“Why Stand So Far Away My God”

“Why Stand So Far Away My God” — my homily in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting and devastation in Puerto Rico — with musical selections of “Why Stand So Far Away MY God” (Ruth Duck) and Prayer of St. Francis (Trinity Anglican) with Atticus Hicks. The homily was given on Oct 8th, 2017 at the MidWeek Communion Service (Weds at 5pm) at Oak Grove United Methodist Church (ogumc.org).

Our continued prayers with the people of Las Vegas and Puerto Rico and friends Glen and Bill and their teams serving and working there.

chords & lyrics:
Why Stand So Far Away My God (fws 2180) by Ruth Duck
Prayer of St Francis (G) by Trinity Anglican


O Young and Fearless Prophet

O young and fearless Prophet, we need thy presence here,
amid our pride and glory to see thy face appear;
once more to hear thy challenge above our noisy day,
again to lead us forward along God’s holy way.

O Young and Fearless Prophet (Passion Chorale) from joseph mcbrayer on Vimeo.

Pastors, musicians, students, and friends, as we enter the season of Lent (a time of repentance and remembering our humanity)  I offer this timely hymn: “O Young and Fearless Prophet” (written in 1931) set to the Passion Chorale (1601 — O Sacred Head Now Wounded) for our Lenten Journey:

“O Young and Fearless Prophet” (text by S. Ralph Harlow, 1931) set to the tune of Passion Chorale (Hans L. Hassler, 1601, arr. Joseph McBrayer — .pdf below)

“O young and fearless Prophet of ancient Galilee,
thy life is still a summons to serve humanity;
to make our thoughts and actions less prone to please the crowd,
to stand with humble courage for truth with hearts uncowed.

We marvel at the purpose that held thee to thy course
while ever on the hilltop before thee loomed the cross;
thy steadfast face set forward where love and duty shone,
while we betray so quickly and leave thee there alone.

O help us stand unswerving against war’s bloody way,
where hate and lust and falsehood hold back Christ’s holy sway;
forbid false love of country that blinds us to his call,
who lifts above the nations the unity of all.

Stir up in us a protest against our greed for wealth,
while others starve and hunger and plead for work and health;
where homes with little children cry out for lack of bread,
who live their years sore burdened beneath a gloomy dread.

O young and fearless Prophet, we need thy presence here,
amid our pride and glory to see thy face appear;
once more to hear thy challenge above our noisy day,
again to lead us forward along God’s holy way.”

S. Ralph Harlow (1885-1972), a congregationalist and practitioner of the Social Gospel, wrote this hymn on the back of a menu in 1931 during the Great Depression*–the United Methodist hymnal committee didn’t include stanza 5 in either the 1935 or 1966 Hymnal edition as the editor told Harlow: “the church is not ready to sing that.” Harlow told him it wasn’t “as radical as the Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55, which is sung in the Methodist service” and stanza 5 eventually made it into our 1989 hymnal.*

The epiphanal moment leading me to set this text to PASSION CHORALE came in during Lent of 2014 when the hymn text was an ideal fit for a worship series on Race and the Church, but the hymn tune in 13.13 13.13  was unfamiliar. I realized that any tune in 7.6 7.6 D could work and PASSION CHORALE fit the text and the occasion quite well serving as a prelude of the coming terminus of Lent in Good Friday when we most often sing “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.”

Another stanza that didn’t make it is below — may we live into this stanza and the call heard in this hymn from our “Young and Fearless Prophet.”

“Create in us the splendor that dawns when hearts are kind.
That knows not race or color as boundaries of the mind;
That learns to value beauty, in heart, or brain, or soul,
And longs to bind God’s children into one perfect whole.”

*source: Carlton R. Young, Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1993, pages 537-538.

here is a chord sheet of my arrangement: o-young-and-fearless-prophet-passion-chorale

Jesus Revealed

Despite many people’s professions to know Jesus personally, a surprising number of Christians know surprisingly little about Jesus’ teachings and life found in scripture…

This Fall Semester at Emory Wesley, we’re starting a NEW SERIES: “Jesus Revealed” // Jesus was born to poor, humble, Jewish parents around 2000 years ago in the backwaters the Roman Empire. He was one of many traveling teacher/healers of the ancient near eastern world. He didn’t write down his teachings, never became wealthy or owned tons of property, and didn’t tour the world with speaking engagements. Today, some 2000 years later, billions of people believe he is the son of God and many others debate just who this Jesus really was. Despite many people’s professions to know Jesus personally, a surprising number of Christians know surprisingly little about Jesus’ teachings and life found in scripture.

SO, journey with us as we rediscover Jesus.
Wednesday Night Worship @645pm

jesus revealed 16x9 image

faithful mentors

I’m writing this post today in response to a DAY OF BLOGGING for Exploration 2013, a United Methodist Event for people discerning a call to ordained ministry. They asked us to respond to the question: “Who influenced you in discerning your Call to Ministry?” So here it is:

For many in ministry or clergy roles we simply “walk alongside” and  “live life” with the people whom we guide and work with in ministry. This is what the many faithful mentors in my journey have done with/for me–they’ve simply been there as I have experienced (thus far) the full stretch of human life–good times and bad.

auburn samford hallMy specific call to ministry and working with college students came during my freshman year at Auburn University when I went on a Weekend Mission Trip with Auburn Wesley Foundation and Alabama Rural Ministry (ARM) to Mobile, Alabama to work at St. Francis Street Mission. The trip was led by Lisa Pierce, the founder and director of ARM

On the trip we worked with a man named “Mr. Johnny” where we fixed his roof and shared some good times and even a few jokes about coffee, roofing, and life. On Sunday morning instead of GOING to Church we went and DID Church: we worked in the soup kitchen and sang songs with the men, women, and children, the poor and homeless, who were in the mission that day. It was an eye opening experience to DO Church instead of just attending church/worship on Sunday morning.Emory Wesley students at ARM on Spring Break 2013 I came back from that trip feeling called and knowing that I wanted to do those kinds of things, and help others to do those things as my vocation. Lisa’s facilitating that trip and encouraging me to go has helped shape the direction of my life for the better. We still stay in contact and it is a great joy to bring Emory Wesley college students on trips to do work with Lisa and ARM.

Over the course of my time at Auburn the Auburn Wesley Director, Rev. David Goolsby, guided and mentored me in ministry and helped shape me into a leader in the Auburn community. I had the opportunity to help lead music and liturgy in worship, experiment with different styles and types of worship, lead small groups, reflect theologically and dream about church models, plan and lead mission trips, and many more opportunities for transformation and service. David is still a mentor of mine, officiated our wedding, and is a thoughtful guide and ‘guru’ of campus ministry for many.

I am thankful and grateful to God for mentors like Lisa and David who helped me to hear God’s call in my life. I’ll end with a word from David in my own paraphrased Goolsby-ism: “May we seek to be faithful to God as God is faithful to us.” Amen.

For more info about Exploration 2013 click here: ExploreCalling.org!

Refresh 2010: UM Campus Ministry Conference Day 2

another excellent day filled with hopeful-critical moments for engaging in prayer, conversation, worship, and reflection on how God is at work in our lives, our ministries, our campuses, our denomination, and our world.

SO, Day 2 (12.15) of Refresh has been engaging, provocative, and encouraging. During Morning Prayer this morning (in the Church of the Resurrection Covenant Chapel–the original worship space of the Church of the Resurrection) Rev. Bob Beckwith, UGA Wesley Foundation Director, led us through a reading of Psalm 23 interspersed with times of intentional prayer and music.

The morning session began around 10am with Laura Story & her band leading us in worship with the songs: Marvelous Light, Lead Me to the Cross, In Christ Alone, Mighty to Save, & I Love You Lord.

Keynote Speaker Alan Hirsch, author of Forgotten Ways & Untamed and church visionary, spoke on Ephesians 4 and the 5 different roles of leadership & ministry in verse 11: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, & Teachers. A major focus of Hirsch’s presentation, using the acronym “APEST” to denote the 5 functions,  was on how the church has lost the “APE”–Apostles, Prophets, & Evangelists. Hirsch, an avid researcher of movements in global and historical Christianity, asserts that many of the large problems and the decline of mainline churches in America/the West are a result of the current ecclesial (church) structures that contribute to a loss of the emphasis & importance of the APE–especially of the focus of ordination to the role of shepherd (pastor) and the role of  teacher (theologian). He posits that this lack of recognition and function in the Western church, and especially the UMC, is a direct result of this loss of the NT understanding of the nature (and mission) of the church (ecclesiology). He noted that many people who do or do not fit the accepted norms of a denomination’s expectation for ministers (especially APE’s in light of the emphasis on ST’s) have left the Mainline protestant churches resulting in either a “churchless mission” or a “missionless church.”

Hirsch further described these 5 roles and also explained their sociological dimensions/functions:
Apostle–systematic designer/entrepreneurial/environment making;
Prophet–ask the right questions & question the status quo;
Evangelist–recruits/draws people in, likes sales/marketing/packaging;
Shepherd–knits people together causing cohesion & humanizes the efforts;
Teacher–helps bring about wisdom & understanding.

He explored the difficulties of the modern church and talked in some detail about the divisiveness of the laity/clergy divide–citing specifically the ills it can cause in the church. Hirsch also spoke of the need for leaders in each of these 5 areas of ministry and gave examples of how most of us would express one of the five functions as primary, secondary, etc and how knowing our own expressions of these roles might help us to be better in ministry.

After lunch (Chick-fil-a sponsored by Wesley Theological Seminary) there were two workshop sessions including further conversations with Alan Hirsch (which proved quite fruitful) and a variety of other options including “How to run a prayer room,” “Servant Evangelism,” “Sabbath Keeping,” and more.

Overall, another excellent day filled with hopeful-critical moments for engaging in prayer, conversation, worship, and reflection on how God is at work in our lives, our ministries, our campuses, our denomination, and our world.

more photos from day 2 on flickr here

Refresh 2010: UM Campus Ministry Conference Day 1

Today was the first day of Refresh 2010: a 3 Day United Methodist Campus Ministry Conference.

Today (12.14) was the first day of Refresh 2010: a 3 Day United Methodist Campus Ministry Conference. This is the 5th Annual gathering of Campus Ministers & those who work with college students. The purpose of Refresh is to encourage and strengthen those who work with college students through prayer, worship, dialogue, & workshops. This year’s conference is being held at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas–home of lead pastor Adam Hamilton, who will be a keynote speaker on Day 3 of Refresh.

Things kicked off today with Rev. Olu Brown of Impact Church (Atlanta) as the keynote speaker and worship music led by  Laura Story (author of “Indescribable” & other excellent worship songs). Olu brought a word entitled “Gifted” centering in on 1 Timothy 4:11-14–“These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.”

Rev. Brown admonished the some 150+ campus ministers in attendance that each is uniquely gifted and he help us to to hear what Paul was saying to Timothy in the letter:
1) Stay Connected to God (it’s easy to become disconnected–if disconnected, RE-connect)
2) Remember who you are (both your identity & that you’re a child of God)
3) use what you have (your gifts & talents–as well as your innate abilities)
4) stay in the game (don’t give up on yourself or God)

Afterward we shared in a large group skype conversation/discussion with Trent Sheppard, author of God on Campus: Sacred Causes and Global Effects. The evening continued into dinner on the town and a chance for all in attendance to connect & re-connect with friends new & old. Refresh is sponsored by the Foundation for Evangelism and has the support of a number of other UM Agencies including the General Board of Higher Education & Ministry.

Dinner on the Town at Gates Bar-B-Q

More Photos here on Flickr

Ascension Sunday Sermon

video of my sermon on Luke 24:44-53 (the Ascension of Jesus) May 16th, 2010 at Glenn Memorial UMC

As friends, family, and students have requested, here is the video of my sermon on Luke 24:44-53 (the Ascension of Jesus) May 16th, 2010 at the 8:30am Worship Service at Glenn Memorial UMC (glennumc.org) in the Little Chapel. (the audio is not super awesome–sorry)

For a pdf of the sermon’s text, click here (no plagiarizing please)

I Want Jesus to Walk with Me

a version my good friend Rev. Michael A. Hunt and I worked up in Spring of 2009

This is a version my good friend Rev. Michael A. Hunt and I worked up for a worship service at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Spring of 2009. Michael is an excellent and accomplished singer and should be singing instead of me, but he is now in Iowa in work/ministry at Grinnell College. (you can read his blog here)

This song is an African American Spiritual and has deep roots in the black church tradition. As are many spirituals, this song is a prayer–but, as Michael puts it, it is not a prayer of someone who doesn’t think that Jesus is there, but it is a song that helps us to remember and have reaffirmed that fact that Jesus IS with us.

In worship settings it can be used for congregational song or for use as a special music or solo/duet. In this version, the guitar is tuned a 1/2 step down (Eflat) for a more blues-like sound (it can go another whole step down if needed/desired).

It is a suitable song and prayer for the liturgical season of Lent (40 days before Easter) in the Church year and is a fitting song to sing when you’re going through the trials and troubles of life.

I want Jesus to walk with me lyrics/chords (guitar tuned a half step down to Eflat)

God of this City–by Bluetree

This is another example of a modern song that is born out of the difference between the classic “now and not yet”–the idea that things of the world now are not as they should be.

This song is written by Aaron Boyd of the band Bluetree from Belfast, Ireland. It has been made popular by Chris Tomlin and other worship leaders, but knowing the song’s context for me gives more meaning (see below for link). I prefer the stripped down, simpler version of this song for worship settings. (My general preference is for simple, congregationally driven worship songs/hymns.)

For me, the “city” in this song is more than just a single city, locality, or nation–it is the City of God that St. Augustine wrote about in the 5th century–it is a city of God’s people doing God’s will. That is what the kingdom of God looks like and that is what Jesus’ ministry began: the coming of God’s Kingdom. As Christians, we work together with all of God’s people to bring about the Kingdom of God– a place where broken people are made whole, hope is given to the hopeless, and God’s grace abounds.

This song reminds us that there is much to be done and greater things have yet to come. Jesus said this in John 1 to his disciples and we believe it still today: Greater things have yet to come, greater things are still to be done to reconcile us to ourselves, us to each other, us to the created order, and us to God.

The story (& a much better recording) of the song is here.