God’s people need to hear “a word from the Lord,” to know their God is with them, and to transcend this world and be taken to the very feet of Jesus. The preacher is charged with assisting in this mission. While there may be different theological perspectives and different methods of sermon preparation and delivery, one thing remains constant—the need for quality preaching resources.
Drawing upon the rich and powerful tradition of the black church, The Abingdon African American Preaching Library offers a wealth of thoughtful, biblically grounded preaching aids, including special days in the Black Church tradition.
To read the Introduction to the book click here
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The Abingdon African American Preaching Library Volume 1
By Kirk Byron Jones
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2006 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Remembering the Whole Martin Luther King Jr.
Kirk Byron Jones
In Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero, historian Vincent Harding, a former friend of Dr. King, fears that we are experiencing "a national amnesia" regarding King. Harding writes:
Somehow it appears that we are determined to hold this hero captive to the powerful period in his life that culminated in the magnificent March on Washington of 1963, refusing to allow him to break out of the stunning eloquence of "I Have a Dream." My hope is that we might press ourselves beyond amnesia to engage the tougher and more difficult King. ([Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1996], vii)
What does Harding mean by "the tougher and more difficult King" of post-1963? Could the pre-1963 Martin King have been any tougher? In 1955, at the age of twenty- six, just a year after becoming pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery and less than a year after receiving his Ph.D. degree from Boston University, Martin King was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association. He assumed leadership of a 381-day bus boycott ignited by Rosa Parks and participated in by thousands of people. In 1956, his home—where he lived with his bride of three years, Coretta, and their two-month-old daughter, Yolanda—was bombed.
In 1957, the still new husband, father, pastor, and community leader became founding president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
In 1958, King was arrested in Montgomery and was stabbed almost to death in Harlem. During surgery, the sharp blade of the letter opener had been found dangerously close to King's aorta. Had King merely sneezed, he would have died.
Between 1960 and 1963, Martin Luther King was arrested in Atlanta, Albany, and Birmingham. Birmingham is where King penned his legendary "Letter from Birmingham Jail," a letter that was written in response to fellow white clergy who had accused King of being "a disturber of the peace" and an "outside agitator," a troublemaker. Birmingham is also the place where King's headquarters, his brother's home, and the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church were bombed. The latter tragedy killed four girls attending Sunday school: Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, and Addie Mae Collins. With a broken and heavy heart, Martin King preached at a joint funeral service for the victims. He said later that it was the first time he saw his dream turn into a nightmare. The pre-1963 King was tough enough. He dreamed, dared to deploy the dream, and weathered the brutal social, physical, and emotional storm that followed.
With King's battle scars and wounds in full view, what is Vincent Harding's point when he urges us to press beyond amnesia to engage a "tougher" Martin Luther King Jr.?
After 1963, Martin King began to say and write words that were tougher and more difficult for many in America to accept, including some of his most ardent admirers. If his words were tougher for his contemporaries to hear and accept, then they are perhaps even more difficult for many to accept now. Yet, a more responsible celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday will not deny entrance to such words. Listen to some of King's words from his final book, The Trumpet of Conscience, with this question in mind: Can we afford not to remember them?
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast between poverty and wealth. (p.32)
The developed industrial nations of the world cannot remain secure islands of prosperity in a seething sea of poverty. The storm is rising against the privileged minority of the earth, from which there is no shelter in isolation and armament. The storm will not abate until a just distribution of the fruits of the earth enables [people] everywhere to live in dignity and human decency. (p.17)
Our world is sick with war.... There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the very destructive power of modern weapons of warfare eliminates even the possibility that war may any longer serve as a negative good. (pp. 67-68)
We must find new ways to speak for peace.... If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight. ([New York: Harper & Row, 1968], 33-34)
In choosing to leave out the more controversial elements of King's sociopolitical prophecy, we risk living out the poetic lament of Carl Wendell Himes Jr.'s poem "Now That He Is Safely Dead":
Let us praise him ...
Dead men make
such convenient heroes.
Practicing Margin in Ministry
Kirk Byron Jones
A book that has had a positive, lasting influence on my life is Entitled Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard A. Swenson (Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress, 1992). Dr. Swenson's socially relevant and spiritually valid thesis is that we must allow more time and space between ourselves and our limits if we are to be well and whole. Clear and incontestable is his argument that overloaded living is both unhealthy and unholy:
We are not infinite. The day does not have more than twentyfour hours. We do not have an inexhaustible source of human energy. We cannot keep running on empty. Limits are real, and despite what some stoics might think, limits are not even an enemy. Overloading is the enemy.
Some will respond: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Can you? Can you fly? Can you go six months without eating? Neither can you live a healthy life chronically overloaded. God did not intend this verse to represent a negation of life balance. Jesus did not heal all. He did not minister to all. He did not visit all. He did not teach all. He did not work twenty-hour ministry days.
It is God the Creator who made limits, and it is the same God who placed them within us for our protection. We exceed them at our peril (p. 77).
I believe there are steps that we, as preachers, can and must take in order to observe a calmer and more peaceful pace in ministry. First, we can develop a ministry schedule that, ideally, limits our workweek to a range of forty-five to fifty-five hours and that allows for sufficient time (Swenson's margin) for solitude, rest, play, and quality time with our family and friends. (I wonder how much immorality in ministry is directly linked to improper selfcare.) Second, we can monitor our schedules so that we do not overbook preaching, teaching, and speaking engagements. For many of us the hardest, yet perhaps the most important, challenge we face is learning to say no. Third, we can learn more deeply just what it is to live within the grace and love of God that we preach and teach and to, in the process, lose our addictions to adrenaline, achievement, and acceptance: three honorable but potentially lethal sources of much of our striving.
As we come upon that moment in which we celebrate with greater emphasis the gift of God who is the Prince of Peace, let us move toward observing more peace—margin—in our living and ministry. It may very well be the best gift you can give to yourself, your family, and those to whom you minister.CHAPTER 2
Sing a New Song!
Marsha Brown Woodward
To remember that each generation needs its own song from God.
WE NEED A NEW SONG
Howard Thurman wrote:
The old song of my spirit has wearied itself out. It has long ago been learned by heart so that now it repeats itself over and over, bringing no added joy to my days or lift to my spirit....
I will sing a new song.... I must learn the new song that is capable of meeting the new need. I must fashion new words born of all the new growth of my life, my mind and my spirit. I must prepare for new melodies that have never been mine before, that all that is within me may lift my voice unto God....
Thus, I may rejoice with each new day and delight my spirit in each fresh unfolding. I will sing this day, a new song unto Thee, O God. (From Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman [Boston: Beacon Press, 1953], 206)
What are you still doing that has never worked, but because you have gotten into a habit of doing, you continue to do it? What is the new thing that God is doing or speaking in your life?
ISAIAH SPEAKS OF THE NEED OF A NEW SONG
Israel was in exile and was discouraged, and yet the prophet perceived that the season after exile would call for a different mind-set. The challenge is to start thinking in a new way before the new has come. God is an announcer, proclaiming a new order and understanding.
FREEDOM IS NOT ALWAYS FREE
An Exile Called Slavery
In the United States during the time of slavery, there were men and women who heard a new song and began to dream dreams of freedom. Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass presented two different approaches to hearing and singing a new song.
An Exile Called Jim Crow Laws
In the early years of the twentieth century, though freedom had come, laws were established to maintain segregation. James Weldon Johnson took the old song of slavery to create a new song for the then-current generation in the writing of "Lift Every Voice and Sing." The song describes the past and the way that the previous generations had sought to be faithful. But the song also asks the current generation to face the challenges of this age.
An Exile Called This Age
Although not in physical slavery, we may still be in bondage today to habits, attitudes, addictions, schedules, and work. Help the congregation think about what controls them and where their priorities might be to make the connection to a more subtle form of slavery.
IT HAS BEEN ANNOUNCED AND DECLARED THAT A NEW SONG IS POSSIBLE
The good news of the text is that in spite of our seeming resistance to live free even when we are, God continually declares freedom and a new season and song. and song.
Considerations and Resources
Consider the ways that people in the congregation define freedom. It may be fun to take a quick poll during some meetings in the weeks preceding the sermon.
How have people experienced exile? Are there illustrations from the community or congregation that will give life to the meaning of exile in our time? Consider feeling words that will paint a word picture of the emotion of exile.
For this sermon, consider singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" earlier in the service to help the congregation hear the words again. A phrase from each verse could be used during the sermon.
If you include a moment with children during your worship, continue the concept of new song by asking them to think of new songs they have learned (be careful, some new lyrics learned by youth are shocking) or even by teaching them a new song.
While suggested for African American Heritage Month, this sermon may be preached at any time during the church year.
My Thoughts and Ideas
_____________________________ _____________________________ _____________________________
Let There Be Laughter!
Kirk Byron Jones
To explore and celebrate the spiritual power of humor.
OWNING OUR LAUGHTER
What and who made you laugh as a child? What and who makes you laugh now?
I remember seeing "Moms" Mabley (Loretta Mary Aiken) on the Ed Sullivan Show when I was a child. I think I laughed at first because my father laughed. But then this older black woman dressed in funny clothes, with a funny looking hat, made funny faces, and said funny things that made me laugh. Making children laugh is high and holy work. As my seventeenyear-old son laughed with me during a movie featuring "Moms" Mabley, I marveled at Moms' magical generational range. At one point, I leaned back and told Jared, "She was a kind of priest who made hurting people laugh in the middle of sometimes brutal truth, and through their laughter they were able to keep on living."
Sarah laughs because she overhears a surprise dinner guest say something really, really funny. He assures ninety-year-old Sarah and one-hundred-year-old Abraham that they are going to be the proud parents of a bouncing baby boy. "A baby!" Sarah shakes her head and laughs to herself.
And she thinks: "I can see it now, me at my age, pushing a baby stroller up main street. A baby at ninety. I can just hear myself calling out to Abraham, 'Abe, while you're out, don't forget to pick up some diapers!'" This guy, whoever he is, has had a little too much grape juice.
Maybe he has, but Sarah soon discovers, whatever the stranger's emotional state, he can still hear pretty well. He has heard Sarah's private (and not-so-private) laughter and calls her on it. She, perhaps embarrassed at getting caught, denies that she laughed.
In my imagined version of how it went, Sarah and the stranger go back and forth like children on a playground: "You laughed," says the stranger. "Did not," Sarah responds. "Did too." "Did not." Just when it appears that Sarah will have the last word, as the stranger walks off into the distance but before he is completely out of sight, he suddenly turns and yells, "Did to!" The stranger is set on Sarah owning her laughter.
WATCH FOR ENEMIES OF DELIGHT
Alan Jones has written a marvelous book, Sacrifice and Delight: Spirituality for Ministry. He writes:
We have to be on the watch for enemies of delight.... In some ways, the organization of the church looks as if it has arranged things precisely to see to it that the Spirit is kept in check, to see that nothing happens, least of all the breaking of delight. Deadliness has a terrible mystery about it because it is not really dead. It is depressingly alive, the active enemy of delight. ([San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992], 150)
As the church can be an enemy of delight, social oppression is such an enemy. In the amazing book The Color Purple, a broken Sophia laments, "I know what it feels like to want to sing, and have it beat out you" (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982).
Fear, doubt, and cynicism are enemies of delight. How dare we laugh freely and frequently when there is so much wrong about and around us?
DARE TO LAUGH
How dare we not laugh freely and frequently when there is so much wrong about and around us? In Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare, James Cone notes the role of laughter in the lives of Martin King and Malcolm X, and the continuing power of laughter for activism today:
To fight for life is to experience the joy of life. To laugh, to have fun, is to bear witness to life against death. Freedomfighters are fun-loving people. Therefore let us laugh, let us shout for joy, not as an indication that we are no longer angry but rather as a sign that we have just begun to fight. ([Maryknoll, N.Y. Orbis Books, 1991], 309)
Laughter is a mysterious energizer. Sometimes when I laugh myself dizzy, it is almost as if I am momentarily lifted out of life. Yet, deep laughter brings us to life and brings life to us in new and invigorating ways.
THE LAST LAUGH
"You laughed, Sarah," the mysterious stranger with divine fingerprints says, not once condemning her for it. They all have the last laugh because the stranger's prophecy comes to pass. Sarah and Abraham bring Isaac—which in Hebrew means "he laughs"— into the world. Sarah got the joke, something Alice Walker calls "the true wine of astonishment. We are not over when we think we are" (from the poem "My Friend Yeshi" in Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth [New York: Random House, 2003], 142-45).
Considerations and Resources
Read or review some of the books identified in the sermon outline.
Talk to a physician about the physical attributes associated with laughter.
Review the role of laughter in your life.
Rediscover the things that made you laugh as a child.
Identify other humorous episodes in Scripture.
My Thoughts and Ideas
_____________________________ _____________________________ _____________________________
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. SUNDAY
Drum Majors for Justice
We are called to justice, called away from living in an unhealthy society, and are so sick that our survival is in jeopardy.
AMOS AND JUSTICE
Amos is a classical prophet of the eighth century. This prophet for northern Israel preached a message of doom; called for repentance; and spoke against relying on military strength, immorality, social injustice, and meaningless piety. The theme in Amos is a protest against social injustices in Northern Israel during King Jeroboam's reign. YHWH punishes the violation of injustice, allows foreign power to capture them, and ends Israel's national existence. The general point for the text is that the problem is the nature not of worship, but of the worshipers. God does not accept the worship of those who are not interested in justice in their daily lives.
Excerpted from The Abingdon African American Preaching Library Volume 1 by Kirk Byron Jones. Copyright © 2006 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
FEBRUARY—AFRICAN AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH,