Dr. H. Stephen Shoemaker, Myers Park Baptist ChurchThis man is scary. To others, probably also to himself. He lived among the tombs. There was no place else to live. He wore no clothes, the text says, and had no home. Does that mean no family too? The diagnosis of the time: He was possessed by demons. We guess today a psychological disorder, but let’s not be armchair psychiatrists, two thousand years away.
Rev. Nancy Petty, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church (Raleigh)It’s an image I can’t get out of my mind: a rescuer washing goo off a pelican. The bird was found alive but coated in the oil slick making its way ashore along the Louisiana coastline. The rescuer, volunteering hours of her time, was gently and compassionately bathing the bird in hopes of giving it another chance in the wild. It is a sad but hopeful image from the Gulf of Mexico. And of all the images I have seen from this, the worst oil spill disaster our country has ever experienced, it is this one that causes me to reach for the remote as fast as I can to change the channel.
Rev. Jonah Kendall, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church (Durham)Where are we with this? Have we ever used our faith to challenge and disrupt? For on this Ascension Sunday when we’ve been called by Christ to proclaim a message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins, that is God’s love for all, when we have heard in Acts about Paul and Silas, about how the proclamation of this love can lead to imprisonment, we’re invited to ask ourselves how our lives show forth Christ’s Gospel, a Gospel that precisely because it proclaims a love and well-being for all is radical and disruptive.
Rabbi Leah R. Berkowitz, Judea Reform Congregation (Durham)This past week, we read the first section of the book of Exodus, the story of our formation as a people. At the end of Genesis, we learned that we came to the land of Egypt on the brink of starvation. Egypt was a land of opportunity, with its storehouses of grain and its fertile soil for grazing.
The early Israelites settled in the region of Goshen, and flourished there. Joseph, who had emigrated earlier, worked his way up to a position of power and influence. He lived amongst the Egyptians and even saved them from impending famine with his wisdom, foresight and organizational skills.
Rev. Dr. Jill Crainshaw, Wake Forest Divinity School (Winston-Salem)We were an eclectic bunch—divinity school professor, mother of children with special needs, teacher of teenagers, woman who battles Lupus, man who is legally blind, and teacher who has a rare type of epilepsy. All of the students but one are enrolled in, or have graduated from, our Masters of Divinity degree program. Each week of Summer Session II, we discussed a book about ministry, theology, and disabilities.
Rev. Peter JB Carman, Binkley Baptist Church (Chapel Hill)When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Galatia about baptism, it seems he had a whole lot more than water on his mind. He was writing to a church divided right from the very beginning. While he was welcoming in the non Jewish pagans, others weren’t so sure. While he was trying to help negotiate the beginnings of a multi-cultural Christian faith, others were, even from the very beginning, more comfortable with those who were their own people. Jews had every reason to be suspicious of Romans—after all they had suffered under the hand of their occupation governments for many years.
Rev. Deborah PattersonBabylonian captivity. I believe we are there again, both literally and figuratively. We are literally in Babylon as American troops serve in an unending war in Iraq, the new name for that land. And, working with parish nurses, daily I hear stories which attest that we are figuratively being held captive by a health system that excludes millions, bankrupts millions, and keeps millions in jobs they despise but need for health insurance. Doctors are held captive by reimbursement plans that penalize them for spending more than 7 or 8 minutes with patients. Nurses are held captive by staffing patterns that keep them working longer shifts, with more and sicker and patients to care for. Churches are being held captive by health insurance costs that prevent them from being able to call full-time pastors.
Ellen Davis, Duke Divinity School (Durham)Reading the Bible is my line of work, yet for years I read past the first chapter’s detailed attention to the food supply, as have my fellow biblical scholars. I now realize that my profession’s obliviousness about food in the Bible points to a deep and worrisome difference between a modern cultural mindset and the culture that all the biblical writers represent. The difference comes down to this: for them, eating and agriculture have to do with God, and for us they do not.
Rev. Mel Williams, Watts Street Baptist Church (Durham)William Blake was a poet who understood the meaning of mercy—the unearned, undeserved gift of God’s grace. Mercy is the character of God; mercy is God’s very self-understanding. When we beg for mercy, or forgiveness, we are reaching for God, for God is mercy. This is the character of God, stated throughout the Old Testament: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
Rev. Dr. Sam Wells, Duke University Chapel (Durham)These are the kinds of images that come into our minds when we hear the word peace. Such a diverse range of uses makes the word peace seem either vague and idealistic or cynical and manipulative. The New Testament is neither vague nor idealistic nor cynical nor manipulative. It has two words for peace. One of those words is Jesus. Ephesians chapter 2 gives us perhaps the most concise description of the way Jesus is peace. Here are the five ways that Jesus is peace. All of them center on the word “one.”
Ginny Tobiassen, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center (Winston-Salem)“Now, there was a woman.” Right away, these few words tell us that today’s gospel story is going to be about someone among society’s second class—or lower. Women in first-century Jewish society were of subordinate status. So it is clear from the start that we are looking here at a story about someone already somewhat marginalized simply by being born female. We might say: “Now, there was a woman: Strike one.”
Rev. Cliff Frasier, First Congregational Church, UCC (Washington, D.C.)In the policy-making reform-world, we may talk about health care as a “right.” In the economic world we may talk about health care as a cost or even as a profit. [“p-r-o-f-i-t]. In the health-care-delivery world, the social-work-world, we may talk about health care as a need. But in our faith world, let us also talk about health care as a responsibility. As a moral responsibility. To care for God’s creation — for ourselves, for each other. Let us talk about not-providing-health-care as a failure in the realm of moral-responsibility. In other words, to the degree we allow within moral reasoning the category of . . . . “sin” . . . let us allow the failure to provide healthcare to be understood in just that way.
Rev. Nancy Petty, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church (Raleigh)While in Oxford I attended a worship service in which the bishop began his sermon with the words, “Most of you know that I usually don’t stick to the scripture when I preach. However, today will be different.” Immediately, he had my attention. I thought, “Is that an option, to not stick to the scripture?” At least in my mind-and I am aware that you might have a different opinion-I always try to stick to the scripture. I do so, mainly, because I love exploring the stories of our faith, but also because I think that is what I am supposed to do. But now this bishop had given me something new to think about.
Rev. Dr. Christopher C. F. Chapman, Knollwood Baptist Church (Winston-Salem)For we can believe all kinds of things about God and have all the right positions on ethical issues, whatever those are, but if we don’t have love, who wants to be part of the church? We can have great ministries for all ages, the best staff, the most up-to-date programs with all the whistles and bells, but if the people of the church don’t genuinely love each other, who cares? We can have the best maintained buildings and grounds, the latest equipment and technologies, the perfect organizational structure and communications systems, but if we don’t want to be with each other, the buildings will eventually be empty. We can even claim to have a passion for missions, want to share God’s love with people around the globe, but if we do not love for the person sitting next to us, our passion will be all fire and no warmth.
Dr. H. Stephen Shoemaker, Myers Park Baptist ChurchFor the love of Christ controls us, lays claim to us, compels us, grasps us at our deepest being. This is the heart of Christianity for Paul: the love of Christ permeating and shaping our lives, sweeping through us as breath carrying oxygen to every cell in the body. Paul’s words in this passage are more than prose; they are incantation.