A Sermon for Every Sunday

Well, here’s something you may not have known:

For several months now I have been working on a project called “A Sermon for Every Sunday,” which was conceived as a way to help small, struggling churches that don’t have preachers, but has evolved to include churches in the interim, house churches, Bible studies, small groups, Wednesday night programs, and Sunday school classes.

The idea is simple enough: with some help from my friend David Powers I have been recording sermons by some of America’s best preachers for every Sunday of the liturgical year, so that when those small, preacherless churches get to the Third Sunday of Advent (for example) they can simply push a button and hear a sermon from Bishop Michael Curry (above).  Other “Every Sunday” preachers are William Willimon, Brian McLaren, Lauren Winner, David Lose, Brian Blount, MaryAnn McKibben Dana, Andrew Foster Connors, Grace Imathiu, Rolf Jacobson, Gary Charles, and Karoline Lewis.

How does it work? Here’s a possible scenario, straight from the website:

Imagine that the bright young pastor of a country church is called to a church in the big city…

The congregation is faced with a decision: do we call another pastor?  Can we afford to?  They hear about “A Sermon for Every Sunday,” a way to get America’s best preachers into America’s small churches, house churches, Bible studies and small groups–on video.  They decide to give it a try, at least in the interim.

With the money they save they buy a big, flat-screen TV and a quality DVD player.  They put the lectern on one side of the chancel and the TV on the other until the two are nicely balanced.  Some of the older members shake their heads.  They never thought they’d see such a thing in church, but again, it’s only for the interim.

On that first Sunday the English teacher at the local high school–a member of the church–leads the service.  She opens with the call to worship, announces the hymns, invites members of the congregation to read scripture and say prayers.  When it’s time for the sermon she reads the Gospel lesson and then nods to the high school student who has downloaded the video from the web site.  He pushes a button, and the congregation waits, breathlessly.

What they see is high-definition video of one of America’s best preachers, looking straight into the camera and preaching the Good News.  It’s as if he is talking only to them.  The sermon lasts 12-15 minutes, and when it’s over the congregation responds with a murmur of approval.  The English teacher steps back to the lectern and says, “I had a chance to watch the sermon last week, and I was thinking about how it applies to our context…”  She takes a few minutes to make some connections between what the church has just heard and what they live with every day, and then she moves on with the service.

When she greets them at the back door later even those older members have to admit, it’s been a good day in church.  And they want to know:

“Who’s preaching next week?”

Click on the link below to visit the website, and then, if you feel inclined, share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, or simply by word of mouth.  I’d like to make sure that the people who could benefit from such a service would have access to it before the launch date on November 28.

It may seem a little crazy—but in times like these, when churches are struggling and technology is everywhere—maybe not so crazy after all.

Click HERE to find out more.


KOH2RVA: Day 293

Nancy Sehested2I’m back at my kitchen table this morning, having a cup of (really wonderful) coffee and getting ready to put tomorrow’s sermon into words, but before I do let me say a word about the annual meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Greensboro, North Carolina, where I’ve been for the past few days.

On Wednesday night I attended the 30th anniversary celebration of Baptist Women in Ministry at First Baptist, Greensboro. One of the things I’ve appreciated about CBF from the beginning was its commitment to women, especially at a time when many who felt called to ordained ministry were being told they could not fulfill that calling within the Southern Baptist Convention. Nancy Hastings Sehested preached and started with a funny story about sitting on a plane beside a “chatty Texan” (she admitted that she, herself, is a chatty Texan, and that it takes one to know one). This Texan chatted on for some time before asking her what she did for a living. She said, “I’m a minister.” He said, “Really? What denomination?” “Baptist,” she said. He said, “I’m a Baptist, and my pastor tells me there aren’t any Baptist women ministers.” She said, “We’re in the witness protection program.”

We laughed out loud.

And then she said, “For thirty years that’s what Baptist Women in Ministry has been doing: protecting the witness of women.” And I turned to my daughter Catherine, who was there on the pew with me, just to make sure she heard that there was a place among Baptists where the gifts of women were not only acknowledged, but celebrated. Shortly after that Molly Brummett, a brilliant young seminary graduate whom Catherine has known all her life, received the Addie Davis preaching award.

Another reminder.

Not that Catherine will become a preacher. She’s getting ready to go off to graduate school in Aberdeen, Scotland, this fall to study anthropology and folklore. But as her father I have always wanted her to believe that she could do whatever she felt called to do, even if she felt called to ministry. I think she got that message throughout the CBF General Assembly. There were lots of young people there being honored and included in everything that was going on. The new Executive Coordinator of CBF, Suzii Paynter, is a woman. And everywhere she went Catherine was getting hugs from people who have known her and loved her since she was born.

We’re back in Richmond this morning, and Catherine is upstairs sleeping in, but as I think about how to bring the KOH2RVA I think how important it is to make a place for women, who have always had a place in God’s plan: Sarah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Mary, Lydia, Phoebe, Priscilla, Lottie, Annie, Suzii, Nancy, Molly, Catherine, and many, many others.

God bless them, every one.

KOH2RVA: Day 190

BTSRIt’s Monday, March 18, 2013. I’m up having coffee and getting ready for an all-day trustee meeting at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. I’m wondering if there is any way I can bring heaven to earth today.

I think there is. I think BTSR is, in itself, a way of bringing heaven to earth. For more than twenty years this school has been training men and women for ministry in the local church, and some of those men and women—Sterling Severns, Mandy England Cole, Justin Joplin, and Erin Spengeman, just to name a few—are out there blessing our city right now.

In the beginning, the idea of training women for ministry seemed radical and new, especially for Baptists. These days I think we understand that if the church is going to have a future it’s going to take all of us, women and men alike, and the women at BTSR are proving themselves extremely capable. Jim Flamming (my predecessor at FBC Richmond, who now teaches preaching at the seminary) says that the women in his classes are consistently the best preachers.

That shouldn’t surprise us.

As I’ve heard someone else say, women were “last at the cross, first at the tomb.” They were with Jesus when the disciples had fled. And Mary Magdalene, if you go by John’s version of the story, preached the first Easter sermon on record: “I have seen the Lord!” she said. Short, simple, to the point:

Hard to improve on that.

So, I’m going to spend the day doing what I can to ensure the future of the seminary. Things are looking much better than they did just a few months ago. The seminary has sold some property that had become a huge financial burden and gotten itself free to fulfill its mission in a leaner, more sustainable way. Ron Crawford, the seminary’s president, seems practically giddy when he talks about the future of the school these days and the students—characteristically—seem eager to go forward even if they have to do it in another building.

So I hope you will say a prayer for me today, a prayer for the trustees of BTSR, and a prayer for the future of a school that is determined to go on training men and women for ministry in the local church.

Lord knows we need them.

KOH2RVA: Day 15

Today I preached a sermon called “Walking the Walk,” which, as you might expect, was about getting off the couch and following Jesus, about doing something, and not just talking about it. And so I wanted you to see the new license plate I ordered, the one that I put on my car yesterday.

It’s going to remind me every time I see it that I’m supposed to be helping Jesus bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. It will probably remind me of that even when I drive my car to North Carolina later today for a preaching conference at Gardner-Webb University followed by several days of backpacking in Pisgah National Forest, and I will feel guilty about that, but I will also feel refreshed and ready to renew my efforts when I get back.

In the meantime I’m counting on the many missionaries of First Baptist Church to carry out the mission. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if–when I see the Richmond skyline in the distance on Saturday evening, as I approach the city on Interstate 95–it appears that heaven has come noticeably closer.

Thank you members and friends. Your efforts are making a difference!

Preacher Camp

For six years now I’ve been getting together with a group of colleagues so we can plan our preaching for the year.  It was Amy Butler’s idea.  When I was at First Baptist, DC, she was at Calvary Baptist, just a few blocks away.  We would get together at Starbucks on Monday mornings with a few other preachers to talk about what we were going to do the following Sunday and one day she said, “You know what we ought to do?  We ought to do this for the whole year!”

And so we sent out some invitations, and a few months later six of us spent several days at a big house in the mountains of West Virginia, looking over the lectionary texts for the following year.

Each of us had an assignment.  I was supposed to bring some good ideas for preaching through those Sundays after Christmas and before Ash Wednesday.  Others in our group had the seasons of Lent, Easter, Advent, and that long stretch of Sundays after Pentecost, often called “Ordinary Time,” which we divided into two parts.

We talked about a lot of things in those days.  We talked about our lives and churches and ministry, but we also ended the week with a pretty good sense of what we would be preaching in the year ahead, and that felt good.

We’ve been doing it ever since.

Last year we had the idea to do it in the summer instead of the fall, and to bring our families along.  We got the use of a big house on Lake James in North Carolina, and Russ Dean brought his ski boat.  So, we planned our preaching each morning and then, each afternoon (sometimes after naps), we went down to the dock for swimming and sunbathing, skiing and tubing.   In the evenings we would sometimes share our favorite sermons with each other.  One night we sat on the front porch telling the stories of how we met our spouses.  Another night we ended up in a free-spirited dance party in the living room.  The kids loved that.  And so did the grownups.

On the last night we gathered around the campfire to sing songs and make S’mores and it really did feel like we had been at camp for a week.  We all felt a little closer to God and a little closer to each other.  Plus, I had some idea of what I will be preaching each Sunday from now through Advent 2012.

You don’t have many weeks like that in a year, and when you have one you just want to thank somebody for it.  So, thanks to the family who loaned us their lake house, and thanks to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which gave us some funding for the event, and thanks be to God for colleagues who have become such close friends: for Russ Dean, and Amy Butler, and Don Flowers, and Dorisanne Cooper, and John Ballenger, and for our time together at…

…Preacher Camp.

Whatever Happened to Fire and Brimstone?

Here’s a piece I wrote several years ago, after a hot summer Sunday when the air conditioner wasn’t working at church.  Enjoy!

In Garrison Keillor’s fictional boyhood home of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, air conditioning (A/C) was placed in the same category of suspicion as “dishwashers, automatic transmissions, frozen dinners, and liberal theologians,” but until last Sunday I didn’t understand why.

For reasons too complicated to explain we didn’t have A/C at my church last Sunday and things began to get a little warm.  With the temperature nearing 90 degrees outside it was well above 80 inside.  Women with flushed faces began using their church bulletins as fans.  Men pulled off their jackets and loosened their ties.  Children squirmed in the pews.  And then the heat began to have another effect: it began to make people drowsy.  From the pulpit I could see heads nodding, eyelids beginning to close, and there, halfway through the sermon and desperate for an audience, I got what I can only describe as a “fire and brimstone” feeling:

I wanted to preach LOUD!

The way I see it preachers used to face a regular problem with the heat, especially in the South.  Even with the windows up and the funeral home fans flying, a southern summer Sunday morning could sap the attentive powers of an entire congregation.  A wasp bumping lazily across the ceiling would be enough to distract them.  A dramatic pause in the sermon and half of them might drop off to sleep.

Naturally, the preacher began to raise his voice, just to wake them up, and for a while that was enough (“…and MOSES saith unto PHARAOH, ‘Let my people GO!'”).  But people get used to things, and they eventually got used to loud preaching.  So the preacher began to punctuate his sermon by pounding on the pulpit (“…and MOSES [Bam!] saith unto PHARAOH [Bam!], ‘Let my people GO!’ [Bam! Bam!]”).  But they got used to that, too.  Until finally the preacher had not choice but to preach on matters of life and death, Heaven and Hell (“…CAST them [Bam!] into the FURNACE [Bam! Bam!] of FIRE [Bam! Bam! (and) BAM!!]”).  And that worked.  That kept the congregation awake.  And it was in that context that one of the great homiletical punch lines of all time was developed: “You think it’s hot NOW!…”*

But then along came A/C, and suddenly those same people who had been dozing off before were sitting upright in the pews, wide awake, with eager, attentive expressions on their faces.  Preachers found to their amazement that they could speak in their normal voices, and even wander off into such tepid subjects as “Providence,” or “Humility,” while their listeners hung on every word.

As you might imagine that was the end of fire and brimstone preaching, and evidence enough that there is a closer connection to A/C and liberal theology than you might guess.  As Garrison Keillor says about some of the people who move away from Lake Wobegon: “They get A/C first thing and crank it up to Cold.  They drape themselves over it.  Then they find a church where God is the gentle mist rising from the meadow and the smile on a child’s face.

“They don’t want to get sweaty anymore if they can help it.”**

*Little wonder that the wide band of fervent faith known as the “Bible Belt” stretches across the sultry South and not the lukewarm North; those Southerners have had just about all the heat they can take!

**Lake Wobegon Days, p. 132

Guest Blogger: Jim Flamming

Jim Flamming was pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church for 23 years.  It was during his tenure that the television ministry began, and soon the church and its gifted preacher were known throughout the region.  Since his retirement, Dr. Flamming has focused on three things: teaching, praying, and writing.  He is currently serving as a professor of preaching at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, as Pastor Emeritus of First Baptist Church (and leader of our Empowering Prayer Team), and recently published a book called Healing the Heartbreak of Grief.

Jim Flamming has been a regular source of encouragement to me, and along the way he has become a good friend.  I asked him if he would consider sharing some thoughts about dealing with grief during the holiday season, and he gladly agreed.  I hope you will learn from what he has written and forward it to your friends and relatives whose hearts are heavy at Christmas.


The Invisible Christmas Basket of Grief
by Dr. Peter James Flamming

Gifts come in many forms at Christmas. I’ve noticed lots of baskets appear during this season – baskets with flowers, with food, with beautifully wrapped gifts to put under the tree. There is another basket, the invisible basket of grief. One who has always before joined in the celebration is absent. For many, Christmas is a mixed batch of memories, joy, and grief.

Those who have never been there may not understand the silent inner pain of loss. There is a “neveragainness” about grief – never again to be with that person around the tree, or to see the joy of their face when a gift has been opened, or the laughter at the Christmas dinner. Absent is the voice that blessed the food at the dinner table, or the smile when the Christmas story was read, or the fun of getting the tree put up and decorated. It is the “neveragainness” of grief.

Does anything help us with our grief at Christmas? I think so. These three have helped me and you may find them helpful as well:

First, try replacing the sharp edges of grief with the soft memories of gratitude. While what has been can never return, there are priceless memories that no one can take from you. They are treasures. Claim them. Remember them. Give thanks to God for them. No one else on the face of the earth has those memories. Embrace them as only you can. 

Second, when the sharp pains of loss overwhelm you, spend a little quiet time turning the trauma into a prayerful tribute. The loss you feel is a tribute to the one you have lost, and to the relationship you enjoyed. It is a tribute to the memories that dwell within you and are not erased. It is a quiet even spiritual hug for the love you had and still have for the person you so cherished. In our troubled world, the relationship you shared needs to be treasured and saluted. When your head is bowed in grief, lift up your head with tears in your eyes, and salute the years that you had together.

Third, do something. There is healing in tasking. In early grief the rule is, “just do the next thing.” Do what? Whatever needs doing. Pay bills, wash the dishes, make the bed, make the phone call. In later months and years add a new dimension, particularly appropriate at Christmas time. Do something for someone else. It is a small shadow of what our Lord did for us at Christmas, but it has the same love of Christ motivating it.

Finally, Christmas is not only for the joyful. Christmas is for healing the broken hearted. As we gather around the manger of our Lord, we can blend the pain that we feel with the healing we embrace. Christmas has many baskets, including grief, but none is so powerful as the basket that includes the manger, the Christ, and the hope that He brings.