Archive for March, 2010

It’s Wednesday of Holy Week, and tonight we gather at Richmond’s First Baptist Church for the first worship service of five that will be held over the next few days.  Before I say another word, let me say thanks to Phil Mitchell, Associate Pastor for Worship, who did most of the heavy lifting in putting these services together.

Tonight’s service (at 6:30) is one of candlelight and contemplative prayer, interspersed with Scripture readings and singing by our own “cantor,” Robert Dilday.  It was “designed” by the Prayer Team at First Baptist Church, a group of lay leaders who work with Lynn Turner in praying for the church and keeping the church praying.

On Maundy Thursday we will gather at 7:00 for an impressive commemoration of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples that will include communion.  I’m preaching a sermon called “Washing the Devil’s Feet,” that refers not only to the foot washing before the meal, but also to the new commandment Jesus gives his disciples afterward: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

The Good Friday service will be held in the sanctuary at Noon, and will feature a reader’s theatre comprised of First Baptist staff reading the passion narrative from Luke’s Gospel, and a sermon delivered by my friend, former associate, and hip young pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in the Fan—Sterling Severns.

On Saturday, we will host an abbreviated Easter vigil, celebrating this ancient ritual in Fourth-Century style by kindling “new fire” in front of the church at 7:00, lighting candles from the flame, and bringing the light into the sanctuary to begin our celebration of the Resurrection.  This is a service of “Fire, Word, Water, and Wine” that will include a sermon by Lynn Turner, the candlelight baptism of six new converts, and communion that will feature Welch’s grape juice instead of wine (it’s not the Fourth Century way, but it certainly is the Baptist way).

All of this slowly unfolding drama will build up to a jubilant celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday morning, with two services in the sanctuary: one at 8:30 (for the early risers and those who hope to find a seat) and another at 11:00 (prepare for a packed house).  Both services will feature glorious music, multiple choirs, and an Easter sermon called “Dying for Resurrection.” 

If you live in the Richmond area I hope you will join us for each of these services.  If you don’t, you can still access the Easter service by webcast.  But please don’t let me lure you away from your own community of faith. 

There is no better place to be at Easter than there.

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When I started training for the Monument Avenue 10K last year with the team from Richmond’s First Baptist Church, I joked that there was “no pastor faster.”  In our Sunday afternoon training sessions I would try to run fast enough to protect that reputation, but not so fast that I couldn’t discuss theology with my teammates (which I’m sure they appreciated).  By the time race day came around I was running pretty well, and surprised myself with a time of 45:41. 

Which means that I trained even harder this year, and began to get serious about that “no pastor faster” thing.  “Honestly,” I thought, “is there another pastor out there running faster than 45:41?”  But then I started running with Wallace Adams-Riley, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and it became evident that he was not only a few years younger than me, but also a good bit quicker.  I justified it by telling myself that he wasn’t a “faster pastor,” he was a “faster rector” (which doesn’t even rhyme and therefore doesn’t qualify).

Wallace pushed me in our training runs, though, and when race day came around this year he ran with me and helped me maintain a brisk pace over the 6.2 mile course.  I came across the finish line in 43:41—exactly two minutes faster than last year—and exulted in my victory.  I couldn’t imagine that there was another pastor in Richmond who had run so well. 

Until I saw the results in the paper the next day.

I was looking at the names of the top finishers in my age group when I saw a name I thought I recognized.  Sure enough, there was David Benjamin, pastor of Winfree Memorial Baptist Church on Midlothian Turnpike.  When I checked online I discovered that David is two years older than I am, but finished twenty-five places ahead of me in our age group, with a time of 39:59—nearly four minutes faster than my 43:41.

What could I do?

Sunday morning, before I went to church, I called David and left a message on his voicemail.  “For more than a year now I’ve been telling people that there is no pastor faster than Jim Somerville, but that’s not true.  You are the faster pastor, David Benjamin, and today I confer that title upon you.  Congratulations!”

I meant it sincerely, and walked to church feeling better (a little stiff, but better).  Honest admission, humble confession—these things are good for the soul.  And I’m sure that in the years ahead, as I watch countless pastors, rectors, and imams stream past me in the Monument Avenue 10K, my body will breathe a little sigh of disappointment,

But my soul will be at peace.

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If you have five minutes, check out this remarkable presentation on the way the world is changing.  I watched it full-screen with the sound turned up and at the end of it my jaw had dropped–literally.  It makes me think the future is going to embrace people who can adapt quickly to sudden change, and that the innovative and adventurous will thrive in ways others cannot.

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From my brother Billy’s Facebook page, a picture that sums up my own feelings about decaffeinated coffee, at least first thing in the morning.

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For weeks now—months, really—I’ve been seeing these beautiful, smiling refugees from Nepal in the hallways of Richmond’s First Baptist Church.  I’ve learned how to press my palms together and say “Namaste” in greeting.  I’ve welcomed three new members and dedicated the child of a Christian couple.  I’ve even sung “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in English with three of the older adults (where did they learn that song?).  But on Sunday night I spent an hour having tea with some of the young people from this group, and I started with a game I learned when I was a youth minister.

I took a pen from my pocket, turned to the young man on the right, and said, “My name is Jim and this is my friend Lucy,” and then I handed the pen to him.  He turned to the girl on his right and said, “My name is Rom, and Jim told me to tell you that this is Lucy.”  She took the pen and turned to the boy on her right: “My name is Bimela, and Jim told Rom to tell me to tell you that this is Lucy.”  And so on around the room until all of us had been introduced to Lucy, but by repeating the names each time we also began to learn them: Rom, Bimela, Indra, Rupa, and Bhola (I’m guessing at the spelling). 

And then we just started talking.

These kids spoke excellent English, which helped.  They told me that back in Nepal all their classes were in English except one.  They also watched American television and movies to help them learn the language.  I sang some songs for them in English; they sang some for me in Nepali.  We talked about the kinds of food we liked.  We talked about family relationships, and that’s where it got interesting.

Rom told me that Bimela and Rupa were his sisters.  Indra told me that Bhola was his brother.  I told them that Dot Smith (who had served us tea and pie) was my sister.  They didn’t believe me.  I said, “Dot and I are Christians.  Christians are part of God’s family.  We call each other brother and sister.”  And then their eyes lit up with understanding.  Ah, yes.  They had heard this before.  “My Uncle is a Christian,” Rom said.  “I used to go to church with him in Nepal.”  They all made it clear how much they enjoy coming to First Baptist Church, and some of them even began to hint that they would like to join.  But then Bhola said that in their culture Christians were shunned, and that if they became Christians they might be rejected by their community. 

“Did that happen to your uncle?” I asked Rom.  “Did he get ‘put out’ of the community?”  Rom nodded thoughtfully.  “He must be very brave,” I said.  “Yes,” Rom answered.  “Very brave.”

I didn’t have to say another word.  I could see that they were counting the cost of discipleship, and wondering if it would be worth it to become Christians.  I hope they will decide that it is worth it, but it will take at least one more cup of tea to have that conversation, and maybe another one after that.  Maybe Greg Mortenson is right, that it takes “Three Cups of Tea” to forge life-giving and life-changing relationships with people from other cultures.

I’m looking forward to my next one.

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