Finding God in the Pandemic #6

Ascension of the Lord Sunday May 21, 2020 Acts 1: 1-11 Some months ago, before most of us had experienced virtual church, I was the guest preacher at a church in Kentucky. One of the hymns that day was, "Amazing Grace". "Let's sing the first, second and fifth stanzas", the Minister of Music told the congregation. It wasn't the minister's fault. He didn't know me. He knew nothing about my life story. But my spirit sank. The third stanza is a powerful word of grace to me. However, it wasn't important enough for the church to sing the third stanza that morning. "Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. 'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home." It was about five in the afternoon. The year was 1983. Everybody in the church office at First Baptist, Augusta had gone home. A knock on my door. I opened the door. "My name is Tracy Chewning." A kind smile crossed his fac

Finding God in the Pandemic #5

Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 17) John 14:15-21 When I was a teenager in my home church, I had a pastor whom I greatly admired. Our pastor baptized my parents and me on the same Sunday night. Later, he baptized my younger brother. Once in awhile I would hear the whispers of people in the church, "He's a good pastor, but he can't preach." Those whispers turned into shouts during our twice a year revival meetings. What I recall were ruggedly handsome evangelists with brightly colored sportscoats, one for each night of the week. They were far different from the gray and navy suits with bland ties that our pastor always wore. The wives of the evangelists looked like "Barbie dolls". Could these evangelists preach! They had all been to some far country that sounded so exotic and exciting that we young people couldn't understand why they had left the appeal of the far country. These evangelists told gripping stories that had us sitting on the edges of ou

Finding God in the Pandemic #4

Fifth Sunday of Easter May 10, 2020 1 Peter 2: 1-10 In 1981, a book was published that rocketed to the top of the New York Times list of bestselling books. It was a religious book, very different from the usual genre of books that make it to a bestsellers list. Written by a Jewish rabbi, Harold Kushner, the book chronicled the story of his son. At the age of 14, Aaron died from "progeria". Progeria is a disease where a person ages very rapidly and by 14, Aaron had passed away. As Aaron's father moved through the grief that had ravaged his family, he wrote the book that has touched the lives of all who suffer, which, of course, is all of us. Kushner entitled his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People . Kushner, who as rabbi of a temple in Massachusetts had counselled many of his members in their own suffering, was now facing his own personal tragedy. Rabbi Kushner tells his story in language that all of us can understand. As readers we listen to the details

Finding God in the Pandemic #3

Preaching in a Time of Pandemic Fourth Sunday of Easter Psalm 23 (April 26) In my opinion, nobody has shaped the art and craft of preaching more than Dr. Fred Craddock. A Disciples of Christ minister, he taught for many years at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. A diminutive figure who often stood on a box behind the podium, Craddock brought Scripture to life. He told stories better than any other preacher I've heard. I went to several conferences that he led, and in a wonderful stroke of fortune, I did a sabbatical with him in the fall of 1991. What Craddock was for many of us was an aspirational figure. I knew that I could never emulate Craddock, but I listened to how he exposed the Biblical text in such an enlivening way. If the definition of "expository" is exposing the depth and meaning of a biblical text, which it is, Craddock was the very best. Not only did he expose the biblical text, but also he crafted sermons that had movement,

Finding God in the Pandemic #2

The Third Sunday of Easter (April 26) Acts 2: 14a; 36-41 I was 15 years old when I felt "called" to preach. "Call" is a slippery term. I never heard the voice of God, but I suppose my call was a confluence of the encouragement of others, that I may have some gifts to be a minister, and the fact that my faith had become so important to me. My home church pastor said, "You need to start preaching". With no idea of what I was doing, I preached at various places, but primarily at the Miami, Florida, Rescue Mission. Dishevelled men who had become slaves to alcohol came off the streets for a small meal and a cot on which to sleep. What they didn't know was that they had to hear me preach before they got the meal and the bed. I remember that there were a few people who paid attention to my preaching, but most of them looked at the ceiling or closed their eyes to sleep. The second time that I preached at the mission, I had a big surprise. A man sitt

Finding God in the Pandemic

Second Sunday of Easter (April 19) John 20:19-31 The currency of those of us who preach is words. When I had finished my senior year of college, I was invited to be the summer intern in a large church on the east coast of Florida. I understood my job as working with the youth, doing some preaching, and shadowing a respected pastor. What I wasn't told is that he was going to take a five-week vacation. Surprise! I was the pastor. I felt fairly comfortable with the preaching since the congregation cut me a lot of sermonic slack. One day I had a call from a funeral director in town. "We have a family that is Baptist," the funeral director said. "They are not members of any church; their 3-week old baby has died, and we want you to lead the graveside service." That humid summer morning I stood with the parents and two sets of grandparents. I remember reading from the 23 rd Psalm, "The Lord is my shepherd...." Whatever else I said I don&#

Preaching in the Midst of Crisis

These are times when all of us seem overwhelmed by COVID-19 that so far has no vaccine to prevent it or a scientific treatment. I feel out of control, boxed in, trying to make phone calls to others and to use technology to try to stay in touch with close friends. At the same time, I'm paying way too much attention to my body, just waiting for the first sign that the virus has jumped over the fence and invaded my life or the life of someone whom I love dearly. Not a very pleasant feeling, is it? I wish that I had the answer to this global nightmare. All I have is a response, which is much different from the answer. Here is what I would like to do and what I would like you to do with me. I want to take the Revised Common Lectionary , select a passage of scripture that is a week ahead, and then offer some thoughts and stories that I hope will help. One of my former students reminded me that in the preaching books that I have written, there is no section on "preac