This was my final sermon as Pastor of Miller Chapel. Arguably the most personal (and emotional) sermon I have ever preached, it was also the longest sermon I have ever preached. There were a couple of people in attendance who took umbrage with some of the things that I said, but that matters not. I preached what was on my heart and only hope those who know me understand where this came from.
And Moses went and spake these words unto all Israel. And he said unto them, I am an hundred and
twenty years old this day; I can no more go out and come in: also the LORD hath said unto me, Thou
shalt not go over this Jordan. The LORD thy God, he will go over before thee, and he will destroy these
nations from before thee, and thou shalt possess them: and Joshua, he shall go over before thee, as the
LORD hath said. And the LORD shall do unto them as he did to Sihon and to Og, kings of the
Amorites, and unto the land of them, whom he destroyed. And the LORD shall give them up before your
face, that ye may do unto them according unto all the commandments which I have commanded you. Be
strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth
go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in
the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land
which the LORD hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it. And
the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake
thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.
Our topic this morning is:
Dont Worry, Its All Good
Let us pray:
Back around 1984, I was appointed the managing editor of a newspaper called New Expression. It was a newspaper that went and continues to be read all over the city of Chicago by high school students. At that time, the founder, Sister Ann Heintz, a Catholic nun, saw something in me that she found promising, and decided to make me the managing editor.
My time as managing editor was anything but boring. During this time, I was also a senior in high school, trying to graduate and get into college. To be honest, I paid more attention to the paper than I did to school, but as fate would have it, I would graduate and go on.
Ann, as we called her, was a tough cookie. She challenged us to not always be conventional, to not always follow the party line. She taught us to think for ourselves, to do what we thought was best, and if necessary, fight for it with your dying breath.
I am sure she regretted teaching me that lesson one day later in 1984. I have always had a cross section of friends. Friends from every walk of life, every nationality, sexual orientation, rich and poor alike. And during that time, I had several friends who claimed that they were gay and bisexual. So as a result of talking to my friends and hanging out with them, I got it in my mind to write a story on bi-sexual teens in Chicago. Ann, being the proper Catholic nun that she was, fought me tooth and nail against it.
Somehow, I prevailed. As a result of my story, New Expression loss advertisements, almost lost funding, I got reamed in school and I lost a couple of friends. But was it worth it? Yes, because I fought for what I believed in. And while not everyone understood it, now, 14 years later, I see what affect that particular experience had on my life.
In the May of 1987, I was initiated into Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. I was one of six men who decided to pledge their life to an organization that required us to go through physical, mental and emotional harassment for eight weeks. Once again, as with New Expression, I paid more attention to being an Alpha than I did to school, something I deeply regret to this day. But as a result of that experience, I learned many, many invaluable lessons about myself and what I could endure.
Immediately after the initiation, I was handed a little brown paper bag. On this bag were written my line name, my number and position, the time I was initialed, who initialed me, and the name for our entire line. The name that we were collectively given was "The Six Invincible Rebels of Destruction." I was told, some years later, that the name was given to us mainly because of my actions and the actions of the president of our line. "You two always rebelled against the brothers, and since you two were the ring leaders, we decided to call you Rebels." Little did I know at the time how that simple, eccentric name, would come to be a part of my general personality. Nor did I realize how well it fit.
A few months later, I think it was October or November of 1987, me and the men I pledged with kidnaped some pledges. Now, dont be turned off by the term, its not as bad as the term dictates. It was a sort of tradition for members of one fraternity chapter to kidnap and haze members of another chapter of the same fraternity. At the time I thought, hey, it happened to me, so why not do it to someone else.
Well, it backfired. As a result of that kidnaping, me and all of my ships, the guys I pledged with, were suspended from the fraternity in an informal capacity for a year. It turned out that we got blamed for a lot of stuff we didnt do. We did our share of dirt, mind you, but we didnt do as nearly as much as was claimed that we did.
In the year that I was suspended, something happened. To my surprise, and I dont think I am being boastful in saying this, as a result of the raw deal we got, our reputation around the state grew. In fact, it grew to the point that many times during that year and the following year, I was referred to as the most powerful undergraduate Alpha in the state of Illinois.
I went on to be elected President of my undergraduate chapter, no small feat, for that chapter was at the time, almost 80 years old, and I ran for President even though was suspended. I won that election, but it was invalidated when some other brothers cried foul and told some of the higher ups in the fraternity. The election was rescheduled to a time when I would come off suspension, and I was elected again.
A couple of months later, I was asked to run for Assistant Vice President of the Midwest Region of the fraternity. I turned it down. Then I was asked to run for Assistant State Director. I ran and I lost. Humbled, with my tail between my legs, I went back to Chicago from that state meeting, thinking all of my influence was gone. It wasnt, but I suffered a minor setback.
Now, 11 ½ years later, I am back active with the fraternity. Some of the brothers remember the hell raising Chuck Smoot, as I have been called. I have been both welcomed back into the fraternity, and some have discouraged my return. Some fellow A.M.E. ministers, pastors and laymen, who are members of my fraternity have heard of my college exploits, and have joked with me, saying its a good thing I got saved.
In 1991, I was called by God to enter into the Christian ministry. This was not my decision. It was God. I would not have chosen this profession if it paid a million dollars a year. But God knew better, and he commanded me to go preach His gospel. And for once in my life, I obeyed.
It was not easy, and it is still not easy. After doing some things I never thought I would do, and experiencing some things I never dreamed I would experienced, in 1997, I was appointed the pastor of this church, Miller Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. I was told that I had special skills to help build this church. I was told that my unique personality style would help and aid me in bringing up this church, which most people have lost hope in.
A lot of people, mainly ministers and pastors, told me not to take this assignment. They told me things would not go well for me here. They told me that the outside forces would become too much for me to bear. I told them I could handle it. I told them I was ready to be a pastor. I told them I could work miracles with this church. I told them that the Lord would be with me, and me and the Lord would turn this church and this community around. I told them they didnt know what they were talking about. I told them in 5 years time, there would be a totally different Miller Chapel. A Miller Chapel that would be filled with members
and overflowing with the Holy Spirit.
After all, I had worked under 3 pastors. Two of whom are probably 2 of the best pastors in the A.M.E. Church. I worked in one of the oldest churches in the state of Illinois. I had seen their mistakes. I had watched them through the good times and the bad times. I had my battles as an assistant minister. And while I won a few, I lost a few as well. But I knew what it took to build this church. I knew what it meant to be a pastor in an A.M.E. Church named for someone who was still living. I knew almost all of it. And I knew what I could do.
It is now 16 months after I made all those boastful statements. My arrogance and optimism of 16 months ago is now replaced with sadness, regret, anger, compassion, complacency, betrayal, fear, humility, joy, relief, love, fondness, resentment, indifference and last but not least, a feeling of failure. Those are a lot of emotions to feel all at the same time. And for someone like me, that is not good.
When I was assigned to this church, and after I was given the keys, I came here and looked around. My wife and my son were with me, and I took my son and walked into the sanctuary. I told him, "Look, this is mine." And my heart was full with the prospect of being a pastor, with drawing souls to God, to bringing my unique message to Miller Chapel.
I preached some good sermons here. I preached some not so good sermons here. When I first got here, it seemed like the whole world was supporting me, urging me to go and make a success out of this church, despite the problems and the obstacles. I walked into this church with a mountain of debt. Debt incurred largely before anyone ever preached a sermon in this church. I came to this church, never seeing more than 20-25 people on a Sunday morning. Some days, it was just me and my wife and my son.
I made some good decisions here. I found a way to help take the sting off our seemingly unmeetable bills. That didnt work out for several reasons. I sent out letters soliciting financial support, something that worked at first, but soon fizzled out. People pledged to given certain dollar amounts to help offset the mortgage, but soon, those pledges went away too.
But I still had faith. In the face of all the adversity, I had faith. I was determined to keep my focus on the spirit of the people. I was determined to feed the flock I was charged to lead, and let the Lord handle the money. Then I realized that the money wasnt coming in quite how I wanted it to, so I started trying to get more money in. As the saying goes, you cant serve two masters.
But none of this is to say that I did everything right, because I didnt. I should have been out in the community more. I should have talked to more people. I should have done more follow-up on visitors. I should have hounded the people who said they would give money and didnt. I should have pushed certain issues more. I should have kept track of what little money we had better. I should have been firmer in my resolve for the things that I believed in. I should have tried to get some people off my back. I should have done a lot of things different. But I did what I thought was best. I did what I thought would work. I could have done more. I should have done more. But you cant change what is in the past.
Despite it all, despite all the pain, all the laughter, all the tears, all the frustration, all the mixed emotions, I am not sorry I pastored this church. In fact, I thank God and have thanked God for the experience.
When I made my announcement earlier this week on the Internet, I was bombarded with e-mails and phone calls of support and encouragement. One person even said to me that he didnt know how I stayed as long as I did. And despite everything that has been said behind my back, despite the lies that have been told and are still being told, overall, I did a good job here. Again, it wasnt perfect, and I made more than my share of mistakes. But I have talked to God about that. But I know I did some things here that no one else could have done. And I take pride in that.
But I guess the thing that I regret the most is that I will not, from a first hand point of view, see this church grow into what it should. Maybe it wont be for a few years, but I think this church still does hold a bit of promise.
Which is why I chose the scripture that I did for this morning.
In the scriptures that were read, we have Moses talking to the Israelites just before they are about to enter into the Promised Land. Taking forty years for a four month journey, they stood on the edge of all that God had promised them. Their struggle was finally over. But in the course of their struggle, a new group of Israelites had sprung up. A new generation who replaced the old, outdated ideas of the previous generation. Moses stood there, on the brink of the greatest success of time, up to that point.
And Moses reassures his people, that even though he will not be able to go to the Promised Land with them, that the Lord will not forsake them, nor will he leave them. That God will fulfill His promises in the future, just like He did in the past. He will continue to destroy their enemies, He will continue to strengthen them and hold them up. He will continue to treat them as the children that He promised to protect.
Then Moses calls to Joshua, and tells him to continue to be strong and have courage for the days ahead. He tells Joshua that it is he that will lead the people into the Promised Land and it will be him that will cause the children of Israel to inherit that which God has ordained for them to have. He then tells them that God will go before them, making a way and making a path. But to be rest assured. For the Lord will not fail them, nor will he leave them. That there is nothing to fear, for God is with them.
This is what is considered part of Moses farewell speech to the Israelites. One can only imagine the thoughts that ran through Moses head as he spoke these words. After all, this was the man whom God had called, taking him from a person who could barely speak to making him a great orator. And Moses resisted the call of God. He wanted no part of it. But Moses was a part of a greater destiny. He was part of a master plan, and eventually, Moses had sense enough to follow the plan that God had in store for him.
A lot of us are no different than Moses. We fight and struggle and resist God. And then once we are finished trying to go against the will of God, we only call on him in the darkest hours, in our time of need. Or, we call on Him so much, we begin to sound repetitive, repeating the same prayer and the same plea time and time again. And even when we are given an answer, it is usually not the answer we want, so we keep asking God for this thing until we get exactly what we want.
But when Moses followed the call of God, things did not immediately get better. In fact, in some ways, they got worse. He was charged to lead a bunch of disgruntled, complaining, whining people into some land, they knew not where, and they werent getting there fast enough. At times it seemed like they were walking in circles, which in fact they were.
But somehow, throughout all of the complaints, all of the arguments, all of the backbiting, all of the attempted coups, Moses got them to the Promised Land. He got them to the place where God said he would take them. And they stood there, right at the edge of the Promised Land. And Moses, unable to go, the last of the old guard, gave his final speech, his final direction.
And its interesting, because Moses must have been really, really upset, that after all he went through, after being faithful to the call of God, he was not allowed to take that one final step. That last step in the completion of the beginning history of our people, the Jewish people, the Christian people. The final step in the cause that would forever mark the people of Israel as the chosen people.
So I picture Moses, standing there, probably a tear or two in his eye, looking at the Promised Land, but not able to go into it. And I can imagine how he felt, what he felt, and what he thought. I can imagine the confusion and the longing that he felt to be able to just step one toe into the Promised Land. But it was not his fate. This was not what God wanted.
You see, one of the reasons the Exodus took so long is because they had to get rid of the old folks. The old folks with the old ideas who would not allow the collective progression of the Israelite. Say what you will about old age, say what you will about age bringing wisdom, but there are times when age is a hindrance rather than an asset. And this was the case of the Israelites.
Moses had to contend with all of the outdated ideas and habits of a people who refused to let those ways go. Maybe in addition to telling Pharaoh, "Let my people go", he should have also said, "And you, let those old ideals go."
When people are resistant to change, when they are resistant to new or different ideas, stagnation and death becomes the norm. When you refuse to progress, holding on to the notion that the old ways are the best ways, you are limiting yourself. And you are also limiting God. When you refuse to allow for the fact that there might be someone who might know a little more than you, who might be able to do something a little better than you, or even not better, but different, yet still achieving the same results, you run the risk of limiting God.
Again, such was the problem with the Israelites. When the people started mumbling among themselves, "Maybe slavery wasnt so bad after all" after praying and praying and praying to God to be released, Moses knew he had a problem on his hands. But God found away around the problem. He just let them wander around in circles, taking forty years for a trip that should have taken infinitely shorter, and waited for all the old, outdated ideas to weasel their way out.
And at the end of it, Gods plan, Gods mission for the Israelites was completed. His goal, to get the them to the place he promised, was taken care of. Now one of the things about God that is constant is that His will will always be done. No matter who stands in the way of it, no matter who opposes it, His will, the supreme will, will always manifest itself. And if people are standing in the way, one way or another, God removes them. Whether He does it Himself, or He waits for someone else to do it, or helps the person or people in question come to their senses, Gods will cannot be blocked or stopped.
But there are times when we interfere with what God has planned. Sometimes we dont even realize that we stand in the way of not only our own blessings, but the blessings of others as well. We somehow think we have all the answers when God is telling us to move out of the way. This is part of our arrogance. This is part of our downfall. This is part of what makes us creatures of habit.
And it is this exact reason why I decided to step down from the pastorate of this church. Because I do not want it said that I stood in the way of the progress of this church. If I did, I would be doing a disservice to God, to this church, to the members and to this community. If I stayed here, knowing deep in my heart that I am really no longer wanted here, I would only be serving my own selfishness and my own arrogance. I would only be playing into the role of the mistakes that people before me have made. And I never want it said that I stood in the way of anyones blessing. So I have sense enough to step down, and see what God has in store for me.
You see, while being a pastor is nice, it is not all it is cracked up to be. Especially when you cannot pastor the way you want. But for me, I have seen the good and the bad of the pastorate. I have seen how pastors abuse their power and I have seen how pastors use it for good. I have seen how pastors get so caught up in this "I AM A PASTOR" thinking, that they forgot that its not us, but God that really matters. Me being a pastor is not that important, in the grand scheme of things. I just want to serve God. I have pledged my life to the service of His kingdom. Wherever and however I can.
It has been suggested that I go out and start my own church. But I know I dont have the temperament for such a thing. Instead, I will be of service where I can and when I can. I will still preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, because that is the important thing here. Not the money. Not the power. Not the influence. Not my ego. Not anyone elses ego. The uplifting of the kingdom of Christ, the saving of souls, the preaching of the good news of
the poor, the recovery of sight to the blind, the proclamation of freedom of those who have been enslaved........those are the things that matter.
I no longer worry about paying a mortgage, I no longer worry about keeping the lights on, I no longer worry
about keeping the water on. My commitment is to God, and when He is ready for me to do those things
again, He will make a way. I am not worried about the lies that people are telling about me, to the Bishop
and to the other Elders and to other pastors. God will let the truth be known. I am not worrying about
feeding my ego or someone elses ego. I am not worried about any of that. I have served my time. However
brief, I have served my time. And even if I never pastor again, even if I never preach again, I know, deep in
my heart, that I did most of what God wanted me to do. And the rest, well I know that the Lord forgives me.
Because the God I serve is a kind God and merciful God. He is a God of second and third and 50th
chances. He is a God that smiles kindly upon His children, even when they go astray. He appreciates His
children for serving Him. Im not worried about my name going down in history. Im only worried about
my soul getting into Heaven. And when I get to the point where I get to those gates, I want to hear the
words, "Well, done, thy good and faithful servant."
I preached a funeral on Friday of the father of some of my cousins. And at first I was having problems with it, because I really didnt know him all that well. But then after talking to some people, the theme that came up was the theme of leaving a legacy. Leaving a legacy that will last through the ages. And I talked about that topic. I talked about a man who made a lot of mistakes in his life, but somehow, managed to leave a legacy of 5 beautiful children, one that was already in heaven to meet him.
And I got to thinking that the real legacy is not something that you can touch. It is not something that you can count. Its not something that you can even look at. It is something that you can feel. And if you feel your legacy has to be measured in material possessions, then you miss the point.
But the thing that kept coming back to me time and again is how to progress. How to move on from where we are. Bishop Thomas has a motto of "Love Makes The Difference." My own personal motto is taken from a Prince song. "Live 4 Love."
If you combine those two mottos, and replace the word Love with the word God, you come up with something interesting. God makes the difference. Live 4 God. And what results is something that surpasses all of the insanity that is contained in this business of pastoring, something that is surpassed by ego, something that can overcome all emotion, something that brings you peace.
Because as much as I am going to hate to leave here, and as much as I know I am getting a bit emotional, I am at peace with my decisions. Mainly because I cant take anymore. And those of you who are here have done more than your part to help me and the ministry of this church. What you have done counts more than money, counts more than anything anyone can put their finger on.
Because in the final analysis, to quote Dr. King, I just want to do Gods will. In the last sermon that Dr. King preached, he too talked about the Promised Land. Now, dont get me wrong, I am not planning on dying nor have I had any visions of such. After all, I have a son to raise to be a man. But in that, Dr. King, more than he was ready to face death, he was ready to face his destiny. I too, am ready to face my destiny. I am ready to move on from here, and serve God the best way I know how.
I am ready to move on and embark on a new direction of my life. This decision is only the first of several major changes in my life. Some of them good, some of them not so good. But I have decided to stop listening to other people and what they have to say, and follow God. Let me guide me and direct me. And if I falter every now and then, so be it. I just hope that God will allow me to pick myself up, dust myself off, and hope God will forgive me.
So worry not about me. Cuz I am gonna be alright. Continue to pray for this church. Continue to pray for the uplift of this ministry. Pray for the new pastor, because he is gonna need it. Pray that this church will one day be overflowing with the Holy Spirit, that every seat in here will be filled, that people will get saved, that people will find God, that people will understand that in this place, despite everything, despite all their troubles, despite all their heartaches, despite all their pain.........that they will understand that Jesus is Lord. That God takes care of His own.
So as I prepare to end, dont worry about me. Pray for me, but dont worry about me. Im alright. I got God on my side. I will still be the Rebel that I have always been. I will still be the same arrogant Chuck Smoot that I have always been. And I know it gets me into trouble from time to time, and I know that sometimes I am a bit much to deal with. But Ive talked to God. And while there is still room for improvements, He has told me, for the most part, that Im alright.
So its alright this morning. Or as they say in the black vernacular, its all good. God is taking care of me. I am no longer resting on the promises of those who have no plan of keeping those promises. I bear no ill will towards those who I feel have done me a disservice. And I am not beating myself up over my mistakes. And to those of you who thought you could have done more, stop worrying about it. You did what you could, and it was more than adequate.
I know I have been preaching for a while, and its time for me to sit down. But let me leave you with something. I did this once before about 4 years ago and could barely get through it, but I am going to take my time with this and try not be too bad. If I could sing, I would, but I dont want to leave everyone with a bad feeling this morning. And even though he cannot truly understand this at this time, this is mainly for the benefit of Christian.
If by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you
If you can trust yourself, when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies
Or being hated, and not give in to hatred
And yet don't look to good, nor talk too wise
If you can dream and not make dreams your master
If you can think and not make thoughts your aim
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken
And stoop to build them up with worn out tools
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch and toss
And loose, and start over again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after your are gone
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them, "HOLD ON!!"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue
Or walk with kings, nor loose the common touch
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you
If all men count with you, but none too much
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run
Yours is the earth and everything that's in it
And -- which is more -- you will be a Man, My Son!!
God Bless You and Live 4 Love.
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