sermons – messages

Taking Off The Blinders

6 comments Written on November 2nd, 2016     
Filed under: sermons - messages

nilwona-nowlin-photo4-1Nilwona Nowlin serves as the Administrative Specialist for Governance for the ECC and is on the ministerial leadership team of Kingdom Covenant Church Chicago. She is a proud introvert and a redemptive artist, someone who believes in the power of the arts to bring about positive transformation and God’s shalom in individuals and communities. Read more of her writing at

(The following is an adaptation of a message I recently preached during a chapel service at Covenant Offices.)

One of last week’s lectionary texts was Deuteronomy 34:1-12, when Moses viewed the Promise Land from Mount Nebo. This passage jumped out at me because a year ago last week, I stood on Mount Nebo. As I read the passage, a lot of things jumped out at me; however, there was one part that stood out to me.

The end of this passage, verses 10-12, basically presented Moses as “the GREATEST prophet EVER!!!” Moses is depicted as a one in a million leader, the uncommon leader that everyone wants to be or wants to hire. This description of Moses is so glowing that it causes his meager beginnings to dim in comparison. While Deuteronomy 34 presents Moses the uncommon leader, Exodus 2 and 3 describes Moses the unlikely leader. The Bible presents plenty of examples of why we shouldn’t overlook the unlikely leader, those who don’t fit the “standard” image of a leader. As I was reflecting on the Deuteronomy text, some other examples came to mind.

Leaders: Unlikely to Uncommon
Ambrose, bishop of Milan, was one of the most notable Church leaders of the 4th century, but he didn’t even want to be a bishop! He was a Roman governor who was present at the bishop elections for no other reason than to prevent a riot. He wasn’t trained theologically, hadn’t been baptized and had aspirations of furthering his political career. Yet he gave himself wholeheartedly to his calling as a bishop. It was Ambrose’s sermons that provided the answers that Augustine was seeking as he contemplated whether or not to fully embrace the faith. Speaking of Augustine . . . Justo González calls him “the most influential theologian in the entire Western church, both Protestant and Catholic” (The History of Christianity, vol. 1, 2nd edition, 2010, pg. 252). However, his early days could be described as the full embodiment of “eat, drink and be merry!” Today, we would consider both Ambrose and Augustine to be great examples of an uncommon leader. But again, their earlier years may have suggested a different picture.

There are lots of reasons that unlikely leaders are overlooked; in the present day and age, implicit bias plays a major role. Implicit bias is the term that describes when our perception of/behavior toward a person is unconsciously affected by stereotypes. There are many examples of the negative impact implicit bias has had on people of color; for the sake of this conversation, I’m speaking specifically to the topic of identifying leaders.

Larry Nowlin grew up in the projects on the west side of Chicago. Known for his quick temper and ability to fight, it’s no surprise that he spent some time at an alternative school for “bad boys.” The common practice of overlooking “unlikely leaders” combined with implicit bias means that Larry never really had a chance at earning “uncommon leader” status. Yet, at his funeral, the Illinois General Assembly presented a resolution honoring his lifetime of service on behalf of Chicago Public School students. Similarly, Debbie Blue, a woman near and dear to the Covenant had a number of strikes against her. Blue, a black woman who also grew up in the projects on the west side of Chicago and was a divorced mother of two, wasn’t considered by many to be leadership material – and certainly not an uncommon leader. Yet, as many of you reading this can testify, she has greatly impacted individuals throughout the Covenant in ways that we will continue to discover generations from now. I consider it a blessing to call Larry my father and to call Blue my mentor and friend. What a privilege to have gleaned from the lives of these phenomenal leaders!

Moving Forward
So what does this have to do with the ECC? Deuteronomy 34 opens with Moses looking out at the Promised Land. I think that the Promised Land for the Covenant is the place in time when our identity as a multi-ethnic church is a lived expression and not just statistics in a pie chart. This means that our multi-ethnicity will be reflected in the language we use, the training/resources we provide, the images we project, the analogies we use, the songs we sing and our leadership at all levels (denominational, conference and local congregation). Relationships are the key to moving forward. Most of the people who have acknowledged/called out my leadership gifts have been people of color. I imagine that this is because they learned from their own experiences that no one else would do that for me. However, all of the people who have acknowledged/called out my leadership gifts were able to observe those gifts because they were walking alongside me in an authentic relationship.

While Moses laid hands on Joshua to publicly identify him as the next leader, God chose Joshua as the next leader. There are individuals within the Covenant family whom God has chosen to lead us into our next season, but we are blinded by our implicit bias. We’re blinded most often in the areas of ethnicity but are also blind in the areas of gender, age, class and physical abilities (or a person’s perceived membership in any of these categories). Building authentic relationships helps us take off the blinders and also provides opportunities for us to grow in the area of intercultural competence.

Do you constantly struggle to find leaders of color to serve in various capacities? If so, you should probably evaluate your circle of influence. Does it truly reflect the make-up of the Covenant? If not, why not? What can you do to change that? Who are you seeking to walk alongside in a genuine relationship? And when I talk about relationship, I don’t mean reaching out to someone because you want to know more about their experience as a Latina in the Covenant, or as a Chinese-American man in the Covenant or as a Covenanter with a disability. That’s like meeting someone in an elevator and asking them to share their most intimate secrets. I’m exhausted from well-meaning folks who attempt to start our relationship by asking me to rip open the wounds inflicted upon me by racism and sexism/misogyny. Maybe we could just start by talking about why we both love Pepsi and “24,” then wade into the deep waters at a more appropriate time . . .

Family, we’ve been “trying to be” and “living into” for quite a long time. Now, let’s take off the blinders, round up our leaders and be.

(One existing resource that can support efforts to move forward in the areas of ethnic ministry and diversity is the five-fold-test. For more ECC resources on intercultural development, visit the LMDJ resource page by clicking here.)



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A Christmas Devotional

1 Comment » Written on December 22nd, 2015     
Filed under: sermons - messages

Evelmyn Ivens works at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) in Chicago and graduated from North Park Theological Seminary in 2013 with a MA in Theological Studies. Evelmyn was born in Mexico and moved to the United States during her teenage years; she has lived in Los Angeles, CA, Washington, DC, and Chicago, IL. Enjoys traveling and learning about other cultures. She’s passionate about issues of immigration, hunger, poverty, and human trafficking.

newicons1501As I was reflecting on what to write for this month, I realized that my post would be the one right before Christmas. No pressure, right? And I very much wanted to share something special and honestly with the number of pastors who usually write for the blog, and who are way more experienced on writing sermons for Advent, I felt intimidated. So here’s a devotional in the words of one of my favorite theologians. Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad!

The Coming of Jesus in Our Midst
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and open the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20

When early Christianity spoke of the return of the Lord Jesus, they thought of a great day of judgment. Even though this thought may appear to us to be so unlike Christmas, it is original Christianity and to be taken extremely seriously. When we hear Jesus knocking, our conscience first of all pricks us: Are we rightly prepared? In our heart capable of becoming God’s dwelling place? Thus Advent becomes a time of self-examination. “Put the desires of your heart in order, O human beings!” (Valentin Thilo), as the old song sings. It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming so calmly, whereas the world fell into trembling when Jesus Christ walked over the earth. That is why we find it so strange when we see the marks of God in the world so often together with the marks of human suffering, with the marks of the cross on Golgotha. We have become so accustomed to the idea that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tiding, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.

Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, and comes to us with grace and love. God makes us happy as only children can be happy. God wants to always be with us, where we may be – in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us. We are no longer homeless; a bit of the eternal home itself has moved unto us. Therefore we adults can rejoice deeply within our hearts under the Christmas tree, perhaps much more than the children are able. We know that God’s goodness will once again draw near. We think of all of god’s goodness that came our way last year and sense something of this marvelous home. Jesus comes in judgment and grace: “Behold I stand at the door… Open wide the gates! (Ps. 24:7).

see mehomeless_2739298One day, at the last judgment, he will separate the sheep and the goats and will say to those on his right: “Come, you blessed… I was hungry and you fed me…” (Matt. 25:34). To the astonished question of when and where, he answered: “What you did to the least of these, you have done to me…” (Matt. 25:40). With that we are faced with the shocking reality: Jesus stands at the door and knocks, in complete reality. He asks you for help in the form of a beggar, in the form of a ruined human being in torn clothing. He confronts you in every person you meet. Christ walks on the earth as your neighbor as long as there are people. He walks on the earth as the one through whom God call you, speaks to you and makes demands. That is the greatest seriousness and the greatest blessedness of the Advent message. Christ stands at the door. He lives in the form of the person in our midst. Will you keep the door locked or open it to him?

Christ is still knocking. It is not yet Christmas. But it is also not the great final Advent, the final coming of Christ. Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate goes the longing for the final Advent, where it says: “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Advent is a time of waiting. Our whole life, however, is Advent – that is, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be new heaven and a new earth, when all people are brothers and sisters and one rejoices in the words of the angels: “On earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.” Learn to wait, because he has promised to come. “I stand at the door…” We however call to him: “Yes, come soon, Lord Jesus!” Amen.

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Called to the Table

5 comments Written on September 16th, 2014     
Filed under: sermons - messages

MandiChericoMandi Cherico is a second year M.Div student at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL. Raised in the Twin Cities, her interests include feminism, word-care, aesthetics, and Beyonce. The following post is a manuscript of a sermon preached at North Park Theological Seminary Chapel on September 15, 2014.

Most of Paul’s letters to churches begin with a pleasant tone, thanking God for them, praising what they’ve done. He begins 1 Corinthians by saying “I always thank God for you.” “To the saints in Ephesus,” he says in Ephesians. To the Thessalonians: “We always thank God for you in our prayers.”

The Galatians, though, get no note of thanksgiving, no compliment.

Chapter 1 verse 6, after a brief salutation:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.

When Paul doesn’t thank God for a church you know somebody is gonna get told. I appreciate the realness of that. It reminds me that church has always been hard. The Gospel has always been something people have struggled to live out rightly.

In Chapter 4 verse 19 Paul grits his teeth again, taking a maternal tone:
My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

Yikes. But Paul has good reason to be angry. Galatia has been rejecting the true Gospel! In chapter two, he gives an example of another time when someone lost sight of the true gospel, and he tells the story of Peter in Antioch. Continue Reading »

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“Bearing God”

Post a Comment » Written on December 17th, 2013     
Filed under: sermons - messages

Submitted by:
Debra Auger, Dean of Students
North Park Theological Seminary

A new church year commenced three weeks ago when we lit the first advent candle. Now we are just days away from celebrating the incarnation of God in Christ…the coming of God to humanity, enfleshed as an infant. Here is where power is perfected in ultimate weakness: that of a child completely and totally dependent on mother for care, protection, food and safety. It really is an astounding thing. Perhaps most astounding is that God limited God’s self to a human body in a particular time and culture to demonstrate what true love looks like. Equally astounding is the limitation of God to the womb of a young girl to be formed and nurtured and parented. In this Advent season perhaps we can imagine Mary as an archetype for all those who are called by God to nurture embryonic faith in others. God calls young and old, women and men alike, to “bear God” in a world desperate for love. In this advent season let us remember to celebrate the burgeoning ministry of young women who are faithful to bear the love of God and who have responded, as Mary did, to God’s call to serve.

“O thou who bears the pain of the whole earth, I bore thee.
O thou whose tears give human tears their worth, I laughed with thee.
Thou who, when thy hem is touched, give power, I nourished thee.
Who turns the day to night in this dark hour, Dayspring for me.
O thou who held the world in thy embrace, I dandled thee.
Whose arms encircle all with thy grace, I once held thee.
O thou who laughed and ate and walked the shore, I played with thee.
And I who with all others, thou died for, I now hold thee.”
(Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season, 9).

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Reconciliation with: “Gender” ….a link.

Post a Comment » Written on December 5th, 2013     
Filed under: sermons - messages, video links

This woman can preach! To see and hear Brenda Salter McNeil preaching an important message for all of us click here.  It is nearly a one hour video so make sure you are settled in and able to listen well. You won’t be sorry.  Brenda is a Covenant ordained pastor who is delivering this message at Quest Church in Seattle.  The link is posted with permission of Quest Church.  Enjoy!

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