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.

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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.


Guest Blogger Julie Long

As I have spent these last few weeks reflecting on my time as a minister at First Baptist, I have been flooded by so many memories of people and experiences that have enriched my life. I’d like to name, specifically, some of the great gifts that this church has offered me and my family. 

As a college student trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life, you welcomed me and knew me and found places for me to serve. I learned how to do children’s ministry by working alongside those who were doing it well, and I was able to test out my own gifts and interests in an encouraging place.

You continued a pattern of calling young ministers and serving as a teaching congregation for so many of us, giving us a place to grow and learn while surrounded by grace-filled, wise mentors and friends. 

You were flexible with me as my sense of pastoral identity broadened, and you gave me opportunities to grow and step into new roles and responsibilities. 

You have been so very generous to our family, walking with us through so many of our significant life moments. Your tangible gifts, your words of encouragement and affirmation, the ways you have shown up for us, and the ways that you have loved our children have been so meaningful.

It has been a great joy to have been here long enough to watch “my” children (our church’s children) grow into youth and young adults, and to see the ways that they have and are becoming thoughtful, caring, and world-changing human beings.  

If I leave behind any legacy, I hope that it is this:  an awareness that the youngest among us are created in God’s image, and that they are not just the future of the church, but they are our present. They are capable and gifted, and they should be listened to and included and empowered in the life of the church.  Let them lead you, as Jesus said they would. Nurture and love them with intention.

Thank you for all of the ways you have blessed me and affirmed me and celebrated me, particularly in these last few weeks. My hope is that I begin my work with Baptist Women in Ministry, I will be able to equip and empower other women ministers in the ways that you have done for me. 

-        Julie Long


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