Sunday, September 30, 2012

An Old Question

There’s an old question that is worth asking again.  The question has to be old because I remember asking and answering it when in grade school.  When it was asked by a church leader, I knew the correct answer, and I always answered correctly. My answer may not have been truthful, but it was correct.

If you were to be stranded on a deserted island and could have only one book with you, what book would that be?  Well, given how dependent I am on survival by convenience—food from the grocery store, clothes from the department stores, medical care from the doctors, and the shelter of a house built by other hands, I would want that one book to be All You Need to Know to Survive on this Deserted Island with Nothing But this Book.

The “right” answer, of course, is the Bible.  Its sixty-six books have about all that can be found in modern literature. There is romance, comedy, tragedy, and enough devotional material for a lifetime.  One can even find some how-to chapters scattered here and there.  Come to think of it, those instructions on ark building might be good to have.

It you could only take one of the sixty-six books of the Bible, which one would you take?  For me, it would be the Psalms.  The Psalmists understood the whole of the human/divine drama.  On the words of the Psalms one can cry from the depths of hell—and be heard—and shout from the heights of glory—and not be thought crazy.  Through the Psalms one can express thanksgiving, lament, joy, anger, and hope.  With them, one may challenge God and celebrate God.  Yes, I would want the Psalms as my lone book.  They might not teach me how to survive the deserted island; but they would remind me that only the island is deserted.  With God, I am not deserted . . . ever.

If I could have the joy of taking a series of books, I would add Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Series.  Could I add some other books, I would add anything from Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, and James Michener. 

Ah, but it is only one book . . . only one.  If so, let it be Psalms.  With the Psalms I might be alone but I would be a congregant among all God’s people; and with the Psalmists’ songs, I could sing.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Women Preachers and a Deacon

Rev. Katie Anderson is preaching at Eminence Baptist today, September 16, 2012.

While with a group of folks this week, none of whom are connected to our church, I shared that I was not preaching this Sunday and that Rev. Katie Anderson would be our guest.

“I didn’t know Baptist churches allowed that,” one woman said.

“Many don’t,” I replied, “but our church and a growing number of Baptist churches do.”

The truth is that this Baptist preacher has not always been in support of women as pastor/preachers.  When I arrived at Southern Seminary in 1973, I knew that the pastorate was reserved for men.  After all, how can a woman be the husband of one wife?”  The Bible said it and I believed it. 

The first challenge to my belief was meeting Molly Marshall, a student at Southern.  She was enrolled in the Master of Divinity Degree program, not the Master of Religious Education or the Master of Church Music program.  Over time I would learn that Molly’s call to ministry and her commitment to our Lord was not that far removed from my own experience.  (By the way, Molly is now Dr. Molly T. Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas.)  Then something else happened. 

I became pastor of Utica Baptist Church just across the river from Louisville in Indiana.  The church organist’s mother was a preacher and lived with her daughter the organist. I was made aware of this, but I chose to ignore it.  Then the mother became ill, and the pastor had to make a pastoral visit.  How could I ignore the ill mother of the church organist?  I made the visit.

Once in the presence of the mother/preacher, I heard myself say something I would never have said had I been in control of my faculties.  “Tell me about your call to ministry.”  WHAT DID I JUST SAY?  Having said it, I had to listen.

This dear lady, who surely knew she was talking to a young man who didn’t approve of her vocation, gently shared her testimony of faith and her call to ministry.  When she finished, all I could think to say was, “Your testimony and call is very similar to my own.”  A young pastor learned an important lesson that day: God calls whom God calls.

What about I Timothy 3:1-7?  Well, I interpret it, which is what the rest of the Bible believers do with the Bible.  Some say they don’t interpret; but they do; otherwise they would be living very different lives, including not ever having another barbequed pork rib.  Particularly, I interpret I Timothy and the rest of the Bible in light of who Jesus is revealed to be.  As I read the gospels, I discover that Jesus didn’t have a  problem with women.  Have you noticed who first proclaimed the tomb empty to the rest of the disciples?  It was Mary Magdalene.

Following Jesus’ lead, we who are Eminence Baptist Church have chosen to affirm God’s call of women, men, girls, and boys.  What does that mean?  If God calls and if the called bear witness to the calling in life and deed, we affirm. 

I’m so pleased to be pastor of a church that affirms all God’s children.  By the way, this church just elected a new deacon chairperson.  She is Donna Duncan.  Yes, that Donna Duncan, my wife.

Sisters and Brothers

In Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables, Bishop Myriel came to be known as Bishop Welcome because of his openness to those he served.  One night he welcomed a visitor named Jean Valjean, a man just released from 19 years in prison.  Jean Valjean walked into town and sought food and lodging at two different inns only to be turned away because of what he was—a newly released prisoner identified by the “yellow passport” he was required to show “at the town-hall.”  He tried local residences with similar lack of luck. 

At last Jean Valjean came to the residence of the bishop, a residence that did not look all that auspicious because the bishop had chosen to live a most modest life.  This is also why Jean Valjean did not know that his about-to-be host was a bishop.  He was invited to share the bishop’s table and had been offered a bed for the night.  Since Jean Valjean had not hidden his identity to the bishop, he was amazed at the hospitality shown him and expressed such.  The bishop replied:

“You could not help telling me who you were.  This is not my house; it is the house of Jesus Christ.  This door does not demand on him who enters whether he has a name, but whether he has a grief.  You suffer, you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome.  And do not thank me; do not say that I receive you in my house.  No one is at home here, except the man who needs a refuge.  I say to you, who are passing by, that you are much more at home here than I am myself.  Everything here is yours.  What need have I to know your name? Besides before you told me you had one which I knew.”

The man opened his eyes in astonishment.

“Really? You knew what I was called?”

“Yes,” replied the Bishop, “you are called my brother.” –pp. 66-67 Kindle Version

Hospitality in the name of Jesus is at the core of what it means to be his follower.