God is Speaking! | RISE UP!
Our guest writer for the Season after Epiphany is Rev. Dr. B. Kevin Smalls. Dr. Smalls is a native of Washington D.C., and an elder in full connection with the Baltimore-Washington Conference. He currently serves as the senior pastor of Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield, Michigan.
Dr. Smalls holds a Bachelor’s Degree in History from Claflin University, a Master of Divinity from Interdenominational Theological Center, and a Doctor of Ministry from United Theological Seminary, where he focused on postmodern preaching to contemporary audiences with an emphasis on hip hop culture. During his twenty years in service to the United Methodist Church, Dr. Smalls has served in a variety of appointments. He is the founder of the Young Adult Christian Cafe and the Off the Hook Bible Study. He is an author who has published a book and a number of articles in periodicals, and he is a contributor to the Africana Worship Book.
Dr. Smalls is married to Lisa Karen Smalls. They share parenting responsibilities for their six children. We are pleased to share Dr. Smalls’s unique voice, poetry, and insights into the Scriptures with the wider church during this season.
(Note that we recommend presenting the spoken word as part of the liturgy. See Worship Order for ideas on how to present this as part of the worship service.)
Seemingly, the darkness has been so thick
not quick to trust anything resembling light
Might be a trick...and tricks don't always
lead to a treat, so I retreat in the darkness,
hoping, slightly, ever so lightly that
my deepest fears will submit to the changing
of dark gears leading to light years of praise
Then, the light is not found, seemingly,
in the measure of the day but the Way
the voice appeared...it was the light
and life to all people and there was
no equal to its clear and present
demand. I can, I believed. I can rise
right along with the sun.
Darkness is for lying down, laying down, hanging
around, pretending to be asleep. All the
while the light slowly creeps between the
cracks in the blinds...which are unsuccessful
in stopping the invitation...to liberation...
arise, shine, the light has come...
arise, shine the light has come…
Social Justice Imagination
For congregations that are struggling with complexities around justice issues, the Isaiah text speaks vividly about a people whose light leads to building community. In the first three verses, we read how the light to the Israelite community will not be just for them, but for the Gentiles as well. This is a great time to preach toward a vision of a light that unifies God's people, even those different from us. Is our light bright enough to encompass the justice of inclusion of all God's creation? Preaching that names the real suffering in the world is a way of engaging that suffering as well as the systems that enable it. In this text, we encounter a God who alleviates this suffering with the shining of light on those who were so deeply in need of it. This light is so powerful that it is inviting to all who reach for its warmth. Thanks be to God! The light shines, and the darkness does not overcome it.
Pastoral Care Imagination
Preaching to the vulnerability of congregations and communities takes an extra dose of love and care homiletically. Congregations struggle, often with depression, as members age, and congregations shrink in membership or attendance. The congregation can become swamped in change—neighborhood shifts, financial worries, questions of long-term stability. And then there are those congregations grieving the loss of a child, an elderly leader, or someone violently killed. All these congregations stand in need of a sermon that cares for the mental psyche of the flock.
This text conveys a God who nurtures a people that have been depressed for years, and in some cases, have given up on the notion of being delivered. It wouldn't hurt to take a peek at Isaiah 59:9-10 to get a brief sense of the struggle. Remind the people that God's light appears after disaster, along with the invitation to wake up, rise, and face the light with acceptance and renewal.
Youth/Young Adult Imagination
Youth and young adults may initially feel that the language of light and darkness might be a little too abstract and even sappy. An interesting angle is to create a message with a bit of believable tension that will grab their imagination. One path might be to explore the ways the light is refused. This opens the path to encountering a resistible God who has to wake up those who are in a deep enough sleep where even God's light isn't bright enough to wake them without God's voice. God's light is gentle, not always demanding, overbearing. It is strong enough to chase away the darkness, but gentle enough not to disturb a deep sleep. Once we awaken to the gift of a new day, we then must choose whether to walk into it or not. Help your younger crowds navigate through the difficult path of decision making.