Thursday, May 18, 2017

Clemson Says Goodbye to Its Barbershop

Sometimes we don't think we make a difference. We just get up, put our clothes on and go to work. Most days we just do the job--and don't think about if it matters.

Joe Tankersley is one of those folk. He's a barber--my barber. Joe was Principal of three schools in our area and after he retired he was looking for something to do. His Daddy had been a barber.  Early on Joe picked up barbering from his father and was licensed at age 16. So he began to work as a barber at the Clemson House across from the University. He enjoyed his work so much he decided to buy the business in 2012.  People  kept coming from all directions to get Joe to cut their hair. Professors, workmen for the school, folk that live in the neighborhood, college kids--and especially ROTC guys who had to get their heads shaved. One man came all the way from Greenville to get Joe to cut his hair.

When word got out that the Clemson House would be torn down they knew the barber shop would have to close. Over 800 people signed a petition hoping the Barber shop would move to another

location on the campus. But when that did not happen-- customers began to write on the walls of the shop what Joe and that place had meant to them. Professors, students, workmen, people from town scratched their heart-felt feelings on those walls.

The Clemson House which housed the Barber shop has been a Clemson landmark since the early fifties. Everybody in our little town has known where the Clemson House was. High on a hill you could see most of the campus from there. The building first served as a hotel mostly for the University and through the years many dignitaries stayed there. Slowly the Clemson House evolved
into a dorm for Honor's students and then a dormitory. Some retired people lived there for a while. On the first floor there was a fine restaurant where people gathered. In our little town there were few places to eat.  But in one tiny corner for fifty years men and boys of all ages have come too get their hair cut. The Clemson House will be demolished to make room for further growth for the University. Yet folk will remember that special building called The Clemson House.

The barber shop's last day was May 15.  Customers gathered that day to thank Joe for his service, to tell stories to one another and be interviewed by reporters from The Greenville News. Joe's story made front page news of that paper. You might want to read the story. Weeks from now Joe will open a new shop in Central.

Most folk may not know the name of Joe Tankersley but as a teacher and a principal and now as a Barber this good man has touched more lives than he ever knew. Maybe the point of all of this is that what we all do matters. Somebody out there--probably many somebodies--count on us. They may never write their feelings on some wall--but be assured we all count and we all matter. Maybe that's Joe's message for us all.

--Roger Lovette /

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day Surprises

photo by Prato / flickr

I want to do something a little different this morning. We have a guest here this morning. Her name is Sarah. Sarah, would you please come up here. Be careful with these steps. I started to say something about your age but decided I better leave that out.

Nows Sarah--don't get mad but I am going to tell them party of your story. It's Mother's Day and I think it fits. 

Sarah used to be beautiful. Not that she is not pretty now but she was knockout gorgeous. Sometimes, she tells me, she gets her old photographs out and says, “That was me.” Now her back hurts. Not only her back. Some days it seems that everything hurts. She is married to old Abraham. He’s ten years older that she is which gives her some comfort. They’ve been married for a long, long time. So long that he gets on her nerves. She has to keep yelling because he can hardly hear. Sometimes her patience wears thin and she would like to wring his old withered neck. And then other times she’ll see him sitting there, resting his eyes, he calls it. But he’s asleep and she’ll look over at him and say, “I can’t even think about living without this man.”

Genesis tells their story. Abraham and Sarah were old. Genesis says he was 99. She was 90 if you could believe her. When someone asked her about her age she would say, “I’m getting on up there close to 90.”

If you turn to Genesis 12 God promised Abraham that from his offspring there would come a great nation. His name would be remembered through all his ancestors forever. Abraham listened, but didn’t say anything. He and Sarah had tried to have a child for years and years. Then they finally gave up. And Abraham did have a child by one of their slaves which was pretty common back then. Everybody that was anybody had a concubine.  The slave’s name was Hagar and she had a son whose name was Ishmael. You can just imagine that this did not set well with Sarah. This young beautiful slave girl having a baby she could never have. Sarah caused such a stink that Abraham had to send Hagar and her son, Ishmael away.

Now if you let your finger run down to Genesis 17 God comes back and says you will have an heir. Abraham couldn’t half hear. “An heir?” he said. “I already have a son by Hagar. His name is Ishmael.” But God said, talking louder, “No, not Hagar. Sarah. Sarah will have a baby.” Old Abraham said, “What?” God yelled that time, “A baby by Sarah.”

And Abraham chuckled and then saw the foolishness of God’s joke and began to laugh and
photo by Geraint Rowland / flickr
laugh. A hundred-year-old man and a ninety-year-old woman. Surely God had his wires crossed. Abraham told God, “There is no way that old Sarah could be a Mama. It’s biologically impossible." God simply said, “We shall see.”

So we come to our text—finally in Genesis 18. Abraham is half-asleep, just resting his eyes outside their tent when he heard someone coming. He looked up and saw three strangers. Genesis says one of them was God but Abraham did not know that. Abraham being a good host provided water so they could quench their thirst and wash their dirty feet. Abraham told them he might be able to give them some bread. 

So he went running into the tent and told Sarah as tactfully as he could that they had company for dinner. “Make some cakes,” he said. “Cakes”? She said. “Cakes.” Then Abraham went running off and had his servants to kill a fatted calf for his guests. This was going to be quite a snack. Sarah kneaded the dough and whispered, “Who’s going to help me clean up all this mess?” 

The meal was over and they went outside to smoke because back then nobody knew that it was harmful. And as the men-folk talked one said: “You know you are going to have a son…” Sarah cleaning up inside, couldn’t help but eavesdrop. “A baby? Me? A baby?” And she put her hand over her mouth because she couldn’t believe this very bad joke. "That’s all we need in our old age—a baby. " She just laughed and laughed. 

The Lord heard Sarah laughing and asked Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh?” And Abraham said how in the world can we have a child when we are old, old? But the Lord told Abraham when I come back this way again you will have a child. And then he said, “Don’t you know that nothing is too hard for God?” 

Now if we were fundamentalists I would tell all the older women in this congregation they better watch out. Remember Sarah, I would say. If Abraham and Sarah could have a baby at their age—who knows? After all, it is in the Bible.

But if we take these words literally we are going to be in bad trouble. For if we are to understand the intent of the story and why the church has kept up all these years and told it over and over—because of what it has to say to everyone in this room. And it does not mean that old women can break the Guinness Book of Records. No.  Something entirely different is going on. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation. You can’t do that without an heir and an accomplice. But verse 14 in that 18th chapter says: “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” Or another translation says: “Is there any wonder which the Lord is not able to do?”

Why did Sarah laugh? The same reason Abraham had already laughed. Because they didn’t believe the promise that God had given. Genesis says they were afraid. Sometimes we all laugh to cover up the fear or to keep from crying.

I think there is a whole lot of laughter going on today. We’re not too sure about this promise business. Or we say—like Sarah—I did not laugh. But the Lord whispers: “Oh yes you did.” 

It is not a very hopeful time in 2017. There is a whole lot of fear and anxiety floating around this country and maybe in all our hearts. I just saw the newspaper Friday—and it showed a picture of another mother standing beside the casket of her soldier son. We can’t seem to end what has become the longest war in our whole history. In  Washington the Republicans and Democrats are trying to gouge each other’s eyes out while at home people are worrying about health care and Social Security and how they can help their grandchild that is just trying to drive off the cliff. I have a friend dying of cancer—I am sure you do too. And I have another friend who has just left for John’s Hopkins. She hopes when they do brain surgery that it will stop the seizure that she has day after day. This is a hard day for many women. As we give thanks for our mothers—let’s not forget that woman that hates this day. She gave her baby up years ago. Or she stays home on Mother’s Day because she never could have children—or after miscarriage after miscarriage she just gave up. Everybody here brought something heavy when you came in this morning. You wanted to leave it outside the door—but guess what—it followed you in and sits on that seat next to you. Most of us are like Sarah, I think. We laugh or at least shake our heads—we don’t see much hope in 2017. My sister-in-law says we’re going out just in time. 

If I have depressed you long enough—let’s get back to our text. Let your finger run down to that 21st chapter of Genesis. And what do you find? Surprise! Surprise! Stop at that sixth verse.  Sarah had a baby. And what I find so interesting is that the promise came whether she believed it or not. Read what Sarah then said: “God has brought laughter for me: everyone who hears will laugh with me.”

The first laughter was the laughter of unbelief. There was no way she could have a baby. We must be realistic. Surely this must be a parable. But this is no parable. For we also bump into a second kind of laughter. The laughter now of faith and fulfillment. And do you know what the meaning of Isaac’s name is in Hebrew? Who would believe it? Isaac means laughter. 

photo by Eric Parker
So you see it does not depend on us. The promise is given whether we believe it or not. And it will come true. The unfaith of Abraham and Sarah could not stop the promise of God.  So what we have here is hope.  H-O-P-E. Hope. In  Romans 5 Paul told his friends in Rome: “…We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”(vs.3-5)

And that’s what this whole story is all about. Appearances can be deceiving. God can work in any situation. And maybe we might add the more hopeless the more God works. I like the way Bill Coffin used to put it: “The birth of the new is always messy.” Jim Wallis says that hope is believing in spite of the evidence and then watching the evidence change.

Church everywhere is having a hard time with genuine hope. Almost every church I preach in these days somebody says: “We’ve got to get some new blood in here. We’re dying off.” I worked in one church for a whole year and I asked them one day—where will you all be in ten years? And you know what they did? They pointed to the cemetery. The Presbytery sits down on Monday morning and says: “What are we gonna do? “And down beside how we feel about church or politics or our own particular situation I put the 21st chapter of Genesis. The baby came. Listen: the Baby came. And they laughed and laughed. Not the laughter of disbelief. The laughter of faith and hope and love, too I think. 

Hold on in this hard age to the hope of the gospel. We don’t know how it will come—this new—this promise—but we know this: the hopeful wonder of God is coming. 

Langston  Hughes was a great poet in the early Twentieth Century. And he lived at a time when black people were treated terribly. His grandmother had been a slave and she must have told him about slavery days. How hard they were. But Langston did not know if it would ever get any better. And so he wrote this poem. I think it came out a page of his own life. It is called: “Mother to Son.” 

“Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters, 
And boards torn up, 
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landings,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back. 
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall down now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”

Remember Sarah the Mama. Remember old Abraham the Papa. And remember how they laughed and laughed. But God was not finished with them nor with us. Thanks be to God!

photo by Bryce Bradford / flickr

(This sermon was preached on Mother's Day 2017 at the Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church, Sandy Springs, SC.)

--Roger Lovette /

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Not So Sweet Hour of Prayer in Washington

photo by Chuck Coker / flickr

Once in a while I just have too stand up and scream: "No...No...No." This is one of those days. At the National Prayer Breakfast last week President Trump signed a new executive order with a flourish. Under the banner of freedom for religion (Christianity, of course) and protection of free speech in the pulpit--he tried to dismantle the Johnson Amendment of 1954 saying we should give preachers and all non-profits the freedom to support any political candidate without the IRS breathing down our necks.

He has added to his list of terrible executive orders. Why? I thought you were supposed to pray at the Prayer Breakfast. Oh, I know every President has used religion from one time or another for their own purposes. But this action is terribly divisive.

No Preacher should stand in the pulpit and tell people how to vote. I can just hear it now: "God has led me to tell you who you should vote for..." Or: "Surely it is God's will  for (fill in the blank) to be elected President. " What if God's candidate loses? Is God dead or did he/she just make a wrong choice.

In every church I ever served I looked out on a collection of Democrats and Republicans. Of late--I have looked out at more Republicans than Democrats out there. Somebody asked a preacher if her church was Democrat or Republican.  She replied: "Depends on which side of the altar you're talking about." Yep. But to stand behind the sacred desk and tell your people who to vote for is flat out heresy. Your people have brains. And if somebody out there is not on "God's side"--he or she is liable to run you out of town on a rail--and should.

Old time Baptists from the beginning knew church and state should be separate. After living
photo by Kathy Drasky / flickr
under the domination of a king that was head of God's church and only rubber stamp those he approved to preach-what they should preach--and how their services should be ordered--Non-conformists and many Baptists shook their heads. And they fled England and Holland for a new land. Hoping to be free from the strictures of a governmental-run church. But when they got here the Established Church has got here first and was doing the same thing the Baptists and others had fled from. They thought. But there were a multitude here that believed monarchy was the only way to go. So many of the preachers were locked up in jails. Many were hounded out of town. Roger Williams founded the free state of Rhode Island to escape this wedding of church and state. They wanted to make George Washington king but he was wise enough to know this would be foolish. Maybe the President should read his history.

The State has no bid-ness telling the church what it should do. And the church should be free to address the state on any issue--but  when it comes to elections--we are not to be the Republican or Democratic Party at prayer. God is not on either side. The very first amendment to the Constitution stated it clearly: "Congress should make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

The church ought to be free to speak truth to power. This cannot happen when church and state get into bed together. You might want to read Jeremy Peters' take on Mr. Trump's efforts to abandon this church and state amendment He wrote this for the "failing"New York Times.  

photo by Craig T / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Preaching in the Age of Trump

photo by Chris Yarzab / flickr

(Recently I was asked to be part of a panel to discuss how can we preach faithfully on contemporary issues in 2017. I sat down and hurriedly wrote out some of my responses to this question. After more than 40 years of wandering in a pulpit wilderness--these are some of my thoughts.)

All my circuitous Ministry for over 40 plus years I have faced the same problem. If you have preached you know what I am talking about. What do you preach on—how do you preach on the swirling world around us?

It’s been as monkey on my back since I started in 1961. In my first church my first crisis came early. One of the known spiritual leader’s divorced sons wanted me to marry him to his divorced fiance. Believing naive that I was that the Church was for everybody—I married them. And minor hell broke loose. What kind of a Gospel was this—censorious or embracing. 

Down the road in Knottsville, Ky. was the Catholic church. And in Western Kentucky in 1961 Catholics were persona non grata especially for Baptists. And when I invited the Priest to take part in the dedication of our new building—well more hell broke loose. Kennedy was running for President and we had to decide what to do about that issue. Vote for a Catholic--no way my people said. By the way—when the Catholic church up the road dedicated their new building—they asked me to have the Dedicatory prayer. 

But probably the biggest heresy then and there was Landmarkism. Could other Baptists take Communion in our church? Not to speak of other denominations. So I stood in the Pulpit and wondered what was I to say to a cluster of my people that believed we really were the one true church—no questions asked. We won the Open Communion battle—but it took some time. 

In my next church—surrounded by some of the richest tobacco land in Southside Virginia—race was the overarching problem. If I had stood in the pulpit and welcomed blacks openly not only would I have lost my job but they would have run me out of town. I talked to many of our members about this issue and I did allude to racial discrimination when I preached--but outside our doors race relations were changing and I was more than a little cautious.

Luckily I landed in a tiny liberal church next to a college campus in Kentucky. The first crisis was that without a Pastor the church had ordained women as deacons. We were one of the first churches in the SBC to do this. So I had to deal with the women’s issue—and from my safe perch—even though we were summarily dismissed from the Association—the women served. Gloriously. Much more complicated was Vietnam and how irate our military members were at those long-haired hippies protesting the war. I learned a painful lesson there—to talk openly about an issue—solves nothing. And we solved little of these issues—but we thought if we talked about it—that settled it—and we could move on. Not so.

When I came to Clemson—without a Pastor the church without a Pastor had adopted an  open-membership policy. Any Christian baptized in any form could be a first class member. This new Pastor looked out at a very divided congregation—we’re not even Baptists anymore many muttered.  Identity was the big issue. What does it mean to be a Baptist—does the Association—which promptly dismissed us—write our agenda—or are we a free people following a great Baptist tradition. The doors swung wide open--finally--but this was a huge problem for Baptists t that time.

This was followed by an enormous changes in our denomination. What kind of a people were we?  Authority from the top-down or from the bottom up? Inclusive or Exclusive. Fundamentalists or more open. And at the center of course was a battle for the Bible. Was every word of the Bible literally true. And I can still remember one Sunday when a man came out visibly agitated. He said, “ I came here to hear the word of God—not some liberal watered-down version—you are a disgrace to the ministry and my family or our college daughter will not be back.” But sometimes we do entertain angels unawares—two minutes later another couple with a college son came by and told me how they loved our church and what we were doing.

But the struggle of what makes a Baptist was with us Sunday after Sunday. It took several years of conversations, sermons, Deacons meetings, Sunday School classes to finally come to the point where we became CBF—still sending some money to the SBC if people wished. But that whole effort took some doing. 

In my last church before retirement we claimed to be a liberal people. And then AIDS and gays came too church and sat down and the people wanted to know if we were gonna turn this fine liberal church into some kind of a gay thing. Whew! Scary. What would there Association say or the State Convention—what would Birmingham say? What would some of our best members scared of this issue—going to say.?When we lost members some would say: See…see. One prominent family charged in and wanted to know what we would do with these homos. I just said we are going to keep the doors open. We will turn no one away. Jesus said: Whosoever will may come and I stood by that. We lost our biggest givers which is a crisis in a small church. But the doors stayed wide open.

I feel for those who must stand in the pulpit today. Any Pastor looks at on as slice of our country—divided, angry—fearful—weary of change. Mr. Trump has not helped us. The way the Evangelical community has embraced this man despite his shabby ethical standards is frightening. I can now see how so many Christians and Churches in Germany responded to Hitler. Culture triumphs over Christ again and again.

On our plates is the mega-church. The Muslim problem. The poverty-problem. The insurance problem—Right or choice. Not to speak of the Refugee problem and our fear of ISIS. Not too speak of the lies that our President foists upon us every single day. Whew—that’s quite a list.

What are we to do? Having won some battles, having been chicken or scared I would be booted out or just hated and the lingering problem all Pastors know: will this split the church? And also having our offering plates come by emptier and emptier. Not to speak of the bitch-goddess success , moving up the ladder as God leads of course—there have been more than a few times when I just dropped the ball. The treasure always come in an earthen vessel. Always.

What are we to do?

1. We must turn back to the Book. Re-read the Prophets. Listen to them. Then turn to Luke 4.18-19 and read Jesus' first sermon which came from Isaiah 61. I haven heard that Billy Sunday always placed his notes this text in Isaiah 61:"He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed...bind up the broken hearted...proclaim liberty to then captives...and release to the prisoners." (61.1) Not a bad place to rest your notes. Luke says this particular passage was really a prelude of all Jesus would do. This is the preacher's mandate. The challenge has always been lurking there has any Preacher stands behind the pulpit.

2.  Frederick Buechner says the central task of the preacher is to tell the truth. I think one of the reasons that the world looks askance at the church today is that we don’t always tell the truth—not only by what we say but by our silence—which in a time of crisis—may be more tragic than our paltry  words. 

3. After I Corinthians 13 ended Paul said: “Make love your aim.” We have got to somehow love them all. Even that man selling tee-shirts at the Trump rally in Pendleton. ”TRUMP WILL KNOCK THE S... OUT OF ISIS”. Paul gave us a hard word. Which brings us to one of my hobby horses: All is the word. For God so loved the world…Come all ye who are weary and heavy laden…”

4.  We have to be fair and give everyone—even our President-- the benefit of a doubt. 

5. Listen. Listen. Listen to your people. Dialogue—give and take is essential. Hopefully we can learn from one another. 

6. Redefine justice for our people. We are long on charity but short on justice.

7. Challenge modern axioms. Put these down beside the Biblical message. What are some of the modern axioms today? Almost all of these cut across the Gospel grain. And we are judged by the Gospel message--this is our measuring stick.

8.  Mr. Buechner also said that if Paul were writing today he would say: Faith, hope, love but the greatest of these is hope. Now I have to speak to this choir here. Hope begins with us.And if we can’t give it out—who will.

9.  We will have faith as did Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Bishop Tutu, John Lewis and our present Pope. Bishop Tutu spoke in Birmingham a couple of years ago. Somebody asked him how he could keep going with the world in such a mess and all the problems in Africa and everywhere. And he said, “I keep going because I am a Christian.”

10. George Buttrick used to say when you deal with controversial issues—touch the issues and then move on. You are letting them know where hyoid stand. But you don’t hit them over the head. 

11. Do not promote political candidates from the pulpit. 

12. We might annually teach a course on Baptist history. Many of our people have no unearthly idea about how we came to be who we are. 

13.  We have to renew our ordination vows. The story goes that the church was ordaining their new minister. As the man knelt and people starting filing by to lay hands on him—his little boy asked his mother: “What are all these people doing to Daddy?” she whispered: “They are taking his spine out.”

As Dr. Fosdick wrote in another stormy time: "Grant us wisdom...grant its courage for the living of these days."

photo by ideacreamanuela2 / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Easter is Never Really Over

photo by Snow Monkey Pottery / flickr

Our scripture for today is found at the end of John's gospel. Easter had come and gone. The disciples were still trying to unpack what it really meant. But they were still having a hard time. For you see they had forgotten what Jesus had told them.  So they just gathered together behind closed doors. The Lord showed them his hands and his side and John said they were glad.

Thomas was not with them when Jesus came that first time. But his friends told him that Jesus had come back and spoken to them. Thomas responded as probably we would have responded: “"Alive? You gotta be kidding. He died. I saw him die. You must be out of your minds." And the disciples kept trying to convince him and it did no good. "Unless I see for myself," Thomas said, "I will not believe." And so eight days later when the disciples had gathered once more behind closed doors--still afraid— the Lord appeared to them again. But this time Thomas was there. And I love the way John puts it in the King James Version: "...then Jesus came…and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.”(20. 26) Then Jesus moved toward the old doubter, who had a hard time believing. The Lord said:” See. See."  And he showed Thomas his nailed-scarred hands and he showed him the place in his side. And Thomas for once just stood there open-mouthed, not saying a word. 

We are a lot like Thomas, I think. It’s after Easter for us too. And in some ways it seems a long time since you decorated the Cross with flowers and sang the Resurrection hymns. In just the short space of four weeks we’ve gotten caught up in the thus- and so-ness of life. Wondering who is going to take Julia’s place. Sending in Income tax forms. Dealing with ta multitude of things in our lives. Worried about conditions in the world. What in the world does this Easter thing have to do with all the things we’ve been wading through this week? Thomas asked it and we ask it too. 

But the church came to understand that Easter was not just a one-day celebration.We all get caught up in so many things—and this Scriptures today gives me hope. “Jesus came and stood in the midst of them and said: ‘Peace’.” So here is our sermon—and here are some handles that might be able to help us as they helped Thomas. Two things we find here. Christ came and stood in their midst. So Christ is here with us all. The text also says: Christ brings peace when he comes.

Look at what John writes. Jesus came and stood in their midst. Where were they? Behind
"that feeling"  photo by Sylva K. Ficova / flickr
closed doors. Scared out of their wits. They had already seen him once eight days before—the Risen Lord. But still they double-locked the doors and they were afraid. Over and over they must have wrung their hands and said: What are we going to do? And among them was Thomas. He could not believe. Unless I see, feel and touch—I won’t believe.

What happened? Jesus came through those closed door. Those locked doors could not stop him. It was after Easter, much like we are today. Listen. He came to those who were afraid and did not believe and had some serious doubts. He came. Even with the locks of unfaith on the door and problems galore nothing kept him out. We all need to remember that the lilies may have faded and maybe you have put your Easter outfit away—but Easter just keeps on coming. Nothing can stop its power. 

Could this also be a word for the church. He never did say that the hard, hard times would not come. Did he? He did say, over and over, when the hard times come, I will be with you.  Do you believe that about our church? That here, in the midst of all the things we are trying so hard to work out—we are not alone. This is God’s thing. God’s church. God is here. God will be with us all the way. Remember his promise? Where two or three are gathered in my name I am there. And here among people as flawed as we are—once in a while we see the face of Jesus when we least expect it. 

Let us be clear. Outside those locked doors stood Rome with all its power. And there would be Judaizers that despised them and their new movement. And some days Rome crucified hundreds along the road just to remind people who was in charge. Rome was out there. Poverty was out there. Slavery was out there. Mean-spiritedness was out there. Unfairness walked down every streets and knocked on door after door. And, like us, they tried many things. 

I think it was in my first church that I saw this advertisement. You could get this rubber band and slip it tight around your stomach and ta-dah—just walk around—you’d lose all that pudgy stuff. So I ordered one and tried it. Even wore it on Sundays when I preached. What happened? Nothing. And they finally quit selling those contraptions. And guess what? I picked up a magazine the other day and they’re coming back. Twice as much as they were. Maybe I should have kept my old rubber corset. Maybe if we add another praise song or as traditional hymn that would bring them in. Maybe we could expand the parking lot. Jazz up the sign out there. Or call a real live bonfire preacher who will help put chairs in the aisle.There are some things that will not budge easily despite our efforts. 

photo by Thomas Hawk / flickr
John’s story contradicts this. Easter just keeps on coming behind whatever closed doors there are. We’ve all knocked on doors that just would not open. We know them too. Jobs or lack of. Marriages or its failures. Health…Depression…Family stuff…the mess in the world. The forces of evil had tried to stop him--and still he came. Christ came and stood in the midst of those earthy broken disciples. They didn't unlock the doors. Some of them, like Thomas did not believe. It hardly matters. God will not be defeated by the work of our hands or the lack of work we do. Christ is here. And even if the storm rages outside those locked doors--it does not matter. God is here in the midst of his people.

The next thing Jesus said was just one word. He said: Peace. In fact, he said it twice here. It is a wonderful word. He said it when the storm came up and the disciples were so scared. He had already said it when he was trying to prepare them for his death and they were so afraid of the future. "My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give it to you." And then when the shadows of the cross were so evident: "Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."(John 14. 27)

He said the same thing before his death and after his death. Peace. They weren't peaceful in that upper room behind closed doors. They were scared out of their wits.The word peace comes from the Greek word, eirene. The Hebrew word is shalom. It does not mean the cessation of war or an absence of trouble. After those disciples left that room with the locked doors ten of the twelve disciples would by martyred for their faith. Times would be hard and the little churches they established would limp along and sometimes break their hearts. This word peace meant wholeness, completeness, health. It means: "I will give you everything that makes for your highest good." Peace.

There is a lot of despair and isolation and pain out there.  Somehow so many haven’t heard that word that Jesus whispered behind closed doors. Easter really does keep coming. And he still brings Peace. That peace spoke to internal affairs and external situations. It means to lay down the weapons we use against ourselves-because we are our own worst enemies. It means to lay down the weapons we use against those closest to us--for we maim and cripple them the most. And it means to lay down the weapons we use against one another in the Church and in the larger world. 

Remember what he said in the Beatitudes? If you want to be children of God you will be peacemakers. Doesn't mean to stand around smiling when we are raging inside. It means to lay down our weapons. You cannot have a fight without two opposing sides. We learn to make peace. We are all peace-lovers but the hard thing is being a peace-maker. It took those behind those locked doors a long time to unpack what the risen Jesus told them. I bring you peace. To Thomas and all the others—Easter just keeps on coming.

And the good news today is that whatever locked doors you live behind or with—Peace—the peace that passes all understanding—can even come to you and to me. 

Sometimes you find that place in the strangest places.A couple of years ago we went back to one of the first churches I ever served. As part of the service they enlisted three people to stand and talk about: “I remember Mr. Lovette.” It scared me. What in the world would they say. I had hoped they had forgotten a lot of my mistakes. 

The first person that came forward was a beautiful young lady from the Choir. She still had her robe on. Frances was her name. She had rejoined the church again after living somewhere else for several years. She told us that she had lived behind the store in an old shack when I was Pastor there. One of eight children. No Daddy—he had left them. They had a hard time. Her mother died when she was just 39 years old. Just gave out. And Frances was the oldest and the burden for the family was on her shoulders. She told us that she started coming to church. I got to know her like I did all the kids. I even baptized her. She talked about what I said when I brought her up out of the water. She said I whispered,. “You did good.” I did not even remember that little girl. But she talked about all the things that made a difference. How far she had come from that old house back of there store. 

Who would believe that this little shy fellow from a cotton mill village whose parents never had a car and never finished the eighth grade would one day move to the state of Virginia and touch a little nine year old girl and make a difference.  

I hope I don’t sound too self-serving in telling that story. But I would remind you that Easter isn’t over by a long shot. For any of us. It still happens. Your life. Your marriage. This Church. Like Thomas and Frances and even me. This is why we come. God offers new life to us all. And that’s the best news I know. Easter is never really over.

"Calm After Storm" photo by Michael Peterson / flickr

(This sermon was preached at the North Anderson Community Church, Anderson, SC, April 23, 2017)

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.cpom

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Sunday in Trumpville

We preachers find Easter sermons hard to preach. You wouldn’t think so. Packed house. Good music. Easter lilies everywhere. And it would seem that we egomaniacs that inhabit the pulpits would just be itching for the day to come. Captive audience!

Not so. We preachers sit down and try to figure out how you get your hands or heart around this watershed in Christian history. It isn’t easy. Even the Scriptures don’t find it easy. Weeping women. Simon Peter peeking into the Open Tomb and no Jesus. He was terrified. Even days later the followers found themselves in an upper room with the doors locked. Still scared. 

I know the rest of the story just like you. But if we are too understand the real Easter we have to start with disciples on the road to Emmaus saying, “We had hoped he was the one too redeem Israel.” There are no sadder words than we had hoped.

And yet the dawn really did come and the Tomb really was empty. And disciples who had been scared and foolish would come back days later with wonder in their eyes. Four of them would write the story in their own words and each had a different slant. But how in the world could any sermon do this day of days justice?

I keep in my office a framed picture that captures Easter for me. I tore it out of a magazine years ago and framed it. Some days when I am planning for a funeral and just burdened with the injustices of so much—I see the picture and once again I remember.

The picture is a photograph of a young hispanic boy. He must be say, ten years old. The photo is black and white and he is running carrying in his arms an Easter lily. He’s looking up and he seems proud and glad and wonder-filled. He is surrounded by the projects in the city. There is graffiti on the brick walls behind him. Trash is piled up in the corner. The concrete under his feet is broken. But he is oblivious to his surroundings. It’s Easter and he holds in his arms that Easter flower. And he is glad.

That’s about as good a description of Easter that I know. The first Easter was set down in a world of cruelty, injustice, poverty and tears. And yet Easter came. The Church has not given up on this day despite the chaos of so much then and now. 

That little boy with his olive skin reminds me that Easter is for everybody. We live in a world where Syrian refugees hunker in broken down buildings. The lucky ones have fled for their lives. And they live in tents and know the meaning hunger. This little boy reminds me of all the Hispanics in our own country scared today. Parents separated from children. Wives and husbands torn from each other and one of them sent back. Many of them do not have smiles on their faces this Easter. Like the disciples long ago they must also say: “We had hoped…”

This Easter is set down amid great cruelty. Millions losing their health care. If the present program is dismantled as many as 24 million could be without health care. Some elderly women with big hats on worry this Easter about their Medicare and Medicaid. And across the aisle some  grown man or some husband wonders about what is going to happen to Mother in that nursing  home.

There is much hopelessness out there. People who have lived here for generations look around and the landmarks seem to have disappeared. They mutter: “What kind of a world are we leaving to our grandchildren?

Easter morning came with the rising of the sun. And that sun touched not the few but everyone. For Easter light says everybody is important and every person should find the hope this day promises for us all.

If I had my way every child today—here and everywhere—would have the kind of smile on their faces I see in that little boy’s photograph. The angel said, over and over, “Do not be afraid.” And the task of all of us is to help make that the old Biblical promise come true“”…They shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.” (MIcah 4.4)

And so maybe Easter means to leave Church and march out and make Easter happen, not only for us and ours but for everyone.

Photo by Alwyn Ladell

--Roger Lovette /

This blog piece was published in The Greenville News (SC) , Easter Sunday.