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September 16th, 2014

Rev. Dr. Edward Davis, Southern Conference (UCC) minister, has asked me to write an essay on why I stay in the United Church of Christ.  The request comes from some comments I made at a gathering of UCC folks in Salisbury August 23, 2014.  We had come together to have a conversation with the UCC’s General Minister and President, Rev. Geoffrey Black.  At that meeting I was asked to make a statement about why I object to the lawsuit filed against the State of North Carolina by the UCC’s General Synod over Amendment One. Much of what I write below was included in my statement. Read more »

September 14th, 2014

Stop thinking of church as a place to avoid uncomfortable people.

Matthew 5:13-16

September 14, 2014

Closer or farther?

In each of the following scenarios, do you move closer or farther?

  1. The entrance to a dark cave.
  2. A restaurant’s low sodium menu.
  3. A homeless man.
  4. A couple angry at each other and ready to separate.
  5. A teen who has just announced his gay identity.
  6. A young American has admitted his sympathies to ISIS.
  7. The office gossip.
  8. The neighbor who is pulling down property values.
  9. A member of a fundamentalist church.
  10. The tarot card reader.
  11. A tattooed young woman with a cigarette in her hand.
  12. The fun-loving family with no time for God in their lives.
  13. Middle school minority boys from the projects.
  14. The guy who never knows when he’s had enough to drink.
  15. Mormon missionaries.
  16. A Ferrari owner who ditched his wife for a young chick.
  17. The successful man who’s been accused of domestic violence.

Most of us, most of the time, want more distance from most of these people and situations. Read more »

September 9th, 2014

The first thing we need to be clear on today is that if Madge Young could speak to us today at this service, she would probably say disgustedly, “Snake, Spit, and Diddily Wat!”  That’s what Barbara Laney said Madge would say if she became frustrated during a game of dominoes.  She said she wanted to be buried beside Marion Cambre in our memorial garden so they could continue their squabbles over dominoes.

About this service, Madge would say, “I told Kenn and Bob I did not want a funeral.”  Well, Madge, this is not a funeral.  This is a graveside service.  Be more specific next time.  We are your friends and family, and we wanted a chance to say goodbye.  This is not about you, in one very real sense.  It’s about us.  We loved you, Madge, and needed some time to give thanks for your life.  But we’ll keep it small, short, and simple, because we’re all still just a little afraid of making you too mad. Read more »

September 8th, 2014

Jesus modeled a walk across the room to those least worthy.

Philippians 2:1-11

September 7, 2014

(Note: Due to extraordinary circumstances, I was unable to write out a full manuscript for the sermon this week, so I am providing this outline instead. I apologize that the formatting did not transfer very well – hopefully you are able to follow the flow.)

Refocus

  • What was your “one word” for 2014?  Mine was “refocus.”
  • The Board of Evangelism took the initiative for us to “refocus” on “Coming Home to Christ” this month.  The empty chair in the sanctuary and in your Sunday School room means there’s always room for one more.
  • Evangelism is uncomfortable to me, but maybe for different reasons than for you.

o   You might worry about know the right thing to say or having the right answers.

o   I’m just a busy, introverted pastor. I let people “walk across the room” to me.  I’m not as good at walking across the room to them. Read more »

September 4th, 2014

A number of people have told me this week they don’t envy my job.  I think I understand what they’re saying, but it’s actually on weeks like this that I love what God has called me to do.

It’s not that I love what happened on Sixth Street Sunday night.  I hate it with every fiber in me, and like everyone else I keep wishing I would wake up and realize it was a horrible nightmare or could rewind the clock to Sunday night at 7:30 and change the outcome.  But it was tragically real, and we can’t undo it.

As a pastor I consider it a privilege to be allowed into the inner circle of people’s pain and to bring some measure of hope and calm and strength through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Preaching a funeral also allows me a unique opportunity to offer some perspective.  Read more »