ray. You will find “Jesus Went Farther”

and “A Voice in the Wilderness” in print and on the accompanying CD, as well as the song “Holy Holy Holy” by Anthony Walker on the CD. Make sure you call your friends, tell them about this issue, and invite them to subscribe by calling 1-800509-8227 or by visiting our website. Be sure not to miss our forthcoming Spring 2009 issue that features our senior statespersons in ministry. Back issues are also available for purchase, and we’re pleased to offer a special rate for the TAAP collection (see page 57). TAAP continues to attempt to provide the very best of the African American preaching tradition past and present. We thank you for your faithful support and continuous prayers for our efforts.

www.TheAfricanAmericanPulpit.com


In Memoriam Caesar A. W. Clark (1914–2008) The African American Pulpit salutes the life of Reverend Caesar A. W. Clark, long-time pastor of Good Street Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. Reverend Clark was one of the greatest preachers in Christendom. In future issues we will continue to pay homage to his legacy as a preacher.


PA S TO R A L P O E T I C S

Remembering Who WE Are A Poetic Meditation LADONNA M. SANDERS

born a beloved child of God before i even knew so before i was even thought of before the foundations of the world

THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

i, a baby girl, just above the toddling age sank my bare tippy toes in deep plush red carpets i stepped my feet on deep plush red carpets and step by step passed ornate thrones and seats of gold and crimson i dragged the plushness of my yellow and gold calico baby blanket down the aisle stepping on deep red carpets the harps played and trumpets sounded as I stepped up one two three to the throne of grace and all glory shone from the seat of the throne as i climbed up on the lap of the Savior and God whispered in my ear saying

LaDonna M. Sanders is the Global Pastor, Public Poet, and Mission Executive for the South Africa Ubuntu Project and Ubuntu Global Village Network, which build bridges of connection and possibility between Africa, the U.S., and beyond. 6

“before i put you in the womb know that i know you and before you are born know that i have set you apart i appoint you as a prophet to the nations” “fear not for i have redeemed you i have called you by name you are mine when you pass through the waters i will be with you when you go through the floods they will not overtake you when you walk through fire you will not be burned” “at times you will forget but it is me who knits you together


PA S TO R A L P O E T I C S

in your mother’s womb at times you will forget but you are fearfully and wonderfully made”

from the seat of God’s throne as you climbed up on the lap of the Creator and God whispered in your ear Remember?

born a beloved child of God before you even knew so before you were even thought of before the foundations of the world you, a baby boy, a baby girl just above the toddling age sank your bare tippy toes in deep plush red carpets you stepped your feet on deep plush red carpets and step by step passed ornate thrones and seats of gold and crimson you dragged the plushness of your favorite baby blanket down the aisle stepping on deep red carpets the harps played and trumpets sounded one two three to the throne of grace and all glory shone

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QUESTIONS FOR MEDITATION AND REFLECTION In the busyness of life and ministry, we can often lose sight of what brought us here in the first place. We can often lose focus of the first words that God spoke to us about our lives, our ministry, our calling. What is your earliest memory of God speaking to you? What did God say to you about your life? What were the messages of God about your life? About your ministry? What were the exact words that God said to you about ministry and calling? What are the Scriptures that God speaks to you? What are the promises of God that God speaks to you in the time of trouble? Why did God send you here, especially in this time and this place? How is God speaking to you now?


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IBELIEVE in Miracles A Critique of Insensitive Pastoral Theology KESSLYN A. BRADE

few weeks ago, I was traveling to South Africa on a mission/education trip. Forty United States citizens from various cities and states who were traveling with me had converged in Washington, D.C. for the international voyage. One of those other travelers was a 60-year-old native Washingtonian woman whom I will call Lindsey. Through a series of events, I was partnered as her roommate when we arrived at our destination. In our limited quiet times on the South African tour buses and in our hotel rooms, I

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Kesslyn A. Brade is a chaplain-in-residence at Georgetown University and a Ph.D. candidate at Howard University.

learned that Lindsey is a mother of three, a grandmother of four, a Christian, and a walking, talking miracle. On the third day of our trip during lunch, she shared her story with me. Lindsey had been a faithful member of a specific church for about 20 years when she decided to talk to her pastor about her living situation. This young woman had just delivered her third child. She was living with her child’s father, whom she had allowed to move in after his housing elsewhere had been terminated. During his stay with her, they had gotten engaged; but he had also become progressively possessive, verbally and physically assaulting her many times. During one incident, he had pulled out a loaded gun and lodged it in her mouth, threatening to blow her brains out if she didn’t stay quiet and obey him. While she was afraid to live with him, she was even more fearful of putting him out of her house. She knew that she needed help, but didn’t know whom she could trust with her “family secret.” She could not seek guidance from her mother, who herself had been abused and had abused her eight children. Lindsey concluded that the only “safe place” to go was to her church,


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God still blesses us and provides a way of escape. We call that grace and mercy. Thank God for grace and mercy!!!! What an absurd, inappropriate, and insensitive statement to make to this woman who was in desperate need of a blessing by way of an escape! The truth is that for our own wellbeing God does not want us to sin, but even then God does bless us, despite our sin! Hallelujah!!! We may have to suffer as a result of our sin, but that does not mean that God does not bless us at all! If we are truly born in sin and shaped in iniquity, then the fact that we are alive suggests that God blesses us despite our sin. God wakes us up daily, despite our sin! God loads us with blessings, despite our sin! Not only does God wake us and load us with blessings, God also gives us NEW MERCIES! We can all attest to the fact that we have received blessings that we didn’t deserve. Furthermore, how many can say that they didn’t receive the punishment that they did deserve? Hallelujah for grace and mercy, despite our sin! God does bless us despite our sin! Thank you, Lord!! Not only could one question the appropriateness of the statement: “God won’t bless you because you are living in sin,” one could also question the authenticity of the pastor’s Christianity. As Christians, followers of Christ, we are to do as Jesus did. So, what did Jesus do? The Jesus that I know freed the woman who was believed to have been “caught” in adultery. Despite her sin, he blessed her with liberation and told her to go and sin no more. The Jesus that I know ministered to the woman who was alone at the well. Despite her situation, he helped her process her oppression and introduced her to another way of living. The Jesus that I know showed compassion to those in need. Jesus provided comfort to his own mother, even while he was in the clutches of death on a 9

THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

and the only safe person to speak with was her pastor. After weeks of contemplation, she mustered up enough fortitude to speak with her pastor about her abusive relationship. She told the pastor painful and embarrassing details about her fiancée’s abusive actions towards her. At the conclusion of her disclosure, she mentioned that she was facing the decision to live in freedom or die trying, and requested that the pastor give her a blessing from God. After hearing all of the gruesome details of their relationship, after hearing her desperation for guidance “out” of the situation, and after hearing her desire to be blessed by God while trying to escape with her children, the pastor made this all-too-familiar statement: “God can’t bless you because you are living in sin.” What? What had I just heard? Did she just say what I think she said? I was appalled. As the words dripped from her lips, anger and despair escaped from my heart. Unable to process the rationale for the pastor’s response, I sat at the table and cried. Even as I reflect upon the conversation now, tears fill my eyes while sadness and frustration fill my heart. “God can’t bless you because you are living in sin”?!?!?! She’d been berated and battered. Her life was at stake. The wellbeing of her three children was being compromised. Now she was reaching out for help, and the best that the pastor could say was, “God can’t bless you because you are living in sin.” How outrageous! We live in sin daily. We exchange the truth for something that is truthless. We surrender integrity for incivility. We behave in a fashion that borders on boorishness. We bolster our pockets while we should be building our people. We lay aside our call to community activism for our commitment to self-centered capitalism. We live in sin daily! And yet


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cross. The Jesus that I know taught a Gospel that brought hope for salvation, healing for sickness, happiness for sadness, and wholeness for sin. Instead of turning Lindsey away, the Jesus that I know would have said, “Go (leave) in peace and sin no more” and not “God can’t bless you because you are living in sin.” Furthermore, if I call myself a Christian, I would say, like Jesus said, “Sister, your faith has made you whole. Go in peace and sin no more.” “God can’t bless you because you are living in sin.” While those and similar words have decimated the spirits and wills of more survivors than I dare estimate, miraculously Lindsey rose from that one session with her unsupportive pastor as a stronger, more independent woman. She asked God to bless her! And God did! She left that church never to return again. Under the cloak of night-time darkness, she moved herself and her children to a new “home.” She never returned to that relationship. She raised her three children as a single mother. She is fighting the fight of faith in God and self. And for her 60th birthday, she treated herself to a trip to South Africa. Despite the abuse that she had endured—which I consider a sin—Lindsey has survived and thrived. And if you know anything about the impact of abuse on people, you will agree with me that Lindsey is a miracle. Yes, I do believe in miracles! And Lindsey is my proof-positive. Family, fellow colleagues of the Gospel of Jesus, not only do I believe in miracles, I also believe in you and me. Furthermore, I believe that God believes in us as well! God has given us the arduous and critical responsibility to fulfill the prophetic mandate of liberation and freedom for all, from all oppression: violence and abuse in every form. And like God did for Isaiah and for Jesus, God has anoint10 ed us—each of us—to fulfill the mission of

preaching Good News to others; binding up the broken hearts of children who are emotionally and physically trapped by the decisions of those who profess to love them; proclaiming freedom to those who are captives in the very houses that should be called homes; releasing prisoners from closets of various sizes and constructions; providing comfort to those who seek the blessing of God while in uncomfortable situations, even those that some deem “inappropriate”; and bestowing beauty for ashes and gladness for mourning caused by the mouths, hands, and wallets of an abuser. Now preachers, I can hear some of you saying, “So, how are we supposed to do all of that?” Good question. Let me suggest that we must follow the guidance of those biblical characters who have gone on before. Like Mary who was an unmarried young woman facing the challenge of raising her son, we must begin with introspection. The Bible says that when the Jesus was born, and while everyone else was celebrating his birth, Mary was taking critical time to think and ponder her circumstances in her heart. That is the essence of introspection: processing (thinking and pondering) for oneself to assess one’s true feelings related to a sensitive, taboo topic. Mary probably considered all of the pros and cons and mulled over the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats associated with raising this child, the Messiah. Perhaps we need to begin by engaging in a similar process and considering our own perceptions and experiences related to taboo topics of our day. We cannot advocate for the liberation of others while we are covertly or overly possessing and acting upon oppressive personal thoughts and experiences. So many of us act upon what we have heard without taking time to really understand ourselves and


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words of life and act to bring freedom. We must use the pulpit and public sphere to demonstrate a respect for people and a regard for their circumstances. If we are to be like Christ, we must fully embrace others by acknowledging their needs, and providing a way of physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual escape. That is what Jesus did and that is what we must do. The well-being of our communities depends upon our liberating words and deeds. Yes, I believe in miracles, and it would be a miracle if all citizens of God’s world could find the strength to follow the example of Lindsey and leave harmful relationships. Yes, it would be a miracle if all citizens of God’s world could live empowered lives; free from battering, incest, femicide, sexual assault, and hate crimes. Yes, it would be a miracle if we, ministers of the Gospel of Jesus, would accept our challenge to preach from our social location on taboo topics and convey the essence of the Good News of Jesus Christ: freedom from oppression. Yes, it would be a miracle—a true miracle. But, I believe that the God that I serve, who is a God of the oppressed, who is a God of the underserved, who is a God of Sarah and Hagar, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah, Dinah and Tamar, Jochebed, Miriam, Rahab, Delilah, Deborah and Jael, Rizpah, Hannah, Michal, Abigail, Abishag, Bathsheba, Athaliah, Gomer, Rachel, Ruth, Orpah and Naomi, Esther, Susanna and Judith, Mary, Martha, and other helpmates, harlots, and heroines of the Bible is a miracle-working God! And just like God freed them, used them, and served them, God will do the same for us. Hence, I believe in miracles and I pray that each of us will touch and agree with the miracle-working God to bring freedom to all. | 11 Amen? Amen. THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

the impact of our own perceptions and experiences on other people: our congregants, our families, and our colleagues. Preachers, that is very dangerous. It is imperative that we assess our own stuff before transfering our warped thoughts onto others from the powerful pulpit. We must think and ponder for ourselves. Next, I would recommend that we expand our processing to include other people. The discussions with others should include a sharing of thoughts surrounding taboo issues themselves: facts, theological positions, church polity, implementation of policies, ministry development, effective program implementation and evaluation, etc. These discussions should take place in homes, church board-rooms, and conferences throughout the country. Just as Jesus challenged the church to consider the realities of circumstances, we have to do the same by engaging in serious, informed dialogue related to contemporary realities such as domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, sexuality, and sexism in order to be informed on issues that impact our churches. If we are to engage in liberation of God’s people, church leaders, lay members, and community professionals must collaborate so that we can act appropriately on behalf of the oppressed. Together, we can understand the nuances and develop messages and ministries that empower those in need. Finally, after processing individually and collectively, we must act. A great part of Jesus’ ministry was speaking and acting on behalf of others. Just as he did, we must speak truth, no matter the circumstances, in an effort to free others. We must utilize our places and spaces to speak to the oppressor and the oppressed; the victim and the perpetrator; the consumer and the consumed. We must, in our spheres of influence, speak


What Does EXEGESIS Have to Do with Preaching? LARRY L. ENIS

few years ago, as I was preparing to teach my first course on biblical preaching at the School of Theology at Virginia Union University, I pondered the question: What does exegesis have to do with preaching? Our answer to this question is of utmost importance, inasmuch as it affects the care with which we approach the biblical text during sermon preparation. And as we wrestle with this issue, definitions are in order: exegesis is a systematic way of interrogating and extracting meaning from a biblical text; preaching refers to the public declaration of a Scripture-related discourse from God.1 Exegesis itself is not preaching, but the road

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Larry L. Enis is a Ph.D. student in Biblical Studies at Union Theological Seminary–Presbyterian School of Christian Education. He is an associate minister at Saint Paul’s Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.

leading to preaching. Just as the yellow brick road led Dorothy and her crew to the Wizard of Oz, so also exegesis lays the groundwork for the sermon. It guides the preacher to a biblically-based, God-inspired declaration. But the preacher who strays from this road runs the risk of misinterpreting, misrepresenting, and thereby misappropriating the biblical text. Now, good exegesis does not guarantee a well-preached sermon. Good exegesis may or may not enhance the cadence or tonality or phraseology of the sermon, but it surely helps in another way—perhaps a more significant way. Good exegesis enables the sermonizer and, eventually, the congregation to access the message of the biblical text—a message that inspires, enlightens, and challenges. Perhaps unknowingly, we constantly engage in some sort of exegesis. Take, for instance, a little word like “hot.” If I were to use this term in conversation, would I be


ARTICLES LARRY L. ENIS

or flow of the text inform your understanding of it? Step #4: Analyze the Genre Different genres are to be read in different ways. For instance, you would not read an article in Jet the same way you would a book on quantum physics. Surely, you would bring a different set of questions and expectations to each experience. Similarly, the genre of a given text influences our approach to it. Therefore, analyze the genre. Is the text a miracle story, sermon, prologue, genealogy, etc.? How does your understanding of the genre contribute to your understanding of the text’s meaning? Step #5: Analyze the Literature Analyze how the events in the text relate to other events in the book. Say, for example, you are studying Luke 9:51-56, where Jesus is rejected by the Samaritans as he journeys to Jerusalem. How does the Samaritans’ response to Jesus compare with that of synagogue members in Luke 4, and that of religious leaders in Luke 19:47? In other words, how do preceding passages inform your understanding of the primary text? How does the primary text set up the passages following it? What can you learn from the characters in the text? What are the characters doing, how are they doing it, and why are they doing it? What difference does their behavior make? Step #6: Enter the Biblical World How do sociohistorical, socio-political, and socio-cultural concerns reflected in the text illumine the text and its message? What knowledge is the reader assumed to possess concerning political institutions, class structures, economic systems, social customs, and the like? How does this information affect your interpretation of this particular text? Helpful resources include Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and Bible encyclopedias, as well as books that are considered introductions to the Old 13 and New Testaments. THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

referring to the Lexus LS 460, those Cole Haan shoes I just saw in the mall, my mood after my dog chewed my favorite shoes, or the summertime in Mobile, Alabama? You would not know until you clarify my use of the term—not until you exegete. And for students of Scripture, exegesis aids our efforts to clarify the meaning of a given text. What, then, does exegesis have to do with preaching? Exegesis is the road toward an effective, biblically-based sermon. Exegesis helps us to bridge the socio-historical, sociocultural, and literary gaps between the biblical world and our postmodern world. It grants the preacher and the congregation access to the richness of God’s Word, so that both may be blessed and transformed by it. An article like this is incomplete without guidelines for exegesis. Therefore, in what follows, I offer a guide for the journey from exegesis to sermon preparation: Step #1: Analyze the Vocabulary Investigate the meanings of key terms in a given text—unfamiliar terms, repeated terms or phrases, and theologically loaded terms. Helpful resources include a lexicon, concordance, theological dictionary, and/or commentaries. Step #2: Analyze the Grammar/Syntax Consider how grammatical elements, sentence structure, and syntax convey meaning and nuance. Describe these aspects and their bearing on interpretation. If you have a working knowledge of biblical Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, consult appropriate grammar books; if not, consult a good English grammar book and an electronic resource that makes this task easier. Step #3: Establish the Preaching Portion Ensure that your selected text or preaching portion is a coherent literary unit. Why did you select this verse (or these verses) to form the unit? Is there a shift in physical location, time, or theme? How does the organization


ARTICLES LARRY L. ENIS

Step #7: Look for Connections How does the material in the primary text connect with other parts of Scripture? Does the primary text quote, reference, resemble, or allude to other passages or stories throughout the Bible? If so, how do these connections inform your understanding of the primary text? Consider, for instance, God’s call to Moses in Exodus 3. How does this call compare to that of Gideon in Judges 6? How does this comparison inform your understanding of a call from God, and our response to this call? Step #8: Interpret Your Findings Based on your investigation thus far, what are your conclusions about the primary text? What is the intended purpose of the text? What response is the text calling for? How does it enlighten, encourage, comfort, inspire, or challenge

you? What is it calling readers to believe, trust in, know, or do? What behavior(s) are readers compelled to imitate or refrain from in the text? What does the text suggest about God and God’s way with the world? What does it say about the human condition or human response to God’s work? Step #9: Prepare Your Sermon Now that you have followed the reliable road known as exegesis, you are ready to begin developing your sermon—a sermon that takes seriously | God’s Word. NOTE 1. See Fred B. Craddock, “Preaching,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, vol. 5 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 451. Though he acknowledges the difficulty in defining preaching apart from a given context, Craddock does offer a very helpful working definition.


Our Life and Our Community Health Concerns in the Church

fat diet. Consistently, church members seem too unaware and/or unconcerned to recognize how unhealthy practices over time can lead to possible long-term disability, drastic lifestyle changes, and/or ultimately premature death. Church members turn to their religious community (pastor, health ministry, and other church members) for aid when health outcomes seem dismal. Faith community nurses and health ministries can effectively address special health issues and concerns, particularly with a focus on prevention and health promotion, as well as provide mental and spiritual support, and patient education to improve their health status. On Sunday mornings, members come to hear words of inspiration from the pastor. It is not uncommon for many members to give excuses for not taking their medications prior to attending church service. They give excuses, such as “I was running late,” “I didn’t have breakfast,” “I ran out of pills,” and “I forgot.” The church must help people take responsibility for overseeing or participating in their health care and status.

PATRICIA GARRET T THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

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hronic diseases remain a major concern in the African American Church, with high numbers of church members suffering from heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and other conditions. Contributing factors are lack of health awareness, noncompliance to medications, inattention to the effects of stress, and a high-

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Patricia Garrett is a faith community nurse and a graduate student at George Mason University, College of Health and Human Services, majoring in Advanced Clinical Nursing.

According to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, high blood pressure (also called “hypertension”) affects over 40 percent of African Americans.1 High blood pressure in African Americans in the United States is among the highest in the world. High blood pressure develops earlier in African Americans than in whites and is more severe.2 Hereditary risk factors, such as weight, family history, stress, co-morbidity, and intolerance to salt have been some reasons for high blood pressure. African American women have a higher prevalence rate of high blood pressure, obesity, physical inactivity, and diabetes than white women.3 As a result, blacks have almost


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than 120/80. Borderline blood pressure is set at 130/85. Stage I hypertension (high blood pressure) is 140/90. Stage II hypertension is 180/100.7 The recommendations are lifestyle modifications at borderline stages. For Stage I hypertension, changes may include taking medications such as diuretics (water pills), changing dietary habits to include reductions in sodium (salt) to reduce swelling, eliminating high-fat foods, and increasing physical activity. For Stage II hypertension, the person will be instructed to seek immediate medical care. THE SOLUTION

There is a small African American church centrally located in a large African American community in Alexandria, Virginia. Due to its central location, the church allows easy access by bus or walking distance from the main highway and shopping areas. The church serves as an extended network of support as members move from illness to wellness. The health programs at the church assist families to become better equipped to handle health issues before they experience them. The church established a group called “Faith Community Nurses.” Once every four months, an education hour has been set aside for the parish nurse/faith community nurse to educate church members on health-related issues. On the third Sunday, parishioners are encouraged to bring their bag of medicines to church. This gives the church members an opportunity to talk with a nurse and pharmacist one-on-one about their specific needs and their concerns can be addressed. Church members are encouraged to ask their primary care physician about their baseline blood pressure. Faith community nurses emphasize the importance of monitoring blood pressure 17 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

twice the risk of first-ever strokes compared to whites. African Americans have a higher death rate from strokes compared to whites. African Americans are 1.5 times more likely to die from heart disease and 1.8 times more likely than whites to experience strokes as a result of high blood pressure.4 Cerebral vascular accidents (CVA) are the third leading cause of death in the United States and are a major complication among African Americans, with incidents rating higher than any other ethnic group. Strokes can be a result of uncontrolled high blood pressure, and it is the number one cause of adult disability. The American Heart Association created an initiative to help reduce stroke risk and increase stroke awareness among the African American community. They have provided information and tools to help reduce their risk of heart disease through a campaign called Power to End Stroke.5 If just one or two persons share their knowledge about stroke risks and symptoms with others, this makes them participants of the Power to End Stroke campaign. This campaign emphasizes controllable risk factors, such as high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, physical inactivity, and obesity. High blood pressure affects over 50 million people in the United States of America. It is estimated that only one-third of the people have been diagnosed, and others are unaware of their health risk. High blood pressure (hypertension) is also known as “the silent killer” and is defined as the force of blood as it moves through your arteries or tubes that carry blood away from the heart.6 According to the Sixth Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNCVI), normal blood pressure is classified when the systolic (the top number) and the diastolic (the bottom number) is less


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and understanding what the results mean. Blood pressure screenings are available to the congregation twice a month. During routine screenings in the church, it was found that members were neither aware nor knowledgeable of the times when their blood pressure is elevated above the normal range. Most of the members on blood pressure medications were not familiar with the names of medications they are taking or the importance of consistently taking the medications as prescribed. Comments from church members included: “I didn’t have time to take my medication this morning” and “I took my medicine but didn’t have any food with it.” These comments reflect why members need continual reinforcement or reminders of the significance of medication therapy to control high blood pressure. Members also need to be reminded of the signs and symptoms of high blood pressure treatment modalities. To help alleviate church members’ neglect of taking their meds, a trial Sunday morning breakfast program has been initiated. The main purpose is to help people take their medications and enjoy the worship service. This trial program has enabled the members to continue to come to service, Sunday school, and additional afternoon services without accumulating health issues in the church. The success of this program counters the myth that getting a message across to the people in church can always best be done by the pastor addressing the issue from the pulpit. Another important component of the ministry of faith community nurses is to provide support groups focused around health issues. Groups are formed and sessions are held for different reasons, including cancer support, high blood pressure support, etc. However, members of a support group are 18 never forced to speak; they speak on their

own initiative. Some support groups may offer educational activities by inviting guest speakers to talk about specific issues as determined by the group. Members have often expressed their gratitude to the faith community nurses in the church for the updates they receive on how to take their medicine, how to understand what blood pressure is, and how to monitor their blood pressure. These are just a few topics addressed. In the 21st century there is no acceptable excuse for all moderate-sized (250 members) African American churches to not have Faith Community Nurses or a similar group that regularly provides the services I have described in this article. Most churches have at least one or two trained nurses as members, not to mention physicians. Your local health department will likely also send over persons to provide help. If you want more information on starting a Faith Community Nurses group in your church, please contact | me at patgarrett29@aol.com. NOTES 1. National High Blood Pressure Education Program, NIH Publication No. 98-4080 November 1997. http://clintrialresults.org/Slides/jncvi.ppt (accessed July 20, 2008). 2. “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2007 Update Ata-Glance,” American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, http://www.americanheart.org/downloadable/heart/1166712318459HS_StatsInsideText.pdf (accessed July 20, 2008). 3. Ibid. 4. “Power to End Stroke,” American Stroke Association, http://www.strokeassociation.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3030549 (accessed July 20, 2008). 5. Ibid. 6. James W. Reed, M.D. and Hilton M. Hudson, II, M.D., High Blood Pressure: The Black Man and Woman’s Guide to Living with Hypertension (Chicago: Hilton Publishing Company, 2002), 1–13. 7. National High Blood Pressure Education Program, “The Sixth Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNCVI),” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ books/bv.fcgi?rid=hbp.TOC (accessed July 20, 2008).


Preaching in the TRANSITION ZONE, Part II D. DARRELL GRIFFIN

This is a continuation of the author’s article “Preaching in the Transition Zone: Pastoring after a Long-Term Pastor Leaves,” which appeared in the Spring 2008 edition of The African American Pulpit. want to continue with the analogy of arriving in the middle of a movie because I believe that it captures the feeling of preaching in the transition zone. Newly-appointed pastors enter congregations that are movies in progress. A newly-appointed pastor will serve a congregation that already has a history, a story full of complex plots and characters. Whether the congregation’s history is good or bad, it is still their history and pastors must understand it in order to help the church make the transition from its present state to its blessed future.

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D. Darrell Griffin is the senior pastor of Oakdale Covenant Church, Chicago, Illinois.

In my previous article, I pointed out that every church is in some stage of transition because every church is changing. The church is growing, declining, or dying. One of the most critical moments in the life of a congregation is the change of pastoral leadership, a change that may be stressful. I also defined the pastoral transition zone as the place between where a congregation is mentally, physically, and spiritually prior to the change in pastoral leadership, and where it needs to transition to ensure its future. I want to go into further detail about getting the congregation involved in aspects of the transition. THE TRANSITION MINISTRY GROUP: GETTING THE CONGREGATION INVOLVED

As pastors, we give leadership to the transition process, but if we expect it to be successful, I believe it must include as many of our parishioners as possible. As in the animal kingdom, the strength is not in a lone wolf, but in the pack. I quickly observed that my parishioners, both past and present, were among my greatest assets. Therefore, I enlisted the help of a


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others in the church to hear their stories both past and present regarding Oakdale’s history to gain a deeper understanding of the ebb and flow of congregational life. They surveyed the congregation to gain a sense of our progress. They asked the congregation: 1) Rate the progress of our pastoral transition from January 2000 until now; 2) What are some of your concerns around our pastoral transition?; and 3) How effective has Pastor Griffin been in helping with Oakdale’s transition? I also spent a great deal of time listening to the stories of the past and present. I read the congregational minutes, researched the archives, shared meals with longtime members, and spent long hours with the former pastors of Oakdale. These experiences gave me an opportunity to find patterns of behavior that were both full of joy and pain, correct actions and mistakes. Next, the information we gained from the surveys and conversations served as a basis for our plan of attack. We concluded that the congregation needed my sermons, among other things, to touch on three factors: respect, trust, and listening. I decided to delay any preaching or teaching on the vision for the ministry until these three factors were addressed. I learned from our discussions and conversations that before there is vision preaching, there must be transition preaching. This allowed me to go back to the beginning of the movie and use that information as an anchor for future change, and this set the stage for a stronger reception of my vision for the church. At each gathering, the TMG and I would study Scripture passages in light of our situation. Their research provided powerful suggestions, perspectives, and illustrations, and ensured that each sermon, Bible study, and congregational gathering achieved its objective of addressing our transition concerns. Our partnership was therapeutic for both 21 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

cross-section of parishioners from age 17 to 75, and tenures that ranged from a few months to over 30 years with Oakdale. They had various opinions about my pastoral personality and the progress of our transition. This faithful and opinionated group became my Transition Ministry Group (TMG) that helped me plan, prepare, and evaluate my transition strategies, which included sermon development, Bible study curriculum, congregational meetings, and much more. Each person in my TMG was honored to be part of something that would have an impact on our church. Our meetings were spent analyzing the joys and pains of our transition. I did not realize how little my congregation knew about my personality and the struggles of leading and preaching in the pastoral transition zone. Nor did I fully understand their fears, concerns, or resistances. At first, they were reluctant to share their personal concerns about our transition. However, with a great deal of coaching and prayer, they began to open up and share their feelings. Some group members were negative, but everyone agreed that our transition was in desperate need of a fresh approach. They all were eager to assist in developing sermons and Bible studies that would help navigate the transition zone. All were unaware of the amount of research time and preparation necessary for a quality sermon. After planning and preparing our first transition sermon, each became an unsolicited supporter of my role as the new pastor and our need for change. First, it became clear that I needed to learn Oakdale’s history to help me understand the church’s movie. It was important for me to understand their convictions, passions, pains, and joys. The TMG began to assist me by researching books, conferences, and case studies that focused on successful methods for pastoral transition. They also listened to


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pastor and people. We were finally listening and connecting in ways that had not happened before. Many felt helpless in the transition zone, and this unique partnership gave them an opportunity to share their feelings regarding our transition. They also were able to hear from the pastor outside the pulpit setting. I openly shared my doubts and challenges of pastoring in the transition zone with the dynamic of having a retired pastor present on one hand and a cautious congregation on the other. Each of our sessions became an opportunity to support one another on our journey through the transition. It demonstrated that I was listening and felt their sense of helplessness and/or frustration. I slowly understood that one of the best ways to persuade and move Oakdale through the transition zone was with my ears—by listening. The TMG gave me such insight that the experience moved me to redesign my sermons, Bible studies, and congregational gatherings with a transitional lens. I found new ways of preparing my sermons and viewing biblical models of transition. Throughout our transition, I asked myself and my TMG regularly: “What are the major issues surfacing in our transition, and how can the sermon and Bible study properly addresses them?” This practice allowed my preaching to have an even greater impact on our transition because it forced me to become more proactive and focused. Another tool for understanding our movie was using dynamic translation to bring the Bible narrative into the present. Like a dramatic presentation, dynamic translation is a kind of role play that contemporizes a Bible story (so it speaks to our time) and contextualizes it (tunes it into a specific moment and set of circumstances in life). This homiletical tool impacted my congregation in powerful ways. The dynamic translations allowed 22 Oakdale the opportunity to step into the text

and experience the challenges not only from the biblical world perspective but also from their current congregational situation.1 The congregation and/or I became the main characters that thought, felt, spoke, and acted just as the biblical narratives suggested. When a pressing transitional issue surfaced, the dynamic translation was most helpful. Prior to my arrival as pastor of Oakdale, our Pastor Emeritus desired to build a Family Life Center for the community we serve. The completion of this vision would have been the culmination of his 30 years in ministry. He commissioned an architect, secured the financing, and planned the grand opening of the facility to coincide with his retirement celebration. However, community opposition, poor location, and a host of other problems prevented the center from being completed. The congregation supported the vision of a Family Life Center. Yet, they were split as to whether the timing was right for a congregation experiencing the retirement of its pastor of 30 years, the search for a successor, and building and operating a Family Life Center. The dynamics were highly volatile. I was called in the middle of this controversy, and it extended a year and half into my tenure. The problem was that the Pastor Emeritus wanted to remain past his retirement date in order to see the project through. I assured him that I would support the vision of the Family Life Center. However, I wanted to expand the facility to encompass more space for our future ministry needs. The Pastor Emeritus and a minority of members viewed my actions as a lack of support for not only the vision of the Family Life Center but for my predecessor’s entire ministry. In light of this specific transitional issue, my TMG recommended using a dynamic translation for Bible study and Sunday school. My TMG presented a wonderful Scripture and title: “When God Says No,” based on


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financing for the construction from the denomination’s loan department. I had planned to complete it just before my retirement. But God said to me, ‘You are not to build a family life center.’ However, God chose my successor, and he will see the vision through.”2 The dynamic translation allowed the congregation the opportunity to step into the text and experience the successful transition of David and Solomon and to apply their story to Oakdale’s current situation. The dynamic translation exercise allowed even my most challenging parishioners to see the need for transition. The transitional sermon on the Family Life Center issue was very effective. As an introduction that Sunday morning, I informed the congregation that our sermon that morning was a collaborative effort from our TMG. Furthermore, I shared that our TMG and I felt that it was necessary to share with the congregation what we believed God was saying about our Family Life Center controversy. Because this transition issue was so sensitive, it was a very intense preaching moment. However, the congregation received the sermon with levels of enthusiasm. Finally, we were naming the issue and asking God for direction. One parishioner responded to the sermon in a letter: “Pastor, your preaching is like a therapy session. When I am feeling nervous about all these changes and wondering where is God in all of this, you come with a powerful word from the Lord to remind me that God is in control of this thing [our transition].” One of my most challenging supporters even found the sermon helpful. He shared: “Pastor Griffin, I can argue with you but I can’t argue with God’s Word. I see God’s hands on the decision to review and possibly change the Family Life Center’s plans.” The information and input given to me by my TMG allowed to me to make some very sen23 sitive changes without significant backlash. THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

1 Chronicles 28:1-11. This passage particularly gave insight into Oakdale’s struggles of working to understand the retired pastor’s unfinished vision and the current pastor’s new direction and vision. We used King David as an example. It was David’s desire to build a temple to house the Ark. Even though this was a fitting and righteous task, God said, “No” (1 Chronicles 28:3 paraphrased). Even though David wanted to build a house for God, he would not because God had specifically chosen his son Solomon for the task. It is difficult and disheartening to accept—particularly when we have prepared for something, when we have our heart attached to a position, a ministry, or something we deeply desire, but God’s response to our dream is “No.” We learned that when God says “No” to us, we must say “Yes” to what God has chosen to do. Furthermore, we must be willing to give not only verbal support, but financial support as well. In chapter 29 of 1 Chronicles, David raises the finances necessary for the building of the temple. The TMG also organized a dynamic translation of 1 Chronicles 28:1-11 for our weekly Bible study. They contemporized the text by utilizing contemporary language to speak with clarity to our current pastoral transitional issue, and they contextualized the text by creating a specific moment and set of circumstances surrounding our transition. A sample dynamic translation was as follows: The Pastor Emeritus summoned all the church leaders of Oakdale— the deacons, the deaconesses, the Christian education director, the ministry leaders, and those in charge of guiding Oakdale through the building of our Family Life Center. The Pastor Emeritus rose to feet and said, “Listen to me, my brothers and sisters, I had it in my heart to build a Family Life Center. I gave you the vision, I commissioned an architect to design it as the Lord gave it to me, and I even secured the


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PREACHING THAT COMMUNICATES RESPECT, TRUST, AND WILLINGNESS TO LISTEN

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In light of our transitional concerns, I was determined that aspects of my sermon would always address the three critical factors that surfaced most in our TMG sessions, congregational meetings, and survey findings: respect, trust, and listening. The congregation wanted me to genuinely address these factors as a condition for its support. My TMG and I felt that these factors should not be addressed in just a congregational letter, a Bible study, or workshop; they needed to be addressed in my preaching. The majority of the congregation that needed to hear these comments would be present on Sunday during the preaching hour. Respect—The congregation wanted to be assured that I respected Oakdale, its leadership, and its history. This respect was extremely important because Oakdale had a long and successful experience with my predecessor, and some were afraid I would try to destroy his accomplishments or ignore them. In order to address the respect factor, I preached a sermon from 2 Kings 2:9-11 entitled “What Kind of Legacy Are You Leaving?” This sermon illustrated how Elijah the prophet paved the way for young Elisha to receive a double portion of his spirit in order to carry on the ministry. I attempted to demonstrate my respect for and honor of Oakdale’s history by asking for a double portion of the spirit of our Pastor Emeritus and others so that I could effectively face the future with as much power and courage as they faced the past. This sermon was important because it allowed the congregation to understand my level of respect for my predecessor and the history of the ministry. Most of all they needed to know that God respect24 ed the previous ministry of Oakdale, particu-

larly the sacrifices made to fulfill the work of the kingdom. I wrote comments from the congregation and the TMG in my pastoral journal. For example, one member stated, “Pastor, your sermon helped me to see that you have a lot of love and respect for our former pastor. It is so wonderful that you both get along so well.” Another commented, “Pastor, your sermon really touched me. I must really admit that I had a problem with your leadership because I felt that you were ignoring the contributions of our former pastor. However, when you said that you wanted ‘a double portion of his spirit,’ I felt that you really and truly care about our Pastor Emeritus.” I remember thinking that I never realized that a few words of affection in one sermon toward the pastor and the history of Oakdale could change people’s opinion so quickly. I wrote in my journal, “My God, the preaching moment is a powerful time in the life of the church. Please help me to use it responsibly.” Trust—The trust factor was the hardest because it involved the need for a level of transparency. There was a great deal of distrust during our first year. I would hear comments regularly such as, “Do we really know this young man? Should we trust him with our ministry? Will he hurt us?” Consequently, each of my sermons was laced with stories and biblical references that addressed trust. For example, I preached “God’s Usual Choice,” which dealt with the calling and anointing of David as King of Israel. This sermon reminded the group who did not approve of my appointment to Oakdale that if Oakdale was praying that God would have his way in their pastoral selection process, then we must trust that I am the one that God has chosen to be the pastor for this season in Oakdale’s life.


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use those who have had a difficult or challenging past. It was important because so many new members who had been through recovery programs or negative situations were being attracted to the ministry. The sermon was beneficial in two ways: I demonstrated to the congregation that I was listening to their concerns, and I took the opportunity to share with them that God was listening as well. God was reminding us through Scripture that God is capable of using anyone at any time and that we could not consider anyone as un-useable. My TMG and I met shortly after this sermon, and I was amazed at some of their comments. For example, one TMG member said, “Pastor, thank you for reminding us that we all have something in our past that we are not proud of, yet God has chosen to use us.” A comment from one of our surveys stated, “Wow, Pastor, I am relieved to know that your ministry recognizes that church is a hospital for sinners and not a rest home for saints.” As the three main issues were addressed during the preaching hour, the congregation became more and more confident in their understanding that God is, and will always be, in the midst of our transition. The preaching was the catalyst for revealing God’s presence in all aspects of our transition. Preaching allowed me to reshape our pastoral transition from a frightening and fearful experience into a wonderful and joy-filled journey. The comment that has summed up what I was trying to accomplish is: “Pastor, your preaching has not answered all of Oakdale’s fears, but you have demonstrated how to take the Word of God and apply it to our lives and situations so we can find our own answers from God.” Finally, as we move from the challenges of our pastoral transition to the next set of issues, I feel like pilot Captain Charles Yeager must have felt. In October 1947, Captain Yeager 25 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

While I was developing these trust factor sermons, I began to share stories about myself that would demonstrate that I could be trusted. It was much more effective to share an experience to build trust than to stand in the pulpit and say, “Please trust me.” For example, I shared stories about how I handle difficult people and how I respond to individuals or groups who differ with my views on the decisions and directions of the ministry. The stories were important because they conveyed subtly and sometimes directly to the congregation that their pastor could be trusted to do the right thing and to be fair and to admit when he is wrong. The responses from my TMG and congregational feedback demonstrated that many felt the stories and illustrations were very helpful in shaping their opinion regarding the trust factor. For instance, a comment from one of our “From the Heart of the Pastor” sessions was, “It was nice to hear in your sermon a few weeks ago that you are willing to share some of your power and not be a dictator.” Listening—Again, it was the preaching moment that allowed me to gain the opportunity to show members of the congregation that I was listening to their concerns. For instance, I would take any concerns or issues from our focus group sessions, church board meetings, or congregational meetings and incorporate them into my sermon. One particular concern was the influx of new members. Attendance had dramatically increased in a short time. I would hear comments such as, “Pastor, do we really know these new people? Should they be allowed to work in our church? We should be doing some background checks on some of these new people.” In light of these concerns, I preached a sermon entitled “The People God Uses” from Joshua 2:1-24, the story of Rahab the prostitute. This sermon emphasized how God can


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was the first pilot to break the sound barrier. For years many pilots had attempted to break through the sound barrier. However, when the pilots would almost reach the speed necessary for breaking through the sound barrier, the violent shaking and rattling of the plane caused them to pull back on the plane’s throttle. Many feared that the plane would break apart. When Captain Yeager found himself in the situation, instead of pulling back on the throttle, he pushed forward. His determination to press forward allowed him to break through the sound barrier. He discovered that once he broke through the sound barrier the violent shaking and rattling stopped and the remainder of the flight was smooth skies. While preaching and serving in the transition zone, there were many times that I felt the violent shaking and rattling of the entire min-

istry, and out of fear I wanted to pull back. But I kept hearing the Holy Spirit telling me, “Keep going forward; things are going to smooth out.” I thank God that Oakdale is stronger and our future looks brighter because we finally broke through the sound barrier of our pastoral transition. We are slowly realizing that no matter how great our yesterday was, it is how we handle the challenges of today and tomorrow that really matters. If anyone would like additional information on my journey in the transition zone or would like to share your experience in the transition zone, I can be | reached at drdgriffin@aol.com. NOTES 1. See Charles H. Cosgrove and W. Dow Edgerton, In Other Words: Incarnational Translation for Preaching (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2007). 2. 1 Chronicles 28:1-11; Dynamic translation.

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ARTICLE S M I C HAE L TH O MAS S C OTT S R.

GRACE in the Wilderness Empowerment for Pastors Serving Rural Areas M ICHAEL THOMAS SCOTT SR.

or many years within the ministerial circles of the Black Church, there has been a negative view of rural ministry. While in college and seminary, most of the emphasis was placed on how to do ministry in the urban context. For the most part, like many other young seminarians, I planned to “pay my dues” or “serve my time” in a rural church while waiting for promotion to a larger more prestigious ministry in a metropolitan area. It took a while for me to accept that God has called some of us specifically into the rural context on purpose. When I put down my prejudices and changed my personal view of the assignment that God had for me,

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Michael Thomas Scott Sr. is the senior pastor of Jerusalem Baptist Church in Temperanceville, Virginia, and CEO of Michael T. Scott Outreach Ministries.

something happened. I began to bloom where I had been planted. I came to the realization that it wasn’t really about me and my kingdom (i.e., status, popularity, and financial stability), but rather it was all about building the kingdom of God. I began to recognize that the rural church is a part of God’s kingdom no less than the urban or suburban ministry contexts. I was convicted by God for my spirit-less service, lack of stewardship in my God-given assignment, and blatant disrespect and disregard for God’s people in the rural church. It is unfortunate that many pastors serving rural areas feel insignificant and unimportant, when in fact they are the unsung heroes that have been appointed to provide leadership. I have found that more and more individuals are migrating from the inner cities and urban centers of society back into the suburban and rural areas. This transition is


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upon his or her willingness to become a part of that family. The rural pastor must first watch, listen, and learn the ways of the people in order for effective ministry to be accomplished. This is also one area in which the rural church could teach the urban church. Is it possible for the urban church to become so consumed by the business of “doing church” that the key elements of the early church such as faith, family, and fellowship are forgotten? Next, rural pastors should preach and teach messages that are relevant to the needs of the people in a way that is practical and understandable. I had to exegete my “context” and go before the people with real messages that dealt with real life issues such as marriage, divorce, family life, sex, money, faith, and communication, to name a few examples. It appears as if there has never been a time when the needs of so many have been so great. Within this new millennium, one can see that the increase of religious, ethical, and cultural pluralism accelerated by rapid technological change is drastically affecting the fabric of our economy and society. The end result to date has been a climate of increasing uncertainty, chaos, and confusion. Rural pastors across the length and breadth of America have an awesome task to bring forth a “word” that is relevant in this twenty-first century. If people in the pews are going to be set free and mobilized to do ministry, it is vital for the rural pastor to “make it plain.” Dr. Frank A. Thomas contends, “People rarely experience the sermon if the preacher does not experience it first.”3 I have found that narrative sermons and messages with good illustrations help people within the rural church to internalize the Gospel and apply it to their lives. Finally, don’t be afraid to implement new ministries that will meet needs and address 29 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

creating a tremendous ministry opportunity for rural pastors and churches within these communities. According to the Church Membership Survey (CMS) totals for 1980 and 1990, “nearly three-fourths of the counties in the United States are non-metro. It is estimated that the non-metro population grew another 1.3 million in the first three years of the 1990s.”1 There used to be a time when many rural people did not face the problems and challenges often linked to and associated with the urban lifestyle. But things have drastically changed, and the same conditions that are in the city can be identified within the rural counties. The rural church must take great measures to do some radical ministry to confront these challenges head on. Yet, many rural churches are not equipped or prepared to provide the level of ministry needed due to lack of pastoral leadership and commitment. How can the African American pastor mobilize the rural church for effective ministry in this twentyfirst century? First, in order to minister effectively in rural areas, it is important that the pastor reach the people through the ministry of love, compassion, and relationship. Interestingly, Jesus, who served a majority of his public ministry in rural areas, didn’t just come with a preaching agenda, but he came with great compassion and concern for the people. “And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.”2 It is imperative for the rural pastor to understand the culture and allow trust to develop between pastor and parishioner. Many rural churches are “family churches.” The pastor’s ability or inability to mobilize the membership is predicated


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issues. For example, when Jesus fed the multitudes, he found the need and then met the need in a major way—and this happened in a rural context! Remember, one doesn’t have to pastor a mega-church in order to do “mega-ministry.” One does not have to have a “major house” in order to do a “major work”! Just be faithful and work with what you have been given. Many rural churches continue to practice worship methodologies that are ineffective in reaching the needs of people simply because, “Rev., we’ve always done it this way.” There is a lack of holistic ministry within the worship experiences of many rural churches, which often results in a lack of commitment within the congregation and throughout the community. Effective outreach and community involvement is birthed as a result of a genuine love and worship of God, meaningful music ministry, and authentic fellowship. I had to develop a partnership with the leadership of my church for the purpose of getting on one accord. I developed a program to equip and empower the leaders of our church, meeting with them in a retreat setting outside of the four walls of the church. Within these sessions, we began to dialogue about the needs within our church and community and how to address them. We implemented a 40-day period of prayer, fasting, worship, and workshops. Through these spiritual exercises we collectively discovered what needed to be done. Many rural churches are attempting to do ministry with outdated equipment and inadequate facilities. Some are still using “outhouses,” and others don’t have the benefit of hot water for sanitary purposes within the restrooms. Furthermore, there is a great need for classroom and educational space in the rural church. Yes, even within rural areas, 30 the use of marketing strategies, Internet

advertising, and computer technology is absolutely necessary. Church records and minutes need to be recorded and properly entered into the computer. For years, many rural churches have made it by the “word of mouth” principle. But with the availability of technology in this information age, there is no excuse for the church’s reluctance to integrate computer technology into the overall ministry of the church. Where I pastor on the rural eastern shore of Virginia, we have implemented a variety of innovative worship and spiritual growth opportunities, including a weekly noon-day Bible study, two services (8 a.m. and 11 a.m.) each Sunday, opened an on-site computer lab, established an active mentorship program for teens and young adults, and developed collaborations and partnerships with community agencies for health and economic empowerment, and many other things that have proven to be effective and successful. All of this may seem to be insignificant to the urban pastor who has unlimited resources at their disposal. However, for the rural pastor, who is more than likely bi-vocational, living in the church parsonage, struggling to support his or her family while doing effective ministry without the benefit of a $100K salary, this is monumental! I personally don’t know how long God will have me stationed in my present assignment, but I’m determined to love God’s people, fulfill my ministry, and be thankful for the grace God has afforded to | me while laboring in the wilderness. NOTES 1. Shannon Jung, Rural Ministry: The Shape of the Renewal to Come (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1998), 58–61. 2. Mark 6:34, KJV. 3. Frank A. Thomas, They Like to Never Quit Praisin’ God: The Role of Celebration in Preaching (Cleveland: United Church Press, 1997), 37.


A Pastor’s Installation Sermon

The VALLEY of Decision

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OSCAR E. BROWN

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2 Kings 6:6-18, KJV And he said, Go and spy where he is, that I may send and fetch him. And it was told him, saying, Behold, he is in Dothan. (2 Kings 6:13) ast year we started our ministries reading a book that is helping us as we transition our ministry. The book is entitled Good to Great by Jim Collins. In the book he says that many of us will never go from good to great because we have the wrong people in our lives. He says that our schools will never move from good to great, our businesses will

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Oscar E. Brown is pastor of the First Mount Olive Freewill Baptist Church of Baltimore, Maryland.

not move from good to great, and he says— and it’s not a spiritual book—but he says, “Churches will not move from good to great…” and he uses this as the metaphor throughout the book: “…because we have the wrong people on the bus.” He also says that there are times that we have the right people on the bus, but they’re in the wrong seats. “You can tell if you’ve got the right people in the right seats on the bus,” he says, “because they’re more focused on the driver than they are the destination.” Think about it. Think about it. The author says, “They are in tune with the driver and not just the destination.” He says, “You can tell people who are only interested in the destination when the driver is forced to make a different turn. They’re okay as long as the driver stays on the route that they’re familiar with, but as soon as he detours….”1 Now in Baltimore we have mass transit, and when you’re on the bus and you want to get off, there is a string—a cord—and you can pull the cord to inform the driver that you want to get off. And in a real sense, many of us are just like that in church. As soon as the leader makes a turn we don’t like, we’re pulling the cord because we are ready to get off. And then if you’ve got people who’ve been on the bus longer than the leader, they are ready to tell the driver to get off. Lord, have mercy! But every partner in the work of ministry is not always privileged to know what the leader knows, to see what the leader sees, or feel what the leader feels. Every partner in leadership—whether it is a spouse, whether it is the deacon’s ministry, whether it is the music ministry—is not privileged to get the view that the pastor gets. And so if you’re going to work the work of ministry, you’ve got to be tied to your leader because sometimes your leader is forced to make turns


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getting a word from God as it relates to your next move.” So the King of Syria said, “Alright, alright, what I want you to do is go and find Elisha. Bring him to me so I can deal with him.” I’m in verse 13 right here. You don’t even get out of verse 13 before they say, “We ain’t got to look for him. We know where he is. He’s in the valley of Dothan. And king, we know where he is.” The king said, “Go get him. Go and get him! I’m going to deal with him for busting up my plans!” Now when we preach this text, we normally preach it from the angle of Elisha. I want to look at the servant. I want to look at Elisha’s armor bearer. Because it is the ministry assistant who is in a situation he didn’t ask to be in. The prophetic anointing was on Elisha, but now both of them find themselves in trouble. Can I tell you it will cost you something to hang out with anointed people? See some folk, they want to be close to you. They want to be around you, but they don’t know what you’ve got to go through to be you. Do I have a witness in the house? If you hang around anointed people, you’d better get in position and you’d better understand that you may also have to suffer like they suffered. Tell your neighbor, “Anointed folk have got to go through something!” You’re going to have some sleepless nights. You’re going to have some difficult days; because let me tell you, Cedar Street, it wasn’t enough to call an anointed pastor! Because you called an anointed pastor, now the devil’s after you! Had you called a jackleg, had you called a drinking pastor, had you called a woman-carousing pastor, he wouldn’t bother you. But you reached and got somebody anointed, so the devil said, “I’m going to give you hell now.” See, what bothers me is, we just want the burning to be in the pulpit. The burning of the Holy Ghost ain’t confined to the pulpit. It ought to be on the deacon’s row. It needs to 33 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

about which you’re not privileged to know the details. You see, as spiritual leaders, if we are spiritual leaders indeed, then we should be able to see stuff others don’t see. And if you’re on the bus for the right reason, you’ll say, “I don’t know what he’s doing, but I’m trusting God. I wouldn’t have done that if that was me, but that ain’t me. So if God told him to do it, I’m going to trust God in him because if he ain’t right, God’s going to deal with him!” I tell young preachers nowadays, if you really want to be a pastor you’ve got to be crazy. You’ve got to have some measure of insanity because you will have to lead folk who don’t want to go anywhere. You’ve got to fight them to get them to walk into their destiny. And it puts us in the valley of decision. And that is where the text shows up. The Bible says that Elisha who is the student of Elijah is now the dominant prophet, and God is using Elisha in a powerful way. In fact, if you compare Elisha and Elijah, you’ll discover that Elisha did everything that Elijah did but he did it twice as much because Elisha prayed for a double anointing from Elijah. The Bible says that the King of Syria was launching an attack against the King of Israel. And every time the King of Syria got ready to launch the attack, God would give the plan to Elisha. And Elisha would tell the King of Israel, “Don’t go this way because the King of Syria is going to meet you at that point.” The Bible says that this happened at least three times. So the Bible says that the King of Syria got mad, and he brought his cabinet together. And he said, “Now I need to know which one of you is for them. Because what I’m speaking in my bedroom, it’s being publicized in the street. So who is the traitor among you?” And one of the servants said, “No, no, no, no, no king! None of us are betraying you.” They said, “King, the Prophet Elisha keeps


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be in the choir loft. It needs to be in the ushers. It needs to be in the nursery. So the Bible says that the King of Syria sends the armies. It’s in the text—keep reading. He sends—listen to this—horses, chariots, and a great host to get one man. You missed what I said. The Bible says he sent horses and chariots and a great host to get one man! See, the devil knows something we don’t know. We underestimate God’s anointing. But when the devil comes after God’s anointed, he’s sending reinforcements because he knows that we can call on a greater power. That’s why the Bible says, “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.”2 Tell somebody: “I’m lethal! I���m dangerous! Baby, I’ll blow up any moment! The devil don’t know what to do with me! Because the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, and he has anointed me.” Tell somebody: “Don’t play with me!” Tell somebody: “I’m so anointed, it scares me at times. I speak stuff that I don’t even know where it came from, and then I see God work things out.” Now the Bible says that they came at night. Let the church say, “At night.” And the next morning the young servant gets up, goes outside, and he sees the whole Syrian army. He sees horses and chariots and all their armor. The young man is overwhelmed. Elisha just comes out strolling, but the young man is overwhelmed. He didn’t candidate for this; he was a part of the package. Elisha comes out, and this is what the boy says—the young man says to his pastor in verse 15, “My master, how shall we do?” Translation: How shall we fare? Are we going to survive this? Because Dothan can be a rough place. Dothan can be a rough place. It’s really a city that sits by the roadside. You know about Dothan; you just can’t remember. In Genesis chapter 37, Joseph was sent by his 34 father to Shechem to carry a care package to

his brothers. Joseph gets to Shechem and his brothers aren’t there. The Scripture says he’s wandering around trying to find them. A man asks Joseph, “What are you looking for, son?” He said, “I’m looking for my brothers, and they are attending my father’s sheep.” And the man says, “Oh yeah, I know where they are. They’re in Dothan.” And so he gets up and he goes to Dothan. Now it’s not hard to find because it’s a little area by the roadside. But while he’s going, his brothers see him coming and they said, “Here that dreamer comes again.” They said, “Let’s kill him.” But the older brother says, “No, we can’t kill him.” He says, “Let’s just put him in a hole in a pit in a well.” The Bible says when Joseph gets there, they strip him of his clothes and they throw him in a dry well. Dothan by definition means a place of two wells. You ain’t getting it. Dothan by definition is defined as a place of two wells. What God did was dry up one well so that when they put Joseph in the well the boy wouldn’t drown. I’m trying to show you something. Though Dothan may be rough, God will provide a way of escape. Who am I talking to? You seem to be between a rock and a hard place. Let me tell you tonight that there is nothing too hard for God. “He knows the steps that I take; and when he has tried me, I shall come forth as pure gold.”3 Look at somebody and say; “Dothan ain’t going to kill you. What you’re going through ain’t going to kill you.” I know it seems like you’re going down for the last time, but I came to announce to you you’re in the valley of decision. And I’m making a decision: I shall live and not die! So, let me see. The Bible says that the young servant is standing there saying, “How are we going to fare? We done picked up and moved out here. Don’t know nobody out here. How are we going to fare? We’ve been talking about what God’s going to do, and


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some church folk who will stay even though you don’t know how it’s going to work out. Because it’s that little bit of fear that makes you trust God. Do I have anybody who has ever been pushed to the edge and you didn’t know how it was going to work out, but you say, “God, I promised you I’d go all the way, so somehow I’m trusting you”? Tell your neighbor, “Sometimes I get scared, but I’m going to stand in the strength of God. Sometimes I can’t see the ending, but I do know this: He who has begun a good work in me shall perform it!4 I’m staying!” Touch somebody and say, “I ain’t going nowhere.” Number one in the valley of decision is: You’ve got to stick with your leader. Number two in the valley of decision is: Speak to your leader. We ain’t going to shout right here. Don’t just stand with him, but speak to him. In the text—same verse—he says, “Elisha, how shall we do?” He said to Elisha, “How shall we do?” Now, I’m going to break this point up into two sub-points. First of all, it is obvious that he speaks to Elisha. That’s obvious. But what’s not so obvious is the fact—well, there are two things. He could have spoken to the owners of the house because there is no indication that Elisha has a house in Dothan. So, as prophets did, they would stay in local houses. So the boy could have gone behind his leader’s back and talked to the folk in the house about the trouble that the leader put them in. I ought to make somebody mad enough tonight that you make up in your mind you ain’t going to let nobody in the house talk about the leader. In 21 years of pastoring, I’ve had people stand with me but then talk about me. In the meeting, they’re in my face. But afterwards, they’re talking to the other people in the house about what they should have been talking to me about. I told you we weren’t going to 35 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

now our enemies are encamped around about us. What are we going to do?” And this is what the man of God says to him. He says, “Boy, let me help you. They that are with us are more than they that be with them.” Tell somebody, “We are the majority.” No, you didn’t say that with confidence. Tell somebody, “We are the majority!” Okay. I want to talk to the young servants because they are workers in this ministry who don’t see what your pastor sees. And you’re in the valley of decision. Or maybe someone else here is also in the valley of decision. What should I do when I’m in the valley of decision? Three things and I’m done. Number one—in the valley of decision you’ve got to stick with your leader. Tell somebody. “Stick with your leader.” This boy in crisis says—and I love this statement—he says, “How shall we do?” How shall we do? How shall we fare? And the thing that blessed me about the text is that the boy got up first and saw the army first—at least with the natural eye. Because if the prophet was able to see where the King of Syria was going to be as it relates to the King of Israel, certainly he was able to discern when the King of Syria was coming for him. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why he let the boy go out first. But this is the point I’m trying to get to: Because the boy got up first and saw what he saw, he could have left his leader by himself. He could have jumped ship. But this is what he says. He says, “How shall we do?” I may not get back to Cedar Street, but let me tell you—I hate punk Christians. Anybody can stand with you when the sun is shining. But you need some folk who will stand with you when all hell is breaking out! And what blesses me is that the boy still had fear, but at least he stayed. Because the prophet tells him, “Fear not.” You see, I believe that God is looking for


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shout there. Talk to the leader. Don’t talk about the leader; talk to the leader. The B part of that first part is: Not only could he have talked to others in the house, but he could have held it in. You decide. I don’t know which is worse—talking about it or holding it in. Because you might think holding it in is good, but after awhile it begins to come through your pores. You don’t need everybody to tell you they don’t like you; some people’s body language gives them away. Speak to your leader; don’t speak to other people in the house, and don’t hold it in. Now this is the second part. It means that the leader has to create an atmosphere where folk can talk to you. Because sometimes we as leaders do not create an atmosphere for people to talk to us. That means that we can’t always look for “yes people,” but we’ve got to have people in our lives who love us enough to tell us the truth. And so leaders—pastor included and everyone who is in a leadership position—we’re got to create an atmosphere that says: I welcome your comments if they are constructive because I don’t need folk dumping on me. There’s some gossip I don’t want to know. I don’t need to know who’s sleeping with whom and who’s doing who. That ain’t going to edify me! We’ve got to exalt each other. We’ve got to create an atmosphere where we can be honest about each other’s situations. In the valley of decision, you’ve got to stand with your leader, speak to your leader, and finally expect something supernatural to happen. Expect! If you’re in the valley of decision as a believer, you’ve got to expect something supernatural to happen. In the text, Elisha says to him, “Alright now, they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” Elisha knew that wasn’t enough to calm that boy down. Elisha knew that ain’t 36 enough; that ain’t enough. “I have reassured

him that they with us are more than they that be with them, but that boy is still on the edge.” And so this is what Elisha prayed and I’m done. Elisha said, “God! Open his eyes that he may see!” Now, come on. The boy’s eyes have been open all the time. But what’s the problem? He only saw the problem. He saw the problem; and every now and then God will allow you to see the problem for a purpose. Okay, he says, “Open his eyes!” He saw what he saw, but he didn’t see what he needed to see. Some folk are looking, but they’re missing it. Because they only see the problem, but they don’t see the solution. So Elisha says, “God, open his eyes so that he can see what he really needs to see.” And I don’t know how long it took, but the Bible says that that young man began to see up on the mountain horses and chariots of fire! When he came out that morning, he saw horses and chariots and men! But when Elisha prayed, this time he didn’t see any men, but he saw something supernatural. He saw horses and chariots of fire. In other words, he saw heaven’s defense coming! And that is all I have been trying to say—that God will defend the chosen people of God. When you stick with your leader and talk to your leader, you can expect God to do something supernatural! Is there anybody in here that can say, “I have seen him work!”? “Be not dismayed what e’er betide, God will take care of you!”5 Yes, he will! Yes, he | will! Yeeeeesss, he will! NOTES 1. Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t (New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2001). 2. 1 John 4:4, paraphrased. 3. Job 23:10, paraphrased. 4. See Philippians 1:6. 5. “God Will Take Care of You,” written by Civilla D. Martin, 1904. Lyrics found at http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/ g/w/gwiltake.htm (accessed July 23, 2008).


A New Pastor Preaches Genesis 11:8, NRSV So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. ord, make us one. Imagine, if you can, the world as one. No more war in the Middle East, no more starvation in Africa. One. No more polarization in South America, no more racism in North America. ONE. I mean a world where everyone was concerned about the fate of others. Where no man or woman was an island, and no one stood alone. Where each person’s joy was joy to me, and each person’s grief was my very own. ONE. John Lennon said:

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Lord, Make Us ONE

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Imagine no possessions I wonder if you can No need for greed or hunger A brotherhood of man Imagine all the people Sharing all the world You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one I hope some day you’ll join us And the world will live as one.1

Ambrose Carroll is the pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Denver, Colorado.

AMBROSE CARROLL

Lord, make us ONE. You know, church, this becoming one always seems to be desired by the masses, but it is always thwarted by the few. Oneness. Verbally at least, everybody always wants to get together, but our efforts are stymied by situation and circumstance. I mean it feels like a good idea, but the reality of division in the land makes the idea quite overwhelming. That leads me to raise the question, “What’s wrong with being one?” We have been teaching little black boys and little black girls that they are all sisters and brothers, yet our death toll in the black community is off the charts. We are killing each other like killing is going out of style. I ask you, what’s wrong with being one? Our churches proclaim one Lord, one faith, one baptism, yet


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We further engage to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember each other in prayer; to aid each other in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech; to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation; and mindful of the rules of our Savior, to secure it without delay.3 On Sunday morning, we promise to be one; but by Sunday night, we are on the phones talking about: “Chile’, they don’t know what they’re doing. I’m not fooling with them folk; they’re not saved.” We know

that the Bible says, “Forsake not the fellowship of yourselves together.”4 This Scripture requires oneness, togetherness, unity. Yet we proclaim with a loud voice, “I don’t need to go church to serve God.” I ask you, what’s wrong with being one? I can hear the complaints right now. “They’re too old. They’re too young. They’re too stuck-up. They’re too ghetto. I’m not singing with them. I’m not ushering with them. I’m not going to be sitting up in no meeting with them.” Church, sometimes I just want to scream, “Who is them? What’s wrong with being one?” Verbally we want to be one, but the reality is so often something different. Oh, it can be discouraging, brothers and sisters. In fact there is a passage of Scripture that seems itself to speak against the notion of oneness. Honestly, it’s in the Bible and it had me baffled for a good number of years: Genesis 11:1-9. You know the story. Everyone on earth spoke the same language and the “children of men” decided that they would build a city, and the city’s crowning glory would be a magnificent skyscraper of mythical magnitude. Because they were together, they were achieving. Because they were one, they were making perennial progress. Because they understood one another, they had it going on big time. They were one and they were successful, until verse 5. Verse 5 is where things get confusing. The Bible says that God came down and saw what the people were doing. God says in verse 6 that the people are one and that they all understand one another; they speak the same language. God says further in this same verse that nothing will be restrained from them; they will be able to do whatever they imagine to do because they are one. But in verse 7, instead of commending them, instead of blessing them for their efforts, the Bible says that God plotted 39 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

denominationalism is eating us alive; doctrinal differences are tearing us a part. We are so busy worrying who God can call to preach, that we don’t have time to be still and hear the Word of God for own lives. We’re putting down Fred Price; we’re putting down Creflo Dollar; we’re putting down T.D. Jakes; we’re putting down the Full Gospel Movement. We are supposed to be one church. You know what we say: “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand” and that’s the main thing.2 But even within our own denomination, the questions are always raised, “Are you American Baptist or are you Southern Baptist? Are you duly aligned? Are you National Baptist of America or Progressive?” Church, we are drawing lines of demarcation in the sand, and a good number of our churches and denominations are dying slow but sure deaths fighting over denominationalism. What’s wrong with being one? At churches on every first Sunday morning, Baptist saints all over the country can be heard reciting some form of the Church Covenant. You’ve perhaps heard it before:


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against their success. God confused their speech so that they would not understand one another. The inhabitants of Babel got together in order to be strong, to keep from being scattered abroad, but God tore it all up and scattered them across the face of the earth. Church, it’s right there in our text that I read. What are you doing God? The people are on the right track. I understand the destruction and the divisiveness of mortals, but oh my God, not you as well! Lord God Jehovah, what’s wrong with being one? Church, this text had me perplexed for years. I was both mad and disappointed with God every time I looked at it. I mean I read it and read it and read it again, but I could not figure out for the life of me why God would keep the people from being one. An old preacher one day implored me to read Acts chapter 2. When I picked it up and read these words, I was stunned. I had read this text countless times, but when the old preacher had me to read this text I declare to you that the Lord opened my eyes. Listen: And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.5

Oh, I don’t think you all got that. If you got it, you would be shouting all over this room. In Genesis, at Babel, the people were all 40 together; they were one. They were amassing

their resources; they were one. They were all speaking the same language; they were one. And when the Lord saw what they were doing, God confused their speech and confounded their understanding; God upset stuff! In Acts, at Jerusalem, likewise they were all together; they were one. They were amassing their resources; they were one. And right then the Holy Ghost rushed in from heaven sounding and feeling like a hurricane. Tongues of fire rested over the heads of the people, and they began to give God unrestrained, unadulterated, unequivocal praise. They could understand one another; they became one. In Genesis, God took away understanding while in Acts God gave understanding. What’s going on here? I just had to know. I had to ask the Lord why. Lord, why do you bless one scene and curse the other? I know that you are sovereign and that you do what you want to do, when you want to do it, how you want to do it; but Lord, why? This is what the Lord revealed to me. At Babel, the Bible says that the Lord saw that the people were one; but a close reading of the text will indicate that at Jerusalem, God was one with the people. Let me repeat that. At Babel, the Bible says that the Lord saw that the people were one, but a close reading of the text will indicate that at Jerusalem, God was one with the people. Somebody still don’t see it; I wish that I could make it plain. But before I try, you need to understand that God has an issue that God doesn’t talk about in Genesis. I knew you all were going to look at me funny, but it’s true. God has an issue that God’s not hiding; God just does not verbalize it until the Book of Exodus. You see by the time that we get to this story in Genesis, God has already escorted Adam and Eve out of the Garden. God has already flooded the earth and has drowned millions of


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not one of the strongest forces in the world. As a community and as a culture, they were one. Their work ethic was strong; the health care system was fine; their education was second to none. Germany, the fatherland, was strong, but it crumbled because God was not in it. The American South had a semblance of oneness. There were immaculate plantations. Their parties were grand; the men were southern gentleman, and their women were ladies. They were cultured. But their brand of Christianity and their titles as slave holders meant God was not in that. So, in 1865, Sherman marched from Virginia to the sea and burned everything in between because God was not in it. All over this country, some of our brothers believe that they are one; they claim “one love” for this hood or that hood. Yet they peddle other folk’s drugs to their folk. They live fast and they drive faster. They believe according to their peculiar logic that they are one. However, we can all see the devastating destruction—the dry bones—all around us as their legacy, because God is not in it! Babel had it going on. They were one of the first civilized communities. In order to build the structures they built, they had to possess a superior understanding of engineering and a command of oral and written language. They were astute astronomers; they had an understanding of the cosmos and a limited understanding of the heavens above. They were one nation under a groove; they were academically astute and upwardly mobile. But in spite of how they should have turned out, in spite of how their history should have read, they met a horrid fate. Why? Because God was not in it. Church, whatever your situation or status in life, make sure that God is a part of the equation. Our Acts text indicates that the saints in Jerusalem were interested in God 41 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

people and has started the world all over again from scratch. Can’t you see God as God peers down from the balcony of bliss and sees the odd appearance of the people that God has created busy building their own kingdom. Look at God’s face as God thinks to himself, “I did not place this task on their hearts; they came up with this on their own.” Look at God’s eyes as God ponders the fact that he created the whole world, but never did he lay out such blueprints for such a city. Yet, their mathematical equations were flawless. Watch God’s ears as God overhears; they are all communicating joyously with each other, yet no one has called his name. They are over a million strong, yet no one has taken the time to pray. Look at God. God is jealous! He does not admit it verbally in Genesis, but you can feel the pain of his wrath as he confuses the people’s speech. God is a jealous God, and he says it outright starting in Exodus 20:5: “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God.” Exodus 34:14: “Thou shalt worship no other god; for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Deuteronomy 4:24: “The LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” Joshua 24:19: “Ye cannot serve the LORD for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God.” Nahum 1:2: “God is jealous, and the LORD revengeth.” Zechariah 1:14: “I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.” God is jealous. I didn’t say it; I just repeated it. God said it. That’s God’s issue. So what’s your point, preacher? My point, church, is that if we are going to be one, we have to make sure that God is a part of the equation! If you are going be one, make sure that God is in the mix, or the record indicates that God will tear it up. Ask Hitler if his Third Reich was not a polished, precision force. Ask him if the SS (Secret Service) was


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being part of the equation. They asked if it was time for God’s kingdom to be established. They asked in so many words, “Lord, make us one.” As Jesus ascended into the heavens, instead of splitting up and moving on, the disciples stayed together in the Upper Room; their prayer was: “Lord, make us one.” Instead of talking bad to and about one another, they stayed right there and sanctified themselves: “Lord, make us one.” They closed their mouths and opened their hearts and minds. You see Jesus told them that he was sending his Spirit, so they tarried right there in that place saying, “Lord, we believe you. We’re ready; make us one.” They were not of the same race or the same nationality, but they prayed: “Lord, make us one.” They didn’t all speak the same language, eat the same food, wear the same styles; they were young and old, rich and poor, apostles and lay people but their earnest desire was: “Lord, make us one!” They were really serious, not just talkin’. The Bible says that they stayed right there for 50 days. It didn’t happen for them overnight. But they stayed right there praying and believing. It didn’t happen in an instant; it took some time and it took a whole lot of patience. That’s a message for us. That’s what we’re gonna’ have to do. We’re gonna’ have to hang on in here through prayer: “Lord, make us one.” We have to be steadfast and pray for the young folk: “Lord, make us one.” Pray for old folks: “Lord, make us one.” Pray for the-in-between folks: “Lord, make us one.” We’re gonna’ have to come to Sunday school saying, “Lord, make us one.” We’re gonna’ have to come to prayer meeting and Bible study saying, “Lord, make us one.” We’re gonna’ have to go to conventions, neighborhood meetings, school board meetings, church meetings, and family meetings 42 praying: “Lord, make us one.” In these dark

days that are also filled with phenomenal, never-seen-before possibilities, we have to tarry long with and for one another begging, “Lord, make us one!” Why don’t you stand on your feet and lift holy hands if you agree and say, “Lord, make us one!” For the Bible says that when the day of Pentecost was fully come that they were all on one accord, in one place, and that suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house; and there were cloven tongues like as of fire, and the disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to understand one another. Lord, make us one. We can’t do it, you have to do it! Take us, break us, mold us, and make us until we can say without hesitation: We are one in the spirit We are one in the Lord We are one in the spirit We are one in the Lord And we pray that all unity may one day be restored. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love Yes they’ll know we are Christians | by our love.6 NOTES 1. “Imagine,” written and recorded by John Lennon on the album, Imagine, 1971. Lyrics found at http://www.lyrics 007.com/John%20Lennon%20Lyrics/Imagine%20Lyric s.html (accessed July 18, 2008). 2. “The Solid Rock,” written by William Bradbury, The New National Baptist Hymnal (Nashville, TN: National Baptist Publishing Board, 1977), 223. 3. The New National Baptist Hymnal (Nashville, TN: National Baptist Publishing Board, 1977), 4. 4. Hebrews 10:25, paraphrased. 5. Acts 2:1-4, KJV. 6. “We Are One in the Spirit” written by Peter Scholte, 1966. Lyrics found at http://www.hymnlyrics.org/mostpopularhymns/we_are_one_in_the_spirit.html (accessed July 18, 2008).


A Pastor Preaches His Father’s Funeral

THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

RICE CROFT

A Candidate for the HALL OF FAITH WAYNE E. CROFT SR.

Genesis 25:8, NIV Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.

Wayne E. Croft Sr. serves as pastor of The Church of the Redeemer Baptist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is assistant professor of Homiletics and Liturgics at Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University. He preached this sermon at the funeral of 44 his father, Rice Croft.

ne of my dad’s favorite sports was professional baseball. He would watch baseball day in and day out. As a young boy, I remember watching baseball games with him, not because I liked them, but I knew how much he loved the game. One of the unique things the National Baseball League does is it honors its elite players and coaches by placing those both living and dead in the Hall of Fame. At the National Baseball League Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, you will find the names, pictures, and jerseys of their greatest players. Players like William Julius “Judy” Johnson, the first African American to be elected to the NBL Hall of Fame, Jackie Robinson, and Hank Aaron. Almost every, if not all, professional sports teams have a Hall of Fame center, somewhere. This is how they honor their elite players and coaches. Although there is no Hall of Fame in the Bible, there is located in Hebrews 11 what I like to refer to as the Hall of Faith. In this Hall of Faith are the names of great men and women such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, and of course Abraham, the father of the faithful. If God, however, looked favorably upon me as God did the Hebrew writer, gave me a pen and a piece of paper, and told me to write a postmodern list of those who should be elected to the Hall of Faith, the first name I would list without reservation is Rice Croft. And if God asked me why I recommend my dad, I would say for over 45 years he committed his life to serving you; 35 years he worked at United Container Corporation and never missed a day; over 40 years he served as a deacon; he raised 7 children—Rose, John, Arlene, Doreen, Liz, myself, and Rice Jr.—with dignity and honor; 55 years and 6 months he loved, honored, and respected the wife of his youth, Henrietta Croft; and on his death bed he sang, praised, and worshiped God.

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luxuriant. The rich soil produced crops in abundance causing those who lived in Ur to enjoy her creature comforts. Furthermore, Abraham was summoned to leave his father’s house and friends. He had to leave people he knew and possibly loved. God, oftentimes, takes us out of one place so that God can bless us in another place. God had to take: Abraham out of Ur Isaac out of Canaan Jacob out of Beersheba Dinah out of Shechem Joseph and Moses out of Egypt Joshua out of Kadesh Barnea Jepthah out of Tob David out of Bethlehem Elijah out of Cherith Esther out of Shushan Jonah out of Tarshish Paul out of Damascus Rice Croft out of Emanuel County, Georgia, and Jesus out of the Garden of Gethsemane. In order to lead us to someplace and somewhere, God may have to move us out of someplace or somewhere. When God calls us to walk by faith, God may summon us to leave our comfort zone and walk not knowing where we are going but knowing God is leading us. This is one of the ways we make it into the Hall of Faith. The walk of faith, however, has its challenges. You will never walk with God as a hero or heroine of faith and not face challenges. Along Abraham’s journey, he experienced: doubt—wondering how God was going to give him a son when he and his wife Sarah were as good as dead; discouragement—arriving in Canaan only to find the Canaanites possessing the land; deceit—lying 45 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

With this type of track record, if my dad qualified and was: Roman Catholic—I would nominate him to be recognized as a saint; Anglican—I would nominate him to be recognized as the Archbishop of Canterbury; Episcopalian—I would nominate him to be recognized as a cathedral canon; Presbyterian—I would nominate him to serve on the presbytery; United Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal, or United Church of Christ—I would nominate him to be an elder. However, since he was a good ole Baptist and a faithful humble servant of the Most High God, I nominate him as a candidate for the Hall of Faith. I think his name should be listed with Abraham and others because he placed his faith and trust in God, and he died with dignity and honor. The Greek philosopher Epicurus once said, “The art of living well and the art of dying well are one.”1 In other words, how we live and die go hand in hand. Abraham, the father of the faithful, as well as my father, illustrates this truth. They did not begin their lives living for God, but they lived their lives for God. They teach us that life is not simply about how we start but how we live. Abraham began his life in Ur of the Chaldees. Ur was the center of paganism, and Abraham along with his father Terah were idolaters. Star and moon worship were prominent forms of worship in Ur. Abraham worshiped Nannar, the moon god. God, however, summoned Abraham and told him to depart from Ur, leave his family (with the exception of Sarah and apparently his nephew Lot), his father’s house, and his friends and begin walking with God. This was the beginning of Abraham’s faith journey. It was no small thing for Abraham to leave Ur. Ur was a port city flourishing on trades moving back and forth along its costal waterways. It possessed rich soil making her land


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to the Pharaoh and later Abimelech about who his wife Sarah was to save his own life; frustration—having to deal with his nephew Lot’s costly decisions; and spiritual compromise—having a son with his wife’s handmaid, Hagar, instead of waiting on God’s promise. Faith has its challenges, and there were times Abraham failed the tests of faith. When it counted the most, however, Abraham passed the final exam. Abraham made it into the Hall of Faith because when God called him to go out into the place which he would receive as an inheritance he went looking for the city which had foundations whose builder and maker is God. But more importantly, when God told Abraham to take his son Isaac to the land of Moriah and offer him as a burnt offering on a mountain, Abraham grabbed the wood and a knife and by faith went up the mountain as God commanded to offer up his promised son to God, telling Isaac, “The Lord will provide.”2 Now I know Abraham is the main character in the offering up of Isaac narrative, but something should be said about Isaac. You see, when Abraham laid Isaac on the altar, in Genesis 22, Isaac was not an infant, adolescent, or teenager. He is a young man who has his own will. He is much stronger, has more vitality, and possibly strength than his aging father. If Isaac wanted to, he could have fought, kicked, or removed himself from the altar of sacrifice. We, however, do not read of Isaac fighting, kicking, or removing himself from the altar. Abraham trusted God, yes; but Isaac must have trusted God and Abraham. Abraham must have lived in front of Isaac in such a manner that when Abraham had to do the unthinkable to please God, Isaac trusted him. The reason my mother, Rose, John, Arlene, Doreen, Liz, Rice, and myself can weep but also have joy is because 46 our daddy lived in such a way that we knew

he trusted God. He taught us though his life that those who place their trust in God are never put to shame. So when death came creeping in his room, we trusted that he was ready, and we trusted God who had kept him for 86 years, 11 months, 6 days, 1 hour, and 10 minutes on earth. When Abraham came to the end of his life, he was able to look back and smile. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said, “Life must be understood backwards; but…it must be lived forward.”3 God told Abraham back in Genesis 15:15, he would go in peace and in a good old age. When Abraham came to the end of his life journey on earth in Genesis 25:8, he saw how God kept his promise, and he moved forward to glory. So Abraham, the text says, gave up the ghost in the same manner in which Jesus said, “It is finished” on Calvary’s cross. The text further tells us that Abraham was an old man when he died, and full of years. This term “full of years” is translated in the New American Standard Bible as “satisfied with life.” When some people look back on life, they do so with regret; when they look around, it is with complaint; and when they look ahead, it’s with fear. But Abraham and Rice Croft looked back, around, and ahead satisfied and with joy. Here is the image of one who has dined and eaten at a table sufficiently and is now full and satisfied. My daddy looked back on life and saw how he met, married, and loved a beautiful woman named Henrietta, he looked around and saw that his seven children had given their lives to Christ, and he looked ahead to Canaan’s rest. So when God called his name, he pushed back from the table of life satisfied, gave up the ghost, and crossed over the Jordan River. The text says, “…and [Abraham] was gathered to his people.” This does not mean Abraham was buried with his family.


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in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”4 Sleep on Daddy, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”5 Sleep on Daddy, for we know that one day “…the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”6 Sleep on Daddy, for you have, “…fought the good fight…finished the race…kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for you the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to you on that Day, and not to you only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”7 Sleep on Daddy, for I heard John say he “…saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then …John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And [he] heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things 47 have passed away.’”8 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

Abraham was buried in the cave of Machpelah. But Abraham, through death, met up with that great cloud of witnesses to take his seat in the stands. Abraham ran his race and finished his course. On the day my dad gave his life to Christ, he took off running this Christian race. For over 45 years, he ran faithfully. On Thursday, December 6, 2007, however, he could see in the stands of glory a great cloud of witnesses cheering and urging him to approach the finish line. Abel is in the stands because he offered God a more excellent sacrifice. Enoch is in the stands because he pleased God. Noah is in the stands because by faith he built an ark though he didn’t see rain. Abraham is in the stands because he believed and walked with God. Sarah is in the stands because she judged him faithful who had promised. Isaac is in the stands because he blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. Jacob is in the stands because when he was dying he blessed each of the sons of Joseph. Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, David, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are in the stands. They urged my daddy to cross the finishing line. Gabriel, Michael, the seraphim and cherubim looked through heaven’s window and God must have told goodness and mercy, who had followed my dad all the days of his life, to open the gate; and on Thursday, December 6, 2007, at 1:10 a.m. my dad crossed the finishing line. Now all I can say today as I commit my father into the hands of the all wise God is: Sleep on. Yes, sleep on Daddy for Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe


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Sleep on Daddy, for “…We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O Death, where is your sting? O [grave] Hades, where is your victory?’ The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”9 Yes, Daddy sleep until the sons of God shout together, the daughters of God sing

together, and the saints of God march together. Sleep until the wicked cease from troubling and the weary be at rest. Sleep until every day is Sunday, every month is May, every year is jubilee, and time is no more. Sleep, sleep, sleep—until you hear Jesus say, | “Well done. Well done. Well done!” NOTES 1. “Epicurus Quotes,” http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes /authors/e/epicurus.html (accessed July 20, 2008). 2. See Genesis 22:8. 3. “Soren Kierkegaard Quotes,” http://www.brainyquote. com/quotes/authors/s/soren_kierkegaard.html (accessed July 20, 2008). 4. John 14:1-3. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible. 5. 2 Corinthians 5:1. 6. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. 7. 2 Timothy 4:7-8, paraphrased. 8. Revelation 21:1-4. 9. 1 Corinthians 15:51-57.


A Pastor’s Farewell Sermon

TRUSTING the Spirit to Lead Us

THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

JAMES A. FORBES JR.

John 16:12-13, NKJV I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth. ome of you are wondering what I’ve been doing during my sabbatical. Well, I’ve just been resting up and sort of tidying up, getting ready to hear what the Lord has to say about the next step along the way. And perhaps on Wednesday I will say more; but

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James A. Forbes Jr. is senior minister emeritus of The Riverside Church in New York City and president of the Healing of the Nations Foundation. This sermon is considered Forbes’s farewell sermon as senior minister of the Riverside Church and was delivered on June 3, 2007. 50

lest you be so concerned about what I’m going to be doing next, let me say that there is now formed a corporation called The Healing of the Nations Foundation. And one of the things that I will be doing across the country is attempting to encourage the members of churches, congregations, denominations, corporations, and community agencies to at least become willing to be a leaf. The tree of life is for the healing of the nations, and we can’t do it all. But each of us can be a leaf—meaning we can be intentional about finding some way to be an instrument of healing to others around the world. So, that’s enough of that. Now I am here because, well, this is a spot that would traditionally be spoken of as a farewell sermon. My goodness! A farewell sermon. Well, let me say that on December


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the stopping, we can assess where we are in the bringing to fore all of the multiple elements that make us up and what we ought to be—sometimes contrasting and even polarizing shades. But can you apply your imagination? Look at me! A paintbrush in the hands of God. What do you think God’s going to do with me now? What will the design look like? What will the contours be? What impact will come? And then, look at yourselves. Eyes have not seen and ears have not heard, and I guarantee you, you cannot even imagine what God is going to make out of The Riverside Church beyond the time and tenure of Jim Forbes and this transition. Listen, I’m so thankful you have made me the emeritus because I’m just waiting to see! Waiting to see what you, this congregation will be! I hope I’ve captured your imagination for it. It’s easy for me to preach this farewell sermon because the lectionary reading gave an example of a farewell sermon that was preached by Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. When it was approaching the time that he would not be with his disciples anymore in the usual manner, things must have rushed through his mind about what had not yet been made clear. Jesus may have wished he could take them on a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee and hold them there at a retreat for about a week to try to make sure that all of the things that he had tried to say were clear. Instead, this is what Jesus said during his farewell messages to those who had worked with him. He said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears and will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 51 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

the 24th I preached my final sermon for regular leadership at The Riverside Church, and then I went on what some folks have called a terminal sabbatical. I don’t like that term “terminal sabbatical.” I’d much prefer “transitional sabbatical.” So I’ve been transitioning all that time, and I am now ready to hear what the Lord would have me do. And, with your blessings, go forth into that mission. First, I want to recognize all of my clergy colleagues who are here. I see several of my Muslim brothers are with me, so I think it would make sense to acknowledge all the preachers who have been with me in spirit throughout all of these years and who have commiserated and celebrated together with me. Let all of the religious leaders of official nature stand at this time. I thank you for joining with me. Now about all of the things you have said about me—let me tell you how I feel. Really, I am very much impressed with the work which has been done through me and through The Riverside Church and through the pulpit and the choir and through every commission. But the way I feel is just like a paintbrush, so amazed at what the Divine Artist has been able to do. And I recognize that for anything I have done, it was primarily a matter of the hands that moved, made the shapes and the designs, and selected the colors and tapestry against which the paint would be applied. So if you’re impressed with what Jim Forbes has done, I’m looking to say, “Lord, look what you have done with us together.” And I am as fascinated by what God is going to paint of me and Betty and J.A., and I am just waiting to see what God will paint with the brush that is The Riverside Church. I’m just waiting to see what my next phase will be and dying to imagine what God is going to make of this congregation in the struggles that will always attend transition. In


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See, you’ve got to have enough trouble to wonder, “Well, who can we look to to solve these problems?” And God says, “I’ve been waiting for you to ask that a long time.”

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All that the Father has is mine and for this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”1 That’s it. Riverside, there are so many things that I didn’t say. And there are so many things I am not so sure that I said clearly enough for you to get it. And there are so many things that ought to be said that would make the future glorious indeed. But alas, there is not enough time. So, here’s all I can do. Instead of trying to summarize my ministry or give it one more “knock at the nail,” I think I’ll follow Jesus. I will follow Jesus simply by saying, Whatever I have said or done that was inspired by the Spirit of Jesus, the Christ—if I can call you to trust the Spirit to lead us the rest of the way, I could almost just sit down and get ready for the Eucharist. That is, if I could experience that this congregation understands that perhaps one of the best times to test the depth of the faith of a congregation so accustomed to looking in this direction for the symbol of leadership is when a transition comes, and new faces emerge, new styles, and new approaches come—the kind of dislocation of spirit in the midst of psychic grief or relief—there’s always both you know. To be able temporarily to be disoriented. Some folks stay home; other folk come to see what’s happening. But during the time—and also thank God—usually transitions are occasions of chaos and confusion. That’s part of the plan. See, you’ve got to have enough trouble to wonder, “Well, who can we look to to solve these problems?” And God says, “I’ve been waiting for you to ask that a 52 long time. You know, I am the God who said

I wanted my people to come forth to be light in the world.2 I am the God who said I want you to be salt.3 I am the God who called you to love one another so that the world might believe that I have sent you.4 And I’ve been waiting for you to have enough trouble, enough disorientation, enough conflict, enough burdens, enough inability to really get it like you want it to go, just to make sure that you would say, ‘Is there anybody up there who knows how to make a church be all it was ever meant to be? Is there anybody up there who knows how to guide the leadership so that they will safely move us through the torrents of the sea and make our journey to the destiny that God has in mind?’” If I could just put this congregation into a mood of readiness for the Spirit to be the director of continuing education. We’ve had Fosdick; we’ve had McCracken; we’ve had Campbell; we’ve had William Sloane Coffin; we’ve had Jim Forbes. And yet, they’re moving off the scene. Who will be the director of the continuing education of the Spirit for The Riverside Church? And the Spirit says, “I’ll do it! I’ll take this congregation. I will take the rough places and make them plain. I will take the valleys and raise them up. I will take the problems and the potential. I’ll do it if the congregation would like for me to do it! If the congregation would say, ‘Holy Spirit, lead me, guide me as I move throughout this day. May your promptings deep inside me show me what to do and say. In the power of your presence, strength and courage will increase. In the wisdom of your guidance is the path that leads to peace.’”


I wish I could get the floor. I’d like to make a motion. If I had a quorum—especially during this transitional time—that The Riverside Church hereby requests of the Holy Spirit: “Come Holy Spirit! Be our presence. Be our guide. Be our leader. Help us to discover what you would have us to be.” If I could get a second. Except that I know that at The Riverside Church even if the motion is made and the second is given, if it doesn’t happen in the heart, it ain’t going to be carried. I understand that. So, let me say it this way. The reason I commend to you the Holy Spirit as the director of continuing education for The Riverside Church is because, truth be known, that’s the only way I have made it. You say I made it, right? There was not enough physical strength. There was not enough psychic and emotional resiliency. There was not enough erudition and intelligence. There was not enough organizational genius and skill. There was not enough charismatic healing power for me to have survived even the first year! If it had not been for the power of the Spirit down in my soul whispering, “I’ve got your back, brother! Hold on!” If it had not been for the power of the Holy Spirit, long time ago, not only would I have been gone, but dead and gone! But, through the power of the Spirit, I’m still looking pretty good; ain’t I? I’m looking alright. I’m still feeling okay through the prayers of the saints. So if the Spirit brought me through, what kind of emeritus, senior minister would I be not to commend to you the same director of continuing education that brought me through? Oh, there are so many things I would like to say. But you cannot bear it now. However, I’m going to close my sermon with this lesson. Holy Communion is about remembering what Jesus did. As he was making his transition from Earth to heaven, he said,

“There are so many things I’d like to say, but they can’t bear it now. But if I can show them: This is my body broken for you. This is my blood shed for you. And when I finish sharing this memorial meal, I’m going on out into the darkness and trust the Spirit. Yeah, even through the wilderness—to the point of death—I’m going to trust the Spirit.” And the latest report is: He made it through alright. That he is in a place of glory because he trusted the Spirit. So, it’s remembering what happened to him and also a little secret that I never made clear to you. And that is— and these are heavy words—we move from anamnesis to epiclesis. I thought I’d be heavy one time. From anamnesis—about remembering—to epiclesis. Every time, Riverside, you share communion, whether it’s from the table or whether it’s through intinction, part of the liturgy will be, “Come Holy Spirit and bless these emblems— bread and cup.” But it will also intend to say, “Bless the people who shall receive. Activate in them the awareness that the Holy Spirit is inside them to give them guidance.” If you, during the rest of the transition, can manage to show up at least for communion and you take communion, it is a way of saying, “I open my heart to the Spirit if I need guidance in my personal life, if I need guidance with respect to my organizational responsibility, if the church needs corporate guidance.” For the Spirit is very rarely just individualistic; it’s usually corporate. We who have the Spirit within us will know what to do. Oh, there are so many things to say, but you can’t take it now. Maybe the Eucharist | can say the rest. NOTES 1. John 16:12-15, paraphrased. 2. See Matthew 5:14. 3, See Matthew 5:13. 4. See John 13:34-35.

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A Pastor’s Anniversary Sermon

Yet Holdin’ On; STILL LOOKIN’ UP EDWARD L. WHEELER

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Psalm 121:1-2, NIV I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

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oday is a joyous occasion. Both the Bland family and the Liberty Temple Baptist Church family ought to rejoice in this day and give honor and praise to God for this wonderful third anniversary. However, if the truth be told, these three years, while beautiful in many ways, have had their share of disappointment and pain. For both this church and its pastor, these three years have brought about heartache and betrayal, setbacks and trials. Nevertheless,

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Edward L. Wheeler is the president of Christian Theological Seminary of Indianapolis, Indiana. This sermon was preached at the third anniversary celebration of Pastor Steve Bland of Liberty Temple Baptist Church of Detroit, Michigan.

Pastor Bland and his family and the Liberty Temple family have weathered the storms and have been found guilty of “yet holdin’ on and still lookin’ up.” You could have given up and walked away like some have done. You could have gotten disgusted with God and “church mess” and lost your faith, but you are “yet holdin’ on and still lookin’ up.” While I want to commend you for your stamina and your persistence, I do not believe that your holding on and looking up is based on these admirable qualities alone. I believe that you are “yet holdin’ on and still lookin’ up” because of God Almighty. I believe that the God behind our text in Psalm 121:1-2 provides us with the real reason your pastor and this church is “yet holdin’ on and still lookin’ up.” Therefore, I want to invite you to walk around this text with me in the hope that all of us might receive a word that will help us to hold on and look up in the face of life’s unpleasant surprises and detours. This psalm begins with a simple phrase: “I will lift my eyes to the hills.” However, that phrase when coupled with the reassurance that characterizes the rest of the psalm strongly suggests that this writer is in need of assistance. The psalm suggests that the psalmist is facing a situation that needs to be resolved; therefore, the psalmist looks to the hills of Zion. The writer lifts up his/her eyes to the dwelling place that has traditionally been associated with God: the hills of Zion. The psalmist knew the tradition. The writer knew that prior generations had looked to the hills in times of trial and tribulation, that God had made God’s presence known in the hills. It was on the hillside in the midst of a burning bush that God had spoken to Moses. It was on the mountain where God spoke to Abraham and stopped the sacrifice of Isaac. It was on the mountain that Elijah heard the small voice of God, and it was on the mountain that God gave


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knew well. But that statement is followed by a question that is filled with both faith and doubt, hope and fear, joy and anxiety. It is not a faithless question that should be ignored even for people of faith. The psalmist asks, “Where does my help come from?” This is an all-too-human question that has been part of the human experience since humans began asking questions. It is the question that arises out of human need and the realization that we are not self-sufficient. The psalmist recognizes that he/she cannot make it on his/her own and looks to the hills with anticipation, trusting in the tradition, and yet almost wondering aloud with a mixture of both faith and hope, “Where does my help come from?” Believing that the God of Zion will once again respond, yet with the tinge of fear and doubt that often characterizes the human predicament, the psalmist asks “Where does my help come from?” Much as the writer who asks, “Is there no balm in Gilead?”—the psalmist believes that he/she can trust that God will respond but yet wrestles with the doubt that even faithful people have, even when they dare not admit it. It was Moses’ question as he stood at the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army blocking any retreat. It was Gideon’s question when he faced an army much stronger in numbers than his army. It was David’s question when he was being pursued by his enemies, and it was Elijah’s question when he was on Mount Carmel confronting the prophets of Baal. And despite our trust in God, I want to suggest that the question, “Where does my help come from?” is still a relevant question for us. It is a question of trust and anxiety. It is the question one raises when all the resources do not add up to the bills sitting on the table. It is the question asked by loved ones at the bedside of a loved one when the doctors give up hope. It is the question of parents who have seen their children descend into the hell of drug addiction. 55 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

Moses the commandments. Therefore, in the face of the psalmist’s situation, the psalmist proclaims, “I will lift mine eyes to the hills.” It is a look of anticipation. It is a look of expectation. The psalmist believes that just as in the past, the God of the mountains will address the need. When I entered Morehouse College as a freshman, one of the first lessons we were taught was to look up when meeting someone; and while looking them squarely in the eyes, grasp their hand firmly, and shake their hand confidently while greeting them with a “Glad to meet you.” For a long time I wondered why that lesson had been necessary until I realized that for many older people of color, and for many of my classmates, that was not how they had lived. In the segregated South, it was often dangerous for a black person to look a white person in the eye. It was seen as a sign of independence and pride that was sometimes met with harsh consequences. But Morehouse and the psalmist said, “Look up. Lift up your eyes. Stand tall.” Even when life has beaten us down, we ought to look up to the hills. Even when we are in the midst of painful realities that have destroyed our hopes and created chaos for our dreams, we ought to look to the hills. Even when others have given up and thrown in the towel, you ought to look to the hills expecting a blessing. In the face of down-sizing and workforce reduction, you ought to look to the hills. In the midst of messy, unresolved court cases and unraveling marriages, you ought to look to the hills. In the face of lay-offs and unemployment, you ought to look to the hills with the expectation that the God who blessed our foreparents is still answering prayer. No matter what life throws at you, history shows and the tradition proves you should “yet hold on and still look up.” The psalmist begins with a statement of anticipation, born of the tradition that he/she


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It is the question of a grieving spouse who has lost a lifelong companion and is trying to adjust to a new and painful reality. And it is the question of a loving pastor who agonizes over a church that refuses to grasp a new vision and clings to a past that has no future. “Where does my help come from?” is not a cry of hopelessness. It is not the desperate exclamation of one who is about to give up. Rather it is the faith-longing, hopeful anticipation of one who is “yet holdin’ on” and is “still lookin’ up.” It is the plea of one who trusts God but whose mortality still keeps that trust from being complete. It is the hope tinged with doubt that longs for God to come right now but knows that God moves on God’s time, and therefore one must be content with “yet holdin’ on” while “still lookin’ up.” As the psalm moves to the second verse, the psalmist makes a radical yet strangely consistent transition from an expectant look and a real life question to a profound affirmation of the depths of his/her trust in God. In a declaration statement that leaves no room for doubt, the psalmist answers the question just raised: “My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.” The psalmist is sure of the source of the help he/she anticipates receiving. The Lord will come to deliver. The Lord will provide what is needed. The Lord will come from Zion and is the source of help that is needed. But as powerful as that statement is, the psalmist wants the hearer to know that the Lord mentioned in the psalm is none other than the one who made heaven and earth. The Lord of creation is the one who provides. The Lord of creation who called worlds into being and created all that has been created is the same Lord who is concerned about the hurts and pains, the challenges and disappointments, the frustrations and the tears of the 56 psalmist. It is the Lord of creation who

addresses the needs of the psalmist. What a glorious, life-giving, life-affirming, freedom-granting insight! The Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, is the source of hope and help; and that same God who put the planets in their orbits, the stars in their place, who created black holes and galaxies is concerned about you and me. Now we know the reason why the psalmist could hold on and look up. Now we know why Pastor Bland can keep telling us that he is “yet holdin’ on and still lookin up.” He can model that for us because he knows that God is the source of his help and is the basis of his hope. He knows that his help comes from the Lord. Pastor Bland loves his family and they have been a source of strength, but his help comes from the Lord. Pastor Bland loves Liberty Temple and has been a faithful pastor who has been blessed by your love, but his help comes from the Lord. Pastor Bland has friends and supporters all over the nation. We love and respect him; we pray for him and play golf with him as a way of encouraging him and lifting him up, but his help comes from the Lord. And Liberty Temple’s help comes from the Lord. In the midst of setbacks and disappointments, your help comes from the Lord. In the face of victories and good times, your help comes from the Lord. Whether you are in a period of growth or in the midst of a budget crunch, your help comes from the Lord. And because of that you ought to be “yet holdin’ on and still lookin’ up.” Congratulations Pastor Bland and Liberty Temple on this your third anniversary. I pray that God will give you many more wonderful years in ministry together, where everyone who knows you will say that they are “yet holdin’ on and still lookin’ up” because they know their help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. | Amen, Amen, and Amen!


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CLAUDE R. ALEXANDER

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John 3, NKJV Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:29b-30) n looking at the ministry as pursued by some and carried out by others, there is an area that causes me great concern. It is the

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Claude R. Alexander is the pastor of the Park Ministries in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Second Presiding Bishop of the Kingdom Association of Covenant Pastors.

area of ministerial identity. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that in many cases, there is a crisis of ministerial identity. Who is the minister? How should the minister be understood? What should be his or her selfunderstanding? Based upon the answer to those questions comes yet another set of questions: What are the measurements for ministry effectiveness or success? How do you know when you’ve fulfilled your role or task? I raise this because I believe that there is a lack of or at least an erosion of a sound biblically based ministerial identity. When and where there is such a lack, there is room for false and unsound foci that misdirects the service of the Lord. The “big preacher—little preacher” phenomenon is based upon an unsound ministerial identity. We say, “So and so is a big preacher while others are little preachers.” This is usually based upon things as erroneous as congregational size, congregational location, size of the budget, amount of the salary, position in the convention or association, number of outside preaching engagements and revivals, and most recently presence on television. Big preachers fellowship with big preachers, and little preachers fellowship with little preachers. When our ministerial identity is skewed, certain things take priority. Your preoccupation becomes moving from the ranks of the little to the big. You begin to measure yourself and your service in terms of size and numbers. Some have allowed this to become such an obsession that they have been willing to compromise the integrity of the Gospel to achieve their desired ends. Anything is done to fill the house and to swell the numbers. Gimmicks are utilized. Funny theology is used. Worship becomes a combination of aerobics and Soul Train where the preaching of the Cross is traded for a lesson in lifestyle management and where people become


proficient church attenders but poor citizens of the kingdom of God. This is complicated by the arrival of media ministry and the development of religious celebrity. While I applaud and appreciate the opportunities that mass media presents in spreading the Gospel, I am also aware of the tantalizing temptation to elevate ministers and ministries to celebrity status, causing those who are young in ministry to make it their primary ministry goal. Another result of the lack of sound ministerial identity is envy and jealousy. In my estimation, there is no greater threat to the kingdom of God than envy and jealousy among the saints of God. It’s even more lethal when it’s among the clergy. Of course, envy has always been a tool used by the enemy. Look yonder a little east of Eden. There are the two sons of Adam and Eve: Cain and Abel. Both are children from the same parents. Both are successful in their given fields of labor. However, one of the two seems to enjoy the favor of God. When it comes to the presentation of the offering and God’s response to the offering, one enjoys more of the favor of God. Abel’s offering is accounted as being “a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.”1 Rather than being happy for Abel, Cain becomes jealous and envious. This sets the psychological environment for the first murder. Envy and jealousy were used against Aaron and Miriam in their attitude toward Moses. They had superior talent to Moses, yet Moses was getting all of the attention. They begin to murmur against Moses. The text before us contains another instance where the enemy seeks to thwart the progress of the kingdom of God based upon the premise that there is a lack of sound ministerial identity in John the Baptist. Jesus has just finished his evening discipleship program with Nicodemus. He has convinced Nico-

demus of the necessity of being born again. Having done so, Jesus moves throughout Judea and starts to baptize. The scene shifts to John the Baptist who is near Salim in Aenon. John is conducting one of his crusades where he preaches repentance and is baptizing. It’s a sizeable crusade, for the text informs us that there is plenty of water and that people keep coming to John for baptism. People were coming under conviction and were desirous of being prepared for the one whose coming John had announced. In the midst of God’s movement within this ministry, some of the Jews argue against some of John’s followers over ritualistic purification. Some of the Jews felt that people needed to be ceremonially clean above all else. Such a dispute does not provoke the ire of John. He knew what to pay attention to and what to ignore. Not being content with John’s response, the Jews come directly to John. They attempt to provoke tension between John and Jesus by confronting John with Jesus’ rising popularity and success. In verse 26, they say, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” Their words are designed to cut John to the quick. I can imagine them saying it a little differently.

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“John, we’ve been watching your ministry. It’s been rather peculiar. You’ve been out in the wilderness, and people have been drawn to you and to your message. You’ve been baptizing a lot of people. But we’ve noticed something recently. One of those whom you baptized in the Jordan is now baptizing people. Jesus of Galilee is baptizing people. He’s not from Judea, the area known for the strict adherence to the Law. He’s 59


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from Galilee. You know that they don’t adhere to the Law the way we Judeans adhere to the Law. He’s from Nazareth. You know that nothing good comes out of there. Moreover, he’s of questionable birth. The word is that he’s illegitimate. Yet, he’s out baptizing people. He’s not part of the local ministerial alliance. He hasn’t paid his dues. He doesn’t support the convention. Yet, he’s baptizing people. He’s packing them out. Everyone is going to him. They’re saying that he speaks as one with authority not like that of the religious leaders. “Lately, your numbers have been dropping. Even two of your right hand people have been identified as being with Jesus. Andrew and John were on your crusade advance team. Now, they’re with Jesus. They even tell us that Jesus has Andrew’s brother Simon. We know how much you prayed to get Simon into the fold and he never came. He’s even with Jesus.”2

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The attack is based upon the premise that John will be threatened by Jesus’ success. John’s response provides clues to a sound biblical ministerial identity. First, ministry is conducted by heavenly appointment. In verse 27, John begins his response saying, “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven.” Kingdom work is by heavenly appointment and assignment. Each person has a work that’s been given/appointed by God in heaven. Before anything else was, God was, and God appointed the work of each person. The work wasn’t chosen by the person. It was appointed by God. Before John was born, God had appointed John’s work. John’s birth was by heavenly appointment. 60 His talents, his gifting, his aptitude, and his

sensitivities were by heavenly appointment. The timing of his ministry as well as the impact and effectiveness of his ministry were by heavenly appointment. With the appointment of God came the anointing of God. The power was God’s power. The impact was by God and through God. Those who came to the wilderness came because God had drawn them. Jesus would indicate the same thing in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” The power is God’s power. Paul declares the same in 2 Corinthians 4:7: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” Whoever was moved to follow John and to be baptized was responding to the power of God that God sent from heaven. The same is true for each person. Whatever effectiveness you have in the kingdom is by heavenly appointment. The investment made in your development is by heavenly appointment. Your gift mix is by heavenly appointment. The timing of your ministry is by heavenly appointment. With the appointment of God in heaven comes the power of God from heaven. The impact of your service is by the power from heaven. The drawing power comes from heaven. The delivering power comes from heaven. The saving power comes from heaven. John understood that kingdom work is by God’s appointment and God’s anointing. Therefore, he could not be possessive or jealous. God’s appointment and anointing were not limited to him. Jesus had an appointment and an anointing just like he did. Rather than be envious or jealous, John would celebrate. Jesus’ appointed work and anointing did not diminish John’s appointed work and anointing. In fact, John’s appointed work and


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“You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the best man is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” John understood and accepted his role in the plan of God. His position was that of preparing the way. He remembered his father’s prophetic words in Luke 1:76: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.” John knew that he was not the bridegroom. He was the friend of the bridegroom or the best man. The best man does not take center stage. He is not the primary character of consideration; the bridegroom is. The best man serves to

support and to assist the bridegroom. He labors to make the bridegroom successful. In like manner, our role as ministers is simply that of supporting cast. Ours is not to be the showpiece. The consideration is not whether our names are known. We’re not the bridegroom. We’re just friends of the bridegroom. We are attendants to the bridegroom. We are available for his usage and glory. Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 4:1: “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” Christ is primary. Christ is the focal point. Attention is directed to him. Focus is directed to him. Allegiance is given to him. Obedience is surrendered to him. Glory is ascribed to him. Our task is to make God successful. Our role is to secure the success of the kingdom agenda. Our concern is not personal success. It is kingdom success. Kingdom success often requires that personal success takes a backseat. It requires that we are willing to lose our lives in order that we might gain our lives.3 While this is the case, it is an occasion for joy. While John is not the star, he is a part of the cast. He may not be the groom, but he’s in the wedding party. He gets to stand next to the groom. He gets to be near the groom. He gets to be close to the groom. Others could have been chosen. Others may have been more deserving. But he was chosen. That is a cause for joy—to be included in the cast and to be a part of the party. Out of the many that could have been included, you’ve been included. You’ve been chosen. You’ve done nothing to deserve it. God simply chose you. God chose you to stand with him, to be close to him, to be near him, to be in fellowship with him, etc. In standing with God, he’ll speak to you. He’ll share with you. He’ll reveal himself to you. As one who stands with and for Christ, there is the joyful privilege of hearing from him. He will speak to you. He’ll tell you, 61 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

anointing helped set the stage for Jesus. Therefore, John rejoiced. That’s the attitude that God would have us adopt. Celebrate the appointed work and anointing that is upon each other. Get thrilled because the kingdom of God is advancing. There is another recognition that John had about ministry. Second, ministry is conducted by a supporting cast. In verses 28-30 of the New King James Version, John says: “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ.’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” The New Living Translation makes it even clearer:


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“Fear not, neither be thou dismayed, for I the Lord your God am with you whithersoever thou goest.”4 “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you to be a prophet to the nations.”5 “Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers; they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.”6 Ministry is conducted out of a certainty about Jesus. John is very clear about who Jesus is. In verses 31-35, John says: “He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.” John is certain about the person of Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God. He is not a prophet; Jesus is the Christ. He is the anointed one sent from heaven. In this age, there is a need for ministers to be certain about Jesus. If we’re confused about Jesus, we’ll be confused about our identity as his ministers. We must be certain about Jesus. We must be willing to stand upon the conviction that we have about Jesus. We must stand on the conviction that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. We must stand on the conviction that Jesus is the Word made flesh, the image of the invisible God, the fullness of the Godhead bodily, the author and finisher of our faith, the captain of our salvation, the bishop of our souls, the firstborn from the dead, and the 62 first fruits of them that sleep.

When you’re certain of Jesus, you’re able to present him with boldness. John continues in verse 36: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” He boldly presents Jesus. He had done so earlier. He had declared in John 1:26-27: “I baptize you with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” He had declared later in chapter 1, verses 29-30: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me.’” And in verses 32-34, he continues: “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” Our task is the same. Present Jesus. Make Jesus present to people. Direct people to put their trust in Jesus. We present Jesus, not a philosophy or theory. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:23-24: “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” We present Christ. His name is still the only name given under heaven whereby we must be | saved. He is our guide for ministry. NOTES 1. Hebrews 11:4, NKJV. Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are quoted from the New King James Version. 2. John 3:26, paraphrased. 3. See Matthew 10:39 and 16:25. 4. See Joshua 1:9. 5. See Jeremiah 1:5. 6. See Isaiah 43:1-2.


S E R M O N S A LV I N C . H A T H A W A Y S R .

ALVIN C. HATHAWAY SR.

Psalm 119:71, KJV It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. ny clergy person who is a pastor within the African American context will experience moments of torment and affliction just as David in Psalm 119. Real or imagined, the affliction can either come from forces without or forces within, but often leads us to say like David in verse 69, “the proud have forged a lie against me.” In most instances, the intent of the affliction is to deny, to deter, or deflect God’s plan for a pastor’s life. Too often the clergy person finds himself or herself attempting to deal with or erase the debil-

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Alvin C. Hathaway Sr. is the senior pastor of Union Baptist Church, Baltimore, Maryland.

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When Affliction Is GOOD!

itating pain one feels when one encounters affliction. Often, we seek to overcome our most vulnerable moments of affliction by seeking to minister to others. Why do pastors experience afflictions when often their intentions are honorable? Why the pain when your motives are pure? Why the agony when your actions are above reproach? Why does the enemy stop at your door and stir up controversy, conflict, or consternation when you simply have it in your heart to serve God? Why are you as clergy always on the auction block of public ridicule and critique? Why is there no inoculation to the misery caused by unmerited affliction? Can any preacher proclaim with the psalmist that affliction is good? Can any preacher say, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted?” Well, just when is affliction good? Webster defines “affliction” as a condition or cause of pain, suffering, or distress.1 If we accept Webster’s definition, it would appear that David makes a confusing statement in our text when he says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” Is there anyone here who can affirm in their spirit that it was good to have been afflicted? Can anyone say that it was good to have experienced pain, suffering, or distress? How can pain, suffering, or distress be considered good? Who would intentionally seek out conditions that would cause pain, suffering, or distress? I believe that humans do all they can to avoid any situation that brings about suffering. I don’t think anyone relishes sleepless nights, unpleasant experiences, or nerve-racking situations. I don’t think anyone seeks to have life experiences that cause us to pull our hair out; life experiences that cause us to walk the plank of inconvenience; life experiences that force us to deaden the hurt by any means necessary. I don’t think 63 anyone relishes affliction.


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But if we accept Webster’s definition for affliction, we will miss the meaning of this text. David uses the word “affliction,” but it is more properly defined as those elements of temptation or difficulties which are seen as means by which one’s Christian life may be strengthened in faith and obedience.2 That was the songwriter’s intent when he penned these words: “O Thou in whose presence my soul takes delight, On whom in affliction I call, My comfort by day, and my song in the night, My hope, my salvation, my all.”3

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Affliction can strengthen our faith and obedience to the Word of God. There will be some difficulties that drive us to our knees and cause us to call upon the name of the Lord. There are some situations that force us to acknowledge that if it had not been for the Lord on our side, there would be no telling where we would be. There are some predicaments that are unexplainable, some predicaments that seem inescapable, and some predicaments that lead us into a dead end street. There are some predicaments that place us before the bar of judgment without any defense. I am here to tell you that if you find yourself in these types of afflictions, consult the Word of God in Psalm 119 and say: “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” It is possible that tragedy can become triumph. It is conceivable that pain can be transformed into purpose. It is possible that weeping can become joy. It is realistic to think that out of destruction a phoenix can rise from the ashes and soar through the skies. Yes, there are some times in life when affliction is good. Ask David, who experienced the 64 relentless torment of King Saul. Saul tracked

him like a hunted animal only to discover that the kingship Saul held was to be bestowed upon the head of David, who was anointed by Samuel. David can say it was good to be afflicted. He ends up as the King of Israel, the unifier of the Hebrew people. Joseph could also say it was good to have been afflicted. He was thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, put into prison, accused of an indiscretion, and in the end he became the head of agriculture in Egypt and fed not only the people of that land, but also his family, brothers, and the children of Israel. Joseph can say it was good to be afflicted. Yes, there are instances in life when affliction is good. Affliction can strengthen our faith and obedience. Let me suggest three dimensions of experience that help us to understand when afflictions are good. First, God selects some of us to be afflicted to magnify God’s glory. The text says in verse 65, “Thou has dealt well with thy servant, O LORD, according unto thy word.” God deals with us through God’s Word; and we know like David and Joseph, we are selected to go through afflictions such that our journey will be a testimony to others. God allows us to go through difficult situations to be a testimony to others of what God can do. That’s what the hymnologist meant when he wrote that “God knows just how much you can bear.” Sometimes God takes you to your breaking point so that in your weakness God’s strength and power can be made known to others. Come here, Job: “I was doing fine. I lived life with honor and dedication to God, but devastation hit my home, affliction consumed by body, the suffering was intense. But through it all I learned to trust in God. And I know that when God was finished trying me, testing me, I came forth as pure gold.” Sometimes, God selects you to be afflicted in order to use your life as a testimony to bless others.


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when God uses affliction to correct you. But let me close with one last element, one last dimension that stands outside of all human logic: God uses affliction to save us. Verse 68 says, “Thou art good, and doest good.” God was doing good in Jesus. He came through forty and two generations. He came to love, heal, and forgive, but instead was spit upon, beaten, crucified, and killed. He was afflicted in all manner by people and died in order to save us. He was good and he was doing good. On Good Friday, he died, and on Easter he rose with all power in his hands. It was his affliction that saved us. It was by his chastisement that we are healed.4 God was doing good in Jesus and that good was painful, difficult, and excruciating. Likewise God uses pain to good ends in your life. God used my pain to save me. God used my affliction as a pastor to bring me closer to him. God used the heartache to make me dependent on God; and when I depend on God no matter the trial, no matter the affliction, I am saved. That is why the psalmist said, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” I can say: “O Thou in whose presence my soul takes delight, On whom in affliction I call, My comfort by day, and my song in the night, My hope, my salvation, my all.”5 |

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Second, God uses affliction to make us aware of God’s protection and provision. Come here, Elijah: “I had just experienced the power of God in my contest with the prophets of Baal. I defeated them on the backside of Mount Carmel. But then out of nowhere I received the message that Jezebel was going to kill me. My mind was tormented. My spirit was vexed. My nervous system gave way. This was the most difficult situation I had personally faced in my life. I ran to the wilderness. What I did not realize then, but I know now: my affliction was meant to protect me and demonstrate God’s provision. I learned that God feeds me and talks to me in the wilderness. I discovered it was God who was protecting me throughout life’s trials and tribulations. I found out that God used affliction to protect me and provide for me. I am here to tell you that God will use a storm to protect you from the hurricanes of life and illustrate God’s ability to provide for our every need.” If we did not have difficulty, if we did not have affliction, we would not know that we could depend on God’s strength. Third, God uses affliction to correct us. The text says in verse 67, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray: but now I have kept thy word.” Before God took me through affliction, I went astray. Before God took me through pain and agony, I did my own thing. But when I went through, I discovered how to keep God’s Word. Come here, Sampson: “I was the strongest man on earth. I was one of the Judges of Israel. But I fell for Delilah and lost all my sense of direction. I forgot I was a child of God. I became arrogant and violated the laws of God. I was turned over to my enemies. They put out my eyes and blinded me. They tortured and enslaved me. But God used that affliction to correct me.” Affliction is good when God selects you, when God uses affliction to protect you, and

NOTES 1. Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary (Boston: The Riverside Publishing Company, 1994), 83. 2. Donald K. McKim, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 5. 3. “O Thou, In Whose Presence,” written by Joseph Swain, 1791; music by Freeman Lewis, 1813, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Bicentennial Hymnal (Charlotte, N.C: Zion Publishing House, 1996), 377. 4. See Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24. 65 5. See note 3 above.


SERMONS REGINA LANGLEY

A NEW Thing

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REGINA LANGLEY

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Isaiah 43:1-21, NRSV I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honour me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my

Regina Langley is a doctoral student in the Religion & Society program at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey.

chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise. (Isaiah 43:15-21) e all like new things. We like new shoes, new clothes, new cars, and most of us love new technology—from laptop computers, palm pilots, blue tooth ear pieces, Blackberries, iPods to the most recent iPhone—we love the newest and latest items. We believe that there is always something new, something better, something different than what we have at the moment. So we yearn for it. But, for those of us who cannot program our cell phones so we can click over when we have a call waiting and you hear us standing in the middle of the street screaming “hello, hello, hello” because we are waiting for the person to come back on the phone, we’d just as well keep the old product because it works for us. We say, “Why both-

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and God forgives. At the time of the Exodus, Egypt was the most powerful nation on earth. There was no way that Israel could have risen up and broken free from their bondage. Egypt’s chariots and horses and army were there to insure nothing like that would ever happen. Humanly speaking it was a hopeless situation that the Israelites found themselves in. But God felt their pain and intervened on their behalf. Everything changed because God acted. When God lifted his arms on behalf of his people, 10 plagues fell on Egypt. When Pharaoh and his army tried to pursue those whom the Lord was setting free, their horses and chariots and the entire army drowned in the Red Sea. We know the story; we’ve all heard it. But, God says, “Do not even dwell on that. I am doing a new thing!” How ironic? The Lord telling us not to dwell on the past, but the Lord works in our past. In our Past: It is a good thing to draw lessons from our past. We have all heard the adages: “Experience is the best teacher.” “A bought lesson is better than a taught lesson.” Hopefully, we learn from our past. It is a good thing to remember where the Lord brought us from. Some of us grew up believing that we would not accomplish anything in life; then the Lord placed someone in our path who encouraged us. Someone who told us “it doesn’t matter where you begin, it matters where you finish.” Some of us thought we would never be drug-free, but we sit here this morning, 2 days clean, 3 months clean, 5 years clean. Don’t tell me that God doesn’t work in and through our past! But, the problem is that sometimes we can get stuck in the past. We live our lives on Remember When Road. I often say to my friends when they jokingly bring up what I used to be; when they try to take me back to the days when I dated someone who wore 67 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

er; if what I have is working, there’s no need to change it.” But, most often we want to be up to date with whatever is the latest thing. It doesn’t matter if we can afford it, we just want it. We like new things. In our text this morning, God says, “I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King…who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters. Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing, do you not perceive it?” These words were meant to be words of comfort to a people in captivity. God’s chosen people, the Israelites, had been overthrown by the Babylonians. They were a people in exile—far from home, their city destroyed, their temple burned to the ground, and they were struggling with singing the Lord’s songs in a strange land. They’d lost everything, and they were homesick. Prior to their captivity, they experienced great spiritual blessings, but they forgot God. They forgot how the Lord led them to a land flowing with milk and honey; they forgot how they conquered their enemies with the mighty hand of God leading the way. They stopped telling the stories of God’s amazing acts. Under poor, un-prophetic leadership, they worshipped foreign gods and idols; they lived in sin and disobedience; they turned their back on God. When God gave them the Temple, they gave him idol worship; when God gave them wealth, they used it to abuse the poor; when God gave his presence, they rejected God. God sent the prophets to warn them, but they did not heed the warnings. But, God said, “Do not remember the former things; I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Through Isaiah, God is speaking a word of assurance and encouragement to his people. Isaiah reminds these people in exile that not only does God care, but also that God is able


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Don’t dwell on the past, but remember the lessons. I don’t believe the Lord is telling us not to remember how he has blessed us, but I do believe the Lord is saying, “If you think I blessed you before, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

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white socks, coke-bottle glasses, and highwater pants. We all have those friends. It brings about a good laugh, but it also takes us back to the so-called good ’ole days. Whenever one of my friends begins down that road and brings up certain things, I always say to her, “See, you don’t want me to be saved; always trying to take me back.” But, the Lord is saying do not go back to the former things. Take the lessons but I am doing a new thing. Can’t you see it? We might ask: What is this new thing that God is going to do? How is it springing forth? Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed. For his compassion never fails. There are new mercies every morning; great is the Lord’s faithfulness.1 How can we see it? We can see it when we see a group of black men standing at an altar praising God. What is the new thing? Is it learning that you serve a God who can speak to you according to your uniqueness? How is the Lord doing a new thing? Our ancestors toiled for no pay from can’t see to can’t see. Now, a black man could be president. God is doing a new thing! Don’t dwell on the past, but remember the lessons. I don’t believe the Lord is telling us not to remember how he has blessed us, but I do believe the Lord is saying, “If you think I blessed you before, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” By this I mean that not only does God deal with us through our past, but the Lord deals with us in our present. The verse says, “I am about to do a new thing. NOW, it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” The key word 68 here is NOW. Now denotes: at the moment,

at this time, immediately, right away. Most of us can remember when our parents would ask us to do something, and we not wanting to do it would ask: WHEN? And with a resounding and decisive response, we would hear: NOW. We knew if we didn’t get it done right away, we would be in trouble. We understood the urgency of the matter. However when the Lord speaks to us about the NOW, we often miss it because we don’t understand it, don’t expect it, and can’t perceive it. When the Israelites found themselves in the desert with no water, the Lord responded by “making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” He did it right on the spot for them. When they were thirsty, he provided water. When they were hungry, he provided manna from heaven. When they couldn’t see at night, he led them with a fiery spotlight. Because he was their Jehovah Jireh; he was their provider. Sometimes we don’t see the new thing because we have forgotten that the Lord has made a way out of no way. The Lord will do the impossible. The Lord has already done the impossible and is ready to deliver our next miracle. But, that can’t happen if we don’t live in the present! Yesterday, I was talking with a friend, and we were discussing our sermons. She was doing a sermon on the woman who anointed Jesus in Luke 7, and I was doing a sermon on “God doing a new thing.” The more we discussed the texts, the more we came to realize that often we can’t see what God is doing right now because our insides doesn’t match our outsides. Let me explain it this way. The


woman who anointed Jesus understood that she had been forgiven (inside force), but those around her didn’t want to see her change (outside force). The woman who anointed Jesus was just giving God praise because of what the Lord had done for her, but those who were in the house with her didn’t want to acknowledge that God had done a new thing for her and in her. Instead of praising God with her, they complained and Jesus called them out and told them off.2 When God forgave her, she changed (inside force); her behavior dictated her actions (outside force). When who we know we are inside doesn’t match how we live outside, it’s hard to SEE what the Lord is doing. We’re too distracted, too consumed, too confused, too torn, too distraught, too ashamed, and too tired. This is what takes away our power; it takes away our decisiveness, our courage, our righteousness, our ability to put our hand to the plow and not turn back! We have to change our outsides in order to move to where the Lord is working NOW instead of being caught in the devil’s latest trap. We have to go against the grain to understand the new thing. We have to forget tradition for the new thing to spring forth. We have to get from around certain folk and ignore certain folk. Don’t you see it? Don’t you understand it? Just as the woman in Luke offered Jesus her praise for what he did for her, when Moses and the children of Israel saw what the Lord did for them they sang a song to the Lord. They said: “I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise

him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”3 Their response to God’s work on their behalf was worship and praise. They rejoiced over what God had done. God is able to do a new thing. He is able to do abundantly above all we ask and even think! If the Lord can open the Red Sea, he can open doors of opportunity. If the Lord can call forth a dead man from the grave, he can redeem drug dealers and gang-bangers who we have written off. Forgetting those things which are behind us, we press toward the mark of the high calling in Christ Jesus. Let us run the race that is set before us.4 The race to save our families, the race to save our children, the race to save our schools, the race to save our communities. While running, let us cling to our belief that Jesus is doing a new thing in us, through us, and for us! When there seems to be no way, know that the Lord will create a way. When there seems to be no hope, the Lord will send a spark from heaven to guide us from depression to an “I Have a Dream” moment. When there seems to be no joy, Christ will dry our tears and show us how to run on again. When we seem to have no strength left, we will throw back our heads and declare without hesitation that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us!5 God is doing a new thing! We serve a God who is going to do a new thing. The former things were great and mighty but you ain’t | seen nothin’ yet! Amen. NOTES 1. Lamentations 3:22-23, paraphrased. 2. See Luke 7:36-50. 3. Exodus 15:1-2, NRSV. 4. See Philippians 3:13-14. 5. Philippians 4:13.

We have to go against the grain to understand the new thing. We have to forget tradition for the new thing to spring forth.

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BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF SAMUEL DEWITT PROCTOR (1921–1997)

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amuel DeWitt Proctor was born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1921. He was a public servant and adviser to presidential administrations and candidates, a counselor, thinker, and community leader in good political times and bad. He attended Virginia Union Seminary, Crozer Theological Seminary, and Boston University, where he earned a doctorate of philosophy degree.

Jesus Went FARTHER! Cultural Conformity and the Mind of Christ SAMUEL DEWITT PROCTOR

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Matthew 26:39, KJV And he [Jesus] went a little farther… ow when we gather, it seems to me that we are seeking one more opportunity to find that fruitful confrontation between the mind of Christ and the culture in which we serve. We are reengaging this encounter every time we come together, enriching our own spiritual experience and then refining and redefining the culture in which we serve. And in the light of that I want to speak now on cultural conformity and the mind of Christ. Cultural conformity and the mind of Christ— this seems to me to be what it’s all about when we come together. You see, every culture has its own trade70 mark; its own tone and flavor; its own sanc-

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tions and taboos; its own criteria for what is good, what is bad, and what is indifferent. I always look for cultural uniqueness when I’m privileged to visit another country. Some societies are distinctive for the way they revere their ancestors and respect their aging members. I always look for that. Some place a premium on large numbers of children born in one’s family. Some keep women in subordinate roles and deny them political participation. Some eat a simple diet of only two or three staple foods. Some have high regard for the gift of nature, and others pollute their waters and destroy their ecosystems dangerously. Cultures differ. Some treat the poor and street dwellers with great contempt, and others have compassion on them. Some honor the rich regardless of how they became rich,


Dayton, Ohio; taught at the Divinity School, Duke University; and was professor emeritus, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. He received fifty honorary doctorates from colleges and universities. Books authored by Samuel DeWitt Proctor include The Young Negro in America; Sermons from the Black Pulpit, coauthored with William D. Watley; Preaching about Crises in the Community; My Moral Odyssey; How Shall They Hear?; The Certain Sound of the Trumpet: The Substance of Things Hoped For; and We Have This Ministry, coauthored with Gardner C. Taylor.

and others hold the super rich under deep suspicion. Some try to educate all of their young, inducting everyone into the life of the mind, into the world of ideas. Others give such an invitation only to the privileged few. Cultures tell us something about their beliefs, their values, and their ultimate loyalties. Cultures also have the authority, the power to bind us and to demand of us blind conformity. Unless one is careful, the culture that she or he inherits may be more demanding than any other aspect of that person’s life. So when we come together to celebrate our ministry in the name of Jesus, what does it really mean if we are tugged on and seduced by the morays, the norms, the values, and the sanctions of the culture surrounding us? What does it mean? If we conform to them, then what happens when Christ calls us to speak, to serve, to sacrifice in another direction? Culture conformity often means one thing, and the mind of Christ is often something else. There is a clear and strong alternative calling us to something quite different. If you’re not careful, it will sneak upon you and you will not be aware of it. And when you look in the mirror, you’ll find yourself reflecting only the culture that surrounds you; and your ministry

in the name of Jesus will be quite secondary in your life. I’m reminded now of Jesus and his struggle with his twelve disciples, and how hard it was for Jesus to bring them up to his expectations, and how slow they were to discover his approach to life. Early in his ministry, they were with him on a mountain retreat when they experienced a luminous revelation of God’s presence and they saw Jesus in a moment of ecstatic spiritual transcendence.1 In amazement, they asked Jesus if they could build tabernacles and stay on that mountain. But Jesus ignored their suggestion and left the mountain for the level place below. And there awaiting him was a man with his afflicted son, wanting to be healed. The disciples had one thing on their minds, and Jesus had something quite different on his. Once again, when the Master sent his disciples to preach in a Samaritan village, they were rejected. And in their vengeance they suggested to Jesus that they call down fire from heaven and destroy the whole place.2 And here again, Jesus heard them but refused. They believed in destroying cities that rejected the Good News. Jesus had another answer to that. It does not take much to see that even though they had been with the Master 71 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

He was a teacher, dean, and president of Virginia Union at Richmond, Virginia, and president of North Carolina A&T State University. In 1969, he was named to occupy the Martin Luther King Chair at Rutgers University. Following Adam Clayton Powell Jr., he became pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in 1972 and served until his retirement from the pastorate in 1989. He was the Lyman Beecher Lecturer, Yale University; Ann Potter Wilson Visiting Professor Lecturer, The Divinity School, Vanderbilt University; leader of doctor of ministry groups at United Theological Seminary,


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constantly, they were more in tune with what their culture, their religious heritage, their own social incubator had taught to them than what the mind of Christ had presented to them. Somehow, they had managed to remain immune to what Jesus was trying to present to them. Over and over, we see how Jesus was confronted by ideas that his disciples held that were so different from his own. Perhaps the most graphic example of the culture pulling in one direction and Jesus in the other was of Bartimaeus, waiting for Jesus on the Jericho Road and crying out, “Have mercy on me thou Son of David!” and the entourage accompanying Jesus to Jerusalem told him to shut up. It was like saying, “He’s on his way to his coronation now, and he has no time for a blind beggar on the Jericho Road.” But Jesus stood still and told them to bring Bartimaeus to him.3 The culture said to Bartimaeus, “Shut up!” But Jesus said, “Bring him to me.” Notwithstanding, no matter what our culture may be demanding of us, every time you and I mount this sacred rostrum, we have another chance to say “no” to the culture and to say “yes” to Jesus. We can test our lives, our ministry, our values by his precepts and his examples and see what really goes on. And I ask again: What is the culture requiring of us that is in conflict with the mind of Christ? After all, we grew up in the society, homes, families, neighborhoods, and high schools playing sports, going to high school and college events, and joining fraternities that are very much endowed with the culture. And then somewhere along the line we heard the call of Christ to enter this ministry. Now the question is: How far along have we come to giving ourselves to Christ rather than being wed to the culture which surrounds us? I find myself being constantly aware of this tension between what is expected by the culture and 72 what Christ requires of me. The distance

between what is required of me to stay in step with the culture and what is demanded by the paradigm that Christ holds before me—that’s the issue all the time. In Matthew 26:39, there is one phrase that says it all for me. Isn’t it strange how you can be reading the Bible and all of a sudden one combination of words will just reach out and grab you? It is because you had something on your mind and these words match what you’re going through—not the whole context, just a few words. Jesus was at the crisis moment of his entire earthly sojourn. He was in Gethsemane and had already noticed the fear and weak resolution of his disciples. Oh, it was a lonely moment for the Master. He took his inner circle of the three closest disciples and called them apart. “Come over here.” He had sensed a kind of distancing on their part; they were terribly confused about where he was going, so he called them closer. He asked them to wait while he prayed—just to watch out for things. And then comes that quantum phrase that defines what Jesus always does for us while we are mired and bogged down in our own lazy, pragmatic loyalties to the comfortable climate of the culture in which we grew up. The Bible said that as the disciples failed him and went to sleep when he asked them to stay awake and watch: “Jesus went a little farther.” That’s all? Jesus went a little farther? And my mind stopped right there. All it meant was that he went a few paces from them to find a quiet place. This phrase is only talking about distance—yards and feet—that’s all. But as we read it, it is so potent with a deeper meaning; isn’t it? It grabs us. Jesus went a little farther. He didn’t leave them behind a few yards. He left them behind in a whole world in distance from him. Indeed he did go farther—farther not only in feet and yards, but


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success quite differently, and we have to choose which criteria to follow. The culture will label the insiders and the outsiders for us—those to imitate and those to ignore. And the mind of Christ may call us to label persons quite differently. And again, we have to choose. Isn’t it a pity to find a preacher who doesn’t know how to choose between these things? Who lives a life that reflects this confusion? Gets in the pulpit and continues this confusion. The culture may determine for us who are the winners in the society and who are the losers. But again, the mind of Christ may inform us differently on what victorious living is all about. Some of the so-called winners by the standards of the culture may not meet the standards of Jesus Christ. When I see the barriers that we allow to divide people and how the culture informs us on who the insiders and outsiders are, I hear those words from that Gethsemane incident all over again: “And Jesus went a little farther.” When I see the prizes that are held before us, the status symbols that are luring us toward whatever is called success, and the accent placed on eager projection and bold assertive narcissism, I hear the Master once again. I hear the Bible telling us: “Jesus went a little farther.” When I see how cautious we are about standing on high moral ground and how we wait for the polls and opinions and such before we accept the mind of Christ on public issues, I hear those words again: “Jesus goes farther than that.” Jesus goes farther in so many ways, and two or three of them stand out clearly before us. Let me summarize by pointing them out. Look at how Jesus goes farther in his inclusiveness, for example, in seeing all of God’s children as destined to become one great human community. What a refreshment it would be, what a gleaning in our time it would be if Jesus became the type of image of the inclusiveness 73 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

farther in so many ways. It seems that after that trip into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and after a week in the city and in the Temple, in and out of Bethany where Simon the leper lived, the disciples were drained and spent and spiritually exhausted. They had no idea where the Master was leading them. And Jesus stretched them to their limits and they went to sleep and Jesus went a little farther. We look at our culture today, this materialistic, hedonistic, racist, and xenophobic culture, and hear the signals that it is sending to us on the one hand and then contemplate the life of Jesus on the other—the life of one who was born in a manger, the Word becomes flesh. He went about doing good; who the common folk heard gladly; who was misunderstood by his family, deserted, and betrayed by his closest friends; who died on a Roman cross while his hecklers gambled for his garments. When we make this comparison, we have to choose; don’t we?—choose between conforming to the culture, making so many compromises with it, and responding to the mind of Christ on the other hand. This is so critical when we look at what the culture really does for us. The culture does a lot. It is not just how long your hair is going to be or what kind of trousers, dress, coat, and what you’re going to wear—jewelry and the like. The culture does something more profound than that. It defines for us the criteria for approval. It says what you’ve got to look like and how you’ve got to behave to be popular. Then it selects the ones to whom we must give recognition. It holds people up who may not have the values that we regard as important, but the culture imposes these images upon us. Donald Trump—we have to swallow all of this—television gives us no relief. Every day, all day long, they parade before us the paragons of success. But the mind of Christ may look at


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that seems to be so elusive to us right now. With all of our riches and our boundless blessings, our intelligence and our cognitive capacity, there seems to be a need always to exclude somebody, to treat somebody as an object of estrangement. We’ve all got to have somebody to look down on; to ascribe to some group some inherited genetic trait, some indelible pessimism to make them look less worthy. But Jesus went farther than that. He applauded the faith of the Roman centurion. He accepted the trust of a Syrophoenician woman whose daughter was afflicted. He received into his fellowship the marginal persons of his time— those who were called harlots and wine pilferers and publicans and those isolated with leprosy. He lifted up a Samaritan with leprosy, and he showed compassion on a Jericho Road. We are all experts in sociology and anthropology, in cultural history, in governments and politics, and in social psychology. We know the origins of social and economic disparities. We know why some people fall behind and why some people get a chance to get a jump on everybody else. We know the reasons for cultural and educational lag. Yet we allow those who would ascribe such differences to racial inferiority or to some other cause to spread their venom throughout the airways, on television, and on our finest university campuses; and not one of them has written a best seller still on the list of The New York Times! We’ve settled for a kind of benign neglect and let the country become infested with capricious group hostilities. But Jesus went farther than that. He took the initiative in affirming the worth of those who were different. I shall never forget who it was who told me the news that Martin Luther King had been killed. Now, there was a day when I was not quite proud of what was in my heart. It was in Dallas, Texas. I was going to Dallas to 74 speak at a teacher’s group at the Sheraton

Hotel downtown. I was prepared to talk to a group of white teachers on how they were to deal with young black students. They claimed they didn’t know how to deal with them, and I was sent down there by the Office of Education to give them a whole afternoon of baptism in understanding, trying to take the fear out of them and to make clear as they went on in there as professionals that they could do whatever needed to be done. I was all ready for them. I was fired up and ready to go. Then I got off the plane and went out on the sidewalk and a great big black dude was out there saying, “Hey, Mack! You want a taxi?” Well, my name wasn’t Mack, but he was big; I decided to be Mack for a little while. So I went on and got in the taxi. And in the taxi there was a young white fellow, a white Texan who was not one of the perfect people of the day. He had a dirty, smelly green and black striped tee shirt and tattoos crawling up both arms. Oh my goodness! A little dirty cigarette butt was hanging from his lips soaking wet. Black hairs were all over his face and long stringy hung hair down his back. He turned around and looked at me and said, “Mister, look like to me you don’t know what done happened today.” He couldn’t even speak English. And at that moment I felt like saying, “Everybody’s got to be somewhere; but what am I doing here with him?” I was on my way to go and speak to these white teachers about how to teach black kids in Dallas, and they were upsetting me even before I could get to the meeting: “Mister, look like to me you don’t know what done happened today.” So I obliged him by saying, “What did happen today?” And he trembled. He shook. He pulled the cab over to the side of the ramp. He turned around and looked at me. He said, “Somebody killed Martin Luther King today.” I thought it was a joke. I said, “What did you say?” And he shook his head, and


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teacher, anyone engaged in human services, is to be able to objectify another person’s life and deal factually with that person. And then to be able to come out of one’s own bio-data and enter into the bio-data of another person—to live vicariously, to see life through another person’s eyes and to walk in another person’s shoes. That’s what compassion requires. In order to respond to another person’s suffering, you’ve got to come out of your own bio-data and enter into that person’s bio-data. Try learning what the word “vicarious” means, and try to be the vicar for somebody. Let me tell you about a lesson that came to me as a pastor. And you can preach for 35–40 years and then get a shock to find out that nobody paid you any mind. A little fellow at our church had Down syndrome. We didn’t know how old he was or what his health condition was. All we knew was that three very well-dressed women brought him to church every Sunday, and he always wanted me to pluck him or do something to let him know that I recognized him. And I used to pluck him every time I went down the aisle going into the deacon’s room to pray with the deacons. And Lord knows the deacons needed to be prayed with. And as I went, I would just pluck him on the head. I never was able to have a conversation with him. He never talked very much, but he smiled all the time. Whenever he saw me coming, he gave me a big smile. Well, he died and I still didn’t find out exactly how old he was. He died and I was out of town somewhere when he died. And one of the ladies from the church called me up—got my number from my wife and said, “Dr. Proctor, he passed away. We’d been looking for it; we didn’t know when it would happen, but he passed away right sudden.” She said, “But don’t you bother to come back for his funeral because it’s a small family; it’ll be a small funeral and 75 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

the tears flowed down his face. He said, “Dr. King is dead. Somebody shot him today.” Well! It was more difficult for me to believe who it was who was saying this to me than it was to believe what he was saying. I felt like saying, “If it did happen, why are you the one to tell me? You look like the last person who would be crying because King was dead.” The culture had prepared me never to expect anything like that coming out of his mouth. The culture had initiated me and prepared me to expect something different. I was sitting on the edge of my seat ready to answer him if he said the wrong thing. But he didn’t say anymore. He just shook and trembled and cried. I was numb at the news. The culture taught me not to expect that fellow to be so broken up. It had taught me to label him, to tag him, to catalog him. Just like they had labeled me and tagged me and catalogued me. I was a tagging and a labeling and a cataloging fiend. Oh, what they have done to us? But Jesus goes a little farther. Jesus allowed for internal qualification for work that contradicted the external symbols and stereotypes. Jesus knew that all of God’s children were endowed with dignity and a spark of divinity from within, no matter where they stood on our scales and the way we measure people. Oh, I was not happy with my conclusions about that young man that day. When I got to the meeting, I thought to myself, “This mess is everywhere.” All of this prejudice that fills our minds and hearts; but the Master somehow went a little farther. He went a little farther. This does not leave us much to forgive anybody when we behave and think like that. It causes us to be twice as wrong all the time about everybody. Then Jesus goes farther in his compassion. Jesus goes farther in his ability to live vicariously in the life of another. One of the greatest things that one can cultivate as a preacher, as a


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won’t be many people there. So you don’t have to bother to fly back for his funeral.” The inference was: “If I die, fly back to my funeral; but don’t fly back to his funeral.” The culture had instructed her that if the pastor knew what he was doing, he would have sense enough to know that you don’t go to a funeral for a young fellow with Down syndrome, where there are only like two cars in the procession and just three or four mourners. And if he knew what the culture required, he would know that that’s not the way you behave if you’re the pastor of a big church in New York City. Now if he jumps on an airplane and comes back here to this little fellow’s funeral, he’s telling all of us that he doesn’t know how to behave in this culture. But that’s exactly what I did! I got on an airplane and went back there fully knowing what the culture required, but knowing also that Jesus went a little farther. Jesus went farther, and I’m controlled and guided by what the Master would do for a little fellow with Down syndrome, who loved me so much as to smile every time he saw me and to giggle every time I plucked him on the head. If I didn’t have but one of my frequent flyer tickets left, I would use it to go to his funeral! Every now and then you have a wonderful opportunity to see where the culture and Christ are in plain conflict one with another. And you ought to know where to stand when that conflict occurs. One reason why our political decisions are so hard to make and why we’re so begrudging toward those who need us most and why decent consensus is so hard to reach is that Jesus is so unpopular with us. Jesus is so unpopular with us! Our Senate is made up of college-bred Presbyterians, Baptists, United Methodists, Catholics, Episcopalians, United Church of Christ members and officers—and now can you imagine that these people struggled for ten 76 days down there in Washington to agree that it

is a good thing to make somebody wait for five days for a background check to buy a handgun? Look at all the money we’re wasting on them, sending them to Yale and Princeton and Pennsylvania and everywhere, and they end up with no more sense than that. Look how many candles we’ve lighted and how much communion we’ve wasted on them, and they’ve got no better judgment than that and don’t know where the culture ends and where moral claims of the geo-Christian position ought to pick up. Who needs this kind of a gun anyway? A gun that kills a whole lot of people in a short amount of time. And there they sat down there taking up all of the taxpayers’ time talking about that for weeks at a time. A handgun with which to kill another human—an automatic weapon. The culture has taught us that the epiphany of violence, the posture of vengeance, the style of defining power and guns are the perquisite of the culture. Oh yes, and that posture passes—the posture of violence, revenge, and death! But Jesus went farther. If we look for answers to the crime and violence by examining the causes, we will find that better education, a more convincing affirmation of the personhood of the poor, a more positive approach to the successful education of all children, and a genuine surrogate role designed for failed homes and failed parenting other than electric chairs and bigger prisons would be far better options than more guns in every car and on every night table. The culture holds young losers in contempt, but Jesus goes farther and calls them to wholeness and to the abundant life. Well, finally, let me say this: Jesus went farther in his inclusiveness and Jesus went farther in his compassion and Jesus went farther in his obedience to the will of God. Jesus furthered it to the end. At this very scene in Gethsemane, there he was praying, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass. Not as I will but as thou


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soul. The Word was made flesh in a place with a date and a time! It was made flesh and Jesus grew—grew up in a carpenter’s home! He shared our humanity; he shared the culture. And when he saw himself being set to fulfill the role that the Prophet Isaiah had portrayed, he had to check it out. He went into the wilderness and stayed out there for six weeks, and three great temptations came to him! Two weeks per temptation! And so there he was. One temptation came to him to go and be like a magician and jump down from the pinnacle of the Temple and test God to see if he would be able to land. Oh yes! And another temptation came there asking him to make stones into bread so those that were going to live by bread alone and leave all of their other needs unfulfilled would follow him. Oh yes! And another temptation was to be a dictator—to use the oratory, the hypnotic persuasiveness, the mark and vetted strategist and become a ruler and rule! That temptation came to him. Older than all of these temptations was the call of the culture. But Jesus turned down the call of the culture, and he went a little farther. He rejected these easy paths to greatness! Jesus went a little farther. And here we are two thousand years later, gathered in this splendid place in his name. He said “no” to the culture and “yes” to God! And it brought him to Calvary where he laid down his life that we may be the heirs of the grace of God. That’s what happened. He said “no” to the culture and “yes” to God. At our last meeting, I was talking to my students and showing them a scar on my knee. I had a two-inch scar, two inches wide and about six inches long on my right knee. I’ve worn it for all of these three score years and ten. And here’s where that scar came from— we were boys in a dusty ghetto in Tidewater where we had little to do after school, and one night we were there underneath our streetlight. 77 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

wilt.”4 Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could celebrate in the churches a new commitment to infuse our culture with the mind of Christ? Wouldn’t it be marvelous to see Christians in America turn around and reassess our direction and let the mind of Christ bring about a new reformation in the churches and initiate a Renaissance in our cities and towns? All of this could begin by focusing with a fresh vision on the mind of the Master and the values that God revealed to us in Jesus Christ and to commit ourselves to them in loving obedience. Jesus had a culture. He was born into a culture. As you read the Gospels, you can detect the content of that culture. They were going to stone a woman to death one day because she had had five lovers. She was going to die for her mistakes, but nothing was said about her five male consorts. They weren’t getting stoned. A person born blind was believed to have sinned, and blindness was that person’s “punishment.” A man had such an abundant harvest that his barns were running over and instead of sharing with the hungry, he built bigger barns. All of these reflect the culture that surrounded Jesus. And instead of sharing with the hungry, he built bigger barns! A Roman army captain brought a sick servant to Jesus, and he did so with great fear because Roman soldiers and Jews did not relate at all. And Jesus went farther than the rest—farther than the religious leaders who were more concerned about his meticulous regard for the religious prescriptions of the day than about love and mercy and justice and the weightier matters of the law. They would leave a dying man on the Jericho Road rather than risk touching somebody who was outside of the law. That was the culture that surrounded him! So Jesus had a culture and he knew it well. But he knew also what his mission was. After his baptism, he went into the wilderness to sort things out.5 The culture was bidding for his


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The only community center we had was that streetlight. And we decided to go into Mr. Tilley’s yard and clean out his peach tree. It was overladen with peaches, and he couldn’t eat all of those peaches. He would get sick trying to do that. The peaches were falling on the ground and rotting; and we loved those huge, juicy peaches that fell from his peach tree. So we invaded his yard—all six of us. We went in there quiet as mice with sneakers on. But he had a premonition of our coming, and somehow our intentions had been radared into him. And out of the darkness and the stillness, there he emerged wielding an axe handle, and he came after us one by one. We were about 12 or 13 years old, but we were quick and agile. And I made a move around him like O.J. Simpson and went for the fence, and I scaled the fence. I didn’t know that I had caught the head of a rusty nail in my knee, and it ripped my knee open right down to the bone. Later, when I saw so much blood on my trousers, I found out that that nail had caught my knee and ripped open a deep wound. I begged to be taken to the physician who was contracted to serve the poor. I dare not go home with an injury like that that needed to be explained. And this man was sitting there blowing whisky in our faces, all of us standing around—my little committee of my other buddies—and he was just jamming that big old rusty needle right through the flesh of my knee with no anesthetic whatsoever. I never thought anybody could endure such pain. But it was either get my knee sewn up there, or go home and tell my daddy and get carried to a decent hospital and then suffer all of that. Well, the choice had been made, and there I was. There I was and that thing left the biggest, ugliest scar on my knee for all of these years. And there my knee was, ripped open for stealing Mr. Tilley’s peaches. 78 But ever since then I have read about the

cross with deeper understanding. I had one nail in my knee for something as useless as stealing peaches. One nail for an act of no consequence whatsoever; I bore the pain and the suffering literally for nothing—for a peach. Jesus stayed with his mission, loyal to the will of God, and they made him pay for the choice. I had one nail caught in my knee. They drove nails into his feet, nails into his hands, and a sword into his side. They put a crown of weeds on his head. They tried to erase him. They tried to humiliate him. They tried to blot him off the screen. They tried to liquidate him entirely. “See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down. Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?”6 Jesus went a little farther. He conquered death and came marching before us through these long centuries. The culture still cries out for our loyalty. But here we are in this place with a thousand tongues singing our great Redeemer’s praise: “The glories of our God and King, The triumphs of His grace.”7 May the Lord bless you!

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NOTES 1. See Matthew 17:1-8. 2. See Luke 9:54. 3. See Mark 10:46-52. 4. Matthew 26:39, paraphrased. 5. See Matthew 4:1-11. 6. Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” New National Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: National Baptist Publishing Board, Tenth Edition, 1982), 80. 7. Charles Wesley, “O for a Thousand Tongues,” New National Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: National Baptist Publishing Board, Tenth Edition, 1982), 17.


BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF SANDY F. RAY (1898–1979)

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andy F. Ray was born in a farming community in Stranger, Texas, in 1898. He was one of ten children born to Sandy and Fanny Ray, migrant farm workers. He attended Arkansas Baptist College and later Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. His family moved to Ohio, and he became the first black elected to the Ohio state legislature from Franklin County, Ohio. In 1944, he became the pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York,

where he served until his death in 1979. Sandy F. Ray was a preacher’s preacher and an activist. He believed in proclamation and the practical. As early as the 1950s Cornerstone operated a day care center and a credit union. In 1964, the church built a one-million-dollar educational facility. Sandy Ray was known to many as a “gentle preaching giant,” with a laugh and smile that put everyone at ease. Gardner C. Taylor, in his eulogy of Sandy Ray, called him the “president of preaching” and the “crown prince of the pulpit.” He was the president of the Empire State Convention (New York State Baptist Convention) from 1954 until his death. He also was a first vice president in the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. Inc., from 1968 until his death. To learn more about Sandy Ray, see Journeying Through a Jungle, which includes selected sermons of Sandy Ray. The book is edited by W. Franklyn Richardson and Franklin Curry, who wrote, “In the 1960s as the fields of Black Studies and Black Religion became an area of analysis, Sandy Ray was recommended as the archetypal Black preacher who could make the Bible relevant to the most hopeless and alienated soul.”

A VOICE in the Wilderness SANDY F. RAY

John 3:30, KJV He must increase, but I must decrease. want to talk to us today about: A Voice in the Wilderness. It is from the third chapter of St. John and you know the story. I shall not read that Scripture. But John the Baptist was a very unique character. He flashed upon the scene at a

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rather peculiar time in history when the powerful Roman Empire dominated the major portion of the world including Palestine. Hebrew prophecy was silent and God did not have a clear voice, even in the Temple. And this weird, wilderness preacher emerged on the scene. John showed peculiar trends early in his life. His priestly father was concerned about


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don’t have any sense of wilderness theology. And so they are leaving the church and going into industry and going into government and going where they can get big jobs and what they call security because they don’t want to risk their lives with the theology of the wilderness. John was a voice crying in the wilderness and the wilderness was crying for a voice. The nation was expecting a voice but not from the wilderness. They expected a voice from the well-established system. They expected a voice from the Temple leadership. But this strange, weird voice comes from an unexpected source—from the wilderness. Someone inquired of his credentials, his authority. And John said, “I have no credentials. I have no government seal. I have no affiliations with the empire. I have no military rank. I’m just a voice crying in the wilderness. I am announcing a new order, and there comes one after me mightier than I.” Now the rumor of a revolution was terribly disturbing to the staid religious leaders. The Temple was fabulously equipped and had beautiful rituals and formalities, but the rumor of a revolution gave them a sense of insecurity. They knew that a revolution was overdue. And wherever there are oppressors, they are expecting insurrection. And wherever there are people taking advantage of other people, they are expecting a revolution. Notwithstanding the apparent security of the people in the Temple, they were disturbed about the rumor of a revolution. And so this weird, wilderness voice was more thrilling and exciting than the formal harpist and the priestly tones in the Temple. And this voice sounded a note of hope for the underprivileged and for the disinherited. It was an attractive voice. It was a voice that attracted the masses of people. The old voices were dull and lifeless. But this new voice 81 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

his strange behavior early in his life. He had no real interest in his father’s parish. The traditional worship did not appeal to him. His father sensed the trend of his son; and I think he must have said, “I had hoped that he would be my successor, but he doesn’t like the church. He resents church regalia. He refused to be an altar boy. And my clergy attire seems to depress him. He likes unconventional attire. He doesn’t like kosher food. He goes out in the wilderness and eats locusts and wild honey. He’s anti-social. He’s unorthodox. I can’t communicate with him anymore. He has a dangerously radical trend. If he wants to be a priest, I can arrange for his credentials because I’m in with the machine. He can enjoy the cozy comforts of the mass.” And the father must have said to his mother, “We’re losing our son.” But instead, the fact was the prophetic son was losing his father. His father was bound and shackled in a conservative, decaying, deteriorating religious system and the father had really gotten lost. And many older people in our society today are greatly distressed about losing young people. But we might well give some concern about prophetic, dedicated, progressive young people losing us. Many bewildered, frustrated parents today have gotten lost from their children rather than the children losing them. Now, John’s father could not interpret the theology of the wilderness, and so he thought his son was mad. He thought his son was crazy. He thought his son had lost his mind. And there are many preachers— young preachers—around our world today who don’t understand the wilderness theology. I’m doing something over at Union Theological Seminary. I did something up in Boston recently and I talked to a number of young preachers who are very distressed about preaching and pastoring because they


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had a new ring, and this new voice gave a sound and tone of hope for the masses who were oppressed. They first attempted to ignore John. They said he was regarded as a radical, fanatic, brain-damaged, irresponsible character. He may have been some frustrated, disappointed, mad, bitter young man who is angry with the establishment. But his voice was so thrilling. It was pulling the masses away from the Temple to the rugged banks of the Jordan. And they must have discussed John. They must have talked in guarded tones about him. They must have said, “Maybe he won’t make it. He’s just an overnight prophet. He’s just one of these fanatics. His voice will soon be hushed. Why don’t we just let him alone and ignore him?” But somebody said, “Well, we can’t do this. The people are going to hear him. We’ve got to deal with him. We’ve got to handle him although he’s unconventional. He is not in the system. He doesn’t have any license to preach, but the people are going out to hear him. He’s not a formal, organized, recognized preacher, but the people are going out to hear him. So we’ve got to get to him one way or another. We’ve got to arrest him. We’ve got to deal with him. We’ve got to find some way to pull the people away from him.” And, brethren, I think maybe some of you have had the experience of people who have said, “This man ain’t got nothing. Ain’t nothing to him. But the people are going to hear him.” And sometimes we’ll have people who will say—and there are a lot of people who’ll say, “Oh, he can’t preach.” But you go to his church. Now you may not think he can preach, but there are a whole lot of people that think he can. And somebody said, “John doesn’t wear any robes. He doesn’t look like a preacher. He doesn’t have any regalia. He doesn’t have any candles. He doesn’t have any kind of formali82 ties that can attract anybody. But he’s got a

strange, penetrating voice, and the people like him. And you can’t ignore people. You can’t ignore leaders, whether they are what you call formal leaders or not, if the people like them. And so John said, “Repent. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” “This is strange language,’ the religious leaders cautioned, “for we are the official custodians of the kingdom of God. Our rituals, our robes, our doctrine, our dogma, our traditions, our customs justify kings as recognized spokesmen for the kingdom of God. And this man claims that the kingdom of God is in reach.” But John said, “You are misguided. You are proud, arrogant, haughty, exploiters of the poor. You’re hypocrites really. Really, you’re phonies; and I’ve come to tell the whole truth. You need repentance. You’re leading made a wayward, wretched, wicked system. You need to change your direction. You need to change your motives. You need to change your mind, your attitude, and your spirit. You need to rearrange your priorities and your principles and your purposes. You’re going in the wrong direction. Now, if you’re so secure, if you’re so sure that you are the custodians of the kingdom of God, why are you so excited about my preaching? If you’re so sure that you have the last word on what God has to say, why are you bothering about me?” But John found them soothing their consciences in a false security. They were blind to the danger that threatened them, and he could feel the sense of their insecurity. And, brethren, if we feel that we’re secure, we don’t have to bother about what somebody else is doing. If we feel that we’re on the right track, we don’t have to bother about what somebody is saying down by the banks of the Jordan. John said, “The ax is laid at the root of the tree.” The ax—not a pruning hook, not fertilizer, but the ax—is laid at the root of the


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had gone out, and on the altar there was no fire because they had neglected the fire on the altar to be concerned about what’s going on in the outer courts in terms of heifers and doves and the rest of it. And he said, “Now, I’m going to curse you. I’m not going to cut you down, but I’m going to let you stand here as a monument to failure. I’m going to let you stand here with leaves, but as long as people come along, they’ll find nothing on you that’s fruit.” The place where lies utter destruction. The cold gleam of steel at the root of the tree can bring the proud tree crashing to the ground. The ax is a constant threat to pride and haughtiness and arrogance and hypocrisy and evil. And no one can escape from the keen blows of the ax of God’s judgment. The ax is lying at the root of our affluent culture at this moment. It has a green, beautiful, secure appearance, but a dangerous blade is lurking at its roots. The hope of our culture is repentance. We must see our sins sorrowfully and change our direction. We have hope, however, because God’s mercy is in the midst of his judgment. The kingdom of heaven is within reach. The mighty one is in the wings. The Prince—the King’s Son—waits in the wings. He has the final authentic message from the Father. John said, “I’m not that light, but I’ve come to bear witness of that light. Don’t bother about who I am; I’m not important. I’m just a forerunner, but there’s one coming after me who is mightier than I.” You know, I like that transfiguration scene.2 Peter, James, and John were on the mountain with our Lord; and while they were there, Peter got so excited till he just exclaimed, as he always did, “Lord, it’s so good to be here!” And Jesus said to him, “Indeed it is good to be here, Peter, but it’s not 83 good to stay here.” THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

tree. The Roman power that is destined to cut down the Jewish state is close at hand. The tree is still standing, a great tree with matching trunk and spreading branches. Its stance suggests strength and security, but it is bearing no good fruit. The ax is unseen, but it is lying at the most vital area of the tree’s existence—the root of the tree. Jesus had some experience with a tree in his lifetime. Remember the fig tree?1 Remember Jesus had been up to the Temple and had looked in the Temple right after the triumphant entry. And when he looked, he got so distressed and disturbed about what he saw. He didn’t say anything about it that day. He went on out to Bethany, remember, and stayed overnight. And then the next morning he came back. And he probably didn’t eat. He was distressed all night, and on his way back he saw this beautiful fig tree. And he said, “I think I’ll stop by and at least have some figs.” And when he got there he found that the tree had beautiful leaves but no fruit. And I think Jesus was not so much distressed about that tree as he was about a church that he had seen yesterday. And, if you read that, Jesus talks to the tree. He personalizes the tree. And he said, “Now, you appeared to have something on you. From the distance you looked fruity. But when I got close to you, I found there was nothing there but leaves.” But he was talking to a church. He was talking the church that he had looked at yesterday with all of its regalia, with all of its candles, with all of its beauty, with all the robes of priests. And he saw that tree, but he saw also that there was nothing on it. That they had left really the fruit and had gone out into the outer courts, and they were more concerned about what was going on in the outer courts—the selling of doves and heifers and rest of that. And Jesus said that the lights


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You’ve seen historic figures flash before your eyes and you’ve felt the glorified climate on the mountain, but it’s not good to stay there. Because you have not heard the authentic voice of the Almighty and that’s the reason for your being here. You came here with divided loyalty. You came here concerned about Moses and Elias and the Lord, and your loyalties were divided. And I brought you up here because I’m going to eliminate Moses and Elias now for a moment; and then when you come back, they’ll be gone. Your ancient loyalties will be lost and I’ll be standing here alone. And then you will hear what God wanted to say to you: “Moses was my servant, Elijah was my shield, but Jesus is my Son. Hear him. He has the final word. He has the blueprint for my spiritual empire. Don’t bother about what Moses said. Don’t bother about what Elijah said. But hear Jesus, and hear him at all levels of your life. And whenever you want the message that’s going to be authentic and real, hear Jesus. Whenever you want to know what God has to say to the universe, hear Jesus. Whenever you want to know the works and will of God, hear Jesus.” John said, “I have played my role. I have made the path to the river. I have played the role of the supporting cast, but the star is appearing. The feature act is coming along. All pretenders must clear the stage and watch the Master perform. I was a wilderness preacher and the world was in a wilderness. I was a jungle prophet because the world was in a jungle. But I’ve played my role. I’ve done my task, and now I’m going to stand back and let the Master come on the scene. I’m not that light, but I’m honored to have been the forerunner. I’m just a voice in the wilderness.” And Jesus paid John a rather high tribute. When they were criticizing John, Jesus said, 84 ”John is the greatest. You can talk about him.

He might not have been a recognized, licensed preacher, but he was the greatest.” I think John got a little bit confused once about Jesus. He was in jail, and Jesus was preaching in the neighborhood.3 And John was distressed. As much as he had done for Jesus.…And someone said that they were related even. And Jesus was preaching right in the neighborhood where John was in jail. Jesus didn’t even get a lawyer to go and see if he could get him out. And John got so distressed about it. He said, “Surely, that must not be Jesus.” And he said, “Look, a couple of you fellows go over there where he is preaching and ask him and say: ‘Look, you know John is in jail, you know, and he’s just a little ways away from us, and he’s wondering why you don’t come over and see about him.’” And Jesus just kept on preaching, and he said, “Don’t give John any message from me. You just look at what I’m doing and you go back and tell John what I’m doing. And if he’s not impressed about what I’m doing, I don’t have any other message. I know he’s in jail, and I know that it would take a miracle to get him out and I could do it. But I don’t have any miracles scheduled for this incident. And I believe we’ve got to have here either a miracle or a martyr. And God has not scheduled a miracle, so we’ll just have to have a martyr. Tell John what I’m doing and if he is not happy, I’m sorry.” I am persuaded that the wilderness and jungle of our turbulent society are crying for a voice. And most of the voices that we hear are confusing and frustrating. The voice of the state; the voice of industry; the voice of the sophisticated; the voice of the poor; the voice of criminals; the voice of music; the voice of labor; the voice even of the church! All of these voices are not sound voices. We need a great, thrilling, convincing voice. For all of these voices are disconcerting and oppressive.


I’ve heard the voices of many people across the centuries, as you have heard them. I’ve heard the voice of Buddha, but he’s somewhere in a tomb. I’ve heard the voice of Confucius, but he’s somewhere in a tomb or his bones are bleaching somewhere on hillside. I’ve heard the voice of Mohammed. I’ve heard the voices of emperors and princes and potentates and kings and warriors and statesmen and others across the centuries. But all of these voices have been silenced and their bones are bleaching somewhere on the hillside. But I hear another voice. I believe I heard him last Sunday morning. I heard him last Sunday morning as he came and stood at the mouth of a tree. And when he got there he made some announcements. He said, “First of all, I’ve been busy for the last couple of days. I had to go through the lower regime, and I tied death and hell to my chariot wheel. And as I walked through triumphantly, the imps of hell cried, ‘Ride on, conquering King!’ “I came back and I found death on a stack of dead men’s bones, and I took the sting out of death and robbed the grave of its victory. Then I stood at the mouth of the grave and made an announcement. I made an announcement to Greece. I made an announcement to Rome. I made an announcement to Jerusalem. And I said, ‘I am he that was dead, but behold I am alive forever more!’ Run tell my disciples that I have the blueprint for a new order. And tell them to meet me in Galilee.” Finally, we have the blessed privilege to bring into this world and to be a part of the supporting cast for this thrilling voice of Jesus Christ. Our culture with all of its affluence and sophistication and technology has emerged into a jungle. Mad men are stamping

through this wilderness with unbridled viciousness and violence. This jungle is a desperately crippled culture. Repentance is the only hope for our corrupt, crippled culture. The muddy thrush of gate water is spilling all over this nation and around the world. The bruised, limping, festering Wounded Knee4 is embarrassing our whole nation. We need a voice. We need a permanent stopper for all America’s Watergates, and we need healing for every Wounded Knee in America. I am persuaded that Jesus Christ is our only hope. I’ve heard other voices as you have, but those voices have been silenced. I’ve heard other voices and they sounded like gods themselves, but their voices have been silenced. I’ve heard voices from government. I’ve heard voices from industry. I’ve heard voices from millionaires. But those voices have been silenced! But I hear the voice of Jesus of Nazareth and he’s saying again, “I am the way, the truth, and the life!”5 Somebody inquired: “What can wash away my sins?” Somebody else replied, “Nothing, nothing, but the blood of Jesus!” “What can make me whole again?” “Nothing! But the blood of Jesus. For my pardon this I see; nothing, but the blood of Jesus. For my cleansing, this my plea; nothing but the blood of Jesus. Oh, precious is the flow that makes me white as snow. No other fount I know. Nothing! Nothing! Nothing! | But the blood of Jesus!”6

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NOTES 1. See Matthew 21:17-22. 2. See Matthew 17:1-13. 3. See Matthew 11:2-15. 4. In 1890 at Wounded Knee Creek, soldiers massacred more than 175 Indians. The American government had to own up to another scar on its history for mistreatment of citizens in this battle when in 1971 Dee Brown wrote the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. 5. John 14:6, KJV. 6. From “Nothing But the Blood,” words and music by 85 Robert Lowery, 1876.


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FACING Fears

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Psalm 27, KJV The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my

Jasmin W. Sculark is senior pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church of York, Pennsylvania.

life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple. For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock. And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD. Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me. When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek. Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation. When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up. Teach me thy way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies. Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty. I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD. ne of the deadliest enemies to the people of God is the spirit of fear. Fear simply defined is dread, major uneasiness, or severe anxiousness. Joyce Meyers said about this type of fear, that in this case, “Fear is false evidence appearing real.” Fear, rather than empowering you, paralyzes you. Instead of giving you wisdom, fear causes us to make poor decisions. Instead of strengthening, fear weakens. Instead of giving clarity, fear confuses. Instead of stretching you, fears shrinks you. I’m sure that so many of us would be further along if we were not shackled by the spirit of fear. The Bible speaks of all types of

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child of God has to take a defensive stance and walk in the light. Then there are times when the child of God has to take an offensive stance by shining light on people and situations because the enemies of God operate in darkness. The Lord is my light and my salvation. The word “salvation” can be translated as stronghold. David is saying the Lord had become his stronghold, his fortified place. Therefore no one can harm him. David is establishing and explaining who God is to him. When God is my light and life, my stronghold and my strength, fear has to take a back seat. This is the confidence of David. But he is not confident in himself but in his God. What’s interesting is that David really had good reasons to be afraid, for he was surrounded by trouble. David says “When the wicked come against me.…” The wicked are evildoers, those seeking to cause harm with the intent of breaking another person. David said, “the wicked,” which suggests that the wicked is anyone in general, someone who may not even know you. You have not necessarily done anything to the wicked; in fact, the attack against you is typically not personal. The wicked just hate what you stand for. Then David addresses the enemy or enemies. Enemies are those who are hostile to you. Then there is the foe. A foe is different from a person who is wicked or one who is your enemy. A foe is an adversary, an oppressor. The wicked person is simply wicked and may just hurt you as collateral damage, and an enemy is someone who stands in opposition to you. A foe on the other hand, could have been a friend who is now an adversary. Notice, they’re listed in twos and some in threes: enemies and foes, army/war, mother and father, adversaries and false witnesses. One of the reasons they tend to come in twos is they cannot stand on their own 87 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

fear. There is the fear of man (Proverbs 29:25). There is the fear of death (Genesis 21:17), fear of the future (Genesis 46:3), fear of danger (Exodus 14:13), fear of dreams (Job 4:15-16), fear of evil (Proverbs 1:33), fear of war (Psalm 27:3), fear of enemies (Psalm 18:6), fear of punishment (Proverbs 1:26), fear of darkness (Genesis 15:12), and the fear of ghosts (Matthew 14:26). Those are negative fears. But there is also positive fear, healthy fear. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”1 This fear carries with it a sense of high respect or reverence—it’s a fear that brings about not destruction but construction. Many of us fear men who cannot kill the soul but only the body, yet we do not fear God. But the Bible says that a man or a woman who does not fear God is a fool. The worst fool is not the fool who does not believe there is a God; it’s the fool who doesn’t know they are a fool for not believing that there is a God. David in out text believes in God but wrestles with fear, and today I believe we can learn some things from David. David, the second King of Israel, refused to be shackled by fear but he does wrestle with it. As David establishes himself as Israel’s king, one of the things he had to deal with is that with every elevation and every door that God opened came greater opposition and jealousy. Has anyone noticed that the more the Lord blesses you, the greater the opposition? David begins this psalm by showing he has confidence in God. He said, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Light is metaphor for understanding, life, and for being a child of God. It also signifies a defensive posture on the part of a child of God. Sometimes the


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against anyone. This is why sometimes it is not easy facing them. Also, it is not easy dealing with them, because except for the wicked, they tend to be personal in nature. David said in verse 2, “my enemies and foes,” in verse 10, “my mother and father,” and in verse 12, “my adversaries and false witnesses,” which suggest something. Some in these groups had pretended to be David’s friends. Nothing can turn a true believer, a true follower, a true friend from you. But beware of the great pretenders. Some of these people had been David’s greatest supporters. They were the ones that prayed and encouraged David on his way to success; but after David achieves success and begins to truly lead Israel, they became “David haters.” You have to be careful of people who were on board with you when you were on level one, and now they are singing a different song on level four. They were singing David’s praise after he killed Goliath, but now they are singing a different song. The next group who came against David was the host/an army—a company of people. A “host” is formed when people who don’t even like each other get together because they have one thing in common: they can’t stand you. They will pretend they like each other long enough to unite and come after you because they can’t defeat you on their own. The text said they do not rise up like the enemies and foes in verse 2, but rather they encamp and surround you. In other words, they are sneaking around, hiding out, hanging around looking for a good time to strike. But David’s concern is not only with the wicked, enemies, and foes or with the host of people who could decide to declare war and bring trouble to his doorstep, but David’s concern is that an attack could come from his 88 blood—an inside job. He said, “when my

father and mother forsake me”—meaning he wouldn’t be shocked if his kin turned their back on him too. So, while David was confident in God, notice what the text says in verse 7: “Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice! Have mercy also upon me, and answer me. When thou saidst seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, thy face, LORD will I seek.” Here David shows great concern; this is his biggest fear: he does not want God to forsake him or leave him. David has this concern because people had forsaken him—soldiers, family members, even King Saul, who was once his mentor. David now makes the mistake that you and I also make. We say that God is not like man, but we treat him like a man and think that if enough other folk walk away from us, we think that God is going to abandon us too. But the Bible said, “God is not a man, that he should lie”—he cannot lie—“nor the son of man, that he should repent.”2 Many of us try so hard to earn God’s approval. One of the reasons we are like this is because the church has taught us for so long that if we don’t do right, live right, and cross all of our “T”s and dot all of our “I”s, God will turn his back on us. A Scripture was shared with me that liberated me from the fear of God turning his back on me: “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”3 Your Bible may say, “The gifts and the calling of God are without repentance.”4 Repentance means a change of mind. Paul is saying that when God calls you and gifts you, he does not change his mind. Man has a change of heart and a change of mind, but not God. There is nothing you and I can do to make God change his mind about loving us, gifting us, and calling us. I want to assure someone: Having a child out of wedlock did not change God’s mind about loving, calling, and gifting you. Having


an abortion, having an affair, using drugs, selling drugs…dropping out of school, being arrested, backsliding…did not change God’s mind about loving and calling you. It’s called grace. It’s God’s unmerited favor. Look at what he said to Jeremiah: “Before I formed thee I knew thee and while you were in your mother’s womb I called you to be a prophet.”5 Before you were born, before you ever sang a song, prayed a prayer, went to Sunday School, paid a tithe, stopped smoking weed, stopped gambling—before all of that I knew you and established a purpose for your life! My God! We’ve looked thus far at David’s confidence in God, his crying out to God, but at the end of the day, what really stands out is his courage. And my brothers and sisters, that’s what it’s going to take to break the shackle of fear. It is going to take courage to believe God and not turn back. Anyone can doubt God, but it takes courage to believe God. Anyone can raise holy hands when their home is happy. Anyone can shout it’s my season when their ship comes in. But do you have enough courage to stand in winter and say it’s my season? Do you have enough courage to face foreclosure and stick your chest out and say the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord? Do you have enough staying courage to say when your world collapses I know that my redeemer still lives?! David said, “I would have fainted by now, but I had the courage to believe that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” He had the courage to believe that while he was still alive he would see the goodness of God. In other words, I knew things would turn around and I would get to see it. Not in the by and by beyond the sky, but in the clear here and now. Yes. There are some things that you will plant now, that your chil-

dren, grandchildren, great grandchildren, the next pastor, the next leader, the next whatever will get to water and see grow and you will not. But there are some things that you need enough courage to believe that you will see in the land of the living. While you are still alive God can change politics. While you’re still alive God can end wars. While you’re still alive God can fix your family. While you’re still alive God can heal your community. Admit your fears but have enough courage to trust God anyhow. Remember, fear is false evidence appearing real, but “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen.”6 You are going to have to have courage to admit your fears and trust God with them. You are going to need courage to live in the present, not in the past or the future. Courage is not the absence of fear, but courage is taking the right step in the midst of your fear. You got to say, like some of our cousins, “I ain’t scurred!” Look at somebody and say, “I ain’t scurred!” I can get on that plane. “I ain’t scurred!” I’m gon’ go back to school. “I ain’t scurred!” I can start loving again. “I ain’t scurred!” I am ready to walk away from that abusive relationship. “I ain’t scurred.” Remember in verse 5 David said “For in the time of trouble.…” This means that David realized something that we need to know that trouble has a timetable. A songwriter said “I’m so glad troubles don’t last always.” Just look fear in the face and as many times as you need to, say: “God is my light and my salvation, so I ain’t scurred!” | NOTES 1. Proverbs 1:7, KJV. 2. Numbers 23:19, KJV. 3. Romans 11:29, NASB. 4. Romans 11:29, KJV. 5. Jeremiah 1:5, paraphrased. 6. Hebrews 11:1, KJV.

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WHY Do You Treat Me This Way?

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Genesis 34–35 And they said, Should he deal with our sister as with an harlot? (Genesis 34:31, KJV) ermit me to begin this sermon by posing the question: Who are you? Not the you that you want everyone to think that you are,

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Daniel Corrie Shull is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church, Campbellsville, Kentucky, and a senior at Fisk University.

but the you that you live with daily. What is it that you really think about yourself? Are you comfortable in your skin or do you have to subconsciously, superficially, but arrogantly raise yourself to a higher level to feel superior to other people? Who are you? I raise these questions today because the way we treat others is often an indicator of what we think about ourselves. After all, when you really have it going on and you know it, it is unnecessary for you to feel the need to bring somebody else down. But it is most often when people are insecure, nonconfident, and unsure of themselves that they feel it necessary to mistreat, misuse, and down right “dis” somebody else. The way they feel about themselves is manifested in the way they treat other people. My argument was illuminated as I was reading a recent edition of Vibe Magazine just the other day. This particular edition of the magazine featured an interview with a well-known and widely-acclaimed Hip Hop artist. The article was discussing the depressingly prevalent misogyny that is within so much of Hip Hop music. The reporter asked this artist why he used the derogatory lyrics that he uses to describe women. He replied that rappers in their music are simply looking into the mirror of their lives and presenting what they see. What they see causes them to call women—our mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters—B’s and H’s because that is indicative of their experience. They say they are representing what they see in their mirror. That disturbed me, because what it says is that because he thinks of himself in derogatory and depreciatory terms, he bestows those same disreputable terms on other people. Never has this point of preachment been so clearly articulated as it is in our text today. In Genesis chapter 34, we are introduced to an


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And when we look at why many relationships don’t work, it’s because people have a dysfunctional display of what they call affection. Being controlling, abusive, and jealous are all dangerous and dysfunctional expressions. Not care and concern. God doesn’t want any human to be mistreated because of the dysfunction of someone else. And that was Shechem’s problem; he didn’t know how to treat her, but he didn’t stop there. He raped Dinah without any regard for her person or her dignity, and then decided that she was worth keeping around. Shechem’s was really dysfunctional. His was dysfunctional because he was a clinger. Shechem proceeds to act in a way that is typical of a rapist; for in verse 3, the text says that he “clave unto Dinah.” The Hebrew word there means to impinge or to force upon. That lets us know that even though Dinah didn’t want him around, he forced himself upon her. Thinking that if he held himself close to her that that was going to make her want him more, he clave to her. But he was possessive; he was holding on to her but she wasn’t holding on to him. And somebody in this place is relating to someone who is in a relationship and there is a possessive person in the picture who doesn’t want you to talk to anybody. They don’t want you to look at anybody. They don’t want you to go anywhere. They don’t want you to have any friends. That’s not healthy; that’s horrible! That’s not cute; that’s crazy! That’s not passionate; it’s possessive and a problem! People are not meant to be owned by other people—that’s what a possession is, something that we own. Cars, money, houses, and clothes—those are possessions. Pencils, pens, and paper—those are possessions. But nobody ought to possess anybody. Only God ought to possess you. After all, it was God that woke you up this morning, 91 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

attractive African princess by the name of Dinah. The text teaches us that Dinah was a “ten”1 because the language in the original text describes her as commanding the attention of everyone as she passed them by. Dinah, with her bronzed, sun-kissed skin and long, lamb-locked hair had embarked upon a short journey to visit the nearby Canaanite women when she was spotted by Shechem. Shechem, suffering from no self-esteem, raped her. The Bible says that Shechem raped and disgraced Dinah, but then to add insult to injury, he asked her father for Dinah’s hand in marriage. Is that not ludicrous? Shechem rapes Dinah, disgraces Dinah, has no regard for the personhood of Dinah, and then decides that he wants to marry Dinah. The text keeps blowing me away even more because as I dug deeper I discovered that Shechem was a prince, which means that he could have legally had any Canaanite woman that he desired. But because he felt so little on the inside, to be bigger he had to misuse and abuse someone that wasn’t thinking about him. He didn’t understand the tremendous value of the gift that God had placed before him. Why did Shechem treat Dinah this way? Well, the text teaches us that Shechem treated Dinah this way because he had a dysfunctional way of displaying what he called affection (vv. 1-4). Shechem developed affection for Dinah, but the issue is how he chose to show it. Scholars believe that Shechem and Dinah had been previously acquainted; and therefore there is much reason to believe that Shechem’s desire for Dinah did not begin the day of this text, but it was ongoing. But because of the dysfunction that characterized his life, he couldn’t find a constructive way to win Dinah’s affection. So he stooped to the lowest level of personal violation, committed the most heinous crime against an individual, and raped her.


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started you on your way, gave you breath and strength and the faculties of your mind; and so if anybody is going to possess you, it ought to be God! He was also dysfunctional because he displayed contingent love. The text says, in verse 3, that he “loved” her. This word translated as “love” here is the Greek word eros. You know the kind of love that eros is don’t you? Eros love is the erotic and sexual love. This helps us to see that Shechem has not changed, but his passion is just fueled all the more. Shechem didn’t want Dinah’s heart; he just wanted her goodies. He wasn’t concerned about her life passions; he just wanted what she possessed. He wasn’t concerned with her intellect; he just wanted her in bed. He did not want to have a relationship with her; he just wanted her for his purposes. And whenever you are more concerned with what a person has rather than who a person is you have a dysfunctional concept of love and relationships because what’s on the exterior will not last. Don’t judge a book by its cover; you’d better familiarize yourself with its content. They can have a “Coke bottle” figure today and have figure like a 2 liter in five years so you need not be so concerned about the outside that you don’t discover who they are on the inside! Don’t let the shifting sands of exterior beauty fool you. No, build your relationships on things eternal like godliness, righteousness, love, intellect, friendship—those are eternal and firm foundations! He was dysfunctional because he had a contaminated conversation. The text goes on to say that Shechem spoke smoothly to her. The Message Bible says that he spoke to “woo her.” This helps us to see that his conversation was not inspired by sincerity, but 92 by what he was trying to get. And we all

know that when people want something badly enough, they will do or say whatever the need to say to get it. That’s what Shechem did. He thought that if he said the right thing, he would get what he wanted. But let me straighten that out this morning, you ought to never have to talk yourself into a relationship with anybody. If you have to lie and make up stuff about where you work and how much you get paid and how much stuff you have, then that’s a relationship that you don’t need to be in. If you feel like you’ve got to talk yourself into a relationship, you need to step back and take an introspective look at yourself. Your understanding of love and relationships is dysfunctional. But not only was Shechem dysfunctional with what he called affection, in verses 5-12, he moved to present a disrespectful deal to make amends. No apology or formal acknowledgment of wrongdoing was ever offered to Dinah, her father Jacob, or her brothers. When you read this text, there is never any indication that Shechem felt any remorse for the egregious physical violation that he perpetrated against Dinah. Instead of trying to make some type of amends that would bring about some half-way decent end to this situation, Shechem moves to make amends in ways that not only degrade and disgrace Dinah, but also objectify her. He moves from raping Dinah to treating her as a commodity to be bargained for and bought and sold to the highest bidder: “We will allow you to intermarry with our daughters and beyond that we will give you some land and you can live freely among us.” Shechem is saying, “There will be no restrictions and to top it off there will be mutual benefits— just let me marry Dinah.” He went from saying that he loved her to making a deal


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got it going on! What happened next? Dinah’s brothers stepped in; and when they stepped into the story, they did so with a disregard for divine authority (vv. 13-17). They come to the story with the intention of restoring family honor, but the method they used to accomplish reparations for their sister was just as disturbing as the initial act perpetrated by Shechem. The descendants of Abraham were blessed of God to serve as a channel of blessings to those outside their community. God had given Abraham and his children and his grandchildren favor so that they could show favor to other people and thereby introduce them to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The deep suffering that Dinah endured could have served as a vehicle for greater good, but her brothers’ violent response to the Canaanites only makes what Dinah is going through worse. Israel loses the opportunity to bring good out of a bad situation by responding with violence and revenge. And let me say parenthetically that we all understand and empathize with Dinah’s brothers, but no matter what occurs, God can always bring some good out of the bad—if you let him. It is only when you take things into your own hands that you limit God’s ability to work on your behalf. Many of us are guilty of making bad situations worse by trying to resolve things on our own. We’re like children who spill juice on the carpet and, in an effort to cover their tracks, begin trying to wipe up the accident and end up rubbing the stain in and spreading it out. That’s why it’s important to take our problems to God rather than trying to fix them ourselves. Dinah’s brothers made the situation worse by using violence and religion as a means to get jus93 tice on behalf of their sister. THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

to buy her. Shechem made the mistake of thinking that his money could pay for the wrong that he wrought and that if he really wanted to he could buy Dinah. Shechem not only raped her, he also objectified her. But as I look at Shechem, I can’t help but to think about some entertainers that are on BET, MTV, and VH1, who continually objectify and exploit our beautiful women by using them as props that make the producers rich. There is a disgraceful attitude that has been perpetuated that says the more women you have the more status you have. Any dude can walk around with a woman on his arm, but it takes a real man to treat her with the dignity, respect, and honor that she was deserves. But ladies, do understand that you teach people how to treat you. So if you “Drop It Like It’s Hot” every time they play “Kiss, Kiss, Kiss” and you allow Snoop-Dogg’s “Sensual Seduction” to “Take You There” like Sean Kingston, it will leave you saying that you “Remember” when your heart broke like Keshia Cole and you were looking for an “Umberela-ella-e-e-e” like Rihanna. But if you carry yourself like a “Good Life” girl—always meet your momma girl, completely dressed girl, never disrespected girl, always up in church girl— you don’t have to worry, because folk will treat you like the way you carry yourself. You teach people how to treat you; and if you allow people to walk all over you and talk to you any kind of way, that’s what they will do. But today I’m looking for some people who are willing to say that I will not let people treat me any kind of way because I am fearfully and wonderfully made! I am a royal priesthood! I am chosen by God! I am an instrument of worship! I am a child of God! And to tell you the truth I’ve got it going on, so you need to treat me like I’ve


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Dinah’s family says, “Go and get circumcised, and after you do that then we can talk business.” Dinah’s brothers legitimized the circumcision as a way of making the Canaanites pay with the same bodily organ that was the instrument of Dinah’s rape. They used circumcision as a means of death rather than life, as a vehicle for separating people rather than uniting people. They used a practice that was meant to symbolize holiness and spirituality as a vehicle for deception and violence. In their arrogance and outright disregard for divine authority, Jacob and his family attempted to carry out God’s intentions by the means of their own plans and schemes. The heartbreaking part of this ordeal is that nobody was concerned about Dinah. Dinah was the one that had suffered pain. But instead of anyone being concerned about Dinah’s well-being or her wants or her needs, they were busy trying to accomplish their own agendas. It was the responsibility of Jacob and his sons to look out for Dinah, but that’s not what they did. Dinah was raped by Shechem, but her situation was prostituted by her brothers while her father remained passive and seemingly unconcerned. They didn’t care about Dinah. They were just concerned about themselves. The question in verse 31 leaves the reader with an agenda to consider: “Should he deal with our sister as a harlot?” How shall we respond in a world where our women—mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters—are mistreated, misused, and misrepresented? How will we respond? I’m glad that the story doesn’t leave us right there, because if it left us there it would leave us to draw our own conclusions. But if you keep on reading you will find in 94 chapter 35 that God, whom we never

heard from in chapter 34, started talking. And he told Jacob, “I know that stuff has gotten out of hand and you and your family have messed up, but what I want you to do is get up and go back to Bethel where I made my promise to you at first.” Jacob responds by reasserting his position as head of the family and thereby commands each of his children to put away their foreign gods and purify themselves. But he didn’t stop with telling them to purify themselves; he built an altar. And while there at that altar, God made good on his promise. And there, even in the midst of family disgrace, God gave amazing grace and made good on God’s promise: “Jacob, I know that your daughter has been raped; I know that your sons have transgressed against me. But I’m going to restore and bless Dinah. But I won’t stop there; I’m going to forgive your sons, and I’m also going to change your name. No longer will your name be Jacob. From this day forward, your name will be Israel.” And that’s shouting news because it helps us to see that God can still bring his plans to pass in spite of the crisis and chaos that has come into our lives. I want somebody here to know that there may have been some crisis in your past, but God can still bless you! You may have been misused, but God can still keep you planted by the rivers of water so that you will bring forth fruit in your season.2 Just give God your problems. Give God your pain. Give God your hurt. Give God your shame! God will never leave you! God will never forsake you! God will never let | you fall! NOTES 1. A Hip Hop term used to describe the beauty of a female. 2. See Psalm 1:3, KJV.


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The Pastor’s PENTATEUCH Five Essential Books for Any Pastoral Library NELSON JEROME PIERCE JR.

Nelson Jerome Pierce Jr. serves as an associate minister of the Central Baptist Church in St. Louis, Missouri, and is the co-founder of ARK (African-American Religious Knowledge) of the Covenant, which develops culturally relevant and theologically-grounded educational programs for youth and young adults.

theological grounding that provides inspiration and challenge to the pastor and the pew.

CRISIS IN THE VILLAGE: Restoring Hope in African American Communities Robert M. Franklin (Fortress Press, 2007) Emerging as one of the strongest in the tradition of producing solution-oriented books, Franklin artfully harmonizes his academic and preaching backgrounds in this work. In Crisis, Franklin executes a scholarly treatment of specific challenges that face Black America and establishes an agenda to address these challenges, while passionately calling for our three primary institutions: the family, the church, and the college, to come together and recommit to taking the leadership in executing this

agenda. Crisis in the Village is an important book for all of those who are interested in the redemption and restoration of the African American “village,” whether in the church, the academy, or the community.

THE POLITICS OF JESUS: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted Obery M. Hendricks (Three Leaves Press, 2006) Hendricks writes with the same spirit that was at work in Howard Thurman’s seminal work Jesus and the Disinherited. Hendricks very methodically walks through the Old Testament epoch by epoch not only to analyze the epoch, but to speak to its relevance to the ministry of Christ. This alone would have made it worth reading, but Hendricks pushes for a portrait of Jesus that he will 95 THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT WINTER 2008–2009

here are two important pieces of advice I received when I entered into my first pastorate: 1) keep listening to other preachers in order to feed your own spirit, and 2) develop a strong library of books that will challenge and expand your thinking and add depth to your ministry. We who stand in leadership in churches need to both emphasize and demonstrate the critical importance of reading and education. To that end I have created a list of five (5) books written by African American preachers, pastors, and theologians that can aid pastors of any size church, whether rural or urban. Each book carries within it spiritual wisdom, practical advice, and solid

T


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use when he sets forth political strategies that were employed by Jesus. Hendricks uses this information to challenge recent conservative politics in a disciplined manner. The Politics of Jesus is a must-read for any pastor who seeks to engage in community affairs.

SOUL STORIES: African American Christian Education

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Anne E. Streaty Wimberly (Abingdon Press, 2005) Far from being a mere “how-to” guide to Christian education, Soul Stories establishes a paradigm from which educational ministries can be developed or improved. One of the most important pieces appears in Wimberly’s prologue where she lists and illustrates seven dimensions of liberation that not only expand the concept, but also show various ways that Christian education can be a tool for liberation. Each chapter of Soul Stories builds on the previous chapters to unveil both praxis and examples of the connecting of individual, communal, and biblical stories within the African American experience. For the integrative mind, Soul Stories will revo96 lutionize preaching, counsel-

ing, and all other sacred communication. At the bare minimum, it is an essential educational tool, whether you are building a Christian education ministry, trying to revitalize the Sunday school format, or simply reviewing any church ministry.

WE HAVE THIS MINISTRY: The Heart of the Pastor’s Vocation Samuel D. Proctor and Gardner C. Taylor (Judson Press, 1996) Imagine listening to Walter Payton and Barry Sanders talk about being a running back, or Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack talk about singing. Such is the experience of reading Samuel DeWitt Proctor and Gardner Calvin Taylor, two of the most highly regarded preachers and pastors of any era. Writing as mentors and “sounding” like caring uncles, Proctor and Taylor take turns engaging the reader in the various roles that a pastor is called to fill in the church. The plain wisdom and profound insight found in this book makes it a timeless treasure, and helpful not only for

pastors but for anyone who wants or needs a clearer understanding of the intricacies of the pastoral office. We Have This Ministry lifts the pastoral office up to the light and explores its multiple facets.

BLACK THEOLOGY: A Documentary History edited by James H. Cone and Gayraud S. Wilmore (Orbis Books, 1993) There are several collections of African American religious writings, but this two-volume collection of speeches, sermons, and other documents that engage Black Theology is important because of the balance and depth that is presented on this issue. Cone and Wilmore have assembled a chorus of voices, from individuals, clergy associations, and denominational bodies—both scholars and pastors, both proponents of resistance and advocates of accommodation, both men and women, both American and African—from the beginning of the movement in 1966 through 1992. The essays found in these volumes are a great resource for personal education as well as a guide for pastors who wish to raise a public voice about important | issues today.


Spring 2009— Our Senior Statespersons in Ministry. Do not miss our featured “Seniors of Distinction.”

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The African American Pulpit A quarterly journal that serves as a repository for the very best of African American preaching and provides practical and creative resources for persons in ministry. Advisory Board Members Brad R. Braxton Claudette A. Copeland Marcus D. Cosby Cynthia L. Hale

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