Month: June 2013

What Paula Deen Should Have Learned

booksBy now the story that Paula Deen casually admitted she had used racial epithets is old news. Further revelations that she also considered a “plantation-themed” wedding complete with white-jacketed African American men waiters contributed to the narrative of Deen as racially-insensitive at best, and racist at worst.

The admission by Deen that she has used the n-word sparked a social media debate about whether or not she is being treated fairly by the mainstream media. The New York Times reported over the weekend fans still waited in line at Deen’s restaurant in Savannah, while Deen’s defenders rallied online to her cause.

On the other side of the argument, Food Network revealed it will not renew her contract, which means her Emmy-winning cooking show will disappear taking with it her TV audience. Cable TV shopping channel QVC said it is monitoring the situation but it has no plans for Deen to appear to hawk her cookware anytime soon. USA Today quoted public relations pundits who said “Deen is done.”

Why do fans defend Deen while cable TV shows drop her faster than you can say buttered biscuits? Because Food Network and QVC understand what Deen and her fans don’t — in the US market, commercial brands cannot appear to be racist.

Of course, that wasn’t always the case. Brands like the Aunt Jemima brand and logo have been revised over the years, transforming Aunt Jemima from the bandana-wearing “mammy” of an idealized Southern plantation life, to a contemporary portrait of an attractive African American woman.

For their own economic survival, US corporations have made conscious efforts to change logos and narratives that were tied to a racist past. Paula Deen built a cooking empire on the idea of Southern charm and eccentricity embodied in over-the-top recipes and her Southern drawl. What Deen never learned was that her brand had to steer clear of the darkside of Southern history and life.

Deen’s casual “of course” admission revealed her obliviousness to the changing world around her. Gone with more than the wind is the fantasy of the South that Deen parlayed into a personal fortune. While US consumers may not mind the extra calories in her dishes, she can’t serve them with a side helping of racism.

Sermon: Re-digging Our Fathers’ Wells


I am preaching this sermon on Father’s Day, June 16, 2013. I hope your Father’s Day celebration is wonderful. 

Re-digging Our Fathers’ Wells

Genesis 26:18 NIV

18 Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them.

Today is Father’s Day

Today is Fathers’ Day. As often happens on this day, dads are served their favorite breakfast, presented with handmade cards that say things like, “You’re the greatest, Dad!” and, generally made to feel pretty special on this day.

The idea for a Father’s Day to balance the honoring of mothers on Mothers’ Day was the brainchild of Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Washington. In 1910, after noting the success of Mothers’ Day, Dodd proposed that a similar day to honor fathers be set aside. She suggested her own father’s birthday, but apparently her pastor did not have enough time to prepare a suitable sermon, and so the celebration was delayed until June 19, 1910, where at the YMCA of Spokane, Washington the first Father’s Day was observed.

Unfortunately, the designation of a special day for fathers failed to catch on like Mothers’ Day, but Dodd enlisted retailers who sold men’s clothing, tobacco, and other accessories in the effort to promote and establish a permanent holiday. Father’s Day observances grew, but it wasn’t until 1972 that President Richard Nixon signed a bill proclaiming this Sunday the official observance of Father’s Day here in the United States.

But beyond the ties, t-shirts, mugs, and other gifts dads receive on Father’s Day, and despite the fact that the celebration has serious commercial undertones, there is a significant point to Father’s Day. Father’s Day celebrates the best that our fathers, or those who acted in that role, bequeathed to us in their examples, words, instruction, guidance, and care.

The Legacy of Abraham, Isaac’s Father

The passage I have chosen today from Genesis 26:18 is a rather simple accounting of Isaac re-opening the wells that his father Abraham had dug previously. This brief and to-the-point verse tells a very interesting story.

“Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them.” -Genesis 26:18 NIV

Here’s the background to this short verse. God had called Abraham out of the Ur of Chaldees. God’s plan was for Abraham to become the father of a great nation of people which we know as the Jews, and the nation of Israel. But when God called Abraham, he was already an old man, and his wife Sarah was old, too. They had no children of their own, and so the promise of God that Abraham would be the father of a great nation was one they both chuckled at on more than one occasion.

In addition to that, they tried to help God out. At Sarah’s urging, Abraham took her servant, Hagar, and fathered a child named Ishmael. They did things like that then, and it was perfectly acceptable because not to have an heir was to have no one to care for you in your old age.

But God’s plan was that Abraham, who was 100 years old, and Sarah, who was 90, would have their own natural biological child. Which they did, and they named him Isaac. And so God fulfilled his promise to give Abraham a son, and to make Abraham the father of a great nation.

Before Isaac was born, Abraham was on a journey with God, living a nomadic existence. Abraham, the Bible tells us, would eventually have great herds and flocks, and a large extended family and entourage that accompanied him. And of course, because they were in the desert and wilderness a lot, they always needed to be able to find water.

So, on one occasion Abraham had dug wells to provide water for his family and flocks. The king of the region, Abimelech, had servants who seized the wells Abraham had dug, claiming them as their own. At an opportune moment, Abraham confronted King Abimelech. Abimelech had already asked Abraham to deal fairly with him because his had noticed that God was taking care of Abraham.

Abraham made a deal with Abimelech. Abraham presented 7 sheep to Abimelech, and said to him, “By receiving these 7 sheep, you are acknowledging that I dug this well, and that it is mine.” Abimelech said, “Fine” and Abraham named the well Beersheba, which means “oath well.”

Now probably 50 or so years passed, and Abraham died. Isaac is now a grown man, and his wife Rebekah is the love of his life. But, a famine grips the land where they are living, and Isaac turns to the King of Gerar, Abimelech, just as his father Abraham has done. The King, perhaps remembering the encounter with Isaac’s father, invites Isaac to stay in Gerar rather than go down to Egypt.

Isaac settles down in Gerar, just like his father Abraham did, and re-digs the wells that his father Abraham had dug, and names the wells the same names that Abraham had used.

The story ends just like the story of Abraham’s wells ended: after having a squabble with some of the shepherds under Abimelech’s rule, they finally come to an agreement that Isaac can use the well he names Rehoboth. After that, Isaac repeats the action of his father Abraham — he goes up to Beersheba and worships God.

The Lesson of the Wells

So, this morning, on this Father’s Day, I’d like for us to focus for just a moment on what lessons we can learn from these stories about digging and re-digging wells. There are three main thoughts I want you to take home with you on this Father’s Day.

First, from our fathers, both biological and spiritual, we can learn important life lessons. I am sure that Abraham shared the story of how God had called him from the Ur of Chaldees, had promised to make him the father of a great nation, and of the story of how Isaac had been born to a couple most thought too old to have children.

I am sure that Abraham told Isaac the story of how one day God called on Abraham to take Isaac, who then was perhaps 10 years old or so, to Mount Moriah to sacrifice him. Of course, human sacrifice – even child sacrifice – was fairly common in that era. But I am sure that Abraham also told Isaac that he wondered at the command of God. Isaac was Abraham’s only hope for the fulfillment of God’s promise. If there was no Isaac, Abraham would not be a father, and could not become the father of a great nation. So, it must have all seemed very strange to Abraham.

However, I am also sure that Abraham told Isaac that story, and then told him how in the moment that Abraham lifted the knife to plunge it into Isaac’s chest, that God provided a ram as a substitute. Of course, Isaac was there, and I am sure relived those moments as Abraham retold the story.

Those wells that Abraham dug provided the water that made it possible for Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, their family, their servants, and their flocks to survive. That water from those wells that Abraham had dug were the source of life in an environment of death. Without that water, no one and nothing of Abraham’s would have survived.

Those wells symbolize, not just water, but all that Abraham had done in obedience to God, and all that God had done in providing for and protecting Abraham.

The digging of those wells required planning, effort, and concern and love for others. And just like Abraham’s obedience to God, those wells symbolized the ways in which Abraham sought to care for his family.

I am sure that if I asked you today, “What wells did your father dig that were examples to you of his care and love?” you could come up with many examples. The point is that what our fathers have done, whether they are our biological or spiritual fathers, in order to care for us is as important as it was for Abraham to dig the wells to provide water.

The second point I want to make today is this: We need to keep those examples alive, to re-dig those wells, so they can be a source of life to others.

This is exactly what Isaac did. Isaac followed the example of his father Abraham. He found refuge with the same king, in the same country, that his father Abraham had. And, Isaac re-opened the wells his father Abraham had dug for the same reason — to provide life-giving water to his family, his flocks, and for his crops.

In our changeable society, we tend not to value that which has gone before us like we once did. Tradition is often used in a derogatory manner, as in “let’s get rid of that old tradition and do something new.” Well, sometimes we do need to do something new, but not all the time.

If we do not value those who have gone before us, we miss the lesson of the wells and the example of our fathers. Debbie and I are watching a series about the life of John Adams, second president of the United States. What was glossed over in the history of our nation that we studied in school was the difficulty in establishing this nation as a free and independent country.

John Adams was convinced that the colonies must become independent. Others were not so convinced, and after much wrangling, and great disagreement and dissent, all thirteen colonies finally came together to declare independence from England. But many, like Adams, paid a high price for their convictions.

In Chinese culture, ancestors are revered. So much so, that the ancient practice of cleaning the bones of the dead ancestors was, and in some places still is practiced. Ancestors were believed to have made the lives of their descendants possible, and were thought to still be important in living a good and happy life.

While we don’t want to adopt Chinese ancestor worship, we do need to pay attention to the examples our forefathers, and mothers, have set for us. All tradition isn’t bad. If, for instance, we paid attention to the theological struggles of the early church, and learned from them, we wouldn’t continue to make the very same theological mistakes today.

When Isaac re-opened the wells his father Abraham had dug, he did it for very practical reasons, I imagine. First, the wells had been dug once, and so re-opening them wouldn’t be as hard as starting over.

Secondly, Isaac knew that if he dug where his father Abraham had dug, he would hit water. The water was still there, where Abraham his father had first found it. Re-digging those wells meant that the water would be there, and it would be available sooner that if they started from scratch.

Finally, when Isaac re-dug those wells, he knew the struggle he might have. Sure enough, 50 years later, Abimelech’s servants also tried to take Isaac’s wells, just as they had his father’s. But, Isaac had the experience of Abraham to inform his own experience. When Isaac was successful in not only opening, but laying claim to the well at Rehoboth, he followed the example of his father Abraham and acknowledged God’s role in providing for him.

However, Isaac not only dug the wells, but named them the same names that Abraham called them. My final point is that we need to not only re-open our fathers’ wells, we need to call them by the same names.

Now, here we’re sort of on our own because with a couple of exceptions, we don’t know the names of Abraham’s wells. But let’s extend our metaphor and assume that the names of the wells are the attributes and values of Abraham that we need to re-open for ourselves.

We could take Abraham’s example of good stewardship and reopen that well. After all, God blessed Abraham with flocks and family, and Abraham was blessed beyond his wildest imagination by God. But that’s not the most important well.

If we had to pick one well, one name, to re-dig then that well would be the well of faith. Over and over again, the Bible says, “Abraham believed God.”

Listen to Hebrews 11 from a completely different era, probably over 2,000 years after Abraham lived.

8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance,obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she[b] considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”[c] 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

If there is any well we need to re-open today, it is the well of faith. Abraham’s great gift to Isaac, to his offspring, to the first century church, and to us today is the example of faith. Abraham believed God when God called him out of paganism into obedience. Abraham believed God when God promised to make him the father of a great nation. Abraham believed God when God promised to make him, not only the father of a great nation, but the father of one little boy. Abraham believed God when God asked for that boy’s life back as a sacrifice. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham reasoned that if he killed Isaac, that God could bring Isaac back from the dead, which is what would have had to happen for Abraham to have grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and to become the father of a great nation.

So, on this Father’s Day, let’s remember that our fathers have dug some wells that we still need. Let’s re-open the well of faith particularly, because it is at that well that we find living water.


Father’s Day Sermon Idea

Dad 90 bday

This is my dad speaking to his Sunday School class at his 90th birthday party. On this Fathers’ Day I am departing from the revised common lectionary reading for this Sunday. Instead, I’m preaching from Genesis 26:18 NIV —

18 Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them.

The title for the message is “Re-digging Our Fathers’ Wells.” The story from Genesis is that Isaac reopened wells that his father, Abraham, had previously dug, which were filled up by the Philistines. Of course, the Philistines were sea-faring people who realized that if they cut off access to water, they cut off the lives of their enemies.

The big idea of the message is that we need to reopen the wells that served as a source of life for our fathers, and which can serve as our life-source today. I’m going to examine the wells dug by our biological fathers, our denominational fathers, and our spiritual fathers.

Of course, I recognize that this is a “spiritualization” of this passage, but Fathers’ Day is a Sunday for remembering the contribution that our fathers have made to our lives, appreciating their examples, and learning from them. I’ll probably post the sermon text on Saturday. If you’re a pastor, what are you planning to preach on this Fathers’ Day?

Sermon: Knocking Down Barriers To the Presence of God

Tomorrow, Sunday, June 2, 2013, our church will dedicate a new handicapped lift that we recently installed. The lift eliminates the need to climb 7 steps to get into our sanctuary from the educational building. Although we have a wheelchair ramp at the front doors of the church, those 7 stairs were the last barrier to making our church completely handicapped accessible. It’s interesting to me that the lectionary reading for today involves Solomon’s prayer that when “foreigners” come to the Temple, Solomon prays that God will hear them. Israel’s mission and ours is to make the presence of God accessible to everyone. I hope your Sunday is a wonderful! 

Knocking Down Barriers To the Presence of God

I Kings 8:22-23, 41-43 NIV

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven 23 and said:

“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.

41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— 42 for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.”

Solomon’s Prayer For The Temple

To say that this was a special day would have been a huge understatement. Solomon, king of Israel, stood in the most unique and exquisite building in his kingdom. It was a project that his father David had wanted to undertake. But despite the fact that David was a man after God’s own heart, God reserved the building of the Temple for David’s son, Solomon.

After years of planning and gathering materials — cedar from Lebanon, cypress, stone quarried and cut off site so the sound of iron tools would not be heard in the Temple area — and after seven years’ of actual construction, Solomon now stood before the house of God and before God’s people, Israel.

Facing the massive outdoor altar on which Solomon will later sacrifice 120,000 sheep and 22,000 oxen, Solomon offers a prayer for this building that he has built as God’s dwelling place on earth.

Acknowledging that no earthly building can contain all of God’s presence, Solomon nevertheless connects the earthly Temple to the heavenly throne of God. Solomon asks that when Israelites gather to pray there, that God will hear from his throne in heaven.

But then Solomon asks God for something unusual. After asking for God to hear the Israelites whenever they call on him in the Temple, Solomon then asks the same privilege for non-Israelites — for foreigners.

Solomon says that foreigners will hear of God’s great name — and they will he states — then Solomon asks God to hear the prayers of foreigners, too, and to whatever the foreigner asks so that all people will know that God is the one true God, and that they will also know that this Temple contains the very presence of that God.

In other words, this magnificent temple made of the best materials by the best artisans available, this temple that is overlaid with gold throughout, that gleams in the sunshine, that gives glory to the God of Israel — this temple is to be accessible to everyone, even foreigners.

Solomon’s prayer is a radical departure for his day and for national places of worship. Of course, it wasn’t unusual for nations to have their own gods, and most had several. What was unique about Israel though was that Israel only had one god. Usually nations were very protective of their gods. As nations went to battle, the nation who prevailed in battle was believed to have the stronger, more effective god. We see some of this reflected even in the Old Testament, where victories in battle are attributed to God, and defeats in battle are seen to be God’s punishment for an unfaithful people.

What we might expect Solomon to say is something like this — “Lord, you are our god. We serve you and we built this house for you. Now pay special attention to us, your special people. Favor us over everyone else. And, don’t pay any attention to the prayers of other people who aren’t like us.”

Instead, Solomon says just the opposite. Oh, of course, he does invoke God’s presence, blessing, and favor on Israel. But then he adds, “Lord, others will hear about you, and they’ll come to this place. When they do, and they pray to you, hear them, too.”

This is what made Israel different from all the nations around them. Not only did Israel have a god, but from the beginning when God called Abraham and promised to make him the father of a great nation, part of the promise was that Israel was going to be blessed to be a blessing to all the nations.

Unfortunately, by the first century when Jesus is announcing the kingdom of God, Israel has forgotten that their temple is to be open to all people. Of course, the Court of the Gentiles was still in the Temple, but this is where the money changers and those who sold animals for sacrifice had set up shop. By taking up so much space for their commercial enterprise, the Gentiles were being excluded from their space in the presence of God.

That’s why when Jesus drives the money changers and merchants from the temple, he quotes the Old Testament by saying that his Father’s house was to be called a house of prayer for all nations, but they had made it a den of thieves. Not only were the merchants stealing from their own people, they were denying access to the presence of God to all the foreigners, all the other nations.

Another House of Worship, But The Same Prayer

Nineteen hundred years after Jesus, on April 8, 1906, the Los Angeles Times, then called the Los Angeles Daily Times, carried an article describing a new church in an industrial section of Los Angeles. But this wasn’t the standard Methodist, Baptist, or Presbyterian church.

The report in the paper that day said “a new sect of fanatics was breaking loose.” This bizarre new religious sect had started with people “breathing strange utterances and mouthing a creed which it would seem no sane mortal could understand.” Furthermore, “Devotees of the weird doctrine practice the most fanatical rites, preach the wildest theories, and work themselves into a state of mad excitement.”

“If that didn’t grab the reader’s attention, the article continued by saying that, ‘Colored people and a sprinkling of whites compose the congregation, and night is made hideous in the neighborhood by the howlings of the worshippers who spend hours swaying forth and back in a nerve-racking attitude of prayer and supplication.’ To top it all off, they claimed to have received the “gift of tongues,” and what’s more, “comprehend the babel.”’ (Courtesy:

For three years the Asuza Street congregation held on as a mixed congregation of blacks and whites, rich and poor, educated and illiterate. But the persistent negative press, and the suspicions and prejudice of the citizens of Los Angeles eventually drove them to disband. Laws were enacted to prohibit mixed race worship, and blacks were excluded from white services not only in California but elsewhere as Jim Crow laws governed social interactions.

What Keeps People from the Presence of God?

Now over 3,000 years since Solomon prayed his prayer, we have to ask ourselves “Are we as committed to opening our houses of worship to the “foreigners” in our society? And who are the foreigners, anyway?

Of course, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Protestants were grappling with the issue of sending missionaries to take the Gospel to foreigners. William Carey, the shoe cobbler-turned-preacher became the father of the modern missions movement as Carey argued passionately that the Gospel should be taken to those in foreign lands.

Our own Southern Baptist Convention split over the oddly-paired issues of slavery and missions. And, when the SBC was formed, one of the first acts of business was to establish the Foreign Mission Board for the sending of missionaries to India, China, Africa, and other foreign lands.

But if we look at the story of Solomon and the Temple again, Solomon is praying that when foreigners hear about God, and when they come to the Temple itself, he prays that God would hear them, just as God does Israel.

In other words, Solomon’s prayer isn’t a prayer about sending missionaries, it’s a prayer about opening the presence of God to everyone. But, unfortunately, as we said earlier, Israel forgets this prayer.

But God doesn’t. And so when the birth of the Messiah is announced, it isn’t announced by angels to the Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, or even the chief priest. The religious leaders who guard access to the Temple and whose actions and public displays discourage others from the presence of God are not the ones to hear the announcement of the Messiah’s birth. Instead, angels appear to shepherds who are living in the fields with their flocks. Shepherds are not permitted into the Temple because they are ceremonially unclean. So, God shows up where they are.

When John the Baptist preaches and baptizes for repentance, John doesn’t preach in the court of the Temple, nor baptize in the numerous baptismal pools adjacent to it. No, John withdraws to the desert, to the Jordan River, which is rich in symbolism of the Exodus crossing into the land of promise under the leadership of Joshua, or Yeshua, which is what the new Messiah’s name is, too.

In the history of God’s people, when access to the presence of God has been denied to any and to all, then God moves out of the structures of religious buildings and ceremony, and meets people where they are with good news.

Breaking Down Barriers to the Presence of God

But what about us today? There is no more Temple. It was destroyed in 70 AD by the Roman army intent on stopping the persistent efforts of the Jews to break free from Rome. All that remains is the foundation, the Western Wall of Herod’s Temple. But did you see the other day that numbers of Orthodox Jewish men turned out to protest the presence of women in an area of the Wailing Wall that previously had been reserved for men? Even today, there are those who will intentionally keep others — because of their gender, their race, their belief, their dress, their nationality, and so on — from the presence of God.

Now we know that sounds terrible. We cannot justify those who prevent others from coming into the presence of God for whatever reason.

But we have to ask ourselves “Who are the foreigners in our midst, and what can we do to open our church and faith community to them?”

Recently an editor from a well-know Christian publication asked me to write a short article about how small churches can attract and minister to single adults. But here’s the thing: most people think of single adults as young, twenty-somethings who are trendy and cool. And every church wants to attract that group.

But single adults are also those who are older. Some are 70-somethings who are single because their mate of 40 or 50 years has died. Other single adults are intellectually or physically disabled, and need facilities that accommodate their disabilities. Some single adults are single parents, raising one or more children on their own, and they need a church that can provide nurture for their children.

That’s what I’m going to say in my article. Single adults come in more life situations than just young, 20-something, and trendy. If we open our eyes to the reasons people are single, and begin to make church a welcoming place for even one of those previously-excluded groups, then we are praying the prayer Solomon prayed at the Temple.

Our History of Breaking Down Barriers

In writing my dissertation, I discovered some interesting things about our church. We’ve been breaking down barriers to the presence of God here for a long time. Not that we’ve always gotten it completely right, or done everything we could, but we have done some things. Like Israel, we have a history, a heritage of breaking down barriers to the presence of God.

That history includes being instrumental in founding Hargrave Military Academy at a time in the life of this county and commonwealth when rural education was not readily available, and Christian education was even less so.

Our history includes starting Samuel Harris Memorial Baptist Church. While it’s only two miles or so from our church, apparently in the 1950s those two miles might as well have been 200. To plant a church in a community that for whatever reasons was not going to come to Chatham Baptist Church was a part of our making the presence of God accessible to all.

When we started the bus ministry, our church reached out to our entire community, to include members of other churches, and perhaps no church, in our fellowship circle.

When we built the new fellowship hall over 15 years ago, you decided to open its use to the community, to welcome others into this building and to open our doors to civic clubs, and other worthwhile organizations who shared our values, and contributed to the well-being of this community.

When we opened our doors to the Boys and Girls Club, and to the Chatham Arts Community Music School, we were inviting others into our space, and by extension into the presence of God.

When we built the playground, we were inviting families with children to come and join with us. We were sending the message that here your children are loved, valued, and protected. Here is a safe place for them to play and learn about God’s presence in their lives.

And, when we installed the lift several months ago, we were inviting all of those who had mobility issues, who could not readily climb stairs, to join us in this sanctuary for worship. Of course, most of us thought that we would have to get older before we needed it, but I was one of the first who got to use the lift when I came to church on that Easter Sunday after my hospital stay.

Our Challenge for the Future

But as much as we have done, we must continue to pray the prayer of Solomon for this place. We have to think about who else we might need to reach out to, and what other groups might feel that they do not have access to the presence of God here.

Over fifty-three years ago, the Cradock Baptist Church in Portsmouth, Virginia, founded what they call the Robin Class “as a special ministry to serve mentally-challenged young people and adults.  The Robins have their own Sunday School and church program on Sundays from 10 a.m. until Noon.  Their dedicated teachers provide an environment where the Robins can experience spiritual growth and Christian fellowship.  Transportation is provided for the class by a van purchased by donations from members and friends.  The Robins attend a special session of camp at Eagle Eyrie each fall.” (

Other churches have done and are doing similar things. Opening the presence of God to others who may seem like “foreigners” to us is not easy. That’s why Israel so quickly and often forgot that was their mission. But it is also our mission. And with each step we take, with each door we open, with each barrier we break down, we come a little closer to making God’s presence accessible to all. That was Solomon’s prayer, and it should be ours as well.