Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor

Morgan Park

 Baptist Church

11024 S. Bell Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60643


Reflection September 11, 2016

A Fall Full of Paul
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth

     Beginning on Sunday, September 18, I will begin a new series of sermons. As I mentioned this past Sunday, I very much enjoyed our “Summer of Wisdom” – where we together explored the Wisdom Books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. Added to this “Summer of Wisdom” were two sermons on “The Wisdom of Jesus” and one sermon on the “Wisdom of Worship.”

     For most of my 42 years of full-time ministry, I have preached according to the Christian lectionary – a series of readings that basically are repeated every three years. Many, if not most, Christian denominations follow the lectionary readings. But when I became a happy American Baptist, I quickly realized I’ve been given the great freedom to preach as the Spirit leads me, rather than being shackled with formulaic readings. 

     Having the freedom to preach as the Spirit leads is a wonderful grace. It allows me to pay more attention to the subtle promptings of the Holy Spirit of the Living God. Together, in our beloved church, we have done a number of series over the years, covering the Ten Commandments, the Gifts of the Spirit, the Fruits of the Spirit, the Beatitudes – to mention a few of the series. I normally use the regular readings for the sacred seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter/Pentecost. Please know that I am open to any suggestion for a sermon series from anyone in our beloved congregation.

     Before I reflect on our up-coming series, I need to give a bit of background. In my life as a Catholic priest and pastor, I seldom preached on Paul and his writings. I can’t say I was a great fan of Paul. The truth is that we Protestants are bigger fans of Paul than our Catholic brothers and sisters. There are various reasons for this and I certainly don’t want to overstate the situation. But it is true!

     During my 8 plus years as pastor of our beloved church, I’ve come to a deeper appreciation of what Paul brings to our Christian life and understanding. Doing our “All of Paul” Bible studies, I have fallen in love with our brother Paul. And, so, I am excited to announce that our next ten-part series of sermons will be “A Fall Full of Paul.” In this series, we will explore who Paul was, the events surrounding his life and death, and delve as deep as we can into his writings. I hope Paul will speak to us across the span of almost 2000 years and help us all fall deeper in love with this amazing Christ-mystic.

     Let me add some words from Professors Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon: “Paul is second only to Jesus as the most important person in the origins of Christianity. Yet he is not universally well-regarded, even among Christians. Some find him appealing, and others find him appalling; some aren’t sure what to think of him, and others know little about him.

     “During the Reformation, he (Paul) became decisively important for Protestants. Martin Luther (1483-1546) had his transforming experience of radical grace while preparing lectures on Paul. Paul became the foundation of Luther’s theology … John Calvin (1509-64), the other most important Protestant reformer, also made Paul central to his theology. Calvin’s theological descendants include millions of Protestants: Puritans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists (today’s United Church of Christ), and other Reformed denominations.

     “Two centuries later, Paul played a central role in the birth of the Methodist church. Its founder, John Wesley (1703-91), was converted to his mission to reform the Church of England while listening to a reading of Luther’s commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Romans … Thus hundreds of millions of Protestants around the world, whether they know it or not, have Paul as their primary theological ancestor.”

     Of course, we must know Jesus and be faithful to his way. We must be deeply immersed in the Gospels, ideally being daily nourished by Jesus’ teaching and his example. But to have a deeper Christian life, we need to also immerse ourselves in the writings of Brother Paul. Paul’s life and his letters point out the many struggles that roiled the early church. We, Christians, have been seriously fighting among ourselves from the beginning. It’s no surprise that we continue seriously fighting among ourselves to the present day.

     In this new sermon series, it’s my hope that we will together come to better understand Brother Paul and recapture the radical vision he gave to our church. I am excited by the possibilities that await us!

     “ … one thing can’t be questioned (about Paul): his passion for Christ and his apparent willingness to risk life and limb in propagating his interpretation of Christ’s message and purpose. Very little, if any, of what most people think of as Christianity has been untouched by the influence of this itinerant tentmaker. That’s why any faithful expression of Christianity needs to be based on a thorough examination of the changing understandings and significance of Paul’s writings and ideas.” (From Living the Questions)