I often begin speeches with a story I first heard told by Dr. Jim Forbes, the first African-American Pastor of New York Cityâ€™s Riverside Church. The story tells of a Baptist Preacher and one of his Deacons who were out fishing. The Deacon hooked a huge fish, but when his line broke and he lost it, he responded with a colorful and creative stream of profanity. The Preacher stopped him, reminded him that he was a leader of the church and urged him to exercise self control.
As soon as the Deacon apologized and settled down, the Preacher caught a bigger fish that he and the Deacon managed to wrestle alongside of the boat – before the Preacherâ€™s pole split and the fish fell back into the water. The Preacher and the Deacon watched the biggest fish either of them had ever hooked swimming away, looked at each other, and the Deacon said, â€œPastor, excuse me for what Iâ€™m about to say. I know what you said about self control, but at a time like this, somebody ought to say something!â€
I thought of that story in the light of a coming scheduled event at Morris Brown, where weâ€™re beginning our fourteenth year together as pastor and people. Fourteen is a multiple of seven, a number with special Scriptural significance. God created all that exists in seven days, Joshua and the people of God marched around the city of Jericho for seven days before seeing the walls collapse when they shouted, and Godâ€™s law designated every seventh year as a year of jubilee – a year for revelation, reflection, liberation and renewal.
When we began our seventh year together, I met with all of our congregationâ€™s Stewards, Trustees and Class Leaders to determine their desire for continued service and to hear their ideas on how the church should meet the needs of the present age. Weâ€™ll expand on that idea as we begin our fourteenth year together with Congregational Dialogue and Prayer Sessions at 6:30 pm on September 13, 14, 15, 20 and 21 – all members of the church are invited to come and to â€œsay somethingâ€ about their thoughts on the mission and ministry of our church family.
I hope that those sessions will bear positive fruit, for we are called upon to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ in times of challenge and opportunity. We have to make disciples in a time when economic strain extends into the church and impacts our ministries. We have to be authentic in worship but innovative as well in a time when many people opt for generic, trend driven, feel good, â€œprosperityâ€ religion thatâ€™s lot like popcorn – tasty, but with little in the way or substance or nutrition.
We have to be the church of those who grew up in a time when telephones and televisions were new technology and those who now text and e-mail more than they talk – those who find solace in hymns and anthems and those who are moved by Marvin Sapp and Kurt Franklin. We have to be the church of those who once communicated from front porches and over back fences and those who now â€œTweetâ€ and have Facebook friends. We have to touch the lives of the hungry, homeless and hurting and the lives of those who have a bad day when a â€œbearishâ€ stock market diminishes their investments.
We have to speak truth to power in a time when shrill, empty and divisive rhetoric are politically acceptable and when many good people stay silent and donâ€™t even go to the polls, thinking that one person canâ€™t make a difference. We have to care for seniors in a time when reliable â€œsafety netsâ€ are being shredded and to young people who often feel ignored and excluded by those who care more about church power than about prophetic witness. We have to do all of those things with an awareness of shifting population trends that make many historically African-American churches cultural islands in a sea of unfamiliar residents – with few congregants in walking distance.
Weâ€™ll discuss and pray about all of those things on our days of congregational dialogue and prayer in an atmosphere of mutual respect and Spirit led creative thought, so that our time together will be spent not in talking about what the church used to be and canâ€™t do today, but about what the Lord can do today when we take seriously what God said through the prophet Isaiah and â€œreason together.â€
I encourage all of those in the Morris Brown church family – and especially those who aspire to positions of leadership – to attend those sessions and â€œsay something.â€ We wonâ€™t be profane, but we will be frank and positive in shaping a vision for todayâ€™s church. We have to be, for itâ€™s easy to talk about what the church ought to do, but something else altogether to share in positive dialogue and let the Lord use our time and talent and treasure to actually do the work.