New Here?
     
Religious


A Couple Thoughts on Desperate Evangelism

Once, at a community breakfast our church hosted, a friend walked up to me to make a confession. It is one I am certain he walked away regretting. He approached me with urgency on his face and said, “Sarah, I need to tell you something. I got dressed up today for church. I mean, we […]

The Films of 2019

This is not a comprehensive list of all the best films that came out in 2019 but rather a summary of several films that I enjoyed, or that impacted me, last year. There are so many titles missing from this review that either I didn’t have the chance to view or didn’t have time to […]

For Those Who Wish Their Lives Away: God’s Presence in Our Absent Mindedness

“Oh. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. Good-by to clocks ticking…and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses, and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.” – Emily Webb from Our Town These days […]

When Christmas Looks Like Easter: Reflections from the First 72 Hours of Processing Grief

On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth… – Isaiah 25:7-8 No one’s ever really gone – Luke Skywalker On Christmas Eve, my Dad slipped into a […]

The Devil and Jacob Smith

It was the whatever-eth anniversary of Elvis’s death. I was a kid, the nightly news was on in the background. The reporter was asking the people in line, who were paying their respects at/to Graceland, if they believed The King was still alive. I distinctly remember one woman saying she had attended Elvis’s funeral, and […]

Sorting Out the Voices in Our Heads with Kylo Ren in The Rise of Skywalker

And I listen for the voice inside my head. Nothin’… I’ll do this one myself – Pearl Jam, “State of Love and Trust” This write-up is filled with spoilers… “I have been every voice you have ever heard inside your head,” utters Emperor Palpatine as Kylo Ren approaches him in an attempt to prevent him […]

New Year, Who Dis: How A Love That Ruins Everything Gives You a New Beginning

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose, new feet, a new backbone, new ears and new eyes. … Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is […]

Reconciling Sorrow with Grace in Noname’s ‘Telefone’

When I remember memories don’t last forever When I deny my empty with an open letter Who gon remember me? My satellite, my empathy The wheels be chrome, chrome spiffy, the Lord with me My halo said goodbye and the floor hit me Fill the lining in the pine box, my granny fill the time […]

In Defense of Snow

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,     make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up,     and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level,     and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be […]

Good Hair, Grace, and a Better Image

In October of this year, Paragon Charter Academy in Michigan informed the parents of 8-year-old Marian Scott that her red extensions precluded her from participating in picture day. According to the school’s official policy, students should only wear natural hair tones in order to have their photos taken. Marian’s style violated more than school policy, […]

Another Week Ends: Stubborn Optimists, New Parents, Non-Parents, Backwards Empathy, Future Anxious Thoughts, and a Tale of Two Churches

1. First off, we have from the New York Review of Books “A Tale of Two Churches.” This one doesn’t go where you think it’s going to go, and so much the better. It tells the story of two North Carolina pastors, Jay Stewart and Derrick Hawkins, one white, one black, and the joining of […]

NOW AVAILABLE: “FAITH ONCE DELIVERED,” SERMONS BY PAUL N. WALKER

Couldn’t be more thrilled to announce that “Faith Once Delivered,” a collection of sermons by Paul N. Walker, is now available through our online store and Amazon! Collected over many years, through both tragedy and celebration, these sermons are for every season in life. Preface here:

It was a few minutes before noon on a Thursday, and I was killing time with Paul as he waited for his lunch date. We were standing at the bottom of the stairs at the office of Christ Church Charlottesville, as we often do. The young man arrived, and Paul introduced us. I had seen him at church but had yet to make his acquaintance.

After a few pleasantries, I asked how he had found our church. It’s the sort of open-ended question that I had heard Paul ask newcomers before, the kind that allowed them to go as light or heavy as they wished. “Someone at the office invited me,” one person might say, the next that her mother had recently died.

The young man responded by saying it was the sermons that had drawn him. He had never heard anything like them. He then paused, possibly debating whether or not to proceed with his next thought. After a moment he looked up at Paul and asked, “I’ve been listening for months and I have to ask: do you basically believe that people are always in a state of existential crisis?”

“Well, now that you mention it…” Paul responded, chuckling a little. “I suppose you could say that, yes.”

The young man cracked his first smile, “So it’s not just me!”

Their brief exchange crystallized something crucial for me about the nature of preaching, indeed the nature of life. I had only been working for Paul for a couple years at that point, but had been eagerly listening to his sermons for close to a decade. Some weeks I arrived at the sermon feeling fine, other weeks in a state of barely disguised distress. But no matter what attitude I brought to the pew or the iPod, I never walked away burdened. And I’ve never prepared a sermon myself without first consulting what Paul has said about the passage in question.

Some preachers conceive of their hearers as people who’re doing basically okay but could use a pep talk. Some as pupils in need of instruction or wisdom. Some address the complacent person they feel needs to be jolted awake. But the audience Paul has in mind when he preaches are people undergoing some kind of crisis, existential or not. His words are aimed at the man or woman in pain. It turns out that describes all of us.

You might expect therefore that his sermons might be a little morose. Yet the exact opposite is true! Despite the gravity of what he has to say—indeed, because of it—there’s a palpable freedom that comes across. Listen to him preach and you will hear a man who takes the Gospel seriously, but not himself. Or, put another way, a key part of Paul’s task each time he climbs into the pulpit involves puncturing his audience’s self-importance, beginning with his own. In poking fun at himself, he conveys that he is not above his hearers but right there among them, just as much in need of God’s grace as anyone. It’s a rare gift to be able to do so without attracting unnecessary attention, but Paul has it.

There are many other remarkable qualities I could commend in his sermons—the precision of the language, the literary imagination, the reverence of scripture, the sheer creativity. It’s all there, in spades. But what most distinguishes the entries in this collection, what accounts for their urgency and power, is the message itself: the unflagging grace of God for non-theoretical sinners like you and me. This “goodest” of good news drips from every single sermon this man preaches.

Paul once told me that, since you never know who’s sitting in the pew—perhaps they lost a loved one that week, or received a diagnosis, or simply got into a massive fight with their spouse on the way to church—you cannot risk preaching anything other than the forgiveness of sins. Any hedging and you’d be of more service selling insurance.

Of course, what we miss when the words are sequestered on the page is the sound of Paul’s own voice. Because, as we all know, you can speak words of peace in a violent manner or words of absolution in a condemnatory tone. You can speak spiritual words without conviction or heart. As someone who was present for the majority of these sermons, you’ll have to take my word for it when I say that the spirit in which they were delivered was one of utmost compassion, warmth, and sincerity.

And ultimately, that’s why this man’s ministry means so much to so many. Why his lunch schedule remains booked solid, year after year after year. These aren’t just words. Paul is not merely a spokesman for God’s grace but an active embodiment of it. He shows up on your worst day with arms outstretched and a listening ear (and possibly a well-mixed martini). That he would object to such a characterization, and resist any and all such lionization, only confirms its truth.

In fact, if you know Paul, then you know how grateful we should be that he agreed to let these sermons be preserved in the first place. Fortunately, this book was not his idea. Nor is the message it contains. It is nothing less than the faith once delivered and the only response to it is the only response to the preacher himself:

THANK YOU.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an existential crisis that needs tending…

NOW AVAILABLE: “FAITH ONCE DELIVERED,” SERMONS BY PAUL N. WALKER!