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.

Filtering by Category: First Light Blog

The Risk of Delight

In his poem, A Brief for the Defense, Jack Gilbert writes, “We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”

In our Wednesday night adult study this fall we will aim to do just this: risk delight. We will stubbornly accept our gladness against a world that seems to demand something less. Through the course of our days we’re bombarded with voices that would have us either submit to a steady drip of entertainment or distraction, numbing our senses and shielding us from feeling the world deeply, or wallow in self-righteous denial that would have us stay in a perpetual state of anxious worry.

Enough. As Gilbert says, we need delight to live and certainly to live abundantly. But this does not come naturally. Our sense of joy and delight is like a muscle that must be exercised in order to be strengthened. As Mary Oliver puts it, “only if there are angels in your head will you, possibly, see one.”

In a sense, through our time together on Wednesday nights, we will aim to fill our heads with angels.

We’ll do this in a number of ways: prayer practices, reading and reflecting upon scripture, poetry, and prose, group discussion and sharing, and writing. I’m most excited about this last one, which is inspired by a book I’m reading by Ross Gay called The Book of Delights.

Gay is a poet who took up a practice starting on his birthday to write one small essayette each day (or most days) reflecting on some delight in his life. Perhaps it was something that caught his eye—a vibrant red flower pushing up through a crack in the concrete, or a pleasant interaction with a stranger—the way a cashier greeted him with unexpected politeness after having to engage with a rude customer. Whatever or whoever called to mind this sense of delight, wonder, and gratitude.

He set a few rules for himself. He would try to write everyday but would give himself permission to skip here and there as well—the practice of occasionally “blowing it off” itself becoming an “ancillary” delight. The essayettes would be brief—just a few hundred words—and he would write them by hand in notebooks.

At the end of a year he had a catalogue of joys—a written testimony to the thread of delight that connected the different relationships, commitments, obligations, and moments of his life. Themes emerged, and people, too. His parents and childhood, his garden. And he realized, as we have noted, that by taking on the practice of calling these delights to mind and paper, his eyes were opened to more and more of them, until he realized he was quite literally awash in them. What a radical, counter-cultural assertion.

I believe this is true for all of us, and in our time together this fall we will take the risk of finding out.

SHD

The Fullness of Christ

“…for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

These words of Paul from the first chapter of Ephesians (our first Scripture lesson this morning) contain perhaps my favorite description of the church: the fullness of the one who fills all in all.

The church as the fullness of Christ.

The embodiment of Christ’s expansive love, compassion, and hope for the world.

A people committed to making room, or perhaps trusting that in Christ there’s always plenty of room.

A people who find joy and wonder in exploring the depths and mysteries of creation, not being scared by what we do not know or understand but anticipating that the One who raised Jesus from the dead always has more blessings in store.

A people who see new ways to speak of God as new ways to encounter and know God and our neighbor.

A community that lives and breathes and organizes itself from a position of abundance when every other outside voice would assume scarcity.

Isn’t this what church is when we’re at our best: a people who, in all that we do, hope to be a real and visible sign of the fullness of Christ?

Another important part of being a people of fullness is recognizing the limitless gifts within the community. In preparing for my sabbatical I have been reminded once again of just how much this is true. These opportunities of generous time away for staff are only possible because the church understands that it has people and gifts and resources and time enough to sustain its mission in the meantime.

I am so grateful for all of you who have encouraged me to take this time away and assured me in so many different ways that things will be “okay.” In fact, better than “okay.” Even through these summer months when we slow down our programming as folks travel and come and go, the church will continue to be a sign Christ’s fullness, in our worship, our programs, our prayers, our offerings, and our very witness.

It’s for this reason that I leave with such peace of mind, but more importantly, why I’m so grateful to be your pastor in the first place.

In gratitude,
SHD

Summer Reading

I know for those who are still in school summer reading lists can be more anxiety producing than sabbath-giving. But perhaps you are like me and find that coming up with a personal reading plan for the summer is as much an entry point for this season as Memorial Day hotdogs.

As I prepare to embark on sabbatical, this reading plan has taken on special life and significance. Some of you have inquired as to what I will be reading this summer to accompany me into the various wildernesses and sabbaths I’ll be exploring, so I thought I’d offer a few selections I’m most excited about. I’ve chosen not to immerse myself in books on wilderness or sabbath in particular, but instead look forward to the ways the wilderness and opportunities for sabbath retreat will open me to receive works of literature and poetry.

Into the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf. I’ve had this book on my list ever since Stephanie Paulsell was with us back in February. I’m ashamed to say I’ve not read anything by Woolf, so I’m especially excited to read this book Stephanie cited and interpreted so beautifully.

He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, The Faith of Art, by Christian Wiman. Many of you know that Christian Wiman is one of my favorite writers. I read this new book of his several months back but want to engage it more fully this summer. The book jacket describes it as his “love letter to poetry.”

Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson. Marilynn Robinson is another one of my favorite writers, but I’m again ashamed to say I have never read this one of her most beloved and highly regarded works.

A Poetry Handbook: A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry, by Mary Oliver. Before I dappled in writing sermons, I dabbled in writing poetry (still working on preaching, to be sure, but be grateful you haven’t been subjected to my poetry). The creative writing seminars I took as a senior in college ended up being among the most formative courses I took. I’m looking forward to reengaging this form over the summer.

The Stream and the Sapphire: Selected Poems on Religious Themes, by Denise Levertov. I’m just begun reading Levertov’s poems and I love them. This tiny collection offers a great introduction to her more spiritually centered work.

Poetry Magazine. Audrey got me a subscription for my birthday and I’ve loved the opportunity to read contemporary poets.

Liturgies for the Journey of Life, by Dorothy McRae-McMahon, and Every Moment Holy, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey. These two recommendations from my Dear Friends are collections of liturgies, prayers, and blessings to be used in personal and family life. Children seem to innately crave and respond to ritual, which means of course that people innately crave and respond to ritual. One of the great joys of these past few years has been passing down and creating family rituals. I’m looking forward to these resources for how to further center our time together as a family.

 

SHD

See What You See

The great conservationist, champion of wilderness, and originator of the Appalachian Trail, Benton MacKaye, once wrote, “There are three things: 1) to walk 2) to see 3) to see what you see.” He was writing about the purpose of great trail that connects Georgia to Maine, but his words seem to point to a deeper purpose.

I almost can’t help but hear the words of the prophet Micah, “And what does the Lord require but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” MacKaye seems to understand that the first two of these commandments: justice and kindness, really must flow from the third: walking humbly. Walking mindfully—noticing the world and the people and plants and animals within it. Remembering the God who created all of it; who created you.

I’m so grateful that you, the congregation of this church, have allowed me my upcoming sabbatical that I might take time to renew and refresh my capacity to do this kind of walking and living, in the hopes that I might better minister to you upon my return.

My time away will begin after worship on June 2. After a few days of preparation, Audrey and I will set out to hike the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail, starting at Springer Mountain and continuing up to Deep Gap, North Carolina. Upon our safe return, I will travel to Birmingham to represent the church at the CBF General Assembly and then be back in Macon for a few weeks before we take a family vacation to the coast. I’ll then split time between Macon and shorter retreats to local state parks and the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, in the hopes of finding a more accessible place of retreat to incorporate into a regular practice of Sabbath-keeping upon my return.

My sabbatical will conclude with an extended trip to New Mexico, where I’ll spend several days at Christ in the Desert Monastery before heading to Santa Fe for more time for solitude and reflection. I’ll be back the last week of July in time for Billy’s first day of kindergarten and will rejoin you in our Back to School worship service on August 3.

I go knowing that ultimately this time away is not simply for me but for our church. My hope is that these experiences of retreat will inspire new rhythms of sabbath for our staff and lay leadership—that we might find ways to walk, see, and see what we see together.

Thank you for this opportunity. Know that I do not take it lightly and or for granted and that I go mindful that I do so for you and all that God has in store for us in the season ahead.

Trust that all pastoral and administrative duties have been covered, and please be prayerful for Kelsey, Stanley, Anne, Joe, Connie, Kaylyn, Dexter, and Cedric, colleagues for whom I am grateful and deeply appreciative for their part in making this time away possible.

SHD

Dear Friends

Four years ago I began meeting with a group of five other pastors from around the CBF landscape for what we initially called “Preacher Camp.” We divvy up all the Sundays for the year ahead so that each of us is responsible for preparing notes and ideas for 7-10 Sundays, and meet in the mountains of North Carolina for a few days each spring to share and discuss.

At least, this is what we initially set out to do, but our time together has grown into something much more. We still prepare our sermon materials and feast on conversation about our scared texts. But through the years we’ve found the true value of our group is not the trove of sermon illustrations but the gift of deep friendship. We call this week in the mountains Preacher Camp, but we call ourselves “the Dear Friends,” poking fun at how we quote each other in our sermons—“as my dear friend Emily Hull McGee says,” and so forth.

We all need these relationships to sustain us, to feed us. So it’s a bit strange that for all its verses on love and community, the Bible has little to say about friendship. There are a few proverbs and other verses here or there, and a couple of friendships described in scripture—David and Jonathan come to mind. Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, seem to share something closer to deep friendship. Abraham and Moses are both referred to, at different times, as God’s friends, which is peculiar and fascinating—what would it mean to know that even God Almighty needs friends?

Perhaps the most striking scripture on friendship happens in the Gospel of John when Jesus gathered with his disciples for the Last Supper. He says to them, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer…I call you my friends.” On that last night together, Jesus knew he didn’t need followers or disciples; he needed friends.

One of the most beautiful things about being a part of a congregation for a length of time is the bonds of friendship that form. It’s almost inevitable when you do the things we do together. When you gather week after week and share your lives in the way we do. When you lift up prayers and celebrations. When you share meals and hard conversations.

While we’re a congregation that values education and learning, it’s also these deep bonds of friendship that we lift up this morning in celebrating our graduates. We celebrate the friendships they’ve formed with each other and between their families, but also the wider bonds of “holy” friendship we enjoy as a congregation. These graduates are the products of those bonds and the virtues that come with them.

And as we celebrate them and send them off, we pray these bonds will continue to sustain them wherever their next steps may take them.

 

SHD

That Quiet Mystery

Those of you who were able to stop by our Good Friday meditation know the care that Kelsey took in preparing the space (and Stanley the music). It was a beautiful mosaic of art and music and word and silence, centered on different stations inviting you to engage the story of Good Friday in different ways.

One of the stations featured poems printed on card-stock that gestured, in different ways, toward the themes of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. One poem in particular stopped me in my tracks and, candidly, provided the lens through which I prepared for Easter morning.

It’s a poem by the great mystical poet, Denise Levertov, called "Primary Wonder.”

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.
And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng's clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

“Days pass when I forget the mystery,” she confesses. Things get in the way—problems, worries, minutia, all “diversions,” stealing her attention. I heard her confession, and offered my own.

“And then,” the stanza breaks, “once more the quiet mystery is present to me…the mystery that there is anything, anything at all,” let alone the beauty and wonder and texture woven into creation, “rather than the void.”

As Frederick Buechner has defined grace, “You might never have been, and yet here you are.”

Easter, of course, is a meditation on the resurrection of Jesus and the power of God to defeat the powers of death. But for me this year, before I was able to approach that central mystery of our faith, I had to first be present to that quiet mystery that there is life at all, and that God, hour by hour, sustains it.

SHD

Radical Hospitality

While John’s version of this post-resurrection encounter between Christ and the disciples is perhaps the most well-known (featuring “doubting Thomas” and all the rest of it), I’ve found myself drawn to Luke’s version of the story this year—especially in light of our Lenten theme of gathering “around the table.”

As Luke tells it, the risen Christ mysteriously appears to two of the disciples as they’re walking to the town of Emmaus on the same day he was raised, though “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” After a lengthy conversation about the events of the weekend, which this mysterious stranger connects to the arc of scripture, as evening draws near the disciples ask the stranger to stay with them for the night. He agrees, and when they all gather around a table, this stranger takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. At this, “their eyes were opened” and they recognize that it is Christ there around the table with them.

Before his death it was Jesus who invited the disciples to the table—not just that final literal table, but so many figurative tables throughout his ministry. His was a ministry of radical hospitality, constantly gathering around a table with friends and enemies alike, those on the inside and those on the margins. It was around the table that Jesus exposed the lines the separated people and offered them a way to see each other anew. This is one of the miraculous things about tables: they force us to see each other face to face.

Yet here after his resurrection it is not Christ who invites the disciples to the table, but the disciples who invite him—though at the time they believe him to be a stranger. In other words, it was the hospitality extended to the stranger in their midst that made this encounter with the risen Christ and first “Lord’s Supper” possible.

After a few rough days, it’s good to see the disciples had learned something. And I hope we have, too.

I hope as so many of us gathered around tables together during Lent, eating each other’s food, sharing in each others lives and our life together as a church, we’ve experienced something of what’s possible when we gather around a table as the body of Christ. I hope we’ve experienced community and embrace, warmth and intimacy. Most of all I hope we’ve experienced just a taste of the blessings possible in extending hospitality to strangers. We may be tempted to assume we’re the one extending Christ to them, when in fact they are revealed to be Christ to us.

In the story of this post-resurrection encounter, we’re reminded that generous, radical welcome is among the most powerful forces in the world. It can even raise someone from the dead.

SHD

In the Meantime

It’s Easter Sunday—Alleluia!—and we will certainly tell the resurrection story together again. But if it’s not too much, I’d like to take us back a day to Holy Saturday.

Holy Saturday is in many ways the forgotten day of Holy Week. This isn’t just in our practice; scripture, too, is silent. The gospels take us as far us sundown on Friday when Jesus was laid in the tomb and the rest of his disciples, friends, and loved ones scattered—we’re not sure where. The most we’re told is that after preparing his body with spices and ointment (the women did this, mind you; the men were long gone by this point), “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.”

We would rush past this one-sentence summary of what the disciples and friends of Jesus were doing in the time between his death and resurrection, but so much of Easter depends on it.

We long for Easter morning, but most of our lives are spent in Holy Saturday: in the time between loss and new life. In the silence. In the grief. In the waiting for God to reveal what is next, what is new. Because we mark it on our calendars each year we forget that Easter Sunday is the aberration; Holy Saturday is the given. And so it’s Holy Saturday where the church must be.

This is especially true in times immediately after loss. Grief can be paralyzing. As the weight of loss washes over us and we come to realize how much our life has changed, it’s common to struggle with even the most basic tasks: getting out of bed, getting dressed, eating properly. Our world is different now, and we simply don’t know what we should do. One of the gifts of religion is that it provides us with rhythms to fall back on when the music of life has stopped. The rhythm of weekly worship. Of daily devotion. Of opportunities for service. Of a place to come, that has been prepared for us. Of people to meet us there. These holy rhythms are important throughout our days but become essential in times of grief or loss. They provide order when all we feel is chaos, and help us answer that most basic of questions: What do I do now?

For the disciples, as dusk swept over that Holy Friday, the answer they found in their Jewish faith was simple: we keep the Sabbath, remembering the God who rests with us—the God who grieves with us. And then we will rise to meet this new world. Little did they know Jesus would be doing the same.

So we in the church dream of Easter Sunday. We remember when it happened so long ago and long for when it will happen again in our own lives and in the life of the world.

But in the meantime we live together in Holy Saturday, waiting for the promises of God to be revealed.

Alleluia,

SHD

WEEKLY SERVICES

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

Wednesday Evening
We begin with a meal at 5:30pm. Music and missions activities are available for adults, youth, and kids. Learn More

 

CONTACT US

511 High Place
Macon, GA 31201
Directions to FBCX

Telephone: 1.478.742.6485

Email: office@fbcxmacon.org


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