Focus | 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.
The Wesleyan Imagination
This may be a great time to review the Ordo Salutis of Wesley/Methodists as we begin to lead people to claim God's desire for restored community. God restores community with promise fulfilled, strength delivered, and hope renewed. God's grace is at work in us when we aren't even aware of it (prevenient grace). "Have you not known, have you not heard?" We respond by giving all we have (justifying grace): “lift up your eyes on high and see!” “He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless” (sanctifying grace). We have been saved to run this race!
Black History Month
Black History Month is a time of remembering the specific struggles of African Americans that began with the enslavement of Africans, captured and brought to the United States, and their journey since. It is an invitation to all preachers, of every color, to heighten awareness and to preach a gospel of love and not hate, as we all seek to renew creation. As opposed to merely recalling the historical significance of individual African Americans, one might consider an individual experience that heightened his or her own sensitivity to the struggles and work of African American people. Perhaps a teacher, a pastor, or a national figure inspired you. Narrative preaching, from personal experience, can often be a great tool to build community and raise awareness. Today's text runs a literary theme of "have you not heard?" and "have you not seen?" This is also how conversation is often started in the grocery stores, church gathering places, shopping centers..."have you heard...did you hear?" Could God not be calling community to initiate conversation one with another? Have we not heard, have we not seen what God is doing? God is doing a marvelous thing with all of creation!
The social world today thrives off of the speed of news, but it may actually miss news of any kind. Yet, life can be so busy, filled with distractions, so we don't even pay attention to the news circulating around us. In our day and time, we are inundated with various news networks that have different angles out of which they report on current events. Reporters speak from a conservative, liberal, general, and even comedic angle. The news we encounter is not just theological, religious, or ritualistic. The news we encounter today is liberating and transforming! It has the power to pull us out of slumps. It has the power to rewrite our stories. The news we encounter today gives us the courage to run toward the goal and not just walk around without destination. Trust this news...it is from God directly to us! We are being empowered to live life boldly. Out of all the news in the world, this story was reported thousands of years ago, and it still stands. Have you not heard? Focus on the real news that brings new life.
The preacher must find a way continue to encourage the congregation to live into being a vital and faithful community of Jesus Christ. Some congregations go through slumps. Some congregations go through seasons of depression and fear. Today, we are invited to consider something that's not easy. We are invited to trust God no matter how bad it looks. Trust that God has not dozed off on us. Rather, God has spoken and invites us to not just strategize, figure out, contemplate, or plan, but to "lift up our eyes on high and see." Focus on what God is saying and doing. When we focus, things can turn around!
Possible Celebrations (Conclusions) to Consider:
A. Focus on the word Wait. Spend time with how waiting is hard, difficult, boring, uneventful and laborious. But, while waiting is all those things, it leads to something. We spend our lives waiting on Uber rides, taxis, tax refunds, the promotion, the annual sale, graduation. Waiting for those things is a part of life, for sure. But, they that wait on the Lord, will mount up...Uber comes along, tax refunds arrive once a year, promotions don't come every day; but when God shows up everything changes, most importantly, we change, and we are empowered to walk and not faint, run and not be weary! This wait is worth every minute!
B. Have you not heard, have you not seen? The sermon could very well end on a note of hearing and seeing. We can pull from ways we hear. I heard the rivers split when the people of Israel rushed through. I heard the fall of the giant Goliath when he slammed into earth from the stone of a young kid named David. I heard the poet proclaim that God is an ever-present help in the time of trouble. You can create your own list of what you've heard and what you've seen leading you to proclaim, “I heard God.” One of our writers on this team pointed out that decibels can create enormous biological reactions because hearing is everything! Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. How can they hear, without a preacher? He who has ears, let him hear. To be sensitive to the deaf or hearing impaired, it’s worth speaking of hearing with the soul as opposed to just hearing with the ears (“my soul looks back and wonders” is an idea of referencing the soul doing the hearing and seeing for us). Indeed, what we know now is our eyes do not see and our ears do not hear, not in the ways any of us, hearing or deaf, sighted or blind, usually think of or experience these things. We use ears and eyes to hear or see, but what we experience as hearing and sight is created for us and served up to our perception primarily by our brains, in our minds, and always tempered by our emotional states at the time. So hearing or seeing with the soul is, ultimately, the only way any of us ever hears or sees.