In my first book of sermons, “WHAT MAKES YOU SO STRONG?”, one of the sermons included in that collection is “Unexpected Blessings!” In that sermon I talk about the many ways in which God continues to bless us “unexpectedly.” I preached that sermon over 24 years ago and in the past quarter of a century God has continued to surprise me with “unexpected blessings.”
One of my most recent examples of this tremendously refreshing way God has of surprising you with “fresh grace” and “new mercies” comes from the pen of a parishioner of the church I formerly served who describes her mother’s response to my book about the history of the church. I served Trinity UCC for 36 years and I found out that most people in the congregation of Trinity and around this country do not know the story of our church. (I say “our” because I am still a member.) Many people think I started Trinity Church. I did not!
Many people do not know our church’s fascinating history and its decision to be a black church in the black community before they even met me or heard of me. I try to tell that story in my book so the uninformed will have a better perspective on the church’s origin, its growth and its development before I was called to serve it as its pastor.
The parishioner wrote me about her mother’s reaction to the book and about her mother’s actions during a sermon I preached last month during Lent. Let me share the member of Trinity’s exact words:
“My mother is relishing your book. As she says, ‘It is a page-tuner!’ She is loving it. When we came to hear you preach in Milwaukee last month, shortly after you had begun to preach, mother reached for her bulletin and began to take notes. It was a priceless moment that spoke volumes, i.e., ‘Something’s being said here that has meaning, substance, is worth remembering and reviewing, and provides spiritual/life guidance for me…with my 86 years!’ The glow on her face was apparent. She was being fed…What a tribute!”
What a tribute, indeed! To know that God is still speaking through me and giving me words that cause an 86 year old saint to take notes, to smile (”glow!”) as I try to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ is an “unexpected blessing.”
I thank God for senior citizens like this 86 year old who lets me know that my ministry still has meaning for them in spite of what the media says or does. I thank God for her daughter who shared with me her mother’s reaction to my preaching and my writing.
Last month I went to Washington, D.C. to preach a Lenten revival. While there I was “ambushed” by a reporter whose editor changed his words and painted me (once again) as “controversial” and reported on my preaching by saying that I had traded in a dashiki for a black business suit! What does that have to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
What does Obama’s having attended our church have to do with defining who I am or what our ministry meant to over 8,000 people for over three decades?
The Hip Hop artist, Common, grew up in our church. The journalists don’t want to talk about that.
The internationally famous musician, Pop Staples, belonged to our church for over 20 years too. Only Pop Staples was an active member of our church, visiting the sick and carrying them tapes of our worship services every week. His daughter (also internationally famous), Mavis Staples is still a member of our church. The journalists do not mention that.
The Superintendent of Schools for the City of Chicago’s public schools (the first Black man to hold that position) was not only a member for the 36 years that I served as pastor of the church. He, Dr. Manford Byrd, is a charter member of the church. The journalists never mention that either.
They are hell-bent and determined to define me as (and confine their definitions and understandings of me to) “Obama’s former pastor.” My 36 years of service is limited to that media-manufactured definition.
I was at a UCC church in Washington to preach during the Lenten season. The news media was only interested in my not having on a dashiki and my “tone” during the sermons. The media (don’t forget!) gave me the titles concerning my “tone” of being “fiery,” “incendiary,” “controversial,” “anti-American,” and “radical.” Then when I don’t live up to their definitions of me, they comment on how I have changed! That was the sum and substance of my pulpit work (in their eyes) in Washington.
I left D.C. and traveled to Mississippi to preach at the 5th Annual Celebration of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and the “controversy-hungry” media tried to ambush me there and tear down my 36 years as a pastor. I left Mississippi and went to Detroit where a black so-called journalist trashed my pulpit work and my ministry. He has bought into the “national narrative” that the Obama-hating (and Obama-loving) media has created about me.
After STILL being attacked by those who do not know me, after STILL being written about negatively all over this country, after STILL having my family affected unfairly by an insensitive media, God sends word to me that an 86 year-old saint still hears God’s voice when I preach. That is an “unexpected blessing.” What a tremendous blessing!
God sends me a message through this 86 year-old’s daughter that my telling the story of her church has her unable to put the book down is also an “unexpected blessing.”
God keeps on showing up and showing out in so many unexpected ways that it is breathtaking!
Look for the hand of God in your life today, this week, this month and see what “unexpected blessings” God sends your way!