A Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2019

I preached a sermon among the congregation at St David’s Episcopal Church of Denton, TX this past Sunday, and I’d like to share it with you. God continues to show up to us, search for us, especially at the “wrong” time for us – may God continue to show up to us and surprise us with life anew!

Will

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Allen Stanton’s Review of Accidental Preacher

Allen Stanton, a former student of mine and excellent leader in our church, wrote a review for my memoir for the Englewood Review of Books.

I feel like Allen captures well my intentions in writing this book—I hope it makes a good companion to your own reading of Accidental Preacher!

Will

Six Questions with Will Willimon

As my memoir Accidental Preacher comes out in print, I share with you an interview I did with my publisher, Eerdmans. Enjoy!

Will


1. What do you hope readers take away from reading Accidental Preacher?

The most interesting thing about me is that, against all odds, God has handed me some outrageous assignments. I got called.

I’d be pleased if readers have fun reading about how much fun I’ve had in Christian ministry.

If my readers come away with a new sense of their own vocation, that would be great too.

What an interesting God we’ve got in the Trinity!

2. Why did you choose to publish Accidental Preacher with Eerdmans?

Years ago wild Bill Eerdmans said I ought to think about doing a memoir. Of course I dismissed Bill’s suggestion. Then, a novelist friend of mine said, “Will, you ought to do a memoir–while you can still mem.”

As my career ends, and I have the time to look back on the twists and turns in my life as a church guy, the time seemed right. Through the years I’ve admired Eerdmans’ books–published a couple of my most popular with them and have used Eerdmans books in my classes at Duke. Team Eerdmans gave me great editorial guidance during the process.

3. What’s something not enough people know about you?

I wonder if folks know how much joy I’ve had even amid the demanding challenges of Christian ministry. I have often been a critic of the church and its leaders and perhaps that’s come across as too critical, dour.

I hope my memoir will demonstrate the joys of working for a God who thinks nothing of sending thoroughly flawed, laughably unqualified people (guilty on all counts) out to do God’s work in the world. As I say early on in the book, the hijinks of this God is the subject of my memoir.

4. If you could have coffee with any historical figure, who would it be? Why?

I was going to say Karl Barth because that would make me sound theological. However, I don’t want to expose my ministry to Barth’s withering critique.

So I guess it would be dear Flannery O’Connor. She tells the truth but with wicked humor. I wouldn’t want her to tell me what she thinks of my writing, but I would like her to teach me how to show, in her words, “the action of grace in the territory of the devil.”

5. What advice would you give aspiring young preachers?

Thank God that Jesus didn’t call you to be President, then trust that God knew what God was doing when God called you to be a preacher. Have a great time telling people on Sunday the truth they’ve been avoiding all week.

6. What’s next for you?

Another birthday, I hope. Along with the prospect of seeing what God will do next in Jesus’ retake of God’s world.

Vocative God

As my memoir Accidental Preacher comes out in print, I want to share a series of reflections with you. This unexpected calling to preach continues to be an adventure, one I am thankful for and overwhelmed with every day.

Will


At the Northside UMC Wednesday morning prayer breakfast (God and a sausage biscuit at an ungodly hour), I piously asked the assembled laity, hoping to impress them with the earnestness of my pastoral care, “Pray for Mary. Johnny was booked last night. DUI. I’m going to see what I can do to get him out. Mary’s had a time with that boy.” Continue reading

Christians Courageous

Well over a year ago, Fuller Seminary President Dr. Mark Labberton gave a courageous, biblical, rebuke to those Christian leaders who continued to foolishly give Christian support and justification to Trumpism.

I’ve regretted that political leaders, like our two Senators from North Carolina, have continued to justify Trump’s lies, support of dictators, and sins against women, immigrants, and people of color. But our two Senators are politicians, which may explain their cowardly justifications.  There may be political, economic, or military reasons for acquiescing to the immorality of Trump.  However, there can be no Christianreason for doing so.

The specifically Christian, biblical response to the sad current state of affairs has already been articulated over a year ago in an address by the distinguished President of Fuller Seminary, Dr. Mark Labberton. You can read his solemn warning to evangelical Christians HERE.

Now my friend and student, Thomas Pietila, recently retired after a distinguished ministry in South Carolina, has written a letter to his local newspaper on the continuing disgrace of Christian leaders attempting to muster Christian support for Trump. Tom’s letter is below.  Let all of us who presume to speak in the name of Christ take courage from Tom’s call to speak up and to speak out in this time.

Evangelicals and the President 

The conservative, evangelical political figure, Peter Wehner, recently voiced his dismay that white evangelicals continue to support President Trump. A Pew Research poll found that 70 percent of white evangelical Protestants form the strength of his base. 

Why, I wonder. Is it that he lies about things minor and major?  Is it because of his womanizing, misogyny? Or his personal wealth that allows him to silence prostitutes with hundreds of thousands of dollars?  Is it his unique ability to dehumanize friends and enemies and make fun of the handicapped?  Is it his virulent strain of nationalism combined with a tinge of racism that we are nostalgic for? Is it that he declared he has no need to confess wrongdoing?  Is it that he is untethered to any sense of right or wrong?  

Wehner, an advisor in the Reagan and Bush administrations, understands why evangelicals voted for him. He is mystified why they continue to support him after it has become clear that very little about him embodies the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. I am an inheritor of a great evangelical tradition and I share his bewilderment and his fear that the values and power of the evangelical tradition will soon be crushed. 

Jeff Manning, the conservative, evangelical pastor of Unity Free Will Baptist Church in Greenville, N.C. voted for President Trump. Now, after the anger stirred up in his home city, he reflects, “I have grave concerns about his spiritual condition,” Manning said of the president. “There’s too much evidence against it. . . . I pray he will become one.” 

I merely want to protect my evangelical roots and, like Wehner and others, point out that white, evangelical followers of Jesus are his most ardent supporters, and I find no biblical basis for that. Mark Labberton, President of Fuller Seminary —the largest evangelical seminary in America— writes, “The scandal associated today with the evangelical gospel is not the scandal of the Cross of Christ, crucified for the salvation of the world.  Rather it is the scandal of our own arrogance, unconfessed before the Cross, revealing a hypocritical superiority that we dare to associate with the God who died to save the weak and the lost.”

Rev. Tom Pietila

Clergy for Tolerance Breakfast

A few years ago I was invited to Nashville to speak  to a group of clergy and laity who were working on immigration in Tennessee. Building on our work against the draconian Republican anti-immigration law in Alabama, I praised them for their efforts to keep Tennessee from going down the same disastrous path trod by Alabama politicians (such as disgraced Governor Bentley and Jeff Sessions). My comments may still be relevant as Trump works immigration phobia for political advantage today.

Thanks,
Will