Jun 24 2014

Take Me to the Water

by Brandon C. Harris

For three days I agonized over my sermon. It was my first week at Heritage Fellowship Church in Reston, Virginia and already I had to preach – and for a baptism at that. I wrote and rewrote. I prayed and consulted fellow seminarians on Facebook. What in the world was I supposed to say to five youth preparing to be baptized on a Wednesday evening?

Part of me wanted to tell them good luck and Godspeed! Following Jesus is never easy and he has a track record of taking folks to places they never wanted to go, like seminary.  What could I say to five middle and high school aged youth who had decided that they wanted to follow Christ, who were willing to submit themselves to being immersed in our large baptismal pool. How I agonized and prayed.

I wanted to draw on my rich theological education and say something profound about baptism. However, as I stood before their eager faces that evening, hoping to say something meaningful to them, I realized my words were not needed at all.  God’s word, alive in the testimony of those five youth, was more powerful than anything I could say. We laughed and we cried as we heard them witness of God’s presence in their lives.  A young man testified of how God’s grace – through the love of his family and the goodness of God within his life – led him to seek a relationship with Christ.  A young woman testified of how she lost her mother and was displaced from her family and how Christ had been her constant companion.

That night the youth of Heritage taught me a lesson not found in any classroom. The love of God shown in the ordinance of baptism became alive.  As they rose out of the waters, the smiles that emerged and the glow on their faces displayed to the world that they belonged to God.  There in the waters of baptism those five youth were born anew. That night we saw the face of God in those youth.  I will not remember that night because of the words spoken in a sermon or the lyrics of a song, but because of the testimony of one young man who proclaimed, “Jesus loves me! Why wouldn’t I want to be baptized?”

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Brandon Harris is a 2nd Year MDiv from Rochester, New York. Brandon is a Licensed Minister in the Church of God and Christ and is a member of the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. He is serving this summer as a Pastoral Intern at Heritage Fellowship Church a Non-Denominational Church in Reston, Virginia.

 

 

 

 

 


Nov 7 2011

Experiencing The Realness of God

There are some things I may not know
There are some places I cannot go; but I am sure of this one thing,
That God is real for I can feel God deep within
 
Yes God is real, REAL IN MY SOUL. 
Yes, God is real 
for God has washed and made me whole.

God’s love for me is like pure gold,

Yes, God is real 
for I can feel God in my soul.      

 -Kenneth Morris

These are the lyrics to one of the most recognizable Southern gospel songs and hymns “Yes God is Real.” Embodied in this song is an attempt to communicate a storied tradition. A tradition rooted in both personal and communal experience that expresses an assurance of the presence of God. How does one communicate the  “realness” of God to others? Or a better question is how does ones story come alive through singing a song?

Before you’re tempted to raise a brow, grimace, or go off into deep theological reflection, I would like to suggest that music, as one internalizes the lyrics, and gives way to the intonations and rhythms not only evokes a emotive or physiological response, but it elicits and communicates ones innermost (experiential) truths.

This was evident in the Black Church Studies Fall Worship Service, spearheaded by Dr. Teresa Fry Brown, Professor of Homiletics and Director of Black Church Studies at Candler. God’s presence began to manifest itself in very distinctive ways as the body of people gathered- some familiar with the songs and rituals of the Black Church, while others were not- began to release their experiential truths into the atmosphere through the singing of hymns and spiritual songs.

I observed from the choir, Shouts of “hallelujah” and “amen”, raised hands, bodies swaying and stooped over, feet thumping, tears flowing, and above all an energetic communication of the “realness” of God within the soul of the community. The program was organized in such a way that we traveled through a virtual archive of the Black Church experiences, covering all from the traditional lining out of hymns, which is a form of call and response; an a capella hymn-singing in which a leader, gives each line of a hymn as it is to be sung, to contemporary praise and worship, communal prayer, and good ole preaching, which on this occasion was from the Baptist tradition. Despite ones cultural or denominational background, by the end of the service one was oriented to a day in life and worship in the Black Church.

Each round went higher and higher as students led us in worship and praise through word, reading, and song. The Voices of Imani, under the leadership of Erica Deloney, a second year MDIV student at Candler really personified their name and communicated the very essence of gospel through their fervent worship and melodious sound. They sang “For Every Mountain” and “The Lord is Blessing Me.”

The Reverend Dr. Marcus Cosby was the elect speaker for the occasion. Dr. Cosby is one of the most renowned and celebrated preachers in the Black Church. A graduate of Morehouse School of Religion at the Interdenominational Theological Center and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Illinois, Dr. Cosby was inducted into Martin Luther King Board of Preachers at Morehouse School of College. Dr. Cosby currently serves as the Senior Pastor of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, Texas.

Dr. Cosby preached a very timely word for the student body at Candler. He preached: “The Process of Progress.” Using Luke 5: 1-11 as a central text, Dr. Cosby exhorted us to continue to cast our nets into the deep waters despite failed attempts in the past. He provided three points of reflection that I will delineate below:

Ignore past failures: Be willing to acknowledge and own past failures, but don’t allow them to hinder your progress. Instead of being held hostage by the fear, shame, or humiliation of the past, one would do well to reframe past failures, inquiring of them the critical lessons that are to be gained in the process of progress.

Initiate the possibilities of the future: Try “it” again. Dare to do something that you’ve never done before. Even if it is the same task that one is attempting, try approaching it with a different expectation of the outcome and employ different strategies to accomplish the end goal.

Ignite faith- Anticipate God’s faithfulness. Expect that if we leave the shore (representation of shallow places in ones life) and go into the deep waters that God will sustain and provide for us beyond our wildest imaginations. “If we would dare to plunge deeper into the theological waters in which we are treading, expect that God will meet us there.”

This was a very appropriate message for Candler students as we have survived and come through the currents of midterms only to face the quickly approaching tidal wave of finals. I encourage us to contemplate and employ the things Dr. Cosby suggested above in our attempt to press forward and complete this race with integrity and sanity of mind.

Just as the fisherman, appeared to have caught absolutely nothing, until they connected with and surrendered to the directives of Jesus, let us too surrender to the voice of wisdom, trusting that God will fill every void, and enable us to accomplish more than we’d ever hoped to accomplish.

Press forward with the renewed hope that the race is not given to the swift, or the prize given to the expert, but to the one who endures and has ascertained the necessary skills and knowledge to move forward.

- Ashely Thomas

Ashley is a second year MDiv student from Atlanta and a Student Ambassador.