Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 98

cover spring 2009:***TAAP winter cover 3/10/09 11:54 PM Page 1

T H E S E N I O R S TAT E S P E R S O N S I S S U E
NEWS . . . NEWS . . . NEWS . . . NEWS . . .

THE AFRICAN AMERICAN PULPIT


SPRING
2009
OUR WEBSITE HAS CHANGED!
Go to www.TheAfricanAmericanPulpit.com
to see the latest updates and special offers such as
the Special TAAP collections available at reduced rates:
Revivalists Collection, CD Collection,
Prophetic Preaching Collection, Pastor’s Collection,
Memorable Issues Collection,
and an Introductory TAAP Sampler Collection. FEATURED

VOLUME 12, NUMBER 2 / SPRING 2009


Build your collections or give gifts and save! ■ John Hurst Adams
■ Audrey F. Bronson
And don’t forget to visit www.TheAfricanAmericanLectionary.com
and see the worship and sermonic help that preachers, scholars, ■ Harold A. Carter Sr.
and clergy all over the country are raving about. ■ J. Delano Ellis
■ Violet L. Fisher
■ William A. Lawson
■ James Earl Massey
■ Otis Moss Jr.
■ J. Deotis Roberts
■ Fred L. Shuttlesworth
■ C. B. T. Smith
The African American Pulpit A quarterly journal that serves as a
HOPE FOR LIFE INTERNATIONAL

repository for the very best of African American preaching and ■ Anne E. Streaty Wimberly
provides practical and creative resources for persons in ministry. …and more
ISBN: 978-0-9820169-2-3
Advisory Board Members Otis Moss III Matthew L. Watley
Brad R. Braxton Joan S. Parrott F. Bruce Williams
Leslie D. Callahan Robert Smith Jr. and Richard W. Wills Sr.
Marcus D. Cosby Gina M. Stewart
John E. Guns Gardner C. Taylor (Emeritus)
cover spring 2009:***TAAP winter cover 3/10/09 11:54 PM Page 2
CONTENTS

THE SENIOR STATESPERSONS ISSUE

Editorially Speaking
From the Publisher’s Pen
Martha Simmons 4

Honoring the Elders


Eugene Gibson Jr. and Maria Mallory White 6

Articles from the Elders


The Theology of The Triple Tithe
John Hurst Adams 8

Are You Happy?


Anne E. Streaty Wimberly 12

Sermons from the Elders


Can Any Good Thing Come Out of Nazareth?
Audrey F. Bronson 18
CONTENTS

The Power Is in His Name Trust and Commitment


Harold A. Carter Sr. 22 (Part 1 and 2)
Otis Moss Jr. 64
The Road to Jerusalem
William P. DeVeaux 28 Tambourines
J. Deotis Roberts 70
Be Not Afraid
J. Delano Ellis 34 A Blueprint for Living or
a Pattern for Dying
Bread for the Journey Fred L. Shuttlesworth 74
Violet L. Fisher 38
The Proof of His Sonship
Blood and Guts C. B. T. Smith 80
William A. Lawson 44
Preaching to the Cities
From Praise to Praise J. Alfred Smith Sr. 86
Elliott J. Mason Sr. 52
A Day for Us
A Grand Word about Harry S. Wright 92
a Great Savior
James Earl Massey 58
A quarterly journal that serves as a
repository for the very best of African
American preaching and provides practical
and creative resources for persons in ministry.
VOLUME 12, NUMBER 2 / SPRING 2009 (ISSN 1094-0111)

Chief Executive Officer


of Hope for Life
Frank A. Thomas
International, Inc.
President and PublisherMartha Simmons
Coexecutive EditorsEugene L. Gibson Jr. and Maria Mallory White
Advisory Board Members Brad R. Braxton, Leslie D. Callahan, Marcus D. Cosby,
John E. Guns, Otis Moss III, Joan S. Parrott, Robert Smith Jr.,
Gina M. Stewart, Gardner C. Taylor (Emeritus),
Matthew L. Watley, F. Bruce Williams, and Richard W. Wills Sr.
Project Manager Victoria McGoey

Theological and other opinions expressed by the editors and contributors are not necessarily those of
Hope for Life International, Inc. or the publisher. Unsolicited manuscripts that are received and considered
for publication must be original unpublished works. Please see our submissions guidelines at
www.TheAfricanAmericanPulpit.com or call 412-364-1688 for further information. Please e-mail submis-
sions to mcgoeyeditor@comcast.net.
INDIVIDUAL SUBSCRIPTION RATES: Prices include postage. In the U.S.—1 year (4 issues): $45.00; 2 years (8 issues):
$80.00. Library subscription rate: $64.00 per year. To Canada—1 year (4 issues): $60.00; 2 years (8 issues):
$110.00. To All Other Countries—1 year (4 issues): $75.00; 2 years (8 issues): $150.00. Subscribers outside
the United States, please remit in U.S. funds. Seminarians receive a special discounted rate; call for informa-
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

tion. All prices are subject to change. Subscription orders should be sent to The African American Pulpit, P.O.
Box 381587, Germantown, TN 38183 or call 800-509-TAAP.
ADVERTISERS: For information about advertising in the journal or on the website, please call 800-453-0093,
e-mail TAAPads@yahoo.com, or address queries to Advertising Manager, The African American Pulpit, 1825
Riverdale Road, Germantown, TN 38138. The publication of advertising in The African American Pulpit
does not constitute endorsement by Hope for Life International, Inc., The African American Pulpit, its pub-
lisher, its editors, or its advisory board members. Advertisers and their agencies assume liability for all con-
tent of advertisements printed or representations made therein.
BACK ISSUES: Please contact Customer Service at 800-509-8227 or www.TheAfricanAmericanPulpit.com.
ADDRESS CHANGES: Send subscription questions and address changes to: Customer Service, The African Ameri-
can Pulpit, P.O. Box 381587, Germantown, TN 38183, call 800-509-8227, or go to www.The
AfricanAmericanPulpit.com. The Post Office will not forward 3rd Class Media mail.
Copyright © 2009 by Hope for Life International, Inc. Printed in the U.S.A.

Visit our website: www.TheAfricanAmericanPulpit.com Back Issues On Sale! 3


E D I T O R I A L LY S P E A K I N G

From the
PUBLISHER’S PEN

Martha Simmons

he older I get the more


I know that it is true,
God always has someone
T public relations and mes-
sage marketing and brand-
ing. She received her
preachers in the country.
From the Hampton
Ministers’ Conference to
to do the work that needs Bachelor of Science from the Word Network, to the
to be done. A year ago, we Ohio University’s E.W. Trinity Broadcast
lost one of our former Scripps School of Network and revivals
coexecutive editors when Journalism and her Master throughout the country,
she was blessed to obtain a of Divinity from Emory Reverend
great new opportunity in University (Candler School Guns is an
ministry. Since that time, of Theology), and she is admired
we have searched exten- currently ABD at Ashland proclaimer
sively for her replacement. Seminary in the Doctor of of the
And then, God did more Ministry Program. She is a Gospel.
than we asked. It is my dis- member of the African He is the
tinct pleasure to introduce Methodist Episcopal pastor of
to our readers the new Church. Maria, we are St. Paul Missionary
coexecutive editor for The pleased and honored to Baptist Church in
African American Pulpit have you on board. With Jacksonville, Florida. St.
(TAAP), Maria Mallory you as a member of the Paul has gained a reputa-
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

White. She comes to us TAAP team, our future is tion for empowering the
with two decades of experi- bright indeed. Jacksonville community
ence writing for national In addition to having by working to strengthen
and international Maria Mallory White join families and leading eco-
newsweeklies, large metro- the TAAP team, Frank nomic development initia-
politan newspapers, and Thomas and I are pleased tives. He is a graduate of
city and regional magazines to announce the addition Virginia Union, School of
including the Atlanta- of Reverend John E. Guns Theology and a D.Min.
Journal Constitution, U.S. to the advisory board of candidate at Virginia
News and World Report, The African American Union, School of
Business Week, the Pulpit. As many of you Theology. He is the
Baltimore Sun, and others. know, Reverend Guns is author of four books and
She also brings with her a one of the most inspira- a board member of count-
4 decade of experience in tional and sought-after less organizations.
E D I T O R I A L LY S P E A K I N G

Let me also offer special advancing the work of the things this year too. To
thanks to those advisory Kingdom through TAAP. God be the glory.
board members who rotat- Finally, thank you to Sincerely,
ed off the board in each of our readers for
December 2008: Cynthia your continued support of
Hale, Sean H. McMillan, TAAP. With your support
and Alyn E. Waller. Your the Winter 2008–2009
service and support of the issue was one of our
journal is appreciated. biggest-selling issues ever. President and Publisher,
Thank you for your role in We are expecting amazing TAAP
E D I T O R I A L LY S P E A K I N G

HONORING
the Elders

Eugene Gibson Jr.


and Maria Mallory White

et’s be honest: It is easier


to talk about changing
the world than it is to go and
L the history of the Black
Church’s struggle for civil
rights: White clergy wanted
distinct path of Christian
work and witness. Each,
going beyond speaking truth
actually do it. Talking about to talk about social equality, to power, put dedicated
ministry is easy. Doing min- giving mere lip service, even hands toward the hard work
istry is not. Reverend Maria while the nation allowed of dismantling those powers
Mallory White, like other racists to wage an evil—and and principalities, employing
sons and daughters of largely televised—civil war the hammer of Gospel Truth,
Richard and Sarah Allen, against peaceful protesters. and building saints-equipping
knows this to be true from Talking about ministry is ministries along the way.
the historic witness of the easy. Doing ministry is not. Talking about ministry is
African Methodist Episcopal It took Martin Luther King easy. Doing ministry is not.
Church. In the days of the Jr., working with the under- As we celebrate these who
birth of their branch of Zion, standing of “Why We Can’t have gone before us—these
the white worshipers in St. Wait,” to leave talking who can surely say it but
George Methodist Church behind and go out and do: who have also lived it and
wanted to talk about the fel- Agitate for a justice “that worked it—let us be inspired
lowship of all believers, even rolled down like waters” by the witness of their words,
while segregating black wor- and “righteousness like an let us emulate the great works
shipers outside full fellowship ever-flowing stream” as the of their walks, let us continue
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

and into the balconies. Black Church led the path the legacy of their spiritual
Talking about ministry is toward justice for all. endeavors. We have entered a
easy. Doing ministry is not. It Talking about ministry is new era of politics in the
took Richard Allen to leave easy. Doing ministry is not. United States, but it still
that hypocritical talk behind Such was the case with each remains, that doing ministry
and go out and do: Seek out of the personal journeys rep- is hard work. Our prayers go
and serve the least, the last, and resented in this Senior with each of you as you go
the lost—especially the sun- Statespersons issue. Each of forth to do ministry that will
kissed children of the Most these exceptional preachers, make a difference.
High God—and thus give professors, prophets, pastors,
birth to the A.M.E. Church. and pacesetters went beyond
Talking about ministry is merely talking to doing.
easy. Doing ministry is not. Each, after finding his or her
6 We know this to be true in own unique voice, forged a
ARTICLES FROM THE ELDERS JOHN HURST ADAMS

The Theology T he mission and ministry of the Church


must stay strong. The primary motiva-
tions for mission and ministry are faith and
of commitment implemented with good per-
sonnel and materials. The tithe is the bibli-
THE TRIPLE cal teaching to provide the resources to get
the personnel and materials required to do

TITHE the Church’s mission and ministry in and to


the world.
When the scribes sought to trap Jesus in his
JOHN HURST ADAMS own words, they asked him, “Which is the
greatest commandment?”1 Jesus’ reply offers
further guidance by lifting up the priorities to
honor in the practice of the faith: “You
should love God with all your heart, soul,

JOHN HURST ADAMS was elected and


consecrated the 87th bishop of the
African Methodist Episcopal Church in
1972. Bishop Adams’s first assignment
was to the Tenth Episcopal District
(Texas), where he served as presiding
prelate for eight years. He then served for
eight years in the Second Episcopal
District (Maryland, District of Columbia,
Virginia, and North Carolina), for four years
in the Sixth Episcopal District (Georgia),
for eight years in the Seventh Episcopal
District (South Carolina), and for four
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

years in the Eleventh Episcopal District


(Florida and the Bahamas). He is a past
president of the Council of Bishops and
General Board of the African Methodist
Episcopal Church. Bishop Adams retired
from active service at the 2004 General
Conference after 54 years in ministry, 22
as a pastor and 32 as a bishop, with 16 of
those 32 years as senior bishop.
Prior to his election to the episcopacy,
Bishop Adams served as pastor of three
churches: Bethel A.M.E. Church (Lynn,
Massachusetts), First A.M.E. Church
8
ARTICLES FROM THE ELDERS JOHN HURST ADAMS

mind and strength, and you should love your in its struggle to serve well in a global setting.
neighbor as you love yourself.”2 The Triple Tithe, practiced at the three lev-
This clear teaching of Jesus amplified and els of Church life, does what the faith expects
advocated in the teachings of my father along us to do:
with the practice of The Triple Tithe has 1. It shows our love for God, our gratitude
grown into the idea presented in this article. to God, and the firstness of God in our lives.
The Triple Tithe means first allocating 10 2. It is a tangible and visible way to wor-
percent of our income to God, then 10 per- ship and praise God with both the talk and
cent to others, and finally 10 percent to our- the walk of faith.
selves. The Triple Tithe is proposed for the 3. It is the ultimate statement of faith, as the
three levels of the Church in which every more we do for others, the closer we are to
member participates. It will work in the indi- Christ.
vidual’s personal effort to serve well. It will 4. It is the means by which we can pursue
work for the local church in order for it to the biblical themes of liberation and salva-
serve well. It will work for the denomination tion, empowerment and strength, and the

(Seattle, Washington), and Grant A.M.E. nomic development, and African libera-
Church (Los Angeles, California). In addi- tion and development projects.
tion, he served as chairman of the He earned an A.B. Degree from Johnson
Department of New Testament Studies at C. Smith University and holds S.T.B. and
Payne Theological Seminary (Wilberforce, S.T.M. degrees from Boston University. In
Ohio) and President of Paul Quinn College addition, he has completed post-graduate
(Waco, Texas). studies at Harvard University and Union
Long recognized as a creative coalition Theological Seminary.
builder, Bishop Adams is founder and Chair Bishop Adams has received numerous
Emeritus of the Congress of National Black national awards and 12 honorary doctorates.
Churches (CNBC), founder of the Richard He was named one of the nation’s greatest
Allen Service and Development Agency preachers in 1984 and 1994. He served
(SADA), founder and chair of the Institute with honor and distinction as a trustee at the
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

of Church Administration and Manage- Interdenominational Theological Center, the


ment (ICAM) in Atlanta, Georgia, the Joint Center for Political Studies, the
Educational Growth Organization (EGO) in Children’s Defense Fund’s Black Community
Los Angeles, California, the Central Area Crusade for Children and the Industrial Area
Motivation Program in Seattle, Washing- Foundation. He has served as board chair of
ton, and Chair of the Central Area Civil seven colleges and graduate schools.
Rights Committee of Seattle. The son of the Reverend and Mrs. E. A.
Bishop Adams has distinguished him- Adams of Columbia, South Carolina,
self as an activist and a pioneer in Bishop Adams is married to Dr. Dolly D.
church growth and expansion, black Adams of New Orleans, Louisiana. They
ecumenical development, theological reside in Atlanta, Georgia, and are the
and ministerial development, political proud parents of three daughters and the
empowerment, civil rights, black eco- doting grandparents of eight.
9
ARTICLES FROM THE ELDERS JOHN HURST ADAMS

The objection to and the instant rejection of The Triple Tithe is that a
person does not have enough or make enough to survive on the
remaining 70 percent. Many make this excuse who ought not.

love motive with the justice means. Tithe. You begin by modifying your lifestyle.
5. It is the way to self-definition, self-deter- The Personal Individual Triple Tithe is sug-
mination, self-development, and self-disci- gested as follows. Give:
pline, which captures the A.M.E. gift to the 1. To God and the things of God through
faith community. the Church;
6. It is a personal stewardship plan so that 2. To the causes, movements, and other
we do all we can to ensure reasonable securi- institutions and organizations whose purpose
ty in our latter years when we can no longer is to uplift persons; and
work. 3. To allow yourself to live in dignity in
The Triple Tithe at the level of Church life your later years and old age.
helps us in many ways to live well and serve The distribution of the denominational
well. Its litany of benefits allows us to: Church Triple Tithe is suggested as follows.
1. Live theologically; Give:
2. Live in obedience to the Bible; 1. To the underdeveloped areas it serves
3. Actualize personal discipline; and the people in those areas, to help elimi-
4. Defeat selfishness; nate poverty and disease, provide education,
5. Realize spiritual formation; and enable development;
6. Engage in right relationships with the 2. To the international community in sup-
Creator and creation; port of projects that seek peace, justice, and
7. Participate in an orderly way of taking respect for creation; and
care of what God has provided; 3. To endow and give permanence to val-
8. Refrain from wasteful lifestyles of ued, viable, and relevant ministries the
extravagance; Church must do.
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

9. End gimmick financing; and When you practice The Triple Tithe, God
10. Enable stewardship of all life. will provide, protect, and prosper you in ways
The objection to and the instant rejection you do not deserve and could never earn.
of The Triple Tithe is that a person does not The Triple Tithe is sacred. It makes us obe-
have enough or make enough to survive on dient to the Word of God, and it builds the
the remaining 70 percent. Many make this ability to respond to the needs of the people.
excuse who ought not. They are able to do The Triple Tithe is serious. It rejects the
The Triple Tithe. Those who really are unable casual and inadequate stewardships of cheap
to immediately do The Triple Tithe are urged gimmicks and small gifts, moving us toward
to make it a goal to be achieved and to begin quality commitment.
a process of study, prayer, and discipline. This The Triple Tithe is smart. It is a system that
enables you to start where you are, use what creates the capacity to cope with an increas-
you have better, and move orderly and sys- ingly diverse and complex world.
10 tematically toward the goal of The Triple The Triple Tithe is strong. It demands
ARTICLES FROM THE ELDERS JOHN HURST ADAMS

discipline and sacrifice on our part so that we 6. We need to remember the creativity used
can bring spiritual authority and governance in our past survival when handling our
to our possessions and our decisions. resources now. We must apply the lessons
Finally, The Triple Tithe moves us step-by- learned in the wilderness when we get to the
step to a new kind of stewardship of all our Promised Land.
resources under these principles: 7. We must rebuild our ethnic self-esteem
1. We are never free if funded by someone and create environments of achievement
else. among our people, especially our youth.
2. We ought to spend on the basis of our 8. We must intentionally re-circulate funds
own philosophy and needs, not someone within our community.
else’s. 9. We can build ownership and production
3. Our spending suggests that we are more capacity by collaborative and cooperative
value-cheap than money-poor. We can do approaches.
better with what we have, what we do, and 10. We are accountable not only to God but
what we spend. also to those who support and empower us. |
4. We have an ethnic and ethical obligation
to help each other.
NOTES
5. We should honor the ethnic label as 1. See Matthew 22:34-40.
equally as we honor other labels. 2. Luke 10:27, paraphrased.
A R T I C L E S F R O M T H E E L D E R S A N N E E . S T R E A T Y W I M B E R LY

Are You I f you could choose someone whom you say


has every reason to be happy, who would it
be? Why would you choose this person?
HAPPY? What is it that brings about happiness? What
is happiness?
In this article, we will enter into a prelimi-
ANNE E. STREATY nary Critique of Happiness through three
WIMBERLY
vignettes and questions for self reflection after
each vignette, followed by some additional
thoughts about happiness. Second, we will
consider the Character of Wise Happiness.

A CRITIQUE OF HAPPINESS
During this opening period, consider some of

ANNE E. STREATY WIMBERLY has


served as an educator for more than forty
years and in ministry for more than thirty
years. Her current position titles include:
Professor Emeritus of Christian Education
at the Interdenominational Theological
Center (ITC) in Atlanta, where she taught
for 16 years; Director, Lilly Endowment-
funded Youth Hope-Builders Academy;
Principal Investigator, Lilly Endowment-
funded Faith Journey: Partnership in
Parish Ministry Formation Program at
the Interdenominational Theological
Center in Atlanta; and Principal Investiga-
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

tor, Lilly Endowment-funded Vision Quest:


A Study of Efforts, Challenges, and Needs
of Youth Ministry Leaders in Black
Congregations.
She received her Bachelor of Science in
Education Degree from Ohio State
University, Columbus, Ohio. She earned a
Master of Music Degree from Boston
University School of Fine Arts, Boston
Massachusetts. Dr. Wimberly also obtained
a Graduate Certificate in Gerontology from
Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia.
She obtained her Ph.D. Degree in
12
A R T I C L E S F R O M T H E E L D E R S A N N E E . S T R E A T Y W I M B E R LY

our personal thoughts about happiness in a previous era, had been an imposing and lux-
light of what is contained in three vignettes urious plantation. However, for the characters
and the questions that follow. in the story, money and well-being, security,
and comfort of life became fruits of greed; and
VIGNETTE ONE Our opening vignette is from a instead of experiencing the kind of happiness
novel by J. California Cooper, a black female they yearned, their very beings became mired
author who is known for her vivid folkloric in pseudo-satisfaction or an empty happiness
storytelling. In her novel entitled In Search of and loneliness. At one point, Yinyang, who is
Satisfaction, Ms. Cooper tells of a family’s one of the daughters of Josephus, has a con-
longing for happiness.1 This longing is played versation with another character named
out by a freed slave named Josephus and in Hosanna about satisfaction as it relates to
the lives of main characters Carlene, Yinyang, life’s meaning. Hosanna tells Yinyang, “Girl,
Ruth, and Joel. The search for happiness takes life ain’t something you grab; life is something
place in a town called Yoville—a place that, in you accept and make grow.” The story

Educational Leadership with a major in their spouses. She also received a geron-
Curriculum and Instruction, Cognate in tology grant from the Administration on
Social Gerontology from Georgia State Aging supported by the Morehouse
University, Atlanta, Georgia. She also did School of Medicine Multidisciplinary
Post-Doctoral Studies as Scholar-in- Center for Gerontology Curriculum Project
Residence at the Institute for Religion and for purposes of developing a core curricu-
Wholeness (now called The Clinebell lum in gerontology at ITC, which resulted
Institute) School of Theology at Claremont, in the book Honoring African American
California. In 1993, she received her Master Elders: A Ministry in the Soul Community
of Theological Studies from Garrett- (Jossey-Bass, 1997).
Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Dr. Wimberly has made more than one
Illinois. The book Soul Stories: African hundred scholarly presentations in the past
American Christian Education was the 15 years at schools, in countries outside
Master’s Degree Project. the United States, for denominational gath-
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

Dr. Wimberly has also served for more erings, and at programs for national organ-
than 18 years as an organist/choir director izations. She has also served on numerous
and as Principal Guide of the development boards and been a member of more than
and implementation of the Annual Youth 15 professional organizations, including the
and Family Convocation at ITC with more Religious Education Association, where
than 2,000 persons attending in 2005. she was the second Black President in the
Dr. Wimberly has done gerontology 100-year history of the organization; the
research through a grant from the Kendall Association of Professors and Researchers
Fund of the General Board of Global in Religious Education, where she was the
Ministries of the United Methodist Church; first Black President; and Voices for
she studied African American retirement Georgia’s Children. She has received
transitions and designed a retirement numerous honors and awards for her pro-
transition program for Black clergy and fessional and community work.
13
A R T I C L E S F R O M T H E E L D E R S A N N E E . S T R E A T Y W I M B E R LY

poignantly questions the meaning of happi- in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. Their
ness and proposes that, in the end, you have church is built with roughly hewn boards at
to “make your own happiness inside yourself, the base of a mountain where water from an
and when you have enough to share, find exceedingly heavy rainy season poured down
someone to share it with.” But, let’s think in between these wooden walls and onto the
about it: Is happiness something that we can bumpy and uneven cement floor. Handmade
make happen all by ourselves? What does it wooden benches seat the members of all ages
mean to share happiness if we get it? who come early enough to find a vacant space.
All others stand in doorways, in the aisles, and
VIGNETTE TWO The second vignette is from the outside the windows even in the rain to hear
era of our slave forbears whose songs, called the Word of God and to enter into prayer and
spirituals, were said to express lament, resist- praise. Protection from the cold of winter and
ance, happiness, and hope in the midst of the heat of summer is impossible. Yet they
deep hardship, unrelenting degradation, and worship there as though in a cathedral. A col-
life-negating brutality. In one of these Black lege-aged youth directs the intergenerational
heritage songs, our forbears entered into a choir and had led the group to win a country-
conversation or what musicologists identify wide competition of church choirs. Outside
as “call and response.” In the spiritual, the church, life is difficult. Food is in short supply,
call was given: “Sit down, servant,” and the and even if it were plentiful, there is no money
response came: “I can’t sit down! My soul’s to buy it. Thirst is not always satisfied because
so happy that I can’t sit down!” In this water is not always available. Electricity lights
instance, the inner happiness about which homes and streets only for short periods. And
they sang resulted simply from the hope they the dangers wrought by political upheaval
had and the belief they tenaciously held in seem ever-present.
the promise of God for a better life, if not Yet, for so many in the midst of stark
here on earth surely in the hereafter. But let’s Zimbabwean life, happiness seems so real
think about this instance in light of Cooper’s and is expressed exuberantly. When we asked
novel. Novelist Cooper gives us a message our friends the reason for their happiness,
that we can make our own happiness. But their answers simply were: “Why should we
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

the spiritual, “Sit Down, Servant” conveys not be happy? We are alive! We are together.
the notion that happiness is something that God has given us yet another day and the
gets stirred up in the soul because of hope in message, ‘Fambanyi wo majoni, a mwari
God. So, what do you think? Is happiness wedu imwi,’ which translated from the shona
something that can be stirred within us even language is ‘March on, you soldiers of our
in rough times as the result of our standing God.’” So, in light of these Africans and their
on the promises of God? Or is it just some- outlook, how do we measure happiness?
thing you accept and make grow as What, indeed, makes happiness possible?
Hosanna said? Can we choose it? What is to be done with
happiness when we have it? Is there a differ-
VIGNETTE THREE My third vignette comes from ence between happiness and joy?
Africa, where my husband and I go to visit at In an article called “Road to Happiness,”
least once every year. On one of these visits, we Mike Jones makes the point that even with
14 visited friends at the Dangamvura East Circuit the heightened quality of life in this country,
A R T I C L E S F R O M T H E E L D E R S A N N E E . S T R E A T Y W I M B E R LY

people are not happier. To the contrary, he piness” or a kind of happiness that becomes
cites research showing that people today a state of being because of the wise choices
are 10 times more likely to suffer from we make in life based on our unashamed
depression compared to those two genera- embrace of the Christian lifestyle and com-
tions ago. He states, “Making enough mitment to talk the talk and walk the walk. I
money to pay the bills doesn’t cut it. also want to suggest that there is a kind of
Neither does intelligence, prestige, or sunny happiness we may call “joy” that inhabits
weather.”2 Craig Lambert, in his article and defines our very soul because of our rela-
“The Science of Happiness” in Harvard tionship with God, the One who with joy cre-
Magazine, points to “an epidemic of ated us, and said “That’s good.”
depression in every industrialized nation in But where may we find a guide for the kind
the world.”3 So, maybe happiness isn’t of “wise happiness” and “soulful joy” I’m
what we think it is. So what is it? What talking about? Aspects of it are surely imbed-
guides do we have for it? I have already ded in the vignettes with which I began. But
hinted that happiness may well be a way of we also discover profound guides to it in
being in life that is hope-filled and that is Scripture. I want to call to mind one particu-
reckoned as being blessed by God. This lar Scripture for us to continue our reflec-
brings me to the second area for further tions. Think with me for a moment on the
reflection: The Character of Happiness. first chapter in the book of Psalms.
Verses 1-3 say: “Happy (Blessed) are those
THE CHARACTER OF HAPPINESS who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
I want to offer several thoughts about the or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in
character of happiness. First, happiness is the seat of the scoffers; but their delight is in
more than a state of simply feeling cheerful or the law of the LORD, and on his law they
euphoric as the result of something wonder- meditate day and night. They are like trees
ful that has happened to us or by virtue of planted by streams of water, which yield their
what we have accomplished or received. It is fruit in its season, and their leaves do not
more than a pleasant emotion stemming whither. In all they do, they prosper.”5 These
from a satisfying experience. From a verses give us a message about a certain kind
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

Christian perspective, the center of a deep of existence. In this journey we call life, hap-
sense of happiness is our surety of and faith piness results from knowing that we are
in God’s for-us-ness and our fullest knowing doing right in our choice to avoid advice,
that nothing, absolutely nothing can separate guidance, or pressure to act in ways that we
us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.4 know are inconsistent with God’s desire for
From this perspective, we experience and live wholeness—a healthy, sincere, and honest
by something far deeper than lighthearted relationship with God, with others, and with
cheerfulness. Our surety that God accepts us God’s created world. In other words, true
and remains with us—in the midst of not happiness results from our courage—our
simply exhilarating moments, but horrifying embrace of who and whose we are, our
experiences and unparalleled tragedy—is standing up for all that confirms ourselves as
what can trigger a smile anyhow. This kind of beautifully and wonderfully made by God,
happiness is best understood as blessing. and that promotes the highest good not just
Second, there is such a thing as “wise hap- for ourselves but for others. Is this easy? No! 15
A R T I C L E S F R O M T H E E L D E R S A N N E E . S T R E A T Y W I M B E R LY

The temptations and challenges are out there! We have to have what is called a “teachable
But so is the love of God to restrain, teach, frame” that includes a reverence for Scripture
and guide us. and the insights and guidance found in it. We
Third, having the character of happiness have to be open to learn from the lives of per-
means that we act on the wisdom and calling sons who have chosen to hear the voice of
of God which is the calling to be our best God and to follow the footsteps of Jesus.
selves and to help others to be their best These exemplars of the faith past and present
selves—set on integrity, honesty, care for our are ones who invariably have been able to
bodies, the health and welfare of our whole find a way out of no way and to chart a new
selves, and respect and care for others. The way because of their relationship with God.
character of happiness extends to choosing to These exemplars also center their lives in
reach and achieve what will contribute to and service on behalf of others.
build up people and communities of promise, At the end of the day, what we want to
justice, and peace; choosing to be quick to emerge is not that we are called to a typical
affirm and encourage others to reach for the kind of happiness. Rather, the call is to a
same; and choosing to give service to those in transformed happiness—a movement away
need. When we have the character of happi- from an old view of happiness to a new more
ness, we experience satisfaction and joy by expansive and richer happiness. The old hap-
making these choices and acting on the basis piness comes from the notion that “I’m on
of our knowing our lives belong to God and the right track. I know where I’m going! I
that our futures are secured by God. know what I want to do! And I can do it
Fourth, we cannot be self-instructed, self- myself! I’m going to make my own happi-
directed and be happy or blessed by God. A ness!” Transformed happiness comes from
commentator of Psalm 1 said that people in our praise of God because we are valued cre-
this country find the view of delighting in and ations of God with gifts and graces given to
following the teaching of God unsettling us by God, and a future that surely unfolds
because the culture here in the U.S. “pro- with hope as we give back, lift up, build up,
motes as the highest virtue—autonomy. and shore up people and communities in
What generally marks maturity... is self-suffi- need and a world deserving of hope. |
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

ciency.”6 Our wanting or needing help,


whether from others or from God, is taken as NOTES
a sign of weakness or instability. The effect is 1. J. California Cooper, In Search of Satisfaction (New
to produce a society of isolated selves. The York: Anchor Books), 1995.
2. Mike Jones, “Road to Happiness,” http://answers-
commentator describes the “wickedness” to forme.org/article.php?id=780&search=road%20to%20h
which the Psalm refers as persons’ self-right- appiness (accessed October 20, 2008).
eousness or of believing and saying: “I don’t 3. Craig Lambert, “The Science of Happiness,” Harvard
need any help. I’m doing all right by Magazine (January–February 2007); also available online
at http://harvardmagazine.com/2007/01/the-science-
myself.”7 Or, as in the words of the character of-happiness.html (accessed October 19, 2008).
in the story of the folk in Yoville, “You have 4. See Romans 8:38-39.
to make your own happiness.” If we fail to 5. Psalm 1:1-3, NRSV.
6. J. Clinton McCann Jr., “The Book of Psalms,” The New
trust God and to make connections with God
Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IV (Nashville: Abingdon Press),
as the Source of life, our happiness is a false 2003, 687.
16 and illusive happiness. 7. Ibid.
S E R M O N S F R O M T H E E L D E R S A U D R E Y F. B R O N S O N

Can Any John 1:43-46, NKJV


The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee.
He found Philip and said to him, “Follow
Good Thing me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the
city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found
Come Out of Nathanael and said to him, “We have found
him about whom Moses in the law and also

NAZARETH? the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from


Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can
anything good come out of Nazareth?”
AUDREY F. BRONSON Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

A t this time, Jesus was beginning to


assemble a group of men who would

AUDREY F. BRONSON, consecrated


bishop, is the pastor of the Sanctuary
Church of the Open Door in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania. She began preaching at
age 14, and after many years of serving
as an evangelist, she was led to establish
the Sanctuary Church of the Open Door in
1975. Under her leadership, the church
has grown extensively. She also founded
the Sanctuary Christian Academy in 1978,
a private academic school for children pre-
school through fifth grade. The church
also operates a counseling and referral
center and the Sanctuary Bible Institute.
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

Bishop Bronson believes in serving the


community, and the doors of the
Sanctuary Church are open seven days a
week to minister to those in need of spir-
itual and physical help. Bishop Bronson
tries to pattern her life after Christ and two
historical heroines, Harriet Tubman and
Mary McLeod Bethune.
Bishop Bronson is a native of Florida,
hailing from a family of ministers and
educators. Her father, Reverend Dr. Uriah
Bronson, was a pastor in Florida and the
principal of several schools. Her mother
18
S E R M O N S F R O M T H E E L D E R S A U D R E Y F. B R O N S O N

become his disciples. Everything was going ple base their opinion of you on where you
fine. He got Andrew. No problem. Andrew are from.
found Peter. No problem. Philip came. No Let’s take a look at Nazareth, the place that
problem. But things hit a snag when Philip Jesus came from. Nazareth was utterly
tried to convince Nathanael. When insignificant. There is no mention of this town
Nathanael heard that Jesus was from in the Old Testament, the Talmud, or the
Nazareth, he got an attitude saying, “Can Midrash literature or even in any pagan writ-
any good thing come out of Nazareth?” ings. It was akin to Jesus’ birth in a stable. It
When you are introduced to people or was a most unlikely place for royalty. It was a
when you apply for a job, one of the first ghetto. It wasn’t a place where anyone
things they want to know is: Where do you thought a Messiah would be born. No won-
live? What city or neighborhood do you der then that Nathanael would ask, “Can any
come from? Certain neighborhoods and good thing come out of Nazareth?” But Jesus
cities have reputations. In other words, peo- did come out of Nazareth. The folk from

and stepmother were both teachers. Her of Philadelphia and was for two years a
brother, Dr. Oswald Bronson, is a United member the Executive Committee of the
Methodist Minister and recently retired Association of Theological Schools.
president of Bethune-Cookman College in Currently she serves on the board of the
Daytona Beach, Florida, and Edward Philadelphia Development Corporation and
Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida. is the 2nd Vice President of the Black
Bishop Bronson received a Bachelor of Clergy of Philadelphia. She was briefly the
Science degree in elementary education host of the television program, “Dialogue.”
from Cheyney University and a Master’s Her picture and bio were displayed at the
Degree in psychology from Howard Afro-American Museum of Philadelphia as
University, where she was also a Ph.D. can- one of the women who has made a contri-
didate in Psychology. She earned a Doctor of bution to Philadelphia in the area of reli-
Ministry degree from New York Theological gion. She is also listed in the book
Seminary and holds an honorary degree Philadelphia Leaders, 1991, Who’s Who in
from Bethune-Cookman College. the Delaware Valley and is a member of
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

Dr. Bronson was an associate professor the Heritage Registry Who’s Who for
of psychology for 17 years at Cheyney 2005–2006. Bishop Bronson appeared in
University. She also served as dean of the The African American Pulpit’s “Those
Philadelphia Urban Education Institute, a Preaching Women” issue and in Gospel
subsidiary of the African American Today magazine as one of 2005’s most
Interdenominational Ministries, Inc. (AAIM, loved pastors. She recently received the
Inc.) of Philadelphia. She has served on the Ruth B. Hayre Award for commitment to
boards of One Church, One Child as state and excellence in education.
secretary. This national organization exists In 1994, she was consecrated to the
to encourage churches to adopt African office of Bishop, and she now presides
American children. She was a member of over many churches in the International
the Transition Team for the current mayor Fellowship of Churches, Inc.
19
S E R M O N S F R O M T H E E L D E R S A U D R E Y F. B R O N S O N

Some thought that nothing good


could come out of Nazareth, but there are
those who don’t know a good thing when they see it.

Nazareth knew him; they saw him grow up, asked, “Who art thou Lord?” Jesus
and he remained in Nazareth until he was answered, “I am Jesus from Nazareth.”3 In
grown and left to begin his public ministry. other words, the boy from Tarsus had to bow
The people of Nazareth were in darkness, to the boy from Nazareth. That lets me know
and they could not see that their hometown that wherever Jesus is is the best place to be.
boy was someone special. They tried to He can take a nothing place and make some-
harm him; they were jealous. It is to be thing of it.
noted that the demons knew who Jesus was, I’d like to think about Nazareth this way.
but the people in his hometown did not. A Nazareth is on the left side of God; the left
prophet is not without honor save in his side of the world. When Job was in contem-
own country.1 plation about his search for God, he said he
Where you come from is not important. It went forward, but he could not find God.
is where you are going that is important. You But, then he looked to the left hand where
see, Nazareth did not make Jesus; Jesus put God doth work.4 I see Nazareth as a place
Nazareth on the map. There are 25 to 30 ref- on the left side, a place where we would not
erences in Scripture where our Lord is expect God to do anything extraordinary.
referred to as Jesus of Nazareth. This lets me Some folks refer to the left side as the “other
know that you can be from the slums and in hand.” No one wants to be left out left
the slums, but the slums don’t have to be in alone or left back. Everyone wants to be in
you. You can put your birthplace on the map the right—in your right mind, in the right
for the right reasons. place at the right time, and ceremoniously
At this point, I want to say a little bit about seated at the banquet table on the right hand
Jesus and the Apostle Paul. Paul was from of the host or hostess. The right hand is the
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

Tarsus, the capital city of Cilicia.2 Paul would hand of protocol. As a matter of fact, there
let you know where he was from. He was are more than 100 biblical references to the
proud of his hometown. Tarsus was right hand but only 10 or fewer references
renowned as a place of education. It had an to the left hand. Yes. The left side is the
important university and literary circles that minority side, the remnant, the remainder,
were world class. It was cultured and proud the residue, and even the refuse side.
of its Greekness. Greeks were also proud of In Continental Europe when they con-
their philosophers. It was prosperous and an vene the Parliament, they put the status quo
important trading place. It gathered a colony (the Conservatives and Traditionalists) on
of Jews that grew and prospered; it was the right side the Speaker of the House. On
indeed a city of considerable consequence. the left is the group called the Left
Paul was one of those Jews. But upon his Wingers—the bleeding heart liberals, the
encounter with Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus of a radicals, the over-turners, and the so-called
20 ghetto, Jesus from an insignificant place, Paul hell-raisers. When the folk on the right
S E R M O N S F R O M T H E E L D E R S A U D R E Y F. B R O N S O N

speak everyone falls asleep. They know The one called the weaker vessel became
what they are going to say—the same old the willing vessel. A Mary McLeod
thing, the status quo line. But when those Bethune, a Mother Teresa, a Harriet
on the left speak—Patrick Henry, Martin Tubman were all set free by the only one
Luther of Germany, Martin Luther King Jr. who matters. The left-outs were put in
of Alabama—the House gets uneasy, for their rightful place by the hand of God that
they know that anything is coming but the works on the left side.
status quo. And this is where God does his Let me conclude by telling you what is
best work; the left side is the side of change. happening in another Nazareth—the
The people in the synagogue at Nazareth Nazareth that is in the part of Philadelphia
got uneasy when Jesus stood up and said, where I live. When we move in, other folks
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because move out; then they call where we live a
he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to ghetto. When we move in, city services to
the poor; he hath sent me to heal the bro- Nazareth go down. Unemployment goes
kenhearted, to preach deliverance to the up, which leads to houses getting boarded
captives, and recovering of sight to the up and drugs being sold for income and to
blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, dull the pain.
To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”5 Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?
See, Jesus came into the world through the Businesses close down. High-interest-rate-
back door, on the left side of society, and charging check cashing places replace banks.
allowed himself to be born in a manger, the They have written us off.
only place left in town. Throughout his min- Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
istry, he identified with the weakest side of Everyone has left this Nazareth ‘hood but
society—the left down, the left out, and the the Church. The Church is still there and
left behind. He knew that sometimes folk that means that Jesus is still there. He’s still
are like King David, going up against the feeding entire soup lines with just two little
giants of a society with only five small fish and fives loaves of bread. He’s still there
stones and the power of Jehovah as the making a way out of no way. He’s still there
force behind their slingshot. Jesus knew that building up the torn down—torn down
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

the left side was the unpredictable side neighborhoods and town down lives. He is
where God works. making cathedrals out of storefronts. He is
Some thought that nothing good could giving hope to the hopeless. He is raising up
come out of Nazareth, but there are those the let down, bringing in the left out, and
who don’t know a good thing when they making something beautiful out of their left-
see it; and then some do. There was a over lives. Something good can still come out
woman lost in the crowd, a woman with of Nazareth! |
an issue of blood, a woman with the odds
against her after 12 years of sickness. She NOTES
touched the hem of his garment, and Jesus 1. See Matthew 13:57.
said, “Somebody touched me.”6 Right 2. See Acts 21:39.
3. See Acts 22:8, KJV.
away the fountain of her blood dried up.
4. See Job 23:8-9.
With her healing, the fountain of all 5. Luke 4:18-19, KJV.
women excluded from the temple dried up. 6. Luke 8:45, paraphrased. 21
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS HAROLD A CARTER SR.

The POWER azine with the title, “Jesus Has an Identity


Crisis.” The article explained the fact that in
the contemporary mind of many in the
Is in Canadian world, Jesus is seen as “Company
Man,” “Regular Guy,” “Vengeful Prophet,”
His Name “Street Preacher,” “Revolutionary,” “Rabbi,”
and “Son of God.”
I read this article with great interest and
HAROLD A. CARTER SR.
reflected on how difficult it is for people to
come to the faith knowledge that Jesus is,
indeed, the Christ, the Son of the living God.
In the three years Jesus spent in his ministry
Matthew 16:15, NRSV here on earth, the Gospels reveal that one of
He said to them, “But who do you say that Jesus’ most difficult works was that of lead-
I am?” ing men and women to know that he was the
Christ, the Word of God made flesh.

T his past Easter 2008, McLean’s Magazine,


a weekly and international news maga-
zine of Canada, ran a leading story in its mag-
Some people thought of Jesus in demonis-
tic ways, calling him the “Chief of
Beelzebub.” Others wanted him to be a rev-

HAROLD A. CARTER SR. has been pas-


tor of the New Shiloh Baptist Church,
Baltimore, Maryland for over 43 years. He
was married for 48 loving years to the
late Dr. Weptanomah W. Carter. From this
union a daughter and a son were born,
Weptanomah Carter Davis, wife of a pas-
tor, and Harold A. Carter Jr., who serves
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

as pastor of New Shiloh Baptist Church


with his father.
In May 1990, Dr. Carter led New Shiloh
into a modern church and family life facil-
ity. The building complex, costing more
than $16,000,000, has been paid in full,
and the church is presently developing a
three-block complex known as The New
Shiloh Village Center. Dilapidated facto-
ries and other blighted buildings have
been moved, and now a Child Develop-
ment Center is in operation, along with
modern parking facilities. In May of 2007,
22
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS HAROLD A CARTER SR.

olutionary, a kind of zealot who would lead whose answer has the power of life or death.
a campaign against the Roman occupiers of Jesus had already called and commissioned
the land and restore absolute freedom to the his disciples into this new ministry. He had
Jewish nation. Some thought Jesus was one already taught them that the kingdom of
of the reincarnated prophets of Old God is at hand: “A new order is here where
Testament times, such as Jeremiah or Elijah. every man and every woman can now
Consider also that several hundred of years become a member of the family of God.
after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, Everyone who believes in me can now have
leading thinkers of the Church held councils fellowship with God and know for a fact
to try to determine who he is. Eventually, in that God is one’s Abba Father.”
the Council of Nicea, 325 A.D., it was agreed Through signs and wonders, Jesus had
that Jesus was indeed “fully God and fully made clear that he was more than a
man!” Still in the year 2008, the question of “Company Man” opening up corporate
who Jesus really is continues to rise up in so doors so that people could arrive at the good
many instances to destroy the power of the life. He was not some “Vengeful Prophet”
Church, for if the head be lost, then the body seeking to exact justice based upon military
will falter. might or the power of a sword. Jesus came in
The question Jesus asked his disciples, love, served people in love, and declared the
“But whom say ye that I am?” is a question reality of the kingdom of God in love.

an ultra-modern 80-unit housing complex New Shiloh Church operates a School of


known as the New Shiloh Village Senior Music, training students in all types of
Living building opened its doors to serve musical disciplines. The church is also the
the community’s need for affordable hous- founding force for the Determined Biblical
ing for its senior citizens. and Theological Institute of Baltimore,
Dr. Carter has led evangelistic ministries Maryland, founded in June 1996 and open
across America and many foreign coun- to all students.
tries. On numerous occasions, he has More than one hundred preachers have
preached Men’s Rallies for the Promise been called and licensed under the pas-
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

Keepers Ministries. toral leadership of Dr. Carter at New Shiloh


Dr. Carter’s first book, The Prayer (1965–present), with more than 40 such
Tradition of Black People, continues to be persons having gone on to serve various
a standard work for those studying the congregations.
spirituality of Blacks. A more recent work, Dr. Carter has earned two doctorate
Building Disciples in the Local Church, is degrees: a Ph.D. from St. Mary’s Ecumeni-
used widely by ministries seeking Christian cal University, Baltimore, Maryland, and
renewal. His book America, Where Are Colgate Rochester Divinity School/Bexley
You Going? has proven to be a prophetic Hall/Crozier Theological Seminary, Roch-
call to our nation, so richly blessed by the ester, New York. Dr. Carter continues to be
Christian faith and often ignoring its pre- guided by the theme “Determined to Live
cepts in contemporary life. with Christ.”
23
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS HAROLD A CARTER SR.

Therefore, as any good professor would do of this new community. The Roman govern-
to one’s students, Jesus asked his disciples, ment would tolerate no religious assembly
“Whom do you say that I am? that threatened to eclipse the sole authority of
“You have seen me turn water into wine. Caesar. Yet, these new believers had a mes-
You have seen me cast wicked spirits out of sage of faith, based upon the life, death, and
the lives of people. You have seen me feed the resurrection of one who had been crucified
multitude with a few fish and biscuits. You on Calvary but was now alive in glory and
have seen me still stormy seas and calm rag- praise. Rome had its edicts from Caesar to
ing winds. You have seen me work to break stop and destroy this new movement.
down customs and traditions that locked Amazingly, the imperial power of Rome
many out of the temple and held many down could not stop the proclamation of believers
because of their race or social status. I have nor could the wild beasts sent to ravage their
preached and worked that all the people bodies keep them from declaring that Jesus
might be one. So I ask you, Whom do you Christ is Lord.
say that I am?” This powerful communal faith had three
Your current answer to this question will aspects that the church of today would do
reveal three of the essential ministries of the well to revisit and put into practice. First,
faith. Your answer will carry the essence of each believer knew that he or she was called
what Jesus is calling you to do, provided your to be an active witness for Christ. It was
answer is grounded in faith. By faith, I mean part of the essence of being a Christian. One
your ability to open up to the Spirit of God did not have to go to a workshop to be a
and see the new work that is unfolding in witness. The fact that one had been forgiv-
your midst. It is your ability to open up to the en of one’s sin and guilt and made new by
Spirit of God and see the one God has sent to the grace of Christ was reason enough to be
make this kingdom of God known, not sim- a witness. Second, each believer became a
ply today, but even unto the end of the age. minister of the faith, exercising one’s gifts
The moment we declare that Jesus is the with courage and power. The book of Acts
Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the tells us how the early church disciples went
world, we enter into the ministry of procla- everywhere as workers, evangelists, teach-
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

mation. Jesus came proclaiming. Jesus came ers, and preachers doing the work of the
preaching the good news of the kingdom of church. Some even made use of their homes
God. It was the good news that a people in as places for worship in the growing of the
sinful bondage could now be made free by church. Third, the Gospel gave to each
the faith to trust Jesus as Savior and Lord of believer a deep purpose for living. It was the
one’s life. The burden of sin could now be lift- power that fueled one’s life of faith so that
ed. The miracle of forgiveness was available sufferings of one type or another could not
through the name of Jesus whose grace and would not stop the work God had
would indeed set the captives free. begun in one’s life.
Consider that the early church came out of On August 4, 2008, I flew from Baltimore
its infancy in Jerusalem with nothing but the to Dallas early in the morning to be in atten-
proclamation of a witness in his name. The dance at the funeral for Dr. C. A. W. Clark.
Roman government in her imperial might Dr. Clark, 93 years of age, a preacher, pastor,
24 was there seeking to stop the onward march revivalist, was known near and far as one of
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS HAROLD A CARTER SR.

The question of who Jesus really is continues to rise up


in so many instances to destroy the power of the Church,
for if the head be lost, then the body will falter.

the best revival preachers to mount the pul- Pentecostal power is all about. This power
pit, particularly in the African American always comes upon us to make us know who
Church. I had personally come to know Dr. Jesus really is. Yes, in the name of Jesus we
Clark very well, preaching in his church on not only receive proclamation power, we also
numerous occasions and hearing him in one receive Pentecostal power!
of the many yearly revivals he did at the Vine Jesus taught his disciples when he sent
Memorial Baptist Church in Philadelphia. them out to do mission work to depend
Dr. William Shaw, eulogist for the funeral, upon the Pentecostal power of God’s Spirit.
spoke about a sermon Dr. Clark had “Do not worry about mundane things of life
preached after a period of preaching the such as styles, popularity of speech or even
Gospel for 50 years. The sermon, “After 50 the social rank of the people you serve. I
Years, What Shall I Preach?” found Dr. Clark want you to go out in my name depending
declaring, “I will preach with even more upon my presence to give you the power you
power that Jesus is Prophet, Priest, and will need.”1
King!” The long years of preaching in the life Jesus is more than the identities we give
of this preacher of the Gospel only served to him. He is more than some “Regular Guy”
deepen his zeal to proclaim all the more that whom we can speak to and do our own thing
Jesus Christ is Lord! in front of while having no sense of awe or
I know the church of God today has an praise. The church, in many instances, has
identify crisis, not only in Canada, but become too secular, too void of the sense of
America, too. No wonder we are not seeing holiness. The fear of the Lord is still the begin-
great revival in the land. No wonder we are ning of wisdom.2 This will never happen so
not seeing powerful signs and wonders. long as we make Jesus a “Regular Guy.” It
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

When we have lost the true sense of who will never happen so long as we make Jesus
Jesus really is, we end up with a religious soci- our “Company Man,” to worldly success and
ety and not an “army of the Lord!” The fact material possessions. Our Lord’s kingdom,
of the matter is that no one can come to contrary to popular trends, is not made up of
know Jesus in the flesh. The faith that Jesus eating and drinking or dollars and cents. Of
brings to us is spiritual and is grounded in the course we need financial resources to do the
will of God. work of our Lord, but those financial
Peter, a disciple of Jesus Christ, was resources do not constitute the altar of our
absolutely correct when he declared to Jesus, faith. Our faith has been purchased for us
“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living without silver and without gold. Therefore,
God.” In giving this answer, Peter moved the help we need in the ministry of our Lord
from information to revelation. Jesus is the presence and the power of God’s Holy
declared that the word Peter spoke had been Spirit. Jesus said in the 15th chapter of John
given to him by the Father. This is what and the 26th verse these words: 25
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS HAROLD A CARTER SR.

“But when the Comforter is come, proclamation! He is our Pentecost! He is also


whom I will send unto you from the our prophecy that gives divine authority to
Father, even the Spirit of truth, which our lives.
proceedeth from the Father, he shall Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy in that
testify of me: And ye also shall bear he completes, in his own person, all the hopes
witness, because ye have been with and all the dreams of the people of faith. This
me from the beginning.”3 is why Jesus could declare when he founded
the church that “The gates of hell would
Jesus specifically told his disciples that never prevail against.”6
divine assistance would be needed for believ- The Word tells us in Revelation 13:8 that
ers to know who he really is. “The the one who died on Calvary’s cross was, in
Comforter, the Holy Spirit of truth, will be fact, “Slain from the foundation of the
sent to you by the Father. He will cause my world.” Calvary was no accident of fate.
Word to come alive in you with understand- Calvary was the culmination of God’s great
ing and with power. He will make clear to love for his people, already in the nature and
you exactly who I am. You will be led to mind of God long before Adam and Eve
know that I am the Son of God, I am the broke covenant with God in the garden
Redeemer of life, I am the one who makes of called Eden. The one called Jesus is therefore
many people a holy community of love. I am the Word of God made flesh. He is the one
the exalted power that you will need to lift who has openly shown us the way back to
me up so that the world might know just God by humbling himself and becoming obe-
who I am.” dient unto death, even death on a cross.
It was this power, I repeat, this power of Therefore, God also has highly exalted him
God’s presence working in one’s life that led and given to him a name which is above all
Peter to declare, “Oh Lord, thou art the Christ, other names.7 At the name of Jesus,
the Son of the living God!”4 This is the mighty Philippians 2:10-11 tells us, every knee
affirmation of faith needed in the Church should bow and every tongue should confess
today. We need more than friendship sermons that Jesus Christ is Lord.
designed to motivate behavior and give some This is the power and the assurance we
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

sense of well being. We need transforming have when we proclaim his name! This is the
messages that will move us into the new life of Pentecost we have to know that his Word
faith we have in Jesus Christ our Lord. will never return void. This is the prophecy
The enemy of our faith wants to hide this we build our faith upon: “Jesus Christ, the
face of Jesus under a culture of selfishness and same yesterday, today, and forever.”8 Amen
secular powers. But, alas, the Gospel is not and Amen! |
about us. It is about the one who suffered and
died for our transgressions and now lives for NOTES
1. See Matthew 10.
our righteousness and power. Hear him as he 2. See Proverbs 9:10.
declares, “And I, if I be lifted up from the 3. John 15:26-27, KJV.
earth, will draw all men unto me.”5 Yes, it is 4. Matthew 16:16, paraphrased.
5. John 12:32, KJV.
about him who saved us, who raised us, and
6. See Matthew 16:18.
called us out of death into eternal life. Who 7. See Philippians 2:8-9.
26 would not serve a God like this? He is our 8. Hebrews 13:8.
S E R M O N S F R O M T H E E L D E R S W I L L I A M P. D E V E A U X

The Road to “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in


the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!”

JERUSALEM 2 Corinthians 4:16-18a, NRSV


So we do not lose heart. Even though our
outer nature is wasting away, our inner
WILLIAM P. DEVEAUX nature is being renewed day by day. For this
slight momentary affliction is preparing us
for an eternal weight of glory beyond all
measure, because we look not at what can be
seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can
be seen is temporary.
John 12:12-13, NRSV
The next day the great crowd that had come Philippians 2:9-11, NRSV
to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Therefore God also highly exalted him and
Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm gave him the name that is above every name,
trees and went out to meet him, shouting, so that at the name of Jesus every knee

WILLIAM P. DEVEAUX was born to


Chaplain John and Della DeVeaux in Fort
Huachuca, Arizona. The youngest of
three children, he spent his elementary
and high school years living on army
posts in Maryland, Kansas, and Colorado,
and in Germany. Upon graduation from
high school, he entered Howard
University. An active student, he was
elected junior and senior class president
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

and Basileus of Omega Psi Phi Frater-


nity. While a student at Howard, he
answered the call to ordained ministry.
Following in his father’s footsteps, he
served in the United States Army as a
chaplain. In the midst of enemy fire, he
brought comfort and solace to troops in
combat during the Vietnam conflict.
In addition to a bachelor’s degree from
Howard University, Bishop DeVeaux
attained a Bachelor’s degree in Sacred
Theology from Boston University as well as
a Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy
28
S E R M O N S F R O M T H E E L D E R S W I L L I A M P. D E V E A U X

should bend, in heaven and on earth and crowd. Any time you perform a miracle,
under the earth, and every tongue should any time somebody gets up from the dead,
confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the somebody will follow you. They may not
glory of God the Father. be following you for the right reason. They
just knew that it was amazing that Lazarus

N ow let me just frankly admit at the out-


set that I have a few problems with
Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday comes at the
was dead four days in the grave, and he got
up because a Nazarene prophet named
Jesus said, “Come forth.”
beginning of a disastrous week in the life of And so they followed him and made a big
the Master. We know what the end shall be, hoopla. For some reason this disturbs me just
and thanks be to God, we also know that the a little bit, and I’m going to ask God when I
final victory is coming, but it’s a joy that get to heaven to explain a lot of things. I’m
jumps up in the midst of tragedy. It’s an going to ask God some key questions when I
insert. It’s a pleasant interlude in a terrible, make it. I didn’t say if I make it; I said when
terrible time. I make it. What I’m going to ask him is:
You see, Jesus had been at Bethany, he Exactly what were you about? You knew
had raised Lazarus, and he had drawn a your Son was going to die and suffer. Why

from Vanderbilt University. He has served on Bishop DeVeaux energized the member-
the faculties of Meharry Medical College, ship of Metropolitan into active participation
Princeton Theological Seminary, and in community outreach efforts.
Howard University School of Divinity. On July 2, 1996, the Reverend William
In the field of theological education, P. DeVeaux was consecrated as the 113th
Bishop DeVeaux is recognized for his Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal
achievements as the Executive Director Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and was
of the Fund for Theological Education assigned to Southern Africa, where he
Inc. During his tenure, scholarships to lived and served for four years. He also
Black, Hispanic, and North American stu- served as the presiding bishop of the 16th
dents were granted to support their theo- Episcopal District of the A.M.E. Church,
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

logical educations. which includes the following conferences:


His career as a minister in the African Guyana/Suriname, Windward Islands,
Methodist Episcopal Church includes pas- Virgin Islands, Dominican Re-public, Haiti,
torates at Bethel A.M.E. Church in Lynn, Jamaica, and London/ Holland. He is cur-
Massachusetts; St. John A.M.E. Church in rently the presiding bishop of the Sixth
Nashville, Tennessee; Wayman A.M.E. Episcopal District, the state of Georgia.
Church in Dayton, Ohio; and Metropolitan Bishop DeVeaux and Dr. Pam DeVeaux
A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C. He have six children, a host of sons and daugh-
served at Metropolitan from 1986 until his ters in the Gospel, and 14 grandchildren.
election to the office of Bishop. Using his Bishop DeVeaux remains steadfast in his
personal leadership style, academic expert- belief that he can best serve Jesus by
ise, and diverse ministerial experience, “ordering his steps in the Lord.”
29
S E R M O N S F R O M T H E E L D E R S W I L L I A M P. D E V E A U X

You knew your Son was going to die and suffer. Why did you have
the parade? Perhaps God will answer, “I had the parade because
even in the midst of sorrow, we can’t lose our joy.”

did you have the parade? Perhaps God will said, “But be of good cheer. Do not lose heart.
answer, “I had the parade because even in the You will be renewed.” So in some sense, Palm
midst of sorrow, we can’t lose our joy. Sunday is a cipher, a sign, a foretaste, a har-
Anybody who’s on the road anywhere knows binger of a new beginning for us in Christ
it’s not going to be a perfect situation. So, I Jesus. It’s a sign that you can shout anyhow!
insert things,” God says, “into your life. Now So what we’re saying on Palm Sunday is
don’t miss your blessing. Don’t be too wor- you might as well sing now. You know Good
ried about how you’re going to get out of Friday is coming. You know the crucifixion is
Florida A&M or how you’re gonna get a job coming, but start the music now. Sing in
or how you’re gonna find a husband or how anticipation of the victory. Sing now.
you’re gonna find a wife. Don’t get so bur- So on Palm Sunday, I wish everybody there
dened down you can’t have some joy every understood exactly what Jesus was doing, but
now and then.” So he creates interludes. He that would be asking too much. I don’t under-
intervenes. He inserts himself into our lives. stand what Jesus was doing, either. Two thou-
Now Jesus knew what was going on in sand years later, you ask me to explain in sim-
Jerusalem. As a matter of fact, the disciples ple terms how blood shed 2,000 years ago still
had said, “Don’t go.” It’s a marvelous thing; has efficacy for me today.
you go back and read those stories. It was You ask me to explain in common lan-
Thomas the Doubter who says, “I know you guage how a man can get up out of a tomb
shouldn’t go, but I will go with you!” without the help of a human force—perhaps
Jesus said, “I’m going to Jerusalem. I’m going an angel—and just walk around. Ask me
to face my fate because if I don’t go there, if I’m how he can walk through doors and
not crucified and resurrected, there’ll be no Mt. acknowledge himself; tell me how you do it?
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

Zion in Tallahassee or anyplace else. I have to Scientists can’t do it. It’s a leap of faith.
go and die.” He knew what was waiting, but So the fact that the people didn’t fully
he said, “Let’s have a celebration, anyhow.” understand Jesus can be understood. But let’s
But I want to argue today that on the road celebrate anyhow because the celebration is
from Bethany to Jerusalem and beyond, Jesus what gives me the strength to go through the
went through a lot. We see it as the Gospel dark times.
writers say it and as Paul tells about it that If you’re a parent—I’ve got a bunch of
they put palm branches down. But then Paul children and 14 grandchildren—whatever
tells us, over in 2 Corinthians, the day will they do right, you go ahead and celebrate
come when they won’t be as happy to see you right then! If they get it right, just celebrate it
as they are now. There’ll be some ups and because you are going to have some days
downs, and they’ll beat you up. when they’ll break your heart—just like you
The Pharisees were already out to kill Jesus broke your mother and father’s heart when
30 when he was on his way to Jerusalem. Jesus you didn’t quite get it right. Celebrate right
S E R M O N S F R O M T H E E L D E R S W I L L I A M P. D E V E A U X

In some sense, Palm Sunday is a cipher, a sign, a foretaste,


a harbinger of a new beginning for us in Christ Jesus.
It’s a sign that you can shout anyhow!

then. If they do something right, say thank down myself. First of all, the folk in
you right then. Build up gratitude so that you Jerusalem don’t understand me. They talked
have a trust fund of gratitude when you have about me like a dog. They said I didn’t know
to fuss at them a little later on. Do not miss Jesus face-to-face. They said you ought not
the blessing! have people become Christians who aren’t
In your church, don’t wait until it’s time to circumcised. They talked about me, and they
complain about what didn’t happen. When it said I persecuted the Church. And anyway,
is right, when the service is right, when the I’m sick. I’ve got something to complain
preacher’s done his job, when the choir’s been about. I’ve got this thorn in the flesh, and I
singing well—say it right then. Rejoice and don’t seem to ever get totally well.”
celebrate and don’t wait in anticipation for But do you have anything happy to say? Yes,
the other shoe to drop. we do! This same Jesus, whom they put in the
Some of us live our lives looking beyond a tomb, this same Jesus whom they pushed
few days ahead of us for what might happen. around and beat, this same Jesus whom they
We’re cynical. We’re jaded. We say, “Well, traded for Barabbas—you know what hap-
ain’t nothing good gonna happen,” and “It’s pened? Now he’s highly exalted! And at his
hard, with all the bad news in this world, to name, every knee shall bow and every tongue
celebrate.” It is hard. Got men and women in confess. If I can celebrate on Palm Sunday with
Iraq who ought not be there, been there too Good Friday looking me in the face, you know
long, should have been home a long time ago, I can celebrate now. He’s been exalted. He’s
and we’re still talking about surges—but the high and lifted up. He allows me to sing,
same word comes to us that came to Job: “Jesus! the name high over all in hell or earth
“You are going through something now, but or sky.”3 He’s somebody special.
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

where were you at the beginning of time?”1 And so we’re on the road to Jerusalem,
The timetable of God is an eternity: “I will fix and we know the heartaches and the pain.
it when the time is right.” So when you get an Have you ever been going somewhere, and
opportunity, just celebrate. you’ve been disappointed? Your friends left
So I come to church on Palm Sunday to you? Somebody betrayed you? Somebody
sing, “O’er all the way, green palms and blos- lied to you?
soms gay are strewn this day in festal prepa- Can you imagine Jesus looking around for
ration.”2 I know in a few days ya’ll gonna the whole crowd—that crowd that said, “I’ll
curse him and condemn him and scream out go with you.” “Where’s Peter? He said he’d
you’d rather have Barabbas, a ne’re-do-well be here. Where are the sons of Zebedee?
thief and murderer, but I’m going to celebrate They’re the twin sons of thunder. I can’t find
anyhow because I know what the end will be. anybody but John, and he’s just here to help
The Apostle Paul, who had such bad news my mother. I’ve been disappointed and neg-
to bring from time to time, he said, “I’ve been lected, but I’m going on anyhow.” 31
S E R M O N S F R O M T H E E L D E R S W I L L I A M P. D E V E A U X

The road to Jerusalem runs through Palm that you’ve got to be sprinkled or you’ve got
Sunday, but it also runs through Good to take communion in a certain way or
Friday. It runs through suffering and pain. It you’ve got to speak in tongues or you’ve got
runs through disappointment. It runs to give evidence to having gifts of the Spirit—
through neglect. It runs through despair. It or whatever—you just tell them if you believe
runs through depression. But I came by here that the Lord Jesus Christ is raised from the
to tell you that it doesn’t end there. There is dead, you shall be saved.5 God so loved the
joy unspeakable on the other side. There is world that he sent him into the world that
glory coming. whosoever believes in him shall not perish
It used to be that I had to tell other people’s but have everlasting life.6
stories, but I’ve lived long enough to have my The lesson of Palm Sunday is that we can
own now. Even as a young preacher, I used to live in anticipation of the joy that’s coming.
have all kinds of wonderful things to say in The victory is already ours. The wonderful
times of grief and pain. I could tell you every thing about my God and the Palm Sunday
platitudinous remark about angels greeting occasion is that I already know what the vic-
loved ones in heaven and how God wanted tory is going to be. I already know because it
another choir member—all that kind of was won for me on Calvary a long time ago.
stuff—before death came to my home. But He sits on the right had of God the Father
now I’m older; I’ve been through some things. saying, “Father, I remember Palm Sunday
I’ve had the Death Angel come sit in my and the misunderstanding. I remember the
house. I’ve been at the cemetery with someone denial. I remember the betrayal. I remember
I love dearly. I had to rely on the same God how Judas cut up. I remember how Peter
that told me, “If you see Good Friday, you acted like he didn’t know me. But I’m here to
also will see Easter; and this man you serve, tell you to give Bill DeVeaux and that crowd
his name has been highly exalted. Just hold on in Tallahassee one more chance.”
and have the strength to keep on going.” I can rejoice in understanding that he made
Well, my brothers and sisters, as we go it through Palm Sunday, the cross, the cruci-
through Palm Sunday in anticipation of the fixion, the empty tomb, and now he is exalt-
great celebration, as we go through this ed. And if I can sing on Palm Sunday, God
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

Lenten season of reflection and meditation, knows I can sing the rest of the year because
we also know that the day is coming when his name is above every name. And knees
we will be restored. We’ll be revived and shall bow and tongues shall confess that Jesus
rejuvenated because if there’s a Palm the Christ is Lord.
Sunday, if there’s a Good Friday, there’s So if you see me dragging a little bit and get-
also a Resurrection. ting down some, just nudge me and say,
Paul, this early theologian, the man who “Brother, you’re on the road to Jerusalem and
wrote so much, he says this Resurrection is beyond.” If you see me not smiling, if you see
critical. How critical is it, Paul? Well, if Jesus me mad at someone, if you see me disap-
is not raised from the dead, all our preaching pointed, talking about what I lost, when I did-
is in vain.4 It won’t make any difference how n’t get what I wanted, how I didn’t get the
much you preach. If a person in the world assignment, just nudge me and say, “He cares
asks you what is the key ingredient to the for you. He went through it all. And now if
32 Christian faith, before you go and tell them you will exalt his name, you shall be blessed.”
S E R M O N S F R O M T H E E L D E R S W I L L I A M P. D E V E A U X

Let me say, finally, if you get into the praise now I’m up.” I need to be in the number when
business of exaltation, it’s catching. I don’t the saints gather to exalt the name of Jesus. I
care how you praise him. Some people praise don’t need theory. I don’t need mere theology.
him quietly with a smile. Some people run. I know about vicarious atonement; I know all
Some people jump. I can’t tell you how to of those things. I need somebody to tell me, “I
praise him. But I can tell you one thing: You tried him! His name is over all! I’ve tried every-
ought to praise him some kind of way body else’s name, but he is to be exalted. He’s
because praise is contagious! my Savior! He’s my Lord! In him will I put my
I can’t be in a crowd that’s praising God and trust! I’m on the road to Jerusalem, and I can-
not feel better. I’ve been to church when I’ve not turn back!” |
been down to my last and didn’t know what
to do. I’ve got a large family, but nobody NOTES
1. Job 38:4, paraphrased.
called. But I came to church anyhow and 2. Lyrics from “Palm Branches,” a song which celebrates
praised God. That’s why I can’t get my religion Palm Sunday, composed by Jean Baptiste Faure.
on the television. I know Bob Schuller’s got a 3. Hymn, “Jesus! The Name High Over All,” written by
Charles Wesley, 1749.
bigger choir. I know Creflo Dollar’s got it
4. 1 Corinthians 15:14, paraphrased.
going on. But I’ve got to come somewhere and 5. See Romans 10:9.
see somebody who says, “I was down and 6. John 3:16, paraphrased.

NEW MINISTRY RESOURCES for the Black Church


FROM JAY-Z TO JESUS:
Reaching & Teaching Young
Adults in the Black Church
Benjamin Stephens and Ralph C. Watkins;
Foreword by Otis Moss III

Reach out to young adults with the insights


and tools needed to teach the gospel to this
generation. The words of young adults
themselves serve as testimony to the spiritu-
al longing and critique of the aging church’s
ministry. 978-0-8170-1545-9 $15.00
The author addresses:
■ recruitment
■ organization
THE WORK OF THE GREETER ■ function of greeters in the life of the church
Paige Lanier Chargois 978-0-8170-1540-4 $12.00 Available May 1.
The latest volume in Judson Press’s classic To order, call 800-458-3766 or visit
“Work of the Church” series, this book offers www.judsonpress.com.
practical information for development and Save 20% when you order online.
implementation of a more structured hospitality
ministry of greeters.
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS J. DELANO ELLIS

BE NOT the day of our death. But in all of this looking


into those years that run relentlessly on, we
have hopes and ideals; but still we see the per-
Afraid ils, and fear-filled questions plague us: “What
will happen tomorrow? In the coming years?
How life will end, and how it will be rounded
J. DELANO ELLIS
out? Will there, at evening tide, be light? Or
shall the end be darkness?”
Then there are those other times when we
stand still and think, attempting to grab hold
of the present—today’s life itself of suffering,
Deuteronomy 33:27, ERV of weakness, and of that which is always
The eternal God is thy dwelling place, And present with us, death! Face it, in all of these
underneath are the everlasting arms: And he things—life, suffering, and death—there are
thrust out the enemy from before thee, And profound and unknown mysteries. Each one
said, Destroy. of us has had to grapple with the surface of

“What have I to dread, what have


I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace, with my
Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure


from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on
the everlasting arms.”1
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

randma Ellis would sing that hymn


G
when everything seemed to fall apart,
and the family couldn’t figure out the next
move in our daily struggle to survive.
Each one of us lives in two realms of mys-
tery on a persistent basis, and both realms will
produce a sense of fear in the soul. They are
the unknown future and the unfathomable
present. I’m having some difficulty trying to
figure out which of the two provokes more
fear. We look ahead. We think of tomorrow
with fear. We stare into the inevitable days
that will surely multiply into years. We even
34 try to look beyond those years and imagine
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS J. DELANO ELLIS

them all. But we also have had to become present with all of its mysteries; the text
sensitive to the depths, the depths of life itself declares, “underneath are the everlasting
at its highest and its best. We are related to arms.” Let’s consider this declaration and
these things, and we cannot escape them. So then take on our fears in the light of our faith.
we lift our eyes and look toward tomorrow First, there is the declaration itself. This
and ask, “What will happen?” Or as Miss statement is part of a benediction being pro-
Celie would say, “What us gone do?”2 We nounced by Moses just as he prepares to
are forced to look introspectively and make leave the children of Israel, whom he has led
attempts at understanding the mysteries of for 40 years. This was almost the last thing
life, suffering, and death; and before long that Moses said. Picture it: “The eternal God
we’re crying, “What shall we do?” is thy dwelling place, And underneath are the
Well, the answer to both of these questions everlasting arms.”
is found in my text. The first one addresses the In this text, we have that great name of
fear of the future; and the text declares, “The God by which he is introduced to us in bibli-
eternal God is thy dwelling place.” Then there cal revelation: Elohim. The name stands for
is the answer to the profound, unfathomable “unfathomable and immeasurable might of

J. DELANO ELLIS is a native of Pennsyl- United Pentecostal Churches of Christ.


vania and a product of the Philadelphia During his tenure as head of this reforma-
Public School System. He holds a Bachelor tion, Bishop Ellis organized the Joint
of Arts Degree in History and Sociology College of African-American Pentecostal
from Howard University, a Master’s Degree Bishops Congress, an organization de-
in Religious Education from Nazarene signed to train and prepare Pentecostal
Seminary, as well as a Doctor of Philo- Bishops in their roles as episcopates.
sophy Degree from Stafford University in After several years of committed service,
London, England. Bishop Ellis is also the the Joint College of Bishops elected
recipient of four honorary degrees from Bishop Ellis to the titular rank and dignity
various Universities in the United States of Metropolitan-Archbishop for that
and the United Kingdom. Communion of Pentecostals.
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

Prior to Bishop Ellis’s present responsi- In 2006, Bishop Ellis was elected to the
bility as Senior Pastor for the Pentecostal office of Senior Bishop of the Pentecostal
Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio, he Churches of Christ, and he continues to
served the Church of God in Christ, head- teach and mentor pastors and bishops
quartered in Memphis, Tennessee, for over throughout the United States in the areas
35 years. His gift for planning and organiz- of leadership and churchmanship. He
ing has been beneficial to the body of serves as Adjunct Professor at Beulah
Christ across denominational borders. Heights University in Atlanta, Georgia.
Bishop Ellis organized and developed the Bishop Ellis shares the pastorate of
Adjutant’s Corp in the Church of God in Pentecostal Church of Christ with his wife,
Christ and served the leader of that Sabrina Joyce Ellis. He is the father to six,
denomination for more than 25 years. In grandfather to 21, and great-grandfather
1989, he established and organized the to one.
35
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS J. DELANO ELLIS

the Most High.” This is just one definition eternal God, the God of the morning when
suggested by the word. In this particular the stars sang together over the initiation of a
name of God, there is really no revelation of new mystery in the universe on which they
his work. There is nothing that tells us about had never looked before—that God of the
his motives that inspire him in his activities. beginning is thy dwelling place.
There is nothing in that name that reveals to Now I know you have some questions,
us the purpose behind all of his doings. The because some of what I’ve begun to share
name in the intensive Hebrew plural, Elohim sounds paradoxical and surprising. But listen
speaks of might and consequently of majesty. to me as I try to make some sense of my obtuse
But the arresting word in the text is not the thoughts. Human thought is always prone to
name of God, even though it’s necessary if we’re think of tomorrow as though it is in front of
going to understand the declaration of Moses. us. Tomorrow, however, is not in front of us!
The key word of the text today is the word that Tomorrow is behind us! This is, and these are,
we have translated “eternal.” That word does the latter days. The earlier days are gone.
not mean what “everlasting” means! Look at Tomorrow is still “latter.” The underlying
the text: “underneath are the everlasting arms.” thought here is that of a great procession.
That word “everlasting” is the greatest of all Follow me for a moment. Imagine some
words that attempt to express that which is great procession of cars or people, moving
beyond our calendars and almanacs—the time- from point “A” to point “B.” The beginning
lessness of deity. But the word here translated of the procession is always in front; the end
“eternal” has another meaning and another of it is always behind. If you can see that, then
thought! Let me say right here and now that the you’ll understand when I say that yesterday is
word has nothing to do with the idea of tomor- in front; tomorrow is behind! The whole his-
row, but it has everything to do with yesterday. tory of humanity is a procession; and in the
This word, “eternal,” is designed to make us beginning is God, leading the procession. We
look forward, and it compels us to look back. are not moving away from those who went
So now you ask me, “What are you trying before us, as though we dropped them some-
to tell me, in light of my fears about tomor- where behind and left them. The generation
row?” That’s the very genius of the text. The that shall be born shall not be in advance of
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

word literally means “the front,” whether us. They will come on behind us. God leads
you’re talking about place or time. It means and accompanies. He is the God of the morn-
the forepart! The literal Hebrew interpreta- ing, he is the God of the beginning, and he is
tion says that it means “the east”—the place thy dwelling place!
of sunrise, the place where the day began. Now regardless to how far away God may
The text is trying to tell us that God is the seem to be, he is the God who was at the
God of the beginning. I wouldn’t hurt the text beginning; and he is our refuge, our dwelling
if I said, “The God of old is thy dwelling place. God is no further removed from me
place.” Even though it’s not as poetic as the than he was from the first man in that proces-
speaker’s word “eternal,” it comes nearer to sion. God is no farther distant from his cre-
his thought. The God of old, the God of ation—even after the long ages of develop-
beginnings is thy dwelling place. Everything ment and continuation—than he was from the
that was involved in the beginning continues first propulsion of the night. The eternal God,
36 through, processes to consummation. The the God of the beginning, the God of old time,
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS J. DELANO ELLIS

the God of the morning—that God is our word in the Bible, as well as fatherhood.
dwelling place! Everlasting means the point of vanishing; the
Then there is the simple deduction: The ultimate reach of the imagination and
future that is behind us is not in our care. We thought; or that which is hidden. To tell the
have nothing to do with that which is to come truth, there is no way to describe what we
after this. We have only two things that really mean when we say “eternal” or “ever-
should concern us: yesterdays that are in front lasting.” The Bible doesn’t even make an
of us and today in which we set our faces attempt to explain it either. All I can offer
toward those things that have gone on before today is the blessed assurance to you and to
us. We follow God, in company with God! myself that when I’ve reached my bottom and
“The eternal God is our dwelling place.” all of my hope is gone and I’ve come to the
All that prepares for, and leads to, the second ultimate in suffering and pain or if I come to
part of this declaration: “And underneath are the valley and shadow of death, there is still a
the everlasting arms.” My first argument con- place lower than my low; and in that place—
tends that God is the God of the beginning. I underneath—are the “everlasting arms.”
tried to tell you that he is our dwelling place on What fears do you have today? What
our entire journey, so then we learn what frightens you and causes you to stammer in
Moses really means when he says, “under- disbelief? What sufferings have you been
neath are the everlasting arms.” As a matter of forced to endure so that you find yourself
fact, this is the only place in the English Bible looking for one to help you? What tempta-
where we will find the word “underneath.” tions have you faced and even given in to on
The Hebrew word is found in a few other occasion? How far did you sink? Well, I have
places. To understand this word, let me give good news for you: There were the everlast-
you a simpler phrase: “the bottom.” ing arms underneath you, and fear is erased
“Underneath” is the uttermost limit of depres- in the presence of his arms.
sion, humiliation, and beating down. How far I’ve got to close this witness for now, but I
down can your imagination or your experi- came to church today to tell somebody that all
ences carry you? Those profound depths of life is not lost. All is not over and done with. You
are suffering, weakness, and death—how well are not out. God is the only “umpire” in this
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

do you know them? How deep have you been game, and he decides who’s “out” and who’s
into life? Think about it. How deep in sorrow “in.” Good afternoon and have a nice dinner,
have you ever been? Can you remember when but go out of here knowing that your latter will
you sank in weakness? How weak did you be greater than your past. Your past is in front
become? How near to death did you come? of you, and your future is behind you. Here it
When you have reminded yourself of that low- comes and the procession goes on! Be not
est level, then hurry up and think about it: afraid, beloved. God is the Parade Marshall,
“underneath” (lower than your lowest) “are and he’s leading us to a good conclusion! |
the everlasting arms.”
Everlasting arms! The word “arms” in the NOTES
Bible always constitutes a picture of strength, 1. Hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” words by
Elisha A. Hoffman, music by Anthony J. Showalter, 1887.
and the idea is also qualified by the root
2. Alice Walker, The Color Purple (New York: Harcourt
meaning of sowing, fructifying, or bearing. Brace Jovanovich), 1982. The novel was adapted into a film
Motherhood lies in the figurative use of this in 1985 and has been performed as a theater production. 37
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS VIOLET L. FISHER

Bread for the money on what is not bread, and your labor
on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to
me, and eat what is good and your soul will
JOURNEY delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and
come to me; hear me, that your soul may
live. I will make an everlasting covenant with
VIOLET L. FISHER you, my faithful love promised to David.”

John 6:25-35, NIV


Isaiah 55:1-3, NIV When they found him on the other side of the
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you
waters; and you who have no money, come, get here?” Jesus answered, “I tell you the
buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk with- truth, you are looking for me, not because you
out money and without cost. Why spend saw miraculous signs but because you ate the

VIOLET L. FISHER’S call to ministry came


at the age of 16. Though her roots were in
the Methodist Episcopal Church, the affirma-
tion for her ministry as an ordained clergy
member came through The King’s Apostle
Holiness Church of God. In this church, she
served as National Evangelist and was the
first woman to be ordained. During these
years, she also taught in the public school
systems of Virginia and Maryland.
Her journey brought her back to the
church of her birth, and in 1988 she was
ordained a deacon and in 1990 an elder in
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the


United Methodist Church. Bishop Fisher
served St. Daniel’s United Methodist Church
in Chester, Pennsylvania, and Sayers
Memorial United Methodist Church in
Philadelphia. From 1994 to July 2000, she
served as District Superintendent of the
Mary McLeod Bethune District, and during
her tenure on the district was twice appoint-
ed Dean of the Cabinet.
Reflecting on her consecration as
Bishop in July 2000, Bishop Fisher stated,
“This affirmation speaks to all women,
38
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS VIOLET L. FISH E R

loaves and had your fill. Do not work for it is not Moses who has given you the bread
food that spoils, but for food that endures to from heaven, but it is my Father who gives
eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you the true bread from heaven. For the bread
you. On him God the Father has placed his of God is he who comes down from heaven
seal of approval.” Then they asked him, and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said,
“What must we do to do the works God “from now on give us this bread.” Then Jesus
requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of declared, “I am the bread of life. He who
God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” comes to me will never go hungry, and he
So they asked him, “What miraculous sign who believes in me will never be thirsty.
then will you give that we may see it and Shortly before his death, tennis great,
believe you? What will you do? Our forefa- Arthur Ashe, wrote these words to his daugh-
thers ate the manna in the desert; as it is writ- ter, Camera, in the closing chapter of his
ten: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to book, Days of Grace: “Camera, have faith
eat.’” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, in God. Do not be tempted whether by

especially women of color.” Jurisdictional in Singapore in June 2004. In 1998–99,


delegates commented after the election: she was Dean of the Northeastern
“There is a sense of wonder and delight that Jurisdiction School of Evangelism.
a nontraditional leader was elected. She is a Bishop Fisher holds two Master’s
very enthusiastic, energetic people-person Degrees, one in Education and the other in
with a strong spirit and strong leadership Divinity; a Doctorate in Divinity; and hon-
skills. She knows the pulse of the people. orary doctoral degrees. Bishop Fisher is
God anointed her bishop.” profiled in the new book compiled by
Within the structure of The United Bishop Judith Craig, The Leading Women:
Methodist Church, Bishop Fisher served as Stories of the First Women Bishops of The
President of the Northeastern Jurisdiction United Methodist Church. She is a contrib-
College of Bishops, is a member of the utor to The African American Pulpit, The
Commission on Pan-Methodist Coopera- Women of Color Study Bible, and the
tion and Union, and serves on the Audit Women of Spirit Devotional.
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

Committee, Holistic Africa, and Hope for In addition, Bishop Fisher proudly served
the Children of Africa Committees as Vice as a short-term missionary to Kenya,
President of the General Board of Global Uganda, Haiti, Jamaica, and the Dominican
Ministries. Bishop Fisher continues her Republic. Most recently, Bishop Fisher was
work with the General Board of Disciple- nominated by the Council of Bishops to
ship Committee on Older Adult Ministries serve on the Executive Committee of the
and remains a member of Black Methodists World Methodist Conference 2006 in
for Church Renewal. She previously served Seoul, South Korea, and most recently in
on the General Board of Church and Australia. She has a large extended family
Society. Bishop Fisher was the keynote in the Maryland and Delaware area, includ-
speaker for the International Prayer ing her son, Marcus, and her mother, sisters,
Conference for Wesleyans in Renewal held and brothers.
39
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS VIOLET L. FISHER

pleasures and material possessions, or by the tion, “Can I put bread on the table for my
claims of science and smart thinkers, into family?” The word “bread” has so many
believing that religion is obsolete, that the meanings and emotions attached to it.
worship of God is somehow beneath you. Immediately after the fighting had stopped
Spiritual nourishment is as important as in World War II, American soldiers gathered
physical nourishment and intellectual nour- many hungry and homeless children and
ishment.”1 The words of Arthur Ashe can be placed them in tent cities. Many of them were
summed up in the Old Testament lesson, malnourished and in need of medical care.
Isaiah 55:2, words which provide profound The soldiers shared their bread with them.
insight and echo down the corridors of time: The soldiers noticed the children were afraid
“Why spend money on what is not bread, to go to sleep at night. One of the soldiers
and your labor on what does not satisfy? tried an experiment after dinner; he gave the
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good.” children a piece of bread to hold. The result
“Bread” is a good word. “Bread” is a word was astounding! When they had the security
we use often around our homes. Bread is so of bread for tomorrow, the children slept like
important to life. I’m sure most of you have a babies. It took away their fear. Talk about
memo pad with a pen or pencil near your fear, just mention the word “snow” in many
refrigerator where the list for groceries is com- parts of our country, and immediately every-
piled as you run out of things. I am sure that one scrambles for bread, milk, and eggs. We
at the top of every list, in every household, is love that security.
the word “BREAD,” the universal food and Bread! There is a surplus of meaning in this
need for our bodies. You can go around the word. The word evokes strong emotions like
world and some sort of bread is found in security, fellowship, the presence of God, and
every culture and country. I have been fortu- provisions for the journey. Bread is deemed
nate enough to visit and experience many dif- holy by peoples everywhere. The root word
ferent breads: Italian bread, New York rye, for “bread” in most languages can be trans-
Matzo crackers, whole wheat bread, English lated “food,” as it is in the Bible. Yes, people
muffins, bagels, shortbread, scones, Greek invest the word “bread” with special mean-
pastries, white bread, and my favorite, corn- ing and with religious significance. For the
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

bread. Even in years past, prisoners in jails Jews, bread was a symbol of the Torah, the
were entitled to at least bread and water. Law, and God’s covenant with the people.
Jesus knew the needs of the human body. The word “bread” has amazing powers.
Remember, he hungered and thirsted in the I know that the physical, physiological
wilderness. He grew up in a Jewish home need of the human body is one of the most
where his mother, Mary, as part of her daily powerful drives of humankind; and unless
routine and responsibilities made bread. Jesus this need is satisfied, many will not search in
used bread in the Passover meal. He fed earnest for satisfaction of one’s higher needs.
5,000 people with five loaves of bread Jesus realized this. We realize this. There is,
because he had compassion on them. He however, a deeper hunger to be met and sat-
would not permit them to go home hungry. isfied. There is bread (with a small “b”) and
In a family, the one who brings home the then there is Bread (with a capital “B”). It is
most money is called “the bread-winner.” that tension between bread (little “b”) and
40 When we take a job we ask ourselves a ques- Bread (big “B”) that we find in our text in
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS VIOLET L. FISHER

St. John. It is a very real tension and to word “bread.” Our Old Testament text,
understand that tension, we must see it in the Isaiah 55:1-3 shares profound insights and
context of the Gospel of John. words about this other level when it shares,
Earlier in the chapter, Jesus had fed the 5,000. “Why spend money on what is not bread and
What a marvelous, unbelievable miracle! Five your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen,
thousand men, not counting women and chil- listen to me, and eat what is good.”
dren, were fed from a small lunch. When the Jesus was a great teacher because he used
disciples, who were in training at that time, the symbols of everyday life to connect us to
wanted to dismiss the crowd, Jesus saw this as the spiritual and the eternal. Jesus intended
an opportunity to minister to an even deeper the symbol and substance of physical earthly
need. He wanted the crowd to know that God bread to direct and lead us to the spiritual
cares for their stomachs and their souls as well. needs of our existence, as well as to meaning,
What an impression it left. The biblical text purpose, and fulfillment. As we take time to
says that the bread was multiplied in Jesus’ prepare three square meals a day, we also
hands. This is why social action/mission always need to set aside time to feed our souls with
goes hand-in-hand with evangelism. They rep- prayer, service, fellowship, and study in the
resent the two sides of the Gospel truth. things of God. It is far better, Jesus concludes,
The crowds went crazy and wanted to to work for the bread that endures, the bread
name Jesus king, but he refused and retreated that provides strength and nourishment for
to be alone with the disciples. And it was dur- our spiritual journey.
ing this time that Jesus walked on water. Sisters and brothers, our Bread is God him-
Guess how the people responded. When Jesus self and God gives himself to us as food. Jesus
began to talk about the Bread, the people provides more than a meal. Jesus provides a
asked, “Can you give us a sign?” Here Jesus moment in which we can give ourselves to
had fed 5,000 and walked across water, and God. In this story, we see the answer that
they wanted a sign. It is easy not to see the for- Jesus gives to that need. Yes, there is a need
est because of the trees. Talk about being for bread that keeps us alive. There is also a
locked in the temporal dimension of life and need for bread that gives us a reason to live.
not being able to see the big picture. That is Jesus is trying to help them understand that
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

why this story can be set squarely in the midst everyone has a need for living bread. They
of this modern world. Not one thing has are like people sitting at a great feast and are
changed! We, modern people, love the spec- famished because they are not taking advan-
tacular and get bored with the ordinary. tage of the spiritual food that is before them.
The people follow Jesus. We see that when Jesus is trying to broaden their vision.
the people get to the other side, Jesus moves There is a hunger and a thirst that only God
the question to a deeper spiritual level and can fill. Every single person has that hunger.
need. Jesus ignores their questions about There is an empty place in your life and heart
when and how he got there and proceeds to that only God can fill. You may not know what
tell them why they really came to seek him. to call it. At times, we try to suppress this long-
Notice that he says there are two kinds of ing. We just know that something is wrong.
bread in the world: that which lasts and that Yes, life is more than an empty dish. Our good
which does not. Now we need to recognize shepherd does not lead us to an empty dish but
and understand the other meaning of the rather green pastures and still waters. Without 41
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS VIOLET L. FISHER

that, all the manna in the world can’t produce Jesus Christ himself. Pass it on.
anything but a grumbling spirit. On this journey called life, ofttimes we do
The struggle to discern what is significant become weary; the stress, strain, and
and what is superficial is a constant struggle demands of life are often more than we can
in every generation. Jesus knows we need bear. We find ourselves alone in our wilder-
bread from a new Adam. Jesus knows we ness, barren desert experiences, thirsty and
need a rebirth. Jesus knows we need bread hungry for spiritual nourishment. Our sister
that frees us up to love God. So, from Jesus Hagar and brother Elijah can identify with
we learn an important insight. In John 4:34, us, for they found heaven in the wilderness in
Jesus tells his disciples, “My food is to do the the form of bread—bread that refreshed,
will of him who sent me and to fill his work.” revived, renewed, and recreated.4 As we con-
This is where the satisfaction and staying tinue our journey as disciples of Jesus Christ,
power come from. The only work I know we, too, have that confidence. Our God
that can satisfy this hunger is the mission of meets us and gently promises again and again
building God’s kingdom revealed in the per- to be with us in the journey. God is with us!
son of Jesus Christ. This is the Bread (with a Hear the words of our Savior, “Eat this
capital “B”). People who adopt the philoso- bread, drink this cup, come to me, and never
phy of eat, drink, and be merry usually are be hungry. Eat this bread, drink this cup, trust
not merry or full of joy. That philosophy can in me, and you will not thirst.”5
only provide bread (with a small “b”). It will We then can join with our mothers and
eventually lead to an empty and broken life, fathers, the saints of the church and declare:
an empty and broken family, and empty and
broken relationships. “The road is rough,
Brothers and sisters, I remember a song The going gets tough,
sung by my mother, “The world is hungry for And the hills are hard to climb.
the Living Bread. Lift the Savior up for them I started out a long time ago,
to see; Trust Him, and do not doubt the There is no doubt in my mind;
words that He said, ‘I’ll draw all men (peo- I have decided to make Jesus [the big
ple) unto Me.’”2 Yes, the world is waiting for “B”] my choice.”6
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

those of us who are filled with spiritual bread


to pass it on. The world is in need of a Savior, Pass it on. |
of healing, of salvation, and of direction. Like
the lad in John’s Gospel, maybe, just maybe NOTES
1. Arthur Ashe, Days of Grace: A Memoir (New York:
we are that lad. Our virtues or acts of gen- Alfred A. Knopf), 1993.
erosity are no match for the power of God’s 2. Hymn, “Lift Him Up,” words by Johnson Oatman Jr. and
love expressed in the one who gives himself music by Benjamin Beall, 1903.
to the world as the “bread of life.”3 All we 3. See John 6:34, 48.
4. See Genesis 21:14 and 1 Kings 17:1-6.
can offer is whatever morsel of bread we 5. From the song “Eat This Bread (Jesus the Bread of
have in our hands—to be transformed by Life)” written by Jacques Berthier, 1984; see also 1
Christ into the food that sustains us for eter- Corinthians 11:24-26.
6. Gospel song, “I Have Decided to Make Jesus My
nity and live in the power of that gift. The
Choice,” written by Harrison Johnson; lyrics found at
world is asking the church “Is there any http://www.music-lyrics-gospel.com (accessed October
42 bread in the house?” We have the answer: 3, 2008).
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S WI LLIAM A. LAWS O N

BLOOD Mark 14 beginning with verse 22: “And as


they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed,
and break it, and gave to them, and said,
and Guts Take, eat: this is my body. And he took the
cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave
it to them: and they all drank of it. And he
WILLIAM A. LAWSON said unto them, This is my blood of the new
testament, which is shed for many.” Amen.
This table represents blood and guts. Jesus
says, “Eat my body and drink my blood. This
has been prepared for your redemption. This
makes it possible that instead of dropping
Mark 14:22-24, NKJV
directly from life into hell, you may be able to

D r. Cosby has asked me to give a title to this


message, so I’ll give a title to it. I’ll call it
“Blood and Guts.” And I want to take it from
be with me in my Father’s kingdom.” It is
important that we understand that the only
way we have access to God is through his
the 14th chapter of the Gospel according to Son, Jesus Christ, through the death and suf-
Mark. We’ll look at verse 22 down to 24. ferings of Jesus Christ.

WILLIAM A. LAWSON was founding


pastor of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church
in Houston, Texas. He retired from that
position in 2004. Lawson was born in St.
Louis, Missouri, and reared by Walter and
Clarisse Lawson Cade in Kansas City,
Kansas. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in
Sociology at Tennessee A. & I. State
University in Nashville (1950). He
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

returned to Kansas City to attend Central


Baptist Theological Seminary, which con-
ferred upon him the Bachelor of Divinity
and Master of Theology Degrees.
While in seminary, he was married to
Audrey H. Lawson of St. Louis. The
Lawsons have four children and celebrat-
ed their golden wedding anniversary in
January of 2004.
Reverend Lawson went to Houston
after graduation from seminary to serve as
Director of the Baptist Student Union and
Professor of Bible at the new (eight years
44
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S WI LLIAM A. LAWS O N

This is not a pretty message, but it is prob- death would save you and me from our sins.
ably important for some who have not See, God already had a way to get us start-
thought about it or who don’t even know it. ed again. I want you to think about the death
How gruesome, how gory, and yet how glo- of Jesus Christ, and I’ve said already that it is
rious was the death of Jesus Christ. not a pretty story. But the death of Jesus
Jesus died on what we call “Good Friday.” Christ occurred in a way that followed a plan
And it may seem that he died on Good Friday by God.
because scribes and Pharisees wanted him to Let me talk about that last week before he
die after Palm Sunday. His death was not died. For on what we now call “Palm
plotted on Palm Sunday. Indeed, God the Sunday,” Jesus did what was unexpected. His
Father had preplanned before the founda- enemies had wanted to put him to death, and
tions of the world that when man sinned— they had been trying to find some way to put
even before Adam and Eve had sinned—God him to death for months—even for most of
had plotted that when man sinned, he would the three years that his ministry had carried
have a plan of redemption by which one of him among them. They had never been able
the Trinity—his Son—would come into this to reach him; when they looked for him, he
world, live as a human being for 33 years, was just gone. Somehow God protected him
and then would be put to death; and his from his enemies getting to him.

old) Texas Southern University (TSU). He Prosperity. That agency has testified
served in that position for ten years, also before public officials and bodies on behalf
becoming director of Upward Bound, a pre- of the underprivileged, and now has estab-
college program for high school students lished a middle school for boys and char-
on the TSU campus. During his years at tered it as a public school with the Houston
TSU, a number of residents of the neigh- Independent School District so that it is
borhood persuaded the Lawsons to estab- accessible to low-income families. In 2007,
lish a church near the university. Wheeler it was the second-highest ranking among
Avenue Baptist Church was established in public secondary schools in Houston.
their home in June 1962. The congregation WALIPP is also constructing 50 apartment
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

grew to over 4,000 members, with many units for seniors in Houston’s Third Ward.
outreach programs, and is much respected Finally, the agency is bringing together
in the community. Since the church was community development groups, churches,
born and lived its infant years during the civic clubs, and local governments to rede-
Civil Rights Movement, Lawson has been velop the Third Ward so that aggressive
deeply involved in advocacy activities for real estate development will not expel all
African Americans, for Hispanics, for who need affordable housing.
women, and for the poor. In 2006, Pastor Lawson joined the
In 1996, the Houston community hon- University of Houston faculty as Distinguished
ored him with the creation of a non-profit Community Scholar in Residence. He is the
advocacy agency called WALIPP, the author of a book of meditations entitled
William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Lawson’s Leaves of Love.
45
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S WI LLIAM A. LAWS O N

But on what we now call “Palm Sunday,” woman came into the room where he was,
Jesus came boldly and publicly into let her long hair down, and began to wash
Jerusalem surrounded by hundreds of peo- his feet and to wipe his feet with her hair—a
ple. And his enemies did not dare touch him strange thing. Jesus’ disciples wondered,
because on that Sunday he was surrounded “Why is he allowing this woman, first of all,
by his supporters and those who worshiped to come into this room, which ought to be
him. That was what happened on Sunday of reserved for us disciples—but then, in the
that week. He went back to Bethel. second place, to bow down, wash his feet,
Then he came the next day—on Monday. and wipe them with that long hair? What is
And on Monday when he came into the matter with that woman, and why is
Jerusalem, his disciples came to him and Jesus letting her do it?”
said, “Lord, some Greeks want to see And Jesus said to them, “Leave her alone.
you.”1 And rather than Jesus saying, “Bring She is doing this for my burial.”4 How
them here; I’ll talk to them,” Jesus said, could they understand that Jesus, who
“Now is the hour for the Son of man to be would continue to predict that he was going
glorified.”2 Now, that sounds like we need to die, was once again saying that this
to praise him. But that isn’t what that strange act by this woman was a prediction
meant. This was now six days, five days, of his death.
four days, before the most important events God seems to have given to women some-
of his life or our lives: before his crucifixion thing that he hasn’t given to men. There is a
and his resurrection. kind of an instinct that women seem to have
He said, “Now is the hour for the Son of that men don’t seem to have. Women are
man to be glorified.” That meant being given some kind of a special instinct.
glorified by death. Jesus was predicting his One of the things I will always remember
own death. And then he followed that up about Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church is
by another statement that sounds like we that when the church was just two years
ought to praise God; he said, “If I be lifted old, there was a woman who said to me,
up from the earth, I’ll draw all men unto “I’ve been called to preach.” And I said,
me.”3 Once again he was not talking about “Well, if you’ve been called to preach,
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

praising God. He was talking about how come on into this pulpit.” We were two
he would die. The way Jews executed crim- years old; just a few of us in that church. So
inals was to stone them. The way Romans she came up and she preached and she
executed criminals was to hang them on a blessed our hearts and we praised God that
cross. Jesus was talking about being lifted this woman had been called to preach. She
up on a cross. He knew he was going to obviously had been called to preach. So
die, but he said, “If I be lifted up from the after she had preached, she came down,
earth, I’ll draw all men unto me.” That’s Pastor Cosby, and joined the church. She
the important statement that he made on said, “I had said that if any preacher would
that Monday. let me into his pulpit, I would join that
Tuesday was an interesting day. He told his church.” Since that time, a number of
disciples that in two days he would die, but women have come to preach the Gospel
somehow they never heard him. And the here at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church.
46 interesting thing was that on Tuesday a We’ve got 28 right now.
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S WI LLIAM A. LAWS O N

By the way, something else happened on to redeem them; Jesus was. So, they had to
Tuesday. Judas makes a bargain to sell Jesus have that cup.
to the high priest for thirty pieces of silver. They had to have maror, which is bitter
Exodus tells us that thirty pieces of silver was herbs, probably horseradish—very, very bad
the price of an injured slave—a slave is tasting. It reminded them of the bitterness of
injured and he can’t work and then you want slavery. There was a vegetable, probably
to sell him? You sell him for 30 pieces of sil- parsley, and that vegetable was dipped in salt
ver, which is about 25 dollars. Can you imag- water because that represented the tears of
ine a human being sold for 25 dollars? But he the slaves who suffered in Egypt. There was
bargains to sell Jesus for 25 dollars. All that’s something called “charoses” that was a sweet
on Tuesday. paste made of apples and almonds and honey
Wednesday is a day of rest. Neither Jesus and several other sweet things. It was the best
nor his disciples do anything then. They sim- tasting thing in the Passover feast and repre-
ply remain and they are getting ready for sented the sweetness of freedom.
Thursday, which is an extremely busy day. I just wanted us to look at this because
Thursday, Jesus sends his disciples to pre- that’s what Jesus fed his disciples. And the
pare for the Passover. The Passover is the final thing was fish, gefilte fish. That remind-
most important dinner for Jews. It reminds ed them that when God delivered them he
them that God emancipated them from slav- carried them across two bodies of water: the
ery in Egypt. And much of the menu of the Red Sea and the Jordan River.
Passover reminds them of that time of slavery All of those things had meaning. So the
and the time that God released and redeemed Passover feast was something that remind-
them from slavery. ed them of their redemption. After they
The Passover menu included Matzo, which had taken the Passover feast, Judas, who
is an unleavened bread—bread without ate the Passover with them, was told by
yeast. That reminds Israel that when God Jesus, “I know that one of you is a trai-
called them out of Egypt and took them out tor,”5 and he pointed to Judas. Judas got
into the desert, they had to leave hastily with- mad and stormed out of the room. And,
out time to leaven their bread. So, this is after he did, there was only Jesus and 11
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

unleavened bread. Till this day, it is a part of disciples. Jesus then established what we
the Passover feast. Plus they have wine—fer- call “the Lord’s Supper.” He said, “This
mented, never distilled. When you take the bread is going to be my flesh, and this wine
wine today, it is not grape juice. Jesus called is going to represent my blood. As often as
for wine at the Last Supper, and the Jews you take this bread and this wine, it’s going
always used wine when they had the to remind you of me. Do this in remem-
Passover. There were four cups, and one of brance of me. In other words, don’t forget
those cups was never drunk. It was the cup that I’ve died for you.”
that was called the “cup of Elijah.” The The important thing about that is that the
assumption was that some day Elijah would symbols of the Jews always look back at
come back to redeem Israel; and when he something that happened hundreds of years
came back, he would drink from that cup. ago. What Jesus gave them was so that they
That’s the cup that Jesus took and gave to his could look forward. That was Thursday
disciples. Elijah was not going to come back night, and the next day he was going to die. 47
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S WI LLIAM A. LAWS O N

And so he gave them the Lord’s Supper, and He knew already what was going to hap-
we still take it. pen to him, so he asked God, “If it be possi-
Thursday was also an important day ble, let the cup pass. But if it’s not your will,
because Jesus washed the feet of his disci- then I’ll let it be as you will.” Now, as Jesus
ples. And as he washed their feet, he was prayed, his disciples went to sleep. Now, I
showing them servanthood—what it know that that never happens in our church,
means to yield to the will of God. Because but his disciples went to sleep. He came back
the fact is that as high as the heavens are and asked them, “Could you not watch with
above the earth, so high are the thoughts me for one hour?”10
and the ways of God above our thoughts And while they were in the garden, it was
and ways.6 invaded by Roman soldiers and scribes and
That’s basically what was happening on Pharisees led by Judas, who came over and
Thursday, but Thursday is not finished yet. betrayed Jesus with a kiss. All of this stuff you
When Jesus establishes the Lord’s Supper, he know; is that right? But I want you to see
gets ready to pray. He takes three disciples how it fits into the whole picture because
with him—Peter, James, and John—and God had a device to get us started again. And
goes into a place called Gethsemane. He as he faced this group of people, they came
prays most of the night until well, well after over not sure which of these men was Jesus.
midnight. And while he is praying, one of the And Jesus said, “I’m the one who is called
physicians, one of the Gospel writers who is Christ. Don’t bother these fellows. If you
a doctor, Luke, tells us that his sweat was like want to take somebody, I’m here. Take me.”
“great drops of blood falling to the And so they came to arrest him; God was
ground.”7 I want us to remember that, and not going to let that cup pass. He may not
we’ll talk about that a little bit later on. He give to you what you want right now. You
sweated profusely. While he was praying, he need some money today. You need for God
prayed a prayer of request and surrender. to heal your sickness right now. You need for
His request was, “Father, if it be possible, let God to take care of the friction that you have
this cup pass.”8 in your family between you and your wife;
Remember, he was no longer divine. Now, between you and your husband; between you
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

God had made him human and sent him and other family members; and you want
here to be born of a woman and to grow up that reconciliation to happen today. But
among other human beings—to have the yielding to God’s will is what Jesus had to do.
same feelings, the same ability to be hurt as And you?
anybody else. If he was cut, he bled. When And now the gory stuff begins. But
he was sad, he wept. When he was tired, he when they took Jesus, they took him first
slept. The fact is that Jesus had many of the of all to a Roman officer named Pontius
same emotions that we have. Never sinned, Pilate. Pilate said, “I’ll examine this man,
but he had many of the same emotions. He but I don’t see anything that he’s done
wanted to let it go, but he was asking the that wrong that he deserves punishment
Lord, “Now if it is possible, let this cup by the law.”
pass.” But then he yielded as you and I And so he learned that Jesus lived in an
ought to yield, “Yet, not my will but thine area that was overseen by Tetrarch Herod.
48 be done.”9 Just as Pilate was a puppet officer of the
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S WI LLIAM A. LAWS O N

Roman government, so Herod was a pup- trunk of a tree cut down so that it is 16-by-
pet king. 16 or 18-by-18 inches all way around?
When Jesus got to the place where Herod And they put two of these together so that
was, Herod said, “I don’t find anything there was an upright and a cross beam; and
wrong with him, but if you religious folks they made Jesus and two criminals carry
want me to do something to him, then I’ll do that thing weighing 300-plus pounds. And
a little bit to him.” He took a crown of thorns Jesus tried to carry it, but he was too weak
and pressed it down on the head of Jesus and to carry it. He’d been up all night. He had a
the blood started squirting from those crown of thorns on his head. He had been
wounds. And he said, “You fellows can just whipped with a cat-of-nine-tails. He was
take him back. He seems innocent to me.” covered with human waste. He was a mess.
They took him back to Pilate. Pilate was So he couldn’t carry that cross, and he fell
hoping he would never come back. Pilate’s down. Some of the Roman soldiers saw in
wife told him, “Don’t bother this man. the crowd a big muscular black man from
There’s something different about him.” Africa. You know Africans have always had
There’s that woman’s intuition again. And strength. And so they asked this black man,
Pilate said, “Look, the man seems innocent to “Help this man carry this cross.” So Simon
me.” But they were saying, “We want you to the Cyrene came over to help Jesus to carry
punish him. He needs to be punished.” the cross up that hill of Golgotha, the place of
Pilate said, “Alright, I can chastise him a the skull.
little bit, but he doesn’t deserve to be execut- As he carried that cross up the hill and as
ed.” So Pilate got a whip—a thing called the the two criminals who were going to be cru-
“cat-of-nine-tails” and told one of his sol- cified with him also carried their crosses up
diers, “Whip him real good.” The cat-of- the hill, Jesus continued to bleed. He was
nine-tails had thorns and broken pieces of bleeding because of those splinters on those
pottery woven into all of those nine lashes. beams while his blood continued to gush out
And they began to beat Jesus with that cat- of the many wounds that he had that were
of-nine-tails. Once again, skin was almost now opened.
pealed off of his back and blood began to Then when they got to the top of the hill,
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

flow everywhere. This isn’t pretty; this is as difficult as it was to get to the top of the
basically what happened. And while they hill, they laid these three men down on those
whipped Jesus, he fell on the ground but three crosses. And when they laid them
never said a mumbling word. down, they then began to nail them to the
They were getting ready to let him loose, cross. But it wasn’t nails. When you think of
but the Pharisees said, “You can’t turn him nails, you think of something that you buy
loose. He’s got to be killed. Crucify him! at the hardware store—maybe an inch long
Crucify him!” So Pilate said, “Well, if I have or three inches long. These were not that
to crucify him, it’ll be the Roman way, not kind of nails. If you can imagine the spikes
the Jewish way; then I will have him cruci- that are used by the railroad; these were
fied.” They cut down two beams. They were spikes. And while they were lying down on
like large trees, and they stripped the trees those crosses, they drove those spikes
and then turned them into beams. You know between the metacarpals of the hands and
what a two-by-four is. Can you imagine the the metatarsals of the feet. So that while 49
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S WI LLIAM A. LAWS O N

they drove those things through, more mouth. “Let him drink that.” He drank it
blood, more spurting, and Jesus still never and never complained.
complained. He had told his Father, “Not Then finally Jesus, in the midst of the dark-
my will but thine be done,” and he was not ness, realizing that he was going through a
going to complain. pain like he had never felt before—like most
So then they lifted those crosses. And if of us could never feel—but not just the pain
you can imagine what it must have been to from the outside, but a pain from the inside.
be nailed to those crosses and then the And he screamed out, “My God, my God,
crosses were dropped down into a hole why have you forsaken me?”12 He was a
almost ripping off the hands and feet of human being. He felt pain. Right now he felt
these three men—a pain that is incalcula- forsaken. But then he realized his Father had
ble, indescribable. While they hung there, not forsaken him. His Father was with him
the two criminals began to tease Jesus, all the time.
taunt him. And they say, “If you are the Struggles strengthen us. Jesus realized that
Christ, get us down out of this mess.” And what he was going through had been pre-
Jesus never responded. But while they dicted even from before the foundations of
taunted him, one of them said, “There’s the world. There was something that could
something different about this man. He charge the battery that was already there. So
doesn’t act like somebody who’s dying on a when Jesus cried out, he then bowed his
cross. He acts like he’s suffering for some- head and said, “Father, into thy hands I com-
body else.” And so this one said to the mend my spirit.”13 And there he died with
other thief who was taunting him, he said, clotted blood, but he died. And when he
“You fool, don’t you even respect God?” died, they said that dead people got out of
He realized that there was something dif- the ground. They said all kinds of miracles
ferent about this man in the middle. took place when he died. He did not die
So he turned to Jesus and he asked him, because of his crimes. He did not die even
“Master, when you come into your kingdom, because his enemies wanted him to die. He
remember me.” Jesus turned painfully to look died because you and I needed somebody to
at this man, blood pouring down his face into redeem us.
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

his eyes, and he said to him, “I say unto you, It doesn’t matter how bad your sins are. It
today you will be with me in paradise.”11 doesn’t matter what you have done or what
While they hung there, the sky grew dark; you’re going to do; the fact is that God
and it was like midnight—a darkness that redeems us anyway. The only thing we have
you could almost feel with your hands. No to do is to accept him. The Scripture says that
explanation for that. This was not a cloudy if you confess Jesus with your mouth and if
day. This was not some sudden covering of you believe that God has raised him from the
the sun. Whatever this was, it was unlike any dead, you shall be saved.14 Whatever your
darkness that anybody had seen before. And sins are, God blesses us with salvation.
in that darkness, you could hear the voice of When Jesus died, the centurion who was at
Jesus saying, “I thirst.” The soldiers figured the foot of the cross said, “Surely, this man
it would be kind of a good joke to laugh at was the Son of God!”15
if they could take a sponge, fill it with vine- Now, I think back to that Thursday night
50 gar and hyssop, and then hold it up to his when Jesus said, “Eat my flesh and drink my
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S WI LLIAM A. LAWS O N

blood”—blood and guts so it is. But when accept the presence and the power of God?
Jesus died, those who were religious leaders How much is Jesus hurt because we think
said to the Roman soldiers, “You just can’t that he is worth 25 dollars? How much does
stay here with these men still on the cross. Jesus hurt because we are more concerned
They have to die before Passover, and about the St. John’s that we wear than we
Passover begins at 6:00 tonight. So you have are about worshiping him? How much does
to kill them right now before Passover comes. he hurt because while we are glad to come
You know, when Passover comes we have to to church and look good and sound good,
put on our Sunday best. We have to speak in we may say some pretty bad expletives
tongues. We have to beat our tambourines. while we’re in the car on the way to and
You’re going to have to get rid of this man.” after church?
So they told the Romans, “Kill these men The problem is that we often don’t realize
before Passover begins.” The soldiers went that we are breaking Jesus’ heart just by our
over and they broke the legs of those two faithlessness and by the fact that we don’t
criminals. They were just about to break the revere God enough.
legs of Jesus, and then one of the soldiers The death of Jesus was not a pretty picture;
said, “We don’t need to break his legs; he is it was a bloody picture. It was a picture of
dead already.” blood and guts, but it was a picture that
The fact is he didn’t die when they wanted means that God loved us so much that Jesus
him to die. He died when his Father wanted died while we were yet sinners. Aren’t you
him to die. So the Roman soldier said, “Well, glad that he subjected his Son to that kind of
just to make sure he’s dead, why don’t we run misery for you and me?
him through with a sword?” The climax of this worship service is on
So they pierced his side. Rammed it that table. When we eat that bread and drink
between his ribs and once again something that wine, we’re doing what Jesus told us to
spurted. But John said that what came out do: “Remember me.” We are commemorat-
was not simply blood. John calls it “blood ing his death for us. A blood and guts story,
and water.”16 You remember that when he beautiful story. Remember it, and look for-
was in the garden, Luke described his ward. Amen. |
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

sweat as blood kept falling down on the


NOTES
ground. Sweat and blood; blood and 1. See John 12:20-22.
water. And when he died and when the 2. John 12:23, paraphrased.
Roman soldier rammed him in the side and 3. John 12:32, paraphrased.
4. Mark 14:6, 8, paraphrased.
saw these two fluids coming out, they 5. Mark 14:18, paraphrased.
called it “blood and water.” 6. See Isaiah 55:9.
When I read from a physician’s confession 7. Luke 22:44, KJV.
about Jesus, this was not blood and water. It 8. See Mark 14:35.
9. Mark 14:36, paraphrased.
was blood and lymph. Lymph is a clear fluid 10. Mark 14:37, paraphrased.
that represents a rupture inside the body. So, 11. See Luke 23:43.
Jesus’ heart had ruptured. Jesus really died of 12. Mark 15:34, NIV.
13. Luke 23:46, KJV.
a broken heart.
14. See Romans 10:9.
And right now I wonder: How much is 15. Mark 15:39, TNIV.
Jesus in pain because you and I do not 16. See John 19:34; 1 John 5:6. 51
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S E LLI OTT J. MAS O N S R.

From Praise mislead you; because if you haven’t read the


rest of the psalm, you don’t know where that
praise comes from. Even the person who is
to PRAISE not a Christian can utter a word of praise
from his mouth. The carnal Christian, the
Christian who is not fully yielded to Christ,
ELLIOT T J. MASON SR. can utter a word of praise. And then the Holy
Spirit in the surrendered Christian is always
uttering praises. There are levels of praise.
Thank you, Jesus.
I cannot tell whether this is a serious word
Psalm 30:6, NRSV of praise coming from the heart of one that
As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall has only known the blessing of God, which is
never be moved.” a wonderful and acceptable word of praise,
but it’s one level of praise. If you’ve only

T his psalm begins with these words: “I will


praise you LORD,” or “I will extol you O
LORD.” It begins with a praise of God. And
known the blessings of God, your heart is
filled with one kind of praise. But when I read
this psalm, I find that the praise that arises in
just reading that first praise sometimes will the heart of the psalmist comes from another

ELLIOTT J. MASON SR. is currently co-


director of World Renewal Ministries—A
Ministry of Prayer and Encouragement.
He served for 23 years as pastor of Trinity
Baptist Church in Los Angeles, California,
and retired as pastor of Trinity in 1985.
He graduated from Dillard University in
1942. He earned the Bachelor of Divinity
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

from Oberlin Graduate School of


Theology in 1944 and became the pastor
of Third Baptist Church of Ohio the same
year. He later earned the Master of
Sacred Theology from Oberlin. In
1955–1956, he was awarded the honor
of Fulbright Scholar to study at the
University of Edinburgh in Scotland. In
1968, he received his Ph.D. from the
University of Southern California in New
Testament Language and Literature.
Throughout his pastorate at Trinity, Dr.
Mason pursued scholarly interests by serv-
52
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S E LLI OTT J. MAS O N S R.

place. For this psalmist has not only known never be moved. He does not say that out of
the blessings of God, this psalmist has gone pride. He says that in deep humility. He gives
through an experience of deep darkness. He’s God all the credit for his prosperity. He
gone through such pain and suffering that for knew that no flesh should glory in the pres-
a time he lost the sense of God’s presence. ence of God. This man was truly a dedicated
But the psalmist does not start with the man of God. He says, “I give God the cred-
pain and suffering he has gone through; he it.” He addresses God. He says, “LORD,
starts with the blessing. As I read the whole by your favor, by your grace, you have made
psalm, I concluded that he was always a man my mountain to stand strong.” You’ve made
who took God seriously and was fully dedi- me what I am. You’ve brought me my pros-
cated to God all of his life. He was not in and perity. You supplied my need. You blessed
out of the church. He was not in and out of me. You were kind to me. You were a God
the temple. He took God seriously and he I could look to and I could trust. My life
served God with all of his heart. He begins was life of well being. I had a song that I
the psalm with the blessing for prosperity. It could sing.
was probably in his early life, and he says in I heard a song sung by a choir this morning
verse 6 of Psalm 30, “Now in my prosperi- over the radio: “The Lord is blessing me right
ty,” meaning only when God was blessing now.” And this psalmist could sing that song:
me, “I said I shall never be moved.” I shall “The Lord is blessing me right now.” That
was my psalmist’s testimony that the Lord
was blessing him. He had a strong faith in
ing as a professor at area institutions of high- God. Praise his name! He was giving a testi-
er education. From 1971–1975, he served mony that he was trusting God and walking
as faculty consultant for the Martin Luther with God and gave everything he could to
King, Jr. Program in Black Church Studies, God, including his tithes, offerings, and his
which was sponsored by the Colgate- family. Praise God for this psalmist. He was
Rochester Divinity School. As part of this prosperous, and there’s nothing wrong with
professorship, he traveled and studied the prosperity because God wants us to prosper.
traditional religious practices throughout the He desires our prosperity as we yield to him
African Diaspora, including in places such as
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

and allow him to have his way in our lives.


West Africa, Jamaica, and Haiti. In 1979, He wants to bless us and to prosper us and to
Dillard University conferred upon him the keep us by his power. Thank you, Jesus. The
Doctor of Divinity honorary degree. psalmist in his prosperity, in his blessings
Upon retiring from the pastorate in could say hallelujah every morning. He rose
1985, he formed World Renewal Minis- up every morning saying: “Hallelujah!” He
tries, a ministry of prayer and encourage- rose up every morning saying: “Praise the
ment. He serves as the ministry’s Director Lord.” He woke up every morning saying: “I
along with his wife, Geraldine. The primary will extol you O God.”
focus of World Renewal Ministries is to God was pleased with this man’s life, but
help and encourage persons to daily live God had a deeper ministry for him. You
under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and know sometimes, especially in your young
the teachings of the Bible. life when you’re on fire for God and every-
thing is going well, you might have a 53
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S E LLI OTT J. MAS O N S R.

marvelous ministry with God and for God That’s the trouble today. We want to
and serving the church and ministering in the preach great sermons, embellished but sound
world. But God says, “I want to take you to good! O praise the name of Jesus! But the
a deeper place. I want you to know me at a Lord says, “You stand in my way when you
deeper level. I want the world to know what’s try to preach a great sermon. Only Christ
in your heart and what I can do with you.” must be seen. My word must come through.
And then God takes you through the dark- You may fail, but I will succeed!” My wife
ness until there’s no self-life in you. Do you said to me before I left, she said, “You know
understand what I mean? I’m not just talking I used to pray that you preach a good ser-
about sin, but I’m talking about self. mon.” She said, “But I don’t pray that any-
Sometimes in my self-life I do what I want to more. I pray that only Jesus will be glorified
do in my own way; I want to do some great because people need to see Jesus! Only
thing for God that God never told me to do, Jesus!” Hallelujah! Only Jesus! You preach
and I get in trouble by doing something that great sermons and we publish great sermons
God didn’t tell me to do. so that they will read well. But whether God
I tell ministers how in my early life, when is heard remains to be seen. Thank you,
I was in Toledo, Ohio, I became sick. I had Jesus! You see that’s what God wants. He’s
tuberculosis and almost died, but God trying to conform me to the image of Jesus so
renewed my life and God began to show me that Jesus is seen and I am hid. Thank you,
things. God said, “Now what got you in Lord. Thank you, Jesus.
trouble was your dedication.” He said, “I And the psalmist said in verse 7, “In the
tell you to make six sick calls, but you want- midst of my blessings, God hid his face.” He
ed to do more than I told you to do and you said, “You hid your face and I was troubled.
went and made ten sick calls. And if you I wondered what happened. I woke up one
made ten sick calls, you broke your rela- morning and found that my blessings were
tionship with me—at least your fellowship not there. You were not blessing me as
with me. Yea, I know you love me, but you before. You hid your face and I was troubled
were trying to work your way where you because I live by your face. I live by your mer-
wanted to be.” God says, “It’s not only your cies. I live by your blessings. What’s happen-
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

unrighteousness that has to be judged, but ing?” Enemies rose up against him. As I read
your righteousness has to be judged.” the psalm, “My so-called friends became my
Everything you do without the leading of enemies. My health failed and I was sure that
the Spirit has to be judged before God, I was going to die. I almost did die. I lost my
whether it’s good or bad! song. I had been singing, but I lost my song!”
He said, “Now I want to get the self-life out Now, if you haven’t been there, I’m not talk-
of you. I want you to put you on the cross ing to you. You may not have been there yet,
and stay on the cross until there’s no more but you may get there—where you lose your
Elliott Mason—only Jesus! And when people song. The praise that comes out of that is a dif-
come to hear you preach, they’re not looking ferent kind of praise! Hallelujah! You insert
for you; they’re looking for Jesus! They’re not your own experiences. Maybe it’s a marital
looking for a man! They want to hear from breakup. Maybe there’s trouble in your mar-
the living God! Many of your great sermons riage. Maybe your children are on drugs. I
54 stand in my way!” don’t know what your night is. Maybe your
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S E LLI OTT J. MAS O N S R.

heart is breaking this morning. Maybe you’re thank God for his judgment. You know I did-
weeping bitterly because you know you’re in n’t always thank God for that. I didn’t want
some dark place and you can’t find your way any judgment from God. But I thank him for
out. Thank you, Jesus! But the psalmist says, his judgment because his judgment—even a
“Through it all, there was one flicker of light loving judgment—comes to correct me.
left. O praise his name.” He said, “In the midst Thank you, Jesus. When I go before the Lord
of it all; in the midst even of the darkness, I saw in prayer, to pray for others, he points to my
your face. I kept my eyes on the Lord. In the heart. He says, “Now what’s that there in
midst of the darkness, I was troubled but I kept your heart? What’s that there in your heart?
my eyes on the Lord! I didn’t have much faith, Is any resentment there? Is there any unfor-
but with the little faith I had,” the psalmist says giveness there? Is there anyone that you don’t
in verse 8, “I cried; I cried to you. Oh Lord, like, like you ought to like? You can’t pray for
Lord have mercy on me!” them until you love them. You cannot inter-
It was a cry of desperation. I don’t know if cede. You don’t know what intercession is
you’ve ever been there, but it is a cry that until you identify with them in their need!
comes from deep down in your heart that you You have to feel their pain like I feel your
groan. It’s a moan! Hallelujah! Thank you, pain.” Oh thank you, Jesus! Thank you,
Jesus. “Hear O Lord and have mercy upon Jesus! Your mercy; your grace! God kept the
me. Hear me Jesus!” Have you ever cried like psalmist there for a while, for the deeper the
that to God? Have you ever cried out of the darkness the greater the joy that arises from
depth: “Hear O Lord and have mercy upon that darkness—when God gives you a new
me. I live by your mercies every day”? song. You thought you had a song. You
I know when I came up as a young child, as thought you had a song when you were being
a boy in New Orleans, I came to Jesus when I blessed! But God gives you a new song when
was 8 years old; and I didn’t get into much you come out of the darkness! Hallelujah! It’s
trouble throughout my life, and I went to a new song. A new song!
school. And at 21 years of age, or 22, I was I thought that a Christian should never be
pastoring a church of fifteen hundred, and I depressed. You know I was strong in my faith.
thought maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe God I thought a Christian should never be dis-
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

selected me because I wasn’t such a bad fellow. tressed. I had said that whatever happens to
That maybe there was something he saw in you, you shouldn’t lose your joy. Someone
me. That’s what I used to think. But I came to came to me in 1987 during a period of depres-
the place where I found out that I live only by sion and told me you should never lose your
his mercies—every day! Only by his mercies! joy. I didn’t tell them anything because that’s
Only by his grace! Nothing, nothing in my just the problem. That’s why I’m depressed—
hand I’ve raised. Simply to the cross I cling. because I’ve lost my joy! I’m glad to tell it
Nothing in me is worthy. “I chose you because because this psalmist told it. He said, “I’ve lost
I love you!” That’s what he told Israel. “You my joy! Hallelujah! I’ve lost that first song you
were not any better than any other nations of gave me.” Oh, but then one day, one day, one
the earth! I chose you only because of some- day! I don’t know where it came from. My
thing in my heart—not something in you!” wife prayed for me. My son prayed for me.
The psalmist’s disorientation drove him to Every night my son would come over and sit
his knees. Oh thank you, Lord. It is why I with my wife and they prayed. Hallelujah! 55
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S E LLI OTT J. MAS O N S R.

They prayed! I would try to pray and that’s And then one day faith rose up in my heart.
when I learned that prayer doesn’t come from God said, “That’s not your faith. That’s not
the lips, but it comes from the heart. No, I your faith; that’s my faith! That’s the faith of
want to put that another way. I had been Jesus!” There comes a joy in trouble. There
praying from my heart all my life, but let me comes a joy in the fire! Hallelujah!
tell you what I mean by that. I mean that you Hallelujah! Oh thank you, Jesus! The
don’t pray until the Holy Spirit prays. Do you psalmist said in verse 5: “Weeping may
understand? It is the Spirit of God. He says, endure for the night, but joy comes in the
“You don’t know how to pray as you ought,” morning.” In verse 11 the psalmist says:
but the Holy Spirit on the inside of my heart “You have turned my mourning into danc-
begins to pray. That’s why I say hallelujah! ing; you have taken off my sackcloth and
That doesn’t come from me! That comes from clothed me with joy.…” O Lord my God, I
God inside of me! Hallelujah! will give thanks to you forever. |

Announcing the 2009 African American


Pulpit Seminarians’ Contest
2009 Seminarians’ Contest Information—www.TheAfricanAmericanPulpit.com

Submit your sermon to The African American Pulpit Winter 2009 seminarians’ issue
contest with the opportunity to receive a cash prize and publication of your sermon!

FOR THIS SPECIAL SEMINARIANS’ ISSUE, The African later than 5 p.m. EST April 30, 2009. (No exceptions.)
American Pulpit is offering three cash prizes of $500, *Only one (1) sermon per seminarian will be accepted.
$300, and $100 for the top three sermons chosen by *All sermons must be sent as attachments via e-mail to
the coexecutive editors and selected advisory board mcgoeyeditor@comcast.net. *Along with your submis-
members. The top twelve to fifteen sermons will be sion, please include no more than a 6-sentence biogra-
published in the Winter 2009 Seminarians’ Issue of The phical summary and a recent photograph. A résumé or
African American Pulpit Journal. vitaé in place of the 6-sentence biographical summary
will not be accepted. Please also include the name of the
CRITERIA seminary you attend and their phone number and your
Sermons will be judged based upon: complete contact information: mailing address, home
Length: sermons should be no longer than eight dou- phone, cell phone, fax, and e-mail address. *Any mate-
ble-spaced pages (using size 12 font) rial that you submit must be your original work and
Focus: how well the sermon concentrates upon the not published previously. *All quoted material, espe-
text(s) selected by the seminarian cially songs and poems, must be properly cited. *As
Flow of the sermon: how well the sermon naturally with all material submitted to The African American
moves from one point to the next Pulpit, the editors may edit your work and all sermons
Creativity used in approaching the text submitted become the property of Hope for Life Inc.
(the owners of The African American Pulpit).
GUIDELINES FOR SUBMISSION *Submitted material will not be returned. *Please be
All participants must be eighteen years or older. *All advised that we will notify in October only those sem-
participants can have no more than five years preach- inarians whose sermons are selected for publication.
ing experience. *We will not accept sermons from sen-
ior pastors who are seminarians. *All submissions Please e-mail sermons, materials, or questions to
must be received by The African American Pulpit no Victoria McGoey at mcgoeyeditor@comcast.net.
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS JAMES EARL MASSEY

A Grand 1 Timothy 1:12-17, ESV


I thank him who has given me strength,
Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me
Word about faithful, appointing me to his service, though
formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and
a GREAT insolent opponent. But I received mercy
because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,

SAVIOR and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me


with the faith and love that are in Christ
Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserv-
JAMES EARL MASSEY ing of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came
into the world to save sinners, of whom I am
the foremost. But I received mercy for this
reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus
Christ might display his perfect patience as an
example to those who were to believe in him
for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal,

JAMES EARL MASSEY, minister and


educator, holds emeritus status in three
institutions: He is Dean Emeritus and
Distinguished Professor-at-Large of An-
derson University School of Theology;
Dean Emeritus of the Tuskegee University
Chapel; and Pastor Emeritus, Metropolitan
Church of God, Detroit, Michigan. In 2006,
in celebration of its 50th anniversary,
Christianity Today International named him
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

one of the “25 most Influential Preachers


[evangelical preachers who have signifi-
cantly affected many others through
preaching] of the Past 50 Years.”
Born in Detroit, Michigan, he is the son
and grandson of ministers and was
ordained in 1951 as a minister in the
Church of God (Anderson, Indiana). He
graduated from Oberlin Graduate School
of Theology, with further studies com-
pleted at the University of Michigan,
Pacific School of Religion and Boston
College Graduate School. In addition to
58
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS JAMES EARL MASSEY

invisible, the only God, be honor and glory and steadily promoted in our self-centered
forever and ever. Amen. and religiously muddled society.
Our textual passage shares a saying first-

L iving in our nation’s “Bible Belt” across


several years now, I am accustomed to
the large, lighted signs churches there use to
century Christians joyously voiced as they
worshiped, grateful for grace; and it was their
word of witness as they evangelized. Paul has
draw attention to their services. Some signs preserved that saying here, and he commend-
even offer a concise message—a saying to ed it as “sure and worthy of full accept-
prod thought and promote faith. One church ance”—“Christ Jesus came into the world to
sign I saw stated “Satan Subtracts and saver sinners.”
Divides, God Adds and Multiplies.” Another We are all familiar with “sayings,” those
sign warned “Forbidden Fruit Creates Many maxims which hold true-to-life insights
Jams.” Another sign promised “God gained by human trial and error, wisdom
Answers Knee-Mail.” Still another sign from life shared and taught to guide our
advised “Read the Bible: Prevent Truth behavior. But the saying in our text is no trial-
Decay.”1 What a worthy message when so and-error truth; it is a revealed truth that God
many unbiblical notions are widely voiced disclosed “from above.” Remember the

the Doctor of Divinity Degree from Asbury turer at more than 140 colleges, universi-
Theological Seminary (1972), he has ties, and seminaries in the United States, in
received honorary degrees from seven addition to preaching in pulpits in England,
academic institutions. Egypt, the Caribbean, Australia, and Japan.
He served as pastor, from 1954–1976, He has been honored in two festschriften:
of Metropolitan Church of God in Detroit. Sharing Heaven’s Music: The Heart of
During three years of that pastorate, he Christian Preaching, Essays in Honor of
was on-leave to serve under missionary James Earl Massey (1985) and A Mighty
appointment as President of Jamaica Long Journey: Reflections on Racial
School of Theology in Kingston, Jamaica, Reconciliation (2000).
West Indies. Beginning in 1977, he became He has authored 25 books, including his
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

a Professor at Anderson University School autobiography (2002), and more than 500
of Theology. In 1984, he became Dean of articles in both scholarly journals and popu-
the Chapel and University Professor of lar magazines. His book The Burdensome
Religion and Society at Tuskegee, In 1989, Joy of Preaching (Abingdon, 1998) won
he became Dean of the School of Preaching Magazine’s 1998 Book of the
Theology at Anderson University. In 1982 Year Award. He was also a contributing
and 1987, he was Visiting Professor of writer and editor for the 12-volume The
Preaching at Princeton Theological New Interpreter’s Bible and a contributing
Seminary. He currently serves as an editor for the first Norton Publisher anthol-
adjunct Professor of Preaching at Beeson ogy of Black Preaching: Preaching with
Divinity School. Sacred Fire: African American Sermons
He has been a guest preacher and lec- 1750 to the Present (2009).
59
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS JAMES EARL MASSEY

angel’s informing word to Joseph: “[Your Waywardness involves wrongdoing, and


wife Mary] will bear a son, and you are to Scripture has explained that all wrongdoing
name him Jesus, for he will save his people is sin.7 “Christ Jesus came into the world to
from their sins.”2 And remember what Jesus save sinners” from God’s wrath and from the
said about himself to Zacchaeus: “The Son waywardness that makes one merit the
of Man came to seek out and to save the effects of the wrath.
lost.”3 Yes, “Christ Jesus came into the The text reports Paul’s testimony about
world to save sinners.” how he came to experience being saved from
The Prophet Isaiah said this about humans: sin. Four words stand out boldly in his testi-
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have mony about what came forth from Christ to
all turned to our way.”4 The result has been change his life and destiny: mercy, grace,
vast lostness and many fated ills. faith, and love.
The salvation Jesus came to offer rescues Like every other human of age, Paul had
us from two life-threatening realities. The a sinful past that needed to be remedied, and
one reality is God’s wrath, his indignant he had a flawed personality that needed to
anger against sin. Sin angers God because it be corrected and redirected. He was well-
violates God’s righteous will and spurns educated. He was extremely gifted. He was
God’s wisdom, causing bitter-lived conse- a tough-minded person whose tremendous
quences as the end result. Some of those con- energy and personal forcefulness had gained
sequences are sad, here-and-now outcomes him notice, and he was valued. He had ded-
from selfish, foolish choices—occurrences icated himself to the service of a religious
for which we have sayings such as, “You system, and he was doing well by its stan-
reap what you sow” and “No one can do dards. But although well-educated, highly
wrong and get away.” There is always a con- gifted, tough-minded, personally forceful,
nection between sinful choices and sad out- and intensely religious, Paul was a sinner
comes, between sowing and reaping, who needed to be saved from his sins and
between disobedient actions and inevitable from himself.
disorder and dis-ease. Paul tells us in this passage how that
But God’s wrath includes more than sad, much-needed change in his life took place.
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

here-and-now consequences. A life of sinning Looking back on his life before conversion
invites eternal consequences, too—conse- and remembering what he had slanderously
quences the Bible refers to as “the wrath to spoken against Jesus, Paul confessed: “I was
come.”5 My God! Jesus warned that whoso- formerly a blasphemer.” Remembering how
ever disobeys the Son will not see life, but he had zealously sought out and arrested fol-
must endure God’s wrath.6 lowers of Jesus, he admitted: “I was a perse-
Jesus came into the world to save us, not cutor.” Remembering how he had ordered
only from the wrath of God but also from the the torture of Christians and the undeserved
waywardness which makes us deserve that death of Stephen which he helped direct,
wrath. I speak of “waywardness” because Paul lamented: “I was a man of violence.”
that word, though dated, best describes the Paul has been a religious zealot, an eager
conditioning selfishness breeds in us, and that enthusiast for a system, but he was sinfully
word also embraces the gamut of deliberate wrong because through it all he was oppos-
60 human failures. It covers a multitude of sins. ing the Son of God.
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS JAMES EARL MASSEY

Although now years beyond the past he experienced of God’s grace; he added the
mentioned here, and despite the incredibly prefix huper, which means “over, above,” to
active and fruitful life he had lived since express the notion of superabundance! If
experiencing conversion, Paul still felt a used with reference to pouring liquid into a
stinging shame from his past, a shame so vessel or to a river at spate, the word means
deep that he considered himself “the chief “to run over, to be in such abundance as to
among sinners.” So deeply did Paul regret overflow.” That is the way Paul understood
his past, that even the Lord’s honoring sum- God’s grace, and that is actually the way it
mons for him to be one of his apostles did operates: It is sufficient, it is efficient, and it
not make him feel worthy. “I am the least of is abundant. God’s favor toward us is always
the apostles,” he told the Corinthians, “unfit offered in an abundant measure, and that
to be called an apostle, because I persecuted favor is always more than a match for all
the church of God.”8 But what he lamented aspects and stages of our human condition.
about his past was all in the past. Jesus The songwriter expressed it well:
Christ had saved him from his sins and he “Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, freely
had harnessed his selfhood for right living. bestowed on all who believe!”9
He was busy witnessing across the then- “I received mercy,” Paul further explained,
known world about Jesus as Savior and was “so that in me, as the chief among sinners,
making what became an indelible imprint on Jesus Christ could display the utmost patience,
Christian life and thought. making me an example to those who would
Twice in his testimony Paul stated, “I come to believe in him for eternal life.” These
received mercy.” He mentions this first in are the words of a grace-claimed person. This
verse 13, concerned to explain how, despite is the testimony of a Christ-captured life. This
his past, he had been divinely appointed to is the witness of one who had experienced
serve Jesus. Due to God’s mercy, the triadic what salvation does, and this remains an exul-
magnitude of Paul’s sinfulness as a blasphe- tant message about what salvation means and
mer, persecutor, and a man of violence had that it can happen for all others.
been matched and exceeded by the grace, Saving people, changing lives, is what Jesus
mercy, and love found in Christ Jesus. As came into the world to do. He saves us from
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

for that “grace,” Paul spoke of it as an the wrath of God, and he saves from the
abundant quantity of favor sent in his waywardness that makes one a candidate of
direction, a gift Jesus Christ personally that wrath. By saving us, Jesus gathers us into
addressed to him: “the grace of our Lord his purposed life, renews us, and sets us on
overflowed for me.” the right path. This is all motivated by his
I do not want to come across as pedantic mercy, grace, faith, and love.
or bookish at this point, but the Greek term
translated here as “overflowed” (huper- “O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
pleonazo) is so pictorial and was so person- Spread His praise from shore
al to Paul that I must say something more to shore!
about it. It is a compound term that means How He loveth, ever loveth,
“to be plentiful, great in quantity, to be in Changeth never, nevermore!
surplus.” Paul himself coined that term in How He watches o’er His
seeking to express adequately what he had loved ones, 61
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS JAMES EARL MASSEY

Died to call [us] all His own; you sing the exultant lines of “To God Be the
How for [us] He intercedeth, Glory” or the invitational lines of “Raise
Watching o’er [us] from the Him! Praise Him!” or pray the plaintive
throne!”10 prayer “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross.”
These are all songs of simplicity and emo-
Those who have experienced such mercy, tional depth, but behind them was not only a
love, and grace will readily understand why concern to fashion songs worshipers could
Paul broke into praise as he concluded his tes- use but also a heart that had been set ablaze
timony to Timothy about his conversion and by gratitude for God’s grace. As one
call to service: “To the King of the ages, redeemed, like Paul, Fanny J. Crosby had
immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor ready words to say about her Savior.
and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Sinners “Christ Jesus came into the world to save
order their own lives and understandably sinners.” Like Paul and the many others who
lament their fate, singing the blues; but the have testified to this truth, I conclude by shar-
saved offer praise, grateful for a loving Savior, ing my witness to it. Having experienced the
and their gratitude shows in how they live. mercy, grace, faith, and love that Jesus pro-
The psalmist exhorted his fellow wor- vides, I, too, know what it means to be saved:
shipers: “Let the redeemed of the Lord say
so.…”11 George Fox, the Quaker leader, “I heard the voice of Jesus say,
understood that injunction to involve much ‘Come unto Me and rest;
more than speech, so he advised: “Let your Lay down, thou weary one,
lives speak.”12 That is no simple matter, nor a lay down
spasmodic event; it is the business of a lifetime. Thy head upon My breast.’
It is the necessary undertaking of everyone I came to Jesus as I was,
who, like Paul, has been forgiven and knows Weary, worn, and sad;
Christ as the saving change-agent that he is. I found in Him a resting place,
The legendary song writer and singer And He has made me glad.”13
Fanny J. Crosby knew something about the
“faith and love that are in Christ Jesus,” and “Christ Jesus came into the world to save
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

she said so in the many poems she wrote that sinners,” and he still does! Spreading this
became gospel songs. Through those songs, word is the central issue in preaching, and
her name became prominent in late nine- gaining its acceptance is every true preacher’s
teenth-century urban revivalism. Although major concern. With the Apostle Paul, I glad-
blind since she was eight weeks old, Fanny ly and gratefully thank “Christ Jesus our
Crosby nevertheless grew up equipped with Lord, who has strengthened me, because he
spiritual insight, and she let her life resound judged me faithful and appointed me to this
as a hallelujah chorus for Jesus. She consid- service.” And I am ready—anytime, any-
ered her poems and hymns about salvation as where, to tell anyone:
the great work of her life. Thank God for her
witness the next time you sing “Saved by “I know a great Savior, I do;
Grace” or utter the words to “Blessed don’t you?
Assurance” or hum “Savior, More Than Life I live by His favor, I do; don’t you?
62 to Me.” Thank God for her witness when For grace I implore Him, I worship
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS JAMES EARL MASSEY

before Him, 2. Matthew 1:21, paraphrased.


I love and adore Him, I do; 3. Luke 19:10, ESV.
don’t you? 4. Isaiah 53:6a, paraphrased.
5. See 1 Thessalonians 1:10.
I need Him to lead me, I do;
6. See John 3:36.
don’t you? 7. See 1 John 5:17.
Heav’n’s manna to feed me, I 8. 1 Corinthians 15:9, NRSV.
do; don’t you? 9. Julia H. Johnson, “Grace Greater Than Our Sin,” in
Hymns Tried and True (Chicago: The Bible Institute
In mercy to hide me, I do; don’t you? Colportage Association), 1911.
I want Him to use me, I do; 10. Samuel T. Francis, “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus,”
don’t you? Hymn No, 238 in Worship the Lord: Hymnal of the Church
For service to choose me, I do; of God (Anderson, Ind.: Warner Press, Inc.), 1989.
11. Psalm 107:2a, KJV.
don’t you? 12. See Margaret Hope Bacon, Let This Life Speak: The
I want Him to bless me, to own and Legacy of Henry Joel Cadbury (Philadelphia: University of
confess me, Philadelphia Press), 1987, 218.
13. Horatius Bonar, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,”
Completely possess me, I do;
Hymn No. 414 in The Hymnal for Worship and
don’t you?”14 | Celebration (Waco, Tex.: Word Music), 1986.
14. Melville W. Miller and E.O. Excell, “I Do, Don’t You?”
NOTES Hymn #17 in Gospel Pearls (Nashville, Tenn.: Sunday
1. See Markeshia Ricks, “Divine Signs,” Tuscaloosa News School Publishing Board, National Baptist Convention,
(2 April 2005), section D-1. U.S.A.), 1921.
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S OTI S M OS S J R.

TRUST and the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not
unto thine own understanding.” Think about
three words: trust and commitment…trust
Commitment and commitment. Trust in the Lord with your
whole heart and do not depend upon your
(Part 1) limited understanding. Trust in the Lord from
the bottom of your heart and do not rely on
your limited knowledge. “Trust in the LORD
OTIS MOSS JR. with all thine heart; and lean not unto thy own
understanding.” Trust and commitment.…
Now without trust, there can be no true com-
Proverbs 3:5, KJV mitment because you cannot fully commit your-
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and self to that which you do not trust. And you can-
lean not unto thine own understanding. not be fully committed to him or her in whom
you have no trust. You cannot easily digest food

Iwant to ask you to repeat Proverbs 3, verse 5


from the King James translation: “Trust in
when you have no trust in it—even if it’s pretty
good food. Your stomach will not cooperate.

OTIS MOSS JR., preacher, theologian,


pastor, and civic leader, has long been
one of America’s most influential religious
leaders and highly sought-after preach-
ers. He was born in LaGrange, Georgia, in
1935 as one of five siblings. His mother
died when he was four, and his father
died when Otis was sixteen.
Reverend Moss attended Morehouse
College (Bachelor of Arts 1956) where he
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

was mentored by the distinguished Dr.


Benjamin Mays; he received a Master of
Divinity from Morehouse School of
Religion/Interdenominational Theological
Center (1959) and gained his Doctor of
Ministry Degree from United Theological
Seminary in Dayton, Ohio (1990). Dr. Moss
was a founding member of Operation PUSH
(People United to Serve Humanity), the eco-
nomic justice organization that emerged out
of SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket.
From 1954 to 1975, Dr. Moss pastored
several churches. In his early days in min-
64
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S OTI S M OS S J R.

Trust and commitment go hand in hand. things? How can a trust-less person do great
You cannot give full commitment, I say again, things? How can a love-less person do great
to that which you do not trust. And trust, faith, things? How can an uncommitted person do
and commitment are inseparable. Some people great things? Life at its highest and best requires
stumble through life because they have no com- a kind of seven-fold Amen: trust, commitment,
mitment, and they have no commitment faith, hope, love, labor or service, and then great-
because they have no faith. And they have no ness. So greatness is born where there is great
faith because they have no trust. And where trust, great commitment, great faith, great hope,
there is no faith and no hope and no commit- great love, great service, and then greatness. And
ment, there is no love. So, if you do not trust, often we want greatness without faith, without
you cannot have profound commitment. And hope, without love, without labor, without com-
if you don’t have profound trust and commit- mitment; for commitment requires struggle,
ment, you cannot have great accomplishments. struggle, struggle. And struggle says, “It might
Trust and commitment are inseparable. And happen this year, but if it does not I’ll keep on
you know, you can ask: How can we do great struggling. It might happen year after next, but
things? How can a faith-less person do great I’ll keep on struggling. It might happen 10 years
things? How can a hope-less person do great from now, but I will keep on struggling.”

istry, he worked with Dr. Martin Luther King sphere: President Carter often consulted
Jr. in the Southern Christian Leadership Dr. Moss on moral and social issues facing
Conference (SCLC) and years later briefly America; and in 1994, President Clinton
co-pastored the historic Ebenezer Baptist invited him to Camp David to witness the
Church in Atlanta with Martin Luther King signing of the peace treaty between Israel
Sr. before returning to Cincinnati where he and Jordan. Hailed as one of the greatest
served Mount Zion Baptist Church. In 1975, preachers of the twentieth and twenty-first
he moved to Cleveland to pastor Olivet centuries, Dr. Moss was invited to deliver
Institutional Baptist Church, from which he the Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale
retired in 2008. Dr. Moss led Olivet University in 2004. He was also named one
Institutional in developing programs of spiri- of the top 15 preachers by Ebony in 1993.
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

tual and social renewal. Olivet provides edu- He has received honorary degrees from
cational programs and services to the Myers University, LaGrange College,
Cleveland community and offers healthcare Cleveland State University, Shorter College,
services through the Otis Moss Jr. University Morehouse, and Temple Bible College.
Hospital Medical Center, which is a partner- Otis Moss Jr. has been called a regal
ship between the church and University preacher because of his continuous pos-
Hospital of Cleveland. ture of calmness under fire including while
Alongside his pastoral duties, Dr. Moss is working in the trenches as an activist. With
currently a member of the Board of humor, stories, and impeccable, passionate
Morehouse School of Religion and the delivery, Reverend Moss has served as a
Board of Directors of Morehouse College. Christian standard bearer for preachers
His ministry also extends to the political and parishioners for more than 50 years.
65
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S OTI S M OS S J R.

How long did it take you to get grown? Now order to do that you’ve got to have trust, com-
suppose you had said at 3 or 4 or 5, “I’m going mitment, faith, hope, love, service, and out of
to quit! It’s taking too long.” How long did it that comes greatness. And you know I’m glad
take you to get grown? And then after you got that you can trust in the Lord. Because when
grown, how long did it take you to get some you trust in the Lord with all your mind, with
sense? Wisdom does not fly in from outer space all your heart, and with all your strength, that
just because you had a birthday. You can do a means that you have committed—you have
whole lot of crazy stuff even when you are 3 committed everything to God. And you can
times 7. As a matter of fact, you can do more trust God. You see, when you pray, you don’t
crazy stuff at 21 than you did at 10 because you have to say anything—you don’t have to say a
have a little more power, a little more license, word in order to pray. All you have to do is
and a little more opportunity. acknowledge that here I am, a sinner in the
Faith and trust and hope and commitment need of prayer. And I’m glad you don’t have to
and love and labor bring forth greatness. And say anything because folk are always listening
some things you struggle for will not happen to see what you’re going to say. And in this day
while you are alive. So, you ought to struggle of technology and eavesdropping, you might
for something that is bigger than you are, want to make a confession and somebody has
something better than you are, something that a mike on and catches what you are confessing
will live longer than you will live. For if your and puts it in the “Plain Dealer” Newspaper
life is only organized around how long you the next morning. But you can trust God. You
live, your life is too small. If your God is small can talk to God, and even the angels won’t
enough for you to manage, your God is too know about the conversation. They have to
small. If your God is so small that you can wait until God directs them, and God can
wrap your God up in a creed or in a denomi- direct an angel to do something on your behalf
nation, your God is too small. Jesus didn’t say, without even telling the angel what the conver-
“I will build my church on the Baptist sation was between you and God.
Covenant,” as much as I love it. You know, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and
“Having been led as we believe by the Spirit of lean not unto your own understanding. Now
God....” We recite it every first Sunday. But this is just the first half of this, and I’m going to
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

don’t you know that Jesus is bigger than that? deal with the other half later on. But I want to
Some folk get confused—I’ve said this say a word about “lean not unto your own
many times in Bible class—some folks get understanding.” You know when I was a
confused on the King James translation; they young man—I still ain’t so old—when I was a
think John the Baptist was the preacher of a young man, I got my first automobile and it
Baptist church. The real translation is John was a used automobile. They don’t call it that
the Baptizer. You know, John wasn’t the pas- now; they say “pre-owned.” It was a used
tor of the First Baptist Church of the automobile. I got it from the used lot, and I
Wilderness. Jesus didn’t say, “I’m building a was happy and proud about it. And it ran well,
Presbyterian church” or “I’m building the but there was something wrong with it. There
up-and-coming mega church.” He said, was something wrong in the electrical mecha-
“Upon this rock I will build my church; and nism, and the lights would just go out without
the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”1 permission. I was driving one night between
66 Trust in the Lord with all your heart. And in Athens and Atlanta, and the lights just went
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S OTI S M OS S J R.

out. I was on a dark road in Ku Klux Klan ter- and I could not trust the new car totally.
ritory and the lights went out, and I didn’t I got rid of the Falcon, and then I really
want to stop because I didn’t trust my sur- moved up. I got a Grand Prix…saddle brown
roundings. I didn’t want to ask anybody. So I and beige, with bucket seats and air condi-
got behind a car whose lights were on, and I tioning. I knew I was sharp! Air condition-
stayed behind the car because somebody ing—I didn’t have air conditioning at
ahead of me had lights on. I stayed behind the home—so it was cool in the car; and you
car with lights. And after a while, my lights won’t believe it, but I was cool! I was on a
came back on. But I don’t know what would long trip one hot summer day, and the air
have happened to me that dark night if I had conditioning went out. All the windows
not followed somebody ahead of me whose steamed up and I had to stop, cut off the air
lights were on. Now, I don’t know the name of conditioning, and clean the windows so I
the person, never met the driver, but I followed could see. Now, here I’d had three experi-
the lights. And if you can just follow the light ences: one with an old car and two with new
of Jesus when your light goes out—your light cars, but each one was flawed. I couldn’t trust
is dim, your battery has been exhausted, but the used, and I couldn’t trust the new.
just follow the light of Jesus. And after a while, Some people are trusting in the wrong
there will be light all around you, but most of things and the wrong stuff. But Proverbs says,
all, light in you. But the point I want to make Trust in the Lord and the Lord won’t desert
is I bought that car; I paid for it. The notes you on some dark highway of life. Trust in the
were $37 per month; I paid for it on install- Lord and your trust will not be burned up
ments. But there was something wrong with it. because of fires that come out of nowhere.
It was flawed. So I could not put my whole Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean
trust in a used automobile. So many of us have not unto your own understanding. Amen.
deposited our future in things that are just like
used automobiles; believe me they will not get TRUST AND COMMITMENT (PART 2)
you to your destination. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do
And then I bought another car…that time I not depend upon your own strength. This is
moved up. I checked Consumer Reports. And part two of what I started earlier. Trust in the
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

they said the best economy automobile that year Lord, says another translation, from the bot-
was a Falcon. They had just come on the mar- tom of your heart and do not depend upon
ket. So I went and traded in the used car, and your limited resources. Trust in the Lord with
this time I got a brand new car—no stopping on everything you have and do not depend upon
the highway…no lights going out…I got a your personal strength to carry you through
Falcon. It was pea green…a Falcon. I was mov- time and into eternity. Trust in the Lord with
ing from Atlanta to Cincinnati, and I drove my all your mind, your heart, your strength, your
Falcon all the way. Didn’t have any trouble, but soul, and never depend on who you are to
guess what? One day I was driving down the make it in this world. And, if we have trust,
road and without notice, without warning the commitment, faith, hope, love, labor or serv-
Falcon caught fire! My Consumer’s Guide said ice, out of these will flow greatness. And with
that it was the best on the market…but it caught trust, commitment, faith, hope, love, and serv-
fire! It was brand new, I had a guarantee, but it ice plus greatness, we can live, in the words of
was faulty. I could not trust the used car totally, one popular pastor, “a purpose-driven life.”2 67
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S OTI S M OS S J R.

The psalmist or the writer of the proverb in that we will not dump toxic waste in the lake,
Proverbs chapter 3, verse 5 is right: “Trust in endangering all marine life and endangering
the Lord.” Amen. Make a commitment. our own lives for years to come? Can God
Amen. Have faith. Amen. Live a life of hope. trust us? Let me back up for a moment.
Amen. Love as Jesus taught us to love. Amen. Can God trust us with our innocence? I
Spend your life in labor and service. Amen, would say, especially to the younger genera-
again. And out of these will flow greatness— tion, do not turn over your decision-making
that’s a seven-fold Amen. responsibility to anybody but God. Now, I
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and agree with Harvey Cox who wrote a book
lean not unto your own understanding. Now, I several years ago with a strange title but a very
have learned some things across the years from challenging title: On Not Leaving It to the
my elders. I remember as a teenager that an Snake.4 He said that Adam and Eve made a
elder in the ministry said to me, “Son, the ques- great mistake when they turned over their
tion is never: Can you trust God? The real decision-making power to a snake. Now, how
question is: Can God trust you?” Can God does that apply to me? Do not turn your inno-
trust me? That’s a deep question. It’s a simple cence over to a snake. You still didn’t catch it.
question. It is so searching that it calls to the Let me borrow from Otis III: Do not turn your
altar all of our theology, our sociology, our psy- sacred self, do not turn your sexuality over to
chology, our economics, our science, and our snakes. Do not turn your dignity and your
ethics. Can God trust us? That is the great ques- integrity over to a snake. I don’t care what the
tion. Can God trust us with God’s creation? snake promises you! A good time, a good ride,
And maybe you didn’t quite catch it. God a lot of “bling-bling,” whatever. Do not turn
made us in God’s own image, but can God the best of your years over to a snake.
trust us when the lights are out? When nobody The question is not “Can I trust God?” but
is looking, can God trust us with God’s image? “Can God trust me?” And I can never put my
After giving us the image of God and placing us total trust even in myself because I am often
in a garden and the psalmist said we were wrong. I agree with Gibran who said,
“made a little lower than the angels.”3 “Government is an agreement between you
Now, now, think about this: God created us and myself, and you and myself are often
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

in God’s own image and after God’s own like- wrong.”5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
ness and then gave us everything we needed. A and lean not unto your own understanding.
garden that was full, plentiful, everything we When I first came to Cleveland, there was a
needed, and then Adam and Eve put their trust great company named Republic Steel. But— you
in a snake. Here is a powerful challenge: Do I help me out—where is Republic Steel? When I
trust a snake more than I trust God? came to Cleveland, there was a great bank called
Can God trust us with God’s creation? Can Ameritrust. It was first Cleveland Trust and then
God trust us with a river? When I first came to it became Ameritrust. But where is Ameritrust?
Cleveland, I heard about the Cuyahoga River When I first came to Cleveland, there was anoth-
catching on fire. Why did it burn? Because er bank called Central National; but where is
God could not trust us with a river—one river. Central National? There was another bank called
We polluted it so with all kinds of inflamma- Society National. Where is Society National?
ble chemicals that the river rebelled and caught There was another bank we owned called First
68 fire. Can God trust us with a lake to the extent National Bank Association. Some of you all were
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S OTI S M OS S J R.

on the board. We were all great customers. We day when I can’t do for myself, when I fall
could walk in the bank and say, “I want to see the down…when I fall down…all the way down,
president—right now.” But we never did that at the Lord will pick me up. Somebody told me,
Ameritrust. You went to Ameritrust saying, “Yes “When my mother and father forsake me,
sir. Yes ma’am.” But at First National Bank we the Lord will take me up.”7 Somebody told
could say, “I want to see the Chairman of the me, “I was young, now I’m old, but I’ve
Board right now! Don’t tell me—I’ve known him never seen the righteous forsake nor his seed
since he first came to Cleveland.” You never did beg bread.”8 Somebody told me, “Every
that at Central National. That’s a subject for mountain and every hill shall be made low,
another meeting. But where is that bank? every valley shall be exalted, and the glory of
There was a hospital named Forest City. I the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall
went to Forest City to see a member. They see it together.”9 Somebody else told me, “He
were eating neckbones, candied yams, pork is the Alpha and Omega. He’s the first and
chops (they had sent out for food). “Brother the last.”10 I trust in God—not in govern-
Pastor, I just can’t stand this hospital food, ment, but in God. Jesus is the ultimate candi-
and I want you to pray for me!” There was date! He’ll never leave you. He doesn’t have
another hospital called Mt. Sinai and anoth- to run for office—every 4 years or every 8
er hospital called St. Luke’s. Where are they? years, because from everlasting to everlasting
But let me tell you, the same Jesus, the same he is God.11 I know what I’m talking about.
Jesus who gave the blind man his sight, the I know what he’ll do for you.
same Jesus who made the lame to walk, the About 12 months ago almost, I went to the
same Jesus who fed 5,000, the same Jesus who hospital. But I came out, and now I can tell
gave Simon Peter a new name, the same Jesus you, I feel good. I feel good in my soul!
who rescued John Mark, the same Jesus who Trust in God with all your heart, all your
turned Saul of Tarsus around on the Damascus mind. I don’t care where you are in life. If
Road, the same Jesus who took care of John on you’re addicted, trust in God. If you’re on
the Isle of Patmos, the same Jesus who took crack cocaine, trust in God. If you are sick,
care of Frederick Douglass from slavery to free- trust in God. If you don’t have a friend, trust
dom, the same Jesus who took care of Mother in God. He has more friends than you can
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

Teresa, the same Jesus who took care of grand- ever count!
mother and grandfather, the same Jesus that I Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! |
called on this morning—he never goes out of
business. He never goes bankrupt. He never NOTES
1. Matthew 16:18, KJV.
runs out of resources because he’s the same yes- 2. Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life (Grand Rapids,
terday, today, and forever.6 Therefore, trust in Mich.: Zondervan), 2002.
the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto 3. See Psalm 8:5.
your own understanding. 4. Harvey Cox, On Not Leaving It to the Snake (New York:
Macmillan), 1969.
After while, my steps will get short. After 5. Kahlil Gibran, “Sand and Foam.”
while, my hearing will get limited. After 6. See Hebrews 13:8.
while, my eyesight will grow dim. After 7. See Psalm 27:10.
8. See Psalm 37:25.
while, my voice will grow weak. But I trust in
9. See Isaiah 40:4-5.
the Lord with all my heart, all my mind, all 10. See Revelation 1:8; 22:13.
my strength. Yes, I trust him! Because one 11. See Psalm 90:2. 69
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S J. D EOTI S R O B E RTS

Tambourines This thought is indicative of conflicts that


terrorize humankind. Hate versus love, con-
sumption versus production, destruction
J. DEOTIS ROBERTS versus creation.
Such conflict began in antiquity between
evil and good in “Paradise Lost,” but poet
John Milton wrote also “Paradise
Regained.”1 Good is always victorious.
This sermon was preached circa 1948. In the Garden of Eden, strife became a
domineering reality in the life of all
Romans 7:19, KJV humans. Cain killed Abel, and strife took
For the good that I would I do not: but the its seat among humankind. Popes struggled
evil which I would not, that I do. with powers culminating in The Crusades.
There was aroused commotion between

T he literal description of the conversion of


the Apostle Paul is like the familiar saying,
“I want to be a good person. I would like to
Catholicism and Protestantism.
Thus, we can see the contentions of this
world have grown in number and ferocity.
be serene, but my feet keep dancing to a far- But in our day conflict has climaxed. This
off tambourine.” is the most chaotic era in the history of the

J. DEOTIS ROBERTS has served both


the church and the academy for more
than 5 decades. He graduated from
Johnson C. Smith and Shaw universities
and completed advanced studies at
Hartford Seminary (S.T.M.) and the
University of Edinburgh (Ph.D. and LL.D.).
His travel and teaching have taken him
across the country and around the globe,
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

including Europe, Africa, the Caribbean,


Asia, Australia, and Latin America. He has
taught at Howard University, Eastern
Baptist Theological Seminary (renamed
Palmer), Claremont Theological School,
Yale Divinity School, and Duke Divinity
School. He is the former president of the
International Theological Center in Atlanta
and the former dean of the Virginia Union
Theological School in Richmond.
Dr. Roberts is the author of about 20
books and hundreds of essays. He is a
70
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S J. D EOTI S R O B E RTS

world. Science has given humans uncon- Humanity is the problem unsurpassed by all
trollable powers. The atom bomb is a good other oppositions. The weather, the change of
example; after this terrorizing monster fell seasons, the supply of raw materials, the
in Hiroshima, never before had chemistry of industrial processes, the control
humankind realized the need of together- of elemental forces all together occasion less
hood as then. Even those who made this anxious thought than the question, What can
bomb were frightened, lest the enemy we reply upon in the sphere of human con-
should seek revenge with a weapon equal duct? Organization is puzzled by personnel.
to their touch of scientific genius. Humans The nightmare of the employer is his labor.
are adolescent; they have a dim vision. The riddle of the common human is the man-
Their troubles involve the misuse of wis- ager or boss.
dom that God has given them to build his At the spearhead of practically every enter-
kingdom here on earth. prise appears the opposing spearhead of
Ours is a glorious era of evolution of wis- sharper and sharper competition between
dom and knowledge; but hanging heavily in personalities and ideas.
the atmosphere we can see a fearful mas- Social friction is prevalent in human affairs,
querade, the cries and shrieks of world sui- depressing spirits and increasing skepticism
cide, the total annihilation of humankind of the worth of human motives.
from the face of earth by its own wickedness. We hear people say, “We want vision,”
“We want control,” and “We want peace.”
Why can’t we obtain the virtues? Because the
member of numerous organizations includ- conflict is between light and darkness, health
ing the American Academy of Religion and and disease, purity and sin, spiritual and car-
the American Theological Society. He is a nal, divine and sensual forces baffling within
former member and trustee of the Martin the hearts of humans.
Luther King Jr. Center for Social Change Freud has said that within each individual
and is a 50-year-plus member of the is the basic conflict, the struggle between con-
Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. structive and destructive tendencies of per-
Dr. Roberts is founder and vice presi- sonalities as similar forces in chemistry and
dent of The Foundation for Reconciliation
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

biology, purposed to create and to destroy, to


and Dialogue Inc., established in 2007 build up and tear down. Yes, the conflict is
out of a growing concern for understand- between duty and interest, pain and pleasure,
ing difference and otherness in an indulgence and self-denial, popularity and
increasingly global and multicultural criticism, right and wrong, between destruc-
world. In his memoir, The Seasons of Life: tion and eternal life.
By Grace with Gratitude (Charp Socrates, an earnest seeker after truth, said,
Communications, 2007), he shares his “Control thyself.” Greater still are the words
80-year journey from his modest North of Jesus: “Give thyself.” He gave himself.
Carolina roots to his lifelong career as an “Give thyself.” Thy heart, thy mind, thy
internationally known theologian. He lives soul, thy strength. Give thy all. We sing, “I
in Maryland with his wife, Elizabeth, and surrender all, all to Thee, my blessed Savior, I
has three daughters. surrender all.”2
World War II took place visibly on Flanders 71
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S J. D EOTI S R O B E RTS

The good life is a conflict—a struggle to


become better, to overcome the forces of evil with
good, to annihilate the evil temptations of this
world by growing in the grace and
knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Field in France, in Russia, in far-flung corners within our members? Or yet what virtue will
of the world, but there was a greater conflict annihilate vicious hate from within? Our
more destructive than these in the hearts answer is the love of God.
and minds of humans. Yes, we say, “I want “Love suffereth long, and is kind, love envi-
to be a good person. I would like to eth not, love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed
be serene, but my feet keep dancing to a far- up, doeth not behave itself unseemingly,
off tambourine.” seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked,
“For the good that I would I do not: but thinketh no evil. Love rejoiceth not in iniqui-
the evil which I would not, that I do.” ty, but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all
The good life is a conflict—a struggle to things, believeth all things, hopeth all things;
become better, to overcome the forces of love never faileth.”5
evil with good, to annihilate the evil temp- O, my friends, if we were possessors of
tations of this world by growing in the such love, we would no longer fight among
grace and knowledge of our Lord and ourselves but would lay aside every weight,
Savior Jesus Christ. and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and
Augustine writes: “I lusted to thieve, and let us run with patience the race that is set
did it, compelled by no hunger, nor pover- before us.6
ty, but through a cloyedness of well-doing, Yes, we say: “I want to be a good person. I
and a pamperedness of iniquity. For I stole would like to be serene, but my feet keep
that, of which I had enough, and much bet- dancing to a far-off tambourine.”
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

ter. Nor cared I to enjoy what I stole, but I had a classmate who started out good,
joyed in the theft and sin itself.”3 Decades but fell by the wayside.
later, this sin haunted Augustine. It preyed “I want to be a good person. I would like
upon him as a moral crisis. He realized he to be serene, but my feet keep dancing to a
could not be his own moral master and was far-off tambourine.”
consoled and converted when he read the You have seen couples who say they are
words of Apostle Paul: “Put ye on the Lord righteously joined together in holy matrimo-
Jesus Christ, and make not provision for ny; the “new broom sweeps well for a
the flesh.”4 while,” but they drift away from each other.
Like Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, we ask: “I want to be a good person. I would like
“How we may endure the whips and coils of to be serene, but my feet keep dancing to a
time… that mortal flesh is heir to?” What far-off tambourine.”
weight will balance this unstable course of You have seen people profess religion,
72 equilibrium between hate and love that wars join the church, start off good, fighting the
S E R MON S FROM TH E E LD E R S J. D EOTI S R O B E RTS

good fight of faith, potentially earnest sol- and dispositions of heart, so self-control is
diers of the cross. But Satan gets on their essential.
track; they lay down the weapon of prayer, “O wretched man that I am! who shall
give up their armor of truth and righteous- deliver me from the body of this death?”10
ness. They say they were unable to subdue Give thyself. Jesus gave himself. The evi-
the flesh, to undergo the trials and tribula- dence of a Christian life is in the power to
tions of this world, that they could not keep overcome evil.
the faith. Those of us who have been born again
“I want to be a good person. I would like have tarried and have been endowed with
to be serene, but my feet keep dancing to a power from on high. We know of the per-
far-off tambourine.” sonal power of a personal Savior, who lifted
What does this matter? They didn’t tarry us up from our fallen condition, by the
long enough to be endowed with power from power of the cross, by the power of his
on high. Jesus asked his disciples to wait in divine love and mercy, by the power of his
Jerusalem until empowered.7 resurrection, by the power of his spirit work-
We all have sinned and fallen short of the ing within our hearts.
glory of God.8 We all have seen the time Let Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, har-
when “I want to be a good person. I would monize your life. “I want to be a good per-
like to be serene, but my feet keep dancing to son. I would like to be serene, but my feet
a far-off tambourine.” keep dancing to a far-off tambourine.”
“The good that I would I do not: but the The Deliverer is Christ Jesus. We must fol-
evil that I would not, that I do.” low him to victory over ourselves. |
“The good which I will, I do not, but the NOTES
evil which I do not will, this I practice.”9 1. “Paradise Regain’d” is a poem by the seventeenth cen-
“I want to be a good person. I would like tury English poet John Milton, published in 1671.
2. Hymn “I Surrender All,” words by Judson W. Van
to be serene, but my feet keep dancing to a DeVenter and music by Windfield S. Weeden, 1896.
far-off tambourine.” 3. See “St. Augustine: Confessions, Book II,” available in an
Decisions! Tambourines! Decisions! on-line reprint at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/augus-
Distance lends enchantment of evil. The tine/Pusey/book02 (accessed October 10, 2008).
4. Romans 13:14, KJV.
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

magnetic power of evil possesses our lives by 5. See 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.


remote control. 6. Hebrews 12:1b, KJV.
“Know thyself” is the summons of 7. See Luke 24:49.
8. See Romans 3:23.
Socrates and Plato.
9. Romans 7:19, Recovery Version.
Control thyself. Overt and covert actions 10. Romans 7:24, KJV.
are but the objective expression of motives

Socrates, an earnest seeker after truth, said,


“Control thyself.” Greater still are the
words of Jesus: “Give thyself.”
He gave himself. 73
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS FRED L. SHUTTLESWORTH

A Blueprint
for LIVING
or a Pattern
for Dying
FRED L. SHUTTLESWORTH

FRED L. SHUTTLESWORTH was born


Freddie Lee Robinson in 1922. Howard K.
This sermon was preached in 1968 at a memo- Smith, commentator for the May 1961
rial service for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. nationally televised documentary “Who
Speaks for Birmingham,” called Rev. Fred L.
Micah 6:8, KJV Shuttlesworth “The man most feared by the
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; Southern racist” and further said of him: “No
and what doth the LORD require of thee, but history written on the Civil Rights Movement
to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk would be complete unless it included the
humbly with thy God? name of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Pastor of
the Greater New Light Baptist Church in
2 Timothy 4:7, KJV Cincinnati, Ohio. Rev. Shuttlesworth has
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my given more of himself for the ‘Cause of
course, I have kept the faith. Freedom’ than any man living today.”
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

In May 1956, Alabama politicians, desper-

G
od has always tried to reach and speak
to his people through love. They oftimes
have really listened to him only during
ate in their efforts to hold back the future,
outlawed the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People. A group
moments of tragedy and calamity. Through of ministers in the City of Birmingham
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., God was again immediately came together under the lead-
calling upon Americans, white and black, ership of Rev. Shuttlesworth and organized
and to the world to “Come now and let us all the Alabama Christian Movement for
reason together”1 and though the sins of your Human Rights (A.C.M.H.R.). As President of
society be as scarlet,2 with works of love, this newly organized movement, Rev.
mercy, atonement, and justice—not with Shuttlesworth said, “They can outlaw an
your so-called “law and order”—you could organization, but they cannot outlaw the
purify and get for yourselves a oneness in movement of a people determined to be
74 spirit and community.
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS FRED L. SHUTTLESWORTH

free.” Rev. Shuttlesworth had his home Rights Leader” in June 1992. In November
bombed twice, was beaten by mobsters, and 2002, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
was jailed more than 35 times. He has been established the Fred Shuttlesworth Award,
involved in more than 40 criminal and civil an annual award presented to an individual
actions related to his fight for civil rights. for outstanding leadership in Civil Rights.
He was one of five organizers and the Rev. Shuttlesworth is featured in the Spike
first Secretary of the Southern Christian Lee movie Four Little Girls. In September
Leadership Conference (S.C.L.C.) and 1998, he received the A. Phillip Randolph
served as its President for several years. Institute Award. In November 1998, the
For many years, he was also a member of Birmingham Historical Society published A
the National Advisory Board of the Walk to Freedom, a book about Rev.
Congress of Racial Equality. Shuttlesworth and the work of the A.C.M.H.R.,
He was the Pastor of Everdale Baptist 1956–1964. In the summer of 1999, two
Church (1948–1950); Mt. Zion Baptist books were released on his life: Step by Step,
Church, Potters Station (1948–1950); First written by L.D. Ervin and A Fire You Can’t Put
Baptist Church in Selma, Alabama Out, written by Dr. Andrew Mannis.
(1950–1952); Bethel Baptist Church in In January 2000, Rev. Shuttlesworth
Birmingham, Alabama (1953–1961); received the Presidential Citizen’s Award
Revelation Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio from President Bill Clinton. That same year
(1961–1966); and he formed the Greater the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce also
New Light Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, named him one of the “Greatest Living
in 1966, from which he retired in 2006. Cincinnatians.” In June 2004, Rev.
In 1988, the Shuttlesworth Housing Shuttlesworth received the second highest
Foundation was established by Rev. Shuttles- award given to a private citizen, the
worth to give grants of $500– $2000 to Jefferson Award, in Washington, D.C.
poverty-level families to help with down- Despite his undisputed life-long fight for
payments toward the purchase of a home. civil rights, Reverend Shuttlesworth upset
As of 2006, more than 600 low-income many—although he also had many allies—
families have become homeowners through when in 2006 he participated in commer-
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

the program. cials to help defeat Gay Rights legislation


He earned a Bachelor of Science Degree, being voted on by the people of Cincinnati
Alabama State College in Montgomery, in 2006. He appeared in many commer-
Alabama; did post-graduate work at cials with the underlying message that
Alabama State College; seminary training at gays did not deserve the kind of civil rights
Cedar Grove Academy in Mobile, Alabama; that he had fought for all his life.
earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree from On July 16, 2008, the Birmingham
Selma University in Selma, Alabama; and Alabama Airport Authority approved chang-
received numerous honorary degrees. ing the name of the Birmingham
In June 1988, the City of Birmingham, International Airport (U.S.) to the Birmingham
Alabama, by unanimous vote, renamed Shuttlesworth International Airport in honor
Huntsville Road to F.L. Shuttlesworth Drive. of Rev. Shuttlesworth. If approved by the
He was honored as “Birmingham’s Civil FAA, the name change will become official.
75
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS FRED L. SHUTTLESWORTH

Today, that eloquent and appealing voice, “Their works are works of iniquity, and
which should have been eagerly welcomed deeds of violence are in their hands.
and vigorously supported, has been stilled; Their feet run to evil, and they rush to
and because of strife in the land, we fear that shed innocent blood; their thoughts are
we may indeed become men of death’s sec- thoughts of iniquity, desolation and
ond empire. destruction are in their highways. The
The plight of the country has been dram- way of peace they do not know, and
atized in two symbolic cartoons, one there is no justice in their paths. Their
drawn in Cincinnati, and another in an roads they have made crooked; no one
Atlanta daily paper. One, representing who walks in them knows peace.
shame, showed a clear outline of the map Therefore justice is far from us, and
of the United States with a blackened fig- righteousness does not reach us; we wait
ure of a man superimposed upon it, with for light, and lo! there is darkness; and
one of his feet in Maine and the other in for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
Florida, his prone torso reaching across the We grope like the blind along a wall,
width of the country, his one hand in the groping like those who have no eyes; we
state of Washington and the other in the stumble at noon as in the twilight,
southern top of California. In the center, among the vigorous as though we were
they simply wrote his name: Martin Luther dead. We all growl like bears; like doves
King—Murdered. The other drawing we moan mournfully. We wait for jus-
showed the danger of the collapse of tice, but there is none; for salvation, but
American society. It simply had the beauti- it is far from us. For our transgressions
ful Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. before you are many, and our sins testi-
bursting asunder and falling down. In the fy against us. Our transgressions indeed
center of the crumbling structure was one are with us, and we know our iniquities:
word: VIOLENCE. transgressing, and denying the LORD,
The now-stilled prophetic voice had and turning away from following our
been warning our society of its own sick- God, talking oppression and revolt, con-
ness and violence to its citizens—the vio- ceiving lying words and uttering them
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

lence of neglect, rejection, oppression, from the heart. Justice is turned back,
withdrawal, economic exploitation, legal and righteousness stands at a distance;
suppression of lawful privileges, the killing for truth stumbles in the public square,
of hope, the silence of too many in the and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is
white community, and the maiming of lacking, and whoever turns from evil is
conscience. Oh, that today’s editorial had despoiled. The LORD saw it, and it dis-
been yesterday’s preachments! Would to pleased him that there was no justice.
God that today’s sense of urgency had He saw that there was no man.…”3
been yesterday’s movement to action! Oh,
that today’s official proclamations and But there was such a man! King’s prophet-
promises may be speedily translated into ic voice was for our age. In the dedication and
programs of progress! commitment of his life to principles, he
The sickness in our society is adequately spelled out in action our first text: “He hath
76 described in Isaiah: shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS FRED L. SHUTTLESWORTH

doth the LORD require of thee, but to do just- Moses for deliverance out of Egypt. He had
ly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly an Elijah to challenge Baal on Mt. Carmel.
with thy God?” In his death he re-spoke the He had a Daniel for the lion’s den; David, the
concluding valedictory of Paul: “I have shepherd boy, to meet Goliath; John the
fought a good fight, I have finished my Baptist for Herod; a Paul for the Early
course, I have kept the faith.”4 Church; a John for Patmos Isle; and his own
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is being memo- Son, Jesus, for the sins of the whole world.
rialized these next few days by men of all God had a Mahatma Gandhi for India and a
faiths, all races, all creeds, all regions, and all Martin Luther King Jr. for twentieth-century
positions. His earthly life was cut short by an America. These and many others have
assassin’s bullet at the young age of 39 years, offered a blueprint for living and exposed the
but his immortal spirit goes marching on. pattern for dying.
His was an unusual ministry. He walked King was accused of “turning the world
and sat where men walked—from the lowest upside down” when he was only trying to turn
to the highest of them. He slept and ate with it “right side up.” His daily fare was the drum
them—from the most exalted head to the of the critics, the threat of danger, the hope of
most unheard-of pauper. God gave him to friends. A mortal bullet pierced his frame; he is
this generation for this hour; but this genera- away now—and how we all wish him here!
tion either understood him not, or mistook The music of his voice and the wisdom of his
the words he spoke. words escape us. How we wish how we had
Being a prophet of God, he foresaw and heeded his voice; and how the nation cries
began warning his countrymen of today’s today, “Is there no balm in Gilead?”5
wrath and strife 12 years ago. His was a I’m glad I knew King well. He is still with
Moses type of leadership, with a us in spirit, saying in faith, “We shall over-
Philadelphia-Boston education, and a John come; the Lord will see us through.” Yes
the Baptist ministry. He was not at all there is a balm in Gilead to make the wounds
ashamed of the Gospel of Christ which of centuries whole. There is a physician there;
appealed to men’s reason while condemning and his prescription is to build lives and
their prejudices. He coined a phrase hopes rather than rockets only. In his death,
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

“Creative Tension” to expose the deeply he speaks even more loudly and clearly. He
embedded hatred of America’s racist society; would say to whites and Negroes alike that
and developed to a high degree the Non- words alone no longer soothe or suffice.
Violent philosophy, which challenged evil Either we take the non-violent love ethic and
without destroying life, which loved while live, or we keep on hating and die. He would
being hated, which gave defenseless men, say we have the resources but lack the will to
women, and children the courage to stand make the wilderness of our ghettoes blossom
firm where brave men fled—a philosophy, out as a rose. Suburbia must open her doors
some say; to him a way of life, which will live and her arms to her brothers and sisters and
to see racism dead. receive them as children of God. He would
But prophets always love their people and remind us that white racism must indeed die;
suffer the wrath of their fellow men because but it must not be replaced by ultra-black
of the truth they bring. God always has racism. For on life’s keyboard, the black keys
prophets to speak about injustice. He had and the white keys must be played together 77
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS FRED L. SHUTTLESWORTH

to have the music of harmony. No man has ities for those who have no hope. A society
the duty nor the right to tell his neighbor you that can spend twenty billion dollars a year
can’t live here, you can’t walk through here, for a war ten thousand miles away should
you can’t be, or you cannot become. also be able to spend ten billion to rebuild its
White and black preachers must speak the ghettos and bring its educational standards
whole truth to their congregations. We must up to the level of the twentieth century. “For
say that there is no salvation either in black- these things I have given my life,” says King.
ness or whiteness; but there is beauty in “I have traveled the length and breadth of this
everything God has made. God is not dead! land and the world in the interest of men and
He is still able to move men to action. Awake, women speaking the truth one to the other. I
and put on thy beautiful garments, O have been fighting in the game of life. I have
Jerusalem. King would remind those whose not been a spectator watching the wrongs
frustrations would move them to violence and cursing the darkness; rather I have been
that those who take the sword shall also per- an active participant in the struggle to make
ish by the sword, that there is no future in men free. I have fought a good fight. I have
madness alone, and that whom the gods kept the faith; I have finished my course. I
would destroy they first make mad.6 Let the leave you the legacy of Non-Violence. Let
legitimate anger of the ghetto be channeled those who love America, white and black and
constructively to quickly set up banks and all, join together in non-violent progressive
other service institutions, supplied with the action that the works that you now applaud
very funds which daily leave the ghetto to may not die with my body.” |
enrich the suburbs.
Finally, King is saying in his death that time NOTES
is short, and that the day of either progress or 1. Paraphrase of parts of Isaiah 1:18.
2. Ibid.
decay is at hand, that in our greatest crisis is 3. Isaiah 59:6b-16a, NKJV.
also found the greatest opportunity to do 4. 2 Timothy 4:7, KJV.
good. It takes only a few days to build a sky- 5. Jeremiah 8:22a.
6. This statement by Shuttlesworth is a paraphrase of the
scraper or to throw up a super highway in
statement “Those whom the gods wish to destroy they
our society while it takes months—even first make mad,” which is an anonymous ancient proverb,
years—to build adequate parks or other facil- wrongly attributed to Euripides.
S E R M O N S F R O M T H E E L D E R S C . B . T. S M I T H

The PROOF Jesus. We never heard of any hang-ups with


the names Jesus of Nazareth and the
Messiah. We’ve heard them call him the
of His Sonship Savior, the Son of Man, Jehovah, the Lamb of
God, the Lord of Righteousness, Counselor,
Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Everlasting
C. B. T. SM ITH Father, and even Alpha and Omega. But
when they hear the words “Son of God,”
that’s when they really wanted to kill him.
Well, you see the Son of God has all the
perfections of God. When you call him the
Son of God, it makes Christ equal with God.
Mark 15:39, KJV He was subordinate in the mode of his oper-
And when the centurion, which stood over ation, but he was not inferior. But being equal
against him, saw that he so cried out, and with God is the thing that drove him to the
gave up the ghost, he said, Truly, this man cross. They said, “He claimed to be the Son
was the Son of God. of God.” And of course, they really charged
him with blasphemy. The title “Son of God”

E ver since the angel announced to Mary


that the child should be called the Son of
God, there has been great controversy over
gave him heavenly connections and they
couldn’t cope with that.
Many times the attempt was made by
this matter. There seemed to have been no heaven to clear the air on this disbelief about
hang-ups with other names that they called the Son of God. Jesus announced his rela-

C. B. T. SMITH was born on January 18,


1916, in Lavernia, Texas, which is located
outside of San Antonio, Texas. His formal
education began at Phyllis Wheatley High
School and St. Phillips Junior College in
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

San Antonio, Texas. He earned a


Bachelor of Arts Degree from Bishop
College, matriculated at Prairie View
A&M, and did his post-graduate work at
Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth.
Reverend Smith received a Honorary
Doctrine of Divinity Degree from
Guadalupe College in Sequin, Texas, as
well as from Union Theological Seminary
in Houston.
He is a former member of the Dallas
Council of Churches and has served on
the Advisory Board of Dallas
80
S E R M O N S F R O M T H E E L D E R S C . B . T. S M I T H

tionship to his Father even when he was 12 Heaven has always tried to clear the air on
years old and said to his mother, “I must be this question about the Son of God, but there
about my Father’s business.”1 He tried to has always been some question and even
clear it up even when he was a boy so it many of us have some doubt about Christ in
wouldn’t come back to haunt him as he here this morning. With all the things that are
become a man. And then when he was bap- happening in our world today, there are still
tized, heaven claimed the Sonship. And the some folk who question whether or not he is
announcement came, “This is my Beloved the Son of God!
Son in whom I am well pleased.”2 Heaven Well, I think this Friday evening clears that
did its best to clear the air concerning the up! On that dark Friday evening, that centu-
Sonship. I remember so well when Peter rion settled the question. Am I right about it?
walked on the water and when Peter got to He was a sinner and he had crucified many
the boat and there was a great calm. And men for a long time. But when this man died,
Peter looked at the rest of them as the storm there was something so strange about his
overshadowed them; Peter looked backed death that he could only conclude, “Truly,”
and said, “Truly, thou art the Son of God.”3 without a doubt, “this man was the Son of
They went upon the mountain of transfigu- God.” Help me Lord Jesus. Truly, this man is
ration and he was transfigured there before the Son of God.
them. And while they were there they saw On that cross, Jesus proved his Sonship
Moses and Elias standing up talking with with the Father—not in the dying but how he
him. And there a cloud overshadowed them, died and what he died for. There were a lot of
and a voice came out of heaven and said, men who were crucified. He’s not the first
“This is my beloved Son; hear ye him.”4 one. Am I right about it? And he was not the
last one that was crucified. But not only just
Independence School District. He is for dying, but what he died for is really the
the Pastor Emeritus of Golden Gate thing that proved his Sonship. He died for a
Missionary Baptist Church, where he pas- cause; and whenever you die for a cause, you
tored for more than 44 years. He has held will cause some things to happen. Nobody
office in district, state, and national reli- dies for a cause and nothing takes place. Any
gious bodies.
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

time you die for a cause, some things are


At present, he is called to preach and going to happen that you never got a chance
lecture for conferences, retreats, and to see or that you didn’t think were going to
revivals throughout Texas and national- happen. We look at one young man now: the
ly. Videos of his dynamic preaching have late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who died for
been widely disseminated on YouTube. a cause. And just about every big city now
Reverend Smith is considered one of that you get in you’ll see Martin Luther King
the grand gentlemen of the African Drive. Something will happen when you die
American pulpit and continues to serve for a cause! Something happened! He just
as a ministerial model for preachers didn’t die. Jesus just didn’t put his head in the
around the country. Reverend Smith locks of his shoulders and then die and that
was married for over 62 years to the was the end of it! But there was something
late Mrs. Rosa Lee Smith. that accompanied his death that made the
centurion take another look! 81
S E R M O N S F R O M T H E E L D E R S C . B . T. S M I T H

There is a saying that says, “What’s done in the dark will be


brought to light.” But it looked like Jesus reversed that saying
on the cross. It looked like he said this: “What’s done in the
light is going to be brought out in the darkness.”

First of all, it got dark. That’s strange. It got It stayed like that until three in the evening.
dark at 12 noon. That’s the sixth hour Three hours of darkness. There is a saying
Roman time. Am I right? It got dark at 12 that says, “What’s done in the dark will be
noon and listen—it stayed dark three brought to light.” But it looked like Jesus
hours—from 12 noon until three in the reversed that saying on the cross. It looked
evening. Help me, Lord Jesus! Now that’s like he said this: “What’s done in the light is
strange. That’s strange for it to get dark like going to be brought out in the darkness.”
that. If it had gotten dark maybe in the Help me, Lord Jesus.
evening around about 5 or 6:30, then we He’s going to bring it out in the darkness.
could say, “Well, the day is shortening,” but And I don’t know about you, but I’ve wit-
it was 12 noon! Help me, Lord Jesus. And it nessed him bringing a lot of things out of the
stayed like that for three hours. darkness. Am I right? It just looks like he spe-
There’s something just strange about it. cializes in walking in darkness and bringing
Children, I’ve seen it get dark, but it was just out things. Am I right? I believe that, chil-
some dark clouds. But as soon as it got dren. I believe that. I’ve seen him turn a light
through raining and the clouds passed away, on in darkness. Isn’t that right? And there’s
the sun came out. But here it got dark at 12— another thing. He brought me out of the
high noon. Am I right? Someone said it got so darkness into the marvelous light.5 He just
dark that you could just reach over and feel specializes in walking in darkness and bring-
the darkness with the palm of your hand. Am ing things out. Help me Lord Jesus.
I right, children? That’s not in the Bible now, There were three hours of darkness. Isn’t
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

but they said that. They said it got so dark that right, children? There was something
that you could feel the darkness with the happening in three hours of darkness. When
palm of your hand! That’s strange! Help me, he was on that cross, he would strengthen
Lord Jesus. the very bond of human suffrage. He had to
I know that centurion knew something was go through the veil of human suffrage. He
happening. He was standing there. He was had your sin and my sin on his shoulders;
the hand man. He was guarding the tomb, and when the Father saw the Son with the
guarding the grave to make sure nobody sins on his shoulders, the Father couldn’t
could come through. But when it got dark, he look at him so he blacked it out. Help me,
forgot about who he was! Help me, Lord Lord Jesus. He let him stay there and suffer
Jesus. And let me tell you, children—when until he underwent your sins and mine! Help
the Lord starts moving, you forget about me, Lord Jesus!
what you’ve been doing. Am I right? Oh, children, I’m glad. I don’t know about
82 It got dark. I said it got dark at high noon. you, but I don’t have to go through that dark-
S E R M O N S F R O M T H E E L D E R S C . B . T. S M I T H

They had the S-o-n on the cross and the s-u-n


in the sky. And the s-u-n said I can’t shine when
the S-o-n isn’t shining. So I’m just going to veil my
face and wait until this event is over.

ness now because I had somebody to go God.” They said, “We’re just going to wait
through it for me. He’s already gone through here and see who’s coming after him.” Help
it. The only thing I have to do is to believe in me, Lord Jesus.
him now and when I walk through it I say— That centurion was just standing there.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley and And then that centurion looked up and he
the shadow of death, but I don’t have to fear saw the sun and that sun refused to shine.
evil because of the man who died on the And then he just kept on standing there and
cross.” Thank God it wasn’t me! the moon wouldn’t rise. The moon said I’m
That’s strange. The centurion was just still just not going to come up at all. The sun
standing there—standing there in the midst said I’m not going to shine today. Am I
of darkness. Am I right, children? And then right, children?
at the end of that ninth hour, Jesus cried out. Because you see they had two sons. They
Am I right, children? The Bible says that he had the S-o-n on the cross and the s-u-n in the
cried out with a loud voice: “Eli Eli lama sky. And the s-u-n said I can’t shine when the
sabachthani? My God, My God, why hath S-o-n isn’t shining. So, I’m just going to veil
thou forsaken me?”6 The Father didn’t for- my face and wait until this event is over. Isn’t
sake him, but he refused to turn the light on. that right, children?
He refused to turn on the light in order that The centurion kept on standing there. Then
he might be able to bring me to Christ. Am I the veil began to rent in the temple. Am I
right, children? right, children? In other words it was split in
He passed through the veil; and when he half. Therefore, you could see the priest who
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

got through crying, the centurion was just stood behind the holy of holies. Jesus was
standing there—just standing there looking telling them that you don’t have to go to the
at him. He just didn’t know what happened priest no more. You don’t have to give the
because after the ninth hour it got bright priest your sins and wait for him to wash
again and the day broke. He had been in that them away. But you can come boldly before
three hours of black darkness and he was just the throne of grace and find Me in the time
standing there. I guess he was spellbound. of trouble. Am I right children?
And then when he heard him cry, the rest of And then they said the rocks split and
them who were standing off looking said, went and started rolling. The centurion was
“Well, we’ve heard him cry now and it looks still standing there. And then there was a
like he said Elijah.”7 They said, “Let’s wait mighty earthquake. The centurion kept on
and see if Elijah will come get him.” They standing there. And then he looked and the
said, “Maybe his Father will come get him graves opened up. I’m talking about some-
because he declares himself to be the Son of thing happening when Jesus died for a cause. 83
S E R M O N S F R O M T H E E L D E R S C . B . T. S M I T H

The graves opened up and the saints that opens doors. When I turn around, I don’t see
slept got up out of their graves. You know no hands that pull the door. But the only
they didn’t give no names of who got up, but thing I know is that he opens the door for me,
I know a few who died before Jesus came on and when I walk in that door, I say: Surely!
the earth. Surely, surely, this must be the Son of
So, let me surmise some of them that got God! Am I right, children? I don’t know
up. I believe Abraham—I believe Abraham how he gives me friends. I really don’t see
got up. I believe Abraham said, “That must my friends. I don’t know where they are but
be that lamb that was held back in the thick- one thing I know. I see a friend coming to
et.” I believe Ezekiel must have got up. And me and throwing his arms around me. Am
Ezekiel said, “That must be that wheel I saw I right, children? And when he does that, I
turning in the middle of the air.” Am I right, say: Surely! Surely! Surely! He must be the
children? I believe Jeremiah got up. Son of God! I know he is! He’s the Son of
Jeremiah said, “It must be that hammer that God when he feeds me the way he feeds me,
I saw.” But then I believe Daniel got up. the way he opens doors, the way he gives
Daniel said, “That must be that stone that me bread, the way he heals me, the way he
was hewn at the mountain rolling down gives me life, the way he wakes me up in the
through Babylon.” morning.
But anyway, the saints got up and I’m glad this morning he’s the Son of God;
walked into the streets of Jerusalem. Am I and with him being the Son of God, it makes
right, children? But anyway, they got up me a joint heir. Am I right, children?
and the graves were opened. All of this Whatever he owns, I’ve got stock in the busi-
happened and the centurion was just still ness. I’ve got a part of where he lives. I own
standing there. He was guarding the crowd a little bit of heaven. I own a little bit of grace.
the best he knew how. Just standing there I own a little bit of salvation. I own a little bit
looking at what went on. of happiness. I own a little bit of what he has.
And when he saw all of this, the Scripture I own a little bit of God. I own a little bit of
said he cried out, “Surely, this man was the heaven; and when I get there, all I’ve got to
Son of God.” I know he must have been. do is talk to my brother, Jesus, and tell him I
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

Anybody that dies like that must have had want my part and to give me my crown. And
some connection with heaven and glory. Any I’ll wear my crown!
man that died like that ought to know the Surely, surely, surely, surely; he is the Son of
man named God. Any man that died like God. God bless you! God bless you! I know
that ought to know the Prince of Peace. he is! I know he is. You don’t have to tell me!
Surely, this man must be the Son of God. Am I know he is! |
I right, children?
Now, let me close this morning. Jesus
NOTES
proved his Sonship with his Father when he 1. Luke 2:49, KJV.
died like that. Am I right, children? He dis- 2. Luke 3:22, paraphrased.
turbs me when he walks like he walks; when 3. Matthew 14:33, paraphrased.
4. Matthew 17:5, KJV.
he acts like he acts. He disturbs me when he
5. See 1 Peter 2:9.
opens doors for me just like that. I can’t 6. Matthew 27:46, KJV.
84 understand it. I can’t understand how he 7. Mark 15:35, paraphrased.
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS J. ALFRED SMITH SR.

PREACHING Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and


speak to all the cities of Judah that come to
worship in the house of the LORD; speak to
to the Cities them all the words that I command you; do
not hold back a word.

J. ALFRED SMITH SR.


W e live in the present and dream of the
future, forgetting that wisdom for liv-
ing is taught by the past. Ancient stone
tablets and written scrolls remind us, in the
words of New England poet James Russell
Lowell:
Jeremiah 26:1-2, NRSV “Truth forever on the scaffold,
At the beginning of the reign of King Wrong forever on the throne—
Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, this word Yet that scaffold sways the future,
came from the LORD: Thus says the LORD: and behind the dim unknown,

J. ALFRED SMITH SR. is pastor emeri-


tus of the historic Allen Temple Baptist
Church in Oakland, California.
An erudite sage, Dr. Smith serves as
Distinguished Professor of Christian
Ministry and Preaching at the American
Baptist Seminary of the West and the
Graduate Theological Seminary in
Berkeley, California. Dr. Smith is a past
national president of the Progressive
National Baptist Convention (PNBC) and
a past president of the American Baptist
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

Churches of the West (ABCW).


In April 2007, Dr. Smith lectured in
Cambridge, England, at St. Andrews
Baptist Church for the 5th Annual
International Conference on Preaching. In
August 2004, he was one of the featured
eminent guest lecturers at the Oxford
University Roundtable Conference in
Oxford, England.
Dr. Smith champions the causes of the
poor, the downtrodden, the left-outs, and
the left-behinds. He is a voice for the dis-
86
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS J. ALFRED SMITH SR.

Standeth God within the shadow, happened in the land: The prophets prophesy
keeping watch above his own.”1 lies, the priests rule by their own authority,
and my people love it, this way.”2
God is in the facts of history as truly as God False prophetic speech is lying speech. False
is in the march of the seasons, the revolutions priestly ministry abuses authority—but the
of the planets, or the architecture of the people love it that way. False prophetic
worlds. Therefore, we turn to the past to speech is popular, partisan, patriotic, and
study the tracks of God in human history. pleasing to priest, prophet, and people. False
Shall we trace those tracks by traveling back- priestly ministry is governed by the self-inter-
ward in time to 626 B.C.E., the time of est of maintaining institutional survival at all
Jeremiah? He was a priest, a member of the costs; but the God-called prophet proclaims,
priestly household of Hilkiah. I am intrigued “Thus saith the LORD” at any price. How sad
that this priest became a prophet. Both that professional malpractice of priests and
prophets and priests were a disappointment prophets becomes status quo religious prac-
to their callings in Jeremiah’s day. Jeremiah tice that the people love.
tells us, “A horrible and shocking thing has Jeremiah makes himself unpopular by

liked, the disaffected, the displaced, and Sufficiency of Faith in the November 2001
the disdained. He uses the pulpit to uplift Special Supplement of The Living Pulpit,
the poor in spirit, the broken-hearted, and and his essay “Lamentations in the City” in
the afflicted. He also challenges and the April 2002 edition of The Living Pulpit.
afflicts the rich and comfortable to get up His work also appears in The Encyclopedia
and get out of “their lazy chairs of religion.” of African American Christian Heritage by
He is a “fish of many waters” and a Dr. Marvin McMickle and Power in the
“bridge builder” who feels comfortable and Pulpit: How America’s Most Effective
at home with ordinary “everyday” people as Black Preachers Prepare Their Sermons
well as the movers and shakers of the by Dr. Cleophus LaRue.
society. A renowned scholar and an On August 12, 2006, Mrs. Joanna
accomplished author of more than 16 Goodwin Smith, who had been married to
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

books, Dr. Smith has a voracious appetite Dr. Smith since their college days, went
for reading. His most recent book, Speak home to be with the Lord. On July 4, 2008,
Until Justice Wakes: Prophetic Reflections Pastor Smith was united in holy matrimony
from J. Alfred Smith Sr., was released in to The Reverend Bernestine Farley.
2006. On the Jericho Road, a biography of Dr. Smith is a distinguished winner of
his life in the ministry, was released in numerous awards and commendations for
2004. Dr. Smith has penned several publi- his leadership in ministry. Following signifi-
cations, including: “Giving to a Giving God,” cant contributions to affordable senior
“Basic Bible Sermons,” a prayer in 9.11.01: housing, scholarship, and other meritorious
African American Leaders Respond to an activities, Dr. Smith received the American
American Crisis, a sermon “Facing the Baptist Homes of the West Affordable
Insufficiency of National Security with the Housing Award in May 2007.
87
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS J. ALFRED SMITH SR.

becoming an ecclesiastical whistleblower. the womb I knew you, And before


Jeremiah is disloyal to the priestly tradition you were born I consecrated you; I
that he inherited from his father, Hilkiah. He appointed you a prophet to the
angers his prophetic peers who attend the nations.’”5
same prophetic preaching conferences that he
attends. Jeremiah says, “For who has stood “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for
in the council of the LORD so as to see and you shall go to all to whom I shall
hear his word? Who has given heed to his send you and you shall speak what-
word so as to proclaim it?3 ever I command you. Do not be
The council is where the word of God is afraid of them, for I am with you to
given to the prophets. The word is not the deliver you, says the LORD.”6
word of culture, the word of current popular
theological, sociological, or political opinion. But sometimes God’s call is not enough to
The prophetic word of truth comes from console the prophet. Sometimes the inner
standing in the council of the Lord. rewards for prophetic ministry fall short of
Jeremiah had seen kings come and go. He bringing inner satisfaction. Can you hear
was not mesmerized by the charisma of Jeremiah crying:
kings. He had seen the rising and falling of “My heart is crushed within me, all
empires. He saw the fall of Assyria, the my bones shake; I have become like
destruction of Nineveh, the devastation of a drunkard, like one overcome by
Egypt, and the arrogant rise of Babylon. He wine, because of the LORD and
knew that Judah contained within herself the because of his holy words.”7
germs of her own downfall. Jeremiah knew
that the political careers of kings are, to par- To make matters worse Jeremiah says that
aphrase English poet Alfred Tennyson, “little he feels the pain of social ostracism. He is
systems that have their day, and they cease to shunned, cut off, rejected, and abandoned by
be,”4 such as Josiah, who ruled 640–609 former friends.
B.C.E.; Jehoiakim from 609–598 B.C.E.; “I have become a laughing-stock
Jehoiachin, 598–597 B.C.E.; and Zedekiah, all day long; everyone mocks me.
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

597–587 B.C.E. For whenever I speak, I must cry


Jeremiah’s call by God helped to stabilize out, I must shout, ‘Violence and
the stress and the strain of being a faithful but destruction!’”8
unpopular prophet in the time of national cri-
sis. Jeremiah was unappreciated by family Jeremiah engages God in a lover’s quarrel
members, unrecognized by prophetic peers, over his call. Jeremiah accused God of very
and unaccepted by the power politicians of serious charges. The New International
Judah. God’s hand upon Jeremiah’s life guid- Version weakens the complaint. “O LORD,
ed him through the rejection, the persecution, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you
and the loneliness of prophetic ministry. overpowered me and prevailed.”9 The trans-
During such times Jeremiah could only reflect lation from the Hebrew Bible uses two verbs
upon his call: patah and hazak. The first verb denotes the
“Now the word of the LORD came to seduction of a woman to consent to sexual
88 me saying, ‘Before I formed you in intercourse before marriage, and the second
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS J. ALFRED SMITH SR.

False prophetic speech is lying speech. False priestly ministry


abuses authority—but the people love it that way.

verb indicates rape. Seduction does not America. You have been asked to speak in
involve violence; whereas rape forces sexual one of the richly endowed chapels at a
intercourse against the will of the woman. So prestigious Ivy League University. Your
the Hebrew Bible says: “O LORD, Thou hast audience will be made up of the earth
seduced me, and I am seduced; Thou hast shakers and world movers of society. A
raped me, and I am overcome.” The New chauffeur-driven limousine will meet you
Revised Standard Version comes close to the at the airport to drive you to your destina-
Hebrew Bible in saying, “O LORD, you have tion. En route to your speaking engage-
enticed me, and I was enticed; you have over- ment you will pass through neighborhoods
powered me, and you have prevailed.” of crime-filled, drug-infested communities,
So Jeremiah’s telling of God’s truth to where little children live whose parents
the cities brings him hatred and hostility cannot provide for them dental and med-
from his associates. It robbed him of joy ical insurance. You will notice the substan-
because he preached a tough-love message dard housing, where these people live and
of judgment and doom to the people he the run-down school buildings where their
loved. He said: children study.
“I did not sit in the company of mer- I am sure, Jeremiah, that you will wonder
rymakers, nor did I rejoice; under the why most of the people in this community
weight of your hand I sat alone, for are people of color. Jeremiah, when you
you had filled me with indignation.”10 arrive at the Ivy League chapel to give your
prestigious lecture on the assassination of
Would Jeremiah be as welcome in today’s Gedaliah, can you work into your lecture
cities as mega church television preachers somehow your words:
who fly in privately owned jets to preach to “Thus says the LORD: Do not let not
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

full-capacity audiences in the coliseums the wise boast in their wisdom, do


where professional athletes perform? Would not let the mighty boast in their
Jeremiah be welcome in today’s cities if he might, do not let not the wealthy
preached the arrogance of greed, the boast in their wealth; but let those
immoral use of brutalizing power on the who boast boast in this, that they
poor and the powerless? Would Jeremiah be understand and know me, that I am
welcome in today’s cities to talk about a free- the LORD; I act with steadfast love,
dom of speech that promotes unholy speech justice, and righteousness in the
while frowning upon holy speech? Would earth, for in these things, I delight,
groups that promote abortion in today’s says the LORD.”11
cities applaud Jeremiah for saying that God
formed him in his mother’s womb? The cities’ wealthy, the wise, and the
Hear us, Jeremiah. Jeremiah, you have mighty seldom trace the source of their
been invited to speak to the cities here in wealth to God’s grace. They argue that they 89
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS J. ALFRED SMITH SR.

obtained their status by the merit of hard gospel. God’s prophet speaks passionately. As
work. What about the single parent who the late Professor H. Richard Niebuhr of Yale
works two minimum-wage jobs, barely mak- Divinity School used to tell us, only a false
ing enough to survive? These people make prophet would preach “a God without wrath
our beds in hotels. They wash our dirty laun- brought men (persons) without sin into a
dry and they wait our tables, praying that kingdom without judgment through the min-
they will earn enough money in tips to pay istrations of a Christ without a cross.”
their inflated utility bills. They miss paying Where are the prophetic pulpits in our cities?
one bill in order to have enough money to America loves to live in denial of the existence
purchase a few gallons of gasoline to bring of the poor. In 2005, the number of people
them to and fro from home and work. without health insurance in the United States
The power elite, who control the cities’ eco- increased by 800,000, reaching 45.8 million.13
nomic systems and who feel no guilt in send- Is it easier for us to give mission handouts to
ing working-class jobs overseas, enjoy the the poor than to become advocates for them?
arrogance of power. As British Lord John In the central city area of Oakland,
Acton said, “Power corrupts, and absolute California, where I serve as pastor, I have seen
power corrupts absolutely.” It is also true jobs flee from the city not only to suburbia
that the already corrupted seek power. People but also overseas where labor is cheap. I have
who are not able to grow tall from their own seen the supermarkets, banks, and businesses
ethical efforts seek to restrict the growth and leave the central city. I have seen the trans-
development of others who only need an portation system decay so that the central city
opportunity to succeed. Raising the tuition poor have no way of traveling to where the
costs far above the ability of the poor to pay jobs are located. Through the declining tax
while freezing the wages so that inflation can base, the failed educational system, the lack
eat up their puny wages with a hungry cost- of jobs that pay living wages, the shortage of
of-living index is how the already corrupted affordable housing, and the foreclosures of
manage power. All the while, the frustrated homes due to the sub-prime loan crisis caused
poor wonder if God loves them because pros- by greedy investors, I hear the cries of the
perity gospel preachers proclaim, “God pros- people. I hear their sighs of grief. So now I
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

pers the righteous.” Dr. Martin Luther King repeat to you Jeremiah’s words:
Jr. in Stride Toward Freedom reminds us: “For the hurt of my poor people I
“Any religion that professes to be am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has
concerned with the souls of persons taken hold of me. Is there no balm in
and is not concerned with the slums Gilead? Is there no physician there?
that damn them, the economic con- Why then has the health of my poor
ditions that strangle them, and the people not been restored?”14
social conditions that cripple them is
a dry-as-dust religion.”12 Jeremiah soon learned what our elders
learned. He learned that there is a balm in
These words of Dr. King are prophetic in Gilead. Sometimes, we may feel discouraged.
the tradition of Jeremiah and the eighth-cen- We may think that our work is in vain, but then
tury prophets. God’s prophet does not preach the Holy Spirit revives our souls again; there is
90 to the cities a timid, smiling, and entertaining a balm in Gilead. God says: “Go to Anathoth.
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS J. ALFRED SMITH SR.

Resurrection comes to pass. Listen to sounds of joy and gladness.


The old is passed away. The new explodes at springtime.

Go to the territory of Benjamin. Buy a field. angels rejoice, and the crooked places are
Sign the deed of purchase. Give the deed to straight and the glory of the Lord stretches
Baruch, your trusted scribe in the presence of from shore to shore.
the witnesses who must sign the deed. Put the Stand on your tiptoes and speak and gaze
deed in a clay jar so the sealed and unsealed into the future until you can see the majestic
copies will last a long time.” How long is a long coming of the Lord, as King of kings and
time? “Bury the clay jar for 70 years. After 70 Lord of lords.
years redemption time will come.” Stand on your feet and proclaim, “Thus
Redemption time did come. says the Lord” until the rhythm of violence
Resurrection comes to pass. Listen to loses its hold on our youth.
sounds of joy and gladness. The old is passed Stand on your feet until frozen snow of
away. The new explodes at springtime. injustice melts and streams of justice rush
Thawing ice turns into running waters from down slanting mountainsides to nourish flo-
winter’s last snow. Birds pierce the air with ral fields of beauty. No matter how rough the
song. After the trees awaken from a long way, stand! Standing with us is Jesus:
winter’s sleep, flowers bud on the branches. He speaks to all conditions!
But the best is yet to come. He guides in every crisis!
“The days are surely coming, says He fights in every battle!
the LORD, when I will fulfill the He moves in every difficulty! |
promise I made to the house of Israel
and the house of Judah. In those
NOTES
days and at that time I will cause a 1. James Russell Lowell, “The Present Crisis,” written in
righteous Branch to spring up for 1844.
David; and he shall execute justice 2. Jeremiah 5:30-31a, NIV.
3. Jeremiah 23:18, NRSV. All Scriptures are from the New
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

and righteousness in the land.”15


Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
4. Alfred Lord Tennyson, “In Memoriam,” written in 1850.
Prophetic preachers of the twenty-first cen- 5. Jeremiah 1:5.
tury, speak to the cities; speak to America 6. Jeremiah 1:6b-8.
7. Jeremiah 23:9.
about this branch. Speak about this branch 8. Jeremiah 20:7b-8.
or this root who emerged out of dry ground 9. Jeremiah 20:7, NIV.
until America the ugly becomes America the 10. Jeremiah 15:17.
beautiful. Lift up your voice, prophetic 11. Jeremiah 9:23-24.
12. Martin Luther King Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The
preachers, so that ears deafened by sin will Montgomery Story (New York: Harper and Brothers),
hear clearly good news for a bad news world. 1958, 21.
Speak until a war-intoxicated world will 13. “U.S. Census Bureau News,” http://www.census.gov/
Press-Release/www/releases/ archives/income_wealth
sober and turn homesteads of hatred into
/005647.html (accessed October 16, 2008).
continents of calm, presided over by the 14. Jeremiah 8:21-22.
Prince of Peace. Speak until demons tremble, 15. Jeremiah 33:14-15. 91
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS HARRY S. WRIGHT

A Day for US have to get up and get dressed and find the
house of prayer on the Lord’s Day? Does
God require that? Does heaven mandate it?
HARRY S. WRIGHT Does my salvation depend upon congrega-
tional worship? And she said it again turning
up the volume on that phrase, “Do I have
to?” I thought for a moment, and I said to
this young lady, “No, I don’t believe that you
have to, but you ought to and beyond that
you need to.” But wouldn’t it be wonderful if
Exodus 31:13, KJV she could come up to a higher altitude and
Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, live at the level of want to rather than under
saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for the compulsion of have to?
it is a sign between me and you throughout There is a word that speaks to me out of
your generations; that ye may know that I this inquiry from this young sister in this
am the LORD that doth sanctify you. harsh, hard Exodus 31:13 text. God had
called Moses upstairs to Mount Sinai in

S ome time ago a young lady asked me if I


believed that God requires Sabbath wor-
ship. Is it required? Can I not stay home in
the clouds to spend some time with him as
he laid out his divine design and roadmap
for the creation of a conspicuous and dis-
the privacy of my own apartment, run up an tinctive covenant community. God wrote
antenna heavenward, read my Scriptures, with his own fingers and etched it on two
and pray and worship in solitariness? Do I tablets of stone known as The Ten

HARRY S. WRIGHT received his


Bachelor of Arts from Morehouse College,
a Bachelor of Divinity from Colgate
Rochester Divinity School, a Master of
Sacred Theology from Southern Methodist
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

University, and a Doctor of Ministry Degree


from Southern Methodist University. He
was an early Fellow of the Fund for
Theological Education (1961–1962).
From 1954 to 1967, Dr. Wright served
as Senior Pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church
in Bennettsville, South Carolina. From
August 1967 to 1979, he served on staff
at Bishop College in Dallas, Texas, in var-
ious capacities including: Dean of Chapel;
Professor of Religion and Philosophy;
Director of the Lacy Kirk Williams
92
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS HARRY S. WRIGHT

Commandments, with a particular empha- and all that is in them. On the seventh day, he
sis on the Sabbath day: “Speak to the rested and was refreshed. On this Sabbath
Israelites, Moses, for me and tell them to day, which is a day for us, I want to pause
keep my Sabbaths, for they are a sign and remember God’s greatness. I want to imi-
between me and you unto all generations.” tate my Creator on the Sabbath day. I want
Moses is the architect of Old Testament to pause and think on God’s greatness and to
Sabbath decorum, and God says to him, be refreshed. For my God is a great God. It is
“Moses, speak to the Israelites for me.” a day for us to pause and remember the cre-
You do that, Moses. You tell them I said ation and the hands of our Creator. Out of
keep my Sabbaths. Tell them to preserve it. elementary reverence and respect for what
Tell them to keep it because I want them to God did in creating and then resting, I want
be a distinctive flashlight to the nations— to imitate my Creator today. What a mar-
distinctive by standing out by your behav- velous, thoughtful inquiry from this young
ior on the Sabbath day. Speak to them, sister that I opened this sermon with: “Do I
Moses. You tell them for me to keep have to?” And wouldn’t it be wonderful if
the Sabbath day, for this day is a sign of she and we all could cruise at a higher spiri-
the covenant between me and you unto tual altitude at the want to level?—the level of
all generations.” “A Day for Us,” a day for us to reflect on the
And so, I want to reflect on the greatness of greatness of God.
God. God created creation in six days and Do I have to? No, I don’t have to. I don’t
then rested. You remember the source of the live under Mosaic Law. I don’t live under
Sabbath is Genesis 1–2 where in six days, the tablets of stone. I don’t live under a
God created the heaven, earth, and the sea threat of capital punishment if I don’t kneel
on Sunday. Do I have to? Naw, I don’t have
to, but I ought to. Naw, I need to. Naw, I
Ministers’ Institute; and Chair of the want to. In light of the greatness of God and
Division of Religion, Philosophy and what the Creator has done, I want to kneel
Christian Education. From 1979–1982, on Sunday. Perhaps, the greatest Protestant
he served as President of Bishop College. thinker in the last century was Karl Barth
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

Dr. Wright is legendary for his service as and his voluminous work, Church
a professor and mentor to preachers dur- Dogmatics.1 Barth lays out a very simple,
ing and after his tenure at Bishop ordinary day-to-day prescription on Sabbath
College. From 1982–2003, he served as decorum: “One day out of the week find a
Pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Sabbath day to be still and to desist from
Brooklyn, New York, and in 2003, your own labors.” The word Sabbath means
became Pastor Emeritus of Cornerstone. to quit, to cease, (and) to desist. Find a day
For more than 50 years, Dr. Wright has to be still and quiet. Run up your antenna
preached throughout America, Europe, toward heaven and worship God and spend
North Africa, and the Middle East. His time with family, neighbor, and friend. Do I
sermons have been published in have to? Naw, I don’t have to, but I ought to.
Christianity Today and in Outstanding Naw, I need to. Naw, I want to. This is a
Black Sermons (Judson Press, 1976). hard text. I don’t live under the threat of cap-
ital punishment—naw, naw, naw, naw. I 93
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS HARRY S. WRIGHT

don’t live under Moses. I live under grace. shirt has a hole in it!” And mama didn’t
I live under Calvary. I live under love, and seem alarmed. She said, “I know it, Harry,
if you ask me whether or not I have to but it’s clean.” She said, “Tuck it in and run
gather on Sunday, naw, I don’t have to. on to Sunday school.”
Roll over and sleep if you want to, but you Now, this morning putting on this tone-on-
ought to. God rested on the seventh day tone French cuff white shirt from Lourie’s—
and was refreshed. And so, this day is a and it’s paid for—and I had this flashback.
day for us. It’s a day for us to reflect on the Here was a hand-me-down white shirt.
greatness of God. “Mama, this shirt has a hole in it.” Mama
Second, it’s a day for us to celebrate the said, “Harry, I know it, but it’s clean. Tuck it
goodness of God. God is a good God. in and run on to Sunday school.” Now, do I
Deuteronomy chapter 5 recounts: “Rem- have to kneel on Sundays? As I think about
ember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. the goodness of God, naw, I don’t have to. I
Once you were slaves in the flesh pots of can stay in bed on the Lord’s Day. I can roll
Egypt and God with a strong arm and an over for another nap on the Lord’s Day. But
outstretched hand broke you out from the I ought to—naw, I need to. Naw, I want to—
flesh pots of Egypt and for that reason you in light of the goodness of God, I want to
ought to remember the Sabbath day and kneel on Sunday.
keep it holy.”2 You may have read Randall Robinson’s
Now you ask me if I have to. Naw, I don’t book The Debt.3 He sets forth the fact that
have to; but in light of the goodness of God America owes us as a people slave wages.
and what God has done for me, I want to We are past due reparations, wages, and
kneel on Sunday. I have on—and forgive me benefits. We may or may not get our checks.
for this personal reference—I have on a new Don’t get your deposit slips ready. But it is
shirt today. I wanted something new so I no doubt about it that we owe God. Now
have on a brand new white shirt—tone-on- America owes us, but we are as a people
tone, French cuffs, brand new. I bought it in heads over heels in debt to God. We owe
South Carolina. Early this morning as I was him. We are a hundred and forty three years
touching up this shirt, ironing a few little out of slavery. Somewhere in between
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

wrinkles out of it to put it on, I had a flash- 1863–1865, God snatched us out of the
back to an early Sunday morning way back flesh pots of Mississippi. One hundred and
in my yesteryears. I was getting dressed for forty-three years later and an Ebony sister
Sunday school in Bennettsville, South asking me, “Pastor, do we have to go to
Carolina, my hometown, putting on that church on Sunday? Do you think God
white shirt that mama had fixed up. It was requires it? Does my salvation depend upon
a hand-me-down shirt. My older brother it? Do I have to?” Slavery is stamped on our
Junior had worn it, and mama had fixed it passports. And this is a day for us. This is a
up. Turned the collar and it was just my size. day for us, God’s gift to us. Jesus says, “You
So, I was putting on this white shirt and I were not made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath
noticed when I got the shirt almost on that was made for you.”4 This is a day for us to
there was a hole in it down below the waist- reflect on the greatness of God and on the
line. And when I saw that hole, I ran into goodness of God.
94 mama’s bedroom and I said, “Mama, this And third, this is a day for us to be a wit-
SERMONS FROM THE ELDERS HARRY S. WRIGHT

ness and sign for him. “Moses, speak to the Chapel. Two of our girls finished Spelman.
Israelites for me….You do it, Moses. You My son finished Morehouse. The firstborn
tell them I said keep my Sabbaths.” A finished Harvard. I’m not bragging; I’m testi-
whole lot of things we as a people may fying. And I was in Sister’s Chapel and as I
want to jettison and leave behind, but don’t stood in Sister’s chapel, my mind flashed back
leave the Sabbath behind. Keep the to 1987 when our last daughter finished
Sabbath. For the Sabbath is a day for us to Spelman. What a happy day! Our last child
remember our Creator and to remember finished Spelman in 1987. I thought of some-
our liberation and our salvation. And then, thing Wonnie said to me in 1987 after
God says to Moses, “You are a sign.” God Baccalaureate. She said some wonderful
says to Moses, “The Sabbath day is a sign. things to me. She kissed me and hugged me
And you are a sign. You are an arrow on tightly and she said, “Daddy, I’m out of
the Sabbath day pointing straight towards Spelman now. I’m going to work. I’m going
transcendence.” I like that. to get a job, and I’m going to pay you back
When you get up on Sunday morning and for everything you’ve ever done for me.”
get dressed and make your way to the house That was wonderful. She meant well. She
of prayer, Sabbath on your mind, Bible in was intoxicated with commencement eupho-
your hand, song on your lips, you are a sign ria. And she said, “I’m going to pay you back,
all by yourself. You are a sign of the daddy, for everything you’ve ever done for
covenant. Do I have to? Naw, I don’t have me.” And I simply kissed her and I didn’t say
to. But I tell you what: I want to be a sign. I anything, but I haven’t forgotten it. I just said
want to be a witness. Don’t ever underesti- to myself: How? I didn’t say this to her. How?
mate the impact and influence of one boy, What kind of currency would you use? What
one girl, one man, one woman dressed up kind of currency are you going to use to
on the first day of the week—Bible in your refund the Eternal for his amazing grace?
hand, song on your lips, Sabbath in your What can you go downtown and pick up as a
heart, finding your way to the church that gift to express your love to God for Christmas
has no walls. You are an arrow all by your- and for Good Friday and for the blood that
self pointing towards transcendence. “Tell trickled down Golgotha’s cross? I’ll tell you
THE AFRICAN AMERICANPULPIT SPRING 2009

them, Moses. You do it for me, Moses. what I’m going to do. I’m not under compul-
When you come down from the clouds, tell sion and I don’t live under Moses. There is no
the Israelites to keep my Sabbaths, for the capital punishment threat hanging over my
Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between head. Tell you what I’m going to do. On the
me and you unto all generations.” Now, do Lord’s Day as long as I’m able I’m going to
I have to? Naw, you don’t live under com- kneel. Now, I don’t have to, but I ought to.
pulsion, but you ought to. Naw, not ought Naw, I need to. Naw, I want to. |
to—I need to. Naw, I want to. God is great
and God is good, and I want to be a sign NOTES
and a witness for him. 1. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics (14 Volume Set), (New
Now—this now and I’m through—my York: T. & T. Clarke Publishers), 2004, vol. 4, chap. 3.
2. Deuteronomy 5:12, 15, paraphrased.
wife and I have four children, four wonderful
3. Randall Robinson, The Debt: What America Owes to
children. I was on the campus of Spelman Blacks (New York: Plume), 2001.
College several days ago and I went in Sister’s 4. See Mark 2:27. 95