Monday, May 21, 2018

Does Church Matter--Really?

Dawson Baptist Church - Philpot, Kentucky - 1962

I can think of nothing more appropriate for this Pentecost Sunday than what we do this day. Celebrate your 229th birthday. Thinking about this service and this day I pulled a page out of my own life and did some remembering of my own. I was Pastor of a church I did not like. Things had not gone well. Oh, the church was growing some. But there was this little group that kept after me. I kept thinking well if I work just a little harder—maybe they’ll come around. It didn’t happen. And I was growing more and more bitter and just wanted to give it up. Finally I resigned at age 55 with no place to go. I just threw in the towel.

And after I resigned—the strangest thing happened. The first church I had ever served called and asked me to come back and preach one Sunday. It was as rural a church as you have ever seen. And I was a city boy. And my wife was a city girl.  She thought we had gone to darkest Africa. And this little church with a tiny steeple—sat on the side road of old Highway 54. And when its rained water would come all the up and cover the parking lot and almost get in the building. Well on those Sundays—we couldn’t get there and we called off church. So I proposed a simple solution—why don’t we just move. Move somewhere on the new Highway 54 where all the cars pass by—and we’ll be away from all this rising water. After my proposal—the Deacons didn’t say anything. They just sat there. Silence. They looked horrified and looked at me as if I had lost my mind. Move the church? Well—we didn’t. And one day I moved on. 

Must have been twenty-five or thirty years later they called one and said: Guess what we have built a new church up on the new highway. Huh? Why didn’t you do that years ago when I was your Pastor. On the phone they said we are having a celebration of our new church. And we want you to come and preach and help us celebrate. And I did.

And my wife and I had a good time seeing old friends and remembering. And the new church was beautiful. So as I left they gave me a video tape of the last service in their hundred-year old building. And back at home—pretty much having given up on the church in general—I put on that video-tape and watched it one evening.

The last service the church had was on a Sunday night. They gathered that evening in June to tell stories about the Dawson Baptist Church and what it meant to them.They filled the house that night. In the tape little had changed. The video began by showing the tiny, white-clap-board building with the gravel parking lot. There was a steeple with a bell and a cord hanging down in the vestibule that somebody rang every Sunday. As the camera moved inside, you could see they had bought new pews from another church which did not quite match the decor. Sure enough there were the two cursed ugly Warm Morning heaters at the front that kept the place too warm or not warm at all. In the gothic shaped windows bits and pieces of colored glass had been knocked out and replaced through the years by other pieces of glass that did not quite match. In the center stood the pulpit with the Pulpit Bible Midge Sadler had given in memory of her oldest son and her husband killed in a terrible automobile accident while I was there. On the right was the Hammond Organ which Miss Jenny had played just as slow as she could. They always told me that Miss Jenny worked in the distillery all week but, they added, she didn’t drink the stuff. Opposite the Hammond organ was the spinet piano. Behind the pulpit was a huge crochet framed piece of the Lord’s Prayer somebody had made. On the left of the Pulpit behind the piano were the two rows where the choir sat.

Different members stood that night and told what had happened to them in that special place. They remembered their own baptisms in the creek…and when their children had been dedicated to the Lord. Someone told about their bout with cancer and how the church gathered around them and loved and prayed. A  proud member told of how they took up money and sent one of their girls off to college because she had no money. She became a missionary. They remembered revivals and Vacation Bible Schools and losing jobs and coming together after a long hard week in the fields. Mostly, it was personal stuff. In that little frame church on a side road, for a hundred years they had found something that kept them going. And as I finished watching the video I sat there in the dark brushing away the tears. For they had reminded me that what happened there had made that place holy ground. And that even though I was having a hard time in my own life…I needed to remember all the things that happened through the years in churches everywhere.

And we come here to remember, don’t we. That’s what Heritage Day is all about. 229 years ago a tiny group started this church. First it was Hopewell-Keowee Presbyterian Church. And then Old Stone Church. And then Hopewell-Presbyterian and in 1893 they changed the name to Pendleton Presbyterian Church. 50 Pastors served you as your Ministers for Supply Pastors until 1966. Some of those men were monthly. Some were half-time. Some round-robin with another church. And some stayed as much as 16 years. But your written history stops in 1966. Somebody needs to bring it up to date. 

Anything happen here after 1966—of course. Many things. And we have come today to remember baptisms and funerals and weddings and Sunday services and even an occasional sermon. Not too speak of Session meetings.  But there was so much  more. Prayers and hugs and singing and Holy Communion and casseroles brought and faith strengthened and hope, too despite the ups and downs in the country. All these we come to remember.

Some of you are down in the mouth about the present. What are we going to do? What is going to happen to our church? Well—Heritage Day answers that question. What you do here matters terribly—and the challenge is to keep on keeping on.

Our text is that wonderful passage when a women pushed her way through the door of Simon’s house and broke open a very expensive jar of perfume and anointed Jesus’ head. Those looking on were horrified. Especially the Session. A woman in public of all things. Touching Jesus. Pouring out perfume that could be used to feed a whole lot of people. Interrupting that fine meal with all the men sitting around eating and talking and telling lies . Lot of muttering went on that day—but Jesus said of what the woman had done: “This will be remembered.” It kept them going. 

And looking back from then until now—we look back at your long history of ups and downs—of wars and depressions and pneumonia that took little ones and old ones away—not to speak of the heartbreak and fear and longing and failure. But something more. What happened here should be remembered. 

Going back to my old church to preach—they helped restore my fragile faith. What had happened there through the years was important—maybe more important than all those other things. 

And this is the challenge today. To remember. To do your part—to break open your own flask of perfume—whatever it is and pour it out for the glory of God. Give. Come. Pray. Work. Believe. Hope. Love. And just keep coming. And just keep coming.That’s the great challenge of this day.

Once in a foreign land missionaries came for the first time to preach the gospel. Nobody had ever done that before in that out of the way place. And years later someone found a short history of that place. And it read: “They gathered sticks and built a fire—we kept it burning.”

Well folks—somebody else gathered sticks in all sorts of ways and started a fire and some days it must have sputtered and been weak—but they built a fire…and those that came after them kept it burning. And here—on this day…we look back and remember what Jesus said of that woman. She has done a beautiful thing and this will be remembered. And looking back—years from now may they say of you—oh, those others back there built the fire…but we kept it burning. And my friends that will be a beautiful thing. Thanks be to God. 

(This sermon was preached on Heritage Sunday, at the First Presbyterian Church, Pendleton, SC, May 20, 2018
This picture above is of the Old Stone Church  in Clemson, SC which was the second home of this church. It is on the National Historic Register.)

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Mother's Day Memory

My Mama at my daughter's wedding.
On this Mother’s Day we pause—we ought to stop for a long time—but mostly we pause. We remember Mama. I know some were lousy Mothers and some couldn’t do the job. And I know that some crippled their kids. I know all that.

But I also know that out there are Mamas aplenty who have given much, much more than life for their children. So I am glad that  in 1908 Annas Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at a Methodist church in West Virginia. She gave our country this gift of honoring all our mothers. By 1911 all the states were celebrating this special day. And in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation setting aside the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

But enough of history. Mother’s Day is really about the heart. Good or bad the word mother brings upon all kinds of memories and emotions. Christopher Buckley wrote a memoir in which he said, “When you lose Mum and Pup you are an orphan. But you also lose the true keeper of your memories, your triumphs, your losses. Your mother is a scrapbook for all your enthusiasms. She is the one who validates and the one who shames, and when she’s gone, you are alone in a terrible way.” 

Yes and no, Mr. Buckley. We really are not alone when our Mother’s die—for good or bad they are forever locked in our hearts. And like other griefs, at the strangest times—the smell of a flower, a woman you saw in the Grocery store who looks so much liked your Mother—the grief surges back. You thought all that was over. 

You do feel like an orphan. Like the old song: “a motherless child…” But Mother’s Day is a time for dusting off old memories and remembering. After my Mother died—we had the sad duty of cleaning out her little house. There are few harder tasks than this. But when I opened up her Cedar chest at the foot of her bed—it was like an archeological dig. The things she saved just blew me away. Of course there are brand-new gowns she had saved “when she went to the hospital” and towels she never had used. But all those other things just sent me back through the years. 

There was my old high school scrap book. Filled with Valentine cards for the fifth grade. There were report cards she had saved. I found letters I had written her while I was in college. There was a picture of a little boy about five years old with curly hair.  Me. But my heart turned over when I read her handwriting on the back: “This is Roger. He is 5 year old.” After many years I was the first of two boys to come along. And she never thought she could have children. And I was her first—and she was always proud. I must underline that word: proud. She gave me the gift of delight. Just knowing that I was in the world made her joyous and happy. In that cedar chest there were newspaper clipping of things I had done. I even found a lock of hair. My little girl-friend, not long after that five-year old picture was taken, cut every curl I had off behind the living room couch. I found an old autograph book and a shirt I had worn maybe in high school. There were yellowing programs from High School and College graduations.

I don’t want to bore you—but open up your own memory book and see what your Mother gave you. My mother never had much of the world’s goods. She lived in a little four-room house her whole adult life. She worked in the textile mill across the street until she retired. She sent me three crumpled up five-dollars bills week after week while I was in college. It was not until years later that I realized what an incredible sacrifice that must have been. She dragged me to church year after year sometimes against my will.  And maybe one of the reasons I have preached for over forty years is maybe her gift of faith. I have told many people that even if I had been sent to prison my Mother would say, “Oh, but you know he really was a good boy.” 

She’s been gone a long time—and she really was the keeper of a thousand memories. Yet—she gave me sweet memories that make me proud and carry me through. So, on this Mama’s day—I rise up and call my Mama blessed. I think this is what Anna Jarvis had in mind in 1908 when she remembered her Mama.

--Roger Lovette /

Sunday, May 6, 2018

"Not Fake News, Folks--Wisdom"

photo by alexis mire / flickr

For three Sundays now we have been talking about the Serenity Prayer: “O God, give us the serenity to accept that which cannot be changed, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to distinguish one from the other.” As I think of these three sermons this third part of the prayer may be the most important.

We’ve all come to some crossroads place. The roadsigns are not exactly clear. The directions they gave us somehow don’t make sense. You don’t have the exact address so the GPS won’t help. So you pull out the map and try to figure out what they said and what you scribbled down—and it is all confusing. You go slow...trying to read and drive—and somebody blows the horn and cars are moving around you. What are you going to do?

It reminds me of the baseball game where in the middle of the game a dog wandered out on the field. Just sat there. They had to stop the game. Somebody in the stands yelled: “Run around all four bases—make a home run.” “Bite the Umpire.” “Take a nap.” And the dog just stood there shaking. And a reporter said, ”In the absence of one clear message—the dog didn’t not know what to do.”  And so today, like that dog with all these messages yelling fake news…alternative facts we don’t know what to do.

The Serenity Prayer says that there is some news that is false and some that is true. There are some roads that lead us there—and other roads are just dead-end streets. So our tasks is to try to separate the right roads from the bad.

Adam and Eve faced this problem. They were placed in this wonderful Garden. But—there was this stupid tree in the very middle of the Garden. And God said you can have dominion over it all—trees, plants, animals—everything except the tree in the middle of the Garden. And they whispered to one another: “You know, that fruit on that tree looks pretty good.” And the snake came along saying: “What God said was not true—that’s fake news.” And because they listened to the wrong voice—they were cast out of the Garden and lived East of Eden. They couldn’t go back.

But wait. Even though Adam and Eve could not go back that was not the end of the story. In fact, it was only the beginning. Even though they had lost their innocence and broken God’s rules—God did not turn his back on them. He was with them every step of the way. But still East of Eden they had to deal with highway signs that were confusing and surprised to find a kindly light that could lead them on.

That thread of truth runs throughout the Bible. King Solomon inherited the throne from his father, King David. There at the beginning of his reign he prayed this wonderful prayer. He fell down on the stone floor and prayed:” Give me wisdom. Show me the way.” He was known as the wisest of men.

But wait. Wisest? He split the Kingdom. He bankrupted the Empire. He spent most of his money on his own house. He’d imported all these foreign women with strange accents. He let them bring a whole moving van full of their tacky gods with them, And the kingdom fell apart. He prayed for wisdom but could not put legs on his prayers. 

Back to the Prayer. It says: Give us wisdom to know what can be changed and what cannot.” It’s hard to tell. We know that this wisdom means means intellectual knowledge. It’s clearness. It’s coping with life in a healthy kind of way. It’s horse sense and sound judgment. 

What does it mean to discover wisdom in our time? Of course it means using our heads—knowledge. Solomon knelt on the floor and prayed for God to show him the way. And knowledge meant facts. History. Degrees. Sometimes credentials. IQ. But Daniel Monihan reminded tis: “You are entitled to your own opinions but not to your own facts.” And it looks like truth has just flown out the window in many quarters. Alternative facts—what’s that? Sometimes there are no alternatives. “There is a way that seemed right but the end thereof is death.”

But there is another word for wisdom. In the New Testament the word is called Sophia. Spirit. The feminine side of God. Paul prayed in I Corinthians of all places—that the people in that messed-up church would find wisdom. So they could sail through the choppy waters of secularism without sinking. And the writer James would write: “If any of you lack wisdom—let him or her ask of God.”

But Paul and James were not talking about head stuff. They saw wisdom as heart stuff.
photo by nerissa's ring / flicker
Everybody in this room has had an old Uncle or Grandfather who, when things got tough—the family or the community—somebody would drop by and sit on porch and say: “Let me ask you something…” And sometimes those old folks that could hardly read would say: “Well…” and they would begin to talk about head and heart both. That’s understanding. Fred Craddock, great preacher used to say that the longest journey is from the head to the heart. And we know it is true. It is knowledge and understanding. We need both as the look at this maze of road signs.

Elton Trueblood said that what the church needs is the ministry of clarification. We are to help one another clarify many things. I start out the door and my wife says: “Are you going to wear that?” That’s the ministry of clarification. And we ought to be able to say in church or anywhere that “What you are saying is hurtful and serves no good purpose.” But we don’t do that. We just say: “Bless your heart!” We go behind somebody’s back and whisper to somebody else: “Did you hear what she said?” We need to help one another with the ministry of clarification.

John Henry Newman wrote a hymn during a dark, dark period of his life. It was a prayer. It is one we all could pray. “Lead kindly light! Amid the encircling gloom—lead Thou me on, The night is dark and I am far from home. Lead Thou me on.” It’s light. It is understanding.

But there is another word for wisdom. And this word is act. If we really are wise we are going to do more than just pray and talk. I get so tired of people saying: “Our thoughts and prayers are with you…” Really. Why don’t you do something. I have had several college churches where folk were as smart as they could be. They had ideas galore and they could talk and talk and talk. But after we had talked they’d go home thinking they had done something .We had done nothing except talk. Nothing accomplished at their meeting.  Sounds like Congress. Sounds like church. Sounds like us, too.

And this is why we come here. To find the way. Things get tangled up out there like fishing lines. We all need help. And it’s not just one-two-three points. We do need to help one another find the right road. 

What are we going to do with the refugees in those little tents somewhere? What are going to do about all the AK-47’s. What are we going to do with all these kids on drugs? Or poor people having hardly enough to eat? Or sitting in Emergency rooms ten hours  because they don’t have any insurance. What are we going to do? Are we just going to say: Well, we have to take care of our own. Really? Is that in the Bible. The Lord did say: “Inasmuch as you do it unto the least of these—and then he pulled out the list and said: “the hungry…the sick…the naked.. .the prisoners…the stranger…” As you respond to them you do it to me. Maybe the reason God seems so far away is because we never really look beyond our own doorsteps.

photo by Sheena876 / flickr
Will Willimon, Methodist minister said that when he was a young preacher he used to work for a welfare agency. He went out one day with this case worker. She took him up some winding rickety steps to the second-story in an unpainted apartment building. They walked into an apartment of three rooms. There was a mother with two small children. The woman was in the process of moving her 84-year-old mother in with them. The old woman had had a stroke and was incontinent and had lost much of her speech. The caseworker said, “You know you can’t do this. You’ve got too much on your plate already. You’ve got these two little children and there’d be no money to feed your mother, too. And you’ll have to buy depends and change the bed linens constantly. Nobody expects you to do all this.” And the little woman said, “Well, she did it for me when I was little. And I‘m just returning the favor. I can do it because she needs somebody.” The caseworker shook her head and they left. As they walked down the steps and headed for the car, the social worker turned to the young preacher and said, “Sometimes I don’t know if there its any hope in the world for these culturally deprived people. Maybe education is the answer.”

But the preacher that told this story said he thought he maybe knew why this daughter was doing what seemed to be foolish and impossible. Hanging over that daughter’s bed was this framed cross-stitched piece given to her by her mother years before. I think you know what the words said, “O God, give me the serenity too accept what cannot be changed, courage to change what could be changed and the wisdom to know the difference.”

That daughter is still learning the meaning of wisdom and we are we.

(This sermon was preached at the First Presbyterian Church, Pendleton, SC, May 6, 2018. This was part of a three-series os sermons on The Serenity Prayer.)

photo by Mathieu Peborde / flickr

—Roger Lovette /

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Guns and Jesus

Sometimes you want to stand up and applaud some church's actions. This is not easy to do in a toxic political environment. With Ushers standing at the door of some churches with guns...and some pastors totally silent--I am proud of my old church in Memphis. 

Memphis is not an easy place to serve. But where is? Yet--this sign on their grounds speaks a multitude of prophetic words. I think all those who huddled under desks in Parkland weeks ago--scared for their lives would be proud of this sign. I also think all the parents who have stood by the loss of a child to gun violence would smile at this sign. We cannot lose heart--and I pray the battle for safe gun control will stay before us.

--Roger Lovette /

Monday, April 30, 2018

Let's Put the Good Book Down Besides Today

Every once in a while I read something I want to pass on. You may have read Nicholas Kristof’s fine article entitled, “And Jesus Said Unto Paul Ryan..."    As many Evangelicals                                     are rabidly faithful to President Trump (regardless…) it is good to turn back to the Good Book and put some of Jesus’ saying down beside tweets and orations on both sides today. The Bible is our guide. This is our standard always even though most of us do not come close to living by these enduring words. Come what may—whoever is our leader—God’s word trumps the American flag and anything else. (Even nasty comments heard at this year's National Correspondence Dinner.) Read Mr. Kristof’s article and ponder the present. And pray that all our divisions and all those on the outside looking in will be touched by the Spirit and find hope and peace and love. And God bless (all) America.

--Roger Lovette /

The Times they are a Changin'

photo by JR P / flickr

Last week I started a three-part series on the Serenity Prayer. You know the prayer: “O God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, courage to change the what should be changed, and wisdom to distinguish one from the other.”

So last Sunday we talked about the first part of the prayer. There are two realities in our world—the things that cannot be changed and the things that can. So there are things in all of our lives that are not subject to modification. As hard as we would like—there are some things that will not change. Like Adam and Eve there is a tree in the middle of our garden that says: Do not touch. And like it or not we all have to come to terms with the things that just will not change. After a sermon like this one of my members came by one Sunday and said, “I know what you mean about restrictions. Our little girl told me, “Mama, if it wasn’t for you and Daddy and Jesus—I could do anything I wanted.” Well no, there is a tree in the middle of the garden.

Today we look at the second part of the prayer: “O God, give us the courage to change what should be changed.” It is not only a prayer nudging us to change but it is a prayer that deals with the massive changes that take place around us. Of course we have to reckon with the limits of our lives.  But that is only part of the story. Look at the infinite possibilities that stretch out before us all. Genesis did say :”Thou shalt not eat of the fruit of the tree…” but also remember Genesis said: “Thou shalt…” And with those two words the doors of possibility open wide to us all. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. Both men and women. They forgot that. And if we ever get our hearts around that idea that all of us could really reflect the image of God—even little girls—what would it do for us?

But God did not stop there. He said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” And so the possibilities of creativity just stretched our endlessly. And then God added: “Have dominion over every living thing.” You are in charge. That does not mean to shoot all the animals and pump Lord knows what into the streams. To have dominion does not mean to cut down all the trees and pave it all over with concrete and build yet another mall. Or to cover Hilton Head with oil. This is our Garden. This is the only one we have. 

Historically theologians have told us the chief sin is pride. God says something and like little children we stomp our foot: “No.” We will do what we want to do when we want to do it. But Harvey Cox has said that the central sin may not be pride at all—but sloth or apathy. I saw a bumper sticker one time that said: “I am neither for nor against apathy.”Just don’t do anything. Adam and Eve’s sin was that they turned away from being all they were meant to be. They abdicated their roles by refusing to accept responsibility for who they were and what they could do. They were to tend the garden. To make it gorgeous and lush.  To look out some morning at the fields and the downright beauty of it all and say with wonder and joy: “We did that. We did that.” That was the great dream.  

There are two words in the prayer—change and courage. The Methodist minister Leonard Sweet tells the story that when things got tough he would go to a little cottage in Little Bear, California. Tired and burned out—he said that special place—was like a blood transfusion. He would come back ready to tackle everything again. One night he got there and unpacked and went to bed. And in the middle of the night things started shaking and rattling. It even threw him out of his bed. And then suddenly it stopped. What had happened was that this was an aftershock of the greatest earthquake to hit California in forty years. He was trying to get away from all that he had left behind. And the aftershocks from the earthquake went on for days and days. Scary. And he said it changed the way the looked at everything. And so later he sat down and wrote this book called, Faithquakes. That earthquake was really a metaphor for what is happening to all of us. Looks like everything nailed down is shaking loose. Everything is being challenged. Even truth--especially truth. We all look out on a world that is different.

A friend of mine said a couple of years ago he was a seventh grade teacher. He told his class that he was going to bring a record player into the class that morning. They looked dumbfounded. “A what?” “A record player!” And he asked one of them to go to the shelf behind him and get the record player and put it on his desk. They all gathered in a circle  around his desk. Looking down at this record player. Like it was something from outer space. Not a seventh-grader in that room knew what a record player was. He was thirty-five years old and felt like an old timer. So he spent an hour with about 28 kids hunkered down around a record player. He explained that you take this black disc and carefully put in in the record player…explaining that then you carefully put the needle down so you wouldn’t scratch the record. He told them where you put the needle would determine what song you listened too. They rared back and laughed and laughed. But that day those seventh graders learned what a record player was. And I went into a bookstore the other day and guess what was there. A record player long gone is coming back. Crazy.

Change is everywhere. A man heard two women talking. One said, “What are you going to do after the party tonight? “The other woman said, “Oh, someone fixed me up with a date.” “Who with?” The other woman said, “I don’t know who it is. As a matter of fact I don’t even know if it’s a guy or a girl. It’s just so difficult to get a date these days that I don’t care.”

I think that one of the problems we have in the world today is that everything has changed so fast that a lot of people are just scared. And I believe the politicians are taking advantage of our fears. Just vote for me and I’ll take you back to where we ought to be. 

photo by col_adamson
So many people are dealing with all this change by denying it. There is a character named Quentin in The Sound and the Fury. He lived in a old crumbled-down mansion in Mississippi. Once a prominent family. All he could think of what he and his family used to be. The Past. And he took his grandfather’s pocket watch and put on on the desk and smashed the glass case and pulled the hands off the watch. He just wanted time to stop. And we would all like to do that some days. The kids grew up too fast. What happened. Where did all these wrinkles come from. Why does my over-fifty daughter keeps asking us: “Where is my Barbie camper?” But we cannot deny what is going on.

There is another way to deal with change. The prayer says: “Give us the courage to change...”  So down beside the word, change we put this word courage. We can deal with all the swirling stuff around us with courage. Adam and Eve were given this garden. Nah, they could not do everything but God stretched out this wonderful place and said, “Tend it.” Do we have the courage to do that? So many times through history we have failed miserably. But here and there—almost always in the minority—there was a little handful that made a difference. Dr. Fosdick used to say we can be part of the problem or part of the answer. The courageous ones say: “Well, let’s try something else. Maybe it will work.” And often this made the difference between success and failure. Not Adam and Eve. After they sinned the hid from God. And he came saying:” Where are you?” And they slowly mumbled we are over here covered in fig leaves. Why didn’t you do what I asked? God said. And they replied: “We were afraid.”

We’ve seen it over and over in history. This was the number one emotion that ran through
photo by Flavio Spugna / flickr
Nazi Germany. Fear. Some of you have been to one of these Holocaust museums.  Mounds of shoes. A room piled high in suitcases. Boxes of gold pulled from somebody’s teeth. 6 million slaughtered. How did they become monsters—those people in Germany. They were afraid. And in our time just beneath the surface there is a real terror lurking about our kids and families and government and church and stocks and bonds and about everything. Not to speak of the terfrorists. Fear can do terrible things. 

Did you know that since October we have taken 700 children from their parents and placed them in foster care somewhere. Simply because their parents are illegal immigrants. This is America. And we are a fearful people today. Some things are just flat out wrong. Where, O where is the courage.

Rollo May has said the French word for courage is heart. Don’t you love that. God give me a heart that cares. So let’s bring the earthquake into the church and into our lives. We gotta have heart too make it today. This church will celebrate our 229th anniversary in three weeks. You’ve been around here for a long time. Some of you 229 years. But you would not be here today unless somebody had stood up in a session meeting or out there in the parking lot or kneeling in prayer somewhere—and said: "With God’s help we are going to do the right thing here.” Mainline churches are having a hard time all over—even the Baptists believe it or not. 

And then earthquakes have touched every church and us all. We’ve all had to shift gears. And sometimes it is hard. I’ve talked to enough of you to know already that this new age of ours is not all it is cracked up to be. And the churches that just want to take the clock and stop it and take the hands off cannot turn back the years. Do you know what the seven last words of the  church are? “We’ve never done it that way before.”

So we pray this prayer: Give us the courage (heart) to change the things we can…” It will mean something different for everyone of us. Get up Sunday and put your clothes on and come on down to the church. Bring somebody with you. Give your money. Sing in the choir. Teach a class. Pray for your session and for those hurting here. Love one another. Oh I know. Some will leave. Some already have. And some of you have lost folks that you wish were here. You’re going to pray this prayer. You’re going to stand by your church. You are going to bring somebody in. And some of you have whispered: “What are we going to do?” Do? Make this 229 year old lighthouse what it still can be. People need this church in Pendleton. Some are sitting at home in their pj’s this morning have no idea that what you have here could help them in this world of change. This is your moment on stage folks—and God wants you to be a courageous people.

One of the great stories that I love is told in Edmund Morris’ biography of Theodore Roosevelt. One day a book fell into Roosevelt’s hands. It was written and put together by a man named Jacob Riis. That book was called How the Other Half Lives. I’ve seen the book and it is mostly photographs that showed the terrible slum conditions in Hell’s Kitchen in New York. There were pictures of old people who had nothing and had wasted away. Pictures of women who had worked hard and had too many children.There were pictures of little nine years old children working in sweat shops from morning until night. The book showed photographs of ten people living in two rooms of filth and squalor. TB and other diseases were rampant. 

The book made such an impression on Theodore Roosevelt who was Police Commissioner in New York City that he decided to pay the author of the book a visit. He went to Riis’ house and knocked on the door. No one answered. So he took out of his pocket his calling card and turned over and wrote some words on the back and left the card in the door. Mr. Riis came home and found the card that Mr. Roosevelt had left. He turned it over and read these words: “Dear Mr. Riis I have read your book and I have come to help.” I just love that. We have all read the book and now it is time to help.

That’s what makes the world a better place. And the church. And us all. Earthquakes are everywhere. But remember the Garden. And the infinite possibilities that stretch on and on. And let’s pray the second part of the prayer over and over. “God, give us the courage to change the things we can.” And who knows, one Heritage Day years from now after we are gone—people will say back there when things were hard—the people in Pendleton Presbyterian made it happen.

photo by Jean Gazis / flickr

(This sermon was preached on April 29 at the First Presbyterian Church, Pendleton. SC)

--Roger Lovette /

Saturday, April 28, 2018

What the House Chaplain should have prayed

Chaplain Conroy, his Mother and John Boehner
Official Speaker of House photo / flickr

Speaker Paul Ryan summarily dismissed the House Chaplain Friday for blending religion with prayer. He stated that the Chaplain should stay out of politics. Father Patrick J. Conroy, A Jesuit priest has served as Chaplain for seven years. Some in the House have said that the Chaplain should be replaced by a family man of non-denominational persuasion.

This is the prayer that was behind the firing of the Chaplain. Just before the tax bill was debated he prayed:

"God of the universe, we give You thanks for giving us another day. Bless the Members of this assembly as they set upon the work of these hours, of these days. Help them to make wise decisions in a good manner and to carry their responsibilities steadily, with high hopes for a better future for our great Nation.

As legislation on taxes continues to be debated this week and next, may all Members be mindful that the institution and structures of our great Nation guarantees the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle. May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans. May Your blessings, O God, be with them and with us all this day and every day to come, and may all were do be done for Your great honor and glory. Amen."

The following prayer might have helped Chaplain Conroy keep his job. And surely continue the good work of making America the country it used to be.

God of these your United States--we give you thanks for giving us yet another day. Bless the members of this assembly, especially those who stand behind our President and his great work. Help them as they strengthen his base which helps bring back the greatness to our land.

As we debate these complicated tax issues make us mindful of all the lobbyists who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes that the institutions and structures of our country will insure the  greatness of our yesterdays. Help the efforts of those in the House that vote to insure that American is number one in every way.

Remind us that as they struggle that it will be made clear that those that do not work have no right to eat--and that the monies in our coffers will make the successful stronger that money might trickle down like a mighty stream to the truly deserving.

May these new tax laws benefit those that have worked so hard and teach those without to see their sacrifices as a way to learn to live with limits and humility and love for the successful.

Keep us free from all that would give away the treasures of this fine land to irrelevant issues like health care, lodging,  food stamps and undeserving schools.

Bless all who support the leaders of our mighty country and give them the courage to ignore the cries and the outrage of the minority in the land.

We ask it all in the strong name of the One whose great desire is to keep American great and strong. Amen.

Just a reminder that prayer is a dangerous thing.

photo by alexbersin / flickr

--Roger Lovette /