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The Experience of Love – Howard Thurman

After a  two-year absence from my blog, I’ve decided to resume writing. I will begin the relaunch of this space with the words of one my favorite Theologians, Howard Thurman.

The Experience of Love

There is a steady anxiety that surrounds man’s experiences of love. Sometimes the radiance of love is so soft and gentle that the individual sees himself with all harsh lines wiped away and all limitations blended with his strengths in so happy a combination that strength seems to be everywhere and weakness is nowhere to be found. This is a part of the magic, the spell of love. Sometimes the radiance of love kindles old fires that have long since grown cold from the neglect of despair, or new fires are kindled by a hope born full-blown without beginning and without ending.  Sometimes the radiance of love blesses a life with a vision of its possibilities never before dreamed of or sought, stimulating new endeavor and summoning all latent powers to energize the life at its inmost core.

But there are other ways by which love works its perfect work. It may stab the spirit by calling forth a bitter, scathing self-judgment. The heights to which it calls may seem so high that all incentive is lost and the individual is stricken with an utter hopelessness and despair. It may throw in relief old and forgotten weaknesses to which one has made the adjustment of acceptance – but which now stir in their place to offer themselves as testimony of one’s unworthiness and to challenge the love with their embarrassing authenticity. It is at such times that one expects love to be dimmed under the mistaken notion that love is at long last based upon merit and worth.

Behold the miracle! Love has no awareness of merit and demerit; it has no scale by which its portion may be weighed or measured. It does not seek to balance giving and receiving. Love loves; this is its nature. But this does not mean that love is blind, naive, or pretentious. It does mean that love holds its object securely in its grasp, calling all that it sees by its true name but surrounding all with a wisdom born both of its passion and its understanding. Here is no traffic in sentimentality, no catering to weakness or to strength. Instead, there is robust vitality that quickens the roots of personality, creating an unfolding of the self that redefines, reshapes, and makes all things new. Such an experience is so fundamental in quality that an individual knows that what is happening to him can outlast all things without itself being dissipated or lost.

Whence comes this power which seems to be the point of referral for all experience and the essence of all meaning? No created thing, no single unit of life, can be the source of such fullness and completeness. For in the experience itself a man is caught and held by something so much more than he can ever think or be that there is but one word by which its meaning can be encompassed – God. Hence the Psalmist says that as long as the love of God shines on us undimmed, not only may no darkness obscure but also we may find our way to a point in other hearts beyond all weakness and all strength, beyond all that is good and beyond all that is evil. There is no thing outside ourselves, no circumstance, no condition, no vicissitude, that can ultimately separate us from the love of God and from the love of one another. And we pour out our gratitude to God that this is so!

Isolated but Indwelled

I’ve decided to share one of my sermons! I preached this sermon on April 23, 2009 at the Interdenominational Theological Center! I was asked to be one of the speakers for our Senior Chapel Service.  This sermon was preached to the ITC community, thus there are certain names and events that are relevant to that community. I am aware that because I’m sharing the sermon it is open to criticism, and I’m alright with that. Also, if you wish to share this sermon with others or your congregation, please give me some credit! Make It Plain!

Our text is found in the book of Jeremiah the 20th chapter and our focus is verses 7-9; again Jeremiah 20:7-9. From the New International Version of the Bible you will find these words recorded: “O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” The Word of God for the people of God, thanks be to God. I will use for a subject, “Isolated, but Indwelled”

Isolation is the act or state of being cut off from other people; while in isolation people often begin to deal with loneliness and are sometimes confronted with their own personal issues or idiosyncrasies. In The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen describes this isolation, this loneliness, as the most painful human wound. Nouwen further suggests that as a minister of this gospel we will experience both personal loneliness and professional loneliness. We have to wrestle with the fact that no matter how much we are loved, people will not always understand our burden and passion for ministry. “Why do they always call you to come to the hospital?” “They can’t pray for themselves?” But I’m the pastor, preacher, Christian educator, worship leader, pastoral care provider it’s my responsibility to be present with people, but what about me I’m your wife, husband, mother, father, sister, brother, mother, father, best friend, what about me I’m your child. Isolation in ministry is the feeling of being stripped away from many of the things that you hold on to in your life, or rather the feeling of those things being stripped from you…family, friends, hopes, dreams, ideals, material possessions, and a certain lifestyle. In that time you go through a period of intense loneliness and isolation which leads to you really wrestling with God; it leads to a period of questioning and crying out; this is where we find Jeremiah.

Jeremiah has been arrested for saying what God has commanded him to say. To add further insult to injury, he is beaten and placed in the stocks not because he is a criminal, but because he has been preaching a Gospel that is not popular. What makes this matter worse is Jeremiah is not imprisoned and beaten by those outside of the church; instead the one who has called for his imprisonment is a fellow priest and prophet. One who should have stood with Jeremiah instead is the one ready to condemn. It is interesting that as ministers of God we find opposition not just from outside the church, but right inside our own church walls. Those who we thought should stand by us are the ones betraying us for thirty pieces of silver, or the promise to become the one in charge. After spending the night in prison, Jeremiah finishes his sermon but when he comes to a place of isolation off by himself, he says” God you deceived me. Can you see him, bleeding, body stiff and possibly bent out of shape, tired, angry, frustrated; I can imagine that his mind would go back to the initial call when God says to Jeremiah… “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, I sanctified you and ordained you a prophet to the nations.” I can imagine Jeremiah say to God, I told you I couldn’t do this because I was too young, but God you told me that you had put the word in my mouth. You told me, God not to be afraid that you would be with me and rescue me. Where were you God when they were beating me, where were you God when they were arresting me? I was only doing what you told me to do and look where that has gotten me.

Jeremiah says God you deceived me and I was deceived; I am not sure about you but during my matriculation here at the ITC, I have found myself like Jeremiah saying, God you deceived me. I was content to stay in Texas; get a nice job, sing on the praise team at the church, preach for bible study once in awhile, wait for the right man to find this good thing, and be happy with Jesus alone; but God you told me to come to this institution. God, you didn’t tell me that I would be leaving my nice middle class neighborhood in Beaumont, TX to live in the hood here in Hotlanta, GA. God, I didn’t know that I would have to endure having my car broken into and experiencing two car accidents within a year and a half span. God I didn’t know that I was going to have to come to this place for them to tell me that I couldn’t refer to you God as just Father, but that I had to come to know God as both Father and Mother. I didn’t know that this revelation would cause me to reevaluate my understanding of who God really was. I didn’t know that I would have to get rid of my embedded theology, and really begin to wrestle with the reality that if you God are good, why do bad things happen to good people? God you deceived me, and I was deceived. I thought ministry was all about preaching gigs and mega churches. I thought ministry was relegated to visiting people in the hospital, nursing homes, and prisons. I thought ministry was giving money to missionaries to travel to Africa and Haiti. God I was deceived because I’ve discovered ministry is more than all of that! Ministry started with me confronting my own feelings of low self-esteem, self-image, and self-concept.  Ministry meant having to confront my own elitist ideas and feelings, my own narcissistic view that liberation was all about me being free as a black woman in ministry. Ministry means fighting for liberation for all people: white, black, Hispanic, Latino, Chinese, Japanese, African, European, heterosexual, SGL, bisexual, transgendered, male, female, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist. God I didn’t know that I would be talked about by preachers; I didn’t know that I would be criticized for trying to take liberation outside of the classroom and to actually try to manifest it on this campus; liberation for Morehouse School of Religion, Gammon, Turner, Phillips School of Theology, Johnson C. Smith, C.H. Mason, Richardson, and the Lutherans. I recognized that if God is truly on the side of the oppressed then that includes even those people who I may not agree with theologically.

Every time I open my mouth God I’m calling for social justice, speaking against injustice realizing that as Dr. King said an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. I have to deal with people who deem it necessary for me to know that I’m not called to preach because I am a woman; question my sexuality because of the way that I choose to wear my hair; People are saying girl I don’t know what they teaching you at that seminary, but all you need is Jesus. Every time I open my mouth I have to deal with the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, the injustices found in our Justice system, inadequate health care while all these other preachers are walking around putting Jesus back on the cross. So, why should I keep on preaching: I feel abandoned by you, GOD; I feel deceived by you, GOD; I feel derision by you, GOD; I am the reproach of people for choosing to face issues, while the words that are coming from our pulpits Sunday after Sunday are ineffective in changing the situation of our communities. So I’m done God, I’m not Going to make mention of you anymore. But your word has become to me like a fire – the word, not just contained in this book with its contradictions and inaccuracies, but your word. The word not just given to Isaiah, Mark, and Paul; the word given to Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Frederick Douglas, and Martin Luther King Jr.; the word given to Dr. Carolyn McCrary, Dr. Riggins Earl, & Dr. Love Henry Whelchel; the word given to Jamil Vanjuan Willis, Marcus George Halley, and yes even to Davica Williams-McKeithen, Regericka Brewer, and even to me – that word has become like a fire shut up in my bones; I’ve been indwelled with something. Even when I want to keep my mouth shut for fear of being persecuted, I feel it burning and I get tired of holding it in so I don’t. No longer will I allow my voice to be silenced because of other people’s insecurities about women in ministry. I’ve been indwelled! No longer will I just preach the gospel in a way that continues to oppress people, but I will preach the true gospel of liberation. I’ve been indwelled! I will not be the one to use the gospel to become rich or to become famous. I’ve been indwelled

Now I can say…“The spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. The Lord has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom from the captives and the opening of the prison to those that are bound.”

Now I can say…“And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Now I can say…“You wilt keep them in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you: because they trust in thee.”

Now I can say…“For God’s anger endures but a moment; but God’s favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Now I can say…“But my God shall supply all your need according to God’s riches in glory by Christ Jesus.]

Now I can say…“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they will mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not get weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Now I can say…“My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name. On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

Now I can say… “Shackled by a heavy burden, beneath a load of guilt and shame; then the hand of Jesus touched me, and now I’m no longer the same. He touched me, Oh, He touched me, and oh the joy that floods my soul. Something happened and now I know, He touched me and made me whole. Since I met the Blessed Savior, Since He cleansed and made me whole, I will never cease to Praise Him! I’ll shout it while eternity rolls. He touched me, Oh, He touched me, And oh the joy that floods my soul. Something happened and now I know, He touched me and made me whole. I’ve been indwelled!

We’re Moving On Up

Major changes have taken place in my life beginning with a move from my hometown of Beaumont, TX, to Atlanta, GA. As I sat in the middle of boxes containing all of my possessions I couldn’t help but be grateful for all that God continues to do. In this year of transition, I have experienced God in new ways. I have seen God keep me through 6 months of unemployment and job searching. Through days and nights of questioning the validity of my three years of seminary education which had not led to employment. I’ve had to reevaluate the relationships that I have long-held so dearly. The process of letting go is one that makes me emotionally uncomfortable, yet one that has been necessary to my continued health.

The most important lesson I’ve learned is that God’s grace is truly sufficient. It’s not something that I’ve read about only, it is manifested in my life everyday. Even now, in the face of continued uncertainty, I trust the mercies that are new every morning. I echo the sentiments of the hymn writer when I say, “All I have needed God’s hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

I’m not sure of all that the future holds, but I am sure of the One who holds the future and thus I will continue to move Forward!

Make it Plain!

Everybody Needs a Friend

This week I want to showcase another of my favorite preachers, Dr. Claudette Anderson Copeland.  After having served as Pastor and Co-Founder of the New Creation Christian Fellowship of San Antonio, Texas for 23 years, she now serves as Co-Pastor, giving her ministry attention to the evangelistic field. She received her undergraduate education at the University of Connecticut , where she concentrated her studies in the field of Psychology. After receiving her Bachelor of Arts Degree, she went on to earn her Master of Divinity in Pastoral Care and Counseling from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta , Georgia . She earned the Doctorate of Ministry Degree from United Theological Seminary in Dayton , Ohio. Check her out at http://www.claudetteacopeland.org/ Enjoy and stay tuned!

Is There Anybody in Here

This week I am featuring a clip of  Pastor Marcus D. Cosby, Pastor of the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, TX! He is a native of Chicago, Illinois, and is another alumni of the Interdenominational Theological Center. Dr. Cosby serves as a member of the Board of the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference; the African-American Pulpit; and the Home Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. Check him out at www.wheelerbc.org and Enjoy!

I Wish I Had a Praying Church

I am a preacher, hopefully everyone knows that by now! As such, I enjoying preparing, preaching, and hearing sermons. With that in mind I’ve decided to occasionally share clips of some of my favorite preachers, both male and female.

For this first post in this category I deemed it proper to showcase my Pastor, the Rev. Dr. John R. Adolph; pastor of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Beaumont, TX! Pastor Adolph and his lovely wife, Dorrie, are the parents of  two  children, Sumone and Jonathan. He is an honor graduate of my alma mater, The Interdenominational Theological Center!

Check us out www.antiochbmt.org and Enjoy! Please feel free to comment and critique!

Make It Plain!