Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wise Words from One of Fitzgerald's Finest

They are from Rev. Julie Whidden Long, who grew up in the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald and who now serves as Minister to Children and Families at First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia. Her article "Forming the Faith of the Next Generation" appeared in the Macon Telegraph on Saturday, January 24, 2009.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Oprah for Senator?

Illinois Gov. Rob Blagojevich has said that he considered appointing Oprah Winfrey to the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

And now--the top ten reasons that the governor should have done so:

10. She has some people who could help him with his hair.

9. She could publish his article "How to Govern Wisely and Well for Fun and Profit" in O magazine.

8. Nobody--but nobody--would be better at a filibuster.

7. She would look great on camera during President Obama's State of the Union address when the director wants a shot of someone looking mesmerized.

6. She could fund all those bailouts.

5. She might feature his autobiography on Oprah's Book Club.

4. C-Span could use a ratings boost.

3. You never know--sound government may be one of her favorite things.

2. She's slightly better known than the guy who got the job--you know, old what's his name.

1. Who needs lobbyists when you never know what Oprah is going to leave under your seat?.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Obfuscation by my Ilk

I, like all others of my ilk, work in words, and that can be a challenge; for example, I just had to look up the word “ilk” to make sure that it was appropriate to use in the context in which I just used it and, I am happy to report, it is, and that’s why I left it in, although I or someone else of my ilk might have chosen to use a different word that might have not have required looking up, such as “type” or “kind.” But I like the sound of the word “ilk” and so that’s the one I chose to use.

“Ilk” rhymes with various words, “silk” and “milk” among them, and speaking of milk, I have not yet seen Milk, which I would very much like to see, nor have I seen any of the other nominees for the 2009 Oscar for Best Picture: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, or Slumdog Millionaire, all of which I’m sure are outstanding for many reasons, not the least among them being the quality of the words that make up the scripts and the quality of the delivery of those words by the fine actors who make up the casts.

I am especially interested in seeing Frost/Nixon because I always have been and always will be, it appears, fascinated by the sordid saga of Watergate, a scandal that had to do with paranoia, espionage, politics, money, power, and—words. When you get right down to it, words are what finally brought down the Nixon presidency—the words that were written by Woodward and Bernstein, the words that were spoken by witnesses before the Senate Watergate Committee, and the words that were preserved by the White House’s handy dandy taping service.

Yes, words are powerful things, and they can be used for good or harm, for building up or for tearing down, for love or for hate, and for clarification or obfuscation (yep, I had to look that one up, too, and yep, it’s also appropriate in that context).

Speaking of obfuscation, I think that one of the great challenges of preaching, which is one of the tasks that falls to me with maddening regularity, is to avoid it—obfuscation, not preaching. After all, as the opening chapter of the Fourth Gospel puts it, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth,” and part of what that means, I think, is that in the person of Jesus Christ the eternal Word of God stood right there in front of people or sat right there beside people and basically said, “OK, here I am—plain as the nose on your face and obvious as the sun in sky on a cloudless day—so what are you going to do with it or about it.”

Oh, I know that when Jesus spoke he often spoke in parables and I know that he said something about it being part of the plan that people who couldn’t get it wouldn’t get it and that he quite often had to explain to those who ordinarily stood or sat or reclined—which I understand was the usual eating position back then and that strikes me as awfully inconvenient and uncomfortable--the closest to him what it was that he was talking about, but still, there he was, right there in the flesh, the ultimate testimony to how far Almighty God would go to say, “Here I am—do something or say something or for God’s sake, at least think something or feel something.”

I fear that sometimes I stand in front of the people of God in the house of God and read the Word of God in response to which they say “Thanks be to God” and then I expound on it in ways that, rather than shining light on that Word, cast shadows on it—you know, obfuscate it. My even greater fear is that sometimes my life, out of which my words come, has its own shadows that obfuscate—there’s that word again—the Word for me and, if that’s case, how on earth can I make it clear to anyone else?

Ah, but then there’s grace, isn’t there? Yes, thank God, there’s grace.

After 35 years of working at this preaching thing, it seems to me that my responsibility is to live as close to the living Word who is Jesus Christ as I, with the help of the Spirit of God, can, to study the written Word with all my heart, mind, and strength, and to cast my sermons in words that are as precise, as clear, as open, as obvious, and—dare I say it?—as beautiful as I can make them.

When my words are precise, clear, open, obvious, and beautiful as they can be—well, that’s God’s grace, isn’t it?

And when my words obfuscate—well, God’s grace covers me and my poor listeners, doesn’t it?

Maybe that’s one of the most valuable truths that I and those of my ilk can ever realize.

In their love song Words, the Bee Gees sang, “It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.” Well, words are all we preachers have to take away the breath of our listeners and to turn their hearts toward God—but, by the grace of God, behind our words, beneath our words, and within our words--whether those words on that particular Sunday illuminate or obfuscate-- lurks the Word of God—thanks be to God.

Monday, January 19, 2009

About Dr. King

[Note: This is a reprint of my post from April 4, 2008, the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I reproduce it here in honor of the Martin Luther King holiday.]

Forty years ago today I was a nine-year-old going on ten-year-old boy living in the little house at 228 Memorial Drive in Barnesville, Georgia, which was (and is) situated about midway between Atlanta and Macon on U.S. Highway 41. That evening I was, as usual, watching the nineteen-inch black and white television set in our small den. The program I was watching was interrupted by a news bulletin in which it was reported that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot in Memphis, Tennessee.

I lived a very sheltered and limited life. The fifteen mile trip to Griffin was a big deal. The fifty mile trip to Atlanta was downright mind-boggling. But the one place I had visited that was a long way away was Memphis. My parents had friends there. To me, Memphis was a place of exotic wonders like the zoo and the Lakeland amusement park and shopping malls and lots of traffic signals and their friends’ teenage daughter Marsha.

Now it had become the place where Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot. That made me sad.

I did not at that tender and more or less innocent age know a lot about Dr. King. I had heard of him but I didn’t understand the issues that mattered to him and to everybody else who was paying attention. But I learned something that night.

I learned about hate.

My mother and another adult member of our extended family were back in my parents’ bedroom. I think they were working at the sewing machine. I went back to the bedroom and told them, “They just said on the TV that Martin Luther King has been shot in Memphis.” Our relative formed a pistol with her hand, placed it against her temple, and said, “I hope they got him right there.” I don’t remember what my mother said.

Later that night, though, when Mama and I were alone, she said, “Mike, don’t you ever repeat what she said. That was wrong.” “I won’t,” I promised.

The next day, my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Tenney, a good-hearted person, tried to talk to our class about what had happened in Memphis. Now, this was 1968 in a small town in the deep South. I attended Gordon Grammar School, which was the city public school. We children were living in ignorance of what was to come two years later when the desegregation of our public schools would commence. In 1968 we were still operating under the “freedom of choice” policy which meant that we had an all-black county school, Booker T. Washington School, an all-white county school located in the even smaller town of Milner, and the mostly white city school at Gordon. A handful of black parents did send their children to Gordon. There were one or two black children in my fourth grade class.

So it was that Mrs. Tenney talked with us. She asked something like, “What have you heard people say about Dr. King’s assassination?” I remembered my promise to my mother—briefly. Then I raised my hand and repeated what our family member had said. I don’t remember what Mrs. Tenney said in response, but I’m sure that she tried to say that such an attitude was wrong.

It never occurred to me how the words I repeated right out loud in that fourth grade classroom might have affected my black classmates.

It never occurred to me how different the discussions must have been that were going on at Booker T. Washington School, where there were no white students or teachers or administrators to utter the kind of hateful words that I repeated that morning.

My family member, whose finger I can still see pressed against her temple and whose vicious smile I can still see and whose words I can still hear, really did hate Dr. King. It was obvious.

Now I want to speak a difficult truth. While I doubt that many of the people around me would express such hatred for Dr. King, I can testify to the fact that many of the people that I know do not cherish his memory because they do not appreciate his work and his legacy.

I’m talking about white people, of course, and I can do that, because I am one.

I have to admit that the attitudes of some white folks toward Dr. King surprise me. Now, we all know that Dr. King was not a perfect man. He had his faults. So do we all. There are a few things that I wish those folks would remember, though.

One thing is that Dr. King’s mission was very much driven by his Christian commitment. Most if not all of the people I know who resent Dr. King consider themselves to be Christians. Well, he was their brother in the faith. He loved and served the same Jesus that they love and serve. Those of us who were adults back in his day should have been at the very least loving and praying for him. We need to see Dr. King’s work in the context of his Christian heritage and commitments.

A second thing is that Dr. King had right on his side. God knows that we still have a long way to go. Dr. King’s dream of a society in which people are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character is still far from realized. Statistics reveal that the black community is beset by tremendous problems, most of which are related to poverty. Nonetheless, America would never even have the chance to live up to her highest ideals of freedom and justice so long as equal rights under the law were not accorded to all of her citizens. People who follow Jesus and whose lives are guided by his teachings should care deeply about all human beings being treated as human beings.

A third thing is that Dr. King was the right man in the right place at the right time. During my ordination council interrogation, Dr. Carey T. Vinzant, the retired president of Tift College, asked me if the Apostle Paul could have done the work that he did for the Lord had he not had the education that he had. I stammered out an answer that I thought sounded pretty pious; it amounted to “I reckon that God could have done with Paul whatever he needed doing regardless of Paul’s education.” Dr. Vinzant smiled and said, “You may be right. But it seems to me that it was very important that Paul was educated in both the Jewish and Greek worlds since it was his special calling to translate the Jewish-based Christian faith for a Gentile audience.” Dr. Vinzant was right, of course.

Dr. King came along at a time when American society needed to face up to its racial divide and to its systematic discrimination against and disenfranchisement of a huge segment of its population. Because of his background, because of his natural gifts, because of his education, and especially, I believe, because of his commitment to nonviolent protest, Dr. King was the right man in the right place at the right time. I understand that as the Civil Rights movement progressed some young black leaders became disenchanted with Dr. King’s peaceful approach and advocated more direct and even violent action. I wonder if my friends in the white community who don’t like Dr. King have stopped to consider how much more difficult things could have been had he not taken the peaceful approach he did?

Race relations in the real world can be difficult. I know that. But we who are Christians should lead the way in this and in all matters that revolve, in the final analysis, around love. Dr. King saw and lived in the midst of a wrong and he tried to right it and he did so in a way that honored the Savior whom he served. Would that the same could be said about all of us.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Paying Attention

(A sermon based on 1 Samuel 3:1-20 for Sunday, January 18, 2009)

We need to pay attention. We need to pay attention to the world around us; we need to pay attention to the life within us; we need to pay attention to the people near us—but, most especially, we need to pay attention to the God who made us, who saves us, and who summons us to follow.

It is important that in every time, in every place, and in every generation God’s people listen for and hear God’s voice in their lives. It is important that we here at the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald listen for and hear God’s voice. That voice tends to be a still, small one, to be sure, and so we often must be very intentional about paying attention to it. I want to challenge us today to such intentionality.

Our text is about Samuel hearing God’s voice; Samuel was a young man who was hearing the voice of God calling him to serve in a particular way. But all of us, no matter what age we are and no matter at what point in life we find ourselves need to pay attention to the voice of God and to the claims that God’s voice is placing upon our lives. Usually when we think or talk about God calling someone we think about God calling a young person. So here we are—young and old and everything in between and it is thus important to say at the outset that God’s voice can come to anyone at any stage in his or her life. Any of us—all of us—can and will hear the voice of the Lord if we are careful to listen and if we are open to what it says to us. And we all need to pay attention.

Interestingly, in today’s text God’s voice comes in the context of a transition in leadership. We are in the midst of a transition in leadership since I am still in my early days as your pastor, but really such transitions take place all the time as we always have a new generation of Christians arising in the church. Doing what we need to do will take all of us and so we all need to pay attention to the voice of God.

God is speaking to us and God will speak to us; the question is, will we pay attention?

I. We all need to pay attention to God’s voice

People in every generation need to hear God’s voice and to do the best they can to carry out the call that accompanies that voice but people in every generation will have mixed success at carrying out God’s call. No doubt the priest Eli had experienced many successes in his ministry at Shiloh but he had also experienced his share of failures. So it is with all leaders; so it is with all people. Sometimes we will do well at following and sometimes we will not do so well; acknowledging that going in will help guard us from frustration.

The Bible tells us that the Lord decided to take the leadership of Israel away from the family of Eli because of the sins of his sons and because of Eli’s unwillingness or inability to correct them. Leadership could not be passed on to Eli’s sons so it was going to pass to Samuel instead. Regardless of the reasons and the circumstances, though, the call of God must be passed on to new leadership in every generation. Life is dynamic; nothing ever stands still or stays the same. The church is also dynamic; nothing ever stands still or stays the same, and one of the ways that the church is constantly changing is that we have to identify and nurture and develop and accept the voice of new leaders who are willing to pay attention to God and to try their best to obey God.

Notice in the story how young Samuel listened to old Eli and how old Eli listened to young Samuel. Each generation listened to the other and in listening to each other each generation heard the voice of the Lord. In the church the different generations need to listen to each other because in so doing they just might hear the voice of God.

We all need to pay attention to the voice of God.

II. We all need to be available to pay attention to God's voice

Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD when he heard God’s voice. It is possible that he was participating in a ritual whereby he slept in the tabernacle near the Ark of the Covenant in order to put himself in a position to hear the voice of God. If that is the case, it raises two questions.

First, might Samuel’s mentor Eli have guided him into that situation? Those of the more experienced generation of leadership need to encourage our young people to put themselves in a position to hear God’s voice in their lives. We can do that, and parents have a special role here, by making sure that our children are in worship and in Bible study and on mission projects so that they will be available to hear God’s voice; we also need to make sure that our homes are places where such paying attention is fostered and encouraged. The church also has a role in providing worship, study, and service opportunities that are geared to our youth so that they might hear the voice of God in their own language—another version of Pentecost, if you will. The next generation is responsible to hear for themselves, but the older generation is responsible to help them hear.

Second, why did Samuel mistake the voice of God for the voice of Eli? Perhaps he was just not mature enough to know the voice of God when he heard it. Regardless, here we get a glimpse of a situation that people, and perhaps especially young people, struggle with in their efforts to ascertain the voice of God. Are they hearing the voice of God? Are they hearing the voice of circumstances? Are they hearing the voice of peers? Are they hearing the voice of family? Are they hearing the voice of church members? Or are all of those voices combining to give voice to the voice of God?

I perceived that God was calling me to preach when I was fourteen years old. When I got older and became a little more reflective, I began to ponder the circumstances that surrounded my perception of that call. My mother, a very devoted Christian, was terminally ill with cancer. My church family spoke of God’s call only in terms of a call to full-time Christian ministry and never in terms of a call to a profession as a Christian layperson. My emotional stability was very much based in pleasing people. Might I have heard those voices rather than the voice of God? I came to realize, though, that I had heard the voice of God and that even if God had used some of those other voices to get my attention, they had finally led me in the right way. God does in fact speak to us through other people and through circumstances as well as through the Spirit, through the Bible, and through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

How does the voice of God come to us, then? It comes to us through the events of our lives; it comes to us through the words and example of other people, and it comes to us through the Spirit of God, through the witness of Scripture, and through the example of Jesus.

Not long ago I composed a short prayer that captures it for me:

O Lord, help me to listen.
Help me to listen to my life;
Help me to listen to the people in my life;
Help me to listen to you because you are my life!
O Lord, help me to listen.

III. We all need to accept the challenge of paying attention to God’s voice

The dynamics created when the voice of God is heard and responded to by a new generation—or for that matter by the older generation when we start listening carefully—can be difficult. All generations in the church experience significant challenges that must be navigated as we try together to pay attention to what God is saying to us. We may not always like what we hear from each other but we always need to consider carefully that the word we don’t want to hear may, in fact, be from the Lord.

Whomever God chooses to work through and however God chooses to work, the appropriate affirmation for us is that of Eli when Samuel told him what the Lord had said to him: “It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him” (v. 18b). We need to have the faith that through or in spite of what we have done and are doing, God is working his purposes out and the future is in God’s hands, hands that are much more capable than ours.

Telling the truth that we learn as we pay attention to God’s voice can be a challenge but it is a challenge to which we must respond with courage, with love, and with grace. Often the Old Testament prophets were called to proclaim a message that was hard for people to hear and hard for the prophets to speak. And so Samuel was afraid to tell Eli what God had said to him because that message contained negative words about Eli’s family. All of God’s people, those in every generation, need to pay attention to the voice of God in our lives and that means facing squarely and speaking boldly, but with love and grace, the words that God gives us to say. If we have to say things that are hard for us to say and for others to hear, so be it, so long as our saying them is motivated by obedience and seasoned with love. And if others have to say things that are hard for them to say and for us to hear, so be it, so long as their saying them is motivated by obedience and seasoned with love.

To be the Church we simply must work at paying attention to God and at speaking the truth to one another in love.


God is speaking to us and God will speak to us; the questions are: (1) Will we pay attention? and (2) Will we respond by doing what God leads us to do and saying what God leads us to say? We are the people of God and God will teach us through God’s Spirit, through the Bible, through the events of our lives, through other people, and through the example of Jesus if we will just pay attention. Will we? Will we commit ourselves to paying attention to the voice of God?

Thursday, January 15, 2009


People of my generation will remember those great lyrics from that ‘60s rock musical:

Gimme a head with hair
Long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming,
Streaming, flaxen, waxen

Give me it down to there hair
Shoulder length or longer
Here baby, there mama
Everywhere daddy daddy

Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Flow it, show it
Long as God can grow it
My hair.

“Gimme a head with hair.” Oh yeah.

I remember my hair.

When I was little my folks kept my hair really, really short—it was basically a buzz cut. As I got older and nerdier my parents arranged with my barber Mr. Spears to keep me in a hair style that befitted said nerdiness.

But I wanted long hair, by which I meant hair that came over my ears a little bit. My mother was adamantly opposed to such a development although I really don’t know why; I suppose she thought such shagginess would be the first step down the short road to utter degradation and unbridled licentiousness. I eventually did manage to allow my hair to creep over my ears bit by bit so that by the time I was fourteen they were about three-quarters covered but I am happy to report that my life did not become three-quarters covered with either degradation or licentiousness as a result.

I remember bitter debates (all right, they were really good-natured discussions but bitter debates sounds more dramatic) at my church about whether Jesus had long hair (he did) and just what it meant for a woman’s hair to be her glory and for it to be shameful for a man to have long hair and, in a related vein, just how long did a woman’s hair have to be for it to be glorious and just how long did a man’s hair have to be to be shameful?

As I was preparing to leave home for college among my father’s parting words to me were these: “Don’t let yourself go.” But, I thought, I couldn’t leave for college if I didn’t let myself go; then I realized that he meant that he didn’t want me to let my appearance go, which surely meant at least in part that I wasn’t supposed to let my hair get long.

Somewhere between my junior and senior years I let myself go; at least, my hair got pretty long. When I went a considerable time between haircuts, which I often did in those days, my hair also grew very, very thick—think biblical Absalom, whose annual haircut produced several pounds of hair. How thick were my locks? Well, when I washed my hair I would sit down to blow dry it because the task took so long.

Daddy never said a word about my long hair. One day during my senior year I decided to get most of my hair cut off. When I went home Daddy didn’t say a word about that, either. Parents are so blamed confusing.

Even when it was short my hair was thick. It was abundant. It was luxurious. It was mine.

I have always had a high forehead but over the years my hairline has receded; I also have an encroaching bald spot on the crown of my head. The other day I looked at a few minutes of the video of our morning worship service in order to analyze my sermon but I found myself instead analyzing my hair, which wasn’t all bad, since it distracted me from studying my waistline. I didn’t like what I saw.

So today I went to a beautician who is a member of our church and asked her for help. Now, what hair I have is real, real short. It’s a concession to reality and I’m ok with it.

You know, sometimes life comes full circle.

My next move will be a buzz cut.

Mama and Daddy would be so proud.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

And I'm One of Them

There is perhaps no better proof for the existence of God than the way year after year he survives the way his professional friends promote him. (Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark, p. 6).

And Amen.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Obamas’ Church Choice

On December 14, at the conclusion of the service during which I preached my first sermon as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald, my family and I joined that church. Trying to be funny, and perhaps succeeding, I said that we had planned to shop around a bit before we decided which church to join but that we had been so moved by that morning’s service, and in particular by the sermon, that we felt compelled to join right then and there.

It wasn’t a hard decision, of course, given that it would be pretty unusual for the pastor and the pastor’s family not to be members of the church served by the pastor. It apparently is a much more difficult decision when the people having to make the decision are the President-elect of the United States and his family. At least that’s the idea one gets from all the speculation in the press about which church the new First Family will join.

Many eyes are upon the Obamas as the nation awaits their choice of a house of worship; indeed, interest in this question seems to be eclipsed only by the burning issue of what type of canine will be chosen to serve as First Dog.

This church watch is fueled in part by the fact that President-elect Obama’s last church was led by a pastor who was a focus for controversy during the recent election. People wonder if the Obama family will decide to join a congregation that is associated with one of the great African-American denominations such as the AME Church or if they might go in another direction; so, for example, the latest edition of the Christian Century asked, “Will the Obama family pick a black church?”

It’s an interesting question, I suppose, but the sad thing to me is that there are people out there who are going to analyze the Obamas’ church choice to see if it sends some kind of political message and the even sadder thing to me is that some people will analyze every word said by the pastor of that church and every position taken by the people of that church and every ministry performed by the members of that church to see if they can make political hay out if it.

I’m not sure for whom I feel sorrier: the Obamas or the pastor and people of whatever church they choose.

For what’s it worth, here is the advice I would give Barack and Michelle Obama as they try to pick the right church for themselves and for their daughters.

First, find a church where you can worship. There are all kinds of worship styles and some suit you better than others; I would assume that your previous church involvement indicates that you prefer an energetic and vibrant style of worship with strong and sometimes edgy preaching. If that’s the kind of worship environment in which you sense a true encounter with the Holy, don’t abandon that for political reasons or for any reason. On the other hand, if you feel like you are at a place in your pilgrimage where a different worship style would suit you, then make a change; don’t worry about whether anyone will say that you did that just to try to avoid the controversy that can sometimes accompany a dynamic preaching style—I mean, they’ll say it, but don’t let it worry you.

Second, find a church where you can serve. I realize that you’re going to be insanely busy for the next four years and nobody in her right mind would blame you for doing nothing else through your church except showing up for the occasional worship service. But I would encourage you to do more than that; I would urge you both to find a church that has some ministries in which you would like to participate and then do so—one ministry each would be plenty. President Carter sometimes taught Sunday School while he was in Washington, after all. I know that we’re not supposed to do our good works in order to attract the attention of people, but in your case you could provide a great example to church people and a great witness to the world by giving of yourselves through ministry to the community and to the church.

Third, find a church where you can be served. What I mean by “served” is “ministered to” and “fed” and “nurtured” and “shepherded” and “loved.” You are embarking on a vocational journey that should be wonderful but that will also be extremely challenging. You will need a family of faith to support you in your humanity with its accompanying frailties and struggles; you will need a pastor to stand with you in the times of victory and the times of defeat; you will need a people who will be your people through thick and thin; and you will need the Word and Spirit of God to be a check to your pride, to be salve to your wounds, and to be hope in your trials. Accept your humanity and embrace a church that will embrace you; you will need friends and you will need a family. Insofar as possible, then, find a church that will not be terribly impressed that you are President but that will be greatly pleased to love you and your girls because you are people.

And as for the rest of us, I would suggest that we acknowledge that the choice of a church is very personal and that once we learn in which church the Obamas are going to participate we pray for both the First Family and their new church home. Oh—and I would suggest that we pay more attention to the kind of church in which we worship and to the ways in which we worship and serve in that church than we pay to the worship preferences and church choices of anyone else—the President included.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

An Oxymoron

"Self-centered Christian"

It’s the Baptized Life for Us!

(A sermon for January 11, 2009, The Baptism of the Lord, based on Mark 1:4-11 & Acts 19:1-7)

It’s important to know who you are. In the town in which I lived during my growing up years, the names of Champ and Sara Ruffin meant something and what they meant was good; therefore, I was always conscious of the name I bore and of the good things that were associated with that name. The family into which I was born was formative in my self-understanding.

Unfortunately, not everyone knows, recognizes, or accepts who they are; indeed, some folks live in denial of their true identity. The 2008 year-in-review issue of Sports Illustrated noted a couple of such cases. In one instance, the city of Kannapolis, North Carolina removed flags commemorating Kannapolis native Dale Earnhardt because Martha Stewart was coming to town; if you’re a Dale Earnhardt kind of town, why deny it? In another case, a 33-year-old woman assumed the identity of her estranged 15-year-old daughter so she could enroll in high school and try to be a cheerleader; I’ve known thirty-something –year-old people--and for that matter forty- and fifty- and sixty-year-old people--who acted like teenagers (no offense to teenagers), but still, this is ridiculous.

It’s important that we know who we are, so who are we? We are the baptized, which is another way of saying that we are the saved. Don’t misunderstand—I know that it is what happens in our heart of hearts between Jesus and us that saves us and that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works lest we boast and that if we aren’t careful about how we think and talk about baptism we’ll turn it into something approximating a work that we can boast about—you know, something that we did. But I also know that the New Testament does not seem to know about any kind of Christian other than a baptized Christian and I know that the Lord Jesus instructed us to baptize people and I know that baptism is the outward identifying mark of our salvation.

So we need to remember, and I do remember. I remember the Sunday night at Midway Baptist Church when Preacher Bill plunged me beneath the warm waters of the pool the construction of which two years before had almost cost me my father when he fell through a hole in the ceiling to the concrete below, fracturing two vertebrae in his neck and requiring some fifty stitches to close up the cuts in his head; it was in the place of his near death that I was baptized into new life. I remember the spectacle of that night as another church joined us for the baptismal service and it seemed to me that dozens of folks were baptized before I was. I remember the inappropriate humor of my cousin Rudy who, as folks in the line ahead of us were dunked, would turn to my other cousin Bruce and me and say, “Drip drip, drip drip.” I remember how, when I stepped down into the pool, I thought that I was having a vision like that of Paul on the Damascus Road, including being struck blind, only to realize that my father had fired up the spotlights on his Brownie 8mm movie camera. But mainly I remember my sense, as I went beneath the waters and rose out of them, that things were different now—that I was different now.

From then on—and it’s been some 42 years now—it’s been the baptized life for me. If you’re a Christian, it’s the baptized life for you, too. What does that mean?

First, it means that it’s the forgiven life for us. We all have that sense, that knowledge in us that things are not right and that they need to be made right; what’s not right is our sin and what makes it right is our salvation in Jesus Christ. Our baptism reminds us that we have been forgiven of our sins.

It is curious to us that Jesus gave himself over to John the Baptizer’s baptism for the repentance of sins. After all, Jesus did not sin; he alone among human beings lived a perfectly obedient to the Father life. Still, Jesus was tempted as we are; he was subject to all the temptations and problems and trials that are common to humanity and in his subsequent life, death, and resurrection he overcame those temptations and problems and trials for us. Jesus’ baptism is the symbol of his solidarity with us; Jesus identified with the sinfulness of humankind and took on a life in the midst of this fallen world so that he could overcome it all. While Jesus is clearly different and set off from us, he nonetheless in significant ways became one of us and walked among us.

When we are baptized, though, we are confessing our personal sin and accepting the forgiveness of God. From that point on, we live the baptized life—and the baptized life is the forgiven life.

Second, it means that it’s the submitted life for us. It is one of the most beautiful pictures in the entire Bible: Jesus, who had no sin of which he needed to repent, nonetheless submitted himself to the public humiliation of baptism in order to be obedient to his Father’s will. There is something so fundamentally “Christian” about what he did. Jesus’ life was dominated by two concerns: (1) to serve the Father and (2) to serve people. Did Jesus “need” to be baptized? No, not the way that we “need” to be. But he wanted to do what his Father wanted him to do; his attitude was completely submissive.

Let’s face it: baptism is an act of humiliation. We come before a crowd of people and we let ourselves get dunked in water right there in public. In so doing we are following Jesus’ example because the Christian life is, at its heart, a life of submission to the will of God and to service to other people. Just as baptism was the appropriate beginning to such a life for Jesus, so it is for us; baptism marks us as those who are dedicated to submission—submission to the will of God and submission to the needs of others. Baptism is the beginning of a lifelong process of thinking less and less about self and of thinking more and more about the will of God and the needs of people.

When we are baptized we are joining with Jesus in giving ourselves over to such submission. From that point on, we live the baptized life— and the baptized life is the submitted life.

Third, it means that it’s the Spirit-fueled life for us. When Jesus was baptized, he saw “the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” When next we see Jesus, the Spirit is driving him into the wilderness to face his test. Jesus’ life was a Spirit-led and a Spirit-fueled life. When Paul met some disciples of Jesus who had been baptized only with the baptism of John he baptized them in Jesus’ name and when he laid his hands on them, “the Holy Spirit came upon them.” When we are baptized the Spirit of God comes into our lives, too; we are baptized with both water and with the Spirit. As the book of Acts makes clear, it is the Spirit of God that empowers the church for its mission in the world and it is the Spirit of God that empowers individual believers for our mission in the world. We are not on our own; the Spirit, as Jesus promised he would, teaches us and empowers us and comforts us.

When we are baptized we are filled with the Spirit of God. From that point on, we live the baptized life—and the baptized life is the Spirit-fueled life.

Fourth, it means that it’s the belonging life for us. When Jesus was baptized, he received confirmation of his identity: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” There is a difference with our baptism because it is truly a beginning for us; it is the sign of our new life in Christ. Before, we were not saved; baptism is the outward sign that we have been saved. In our baptism we receive affirmation from God that we are the children of God.

In other words, we find that we belong in the family of God. We also find that all others who believe and who are baptized belong in that family with us. When those believers in Ephesus who had known only the baptism of John received baptism in the name of Jesus they were filled with the Spirit in such a way that the results were obvious. A similar thing had happened earlier following the baptism of some Samaritans. In other words, God worked to make it very clear that those who some might have thought did not belong in the family of faith did in fact belong.

The Spirit, then, is a unifying force, and baptism is a unifying act. As Ephesians puts it, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…” (Ephesians 4:4-6). The baptism in which we share reminds us that we share in everything else; we are truly one body in Christ.

Once, back in the bad old days of racial segregation, I accompanied a friend and his mother to swim in the lake at a state park. A line was stretched across the swimming area of the lake that separated the “white” swimming zone from the “black” swimming zone; even then it struck me as ludicrous, since, after all, we were still swimming in the same water (a floating nylon cord could hardly make much of a difference) and now, in these days of increasing racial diversity in our culture, it strikes me as even more ludicrous as I imagine roped off Hispanic areas and roped off Asian areas to go along with the roped off black and white areas. Somehow, though, the water of the lake became a source of division in the lives of people.

The waters of baptism function in exactly the opposite way—they are a source of unity in the lives of Christian people. The waters of baptism unite black and white and Hispanic and Asian Christians. The waters of baptism unite American and Iraqi and Russian and Korean and Brazilian Christians. The waters of baptism unite conservative and moderate and liberal Christians. The waters of baptism unite rich and poor and middle class Christians. The waters of baptism unite Baptist and Methodist and Pentecostal and all other Christians.

And closer to home—the waters of baptism unite all the believers who make up the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald, Georgia. Before we are anything else, we are all the baptized ones; we are all living the baptized life. And if we are all living the forgiven life, if we are all living the submitted life, if we are all living the Spirit-fueled life, and if we are living the belonging life, just think of how powerful that life will be in its effect on our fellowship, on our ministry, and on our witness!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Sign of the Impending Apocalypse (Almost)

The word is that John Smoltz is about to sign a one year contract with the Boston Red Sox.

I believe it was 1987 when the Atlanta Braves, then a sorry mess of a team, traded the only decent pitcher they had, Doyle Alexander, for a Detroit Tigers Class A pitcher that pretty no one outside of baseball insiders had ever heard of, a young man named John Smoltz. The trade worked out pretty well in the short term for the Tigers, as Alexander went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA down the stretch to help Detroit win their division.

Smoltz went on to a 21-year career with the Braves during which he compiled statistics and a reputation that will almost surely land him in the Hall of Fame, probably on the first ballot after he becomes eligible. He has a record of 210 wins and 147 losses, most of which he earned as a starting pitcher. He also toiled for three years as the Braves' closer, during which time he compiled 154 saves. Along the way he also earned a deserved reputation as one of the greatest post-season pitchers of all time; his playoff and World Series record is 15 wins, 4 losses, and 4 saves with a 2.65 ERA.

I will never forget his tremendous battle with Jack Morris in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, a game in which Smoltz left the game in the bottom of the eighth inning with the score tied 0-0 but which the Braves eventually lost 1-0 in ten innings with the veteran Morris pitching a complete game.

When Smoltz does enter the Hall of Fame he will go in as an Atlanta Brave. All Braves fans should appreciate what Smoltz has brought to the team in terms of effort, performance, character, and professionalism.

Now, though, he has reportedly agreed to sign with the Red Sox and the accusations will fly. Some will accuse Braves General Manager Frank Wren with not doing enough to keep such an icon and fan favorite in the fold. Others will accuse Smoltz of putting a few more dollars (OK, a few million more dollars) ahead of loyalty to the team that has, after all, paid him millions and millions of dollars over the past twenty years and that does, after all, play in the city that he has made his home and that he says will continue to be his home.

Here is the hard truth as seen by this hard-core fan of the Braves ever since they moved to Atlanta in 1966: the team will be better off without Smotlz. Please understand: it breaks my heart to say that because Smoltz is far and away my favorite Braves player from the past twenty years. He is an outstanding professional baseball player and appears to be a good human being and I really hate to see him go.

But the fact is that the Braves are in a downswing now after a decade and a half of winning division titles, the occasional league championship, and that one cherished 1995 World Series title. They could not, I believe, guarantee a roster spot and a few million dollars to a pitcher, iconic though he is, who may or may not be able to pitch next year (I wouldn't bet against him) and who, if he does pitch, may not be able to do much more than provide high-priced middle relief (I wouldn't bet on getting much more than that out of him).

I realize that his presence and example could help make young pitchers better but the fact is that the Braves need to go young with their pitching staff and just pay the price of a couple of tough years. That's what they did in the late 1980s and early 1990s with some young guys named Glavine, Avery, and--now who was that other guy?--oh yeah, Smoltz. And they provided the core of staff that, with the later addition of Greg Maddux, did amazing things first in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and then Turner Field.

And here's another thing that I hate to say, given that I like Smoltz so much: if he doesn't want to be in Atlanta then he needs to leave. I realize that he has his reasons; I realize that he may feel like he was not given enough consideration by the Braves in this round of contract negotations and he may feel like he wants to go out with a winner--I really don't know since I can't read his mind. Still, he would have gotten a good contract with Atlanta--some two million guaranteed with incentives that could bring the total value to over ten million, I understand--and I must tell you that I would gladly sign a one-year contract with the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald on such terms right now.

For what it's worth, we pastors generally play without a contract.

So, one must conclude that for whatever reasons Smoltz is more than willing to leave the Braves and if that's the case then they need to let him go. And I frankly can't blame him for going if he has examined the situation and believes, as I do, that the Braves are at least three years away from contending again, and that's if they cut out their annoying recent practice of trading away too many promising young players for rent-a-players that don't make that much of a difference anyway, and there's little or no chance that he'll still be playing when the turnaround comes.

So Braves fans may feel like it is a sign of the impending apocalypse that John Smoltz is leaving to play for the Boston Red Sox, but it's not.

If he were leaving to play for the Evil Empire that is the New York Yankees, it would be.

And therein lies the silver lining: maybe Smoltz will at least do civilized society the favor of assuring that the Yankees don't win the American League Eastern Division in 2009.

As for me, I'm pulling for the Tampa Bay Rays to repeat and for both the Yanks and the Sox to stay home.

Also as for me--Go Braves! And I hope they put a bunch of hungry 21-year-old pitchers out there on the mound.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Brief Prayer

O Lord, help me to listen.

Help me to listen to my life;
Help me to listen to the people in my life;
Help me to listen to you because you are my life!

O Lord, help me to listen.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Plans the Lord Has for Us

(A sermon for Sunday, January 4, 2008, based on Jeremiah 29:1-14)

In the vastly underappreciated 1984 movie The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, the hero of the story utters these words: “No matter where you go, there you are.”

I wanted to begin this sermon with that deep thought because I am about to compare the situation of the people of the early 21st century C.E. First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald with the situation of the people of sixth century B.C.E. Judah and I don’t want you to misunderstand. After all, the people of Judah to whom Jeremiah sent the letter that is included in today’s text were in exile in Babylon, some 600 miles from their homeland. While the setting of this passage and Jeremiah’s letter is some six years prior to the utter destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C.E. it was also some four years after an invasion of Judah by the Babylonians that resulted in the exile of many citizens of Judah, particularly those from among the political, religious, and economic leadership of the nation.

The judgment of the great prophets of the Old Testament was that the people had sinned against God so habitually and for so long that God had used the Babylonians to judge them—and God was not finished with that process yet. Jeremiah sent his letter to the exiles in the midst of a situation that was going to get much worse before it got any better, and it was going to be a long, long time before it got any better—seventy years, which, whether taken literally or symbolically, is a long time.

Let me say it clearly: we are not in the same kind of state in which the people of exiled Judah and about to be destroyed Jerusalem found themselves. We are not in exile and we are not facing destruction. Indeed, my judgment based on this first month spent with you is that First Baptist Church is a very strong church that faces a very positive future—so long as we turn our attention to and keep our attention on the main things: glorifying God, following Jesus, and being formed by Scripture, to name the big ones.

But no matter where you go, there you are, and we are, as is the case with any church, where we are and we are where we are largely as a result of where we have gone, or, in other words, as a result of the choices we have made and that people around us have made. Judah was in exile mainly because of wrong choices that had been made. On the other hand, there were people—many people, probably—in Judah who were caught up in what was going on with no real understanding of how it all happened. And, I suspect, there were people who could have pleaded innocent to any and all blame, but I frankly think that such a stance should always be taken, at least by adults, with great hesitation.

What Jeremiah was trying to say in his letter to those exiles and what I’m trying to say to you is this: we Christians need to be realistic, by which I mean we need to face and deal with reality, by which I mean that we have to live in how things are rather than how we would like them to be. It was tempting for the people of Jeremiah’s time to listen to the prophets, both in Jerusalem and among the exiles in Babylon, who were saying that the power of Babylon was about to be broken and that the exile was almost over so the exiles could start getting ready to go home in oh, maybe two years. Jeremiah, whom events proved to be the real prophet, said that while he wished with all his heart that was so he knew in that same heart that it wasn’t. And so he wrote his letter in which he instructed the exiles with words that not one of them would have wanted to hear:

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters: find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage…. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper (vv. 5-7).

In other words, Jeremiah told them that they needed to embrace where they were.

I would say the same thing to all of us who make up the church family here at the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald: let’s embrace where we are. We are where we are, we are who we are, we are the product of the choices that we have made, and we are all in this together. Moreover—and this is very important—God is with us in it; we are still caught up in the plan of Almighty God who loves us and who gave his Son for us. God is with us right here and right now and God will bless and use us right here and right now.

“Don’t look back,” the great baseball philosopher Satchel Paige said, “because someone might be gaining on you.” If we keep looking back at what has gone on before what we’re looking back at might finally catch up with us.

Oh, it does some good to look back if in looking back we can find gratitude for the good that we have experienced and if we can learn from the bad that we have been through but if we are not careful what will happen is that we will expend too much energy blaming others or even blaming ourselves, although in my experience I have seen that the people who blame others the most usually carry much of the blame themselves and that the people who blame themselves the most tend to carry the least blame themselves. The people in the Exile could have thrown lots of blame around and much of it would have stuck. A church family can always look back and can always lay blame, too. But I ask you to remember that the past is the past and that all we can do is to live under God in the present and move with great hope toward the future that God has for us.

In Walter Wangerin’s fable The Book of the Dun Cow, which is set in a chicken coop, Chauntecleer the rooster is trying to ascertain who has been eating the hens’ eggs. He suspects John the Weasel because he has done that before. Chauntecleer says, “I know what you have done in the past, John…. I know what you are capable of doing.” To which John the Weasel replies, “Past is past. Past is not present. Did is not do. Was is not is” [Walter Wangerin, Jr., The Book of the Dun Cow (New York: Harper & Row, 1978), p. 19].

What powerful words: “Past is not present. Did is not do. Was is not is.”

No matter where you go, there you are. Did is not do. Was is not is. We are where we are. We are even there by the grace of God. And by the grace of God we will live in the present rather than the past, in the “do” rather than in the “did,” and in the “is” rather than in the “was.” We will embrace where we are and we will live in it. That’s the realistic way to live; that’s the Christian way to live; that’s God’s way to live.

Having embraced where we are, what else do we need to do? We do what Jeremiah told the exiles to do.

First, we trust in the plan that God has for us. Through Jeremiah, God said to the exiles, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (v. 11). It is so easy for us to give in to the limits of our own faith or our own imagination; instead, we need to throw ourselves open to whatever God has in store for us. What is that? I don’t know. But I do know that we can and should be awash in hope; I do know that our imagination is not as big as God’s imagination; I do know that in faithfully seeking to find and to follow God’s plan we are in fact finding and following God’s plan. And I know that God has plans to prosper us and not to harm us.

Second, we seek God with all our hearts. God said to the exiles, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you…and will bring you back...” (vv. 12-14a). As Walter Brueggemann said, “Yahweh wills a people utterly devoted. And when there is such an utterly devoted people, life is made newly possible” [Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile & Homecoming (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 259]. To seek the Lord with all our hearts is to seek the Lord with all that we are, all that we have, all that we do—it is to seek the Lord with our entire being. I want to call us today to seek the Lord with all our heart. It is necessary if in our individual lives and in our life as the Body of Christ we are to move into God’s great future—into the good that God has ready for us.

Will you join me today? Will you embrace the present? Will you move toward God’s plan for our future? And will you seek the Lord God with every fiber and every aspect of your being?

Thursday, January 1, 2009


I suppose that by now most folks have purchased their 2009 calendar or have had one given to them by their financial institution or auto shop or funeral parlor.

I don't have to acquire one this year or in years to come because at my first meeting with my new ministerial staff they presented me with a five-year planning calendar.

I appreciate their optimism and share their hope.

If you need a 2009 calendar, though, you could visit one of those calendar stores or kiosks that spring up at the mall during the holiday season. There you can find a calendar featuring a picture for each month associated with your particular interest or hobby or sport or television show or celebrity. Speaking of celebrity calendars, if someone were to give me a Sheryl Crow or Rachael Ray or Marilyn Monroe calendar, I'd have to return it because, as I am constantly telling my wife, I think they're all too homely to look at, so I certainly wouldn't want to look at them every day.

She would turn down a Pierce Brosnan or Richard Gere or John Travolta calendar for the same reason, I'm sure.

Calendars are powerful things, given that we order our lives by them. Lest you think I exaggerate, just show up for work each week on Tuesday every week for a while when your boss expects you to report on Monday and see what effect the following of an alternative calendar has on your vocational life. Or, forget your spouse's birthday or your anniversary date or tell people "Happy New Year" in late November or early December and see what kind of reaction you get. You will get looked at funny or you'll get maimed, depending on which one you try.

Speaking of saying "Happy New Year" in late November or early December--that's what set me to thinking about this matter of calendars in the first place. There was a Sunday between my last Sunday as pastor of The Hill Baptist Church and my first Sunday as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald and that Sunday happened to be the first Sunday of Advent which happened in 2008 to fall on November 30. We worshipped that Sunday at Highland Hills Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia. When pastor Jim Dant offered the welcome, he began by saying "Happy New Year." He then went on to explain that while the secular calendar has the new year begin on January 1, the Christian calendar has the new year begin with the First Sunday of Advent so, he said, it was appropriate for Christians to say "Happy New Year" at the beginning of Advent.

So here on January 1, 2009, let me wish everyone a Merry Christmas! After all, while January 1 is on the regular calendar New Year's Day, it is on the Christian calendar the Eighth Day of Christmas and the Season of Christmas does not end until Epiphany which falls on January 6 and which commemorates the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child.

I have come to believe that careful attention by the Church to the Christian calendar is very important and is only becoming more important as time goes by.

Now, some of my readers are from the Catholic or Orthodox or Episcopal or Presbyterian or Lutheran or Methodist traditions (I apologize to whomever I left out, and you are legion) and your church has always paid close attention to the Christian calendar and so you're wondering why I'm making such a big deal about this.

Because I'm Baptist, that's why.

I grew up attending a Southern Baptist church whose pastor and whose members had not, so far as I know, ever heard of Advent or Lent or--well, I almost said Holy Week but surely I'm wrong about that but still, I do know that we never had special services for Palm Sunday or for Maundy Thursday or--and I really find this hard to believe now that I think about it--for Good Friday. I suppose that a Christmas sermon was preached on the Sunday closest to the day but the Advent season--which was never mentioned and I suppose never thought of--consisted of a Christmas play on a Sunday night and a visit by Santa Claus on a Wednesday night.

We did, however, under the watchful eye and the iron fist of the Woman's Missionary Union, observe the Week of Prayer for Foreign (later International) Missions and receive the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, an annual collection which provided and provides much of the funding for the International (formerly Foreign) Mission Board and about which, each time our goal was announced in November, my boyish mind wondered (1) if we would ever pay that thing off and (2) just who this woman was who got so much of our money every year (she was, I later learned, a famous early Southern Baptist missionary to China; to Southern Baptists, William Carey and Adoniram Judson were small time compared to Lottie Moon).

Our participation in the Week of Prayer for Foreign Missions in the winter and our participation in the Week of Prayer for Home Missions (with its Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for Home Missions) in the spring were my home church's nod to the Southern Baptist denominational calendar.

As I entered into my Baptist ministerial career I very early on moved dangerously close to equating faithful Baptist churchmanship and churchwomanship to faithful observance of the denominational calendar which, on a positive note, made calendar planning pretty easy because, between the national convention, the state conventions, the associations, and the various agencies and institutions of the conventions and associations, we Baptists had a special Sunday for just about everything, ranging from Race Relations Sunday to Cooperative Program Sunday to Baptist World Alliance Sunday (these were the old days in Southern Baptist life, now) to Children's Home Sunday to Let's Rally to Get the Preacher a Big Fat Pay Raise Sunday.

OK, I made the last one up.

Now, if we're going to have denominations, and we are, we're going to have denominational program emphases. I understand that. I do think that we err--at least, that I erred--in putting so much emphasis on the calendar that is handed down to us annually by the powers that be in Nashville or Atlanta or Louisville or wherever your headquarters happens to be--rather than on the Christian calendar that has been handed down to us over the centuries and that suffers precious little alteration from year to year.

It's kind of like how, if you are inclined to give credence to creeds, it's really better to give credence to the great creeds of the church that have been the creeds of the church for almost two millenia rather than to give supreme authority to statements of faith that can be altered at any time by majority vote of a few thousand folks--but that's another subject.

I think it was at St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky during my first semester at Southern Seminary in Fall 1979 that I first encountered the Advent Wreath and Advent Candles and Advent readings and Advent, period. That encounter began to move me toward seeing the importance of the observance by Christians of the Christian calendar. The alternate ordering of time that is provided by the Christian calendar reminds us that we Christians live in and bear witness to an alternate way of living--we are citizens of the Kingdom of God and we are in the world but not of the world. Our movement through the seasons of the Christian Year--Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost--reminds us--no, more, recreates in us and for us--the story of Jesus Christ and the story of the Church that is the Body of Christ.

It reminds us, in other words, of who we are. We are the Church. We are Christians. We are the Body of Christ. We are the people of God.

We have a Savior. We have a Lord. We have a calling. We have a mission.

And we have a calendar. Thanks be to God.