Category: Sermons

As prepared for delivery at Second Baptist Church, Petersburg
April, 03, 2016
John 20: 24-31
Romans 12:1-2, 9-21

A week ago we were gathered and heard the good new about our Lord, Jesus of Nazareth.  First, Mary came back and told us all that Jesus wasn’t where He was supposed to be, that someone must have moved Jesus’ body.  Not believing her, Peter and one of the others ran to the tomb and there they confirmed Mary story.  There they

“went into the tomb. He (Peter) saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus'[a] head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.” (John 20:6b-10)

They did not yet understand.

Then Mary, who stood weeping outside of the tomb after the others had left, had the strangest encounter.  When she came back she told us a story that boggled the mind.  She told us about she was standing there, weeping. And then she saw several men.  One asked her why she was weeping, and she told him.  But then another asked again, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Thinking that he might be the gardener, she asked him if he had carried off Jesus’ body.  At that moment the man called her name “MARY!” She suddenly realized, she told us later, at that moment that she was talking to Jesus.  After talking with Him a  little longer, she came running back to us to tell us what it was that she had seen, who it was she had seen, what and who it was that she experienced.

Let’s be honest, we were all still a little skeptical.  After all, who comes back from the dead, well besides Lazerus I guess.  But then, that night, as we were all gathered and hiding behind locked doors, Jesus came to us.  We got to see him.  We got to touch him.  He talked to us, and we got the experience that he really had Risen, just as Mary had told us that he had.

Well, all of us except Thomas.  Poor Thomas wasn’t in that room with us.  We don’t really know where Thomas was, only he didn’t get to experience Jesus.  And when we told him all about it, he just didn’t believe it.  He scoffed at us.  Told us we were idiots.  I don’t know if he thought that we were trying to pull one over on him or what, but he just didn’t understand what we did.  He didn’t get it.

You know, I think that history has been cruel to Thomas.  It has given him the unfortunate nickname “Doubting Thomas” when the text clearly tells us that his nickname was Thomas the Twin.  We have turned Thomas into a figure that we hold up as lacking, as wanting.  We tell this story about how Thomas was less than the others, as if the others hadn’t had the chance to see and interact with the risen Christ.

Remember what the text says about Peter and the others after they leaves the tomb: they did not yet understand.

They didn’t get it either.  After all, they had seen the empty tomb but not yet the Risen Christ.  How were they to get it.  Empty tombs are great, but we can only put it into context when we meet the guy that was supposed to be in tomb and he is up and walking around!

The others got that.  Thomas didn’t.  And then we have the audacity to speak ill of Thomas.  How many of us, if we are really honest, would believe it if someone came running into this sanctuary right now talking about a person we know to be dead and buried was up and walking around.  I doubt many of us would take that person very seriously.

Now what would happen if that person, who we knew to be dead, came walking in themselves and right up this aisle.  We might react a little differently, no?

I don’t blame Thomas.  Thomas is just like all the others.  And the ONE time he skips Sunday night prayer meeting EVERYTHING changes!

Now, how many of us, particularly those of us that came to faith as adults, when we were first told that Jesus had been raised from the dead, that Ressurection had happened, believed it?  Be honest!  I know I didn’t, and I doubt many of you did either.  See, what I needed to believe was an encounter.  I needed to meet the risen Jesus.

I’m not the only one either.  It’s what Saul needed on that dusty road to Damascus.  John Newton, the man who penned “Amazing Grace,” met Jesus for the first time on a storm tossed off the coast off the coast of Ireland.  This encounter began his conversion, which he himself admitted took many years.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, met Jesus in a Moravian prayer meeting at Aldersgate Street in London.  He later referred to the experience as having his heart “strangely warmed.”  For me, I met Jesus in a church auditorium, in a group of people who accepted me totally and without pretense.  And in that same auditorium, it was Jesus who broke my heart wide open, exposing, to me, the sin that lived there.  I’ll bet that most of you have a similar story of some kind.

Salvation is not about intellectual assent to a set of propositions.  We, as Baptists, have always known that.  This is why we talk about a “personal relationship” with God, through Jesus.  We know that it is the encounter with the risen Christ that changes everything.

It changed everything for Thomas, getting to meet Jesus again, for the first time.

It changes us, too.

What does this change look like? The Bible is always talking about making things new, and we are not the exception to that.  We must, Jesus tells us in John chapter 3, be born again.  And like Nicodemus we are left asking “how, what does it look like?”

It looks like transformation.  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”  Transformed.  Changed utterly.  Something new.  Born Again.

Last week, Joe [ed: the Senior Pastor of Second Baptist]  spoke of Jefferson and his “bible” where he literally cut and pasted the aspects of the Gospels that he wanted to ascent to.  Jefferson called this volume The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.  In the Preface to a recent addition, Forrest Church, son of Senator Frank Church, describes his father giving him a copy of the Jefferson Bible when he was about 10 years old.  His father gave him a Jefferson quote to go along with the book, “It is in our lives and not our words that our religion must be read.”

Jefferson is an enigmatic figure.  One biography of him is even entitled The American Sphinx.  We all know the details, how Jefferson spoke out against slavery, even included condemnation of the slave trade in the first draft of the Declaration  In Note On the State of Virginia, Jefferson expressed his belief that slavery was damaging to both enslaved persons and slave owners.  And yet when he died, he owned a large number of enslaved persons, 130 of whom were actioned off to try and settle the estates grand debts.

I want to introduce you to another man of the founding generation, a man you may have never heard of, Robert Carter III, or RC3 as I affectionately call him.  Robert Carter III was the grandson of Robert “King” Carter and probably the wealthiest man in Virginia at the start of the Revolution.  At a time when most men in Virginia were in debt, one of the men they owed money too was Robert Carter.  Even the royal governor owed Carter money.  Carter had been on the Governors council, but as many did, even though he supported independence, we stepped away from politics as the war began.

It was during this time, and after a period of illness that almost cost him his life, Robert Carter began a period of religious seeking.  Eventually this seeking would lead him down into the waters of Totuskey Creek on the Northern Neck to be baptized into Morattico Baptist Church.

As Carter would later tell the story, on Sunday, sitting in service, he heard Christ ask him how the men and women he worshiped with on a weekly basis could, inside the meeting house, be his sisters and brothers in Christ, but outside of the meetinghouse he could own them.  Carter came to realize that he couldn’t justify it, and began a process that would result in the largest private manumission of enslaved persons prior to the Civil War.

What was the difference between these two men?  How could two men, of the same generation and social class, who both saw the evils inherent in slavery, have two very different reactions to it?

“Now in the place where he was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid.  There they laid Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.”  That’s the end for Jefferson.  If you remember from last week, that’s how Jefferson ends his testament.  There is not empty tomb.  There is no encounter with the Risen Christ.

Robert Carter III had that.  He met Jesus.  He was transformed so utterly that he risked everything, social standing, wealth, his family, his property, everything to follow Jesus.

When we meet the risen Christ, we too need to be transformed utterly.  We need to leave the ways of the world behind us.  The world says win, and Jesus says die, as a living sacrifice.

Of course, it is not our works that grant us salvation.  Of course not, only God’s grace can do that.  But when we encounter that grace, when we see the Risen Christ and can see the scars he bore for us, there is only one reasonable response: to allow everything about ourselves be changed and shaped by him.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,[g] serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.[h] Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:9-21)

In a few minutes, we are going to come to the table.  When I was a child a had a pastor that would use the same words every time to invite God’s people to the table:

“All of you that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend” here he’d pause for a moment, “INTEND to live a new life, following the commandments of and walking henceforth in his holy ways, draw near with faith and take this table to your comfort.”

What an amazing reminder of the transformation we are called to.


I don’t often provide footnotes for my sermons, however, this time I do want to acknowledge sources.

Information  from the Jefferson Bible, including the anecdote from Frank Church, are found in The Jefferson Bible.

Information about Robert Carter III is from The First Emancipator: Slavery, Religion, and the Quiet Revolution of Robert Carter.  I can not recommend this book highly enough.  If you have any interest in the founding of this country, American religious history, slavery, etc. this needs to be a must read for you.

Baptist Life Books Ethics History Jesus Justice Preaching Sermons

As prepared for delivery for Preaching course, BTSR, March 28, 2016

Luke 21:25-36

         One of my favorite movies of the last year is decidedly apocalyptic: Mad Max: Fury Road.  Like all the other movies in the Mad Max franchise, Fury Road takes place in a world that’s burned up.  The actual nature and events of the apocalypse are never explicitly stated and only hinted at.  But what is clear is that the biosphere has collapsed, probably because of human actions and human nature, and with it all of human civilization.  Humanity has re-entered a period of barbarity with marauding bands of “war boys,” actually, physically warped and broken by the fall of nature, fighting for whatever petty strongman can command their loyalty, in the process oppressing the vast majority of what is left of humanity.  This world is presented to us as simply the way the world is, there is no changing it, and you simply must do what you can to survive, including descending into barbarity yourself.

I don’t know about you, but this is not really a hopeful image!  And on first glance, the passage from Luke for today is the same.  Describing the world as coming apart at the seams.  The environment rebelling.  Cataclysm.  Death.  Not a pretty picture.

And yet there is Hope.  Just as we eventually see in Mad Max, this Hope is grounded in the immutable truth that the way things are is not the way they have to be.  As we celebrated yesterday, there is life after death.  There is Resurrection.

Christian hope, our hope, is grounded in the eschaton, in God’s final act in history.  It is the belief, the faith, that all is going to be put right in the end.  Not now, not next week, but in the end.  It is a hope predicated on the idea that we are not just moving randomly through the universe, but that we are and should be moving toward SOMETHING, that there is some goal towards which we are striving.  The scripture calls this end, this goal, the Kingdom of God.  Clarence Jordan, the 20th century Georgia Baptist prophet, called it the God Movement.

Earlier I read from the English Standard Version.  But now, I would like to read it again, this time from the Cotton Patch Gospels, the translation that Clarence Jordan did in the 1960s.  Jordan was a biblical Greek scholar with a PhD from Southern Seminary, and he translated a significant portion of the Greek text into South Georgia Vernacular.

         And there will be signs on the sun and the moon and the stars, and throughout the land there will be tension of races in confusion like the roaring of the boiling sea, with people passing out from fear and anticipation of what’s happening to civilization.  For the powers of the higher-ups will be shaken.  And then they’ll see the son of man leading a Movement with great strength and authority.  When these preliminary things happen, hold up your heads and throw back you shoulders, because your freedom is arriving. 

       And he told them a Comparison: “Take a look at the pear tree and all the other trees.  When they are far advanced, you can look and see for yourself that warm weather is here.  Likewise, when you see things like these happening, you can know that the God Movement is here.  I truly tell you that the present generation will not be gone before all these things happen.  Land and sky will pass away, but what I’m telling you won’t.  Check up on yourselves to see that you sensitivity isn’t dulled by fast living and drunkenness and worry over making a living. Otherwise, the time might catch you suddenly like a trap, for they’ll confront everybody in the world.  So stay on your toes all the time, praying that you’ll have the strength to break loose from that situation and to stand up and be counted for the Son of Man.

Let me quickly locate us in the Lucan narrative.  Jesus has just come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover, entering on the back of a donkey that his disciples have “barrowed.”  Almost immediately after entering the city, Jesus makes his way to the Temple, and overwhelmed by the corruption and worldliness that has settled into this holy place, he drives the commercialism from the temple, causing quite a scene, flipping tables and scourging the moneychangers with a whip.  Then, he has the audacity to install himself in the temple as a teacher. Jesus overhears “some” (the scripture isn’t clear if these are his followers or others) talking about how “nice” the temple is, with its “beautiful stones” and “gifts dedicated to God.”  Jesus responds with a monologue about the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem.  For Luke and others of the first century CE, these were powerful symbols, representing the Jewish people.  Then Jesus gets to the passage we are looking at tonight.  Here the message shifts from simply being a message about and to the Jews, to being for the whole world, about not just the “pear trees” but “all the trees”.

The coming of the Son of Man is to be a global event, not simply one isolated within certain geographic parameters and the God Movement is open and welcoming of all people, not just some.

That the Kingdom of God is open to all who desire to participate, to not have it be some sort of exclusive little country club that requires you to be a certain race, or have a certain income, or to be privy to some specific and secret knowledge is something that we SHOULD rejoice in, something that we, as hopeful members of the God Movement, should find great comfort in.

But the true totality of the hope that we find in this passage can not be found in the particularities of the Kingdom.  These are certainly VERY important and we should not, in anyway, ignore them.  These particularities let us know what we should strive for.  They inform us as to how we should treat “the least of these.”  Nor is the totality of our hope intertwined with how to get there.  The answer to that is simple.  All through the Gospels when folks ask Jesus how the enter the Kingdom, he always gives some variation of the same answer “Love God.  Love Other.”  It is fairly straight forward.

So if our hope is not to be found only in the specifics of what the Kingdom is, nor if it is to be found in the how of entering the Kingdom, what is the base of our hope?  What possibly could be more important than the whats and the hows and the whos of the Kingdom?  Simply this: the Kingdom of God is at Hand!  Our hope rests and is grounded in the fact that the Kingdom is, and that no matter how crazy and screwy and hectic and weird the world gets, there is a promise of another way, that this crazy world with its boiling seas and fear and doubt and crosses and tombs is not the only way that things have to be!

Rejoice, the Kingdom of God is at hand!

Truly this is the “evangel,” the good news.  There is another way, a better way.  The ways of this world are not the only way that things have to be, the Kingdom is at hand.  The coming of God’s Kingdom is not simply to be understood as a single frozen moment, but as a continual, already and not yet,  unfolding, to be celebrated, day after day, month after month, year after year, always looking, always moving, always focusing, always striving forward toward and into God’s promise.

Rejoice, the Kingdom of God is at hand!

When things seem like they are spinning out of control, it is easy to be drawn inward, to retreat into our own little cliquish bubbles.  These are things that can encourage us to focus on the past, on the way that things have been, or our false memory of how they were.  But God’s promise, our Hope, is not rooted in what was, but in what can be!

Rejoice, the Kingdom of God is at hand!

I would like each and every one of us to stop for a second and really ask if we believe that there in another way?  Do we really and truly believe that the Kingdom of God is possible?  Or do we think the ways of the world, the ways that are “realistic,” the ways that are “safe,” the ways that “just are that way” are the only options?  I think that we would ALL have to admit, myself especially, that we don’t really believe that there is another way most of the time.  At least that we don’t live like there is another.  We go along to get along.  We buy into the lie that we should be scared of this or that or the other thing. We buy into systems of violence and oppression, themselves manifestations of the taint of sin and brokenness in the world. We buy the lie that this is just the way the World works.  Well maybe it is the way the world works, but it isn’t the way God’s Kingdom works!

Rejoice, the Kingdom of God is at hand!

Over the last year, we have been witness to extreme acts of violence and sin.  Just in the last week the whole world has been rocked by explosions and death.  However, we have also been witness to amazing, beautiful expressions of God’s Kingdom as well.  When ISIS beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians on a beach in Libya a little over a year ago, what we heard and saw from the Egyptian Christian community was not fear and violence or threats of it, but earnest, heartfelt prayers for their enemies and invitations to the terrorists to come and sit in their homes and break bread.  When Dylan Roof shot and killed 9 people at Mother Emanuel AME we saw not only from the families, but from the congregation and from the City of Charleston an amazing expression of the potential of God’s transforming grace.

Rejoice, the Kingdom of God is at hand!

But let us be clear.  These examples shine out to us because they are so rare, so exceptional.  We have been conditioned by the world to demand retribution, more violence, more pain, more brokenness.  But what if we didn’t?  What if we lived liked we truly believed that another way was possible?  What if we got out there and truly lived like we were the God Movement, like we were the Kingdom of God?  What if, while we were living this, we invited people to join us, to live this way together, in community?  What if we lived and shared the “evangel” like we actually believed it?  If this community, if every person in this room and in this seminary went out and did this, if we challenged our congregations to do this, if we challenged the dominant paradigm by simply refusing to acknowledge it and by living according to the way that God has called us to, we would radically change Richmond and Henrico and Petersburg and Chester, and Central Virginia within a year.  This is the promise of the Kingdom!  This is our Hope!

Rejoice, the Kingdom of God is at hand!

I am not saying that it would be easy, and in fact scripture tells us that it won’t.  Living into this radical hope has been known to the dangerous to your health.  The Christ we claim to follow preached that there was another way, and he was executed.  In this century, people such as Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero have preached this new way, and were killed for it.  The powers and principalities don’t want us to believe that there is another way.  They want to confine the God Movement to what is “safe” and “realistic” and to “the way that things are.”  But what if, instead of simply capitulating to the “way things are” instead of simply allowing business as usual to proceed in the temple, instead allowing our “sensitivity [to be] dulled by fast living and drunkenness and worry over making a living” what if instead of all of that, we lived in the expectant hope of the promise of God, in the promissory note of the resurrection?  What if the Kingdom of God is at hand?

Rejoice, the Kingdom of God is at hand!

May we live as if it is.

 

 

Preaching Sermons

This is my sermon for the Good Friday service yesterday at Second Baptist, Petersburg, as prepared for delivery.

Text: John 19:13-42

All too often our world can seem a cruel and cold place.  It seems that death, destruction, and suffering have the upper hand, that these forces of brokenness and sin will win out and cover the Earth in darkness.

This week has given testimony to the power of death. Certainly since the last time we knelt at the foot of the cross we have had our fill of death, pain, violence, and hate.  We are in very real danger of being overwhelmed.  And in the midst of all that pain, we find ourselves kneeling, yet again, at the foot of the cross.

And as is so often the case, God is about to do something amazing, something profound, something unexpected.

It is easy for us, in the 21st century, to loose sight of what, exactly, crucifixion was and what it meant, before Jesus.  Crucifixion wasn’t about executing criminals and enemies of the state.  It was about totally humiliating them.  It was about subjecting those that challenged Rome and Caesar to a fate that was so humiliating that it was illegal to subject Roman Citizens to it.  It was cruelty for cruelty’s sake.  The thought that the true messiah could end up on a cross was so ridiculous, so outlandish, that it was laughable.  It was, as Paul put it just a few brief years later, foolishness.

We look back, through the lens of Christ and His work on Calvary, and we can see that Isaiah’s suffering servant is messiah.   But this wasn’t clear for those in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.  The conventional wisdom of Jesus’s day, the conventional wisdom of our day, tells them, tells us that messiahs come to set people free from the occupation, come to rule, come to win.  They don’t come to suffer and die humiliating deaths at the hands of the occupier.  You don’t win by being hung on a cross to die.

These are the thoughts that are running through the minds of Jesus’s followers during those long hours of Friday.  Their whole world is upside down.  Betrayal by one of their own.  Denial by the very man that seemed so rock solid in his commitment to Jesus.  And now, the one that was welcomed into the city just days earlier as a conquering hero is humiliated and dead.  Death, Violence, and Sin seem to have won.

It would be appropriate for us the call this day Black Friday, or Death Friday, or Mourning Friday as it is in German speaking counties.  Yet, we call it Good Friday.  We are able to do this because we have perspective.  Unlike those disciples 2000 years ago, we know what is coming.  We know that, to borrow a phrase, it’s Friday, but that Sunday is coming!

The death and the resurrection of Christ are two parts of a whole, a pair.  You can not have the one with out the other.  We can not get to Sunday without first traveling through Friday and it’s cross.  Yes, God is about to do something amazing, something profound, and something unexpected.  And that is good.

But what is happening on Friday is also good, not simply as a precursor to Sunday although it is that.  And not as a blood offering, as an atoning sacrifice, covering us and washing us clean of our sin, although it is that too.  But, there is something else happening, something else for us to see on that hill outside of Jerusalem.

In a few minutes we are going to extinguish this light, this last candle, as a symbol of Jesus’s death.  Jesus’s death.  For Jesus to die, he had to live.

“And the Word became flesh,” John tell us, “and dwelt among us.”  Now at the end, here at the cross, what of this fleshy Word?  In John, Jesus doesn’t cry out after God, accusing God of forsaking him, as he does in Matthew and Mark.  Nor does he extend an amazing other worldly forgiveness to both his killers and one being killed with him as he does in Luke.  No, John’s Jesus, our Jesus, is fleshy.  In the moments of his death this Jesus is concerned about his mama, making sure that there is someone to take care of her.  And he thirsts.  How wonderfully, pathetically human.  He thirsts.  The one who offered living water to the woman at the well thirsts.

John is reminding us that the living water; the true vine; the way, the truth, and the life; the light of the word; the good shepherd; the son of Man; the eternal Word of God has been made flesh.  Jesus, Christ, messiah, the anointed one of God, God incarnate has come, put on flesh and through the cross suffers with and for us.  The cross tells us that our God is not the cause of our pain and suffering and death.  NO!  The cross shows us that our God gets down into our pain with us.  At the Cross He allows him self to be subjected to pain and suffering.  He suffers with us, for us, even unto death to take something ugly and make it beautiful.  Surely this makes this day Good.

“The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

“I thirst.”

“It.  Is.  Finished.”

Preaching Sermons