David and Julie Brown were guests in thePullen pulpit this Sunday. The Browns serve as missionaries in Marseille, France, through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The focus of the Brown’s ministry is working with immigrants and immigrant churches, providing assistance to refugees and undocumented migrants through Doctor’s of the World, and encouraging interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
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Text: Amos 7:7-17
When someone mentions the phrase “Old Testament prophet,” most of us who have been raised in the traditions of the Christian church reflexively think of one or more of the great Hebrew prophets of the classical period: Isaiah, who spoke of God’s gift of a special child; or Jeremiah, who lamented the impending doom of his nation; or Ezekiel, whose bizarre visions were sometimes matched by his equally bizarre behavior. It is not inaccurate to think in terms of such personalities when thinking of the prophets. Indeed, it is almost inevitable, because these are among the towering Old Testament individuals whose personal experiences of God have helped to shape and to inform the religious experiences of Jews and Christians for thousands of years. However, if we think of the Old Testament prophets only as those for whom biblical books have been named, we overlook the contributions of countless other persons without whom the work of these great “canonical” or classical prophets might not have been possible. Take for instance the seven women prophets of the Hebrew scriptures: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Hulda and Esther. Who could deny their contributions in shaping and informing the religious experience of Jews and Christians? And yet, the only one for whom a biblical book is named is Esther.
Many people today think of a prophet as any person who sees the future. While the gift of prophecy certainly includes the ability to see the future, a prophet is far more than just a person with that ability. A prophet is basically a spokesperson for God, a person chosen by God to speak to people on God’s behalf and convey a message or teaching. Prophets, in the Bible, were role models of holinesss, scholarship and closeness to God. They set the spiritual, moral and ethical standards for the entire community. What defined a prophet in biblical times was not so much his or her ability to see into the future, but rather to see what was happening in the present and then offer a word of spiritual guidance, caution or direction.
Amos was one such prophet. [Read more…]
Texts: Ezekiel 2:1-5 & Mark 6:1-13
It is a rare person who hasn’t at some point in their life experienced failure. Take for instance Walt Whitman. In 1855, Whitman gathered together twelve poems he had been working on and used what he had learned as a printer to self-publish a volume titled Leaves of Grass. The punctuation in the poems was erratic, with few commas or periods but an abundance of ellipses, and the content was unconventional, with some lines being straight-forward, while others were a challenge for a reader to understand. Reviewers who critiqued the poems condemned both them and their author. The critic for the Boston Intelligencer, called the book a “mass of bombast, egotism, vulgarity, and nonsense,” speculating that the author must be “some escaped lunatic, raving in pitiable delirium.” It is hard to believe now that Walt Whitman’s first volume of poetry was a disappointing failure.
Text: Mark 5:21-43
In the past two weeks, our community has experienced a lot of loss — the sudden death of a young woman in her late 40s and the deaths of three of our elders who gave much to this community over the last six decades. After the third email notifying the community of yet another death, one of you wrote to me, “It feels as though the church is in the process of burying a church.” I must admit that the loss and grief of these past days has been disorienting to me as well. It is hard to grieve so much so fast, and I have – at times – struggled to stay present. I find myself becoming emotional at the oddest times. The current losses bring up old losses, and I find myself struggling to sort through all that I am feeling in the moment.
One of my mentors once told me that grief is like standing in the ocean with your back to it. Sometimes, he said, the water will brush against your legs and you simply feel its presence around you. Other times a wave will come and hit you just behind your knees, knocking you a bit off balance, but it doesn’t knock you down. Then there are those waves that do knock you to your knees, but you regain your footing rather quickly. And there are other times, he continued, when a wave will come and take you all the way down and all the way under and you’re not sure if you will come back up. But you do. Sometimes gasping for air, but you come back up. Grief, he said, is like that. It’s hard to know when it’s going to lightly brush up against you, when it’s going to knock you to your knees, or when it’s going to overwhelm you. But if you stay with it, he assured me, you will resurface.
Text: 1 Samuel 17:32-49
I don’t know about you but I am tired of political commercials. It’s only June, so the November election is still five months away. Yet I’m already tired of hearing the television ads and reading the propaganda from both sides. It makes me want to follow Thoreau to a place deep in the woods where no cell phone, television or internet service can reach me and stay there until November 7. All the boasting about the great things “I” did in the past is so frustrating since so little can be done by a single politician, even the president. Someone has said that political T.V. commercials prove just one thing: that some candidates’ good points and qualifications can only fill up 20 seconds. Given the complex challenges we face, sound bites get old really fast.
Perhaps the most unfortunate part of all the claims by politicians about what they have done or about what their opponent has or has not done is that they are a recipe for a cynical electorate. The other day I heard someone advocating that members of Congress only serve two terms: one in office and one in jail. Views like this are a sad commentary on our political process, and yet they are quite common these days. But this is not a new problem. It may be worse now, but it’s not new. Will Rogers, the vaudeville actor, once said, “I don’t make up jokes. I just watch the government operate and report what they do.” What are we to do with all of the distortions and in some cases, outright lies that bombard us in this election season? Perhaps it’s just me, but it sometimes feels like we’re under assault with words. It’s like a slow death by vowels and consonants—and lots of exclamation points! I feel like making my own commercial that says: “Stop spending all this money on getting elected. I’m every American and I approved this message.”