Thursday, August 27, 2015

Donald Trump--Onward Christian--What?

photo by KAZ Vorpal / flickr

Looks like Donald Trump has taken over the airways. It appears that he is giving a news conference almost every day.  The pundits are delirious--after all entertainment outshines news anyway. Hillary must be happy that the spotlight is almost totally on Mr. Trump. So it will be a while before we learn if the former Secretary of State gave away the store or is simply being Swift-boated.

But the scary thing about Mr. Trump for this preacher is the number of Evangelicals that are standing behind his candidacy. I wish I could express my feelings about linking some Evangelicals to Mr. Trump as well as Frank Bruni in his article in the NY Times this week. Read the whole article if you wish. It's great. He begins the article by saying:

        "Let me get this straight. If I want the admiration and blessings of the most flamboyant,        judgmental Christians in America, I should marry three times, do a queasy-making about or sexual boasting, verbally degrade women, talk trash about pretty much everyone else while I'm at it, encourage gamblers to hemorrhage their savings in casinos bearing my name and crow incessantly about how much money I've amassed?
         Seems to work for Donald Trump.
         Polls show him to beg the preferred candidate among not just all Republican voters but also the party's vocal evangelical subset."

Fifty years ago Richard Niebuhr wrote a book which Martin Marty has called one of the most significant books in our time. Mr. Niebuhr tackled a perennial problem in his book, Christ and Culture. Niebuhr wrote that the goal is Christ transforming culture. And our challenge,h wrote, is to work toward that transformation. That "the kingdoms of the world will become the kingdom of Christ."

Niebuhr who was a realist said that the Christ and Çulture struggle is an enduring problem. It has always been with us--and will be with us always. The problem comes when we Christians link Christ with culture. And one of the dangers of this idea is that we filter Christ through the prism of our time. We make Jesus conform to what we assume is the best of society.  Nazi Germany is a classic example of a time when culture triumphed over Christ. Now we are a long way from Nazi Germany. But for some Evangelicals or liberal Christians to throw out the teachings of Christ and get on a bandwagon for whatever Mr. Trump--Hillary Clinton or any candidates say is putting culture above Christ.  This is scary idolatry. Niebuhr reminds us that all human systems are flawed. Which means: God is not a Democrat or a Republican. Any attempt to drag Jesus into any political system must be very suspect. But neither can we wash our hands of what is going on in the world. Christians, of course, should be engaged in politics.

All this reminds me of the story of an artist years ago named Barosin. He  painted a "Head of Christ" and the painting had a strong blue background. A Christian education press published copies of the picture for Sunday Schools and home use. People complained that the art work did not go well with strong wall colors. So the Press reprinted Jesus' picture with a neutral background that would fit any decor.  We can't change the picture of Christ's teachings without seriously damaging his meaning. Any attempt by politics or church or any other institution that tries to drag Jesus to our side is destined for failure.

photo by takomabibelot / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Gays and Christians--What is the Problem?

photo by Drama Queen / flickr

(If you  think I am over-doing this gay emphasis--let me render this disclosure. First Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina--historic--the birthplace of the Southern Baptist Convention--has taken a courageous step of saying that every member of their church has full rights and privileges. There are no second-class members. The Greenville News published a huge first page article on the church's action a few days ago.  Some nasty Letters to the Editor followed in that newspaper and the South Carolina Baptist Convention has asked the church to rescind this policy or face expulsion from the State Convention. Funny--the Baptist Convention has forgotten its long and historic heritage. No group comes into a local Baptist Church and interferes with their policy or direction. Of course the last few years we have seen this change dramatically in many quarters. So--I write often for The Greenville News and this article will appear (hopefully) in that paper to say there are a whole lot of us out there standing with our brothers and sisters in Greenville. What follows is what I wrote to the paper and the community.)

The year must have been 1994. I was Pastor in Birmingham. It was a time when the AIDS epidemic was raging. One of our counselor-members came with a question. “I have a woman I’m talking to who has a son who is HIV positive. He lives in California and is too sick to work. He is coming home to live with his mother and she doesn’t think her church will accept him. Would our church take them?”  I told her I would hope our church would receive them. The mother came by and decided to join our church. Weeks later her son, Kevin arrived from California. He was angry. He wanted to be back home. He wanted to be working. He wanted not to be sick. He knew his life was slipping away.  One Sunday he came to church. It was obvious he was very sick. 

It was a scary time for many folk. People did not know if you could catch this disease. Many did not want to be around anyone with AIDS. But there was sick Kevin sitting there with a few people looking at him warily.  One Sunday he walked down the aisle and joined the church and and became a member of one of our Sunday School classes. He and his mother became part of our church family. Months later when he was not able to get out of bed his Sunday School class visited him and  served him communion. It was the last food Kevin would take by mouth. He died the next day.

At the funeral some members of the gay community were in attendance. And when they looked around some muttered, “This is a Baptist Church?” A few started coming on Sunday and some joined. A few of our members were skittish.  Two or three came by my office and asked, “What are you going to do about these people?” “ They said: “I do not want to be part of a gay church!” My response. As Pastor I would turn no one away. We were going to continue to open the doors as we always did . We would take whomever came. I told them I just wanted to be Pastor of a Church with a big ‘C’. Some of those folk left.

That was 20 years ago. If you visited some Sunday you would find a very diverse people. Some Gay folk sing in the choir, some hold important offices, others teach in the Sunday School. But you would also see some people from other countries, African-Americans and a cadre of Mentally challenged adults.The people in Birmingham know this church is open to everyone. The Pastor who followed me told a story recently about a woman who came to her and said she wanted her baptism back. Strange request. The woman told this Pastor that the minister of her home church learned she was gay.  He called her up and told her the church was rescinding her baptism. So she asked this Minister if she could have her baptism back.

As I read in this paper weeks ago about First Baptist Church’s decision to open its doors to everyone I remembered Kevin and his mother. I remembered how how scared some of the people were. We got a few letters and phone calls rom irate people in the community. But I remembered how our congregation, without ever voting, just kept the church doors wide open. They asked me back to preach some time after I had left.They made one request. Would you tell us what you were most proud of when you look back at your ministry here. We had built a beautiful sanctuary. The church had grown considerably. I wondered what I would say?  That Sunday morning I said the thing I was proudest of was that when the gay issue came down our aisle wearing very human—faces they kept their integrity. And so I applaud First Baptist Church in Greenville for I believe in a hard time,facing a most controversial issue, they have kept their integrity.

--Roger Lovette /

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hispanics--Are They Real people?

photo by Amy Drummond / flickr
"A ten-year old like Demaris watches The Donald descending an escalator in Trump Tower. Or standing at the border in Texas in a white hat that proclaims "Make America Great Again." Even if she doesn't understand what he's saying, she can feel her family's anger and anxiety."
              --NY Times, 9-19-15

There is something pretty ugly going on in this Presidential campaign. This Hispanic bashing is wrong and scary.

It didn't start with Donald Trump, of course. But he has picked up the baton. Handpicking an undocumented Hispanic who was charged with rape and murder in California is not representative to most of the Hispanics that are in our country. He said not mention the white Americans that have been doing terrible things lately. He hurls charges as the undocumented like lazy, drug-dealers and leeches off this country. He says they are taking jobs away from decent Americans. He wants to send all eleven million "back" and build a wall to keep them all out--forcing the Mexican government to pay for the wall.

Other candidates have joined in the chorus. Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin has said that we should end automatic citizenship for the American-born children of undocumented immigrants. This would repeal a constitutional right that dates back to civil war days. Senator Cruz of Texas introduced a bill in the Senate named for the woman who was shot to death in San Francisco by this man from Mexico. His bill speaks for the return of all undocumented people. Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana says that mayors who allow sanctuary cities are to blame for much of our problem. Representative Steve King has said Mr. Trump's stance on Mexican immigrants would not particularly hurt his Presidential chances. He said that he believes people will come to Trump's rescue because enforcing illegal immigration laws is what people are worried about. Mike Huckabee wants to stem the tide of people from Mexico who have "heard there's a bowl of food just over the border."

Back at Headquarters the Republican leaders of the party are scared what all these wild statements might do to the election. They know that they will need the Hispanic votes to win the White House--and that number is growing. Senator Lindsay Graham has decried Mr. Trump's stance saying the Republicans need the Hispanics at the ballot box. What troubles me about the establishment's   worries goes far beyond vote counting. People need to stand up and say this is America and we do not treat people this way. They are human with hopes and dreams like ours. Outside my door four or five new houses have been under construction. Hispanics are working hard on every project. Our construction and other business concerns would be in bad shape without these folk,

My school-teacher daughter has quite a few Hispanic children in her new class. She told me that when the parents are invited at the beginning of school to come visit and ask questions--the whole Hispanic family comes because they are so interested in their child's education.

Someone has pointed out that the worst fear of childhood is the worry of abandonment. These children hear all this anti-Mexican rhetoric. Will their parents be sent away? Who will take care of them? Fear from children and adults about who they are is about as un-American as you can get.

I'm not bashing Republicans. This would be unfair.There are several candidates that have not joined this parade of hate. I applaud this. Right now they are in a minority in the polls. We need two parties in this country. We also need candidates Democrat and Republican that stand up for human rights right here in our land. This is one of the things that distinguishes us from much of the rest of the world.

An Hispanic author, Hector Tobar has written a heart-rending op ed piece in the NY Times about how Mexican immigrants feel today in America. It is worth reading and deeply moving.

photo by ep_jhu / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Gays and the Church--Second Stanza : "The Bible Says..."

photo by Sean Macenter / flickr
If you have heard enough about gays issues--you might want to skip this article. But Daily Kos which keeps a hand on the pulse of many things--has an article worth reading. Back when Dr. Laura Schlesinger was the rage just a few years ago--she quoted Leviticus 18.22 as proof that gays were an abomination. We've heard people quoting the Bible about why "the gay lifestyle" is against God's will.  Dr. James Kauffman retired from teaching at the University of Virginia must have gotten tired of hearing "The Bible says..." when talking about gays. In 2010 he wrote a piece in response to Dr. Laura's stance. Read it for yourself. Daily Kos reprinted his article on August 17, 2015.

Before you toss the Bible as being hopelessly irrelevant remember that Leviticus and a lot of other parts of the Bible were written in a primitive time. Their writings reflect the age in which they lived. God used some very crooked sticks to write the lines that appear in certain parts of the Bible. The standard through which we filter the whole Book is Jesus Christ and his life and teachings. He loved everyone. "By this all shall know you are my disciples if you love one another." No qualifications.

I have preached from this book for over 40 years. It is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path. This book is God's word. He could have handed down his words on a golden plate--which he did not. He used people--flawed as people today--to write his words. Some of those words got filtered through some very narrow prisms. Yet--I still open this book, study it, meditate on it--preach from it. Why? This really is God's word. It never goes out of date. Nothing is perfect but God alone. If the book were perfect we could worship it. My faith is not shaken by certain parts of the Bible. God has spoken through this book over all others--then and now. We get very far away from the book's primary teachings and Christians and the Church are in deep trouble.

--Roger Lovette /

Gays and the Church--2015

    photo by Jens-Petter Salvesen - Of this picture he says:
"Sometimes I get nervous when I see an open door."

We know that one issue that divides the Church today is the gay issue. The Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage is beginning to put pressure on the church to take a stand. Whole denominations have been split over this issue. Congregations everywhere are asking their Pastors: "Tell me what you believe about this issue."

First Baptist Church--yes, Baptist--in Greenville, South Carolina has taken a wise and courageous stand. Long before the Supreme Court gave their ruling--this Church was discussing at all levels how they should respond to gay folk and their church community. The church decided to listen to its members and then make some response. They never voted on homosexuality. The Pastor, Jim Dant stated that the church came up with a statement in which they said: All members of this church have full rights and privileges here. Note the word, all. The Pastor said they didn't vote because people had all kinds of opinions on this subject in their church. I would add that there are some issues you just don't vote on in the church. You should vote on: Is this congregation an open or closed shop?

What that church really did was to struggle with the definition of church. Is the church for all or just some. Churches--mostly Southern--faced this question years ago with integration. The question then was: Shall we let these people in our church? Deacons galore stood at the church-house door and turned away people of color. One of their arguments was: "Are they coming here to worship or just make a statement." I always thought that was a cop-out. We never wondered if white folk were there for the right reasons. The integrity of the church was at stake then and now.

Is the church for everyone or does Jesus' "whosoever will"come with qualifications? This reasoning that "this will upset some folk" is not a Biblical yardstick. Many turned way from Jesus because his words were hard and his way was not easy. Remember that time he plaintively turned too his disciples and asked, "Will you also go away?"

This move does not set well with many people. In The Greenville News' Letters to the Editor yesterday some woman wrote:

"I can't believe the stance that First Baptist Church of Greenville is taking on this same-sex marriage abomination. Evidently they have just thrown out the words of God on this subject. The idea that a layman could teach a boys' class is so wrong. They say 'What we believe about marriage and family is culturally driven, not biblically driven.'" She goes on to add: "Wonder what Bible they're using. Certainly not the one I use. This is so sad. This church needs our prayers."

The issue as I see it comes down to this. What kind of a church are we?  There are no easy answers when the church comes to difficult crossroads. But the answer to this question of who we are is at the heart of every issue that comes down the pike.

I think of all the Pastors out there that are struggling with this issue. And I think of all the parents of closeted brothers and sisters and children--who wonder if the church would welcome their loved ones. Gays stay away from the church everywhere in great numbers. Why? They believe they would not be welcome. And if they came they believe they would only be judged.

Let us pray for congregations across the nation as they deal with this issue in the context of a very diverse and troubled world.

photo by Roel Wijnants / flickr

(The Greenville News published almost a whole front page on the First Baptist Greenville's stand on this issue.
Baptist GlobalNews gives us excerpts of that story from Greenville.)

 --Roger Lovette /

Monday, August 17, 2015

School Days--I Still Remember My First Teacher


School begins this week. All over the country kids are buying shoes and shirts and pants, dresses and backpacks. It’s a New Year and it calls for new duds. Teachers are hauling supplies, bookcases and books into schoolrooms everywhere. We say that January first is the beginning of a New Year. No. For children, parents and teachers, the year really begins at the end of the summer when the school doors open. But like January 1, there is something wonderful and scary about the opening of a new door and walking into the unknown.

I still remember going to school that first scary day. We lived two blocks from the schoolhouse. My school was a great big two-story redbrick building. From a six-year olds viewpoint it looked like the biggest building in the world. Across the street from the school was a long white building we called “The Teacher’s Cottage.” Single women lived in what could easily have been called a Protestant Convent.  I don’t know how many teachers lived there. I do know the Mother Superior in that boarding house for teachers was a tall stately woman named Miss Eva. She seemed to be as old as God and twice as scary. She was the Principal and ruled the school and the cottage filled with unmarried teachers, with an iron hand. After I entered school that first week, I learned the most frightening thing that could happen to a student would be to be summoned to that Principal’s office. Up the long stairs, down the dark hall at the end of the second floor was her office. It was whispered that behind those forbidding doors there was a whipping machine. We were also warned that few who entered those doors ever came out again. Six-year-olds are believers and seven or eight-year-olds would talk about the whipping machine and other unimagined horrors at the top of those stairs.

That first school morning, my mother did not go to work at 7 :00 as she usually did. She stayed home, put on her best dress and waited for the big bell across the street at the mill to ring. The ringing of that bell was a signal that it was time for us to go to school. The bell would ring thirty minutes before school started. The second bell would proclaim that school had started. 

I still remember that September day. The air was cool and crispy for a Georgia morning. My mother opened the screen door on our front porch, turned and said, “Let’s go.” I did not know then what I know now. There was a grief in the opening of that door. She knew, standing there, that something monumental was happening. I would walk down the steps, up the street into a larger world. I would return that afternoon and thousands of afternoons after that. But I would be different. That morning I crossed the Equator. My innocence would slowly fade away.  Surely my Mother knew that this beginning was like no beginning I had ever faced. There would be things to learn, people to meet, failures and defeats and laughter and promise.  There would be mean kids to fight and friends to discover and teachers to cram dreams in my head.

After my Mother left me at the door, she turned around to go back to her job in the mill. Alone and scared, I found my room and my teacher. It has been sixty years ago and yet I can see her still. She stood in the doorway to my class that morning. Dishwater blonde hair, small-frame, freckled and light complexioned. She wore wire-rimmed glasses that glittered when the sun hit them. She wore a starched printed dress and was gentle and seldom raised her voice. Her name was Miss Beggs.  Surely other teachers along the way challenged me more. But Miss Beggs I will always remember. She walked with me across a bridge my parents could not walk. She taught me about a world bigger and finer than I had ever known. There would be no going back—this was the point of no return. I still remember that she held my hand as we walked to recess, to the rest room and to the lunchroom that first year. She must have known I was shy and afraid. The passing of the years often adds far richer colors than are present in real life. Yet as I think of Miss Beggs I really believe the kindness that I remember was truly there.

I don’t recall if she taught at our school more than a year. I never remember seeing her after that first grade experience. Where did she come from and where did she go? It hardly matters. What did matter was that she took me by the hand, she pointed the way. I love school and books and studying to this very day. She opened windows and doors that could never be shut again. Is it any wonder that syarsome seventy later I can still see her face and I still remember her name?

(Several years ago I published this piece in The Greenvile News and on one of blog pieces--this year's school beginnings brings it all back.)
--Roger Lovette /

Friday, August 14, 2015

Sermon on Prayer for Dog Days - 12th Sunday after Pentecost

photo by Mary Beth Griffin Rigsby / flickr
Suppose you go to the mailbox tomorrow to pick up your mail. You open the door to the mailbox and it is crammed full. You pull it out and begin to walk back to the house, sorting it as you go. There is a bill from Belk. A plea from the Boy Scouts. There is a notice that your tags are up for renewal. There is a flyer from Bed Bath and Beyond, Lowe’s and Ruby Tuesdays. There are three magazines—two of which you have cancelled and yet they keep coming. There are two occupant only envelopes. About the time you open the door, a letter falls out. You reach down and pick it up. It’s handwritten. Imagine that. First class. A real live letter from a real live person. Remember when you used to get real-live letters? It doesn’t say Occupant only. It isn’t addressed to the people who used to live here three years ago. No.  It has your name on it. In the corner there is a strange return. I Kings 3. 5-12. And so you pull the page from the envelope, unfold it and begin to read. Sure enough, it has your name on it. It is addressed just to you. And as you begin to read it speaks to something deep down inside. 

Today’s scripture is like that for me. Getting ready for this sermon, surrounded by the clutter of my life I discovered a personal word here, in of all places, the book of  I Kings. I found my name written all over the text. I would if you might your name there, too? Let’s see.

photo by John Atherton / flickr
King David had died and his son Solomon was the next king of Israel.  God asked Solomon what he wanted as king. And here we are given as fine a prayer as we will find anywhere. In fact, when Harry Truman was forced into the Presidency after Franklin Roosevelt’s untimely death, Truman opened the Bible at his inauguration to this prayer and read the words.  “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”(3 .7-9)

And it was in this prayer that I was addressed. I heard something here I had never heard before. Walter Brueggemann has said this prayer presents Solomon as a model of faith. In the prayer he asks submission to God’s will. The new king is not preoccupied with self. The prayer begins with remembering his father and Israel’s long and special history and how God was with them every step of the way. The king asks not for self, but for the capacity to do his work better.  This is as fine a prayer as we will find in the Bible. 

But history shows it didn’t turn out that way.  Solomon prayed a prayer he could not keep. The young new king intended to serve God and follow his ways forever. He was as sincere as he could be. But before his reign ended the kingdom would be split, Solomon would have forgotten all the things he prayed for and the chapter would end sadly for this wisest of men.

 The third chapter of First Kings opens and even then there was trouble is Solomon’s reign. He had already gone down to Egypt and brought back Pharaoh’s daughter for his wife. Can you imagine what some of the people thought? Years before Pharaoh enslaved the Hebrews and would not let them go. And here was their young king bringing back Pharaoh’s daughter along with a moving van full of statues of strange gods. Solomon would try to run Israel as Pharaoh had run Egypt all his reign. The Egyptian princess would be the first of many, many women with strange accents that Solomon would surround himself with. The third chapter says after he brought Pharaoh’s daughter back he built his house and the house of the Lord and then built walls around the city of Jerusalem. There is irony here. The writer was saying first the King built his own house—and what a house it was. It was the finest palace any king had ever built. It took a long time and it took a lot of the kingdom’s money. And then, with what was left over, he built God’s house—which was not as fine as his own house. We could stop there and preach a sermon on that subject. But even that was not the end. Only after he had finished his house and God’s house did he built a wall around the city to fortify them against the enemy. He started with his own needs. He took care of himself first. And after that he built God a house and after that he took care of his own people. His priorities were hopelessly confused. He set out to obey the words of the Lord and ended up under the harsh prophetic judgment of God. The people were overtaxed by all this building and when Solomon’s reign was finally over—the kingdom split half in two. Much like our country in the civil war. 
photo by Adrian Clark / flickr

And as I waded through all first-class letter in my box I found a word for me and I hope a word for you. And this is what I have learned here for the first time. Solomon teaches me that we all pray prayers we cannot keep. And that’s our sermon for today.

Reminds me of the story of two men in a boat in the middle of a terrible storm. The waves just kept sloshing high and it looked like the boat would go down at any minute. And even though these were not religious men they decided to pray. There was nothing else to do. And as the rain and wind beat down on them one man shouted: “O God, you know that I haven’t bothered you for the fifteen years, and if you’ll just get us out of this mess, I promise you that I won’t bother you again for fifteen more years.” Now he didn’t anymore keep that prayer than some of the prayers we have prayed. 

You know what I mean. We stand at some altar and promise for better, for worse, in sickness and in
health, and we mean it with all our hearts. And sometimes soon and sometimes late word comes: “Sally and Jim are getting a divorce.” Fifty per cent of our marriages end in divorce. There are prayers we say but we cannot keep. I stood there at the hospital when they brought her out red and squirming and the Daddy beside me cried and everybody was so proud. Sixteen years later they sat in my office and said: “Sometimes I wish we had never had kids. She is so wild and we can’t do a thing with her.” Sometimes you take a job and promise you’ll give it the best you have. And one day you drive down the road and you can’t stand it go to work. It wasn’t anything like it seemed. I know some church folk that respond to some invitation and begin some recommitment they mean to keep. And for a while it is the most important thing in the world until their hearts get broken by some church, by stupid conflicts and they just drift away. Nobody, nobody ever intended this to happen. They all prayed prayers, like Solomon, they could not keep. 

A substitute bus driver in Winston-Salem began his rounds one morning at 7:30, picking up students that went to one of the city’s Junior High Schools. Not exactly knowing his way to the school, he asked directions of the passengers. Instead of giving him the correct instructions they gave him directions to Greensboro. About half-way there the driver woke up and realized they had pulled his leg. He turned around to go back and he made the same mistake again. His listened to some of the other students. This time they were headed for High Point. Well, eventually he found the right road and the students arrived at school several hours too late to face a worried and irate Principal. Principal Phil Coleman said, when interviewed: “It is hard enough to get bus drivers, and we don’t need incidents like this. We questioned each student individually, and it seems that no one was innocent.” And when we come to talk about prayers that we can’t keep—I don’t know a single one of us that is innocent. Whether it about a marriage or a child or a job or a church or just faith itself—we find it very hard to follow through, don’t we. We can pray the prayers, but sometimes we can’t follow though.
photo by Asim Bharwani / flickr

Why is it, you think that Solomon kneeling there with so much promise and possibility lost the way? I find some help from Jane Hamilton, a very fine novelist when she says: “I used to think if you fell from grace it was more likely than not the result of one stupendous error, or else an unfortunate accident. I hadn’t learned that it can happen so gradually you don’t lose your stomach or hurt yourself in the landing. You don’t necessarily sense the motion.”

I think Solomon found it that way. Taking an Egyptian wife, letting her bring her idols and gods with her to Jerusalem. Spending more on your own house than you would one the house of God. Overtaxing the people not because he was mean as much as the kingdom needed the money to do all the things that needed to be done. It was slow, his fall. 

And we too slowly drift. Miss a Sunday here and there. And then several. And one Sunday morning you look up from the newspaper and realize you haven’t been to church in three months. I asked a little girl the other day if she had gone to church last Sunday. And she said: “We went on Mother’s Day.” Mother’s Day—I thought—that was way back in May.  Or you look across the table at the person you pledged your love to way back there and it dawns on you—why don’t I feel anything. It did not happen all at once. It is a slow attrition, like Solomon.

Solomon prayed two wonderful things there at the beginning of his reign. God said I will give you whatever you ask. And the new king bowed his head and prayed for an understanding mind and he asked for the gift of discernment to separate good from evil. When he asked for an understanding mind he was praying for God to help him think of others and not himself. In my heart of hearts help me to be wholly and completely obedient to your will. And help me to discern—to not only understand in my heart of hearts—but help me to follow the right paths and not the wrong paths.

  Not a bad prayer for any of us. Help me God to follow your will all the way to the finish line. And help me, in my daily work and walk to follow the road less traveled where goodness and integrity and decency are found. 

By the end of the story the kingdom would split much like our country in the civil war. They would be overtaxed by the selfishness of a king who wanted too much for himself. He would spend his time on foreign women and not enough time on his duties as king. Slowly he forgot that prayer he had prayed early in his reign.

photo by Paul Boxley / flickr
And yet—this is the miracle. God responds to imperfect love. Even after sinning and doing terrible things to ourselves and others—God does not give up on us. Remember that exile passage when God is just tired of the shenanigans of Ephraim. Ephraim is joined to his idols let him alone. And in a few minutes this same God says, with a broken voice, I cannot give Ephraim up—he is my child. How could I possibly turn my back on him? And Israel would read those words and understand that God always responds to our imperfect love. That’s all we ever have to bring here.

And this is why there is a church. And this is why we keep coming back week after week. Even after great failure—we come back and hear old stories like the one Jesus told about the kingdom was like a mustard seed buried in the ground. Sometimes the soil was not the best. Sometimes rain didn’t come when it was supposed to. And sometimes beetles and bugs would just attack the little plant. But still it grew and still it grew. And sometimes, Jesus would tell his flawed, all-too-human disciples—a wonderful thing. Sometimes that tiny mustard seed grows and becomes the largest of trees and even birds come and build nests in its branches.

Jesus still told that story even though he knew what King Solomon had done years before. And he knew about how his people had gone up and down in their love for God. He knew that. And as he looked out at Peter and James and John and Judas and Andrew—he knew them, too. Flawed and imperfect. And it was, even after Solomon, and knowing us through and through that he tells this wonderful story about a little tiny seed that just grew and grew and grew. For even after prayers that we cannot keep—God isn’t finished with us yet. And that’s what the letter said. It had my name on it. Does it have your name on it, too?

photo by Carol Fernandez / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

(This sermon will be preached at the Piedmont Presbyterian Church, Piedmont, SC, 8-16-15)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Congressman--Help Us Out!

photo by JeromeG111 / flickr

Many of us get emails from Congressmen and other public officials. They want to hear from us. I wonder if they listen at all when we do not particularly agree with them. They hold important posts. They are to represent all in our State. This is the email I send in response to an email from one of our Congressman asking for reply to his work and Washington.

Message Subject: Help Us All Out
Message Text:
 Mr. Duncan...the approval rating of the House right now is 8%. I know you disagree with our President--but nothing is being done for this nation. Complaining about the President--and I can do that, too--does not solve the problems of a great country. SC needs better schools. We need better roads. 200,000 plus of our citizens need health care. When people talk about Obamacare most ignore all those people out there who are mostly voiceless--that seen somebody to stand up for them. No plan is ever put forth against our health care program that would include them. All is a pretty big word in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I know much of our history our all was very selective...let's do better. Help us all. You have a big job. God bless. Roger Lovette
art work by Norman Rockwell
--Roger Lovette /

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


photo by Takashi Ogino / flickr
Ever get tired of all the changes that surround us all? William Faulkner wrote about a man who tried to pull the hands off his clock. He desperately wanted to stop the changes he saw everywhere. It did not work. The clock just kept ticking.

We wake up some morning and wonder if we are in a foreign land. I have a whole notebook full of Passwords. Taking a trip recently I looked for all the cords that would recharge my life. Every contraption has a different cord. My I-phone, my I-pad,  my lap-top computer, my GPS, even a cord to keep my phone working as I move down the road. 

We’ve had to learn to text and call our six-year old grandchildren to help with the computer. We have to learn brand new lingo like Apps, Browser, Blue Tooth, Web site, Server and Online. Our notebooks are filled with
passwords,  pin numbers, and security questions.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Point to any area of our lives and we feel like we have been invaded. We worry about identity theft and newspapers that are shrinking in size. I heard of a Pastor in North Carolina that says she has started carrying a gun to church on Sunday morning. Is nothing safe or sacred? A buddy of mine is now serving a new church. He said to keep in touch with the millennials he has put his suit back in the closet, pulled on a pair of blue jeans and wears Nikes when he preaches.

We have our first black President and a Congress with an approval rating of 8%. Seventeen candidates at last count are running for President—and that’s only one party. There are 311 languages spoken in the United States. We’ve got movies that throw words around that used to only be scrawled on bathroom walls. Gays can now get married in every state in the union. In the play Green Pastures one character looks around him and says: “Everything nailed down is comin’ loose.”
photo by Premasagar Rose / flickr

How do we respond to a world that seems very different from the way we were?  An old relative
moans: “We’re going out just in time.”  Other folks just walk around furious. For many of us it is not fury but fear. We are scared of what all the changes mean. We worry about the world we are hurling our grandchildren into. Some of us quote Scripture in protest to all these changes. The Bible says—and you can fill in the blanks for yourself. Strange thinking when you realize the whole Bible is filled with change after change. Yet many of us are like the man that pulled all the hands off the clock. Unfortunately the clock keeps ticking.

photo by Jeff Simms / flickr
The old mapmakers looked out at the unknown territories and scrawled over those places: “Here be demons.” The unfamiliar and the uncertain are still on our maps. Every cultural shift has brought them to the surface. You can pick and choose—translating the Bible into English, the Protestant reformation, the Civil war,  freeing slaves, giving women the right to vote—putting an end to segregation—and having to take down flags or contend with same-sex marriage. At every point many have muttered: Here be demons. Every age has felt what we feel: the mails just don't seem to hold.

You might not remember Patricia Neal. In 1968 she was one of the women nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards. Most people did not know her story. In 1960 she was wheeling her infant son across Madison Avenue in New York when a cab hit her baby carriage and smashed it into the back of a bus. Her child lived, but there were months of hospitalization. Two years later her oldest daughter, Olivia contacted the measles and died quite suddenly one night without warning. In 1965 Patricia almost died. She had three massive brain hemorrhages and five heart attacks. Her speech and vision were impaired and her keen mind was blunted. Yin 1968 the Academy nominated her for her performance that came after so much suffering. One reporter asked her the secret of her survival and later recovery. She said it was not courage or anything particular in her DNA. She pointed to a copper plaque that was nailed to one of the beams overhead. The reporter looked up and read the words:

                                         "Fear knocked at the door.
                                               Faith answered.
                                             No one was there." 

Patricia Neal whispered to the reporter, "That is my secret."

All our clocks just keeps ticking. Change, sometimes hard and difficult, will continue to dog us all. But the folk who learn, like Patricia, to live beyond the fear, the gloomy headlines and the shifting terrain will find the way. The old hymn is right: "Change and decay all around I see. O thou who changes not abide with me."

photo by Faith Gallery / flickr

--Roger Lovette /


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Jesus in the Garden - A Sermon From the Heart

photo by Gethsemane 44 / flickr

I want to do something a little different this morning. I want to tell you about this picture. We’ve all seen it. Years ago it was printed on Sunday School leaflets for our children. You could find the picture in Bibles. Back before air conditioning—this picture was printed on the back of our funeral home fans. 

The original was painted by Johann Hans Hoffman, A German painter about the turn of the twentieth century. In time, it would become the most copied painting in the world. The original hangs in the foyer of the Riverside Church in New York City. It was entitled “Christ in Gethsemane”—but I call it “Jesus in the Garden.” That’s how I know it. 

Let me tell you why I want to talk about this painting. This particular painting hung for as long as I can remember in the little brick church where I grew up in Columbus, Georgia. 

I lived two blocks from the church. We lived in a four-room house in the middle of a cotton-mill village.There were four stack poles in my life during those growing up years. The little mill house we called home. The mill across the street where my parents worked for years and years. Then up the street if you turned left at the corner you would find my grade school. Bibb City School. And across the street was my church. Red-brick with tall white columns. I thought it was the most beautiful church I had ever seen.

Every Sunday the church bell would ring at five minutes to ten. And I would make my way up First Avenue, past the mill, walk two blocks past the grade school, cross the street, climb the steps and walk through the tall white columns and enter the sanctuary. I slipped into the same pew Sunday after Sunday. Half-way back I sat down on the left side. The little Hammond organ would be playing—Miss O’Kelley played it as slow as she could. Settling down I would look up, up above the centered pulpit and the choir into the face of Jesus.

The face I saw was this very picture you see today. As I looked up year after year Jesus knelt in the garden. His hands were folded before him on the rock in prayer. If you look very close in the distance you can make out the dim figures of the sleeping disciples. Further back, in the darkness you can almost see the city of Jerusalem. The only light in the painting shines from above. The light illuminates the face of Jesus. It was the face that haunted that little boy, sitting there so well well-scrubbed in his starched white shirt, as he gazed up at the picture.

There were Sundays after church when I remember making my way up through the choir loft and standing close to this picture. I can even remember reaching up and touching the velvet it was painted on. I marveled at its beauty and its power. I remember being drawn to that picture again and again. 

photo by mukerjichinmoy / flickr
We all know the story. John 18 begins the passion narrative by saying: “When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples across the Kidron Valley , where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.”(vs. 1)

Judas led the soldiers to arrest Jesus. Simon Peter, in anger and defiance, pulled out a sword and lopped off the ear of one of the soldiers. Jesus strongly rebuked him. In that setting, Jesus asked Simon: “Put your sword into it sheath; shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?” (vs.11) Only here does the writer John used the word, cup. Mark employed the word several times as he spoke of Christ’s suffering. But this cup represented many things: Jesus’ pain, his agony of knowing he would face the terrible cross, staring his own death in the face. There, in the darkness, as the disciples slept, Jesus asked his Father: “…If you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22.42)

I wonder why this painting has had so much power and why people all over the world have been drawn to it year after year. Is it the cup? Is it the suffering of the Lord Jesus? Is it all the pain he would have to endure? Perhaps it really was Jesus facing his own death. Who knows? 

Perhaps so many have been moved by this picture because Jesus here identifies with us all. Here he was as human as we are
photo by Ron Zack / flickr
human. Here he agonized as we agonize. Here he railed out his questions to the Father—as we rail out. This terrible cup. Old age, children we cannot reach, the dreaded ALS or Alzheimers. The unfairness of the world. Hunger. Poverty. Injustice. ISIS. Or all the disappointments that we have struggled with year after year. Alcohol or drugs or just another shooting and yet another shooting and yet another shooting. Perhaps all over the world people looked up at the picture and remembered: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”

This picture is linked in so many ways to my own journey. On a special anniversary of my home church several years ago I was invited to preach. They had sent out 1000 invitations and nearly 400 had showed up. As I prepared for that occasion, I remembered that painting that hung over the pulpit all my growing-up years. I had not thought of that picture in twenty years or more. But sitting there in my study, it all came back—Jesus in the Garden. 

As we gathered that sunshiny Sunday morning, we shook hands, hugged one another, looked at one another’s children and remembered. And I stood to preach I looked out on a sea of faces and memory after memory washed over me. I knew so many of the folk gathered there. Salt of the earth people. Many had worked most of their lives in the mill. Years before 12 hours a day—sometimes seven days a week during the war—for very little money. Lint heads, people outside the village whispered. But that was so unfair. Those folk with fingers missing, bent over from years and years of just work and work and work and off only one week around July 4th. Many had never been outside the South. Some did not even have cars.

photo by RNRobert / flickr
I spoke from my heart that day. I told them that once upon a time there had come one who knelt in a garden prayed for the likes of us. That took his cup—and our cups, too—and he drank it all for us. And I told them that morning that if He could endure and find something redemptive in His journey—then maybe we could find something of meaning in our lives too.

That morning, my old neighbors from down the street were there to see if I could preach. My mother had told me they both were dying of cancer. On the front row was the oldest member of the church with her husband and daughter. On the second row was my mother sitting there beaming as if the President of the United States of America was speaking. Beside her was my brother bored out of his skull. Half way back was the sweetest woman I think I have ever known. A widow blinded by diabetes.

In the balcony was a woman who had come all the way from Florida for that occasion. She had been through a terrible divorce years before. Back then you just didn’t do that. And I remembered the whispers and innuendos and gossip. Divorcee! Yet that did not stop her from leading our Youth group—year after year and hauling us all over the place. Two rows from the back was my old bald-headed buddy—who twisted my arm one year and I forged his parents’ signature on his report card so he could play ball. Did not get arrested—but I did get caught. There was a little old lady there on my far left. I remembered her telling me once she started working in the mill when she was twelve years old. She had finally retired—but she had never learned to read or write. On another side was my neighbor who had lived beside us. I played with her only son. My mother had told me that five years before her boy had dropped dead of a heart attack. And there she sat alone blinking back the tears.

And I talked that Sunday about their painting and how it reminded me and I hope them, too of the good and the bad and the hard times and the funny days and even in those moments when we think we can’t stand it. Jesus was still there—praying in the Garden. Praying for the likes of us.

Months ago I heard that my home church was closing. Closing—my church. The last few years they had gone through hard times.
photo by Doran / flickr
First the mill sold all the houses and many people moved away or had died. And then the mill closed and more left. And some of those houses fell into disrepair. Some were abandoned. And most of the members had fled.

But the sad day came when they held their last service. And people came from everywhere to remember all the wondrous things that had happened in that red-brick church. Weddings and funerals and prayers said and Santa Claus, in person, walking down the aisle every Christmas and dinner on the grounds and Revivals and baptisms and occasionally running off some preacher. Year after year the church doors opened every Sunday and somebody said welcome and somebody gave out bulletins and prayed and sang and listened to the long sermons and Miss O’Kelley faithful as she played the little organ just as slow as she could. Week after week, year after year for 89 years they came after a long hard week in the mill to get something they could find nowhere else. And they did. But the church closed—someone came and took the pulpit away and someone else the Pulpit Chairs. The Hammond organ and Piano were sold.  The beautiful mahogany pews went to another church.

The Picture was still there. And nobody seemed to want it. It was too big and they did not know what to do with it. So one of the members asked my sister-in-law did she think I would like to have the picture of Jesus in the Garden. And here it is. I had no place in my house. Besides it needed to be shared with a lot of people.

photo by Bryan Sherwood / flickr
And so I talked to Rusty and the Properties Committee agreed to take this picture and hang it. We looked at several places—and finally it was decided that we would put it outside the Prayer Room. What could be more fitting.

As people will come with their own needs and the needs of others. Praying for family members. Friends. Maybe world conditions. Hopefully many would pause and look at this painting. Jesus in the Garden. For you see—he took the cup and drank it to the bitter dregs and whispered: Your will—not mine.

And maybe someone might just stop and know deep in their hearts that this is as true a word as the Gospel has—Jesus prays in the Garden for the likes of us. The Gospels say that after that he stood to face all he would face. He was alone—all of his disciples had fled. But he held his head high—knowing deep in his heart that the old promise he had given out like loaves and fishes, again and again: “I will be with you…I will be with you…I will be with you” was true for him as well.

“Take this cup from me,” he prayed. How fitting on this Communion Sunday to remember what he found there in the Garden and what we can find here. Jesus really does pray for us—one and all. And it doesn’t matter who we are or what we have done or not done—Jesus loves us all and welcomes us to this Table. That covers a whole of territory--more than we'd like to admit. Everybody.No exceptions. Everybody. Let us come, brothers and sisters, remembering his old promise—“I will be with you…” is with us too. Bringing our cups--full and running over.

(This sermon is dedicated to Porter Memorial Baptist Church, Columbus, Georgia which served their community for eighty-nine years until it closed its doors in 2013. I preached this sermon at the First Baptist Church, Clemson SC - and presented the picture of Jesus which I write about in this sermon on August 2, 2015.)

--Roger Lovette /