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All Saints’ Day Devotional – First Baptist Church ENews

by Mitch Carnell (Photo by Merv Gibson)

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.  (Revelations 7:9 (RSV)

These decaying and misaligned tombstones give wittiness to the saints who have gone before us. Their souls are at peace. As we celebrate their lives, we reflect on all the good that they accomplished and how their influence continues today.

All Saints’ Day was originated for this purpose by Pope Boniface IV in 609 AD on May 13. Pope Gregory, III changed the date to November 1 during the mid-eighth century. After the reformation Protestants retained the observance to honor those who died in the last year.

We draw courage and strength remembering those whose lives we celebrate. Many demonstrated tremendous faith while enduring great hardships. No one can know the inner struggles of another person’s life, but we can know with certainty that they are triumphant over death. As we light a candle in honor of each of these, we light it in recognition that the light of her or his life will never be extinguished.

Prayer:

Dear Holy Father, as we celebrate the lives of our loved ones who now abide with you, help us to lead our lives in such a way that we will illuminate the path that will lead others to you. Amen.

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A Great Host Surrounds Us – Celebrating 335 Years

Not many churches in the United States can boast of being 335 years old, but on September 24, 2017 First Baptist Church of Charleston will celebrate that honor. The current sanctuary, designed by Robert Mills, was dedicated in 1822. The congregation moved from Kittery, Maine in 1696. Mr. Elliott gave the current property for a Baptist church in 1699. We know there has been a Baptist church at this location since 1701.

It is inspiring to think about the people who have worshipped here, the ministers who have served here, the ministers and missionaries that the church has produced. The most significant milestone is the thousands of ordinary people who have contributed thousands of hours and millions of dollars to make our world a better place. We may never know their names but they have built and repaired houses, taught school, mentored children, served in the homeless shelter, sang in retirement homes and jails, coached sports, visited in homes and hospitals, prepared and served meals to the bereaved, packed school bags, gone on local and foreign mission trips, visited the sick at home and in hospitals, performed yard work, tutored inner-city children and provided childcare and senior care. What has been the impact of 335 years of faithful service for no other reason than it is the right thing to do? What has been the impact of millions of hours of volunteer service to this city and around the world? No one can calculate the impact.

We remember the names of the famous pastors: Screven, Hart, Manly, Furman, Hamrick and organist David Redd, but these are the ones who inspired the volunteers and urged them on to fulfill the mission of the church. Before the Civil War the church had 200 African/American children in Sunday school and more Black members than White members. After the war the Black members were invited to remain and many of them did and served until their deaths. Others went across town and formed Morris Brown Baptist Church. From the beginning the pastors nurtured young prospective ministers. Furman University was the natural offspring of those efforts. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary grew out of Furman.

Dr. John Hamrick started a day school in 1947 long before the civil rights movement. He was the founding president of what is now Charleston Southern University. The church started the rehabilitation of Market Street during the pastorate of Paul Craven Jr. by purchasing a site and erecting the John Hamrick Activity Center in the early 1970s.

Under the leadership of the current pastor, the Rev. Marshall Blalock, the church is building a new high school campus on James Island and planning to renovate the historic campus downtown.

For 335 years the congregation and its leadership have modeled the scripture, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” There is still a vision and the future is bright.

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The Invisible Woman – www.ethicsdaily.com

Wednesday, August 23, 2017 4:47 am

'The Invisible Women' | Mitch Carnell, Baptists, Catholics, Women in Ministry, The Invisible Women, Sandra Makowski

Too often, we study the men [in the Bible] and ignore the women, Carnell observes.

“The Invisible Women: Naming and Proclaiming the Forgotten Women in Scripture and Church Law” is a book of great consequence.

Through Sister Sandra Makowski’s superb writing, research and scholarship, the poor treatment of women in the Bible, lectionary and local church is brought to new light.

Of course, Makowski writes from a Catholic perspective, but that does not mean there is no food for the rest of Christianity. As a Baptist, I was surprised by the number of things I did not know.

For example, I have never read a book or heard a sermon on Hagar and yet Makowski’s book helped me to see how Hagar becomes more and more important as international conflicts continue to unfold.

Similarly, I knew almost nothing about Huldah, the prophet who lived during the time of Jeremiah. I have been saturated with knowledge about Jeremiah and his teachings and that is Makowski’s point. Too often, we study the men and ignore the women.

In the beginning of the church, women and men shared equal status and roles. However, as the church became more and more structured it took on the cultural characteristics of the society around it. Women gradually were stricken from the leadership and their voices disregarded.

In the Catholic Church, this pattern continued unchallenged until after Vatican II, where no Catholic women were originally invited.

However, a major shift began that indicated that the laity share equally in being gifted with the Holy Spirit, being called to holiness and being engaged in the mission of the church.

Although women play major roles in the Bible, their importance is mainly marginalized by the male-dominated church, Makowski asserts. When women are mentioned, it is most often in relationship to the male figures.

Jesus reverses this practice; however, the church downplays the extraordinary recognition Jesus gave to women.

The role of women has often been described as the sleeping beauty fairytale. Women are simply to wait until Prince Charming arrives, awakens them and gives meaning to their lives through him.

It would be nice to think that that notion has been put to rest; however, we know that this isn’t true.

The Baptist Faith and Message statement of the Southern Baptist Convention in the year 2000 states, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Another section states, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.”

As a result, in many Southern Baptist churches, women cannot be deacons or teach men.

One of the major new ideas to me from Makowski’s book is that there were women at the Last Supper. The Scriptures do not restrict the possibility. Yet, in my life in the church this possibility has never been remotely suggested.

At the end of each chapter, Makowski includes a short story that places the reader in a situation and then asks the reader to answer several questions. These questions are very important in helping personalize the impact of what has gone before.

The concluding paragraphs of “The Invisible Women” are powerful.

“If we fail at being our best selves, or if we are not invited to the banquet, that doesn’t mean we give up. It simply means that tomorrow is another day. And tomorrow we try again with God’s grace,” Makowski writes. “It is God who has the final answer, and in the end, it is God who does the inviting. God has already extended the invitation to women and men alike. No one is excluded from the banquet.”

She continues, “Let us remember that it is God who has the last word, and in God we trust because God loves us, God sees us, God calls us by our name. We are God’s beloved – male and female alike. And nothing and no one can take that away. What more is there to say!”

Mitch Carnell is a member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina. He is the author of “Our Father: Discovering Family.” His writings can also be found at MitchCarnell.com and ChristianCivility.com.

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Morning Worship: Put trash in mulch pile and let new, beautiful things grow

by MARY LEE TALBOT on 

“Humor and laughter are the most powerful gifts in life,” said the Rev. Susan Sparks at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. “The congregation this morning is a visual reaffirmation of faith in the church, in that the numbers here this morning rival the numbers at a screening of ‘Harry Potter.’ ”

Senior Pastor Susan Sparks Delivers Her SermonDuring The Sunday Morning Worship Service . PAULA OSPINA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Her sermon title was “The Mulch Pile,” and the theme was letting go. The Scripture reading was Colossians 3:1-2, 8-14.

Sparks said she and her husband were traveling across the country, and to the west of Minneapolis they saw a billboard that had a picture of a casket “Minnesota Cremation Society — Think Outside the Box,” it read.

“That is what humor does — helps you think outside the box, see in fresh ways, and it builds community and bridges,” Sparks said.

Sparks quoted theologian Karl Barth, saying that humor is the closest thing we have to God’s grace.

“We can feel hope in our hearts,” she said, “because humor is there even if the world tries to beat it out.”

Sparks recently ended a three-month sabbatical. For the first month, she and her husband rode their Harleys around the country.

“That’s right, you have a biker chick and a comedian for a chaplain this week,” she said.

The second two months they spent in their cabin in Wisconsin — a place they visit regularly. It is near a town much like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon: 2,000 people and 17 Lutheran churches.

They have a ritual for their first morning — first, making “really bad coffee,” and then fishing for bluegills and other small fish and then cooking breakfast. During one visit, they threw the fish guts and egg shells into the trash after breakfast and went out to run errands. They had no air conditioning and the day was 93 degrees — “you can see where this is going,” Sparks said. When they got home, they were hit with the smell.

“I made a small gas mask out of wet paper towels and went in and got the trash and ran it out to the mulch pile,” Sparks said. “As you gardeners know, the trash turns into rich, dark soil that grows daylilies or tomatoes.”

In the Scripture reading, Paul tells the Colossians to get rid of their anger and malice and clothe themselves in a new self.

“Paul was writing in 60 A.D. and the danger he was writing about was gnosticism,” Sparks said. “He urged the Colossians to clothe themselves in the teaching of Christ. Paul is reaching out to us in the same way today and asking two questions — What trash are you carrying that needs to be put in the mulch? And what beautiful new thing can grow in its place?”

This is the arc for the week in her sermons: to look at what the trash is that needs to be put out on the mulch pile and, on Friday, to sum up what beautiful new thing might grow in its place.

“What trash are you carrying?” she asked. “Do you even know? Are you carrying anger, resentment, fear or self-doubt? Are you carrying racism, homophobia or other hatreds?”

Sparks said that sometimes when we are in denial, we don’t know that we are carrying trash or we have lived with generations of disregard for the problems. As an example, she said she threw her back out once and had to lie on the floor for almost a week. On the fourth day, after having read every newspaper and magazine in the house and binge-watched reruns of “Dr. Phil,” she was bored and her only view was under the furniture.

“I saw dust balls the size of ferrets, some leaky pens and paper and a strange orange square thing. It turned out to be a cheese appetizer from a cocktail party two years before,” she said. “I would not have known it was there unless I had been forced to look. You can’t take out the trash if you don’t know it is there.”

The second action in taking out the trash is letting go, and that is easier said than done. There are many things that we are used to but are useless to us.

“My father had a big old Buick boat of a car and he kept two spare tires, food, water, blankets and a foil space blanket in his trunk — in case there was a blizzard — to drive the 0.1 mile to from our house to his office in Charlotte, North Carolina,” she said.

We, she told the congregation, need to let go of privilege, apathy and ego as much as a foil blanket. She told the story of a man who fell off a cliff and was dangling from a tree, calling for help. A voice came from the heavens, saying, “Let go, my son, I have you.” The man thought for a moment and said, “Who else is up there?”

It can be hard to let go, but if we carry this trash too long it begins to define us. Ralph Waldo Emerson said what we worship, we become.

“I have a friend who calls it the 3Bs — believe, behave, become,” Sparks said. “What we believe drives our behavior and what we believe drives who we become.”

Sparks cited the first part of the Serenity Prayer, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, which reads: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

She prefers the Senility Prayer: “God, Grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones that I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.”

“We have got to let go and throw things onto the mulch pile and in that moment, greater forces will take over,” Sparks said. “When we hand things over to a greater power, to Jesus Christ, it fades and changes into something beautiful and new.”

For instance, she said, we have to throw out our judgmentalism of others in order for mercy, empathy and forgiveness to grow.

“We judge people by the craziest things, like color, language or religion that have nothing to do with their being a child of God and our brother and sister,” she said.

She told a story from Jack Kornfield about two prisoners of war. The first one asked the second if he had forgiven their captors. The second one said no. “Then they still have you in prison,” the first one replied.

“We have more in common than we think and we have to start living like it,” Sparks said. “We have to begin with ourselves and forgive ourselves so we can forgive others. We have excuses for why we can’t do that, but if we have any lesson for today, it is that this body is our house, this heart is our house, this country is our house, this world is our house and it is our responsibility to take out the trash even if someone else brought it in.”

Poet Mary Oliver wrote, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

“If you care about this gift, don’t waste it on what weighs you down,” Sparks said. “Fling it on the mulch pile and clothe yourself in something beautiful and new.”

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