FBC Macon

Nurture. Love. Serve. ALL.

We’re proud of our Baptist history and heritage, but we’re also proud of our diversity. At First Baptist you will find a group of people coming from a variety of different church backgrounds and denominations who have found a home at the “top of Poplar.” And while our congregation comes from all over middle Georgia, we are a downtown church and see it is our mission to be the presence of Christ to our InTown and College Hill communities here in Macon.

Finding Ourselves in the Story...

On the outskirts of Jerusalem

the donkey waited.

Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,

he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadow, 

leap with delight!

How doves, released from their cages,

clatter away, splashed with sunlight.

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.

Then he let himself be led away.

Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!

And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen

Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.

I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,

as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.

-Mary Oliver, “The Poet Thinks About the Donkey,” from, Thirst


I’m reminded of this poem from Mary Oliver each year on Palm Sunday. I love the way she repeats the donkey’s “waiting,” her description of him being “what he alway had been: small, dark, obedient,” and her hope that he finally “lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.” Mustn’t we all do this from time to time—lift one dusty hoof and step forward? Most of all I’m struck by the importance of finding one’s own place in this Holy Week story that can feel larger than life.

One of my mentors, Peter Gomes, used to say the story of Easter is not about Jesus, it’s about us, and how we will respond to it. For the resurrection means nothing if we do not encounter the risen Christ and share of our encounter with others. The same is true of Holy Week. Yes, we follow Jesus as he makes his way through the final week of his earthly life. We reflect on what he may have felt—the joy of welcome, the tenderness of a final meal, the despair of betrayal and abandonment. And yet we miss something important if we do not find our own place within this story as one of those around Jesus.

To imagine ourselves as among the disciples who have walked with Jesus this far and yet still do not “get it.” To imagine ourselves among the religious authorities who feared the change and challenge Jesus brought. To imagine ourselves among the crowds of people looking for a hope and healing and wholeness. Even to imagine ourselves as the donkey he rode upon, doing his small part to lighten Jesus’ load on his way to the cross.

We will retell and reenact this story Thursday and Friday of this week, and hope to find our place within it. I hope you’ll find yourself among us as we do.



Holy Envy, Part III  

It was a joy to have Rabbi Joe Charnes with us in worship last week to preach “in conversation” about the parable we commonly know as the Prodigal Son. My apologies for running so far over on time, and thank you for your patience in allowing us to bring the conversation to some form of an ending. The limitations of that time and space were a challenge, but from the feedback I’ve received, it seems most folks understood the special circumstance. Thank you, again.

Over and over I’ve heard folks say how impressed they were with Rabbi Charnes, particularly his knowledge of the New Testament and generosity toward Christian teaching. I believe for Christians this is one of the most important reasons to engage in interfaith dialogue: we are often humbled to learn that our neighbors in others faiths have a much greater knowledge of our faith than we do of theirs.

It’s also true that as we listen to those from outside our faith comment upon and engage our scripture and theology we realize how much they have to teach us not simply about their faith, but about our own.

This is perhaps especially the case when we have opportunities to discuss scripture with our Jewish neighbors. So much of the New Testament and Christian theology is rooted in Judaism. As Joe put it Sunday, if we don’t know the roots of our faith we can’t fully appreciate the way it blooms. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, for instance, Joe pointed out the undertones of Jacob and Esau from Genesis, another set of brothers who grappled for their father’s blessing. The elder son from the parable took on the voice of Esau when he realizes his blessing has been taken from him: Have you only one blessing? Bless me also, father! Had our conversation continued, we might have explored how later in the story Esau would find strength enough to take on the role of the parable’s father when he embraced his wayward brother, Jacob—perhaps giving us hope for reconciliation for the parable’s two brothers.

We also learned on Sunday how important it is to hear critiques of our scripture. As Joe mentioned Sunday, he is apprehensive to discuss the Pharisees with Christians because his understanding of their tradition is much different from the characterization presented in the gospels. We both agreed this is an important tension to address and I’m so glad he shared with us teachings from the Pharisee’s own tradition—which you may have noticed sounded strikingly similar to many of the teaching of Jesus!

If you enjoyed last Sunday’s time with Rabbi Charnes I hope you’ll consider joining us for our Passover Seder, which Joe will host in the fellowship hall this coming Thursday at 7 pm. No need to register, just come with an open heart and an empty belly as we engage the tradition in which the Easter story is rooted and hope to better learn our own blossoms.


Holy Envy: Part 2

Last week I quoted from the late Lutheran theologian, Krister Stendahl, who once wrote there are three rules for religious understanding:

1.      When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies. 

2.      Don’t compare your best to their worst. 

3.      Leave room for “holy envy.” Be open to seeing the beauty in other faiths; practices, approaches, or traditions that you admire and might even wish to incorporate into your own. (Barbara Brown Taylor has a new book out by this title which I assume both draws on Stendahl and will be fantastically good.) And as I said last week, appreciation for the first two rules alone, which set the parameters for a fair conversation and should be obvious, would move most interfaith conversations forward by leaps and bounds. But it’s Stendahl’s third rule that touches my heart.

Last week I wrote about the holy envy I feel toward our brothers and sisters within the Muslim faith, specifically their approach to prayer. I envy their discipline, their beautiful language, and the way they involve their whole bodies in prayer. It’s moving to experience and something I would love to incorporate into my own prayer practice.

With us being blessed to have Rabbi Joe Charness in worship with us this morning to help me “preach” from the beloved parable we often know as “the Prodigal Son,” I’ve been reflecting on some of the holy envy I have for our brothers in the Jewish faith. I’ll confess there are many things: the use of the Hebrew language (which, like Arabic, almost can’t help but sound like song), their tradition of blessings for any conceivable part of human life, their rich and embodied tradition of prayer, which, again, is not so different from Islam.

But perhaps what stirs my heart the most is their rich tradition of scriptural interpretation. In Judaism, scriptural interpretation is conceived as an ongoing conversation between God and God’s people through the generations. It’s a tradition, in fact, that’s preserved in the pages of scripture. Where there were different traditions around the same events—say, the creation story—instead of choosing one and casting the other aside, the compilers of the bible chose to include both, and allow for the conversation to be even richer.

Perhaps the richest example of this tradition is the Talmud, a collection of commentaries that spans hundreds of years from late antiquity and includes the teachings of thousands of ancient rabbis. Each page includes a primary text, with layers of interpretation and application literally printed around it, reminding the reader of the long conversation they are stepping into. 

So much of recent Christian tradition has focused on deciphering The Interpretation of scripture, as if there can be only one meaning, “now and forever.” I am utterly envious of this rich tradition of conversation and debate with, in, and around a text, which honors the beauty and complexity of scripture, which itself reflects the beauty and complexity of life. I hope Joe and I can model something of this rich tradition this morning.


Holy Envy

The late Lutheran theologian, Krister Stendahl, once wrote there are three rules for religious understanding:

1.      When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.

2.      Don’t compare your best to their worst.

3.      Leave room for “holy envy.”

Be open to seeing the beauty in other faiths; practices, approaches, or traditions that you admire and might even wish to incorporate into your own. (Barbara Brown Taylor has a new book out by this title which I assume both draws on Stendahl and will be fantastically good.)

Appreciation for the first two rules alone, which set the parameters for a fair conversation and should be obvious, would move most interfaith conversations forward by leaps and bounds. But it’s Stendahl’s third rule that touches my heart.

Leave room for holy envy. Leave open the possibility that there is beauty and truth and goodness in the world outside your own experience. In fact, expect that there is. Consider that God might be much bigger than your own understanding and your own worship, and could even be working and moving apart from the church—and to be honest, let’s hope God is.

Stendahl’s words have stayed close to me this past week as I’ve reflected on the atrocious act of political and religious violence in the deadly shootings at the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. It grieved me last Saturday to once again find myself reaching out in sympathy to my friend Imam Adam Fofana of the Islamic Center of Central Georgia after acts of violence committed toward his brothers and sisters in faith. For those who might wonder what effect violence committed on the other side of the world would have on Muslims here in Middle Georgia, know that his congregation and others in our community experience lesser, but still troubling acts of vandalism and intimidation regularly. If anything, this most recent shooting has shown the power of radical ideology to spread as far as an internet connection will take you.

Imam Fofana is a wonderful ambassador for Islam in our community and we have been fortunate to welcome him to speak here at the church. Adam has also been kind enough to invite me to join his congregation for their services, and it’s these experiences that I’ve reflected upon the most this past week, and leave me with such holy envy.

I envy the way Muslims pray. I envy the way they use their whole bodies, how they lie prostrate, making sure that prayer—like faith—is not simply an act of the mind. I envy the beauty of their language, how Arabic can’t help but sound like a song. But most of all in this season of Lent, I envy their discipline, to stop what they’re doing five times each day—regardless of season—to remember who they are and whose they are. I’m envious and moved, but more than anything I am inspired. And as I continue in this season of walking with Jesus toward the cross, I’ll do so mindful that others have much to teach me along the way.


I Arise Today

Outside the church, St. Patrick is most associated with shamrocks, leprechauns, Guinness, and all the other popular imagery of Ireland. But inside the church, Patrick, who (unlike St. Valentine) most would agree is an actual historical figure, credited with the conversion of the island of Ireland to Christianity some 1500 years ago.

A rich tradition surrounds St. Patrick, remembering him as a beloved itinerant preacher, walking through the countryside with a shepherd’s crook, drawing inspiration from the Irish landscape to reveal theological truths. For instance, it’s said that Patrick used the image of the shamrock to describe the Trinity. Just as God exists in essential oneness yet in three “persons,” the shamrock has three leaves, yet one stem.

Patrick also left behind a beautiful, poetic, and deeply theological “prayer for protection,” known as a “lorica.” As the story goes, he lifted this prayer as he was being pursued by the armies of his enemies. At the time of the would-be ambush, when he and his monks walked by, they appeared to those lying in wait as “wild deer with a fawn following them,” and escaped to safety.

The full prayer (known by various names: St. Patrick’s Breastplate, The Lorica of St. Patrick, St. Patrick’s Hymn, or even The Deer’s Cry) is quite long, but often appears in a truncated form:

I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me,

God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me,

God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me,

God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me,

God's shield to protect me, God's host to save me

From snares of devils, from temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and near.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

Remembering these parts of his tradition, St. Patrick’s Day comes at just the right time of year, as the world around us awakes from the browns and grays of winter into the vibrant greens of spring, and we in the church continue our Lenten journey to new life. We, too, might pray for protection, that we would arise each day in the knowledge of the love of God and the abiding presence of the one with whom we walk this journey.


Bright Sadness

Eastern Christianity speaks of Lent as a time of “bright sadness.” It’s bright because we know the promise of resurrection waits for us on the other side. But there is nonetheless sadness because in order to see the light of Easter morning we must first pass through the darkness of Good Friday. Lent is, after all, a walk with Jesus to his death. That he would be raised is always meant to be a surprise.

Theologically speaking, this is a delicate balance to walk, holding both Jesus’ death and his resurrection in equal measure. To lean too much in either direction risks minimizing the other.

And yet, there’s something about this notion of “bright sadness” that we know deep in our bodies. We’ve all felt a kind of “sad brightness,” where our feelings of joy and satisfaction are tempered when we realize they are fleeting.

When we realize the vacation will end and family will return to their homes.

When summer is over and a new school year starts.

When you see the marks on the doorframe measuring a year’s worth of growth.

There’s a sadness behind every bright spot. Perhaps a gift of Lent is reminding us that this is okay; that it’s at the heart of our story. Even the risen Christ had wounds.

Perhaps the more difficult notion is that there is a brightness behind every sadness. This notion is more hard-won because the brightness is not immediately visible. We often must sit in the darkness for sometime before the brightness is revealed. We must move through the darkness to get to the light. This, too, can be a gift of Lent, as we tell this story together over the course of so many weeks in worship.

The great Orthodox theologian, Alexander Schmemann, describes the hope of Lenten worship this way,

“Little by little we begin to understand, or rather to feel, that this sadness is indeed ‘bright,’ that a mysterious transformation is about to take place in us…All that which seemed so tremendously important to us as to fill our mind, that state of anxiety which has virtually become our second nature, disappear somewhere and we begin to feel free, light and happy. It is not the noisy and superficial happiness which comes and goes twenty times a day and is so fragile and fugitive; it is a deep happiness which comes not from a single and particular reason but from our soul having, in the words of Dostoevsky, touched ‘another world.’ And that which it has touched is made up of light and peace and joy, of an inexpressible trust.”

Such is the great hope of this season we enter, this story that we tell, and this life we live together. The life we know deep in own bones, that we pray this season will lift to our hearts.



The Church Needs Lent This Year...

For the Church in America, it seems the season of Lent can’t come soon enough this year.

In these last several weeks the Church has dominated the headlines for all the worst reasons. First there were yet more revelations of the extent of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, and even worse, a culture of silence and cover-up reaching the highest levels of the institution.Then there came the scathing report of widespread abuse and cover-up within the Southern Baptist Convention. While this report was contained to abuse within the SBC, we know full and well no church or denomination is immune from these horrors.

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What We Need Is Here

From time to time in years past in a place of a typical sermon, I’ve given what we’ve called, somewhat tongue in cheek, a “State of the Church Address.”Current partisan politics aside, I won’t do that this year in a sermon, but I do want to update you on a few things left over from this past year and look ahead to the months to come.

Much of our conversation over the fourth quarter of last year had to do with financial stewardship. At the start of October, barring historically strong giving to close the year, we were on a course to finish a good bit behind in our expenses. Well, as I hope you’ve seen by now, we did in fact have historically strong giving to close the year and finished with a surplus of around $24,000. 

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Sunday School at 9:45am
Morning Worship at 11:00am

Wednesday Evening
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511 High Place
Macon, GA 31201
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Telephone: 1.478.742.6485

Email: office@fbcxmacon.org

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