Farewell Remarks to the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

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Yesterday I attended my last “in person” board meeting with the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.  I have had the honor of working with this group from the very beginning.  I am now an ’emeritus board member’–meaning the old guy who won’t go away!

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But with our impending move to Nova Scotia I will no longer be able to attend the meetings in person.  Through technology I will be able to occasionally share tidbits of wisdom!  They honored me by having a reception after the board meeting.  During that time, I had a few things I wanted to share.  Here are my remarks.

 

 

SCCTPTP Farewell
Nov 16, 2017

My mentor Hardy Clemons, once told me as I was about to leave Greenville that when you leave there are some things you need to say to people. This is one of those times.  You are some of those people!

I want to thank you for the opportunity to be a part of this wild adventure.  As I began my ministerial career, I had several girls to become pregnant or thought they were.  That was what got me started in learning about the issue of teen pregnancy.  I went to a meeting and next think I know I am the chair of the Caldwell County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Council.  Barbara Huberman took pity on this young minister and helped me along the way.

When I went to Greenville I really thought I was through with this issue.  What Baptist minister ever thinks that teen pregnancy is a career advancing issue? But I was invited to another meeting and before I knew what was happening I was the chair of the Greenville Council.

I am rotating off when I am sitting in my office one morning when I get a phone call from a Joy Campbell inviting me to a meeting.  It seemed that the March of Dimes wanted to get everyone concerned about teen pregnancy around the table to see what we could do.

I went.  I think there were 6 of us!

The only person I remember other than Joy was Anne Bageley.  She sat across the table from me, and at one point looked at me and said, “How can you call yourself a Christian, yet alone a minister, and be with them?”  That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship!  That continues to this day!

In my opinion, the meeting was an abject failure.  I went back home saying “Well, that was fun.”  But a few weeks later this Joy Campbell woman called again.  She said, “we are putting together a statewide coalition to address teen pregnancy and I have 2 questions.  1  Will you serve on our board?”  I agreed.  Then she said, the second is would you be the first chair?

That had to go to my boss and the personnel committee.  Both agreed, and then said they would share this with the Reasons.  (In Greenville that was 84 people!) It was presented as information.  But then, from the back of the room someone objected.  It was then Senator Sarah Manly.  A Democrat senator from the upstate.  They had those back then! 

I couldn’t believe that Sarah, of all people, was objecting.  But then she said, “We should not give our permission for Don to do this.  Rather we should endorse it as a part of his ministry because his work with this group will help individuals that will never come into this church.  He will be doing mission work!”

And the deacons unanimously approved.

And that has been the way I have approached my time on the board.  It has been ministry.  And so thank you for allowing me to live out this calling.

It has been an incredible journey, hasn’t it?  As I was cleaning out my office I came across the DHEC statistics from 1993.  That year there were 11,704 estimated pregnancies to teens.  11,704!  Can you think of the lives that have been altered with the annual reduction of 8,000 teen pregnancies?  We need, you need to be really proud of that!

There were 6 of us around that table that day.  Last summer we had over 300 people at the Summer Institute.

Our first office was a closet at the old Carolina Inn, now look at this place!

I could go on and on about the organization, and all we have accomplished.  But what I think I am most appreciative of are the incredible people I have gotten the opportunity to know.  I remember sitting in those early meetings with Cassie Barber, Joanne Emerson, Francis Rushton—and just learning by osmosis.  And what can I say about Murray Vincent?  

To sit in board meetings with so many of you, trying to behave.  I think we passed a motion that Martha Scott Smith and I couldn’t sit beside each other anymore! 

Those individuals who have so ably led this group—Grant, Sue, Melissa, Lica, Judy Davis.  I have learned so much from you. Your gifts, your passion make me hopeful for the future.

And to you the incredible staff.  I know that many times we board members just rush in from time to time, but I want you to know how much we, how much I appreciate your work.  You are the ones who give motion to our movement.  And you follow in the path of so many who have gone before.  Our first intern was Molly Talbot, now Molly Talbot Metz, former board chair, executive with the Mary Black Foundation.  You never know where this experience will lead.  And I want you to know how much I have learned from you, your expertise.  Whether it is watching the way Kim and her cohorts put together the best teen pregnancy conference year after year; wandering down the hall to the Math department asking you to tell me something I don’t know.

I will never forget Shannon Flynn and how she completely upended my thinking in a meeting.

And to the those who have led this organization.  Joy, I don’t know if I can every forgive you, or thank you enough for inviting me on this journey. Susan Boyd sent Gwen and Carol down to Charleston to see if I would be willing to come back on the board.  Wha a risk!

And Forrest—we grew up together. 

And Beth.  You do not know how much this means to me. 

One of my preacher friends called the other week and asked, rather nonchalantly, “How are you with leaving the campaign?”  He knows how much you mean.  But I nonchalantly brushed him off.  Until Kay called and asked about this. 

I just lost it!

There is a passage in the book of Hosea (you get this with a Baptist preacher) where as a rebuke to Israel, he names one of Lo-ammi.  Not my people.  My dearest friends know that you are Ammi.  My people.

Melissa Holmes wrote me a note saying that she couldn’t be here and then ended with, “Canada doesn’t have a problem with teen pregnancy or gun violence. What will you do to get in trouble?”

I am sure I can find something, but if not, I am still an emeritus board member, so I can always get in trouble here.

Thank you. Thank you!  Thank you for all you have meant, and will continue to mean!  I really am looking forward to the adventure ahead for all of us!

The South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy is the foremost state organization in the country focused on teen pregnancy prevention.  Over the past 26 years we have seen a 67% reduction in our teen birth rate!  It has been a joy and a privilege to be a part of this group.  I encourage you to be a part–with your financial gifts, with your support of comprehensive age appropriate sex education.  It works!  It makes a difference for all of us!

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Been to the Mountain Top

This Sunday our text is the final scene of Moses life.  Moses and God are atop Pigah where God allows Moses to look into the promised land, the land he has been traveling towards for 40 years.  This is the land he has been leading his people to.  But in one of the most unfair statements in the Bible God tells Moses “I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there!”

Been to the Mountaintop!  Those words echo in our minds because they were part of the final sermon delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr, the night before he was killed.  I have been reading that sermon, and am going to use some of it, the part we know on Sunday.  (I hope you will come and hear it! Shameless plug!)

But I was stuck with a part I have never read before.  These are words that speak to us today just as poignantly as they did in April, 1968.

It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

I wonder when the church will show as much concern for the street where we live as the street flowing with milk and honey.

Just wondering.

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I Am an Eagle Scout

boy-scout-clipart-in-high-resolution-jpeg-15There was a schedule, a ritual to my growing up.  It was known and not to be broken.  Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evenings were spent at church.  Sunday School, Worship, Youth Choir, Worship; RA’s, supper, Youth group.  That was how things were.  The teachings came from the pulpit, from the teachers and were as sacred and as inerrant as those words which Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai.

Monday nights were almost as sacred.  On Monday nights, every Monday night at 7:00, we would gather at the Boy Scout Hut.  We would gather in the yard and play football, baseball, some male-bashing game until Howell Stroup called us in.  The meeting would begin and we would work on merit badges, camping skills, knot tying—whatever was on the schedule.  We would begin to look forward to the monthly camping trip and hike—Mt. Mitchell, Kings Mountain, Crowder’s Mountain, Grandfather Mountain.  (When do we get to climb Brown Mountain and see “The Lights???)

But at every meeting, at every meeting we would recite those words, that while they weren’t in the Bible were just as sacred.

“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient cheerful thrifty brave clean and reverent.”

They are words that helped form who I am to this very day.  They are the law by which I still try to live, just as much as Micah 6:8. 

That is why I was so disturbed by the campaign address President Trump delivered to the Boy Scout Jamboree in Glen Jean, WV last night.  (You can read the transcript here)   Going to a Jamboree for most scouts is a once in a lifetime experience.  To gather with fellow scouts from around the country, is something you never forget.  The chance to hear from the President of the United States is the same.  How many times have you ever heard the president speak live?  I can only imagine the excitement, the thrill.

So that is why his address hurt me so!  It was not a speech to Boy Scouts, but rather a campaign speech in which he lambasted his predecessor and former opponent.  He went on and on about how much HE has accomplished.  The truth is we have come to expect that.

But he went over the line when he dared blaspheme those sacred words.  “As the Scout law says, a scout is trustworthy, loyal — we could use some more loyalty I will tell that you that.” 

I wish our president would read the entirety of the Scout Law.  Even more I wish that he would live it.  The values listed there would serve him well. 

Trustworthy

Loyal

Helpful

Friendly

Courteous

Kind

Obedient

Cheerful

Thrifty

Brave

Clean

Reverent

It sounds like the antithesis of how this president has lived his life!

When the young men return home from the jamboree I hope what they will remember is not the speech that the president gave, but rather the variety of scouts in the audience—from all across America.  I hope they will remember the values lived out by their leaders who give time every week to help them tie knots, work on merit badges, work their way towards becoming an Eagle.  I hope they will remember the Scout Oath—On my honor, I will do my best. To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.  I hope they will remember, but even more live live out the Scout Law. 

Those values will continue to make America great. Just as they always have!

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Not that far away at all…..

As if we needed any reminder of how small our world has become…

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Last night we were sitting at home when the news of the latest terrorist attack began streaming across our TV.  This time it was a suicide bomber who detonated a bomb as people were leaving an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England.  The video, the commentary, felt all too familiar.

But why?  Manchester England is far far away, across the ocean.  It was not one of the cities I visited when I was a student.  It wasn’t one of the places we went to when our youth group traveled to Glasgow.  It wasn’t on the itinerary when our family sojourned there one summer.  So it wasn’t a place that should have stirred up emotions.

Except

Manchester was where our daughter and son in law spent a summer.  He was working on a project and she spent her days at a coffee shop writing her first book.  It was where they met some lovely friends who traveled to Charleston for their wedding.  But I doubted very seriously if any of them were at a Monday night pop music concert.

Then I remembered our dear friends Andrew and Julie Henton Pusey.  We had met in Prague during one of my sabbaticals.  He is the pastor of Walworth Road Baptist Church in Hitchen, England.  During our visit we spent a few days with them.  Andrew took us to Cambridge where he had been a student.  He took us punting down the Cam.  Those days are some when we remember fondly!  A few years ago their family came to the States for a summer visit and we had the opportunity to repay the hospitality showing them around, going to the beach, just enjoying each other’s company.

Then came the horrific shootings at Mother Emanuel.  The next candles 5 reflectionmorning I received an email from Andrew, and later that week an announcement that our city would be remembered in their prayers as they lit candles that Sunday.  It was the email that broke my heart.

So this morning I wanted to be like Andrew, to reach out to them to let them know that even though Hitchen is not close to Manchester, I was remembering them in my prayers. 

And then came the reply.  Their daughter, Lizzie, is a student in Manchester.  She was not at the concert, but had friends who were.  They have two more young people from their church in Manchester—one whom not yet been in communication. 

Suddenly Manchester was very very close.  There aren’t that many degrees of separation.

As I texted with Julie, I promised her that she can sleep tonight knowing that we will be praying while she slumbers.  But at some point, I will have to sleep as well.  So if you are in Colorado, in California, Bali, in Australia, in China, or if you just stay up really really late at night—you know who you are—I hope that you will remember my friends who are waiting…..

It is just returning the favor.  It is doing what we do for family!

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Dots and Other Questions

It is one of those annoyingly addictive games that I have downloaded on my iPad. 

Dots

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Simple enough.  All you have to do is connect the dots of the same color together and make them go away.  Connect a group in a square and all the dots of that color go away.

Easy enough!   Even for me!  Maybe that is why I find myself sitting at night while watching TV trying to get a higher score.

See that is the goal—to get a higher score.  It isn’t to make sure they all line up, that the yellow dots are all gone.  The goal is to get the highest score possible. 

It is important to remember that. 

But it raises an important question.  What is the goal of what you are doing?

The other morning I listened to Scott Simon on Weekend Edition.  He was talking with Joe Nocera about an incident that happened recently at American Airlines.  It seemed that the pilots and flight attendants were given a small raise, because after all, the airline is making a profit.  But Wall Street rebelled!  The price of the stock fell because the goal is to “maximize shareholder value.”  And you thought it was to get you from point A to point B safely and efficiently! 

The conversation was enlightening.  All of us who have a particular stock, or even a mutual fund that has invested in the company, want to stock to rise.  I do want to retire someday!  But is that the ultimate goal?  What about the workers?  What about the passengers?  (I think about this every time I try and wedge myself into the shrinking seats and get my small cup of coke to go with my peanuts.)  What about the communities that once relied on contributions from the company to support the symphony, the hospital, the Boy Scouts?

What is the bottom line?  What is the goal?

What is the goal for church?

I thought about that because I was heading to church listening to the show.  We were going out in the community for a day of service.  The next morning we would have worship.  We would pass the offering plates.  We would hope that people left with a deeper spirituality, a closer relationship with God.  We hoped someone would join.

But what is the goal? 

How do our “shareholders” want, expect? 

More people in the seats?

More offering in the plates?

More people doing good stuff?

More people “dedicating their lives to full-time Christian service?

More people walking the aisles?

What is the goal?  For the congregation?  For the minister?

It is a hard question to answer, but perhaps one with which we all need to wrestle.  It really is more than a night-time diversion.  It may be the most important thing we do!

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A Good Friday Reading

The people who heard me preach during Lent know that as a part of my Lenten discipline not only did I give up french fries, but I took on the challenge of participating in the Cooper River Bridge Run.  I am not a runner, nor do I play one on TV!  This was a major endeavor and one that the congregation seemed to enjoy.

There was another part that didn’t get near the publicity.  Each morning I added a reading to my morning routine from the wonderful little book Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter.  It has been a wonderful addition to my day, often giving me something to ponder, something to store away, something that I wish I had said.

breadandwineIn the later category was a wonderful essay by Morton Kelsey entitled The Cross and the Cellar.  I am not preaching on Good Friday, but if I were, I think I might just “borrow” these words.  Something for us all to consider on this Good Friday.

Let us look at some of the people who brought Jesus of Nazareth to crucifixion.  They were not monsters, but ordinary men and women like you and me. 

Pilate was a coward who cared more about his comfortable position than he did about justice.  Whenever you and I are willing to sacrifice someone else for our own benefit, whenever we don’t have the courage to stand up for what we see is right, we step into the same course that Pilate took.

Caiaphas was a devout and sincerely religious man.  But his essential flaw was that he thought he had the whole truth.  He thought he had to protect God from this man.  Those who put their creeds above mercy and kindness and love, walk in his steps even today.

Judas wanted Jesus to call upon heavenly powers, take control of the situation, and throw the Romans out of Palestine.  When he failed to do this, Judas no longer wanted anything to do with him.  Judas’ fault was that he couldn’t wait.  When we can’t wait and want to push things through, when we think we can accomplish a noble end by human means, we are just like Judas.

These were the things that crucified Jesus on Friday in Passover week A.D. 29.  They were not wild viciousness or sadistic brutality or naked hate, but the civilized vices of cowardice, bigotry, impatience, timidity, falsehood, indifference – vices all of us share, the very vices which crucify human beings today.

This destructiveness within us can seldom be transformed until we squarely face it in ourselves.  This confrontation often leads us to the pit.  The empty cross is planted there to remind us that suffering is real but not the end, that victory is possible if we strive on.

I so find myself in each of these individuals, which is why I really need to find myself at the foot of the cross to remember.

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Being Community in a Divisive World

This past weekend I had the privilege of being with the good people at Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, where my dear friends Russ and Amy Dean are co-pastors.  Being on sabbatical, and not preaching for 2 months, this was a good reminder of what it is like to preach.  Here is the manuscript I took into the pulpit.  Hopefully it is close to what I said!

 

Being Community in a Divisive World
I Corinthians 3:1-9

Dr. Don Flowers, Jr.
Park Road Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC
February 12, 2017

It is an honor for me to be with you this morning.  Park Road is a congregation that has long been an example to many of us of what a church can, and should be like.  Your willingness to be church today, to experiment, to do things differently, to try and sometime fail, says a lot about who you are and the God you serve.  It is faithfulness not necessarily success that we are called to.  Thank you for being you!

And it is always wonderful being with your pastors.  Russ and Amy have been friends for longer than any of us care to remember.  From days as youth ministers when Amy came to the aid of our youth group after one of our girls was run over by a police car coming to assist another girl who had broken her arm…to last week watching Russ work diligently as most of our Preacher Camp group gathered in the frigid cold of Maryland!  There is a reason God loved me enough to let me live in the South.  Your pastors are friends, examples, mentors, pastors to me.  Sharing the pulpit where they speak week after week is a privilege and a bit intimidating!

Thank you.  And know that if you are ever in Charleston, Conde Nast top city in America to visit, (that’s our Chamber of Commerce ad that we are required to give anytime we leave the city limits) I do hope that along with the beaches and the plantations and the market and the incredible restaurants, you will come and visit us at Providence.  We would be honored to have you worship with us.

During these days of Epiphany you have been exploring the theme, (Re)Defining Community.  We return again to a congregation that was in the midst of that for the first time, in the first century, the church at Corinth.  Our text this morning is from chapter 3.

Will you hear these words of our Lord.

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

On a sunny spring day go to a graduation ceremony at any seminary or divinity school in the country.  Go up to any graduate and in between the pictures and the hugs and the well wishes, ask them what they expect to discover in the church they are heading to.  Their answers would be not unlike the answers you would get from the people in your congregation on any given Sunday morning if they were asked to describe the church of their dreams.

“A church where everyone loves each other.”
“A church where everyone is welcomed.”
“A church where the needs of individuals are met.”
“A church where people come to know the depth of life.”
“A church where worship is moving and the preaching is great.”
“A church where people meet Jesus.”
“A church where the bills are paid!”  (There is always one realist in the mix!)

But soon after arriving most of these young ministers will be hit in the face with the reality of church.  It is not all sweetness and harmony.  There are conflicts in paradise.  And the causes…

“The preschool has used our glue again!”
“Who thought it would be a good idea to rent a bus to take the kids to camp?”
“I think we need to cut the education budget so we can give more to missions” (or visa versa)
“We have been in this Sunday School classroom for 50 years!  I don’t see why we have to move now!”
“What does the pastor do on her day off anyway?”
“Are we having communion again?”  Followed closely by “It’ about time we had communion!”

Does that sound familiar?  (Not in your church, of course, but the one you heard about across town?)

The reality is that churches large and small deal with conflict.  It come around budget time, with personnel, with theology and worship style and the décor of the sanctuary and classrooms.  It is not just the local church but THE Church that is conflicted.

Denominations are breaking apart over disagreements about missions and women and sexuality and budgets.  Throw in the larger world with issues of politics and race and immigration and poverty and education and and and…..

At times we just want to throw our hands up and scream, “Can’t we just get along?”  Given the level of discord we can understand why the fastest growing religious group in our country are the “Nones,” those who claim no religious affiliation!

We dream of a time when the church was like our dreams, the way that Jesus wanted it to be!  But it was never that way!  Did you hear it in that great hymn we sing this morning, “The Church’s One Foundation.”  We nod our heads through the first verse, “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord; we are his new creation by water and the Word; from heaven he came and sought us to be his holy bride; with his own blood he bought us, and for our life he died.”

One foundation!  We are all united, one in the spirit, one in the Lord!  (Ooops, different song!)  But if we continue singing, we get to a verse that starts off, “Though with a scornful wonder the world sees us oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed…”

Wait!  In the church with one foundation we are rent asunder and distressed by heresies?

It is so!  And in fact, it always has been!  There never was a conflict free church!  At least not after the second member joined!  Divisions happens!  It happened in Corinth, for many of the same reasons we face today.  It would have been, it would be easier if the dissension was organized, but it was legion.  There were multiple issue then, just like today!

And the conflicts seem to catch Paul off guard.  It seems that he had intended to write a letter filled with love and kisses!  As soon as he has finished the “Dear Corinthian Church” (which follows the ancient custom and is a lot more flowery and ornate) he sings their praises.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always…  What a strong and encouraging statement.  It sets the tone for what Paul wants to write!

But it seems he never got a chance!  Perhaps he had just penned those words (remember there was not a backspace/delete button.  Papyrus doesn’t just grow on trees!  Well, it sorta does!) when Chloe’s people arrive with some questions from a an earlier letter he had sent.  Even more, Chloe’s people are able to fill in the blanks, to really give Paul the scoop as to what was happening in Corinth!  And when he hears, well suddenly the tone of the letter changes.  He can’t write love and kisses!  There are conflicts that must be addressed.

Paul had founded the church in Corinth and nurtured the fledgling congregation, but the time came when he needed to go to other mission fields.  Though he loved the church, there were other congregations to start, other ministries to birth.

The church in Corinth was not left alone, however.  Other ministers came to be among them.  There were evangelists and missionaries who were just passing through, sharing their wisdom and theology, gifts, ideas.  Just like today, some had more appeal than others.

That was what was happening in Corinth!  Since Paul’s departure there had been a series of other preachers who had come, namely Apollos.  According to Acts, Apollos was a learned Jew from Alexandria “who taught accurately the things concerning Jesus.”  He was an eloquent and passionate speaker, and “he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers.” He had an audience who admired him and the way he presented the gospel.

There was still another group, however.  These were the “back to basics” folks who wanted to go all the way back to the original apostles.  There was a Cephas following in the church at Corinth.  There is no evidence that Peter had ever been to Corinth, but perhaps someone had been to Jerusalem and heard him speak, or had heard of him from another source who had been impressed.

Even that was not enough for some in the church!  These were the back to Jesus folk!  They weren’t interested in this new religion!  If it had been good enough for Jesus, it was good enough for them!  You almost have to wonder if this was a real faction within the Corinth church or an example of Paul’s sarcasm.  And all of these people, all of these groups, all of these parties knew they were right!

It would be easy to see the situation in Corinth as the original church fight, but that would miss the deeper theological issues being played out.  Remember Paul was writing to a congregation that lived in a particular context, with a history of philosophy and culture that weren’t “Christian.”  One of the leading philosophical influences was that of wisdom.  In this world wisdom did not mean getting straight A’s, but rather a preference for Sophia, the Greek worship of wisdom.  This showed a continuing fascination with the Greek values inherent in that system.

The Greek wisdom philosophy put a great emphasis on rhetoric, being able to argue a position in a way that was convincing to others.  Apparently, Appollos’ preaching style fit in this mold and thus fed the fascination some had with that philosophy.

Others were arguing over baptism.  The old joke (which really isn’t that much of a joke) is of ministers getting together and the first question being asked was how many baptisms they had the previous year.  It was almost a badge of honor.

The same thing was true in the early church.  Appollos had baptized many, and so many were discounting the work of Paul.  It is easy to read Paul’s response as being defensive, and in some ways it is!  But is also points out an important theological issue.  What is the meaning of baptism?  Is it a gateway into membership? Is it a hoop that one has to jump through to be a Christian?  Is it an initiation rite?  Is one method better, more Christian than another?  I know individuals who have refused to join a church because they were told that they had to be baptized again, as if their first baptism was illegitimate.  What is the meaning of baptism?

It is always easier to focus on the “presenting problem” rather than on the deeper issue.  It is easier to fight about the way we baptize rather than struggle with the meaning behind it.  It is easier to fight about how we do communion rather than ponder what the table means.

Meaning questions force us to delve into areas of theology, meaning, what is really going on in us.  Those are much tougher to wrestle with because they can’t be resolved in a 20 minute sermon or a 30 minute Bible Study.  The disconcerting truth is that in our world, with our philosophical system, we do prefer “sound bite/bumper sticker theology.”  It works better for our elevator speech, around the water cooler.  It is easier for a Twitter world.

Dealing with meaning will reveal our differences.  So it is easier just to ignore them, especially in light of Paul’s admonition in I Corinithians 1:10 in which he calls on the members to be in agreement, to have no division, to be united.  We normally read that as being all cut from the same pattern with no difference at all.

But the word used here is the same one Mark used when he talks about the disciples mending their nets when Jesus called them to follow.  Mending the nets did not mean the were all the same!  Mending did not make the hole disappear!   The mending was to assure that the nets held together.

That is the question Paul is raising for the people of Corinth and the people of your congregation.  What holds us together?  Is it the pastor?  The way we do worship?  Our Wednesday night pot-luck suppers?  Our missions in _____________?

It is an important question for a congregation to ask.  What is it that hold us?  But it is just as important to ask what holes are acceptable.  Does everyone have to be the same, do the same, believe the same?  Where are holes acceptable?  Are holes, differences, acceptable?

It was a Wednesday evening many years ago, when our daughters were young.  Anita was at choir practice so it was my job to get the girls home and in bed.  I was putting Savannah, our youngest to bed and it came time to say prayers.

At that time she was in Mission Friends, being taught by Cyndy, one of our friends, who I will say has an amazing prayer life.  Whenever she offers a prayer in church I am just amazed.  Our girls often will call and ask that I get Cyndy to pray for something.  Not me, the pastor!  Cyndy!  As they say, God pays more attention to her!  And it is true!

That night, as Savannah began her prayers, what struck me was that she was praying like Cyndy.  I can’t do that!  I couldn’t teach her that!  I needed some help.

But several months later we were coming home from University.  I was driving the van and Cyndy’s daughter was sitting in the front seat—to help keep me awake, but also to talk.  In the middle of the trip, in the middle of the conversation, I realized that I was having a conversation with her that she couldn’t have with her mother.  Cyndy needed me too!

We need each other.  We need each other to mend the nets, to make sure the holes stay together.  We need each other to keep us from idolatry, from the heresy that we have God captured, all figured out.  We need people with a different perspective, different views, different gifts.

But that only happens when we are willing to be servants to each other.  Paul and Apollos were both servants.  The word used here is diakonos, deacon.  That is what we are called to be.  You who are being ordained today; Russ and Amy, me, you!  It isn’t about privilege and power, but about being a servant.  Listening and learning from each other; looking to ways that we might work together to build God’s kingdom.

Even this day.

I look forward to being back at Providence for Ash Wednesday, and then in the pulpit on March 5 as we begin a Lenten series entitled, From Pew to Passion.

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