Welcome to the blog of Bishop Will Willimon, Professor of the Practice of Ministry, Duke Divinity School. Here you will find articles, sermons, lectures and other offerings from Will Willimon.
Billy Graham accepted my invitation to preach in Duke Chapel my first year, and, to my surprise, is the nicest evangelical famous preacher one could hope to meet. Billy is so admired by so many for so long because Billy never stopped preaching God’s converting gift of a second chance. One of Billy’s best-selling books was How to be Born Again.
His sermon in Duke Chapel was a muddle—set pieces from Billy’s work over the years, little biblical content, no discernable theme. Nobody noticed. Just being among the crowd as Billy preaches is sermon enough.
We mainline, non-evangelical, non-invasive preachers pat a congregation on the head as we murmur, “There, there, God loves you just the way you are. Promise me you won’t change a thing.” Billy consistently preached the Gospel of the Second Chance. Those in desperate need of a second or third chance (for whom buttoned-down mainline Christianity is giving aspirin to someone in need of massive chemotherapy) require more than “progressive” sermons — bourgeois conformity with a spiritual tint.
“You will have a wonderful ministry here,” Billy reassured me as we stood in my study after service. “Many of these students and faculty are unaware that Jesus Christ is eager to have them.”
I’m sorry that my friend Karl Barth disapproved of Billy’s preaching. And I wish Billy had not been cynically snookered by Nixon. Sometimes we evangelists, in an effort to love someone for Christ, get seduced. Besides, Tricky Dick and I need all the second chances God’s got. Shortly after Billy’s sermon in Duke Chapel, Margie Velma Barfield fed her North Carolina preacher husband tapioca laced with ant poison, thus provoking his gut-wrenching death. When the state medical examiner suspected foul play, the man’s body was dug up. The sheriff supervising the exhumation was asked if an autopsy would confirm murder. “All I know is that there ain’t a damn ant within a mile of this cemetery.”
Velma, who probably murdered many, some by poison, others by arson, was easily convicted and ordered to be executed. While I led protests, Billy’s helpmate, Ruth Bell Graham, began corresponding with Velma on death row. Velma took the Graham cure, repented, asked Christ into her heart, and was redeemed. Ruth pled with the (liberal Methodist) governor to spare Velma. The governor, believing in equal rights for women more than he believed in the God of the Second Chance—refused, making Velma the first woman to be executed in North Carolina in decades.
Back when I served as Junior High rep to the Official Board of Buncombe Street Church, Billy announced that he would lead a city-wide crusade in Greenville. The whole town mobilized for the biggest event ever to hit town. At the Board meeting grownups debated our congregation’s participation.
“It’s a bunch of Baptists trying to get a leg up on us,” said one.
“Graham says that there will be no separation of the races during the meetings,” gasped another. That did it. The Board voted to protect our church from Graham’s miscegenation.
After the meeting, I went out the side door closest to the bus stop. Down a dark church hallway I heard weeping. I crept down the hall. Light shown from an open door. I peeked in. Our pastor, Dr. Dubose, was sobbing, holding his head in his hands.
I am grateful for the invitation to come and preach among the Methodists in Montgomery, and I thought I would share the word with the readers of this blog, too (the sermon starts around 34:35 in the video of the service).
I had the chance to offer some thoughts on leadership in our local churches with The Nonprofit Exchange. I am always interested in thinking about the struggles and even more importantly, the opportunities for exciting new leadership practice in our congregations—I hope we continue to work together on upgrading our capacities in our common calling!
I had an engaging weekend in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in which a group of churches thought about race and racism from a Christian perspective. Here’s the sermon I preached on Sunday morning at Broadmoor United Methodist Church. I also met with area clergy for a day of discussion of my book, Who Lynched Willie Earle? Preaching to Confront Racism.
I’ve appreciated the hardwork Jim Sommerville has done in putting together an outstanding resource for those called to preach the gospel. I cannot recommend it enough, and I am also grateful to know that my own contributions have helped others in this work. I wanted to share one such sermon with you, rated best sermon on the site in 2017—be sure to make A Sermon for Every Sunday a part of your preaching preparation in 2018!
For the past two decades Will Willimon, United Methodist bishop and Duke Divinity School professor, has written Pulpit Resource. This quarterly is a resource for preachers that offers exegesis, prayers, supporting material, and a proposed sermon plan for every Sunday of the three-year Common Lectionary cycles. Pulpit Resource has had as many as 8,000 subscribers in the U.S., Canada, and Australia who use it for weekly sermon preparation.
Now, some of the best material from Pulpit Resource has been assembled by Abingdon Press into Will Willimon’s Lectionary Sermon Source, the first volume in a seven-volume series. Published in August, the first volume treats the Sundays in Year B of the lectionary, beginning with Advent, 2017. Abingdon plans to issue six more volumes in this series over the next three years, including a special volume on preaching the Psalms.
“In my years with Pulpit Resource,” said Willimon, “I’ve written more than a thousand sermons with supporting material. Along the way I’ve made friends with hundreds of pastors who have invited me into their sermon preparation. Now it is good to have some of this material made available in this series of volumes. It’s a privilege to be part of the pulpit work of a new generation of preachers.”
Willimon, who continues to write Pulpit Resource each quarter, is professor of the practice of Christian ministry at the Divinity School and has written 71 books. He served as the dean of Duke Chapel and professor of Christian ministry at Duke University for 20 years. He returned to Duke after serving as the bishop of the North Alabama Conference from 2004 to 2012.
Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., says of Lectionary Sermon Source, “It’s like having Will Willimon sitting in your study sharing his best stories, ideas, and reflections on the text.”
James Howell, senior pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C., says that through the book Willimon “presses the preacher to be better, more relevant, and truer to the word.”