Sobering words define a young priest’s life

As sermons go, it was not the kind of pulpit performance that -- when it was given -- created a buzz in the pews.The young Catholic priest's voice was flat and subdued, his face calm but not expressive. After all, he was only a year or so into his priesthood and preaching was still rather new to him. On this day he was working with a sobering text from the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus looks over the city of Jerusalem and weeps, knowing that death and destruction looms in the future.So … [Read more...]

An earthy reality in the words of Pope Francis

There is nothing unusual about a Catholic leader urging priests to draw closer to their flocks, to focus on day-to-day issues that bridge the gap between pulpit and pew.Still, it caught Vatican insiders off guard when Pope Francis, a week after his installation Mass, used a somewhat pungent image when discussing this problem."This is precisely the reason for the dissatisfaction of some, who end up sad -- sad priests -- in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties, instead … [Read more...]

Words pastors fear saying to their flocks, part 2

Week after week, year after year, ministers rise to preach knowing their flocks expect them to deliver messages that are truly inspired by God or, at the very least, somewhat uplifting.After years facing United Methodist congregations in the Bible Belt, the Rev. Harold Bales had an epiphany about this duty -- although some might consider his candid vision a kind of ecclesiastical nightmare.Imagine what would happen if a pastor stepped into the pulpit and said something like the … [Read more...]

Words pastors fear saying to their flocks, part 1

The powers that be in professional sports know that it’s easier to fire embattled coaches than to push powerful athletes out the door.Pastors know that the same pattern usually holds true when push comes to shove in religious sanctuaries. The sad result is often a vicious cycle of fear, stress, doubt, despair, workaholism, frustration and fatalism.In his book “Counseling Christian Workers,” the late Dr. Louis McBurney — a Mayo Clinic trained psychiatrist known for helping clergy in time … [Read more...]

Thundering new voice for Southern Baptists

A New Orleans preacher, preaching to a New Orleans crowd, can expect a few "Amens!" if he quotes lyrics from Billie Holiday's bluesy "God Bless the Child" while talking about God's love for sinners who get saved.But what if he's preaching at the pastors' conference before the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention?All the people said, "Amen!"What really mattered was that the preacher was the Rev. Fred Luter and his turbo-charged call for salvation and social change was one of … [Read more...]

Titanic sermons, a century later

The White Star Line publicists pulled out all the stops when promoting the Titanic and its sister ship the Olympic, even claiming in one brochure that these giants "were designed to be unsinkable."By the time Titanic put to sea, this language had evolved into a boast -- reportedly shared with passengers -- that "God Himself couldn't sink this ship."Thus, when the liner sank on April 15, 1912, preachers on both sides of the Atlantic were among the first commentators to raise their voices in … [Read more...]

Sermons by Billy and Obama

Both men faced rows of loved ones still wrapped in grief after shocking tragedies.Both men quoted the Psalms. Both concluded with visions of eternal life and heavenly reunions. Both referred to familiar songs that offered comfort.Facing those gathered in Beckley, W.Va., to mourn the loss of 29 miners, President Barack Obama asked them to remember a rhythm and blues classic -- "Lean on Me" -- that had its roots in coal country life.Songwriter Bill Withers wrote: "Sometimes in our lives, we … [Read more...]

Bullets, Bibles and Big Questions

By age 14, Cassie Griffin had collected a bedroom full of toy frogs, each a playful symbol of her F.R.O.G. motto -- Fully Relying On God.She was tall for her age, which probably made it easier for gunman Larry Gene Ashbrook to target her on that horrific night a decade ago at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Cursing God and Baptists, he stormed into a youth prayer service, firing 100 rounds and exploding a pipe bomb -- leaving seven dead and seven wounded.At a recent meeting of … [Read more...]


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