Jim Wallis’s Easter Sermon


If you have time for one more Easter sermon, here is a taste of Jim Wallis at Sojourners:

As pastors and churches are living into these new and difficult realities, here are three practical and vocational roles that faith communities can play right now in this pandemic crisis:

  1. Faith communities must put their moral authority behind the doctors and scientists pleading with us to practice and maintain our physical distance from one another as the only way to “flatten the curve” of this pandemic and literally save lives. And when the false ministers who refuse science and disobey their elected officials out of their own egos rather than religious liberty, it must be other clergy and congregations that rebuke them. If the “re-opening” of the economy and society becomes politicized, faith communities must stand with public health authorities and their state and local elected leaders closest to the people to determine when it is safe.
  2. We must also fulfill our critical role of preventing social distancing from becoming social isolation. Physical distancing must not be allowed to overcome our social solidarity, which is a biblical meaning of community. I believe that clear role of faith communities is becoming core to us as we approach this holy weekend. Keeping together while standing apart is a vital skill and practice that faith communities can help create and promote — even beyond their doors.
  3. Live into and deepen our vocation to focus on the most vulnerable. Jesus specifically says that how we treat the “least of these” is literally how we treat him. And that text of Matthew 25 is the record of the last sermon he gave just before he entered Jerusalem. The least of these are the least important in Washington, D.C., but for followers of Jesus they must be the most important, and Easter is the right time to proclaim that.

This pandemic has become very revealing of the inequities in our society, the gaping holes in our safety net, and the disparities in our health care and other systems, and the reality of our relationships across racial and economic lines. It has shined a light into the darkness of what we have ignored or accepted for far too long. The coronavirus has exposed and laid bare social injustice, which undermines both our common good and our common health.

For example, it has been said that the coronavirus does not discriminate. But that is not true.

Especially when poor people and too many black and brown people in America don’t have access to safe homes, steady incomes, reliable and healthy food, safe spaces and the prospect of social distancing in their required work and family lives, or access to health and healthy bodies, which makes them more likely to contract and die from this disease.

Poverty and the impacts of structural racism are “co-morbidities,” or preconditions that make it more difficult to avoid and/or survive this lethal coronavirus.

Some people are asking when we will go back to normal.

But we won’t and we really can’t. This historical moment will change us — in ways we can’t control or even predict. How we act now, and with whom, and for whom, will shape and even determine who “we” will be when this current health crisis begins to pass.

My dear friend, Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and spiritual teacher, gave me an image this Holy Week of a crucified Christ on the cross this Good Friday with outstretched hands saying to a world of coronavirus suffering, “I can’t stop your suffering, but am with you in it.”

Read the entire piece here.

Pew Studies 50,000 Christian Sermons


There is so much here to work through and interpret.

A few quick findings of note:

  • The average sermon is 37 minutes long.
  • The average evangelical sermon is 39 minutes long.
  • The average sermon in an African American church is 54 minutes long.
  • The average sermon in a mainline Protestant church is 25 minutes long
  • The average sermon in a Catholic church is 14 minutes long.


  • The most common words in Christian sermons are “say,” “people,” “come,” “know,” “life,” “like,” “God,” “thing,” and “day.”
  • Words associated with evangelicals such as “hell,” “salvation,” “sin, and “heaven” do not appear in evangelical sermons as much as one might think they do.
  • Sermons in historically black churches are distinguished by words related to celebration and praise.
  • Sermons in evangelical and historically black churches quote scripture more than sermons in Catholic and mainline Protestant churches

Read the report here.

The “Court Evangelicals” in the Pulpit

Arch Street

I am glad that my work on the court evangelicals is finding its way into churches. Thanks to Rev. David Krueger of the historic Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia for referencing my work in yesterday’s sermon.  Read it here.

I have spoken at Arch Street United Methodist Church (though not on Sunday morning). It is a progressive congregation doing good work in engaging the city of Philadelphia.  I am sure my views on the court evangelicals resonated with much of the congregation.

I am not sure what a sermon on court evangelicals (or something similar) might look like in an evangelical congregation.  I sympathize with pastors who are opposed to Trump, but don’t want to divide their congregations.  Today I appreciated the way my pastor, without delving into politics, talked about the church’s role in having a prophetic voice in the culture and the importance of speaking truth to power when necessary. Other pastors might be more overt. Others less so.  It probably depends on the congregation.

Whatever the case, I hope the church does not cease to be the church in these times of great political and cultural change.

“The Drum Major Instinct”

During our history of the Civil Rights Movement bus tour we spent a lot of time watching documentaries and listening to recording of speeches.  On Sunday morning Todd Allen played Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon “The Drum Major Instinct.” King delivered this sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on February 4, 1968.


As I listened from my seat I was struck by this part of the sermon:

The other day I was saying, I always try to do a little converting when I’m in jail. And when we were in jail in Birmingham the other day, the white wardens and all enjoyed coming around the cell to talk about the race problem. And they were showing us where we were so wrong demonstrating. And they were showing us where segregation was so right. And they were showing us where intermarriage was so wrong. So I would get to preaching, and we would get to talking—calmly, because they wanted to talk about it. And then we got down one day to the point—that was the second or third day—to talk about where they lived, and how much they were earning. And when those brothers told me what they were earning, I said, “Now, you know what? You ought to be marching with us. [laughter] You’re just as poor as Negroes.” And I said, “You are put in the position of supporting your oppressor, because through prejudice and blindness, you fail to see that the same forces that oppress Negroes in American society oppress poor white people. (Yes) And all you are living on is the satisfaction of your skin being white, and the drum major instinct of thinking that you are somebody big because you are white. And you’re so poor you can’t send your children to school. You ought to be out here marching with every one of us every time we have a march.”

Now that’s a fact. That the poor white has been put into this position, where through blindness and prejudice, (Make it plain) he is forced to support his oppressors. And the only thing he has going for him is the false feeling that he’s superior because his skin is white—and can’t hardly eat and make his ends meet week in and week out. (Amen)

Here is King, only months away from his death, suggesting that the issue of poverty and low-wages is a justice issue that seems to transcend race.

This point reminds me of this recent Saturday Night Live sketch starring Tom Hanks:


Transcribing and Digitizing Early American Sermons

This looks like a wonderful project. It appears to be the brainchild of Zach Hutchins of Colorado State University.  Here is what it is all about.

Transcribing Early American Manuscript Sermons, or TEAMS, is a collaborative scholarly effort to make the voluminous archival record of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century ecclesiastical worship more accessible to academic researchers, pastors, and the general public. This digital archive houses dozens of sermons transcribed from the papers of Baptist, Episcopalian, Catholic, and Congregational ministers who preached up and down the Atlantic coast of North America.
Many of these sermons combine theological instruction, public reporting, and political persuasion. Early American preaching brought communities together in public assemblies and is an invaluable resource in reconstructing the prevailing religious beliefs and social attitudes of the British colonies of North America and, later, the nascent United States of America. While scholars have long had access to a relatively small and homogenous selection of published sermons, the preaching record made available in this database provides a new and invaluable perspective on early American history and culture. As Yale University historian Harry Stout has argued: notwithstanding the popularity of printed sermons, “Only from the vantage point of unpublished sermons, however, can the full range of colonial preaching be understood.”
See the TEAMS website for more info.

Ocean City, NJ Wrap Up

We just got back from a great weekend in Ocean City, New Jersey.  The good folks at St. Peter’s United Methodist Church, led by Brian and Sandy Roberts, were our hosts for the weekend.  We experienced some of the hottest days of the year, but at least we were at the beach!

On Saturday night I gave a public lecture on the connections between American democracy, civility, and liberal arts education.  It was nice to try out some of the material I have been working on for my current project: “The Power to Transform: Reflections on the Study of the Past.”  I told the story about my recent encounter with Glenn Beck and was pleased that no one threw any tomatoes at me.  I even read from some of the nasty e-mails I received from Beck followers.  If there were any Beck fans in the room, they remained polite.

On Sunday morning I spoke at all three morning services.  My talks focused on the Sermon on the Mount, using Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address as my primary illustration.  I even got to speak on the Ocean City boardwalk with my back to the ocean!

During the weekend I was joined by a group of student singers from Messiah College.  They call themselves SEVEN and they did a great job of leading the various worship services.

During lunch on Sunday I got to meet Robert Williams, the General Secretary of the United Methodist Church’s General Commission on Archives and History, which is headquartered at Drew University.  We had some great chats about recent scholarship in American Methodist history and our mutual love for the religious history of the Jersey Shore.

And on Sunday evening I got to attend a concert by the Christian a-capella group, GLAD.

Thanks again to Brian and Sandy Roberts for hosting us for the weekend.  Brian is doing a wonderful job of encouraging his congregation at St. Peter’s to think deeply about the relationship between Christian faith and public life.  I wish more local pastors shared his vision.

What is the Most Important Sermon in American History?

Scot McKnight asks this question over at Jesus Creed, but his audience is mostly interested in theology. (So far they have suggested sermons by contemporary preachers Rob Bell and John Piper, to name a few).   I want to hear what historians and students of history think.

What is the most important (in terms of historical influence) sermon in American history?  The sermon must have been preached in either colonial America (defined broadly) or the United States (1776 to the present).


P.S.  Sometimes the conversation is better over at Facebook.  Feel free to “friend” me to get in the mix or at least read what others have to say.  Of course you are always welcome to respond in the comments here as well.