“….I’m Gonna Preach when the Spirit Says Preach!”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God. — Micah 6:8
New Testament Lesson:
11 Jesus speaks Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. 13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
Second Corinthians 13:11-13
Let us pray:
Come Spirit Come…may you breathe into my heart so that my words that I may proclaim the Holy One’s Good News. Come Spirit Come….may you breathe in everyone’s heart that so they may hear the Holy One’s Good News. Amen.
I was ordained on October 18, 1969, at the Baker Community Church, a United Church of Christ in Baker, Montana, by the Eastern Association of the Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference.
On the occasion of my eightieth birthday, I reflect upon my almost 48 years of ordained ministry. I started back in college with three churches I served with little training or expertise under my belt. In one of the three churches, a man told me he would not come to worship as long as I was pastor. His reason was because I used the “Communist Bible”. In reality, it was the Revised Standard Version which we have in our pews. A radio preacher flooded the Texas airways with hate against any one who used the RSV. In another church, a parishioner got mad at me for moving the pulpit and had me fired. After that, I got jobs outside of the ministry — realizing I wasn’t quite ready for “prime time”.
A roller coaster describes my ministerial ride best. The encounter with the man who didn’t like my bible translation and the woman who had me fired are a few of the low spots.
From the beginning, I believe I was Called for the ministry. I accepted the Call during college and was graduated from Texas Wesleyan University with an undergraduate degree. A few years later I was graduated from Perkins School of Theology with a Masters of Theology. I was sad my dad died when I was eleven and missed these milestones. And on the other hand, I am happy that my mother was present for both graduations. She was present for my ordination in Montana. She attended both of my Installation Services in Iowa.
She came to visit for my Manson, Iowa, Installation. She sat in the pew of the “church witch”. The woman came in and began to tell her about how bad the new pastor was. Mom, in her Texas accent, said, “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Marie Tinsley Hempel and you had better get on your knees and ask for God’s forgiveness.” From that moment on, the lady’s attitude changed. She invited mom to every church women’s function and drove her to the event. After mom came to live with us, she continued her kindness until mom’s death. God is still speaking….
I would be amiss if I didn’t tell you a story that included my dad. Elaine & I visited my mom in Texas one summer. She always wanted to visit her old friend, Ellen, in Houston. We saw Ellen in a nursing home. Ellen said to Elaine and I. “I remember the first time I met you. You were only a couple weeks old. Your daddy brought you into the drug store and said, ‘this is my preacher son’.” I smiled and thanked Ellen for her story. Underneath, I was roaring mad. I thought, “How come my dad plan my career before I had a chance to decide for myself?” Later, I called Jerri —my very best friend in Los Angeles, to rant about my this new information. She calmly replied, “He could have choose a worst profession.” My response, “I should known what your response would be. You love the church more than anyone I know.”
Jerri died a few years after that conversation. I know she would agree with me that I would have gone into the ministry without my dad’s decision for me. Jerri & I were close friends because we both loved the church. We shared many of the same Christian values.
Jerri learned at her Christian Church in the village of New Boston, Missouri. And, my values were learned at the Columbia United Methodist Church in West Columbia, Texas.
Those values reflect the Hebrew teaching from Micah 6:6. The definition of True Religion determined by Dr. Alice Wonders, my Bible professor at Texas Wesleyan. That is “to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.”
I believe that when the Spirit says preach, you will obey the Spirit of the Lord.
I remember a conversation I had Jerri in her living room. I told her that as a child I wondered why men got to do everything and women were left out. She told me that she believed all women were created equal to men. Women deserved jobs and to be treated equally in the work place. A couple years later she had she was splitting expenses down the middle with her husband. She said it was hard because she had very little spending money. She was happy to pay half of the home expenses with Denton, her minister husband.
I have always supported female clergy. I have had arguments with male and female church members when I asked a female colleague to fill the pulpit when I’ve been on vacation. Some denominations still won’t ordain women.
The lowest point in my life was when President Kennedy was assassinated five miles from my Dallas classroom where I was studying a book, The Nature and Destiny of Man by Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr was an important theologian who went to Elmhurst College. My friend, Joanna, heard teens in her eighth grade English class clapping after Kennedy was shot. My pastor went on national television saying that kids in another Dallas classroom clapped. Bill’s life was threatened and our church was closed down for two weeks until the danger passed.
During my seminary days, I experienced hate and anger toward not only President Kennedy, but against my fellow students, especially the African-American students. I was eating dinner with one of my dearest friends, Darius, an African-American. A angry white man was kept away from our table by the manager. He was angry because black and white men were eating together. I have worked for the equal rights in Texas by participating in sit-ins.
My values were questioned later when I voted for Marriage Equality at the UCC General Synod in Atlanta. Pastor Joe and I swopped pulpits. He preached for me and explained to St Petri that Synod speaks to the church and not for the church. That issue came up yesterday on an issue at our Conference meeting.
I speak the truth to the best of my ability in all situations. I believe as the late William Sloan Coffin wrote, “The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything about love.” I have a sermon titled, “At the Intersection of Truth and Love Avenues.”
I strongly believe in visiting people in the hospital, in nursing home and in their homes. I have had a blessed ministry mixed with tears and laughter as I have served people in ministry. I cried with the family of Ben—a young man who died too early from cancer. The mourned with the family of Barry a parishioner died from a gun shot wound in the town where I lived. I walked in streets of Manson, Iowa, to find people after a tornado destroyed our town. My church and parsonage were heavily damaged. I located elderly members with their adult children. I called the Iowa Conference office at 6:15 am the morning after the tornado. I expected to leave a voice message for the conference staff. Scott Libby, the conference minister, answered the phone and wanted to know how Elaine and I were doing. God is still speaking.…
I laughed with young adults after surgery for pulling a wisdom teeth. I said
“what are you going to do after you lost your wisdom?” They laugh and say, “Oh, Pastor Bob!”
As I sought to treat everyone with kindness, my friends in my churches and the wider churches had returned that kindness. The kindness sharing pattern continued in ministry. In Montana, I was married and divorced. After my divorce, my friend Jerri and her husband Denton walked with me through the painful valley until Elaine came along. Then, they invited Elaine & I to honeymoon in their Los Angeles home.
After the tornado, the wider church loved me and my church with phone calls and contributions to help our church rebuild the building and parsonage. The wider church affirmed that God is still speaking….
People here in Illinois have really loved us when Aaron was hospitalized at Shriners Hospital. He was in Marge Nelson’s preschool down the hall. This congregation supported me during several of my surgeries along with St. Petri on the East Side. Your kindness has been appreciated.
My core beliefs come my Biblical teaching and belief that God lives in the here and now. God calls us in the present to serve our fellow humans. One minister talks about God calling her to teach people to put on the “God glasses” and see the world as God sees the world. We put on God Glasses when we worship, study the Bible and learn the faith in the Community of Faith, the Church.
On preaching, God calls me, Pastor Joe or any other minister to preach the truth as contained in the Bible. We are called research from the best translations, read the best scholars and work hard to uncover how the Spirit speaks in each text.
Music is very important. I remember 5,000 youth singing “Kum Ba Ya” at a national youth conference when I was 18 years old. I remember four Africa-American inmates at the Garden Protestant Chapel at St. Quentin prison singing in moving harmony about the “Love of God” before I preached. I was moved by a concert of Bach heard in a city center in Oberammergau, Germany. It was a Bach blend of choral voices and a string quartet. I remember listening to the religious choral work of David Brubeck at Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago. Music in the church witnesses to that God is still speaking.…
I remember a wider-church meeting where tensions were high about the firing of a staff member. A group of pastors came “loaded for bear”. At one point tempers were boiling. Suddenly our leader starting singing, “I woke up this morning with Jesus on my mind…” At first I wondered what was happening. Quickly, the leader had everyone singing and tensions calmed. God is still speaking…
Prayer is major part of the ministry of the church. Prayer is not to influence God’s mind. The goal of prayer is to aline our thoughts and minds with God’s mind. Prayer is to instruct us to put on God glasses. Prayer reminds us to be faithful in difficult times. Last year, I was terrified when I learned I may have cancer in my left kidney. This church put loving arms around me. I was given a hug prayer by Karen Hart at a Lenten dinner. Kathy Moore and Lou Bender came to the hospital with Elaine & I. Pastor Joe was there with prayers. The surgery was cancelled because my blood was too thin. The following Sunday, you supported me again at morning worship. I had a massage in the afternoon. Then, I called my friend Catherine by phone in California. I then called Sharon, a fellow pastor in North Carolina. This former Chicago Police Chaplain prayed with me on the phone before my Monday surgery.
The kidney was cancerous when they removed the left kidney. Today I am well and feel great. I join many of you in the congregation as cancer survivors. God walked with me through your prayers and physical presence. That’s how God is still speaking…
When we live in a community of acceptance, truth and love kindness. God walks with us. We are called to live in a faith community that believes all persons are valuable.
Four hundred years ago in 1623, John Donne wrote:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
I updated Donne’s words to a global world view. “No person is an island entire of one’s self, each person’s sorrow is mine and each person’s joy is mine. We don’t live in isolation.”
In this world, we still have racism as in the Dallas during 1963. We still haven’t listened to God that women and men are created equal.
I will keep on preaching and listening to the Word of God that all persons are created equal in the eyes of God. I will still say that we people in the pews need to learn to put on God glasses, learn how to see as God sees.
Yesterday, the closing worship at the Conference Annual Celebration was led by five young church leaders. Two of the women in that service I have known for many years. Their journeys have been very difficult. My point is that much work is left to be done.
As long as God gives me breath, I will continue to preach to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God”. Let the people say, Amen.
Preached on June 11, 2017, Westchester Community
—United Church of Christ, Westchester, IL, USA