Dr. H. Stephen Shoemaker
Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
January 17, 2010
Texts: Acts 16:11-15; Luke 2:41-43, 46-49
The writer of Hebrews gives a great roll call of faith, beginning with a definition:
Faith has its eyes on the future and lives by the Unseen Hand of God. It is not irrational nor anti-rational but is more than the rational, deeper than the rational. As Pascal wrote, “The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.”
Last week we spoke of faith as deeper than beliefs. It is closer to words like trust, loyalty, confidence, engagement. It needs qualities like courage, determination, perseverance, patience.
So here we go. The roll call.
By faith Noah built an ark on dry land, without a cloud in the sky because he believed what God had told him.
By faith Sarah was given power to conceive though she was “past the age,” as one translation puts it, and Abraham was “as good as dead” as another translation puts it – with no Viagra in sight.
By faith Moses’ parents hid him away, practicing civil disobedience, because they did not fear the king’s decree.
By faith Moses refused the privileges and pleasures of the Egyptian royal house and shared the ill treatment of his people so that God could use him to set them free.
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land.
On and on he went, then said, “And what more should we say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon...David, Samuel, the prophets....”
But we have more time, so I mention some others:
By faith Jeremiah bought a worthless piece of land from his uncle right in the path of the approaching Babylonian army because he believed God’s promise, “Houses and vineyards shall once again be bought and sold in this land.”
By faith young Daniel faced the lions in the lion’s den because he would not give up his faith and its practices in a strange land.
By faith Mary, a teenaged girl, believed the angel and accepted the call and bore a child named Jesus.
By faith Joseph obeyed the angel in the dream and took Mary as his wife, even though she was inexplicably – or all too explicably – pregnant.
By faith Peter, James and John, and Mary Magdalene and Joanna, wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, altered their lives to follow Jesus, after Jesus had altered theirs.
By faith Saul a fire-breathing persecutor of Christ’s church became Paul, an apostle of Christ to the Gentile world, carrying an illicit religion throughout the Roman Empire.
By faith Lydia, a wealthy business woman, seller of purple cloth became a believer and offered her home to be the new house-church in Philippi. From textiles to Christ.
By faith Barnabas gave some land to the brand new church in Jerusalem where they shared all things in common so all could have what they each needed.
By faith St. Patrick returned to Ireland where he had been taken as a boy to be a slave and brought the gospel to their land.
By faith those women we call “the virgin martyrs,” Dorothy, Maria Goretti, Lucy, refused to marry and refused to worship Roman idols, leading to their public deaths.
By faith Joan of Arc led her nation and followed her Voices even to death by burning.
By faith Francis of Assisi left a life of ease and followed Jesus in joyful poverty.
By faith John Bunyan, an early Baptist, refused to stop preaching without a British license and was jailed for 17 years and wrote Pilgrim’s Progress.
By faith Roger Williams, banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for preaching the wrong message and befriending Native Americans, was cast out into the winter wilderness and came to Rhode Island where he established Rhode Island as a colony of religious freedom and founded the first Baptist church in America at Providence.
By faith Harriet Tubman, herself a freed slave, help deliver hundreds of other slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad.
By faith a six-year-old African American girl named by Ruby Bridges was the first to integrate her elementary school in New Orleans. Every day she walked through a mob of jeering and hate-filled protesters. None of the white parents let their children go to school, so she was the only one in her class. One day she stopped in the middle of the mob and her lips begin to move silently. Her teacher, watching from the window thought she was saying something to them. When she got to the classroom the teacher asked what she was saying to them. Ruby said, “I wasn’t saying anything to them, I was praying to God. I prayed for God to forgive them for they did not know what they were doing, just like Jesus prayed for his enemies.1 Her faith changed the course of the life of Harvard psychiatrist Robert Coles whose major work became the study of “Children of Crisis.”
By faith a Baptist preacher named Martin Luther King, Jr. led a non-violent revolution in America called the Civil Rights Movement. He said we, people of faith, should be “transformed non-conformists.” He said we must be “morally maladjusted” to a world whose laws and ways were immoral and degrading. “Salvation,” King said, “lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”
“Do not be conformed to this world,” wrote Paul, “but be transformed by the renewal of your minds.”
And what about our church this 67th anniversary of our founding? Time will certainly fail me, but let me begin the roll call of faith. You will certainly fill in your own names and events.
By faith twelve founders along with their wives, who were influential in their own ways, dreamed this church into being in the fall of 1942.
Henry and Bess Benoit
Herbert and Lillian Bridges
James and Lillian Bryant
Guy and Clara Carswell
Rush and Lake Dickson
Cary and Ann Dowd
Frank and Elisabeth Dowd
Fred and Peggy Helms
John and Amy Knott
Lex and Betty Marsh
Marvin and Helen Scruggs
Charles and Priscilla Upchurch
By faith on this very day, January 17, 1943 we met for the first time as a church. Our first hymn was the “The Church is One Foundation.” The 267 enrolled as Charter Members, including 8 servicemen who were overseas serving our nation in WWII.
By faith we dared to begin a church in the stormy days of war.
By faith we met in borrowed buildings and quanset huts until we could build our own.
By faith the Efird family gave us this magnificent land, their home-site, as the site of our church.
By faith Elisabeth Dowd, a lay-theologian in her own right led us in a deeper way of worship and reverence and paved the way for this sanctuary and its way of worship. By faith her family gave the stained glass window above the altar which shimmers its blue, jeweled light and adorns our worship every week.
By faith Priscilla Upchurch taught for forty years, first an older women’s class, then a young couples’ class which is now 5th Dimension. She was called St. Priscilla! But she was a feisty saint. When a reporter asked her how she justified being a female deacon in light of Paul’s writings, she told him quickly where to go!
By faith you established a free pulpit and a congregation of spiritual freedom and began a church unafraid to tackle the greatest theological, intellectual and social questions of the day.
By faith you built buildings and taught children and called ministers who taught and stretched you and were themselves taught and stretched.
By faith you set a course of “transformed non-conformity.” Of course we were and we are and will always be a people half-formed by Christ and half-formed by culture, or more than half. As Marney used to say about Southern Baptists: “We are more Southern than Baptist and more Baptist than Christian.” But we have set a course to be formed more and more by God and God’s Christ, and to witness to our city and world a God whose “ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts” (Isaiah 55:6).
George Heaton said early on:
Anyone who embarks upon this kind of religious journey should be prepared to face opposition. If everyone had agreed with us in the beginning, there would have been no reason for starting this kind of church. If everyone agreed with us now, their churches would be like ours.2
By faith you have given your best for this place: thought, action, money, and dedicated time.
By faith you have taken stands, taken hits, taken the lead, made a difference and given people pause to think: Maybe churches can lead culture rather than being captive to it.
By faith we are a people dedicated to the Mystery of God and the Way of Christ, a people dedicated to the increase in the love of God and neighbor, a people dedicated to spiritual growth, and radical hospitality and caring for “the least of these.” In short, dedicated to God’s dream for us and for our world, what Jesus called the kingdom of God.
We heard the familiar story today about Jesus at 12 getting lost at the Passover festival in Jerusalem. His parents took off for home in Nazareth assuming he was in the village caravan. That first night on the road they panicked when he was not with them. They returned to Jerusalem, and on the third day since he got lost they found him in the Temple talking with the teachers.
Mary and Joseph frightened and exasperated asked Jesus: “Why have you treated us like this? Didn’t you know we would be worried sick?” (That’s a Southern translation from the Greek.)
Jesus said: “Did you not know I must be about my Father’s business?”
I’m sure Jesus was a challenge for his parents. Just as we are to one another some days as we try to do God’s business, an all too human lot with a divine purpose.
Fred Craddock tells a story from his early ministry in a small town in Oklahoma.3 There was a group of men who met every morning for coffee at the downtown café. A man named Frank was the leader of the group. He was a successful farmer and business man, a decent man but decidedly un-religious. He was not a church goer as most in that town were.
Frank passed the young preacher one day on the street and smelling a possible evangelistic moment about to happen said to Fred: “I work hard, I take care of my family, and I mind my own business. Far as I’m concerned everything else is fluff.” In other words, “Leave me alone. I’m not a prospect for your church.”
That’s why the guys at the café and most others in town were surprised when one Sunday Frank came to church and presented himself for baptism. People wondered why. Had his mind gone around the bend? Was he ill and wanted to cover all his bases before he breathed his last? The town was abuzz with the news.
One day, after his baptism Craddock asked him: “Frank, you remember what you said to me that day, your philosophy: “I work hard, take care of my family, mind my own business. The rest is fluff.”
Frank said, “Yes, I remember, I said that a lot.”
Craddock asked, “You still say that?”
Frank answered, “Yeah!”
Craddock then asked, “Then what’s the difference?”
The man said, “I didn’t know what my business was.”
Now he knew, and God and helping people was at the heart of it.
That’s what we have been seeking to be for sixty-seven years, a people about God’s business. We don’t always know what that is. Other times we know but don’t have it within us to do it. But we keep on, by faith.
We keep on, honoring the past, forging a new future. Sometimes we have a collective amnesia about our past, and are the worse for it. That’s one reason we have such days as this. But as Harvard’s Peter Drucker once said, “Sometimes, to repeat the successes of the past is worse than a failure.”
So let us forge on, one hand joined to our past, the other reaching to a unknown, unseen future with God’s Spirit our guide. As the writer to the Hebrews says, finishing his roll call of faith.
Therefore, therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses – can you see them in your mind’s eye? – let us lay aside every weight and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance – that is, with determination and courage too – the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our – yes, here’s that word again – faith.
1 Robert Coles, The Story of Ruby Bridges (New York: Scholastic, Inc. 1995).
2 Marion Arthur Ellis; By A Dream Possessed (Charlotte: Myers Park Baptist Church, 1992), p. 192.
3 Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories, ed. Mike Graves and Richard Ward (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001), pp. 68-69.