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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

There Might Still Be Hope for That Little Seminary Down the Road

Today at the Shaw University Ministers' Conference, we heard from a young preacher who was new to our gathering.  Rev. Chalice (pronounced shah-LEASE) Overy, youth minister at Baptist Grove Church in Raleigh brought a message.  She is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill with a bachelor's degree in Public Policy and African American Studies.  From UNC she went to Duke Divinity School, that little seminary down the road from us here at Shaw University Divinity School.  The message she delivered with great power made me (tongue in cheek) say that there might be hope for that school.  As many of you know, my fellow Mt. Level members and close friends teach at Duke Divinity School, and I also earned a Duke degree.  I would say they are doing fine.  But still, hearing Rev. Overy gave me great encouragement for the type of student who has studied and learned in those halls of divinity.

She selected the text, Acts 8:26-39, which is the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.  She paired it with a few verses from 2 Corinthians 5 about the new creation and the ministry of reconciliation.  As she began to tell the story from Acts, she made note of the barriers to admission to Jerusalem worship that the eunuch must have encountered.  There were physical walls, steps, doors, and curtains constructed in the Temple of Jerusalem, all designed to keep certain people far away from what was considered the holy place of God.  No doubt, the eunuch had been held at bay and unable to participate in many aspects of divine worship while in Jerusalem.

When Philip asked him whether he understood the Isaiah scroll he was reading, it is not surprising that he said he did not.  Who among the religiously accepted would have been willing to teach such an outsider and outcast?  Overy said that it was good that they were on a wilderness road for this conversation, because Philip himself might have been worried about associating with this man if other religious folks were looking.  Not only was he an outsider from Ethiopia, but his physicality as a eunuch might have raised many questions for those who would watch the two men converse.  The sexual undertones are not hidden, even if unspoken.

Overy brought the 2 Corinthians text as a contrast to the likely experience of the eunuch in Jerusalem.  Then she asked why our churches have turned away from the ministry of reconciliation and taken up the regime of death by setting up barriers to keep people out of our congregations.  She described the ways that church people try to be the respectable people and keep out anyone who differs or questions or challenges or diverges.  She implied that the entire regime of death that the law brings had become the playground of domination systems (my term) in Jerusalem and now in our churches, so that some of us become the gatekeepers and protectors of God from the rabble and the outsiders.

Overy shook us all up with a message about the gospel that lets the Ethiopian's rhetorical question need no answer--what's to keep me from being baptized?  No legalism, no wall, no steps, no evil-eye, no harumph, no gate, no curtain--no that was torn from top to bottom.  It was a powerful sermon calling on churches to be welcoming communities and to get out into the streets to let people know that our God receives them in all their variety and diversity.

Thank you Rev. Chalice Overy, for your care in reading the text and listening to the Spirit.  Thank you to her teachers for contributing to a powerful ministerial formation.  And thank you God for the immeasurable gift of the Good News.

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