Friday, April 27, 2012

Putting the "Union" Back in Communion

by Rev. Jason Blanton

I need to begin this blog by saying right up front, "I don't know what it is like to have a hierarchy tell me what I can/should/must do in my church as a pastor." I say that so that you won't think I am pretending to know what it is like to minister as a Catholic priest, receiving directives from on high that my own personal understanding of The Way may or may not agree with.

I have noticed a troubling trend in recent years surrounding communion. I'm only 35, so it may not even be that recent, but in my memory, in the last decade or so, it has become more and more common for local parishes to refuse communion to politicians who were not Pro-Life (or anti-abortion) enough. The thinking being that abortion is a sin, and therefore a politician that isn't sufficiently opposed to that sin must answer for the sin as well, which would put them out of Grace, as best I understand Catholic theology.

Then, last week I read this. In case you don't feel like clicking the link, the story goes like this: A woman's mother died. She and her family are Catholic, and so obviously the service was held in her local parish and performed by the local priest. When it came time to take communion, the priest refused to serve the woman. Why? Because she is a lesbian. Apparently her sin is so great in the mind of this local Catholic priest, she doesn't even deserve communion at her own mother's funeral. He refused her publicly, with a rebuke of her lifestyle. At her mother's funeral.

Now, before I get to my thought on this, I should say, this isn't an attack on the Catholic church. In fact, the Bishop who is over this local priest has already apologized. I want to be clear, this kind of thinking is pervasive in many churches, it just so happens that Communion plays a larger role in the theology of the Catholic Church, and so it makes it an even bigger refusal.

Now, here is my one and only thought when I heard this story: Jesus didn't even refuse Judas. Jesus sat at the table, establishing the meal that we call Communion, Lord's Supper, Eucharist, knowing full well that He had been betrayed. You would think that if ever there was a sin so grievous to deserve a refusal of fellowship with Christ, it would be the sin of betrayal. Yet there they sat, Judas and Jesus, hands dipping in the same bowl - and Jesus never says, "I'm sorry Judas, you are a sinner and so you can't participate in this meal. You aren't worthy to fellowship with us here."

Jesus didn't even refuse Judas.

Think about that next time you think there are people who don't deserve to eat at your table.

Jason Blanton is the pastor of Grace Crossing in Charlotte . This article originally appeared on his blog,

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lectionary Musings

by Rev. Mark Reece

I really love the sequence of texts the lectionary offers us preachers for walking with our congregations through the season of Lent. I want to offer some words concerning the lectionary for those who have expressed curiosity and elaborate on its importance during the season of lent. The Revised Common Lectionary offers four preaching texts for each Sunday of the year. There is always a passage from the Psalms, the Old Testament, the New Testament and a second reading from the New Testament that could include any passage outside the Gospels. Preachers and worship teams are afforded the privilege of praying and studying the texts to see which one we feel led to use as the center-piece of worship. The music, readings and others expressions of worship should revolve around the scriptural theme of worship.

In more liturgical traditions, pastors are often expected to use the prescribed lectionary texts as a part of the Sunday litany. As Baptists, in the free tradition, we have more flexibility and are able to embrace the lectionary texts when we feel led or go in other directions. It’s a far easier task for us to open the scriptures and peruse the pages until something sticks out at us. However, when a preacher and congregation embrace the lectionary we’ve disciplined our selves to focus on texts that we might not typically focus on in a service of worship. We’re required to dig and pray with the belief that in every Biblical passage there is a Word from the Lord.

I often embrace the lectionary during the seasons of Advent, Lent and Eastertide. The lectionary texts are selected in such a way as to direct our thoughts and our spirits on a spiritual journey. I encourage you to reflect upon the passages we’ve reflected on this Lenten journey. From Jesus in the desert, to Abraham and Sarah’s wilderness, to Jesus overturning the moneychangers in the temple – the lectionary continually invites us to deeper and more rigorous contemplation and spiritual reflection. While these Lenten passages have taught us something about the human condition and our insistence to often go our own way, each passage has a hint of resurrection with the goal of pointing our hearts toward Resurrection Sunday.

Today’s text, Numbers 21:4-9 places us right square in the desert with Moses and the Israelites. The Israelites were hungry for the Promised Land and tired of being in the wilderness. They became impatient and not only did they grumble against God but they grumbled against their leader. Their attitude was the catalyst for some pretty bad news. God sent serpents into the wilderness, biting the people, and some of them died. As you might imagine, their attitude towards God and Moses changed from discontentment to a yearning for mercy.

How does God respond to the Israelite’s suffering? God does not remove the serpents from the desert but God does provide possible alleviation from their suffering. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” This is a dreadful story of the Israelites forgetting where they came from and the worsening condition that resulted. But it’s a beautiful story of God’s grace, mercy and power to provide resurrection in the middle of the desert. “Everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” That’s good news brothers and sisters. That’s good news from the heart of the desert. The lectionary text this week calls us to self-reflection in the wilderness yet offers a glimpse of resurrection. Be blessed this week!

Mark Reece is the pastor of Piney Grove Baptist Church in Mount Airy, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Grove.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Why I’m Glad We’re Having a Discussion on Sexuality

by Rev. Laura Barclay

In the conservative Southern Baptist Church in which I grew up, as well as the non-denominational Christian high school I attended, discussions of sex were taboo. The one conversation I remember about sex took place in high school health class which covered dating etiquette, then skipped straight to scaring us with slides of STDs. You can imagine how unprepared I was for life on a public school college campus.

This reality is all too common as many schools don’t follow mandatory sex education policies and churches have long been afraid to bring up any issues of sexuality in church. Because the word itself brings a host of feelings like shame and secrecy, it’s no wonder that many articles and comments about the Baptist Conference on Sexuality and Covenant are centering around LGBT issues. We who are heterosexual don’t want to discuss or admit to needing to have a comprehensive discussion in our churches about sex. It’s much easier to “other” this issue and make it a discussion solely about gays and lesbians. This conference will cover a wide range of topics in addition to LGBT issues that reflect the realities of our time, including high divorce rates, elder sexuality, delayed marriage and cohabitation of couples.

The truth is that we badly need this discussion. All churches need this discussion. Church should be a safe place where youth and young adults can come with questions that aren’t getting answered elsewhere, or are getting answered in unhealthy ways by media and uninformed peers. Youth ministers I’ve known who were brave enough to have these discussions found that their youth were willing to come to them with questions they could never feel comfortable asking parents or teachers. I wish I had access to such a place during those confusing teenage years.

And, yes, I’m going to name the elephant in the room. CBF National has a hiring policy that excludes gays and lesbians from employment. Many, including myself, don’t agree with it, but many others are comfortable with it. But guess what? This conference on Sexuality and Covenant is not to debate this policy, but to provide a starting point for discussion about a wide range of sexuality issues and we badly need a first step. We are taking that first step together, which will produce fruitful dialogue and church resources before any discussions on policy take place down the road. We are a fellowship of people who can disagree on issues and still come together for missions and ministry in the name of Christ. I’m glad to be in an environment like CBF where social issues don’t tear us apart like 21st century American political parties. We are kingdom people who cross bridges rather than dig trenches. Let’s remember that…and let’s talk.

If you'd like to be a part of the Baptist Conference on Sexuality and Covenant at First Baptist Church of Decatur, GA, on April 19-21, please register here: Registration closes April 16.

Friday, April 6, 2012

An Easter on God's Acre

Home Moravian Church, Old Salem, Winston-Salem, NC
by Rev. Dr. Davis Vess

The “Salem” part of Winston-Salem refers to the historic Moravian village of Salem. Every Easter morning, in the early hours of this day, thousands of people, many of them tourists who have come especially for this event, make their way towards the courtyard in front of a 200-year-old church, founded by the Moravians. Before daylight, five hundred members of various brass bands echo hymns from different parts of the city. Everyone converges on Salem Square to listen to the almost mystical-sounding music. As the first hint of the rising sun begins to soften the darkness, a hush falls over the vast throng of worshipers. When the church bell tolls at 6 a. m., the Bishop emerges from the church and announces in a loud, unwavering voice, "Christ is Risen!" And the crowd thunders back, "Christ is Risen indeed!" Then the band begins to play "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today," and everyone joins in the singing there in front of the church.

God's Acre, Old Salem, Winston-Salem, NC
Then, in total silence, they walk in faithful procession to "God's Acre," an ancient cemetery, where all the graves, with their newly-polished gravestones, are covered with flowers. Even the oldest graves, some of them dating back three hundred years, are decorated with forsythia, jonquils, tulips, azaleas - whatever happens to be blooming at the time. The service concludes there, with more singing and remembrance of those who have died since the previous Easter. There, in the awesome silence, with the beauty of the flowers all around, it's as if the living are united with the dead in worship. A writer who witnessed the event said, "When you are in the midst of all this majesty and beauty, you cannot fail to believe in the resurrection."

And so it is in thousands of churches of every denomination all around the world on this greatest of days, Easter. The Day of Resurrection. The day of joy and hope. The central day of our faith and witness. Christmas is nice, but it's not Easter. Anybody can get excited about Christmas, giving and receiving presents, oohing and aahing over the baby born in Bethlehem. But when you come right down to it Christmas would not be Christmas without Easter.

David Vess is the pastor of Swift Creek Baptist Church in Raleigh. This article originally appreared in their church newsletter, the Swift Creek Chronicler.