The Pastor’s Pen: September 16, 2018

We welcome to our pulpit today, the Reverend Dr. J. Wendell Mapson, Jr.,
honored and esteemed pastor of the Monumental Baptist Church of Philadelphia.
In addition to being a peerless preacher, Dr. Mapson is also a matchless scholar.
His book, Ministry of Music in the Black Church, has been read and studied in
seminary classes all over the nation. We thank God for Dr. Mapson’s voice of
consolation and message of hope and encouragement on this, our Service of
Remembrance Sunday.
Service of Remembrance is a very special day in the life of our church. It is the
time when we acknowledge and commemorate the persons who have crossed into
eternity in the last year. This year we will reverently reflect on the lives of over 40
persons who have joined the great cloud of witnesses. We will never forget their
legacy of faithfulness to God and their service to our wonderful congregation.
At the time of this writing, the Caribbean and the East Coast of the U.S. are once
again being threatened by another super storm. Wave surges are expected to be
some of the highest on record. It is time for the leaders of this nation to accept that
global warming is real, it is here, and we are the cause of it. Polar ice caps are
melting, sea levels are rising and storms are intensifying; yet, our government
continues to reduce the effectiveness of the Environmental Protection Agency’s
efforts to reduce carbon emissions, but promote instead the release of harmful
greenhouse gases such as methane to increase profits for businesses.
God entrusted us with the care of this Earth and gave us instructions to have
dominion over it. Having dominion does not mean destroying it. We are not
permitted to hunt animals to extinction or pollute our seas and rivers, making them
unsafe for water creatures and humans. A day of reckoning is coming. If we do not
heed to God’s directives to protect and sustain our environment, the human race
will soon die in its self-made ruins and devastations. We can no longer turn our
backs to our responsibility to take care of God’s creation and hope the problem
will go away on its own; we must act and we must act now!

The Pastor’s Pen: September 9, 2018

The book of Job grapples with the difficult issue of the causes of pain and suffering. Job is a blameless man who has been faithful to God. Because of the Evil One’s deception, Job encounters horrendous tragedies, starting with the loss of property, then family, and ultimately physical health. When all of these calamities arrive, Job is forced to come to grips with the ultimate purpose of suffering. Three so-called friends come to offer him counsel. Instead of comforting him, they accuse him, establishing a wide-held belief in that time that all suffering must come from someone’s transgression, either known or unknown. It is in that scenario, that Job plaintively cries out to God, “If I could find him I would plead my case before his face.”

The story ultimately is about faithfulness in the face of calamity. The story does not attempt to answer the causes of suffering, but to affirm that even in suffering, God remains sovereign and is in touch with our condition. For any who have dealt with suffering of any kind, there is always the temptation to believe that some action precipitated it. There is no question that certain behaviors do have consequences. A life of excessive drinking, smoking, will surely weaken one’s heart. Heart disease could very well eventuate. Any intemperate act can lead to inordinate suffering. It is important for us to remember that events do have consequences. However, there are certain tragedies that cannot be the result of any of our actions. An example would be if someone runs through a red light and causes a serious accident. The suffering of healing, rehabilitation and recovery could not possibly be the results of transgressions of anyone in the car that was hit.

What can we take away from Job’s experience of suffering? The first take away is that we must never believe that the universe is fixed and all events are planned in advance. The universe is random, and accidents do happen. The second thing we can learn is that suffering can be our mentor. As we go through discomfort and pain, we learn what true faith is. And, we use our misfortunes to bless others. For instance, going back to example of the car crash, we might testify, give talks or write books and articles on car safety, the need for seatbelts, and which cars are the most crash-prone.

This is exactly what Job has done. The scribes who retold his story have authored encouragement for over 2,000 years. Suffering is not always the result of sin. God is completely in touch with us in our difficulties. The book of Job does end on a hopeful note. God restores everything that Job had lost sevenfold. When we go through challenging times, we must never forget that God can bless us in or through our struggles. That is good news!

The Pastor’s Pen: September 2, 2018

A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.” – Saul Bellow

Bellow was correct. Our nation is moving toward turning illusion into reality. Trump lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, recently told Meet the Press host Chuck Todd that “truth isn’t truth,” one of the most absurd statements to ever come out of the mouth of our country’s so-called leadership. However, lest we assume these people are a harmless gang that simply couldn’t shoot straight, we witness the dark under belly of this not so funny farce.

In last Tuesday’s primary election, the Mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum, captured a stunning Democratic win over a group of much better-funded opponents. On the Republican side, Trump clone Ron DeSantis, took that party’s nomination and the race baiting began. DeSantis said in a Fox and Friends morning interview that “the last thing Floridians need to do is ‘monkey this up’ by electing Gillum.” Although he will surely deny the racial implications, if pushed, he was sending a strong “dog whistle” message to white supremacists that Florida cannot be turned over to a Black man.

This happened on the same day that the President, at a gathering of white evangelicals, warned that there will be “violence” if the Republicans lose their majority in Congress as a result of the 2018 midterms. Trump and his followers are not bumbling idiots. They know exactly what they are doing. Their goal is to turn back the clock on all the civil rights gains of the last 50 years. The violence fomenting is not perpetrated by Blacks and browns, but by angry white males, for example, who will plow a car into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators to make their hate-filled point, as happened in Charlottesville, Virginia a year ago.

The question is often asked, what can we do about all this? The obvious answer is what our younger Black sisters and brothers have taught us: “Stay woke.” Every morning when I read TheWashington Post, I am struck by the masthead, “Democracy dies in darkness.” Those who are steering our country into the abyss are counting on our indifference and lethargy to achieve their goals. We must not be duped by feigned smiles and aw-shucks apologies. Nothing going on right now is accidental; what we are witnessing are purposeful attempts to usher in a new era of race hatred. History has shown that when these kinds of sentiments go unchecked, lynchings and other horrendous crimes against humanity are not far behind.

The second thing we must do is turn to God for deliverance, not in a passive way but in the way Dr. King taught us, speaking truth to power and refusing to cooperate with evil.

2 Chronicles 7:14 states it best, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” Lord knows this land is desperately in need of healing!