Sticks and Stones (1 Samuel 17 Sermon)

This sermon was preached at Centenary United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, NC on Sunday, June 21, 2015. The text was 1 Samuel 17:32-49. You can download a PDF here

Over the last two months, the Rev. Dr. Bill Medlin has set the bar unfairly high when it comes to humor in sermons. I spent some time this past week agonizing over how I was going to hold a candle to his talent for telling jokes. Then I remembered a family story that made me think I shouldn’t even try.

My grandfather is a retired Methodist minister who also had a penchant for joke-telling in sermons. In one transition, a group of congregants put their heads together on a perfect gift for him as he moved to a new ministry. It was a book entitled, “Jokes We Hope Tom Will Tell Again.” When my grandfather opened the book, he found it was full of blank pages.

Whatever my heritage may be in terms of humor, perhaps today is a good day to forego jokes. Today, myself and countless other pastors are climbing into their pulpits wondering what in the world we can possibly say in the wake of the shootings in Charleston, South Carolina. On Wednesday evening, a group gathered for Bible study at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Calhoun Street in Charleston. They welcomed a stranger into their midst. After an hour, that man opened fire.

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What I’m Reading #1

As a kid, I was a huge bookworm. I read constantly, delighting in everything from the classics to R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. I spent my entire childhood with several books at various stages of completion stacked on my nightstand.

Then, I went to college. Reading for pleasure took a back seat, though I did push back in my sophomore year and reread C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia as a protest against the headiness that had taken over all of my reading time. I stayed on through graduate school, the reading load becoming even more impossibly large. I read some books I hated. I didn’t have time to read a lot of books I think I would have liked. And once I finished my assigned reading (if ever I did), the only thing I wanted to do was turn on Netflix.

When I graduated in 2012, I took a break. For about 6 months, I’m not sure I really read anything. Some articles, poetry, maybe parts of a few books. But bookworm Sarah was nowhere to be found. My dad kept asking me, with not a little concern in his voice, what I was reading, and I kept saying–uh, nothing, really.

I did eventually pick up a book again. And slowly, I’ve rediscovered my love of reading. I’ve found new ways to enjoy it–in the hammock on my front porch, in bed while my dog snores in the corner. And having good material has been helpful, which is why I’m writing this blog. I’ve read a lot of great books recently, and I want to share them. So let this be the re-beginning of something I used to do in my old blog–sharing what I’m reading now and sharing what words are giving me joy.

1. Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, by Gregory Boyle

51nC9KaNROLI had heard of Father Greg Boyle’s incredible work with Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention program in Los Angeles, a few years back from a friend who visited. But my interested was rekindled when I heard this interview he did with Krista Tippett of OnBeing. It was utterly lovely, and I immediately ordered his book, Tattoos on the Heart. The day I started it, I got halfway through. Father Boyle (or “G,” as the homies call him) is an incredible human being living out the gospel in a way few people do. This book is hilarious and heartbreaking, and I think everyone should stop and read it right now.

“If there is a fundamental challenge within these stories, it is simply to change our lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than other lives.” — Gregory Boyle

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Lent through the Lens

For Lent, I took on a Photo-a-Day challenge. I did really well the first half of Lent, then mostly fell off the bandwagon–but I still enjoyed the process. Here are a few of my favorites, the word that inspired the photo, and reflections or quotes I posted along with each:

2/19: PROCLAIM.

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“We enter Lent to enter our own earth, to make a pilgrimage into our own terrain. We move into this season to look at our life anew, to consider what has formed us, where we have come from, what we are carrying within us. Lent invites us to look at the layers that inhabit us wherever we go: the intricate strata made up of our stories and memories as well as our imaginings and dreams. This season invites us to notice what in our life feels fallow or empty, where there is growth and greenness, what sources of sustenance lie within us, where we find our inner earth crumbling and giving way to reveal something new.” — Jan Richardson

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What I’m Listening To #6

My last post like this was in July of 2014. Wow. I need to get caught up.

1. Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi (2015)

This album first came to my attention because of its title. Kintsugi is a Japanese art form that involves repairing broken pottery or ceramics with precious metals. I used this as an illustration in a sermon I preached on the theme of brokenness.

It took me almost 2 months after that first mention to actually listen to the album. And I dig it. I’ve always loved smatterings of Death Cab for Cutie‘s work, but have never really delved into a single album. This one is dark in places, but that appeals to my moody side. I particularly like the track “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life.” One article I read said that song was about “the one that got away,” but to my ears, it sounds an awful lot like it’s about drugs and addiction.

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Emptied (Palm Sunday Sermon 03-29-15)

This sermon was preached at Centenary United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Sunday, March 29, 2015 (Lent 5, or Palm/Passion Sunday). The text was Philippians 2:5-11.

"Where the Way Leads" by Jan Richardson

“Where the Way Leads” by Jan Richardson

Pastors’ families tend to have weird traditions no one else has. A few examples from my own childhood: my family learned to negotiate my dad’s busy Christmas Eve schedule by eating dinner in his office in between the 6:00 service and the 8:00 service; growing up, I thought everyone spent a week of their summer at Lake Junaluska hanging out with a bunch of other pastors during Annual Conference; and I have more than once participated in the lighting of the family Advent wreath via Skype while away at college.

There is one weird tradition that might be unique to this particular pastor’s family. My dad and I share a love of musical theater, and so we usually watch the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar during Holy Week. My mom and siblings do not always join us. Jesus Christ Superstar has a pretty goofy re-imagining of Palm Sunday. In it, crowds gather to wave palms like we hear in the Bible, but instead of just saying, “Hosanna!”—this is a rock opera, after all—they sing, “Hosanna, hey, sanna, sanna, sanna, ho!”

There’s that word, “Hosanna.” We’ve already sung it several times this morning. Our hymns and Jesus Christ Superstar reinforce the sense that it kind of means, “Yay!” But that’s not what the word “Hosanna” means. It actually means “Save us.”

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Lifted Up (Duke Chapel Sermon 03-15-15)

This sermon was preached at Duke University Chapel in Durham, NC on Sunday, March 15, 2015 (Lent 4). The texts were Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21.

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In October of 1991, Glenn Summerford tried to kill his wife. The weapon was not a gun or a knife or Summerford’s hands; instead, it was a poisonous snake.

You see, Glenn Summerford was the pastor of the Church of God with Signs Following, and the Church of God with Signs Following was a snake handling church. Snake handlers take a literal interpretation of a passage in Mark 16 that says believers can pick up snakes and drink poison without being harmed.

Last week, my grandparents asked what I was preaching on this Sunday. When I replied, “Snake handling,” there a shocked silence, followed by my grandmother’s astute question, “Will there be a demonstration?”

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Photo-a-Day: Week 1

I got a fancy camera for Christmas. Determined not to be that person who has a nice camera and never takes it out of auto, I signed up for a photography class. What it taught me is that I’m going to have to practice a lot before I can get the results I want. So I’ve taken up a photo-a-day challenge. I headed over to fatmumslim, whose daily photo challenges are really for Instagram, but I figured they’d do just as well for my purposes. Here were the prompts for this week:

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