Black Alumni Association Newsletter: November 2021
2 Timothy 4:1-8
BY DR. BRIAN K. BLOUNT
President Blount delivered the following sermon at the retirement celebration of UPSem alum Rev. Dr. Hoffman Brown III at Wayland Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 13, 2020.
You know, when I received word about the texts that were to be used for this wonderful occasion, the first thing I thought was “who died?” These texts, in my experience, have a very
strong connection with funeral services. In fact, back in March 2020, just before the pandemic forced the cessation of large gatherings, I preached the eulogy for Hidden Figure, NASA
mathematician Katherine Goble Johnson. The Ecclesiastes text for today was one of her favorites. She loved the message about there being a time and a season for all things. So, the
community gathered at the arena at Hampton University read it in her memory and in her honor.
And, of course, many a saint has been memorialized with a focus on this text from Second Timothy. How often across my many years of ministry have I listened to a preacher
celebrate a Christian life well-lived using this image of fighting the good fight, and running a great race with great faithfulness.
Both those texts are prime funeral texts. But since I see Dr. Brown sitting here with me, I assume that I didn’t stumble into the wrong worship occasion. Unless, of course, unbeknownst
to everybody in this sanctuary, we’ve all been raptured and just haven’t realized it yet. Since I don’t believe in being raptured out of great ordeals but ministering faithfully through great
ordeals, I know it’s not a rapture. And since Dr. Brown is sitting here in the flesh, I know it’s not a funeral. So, what am I to do with this text of a great faith teacher telling his young faith student that he has fought the good fight, that he has run his race.
First thing we need to figure out is who is talking. While there are some scholars who think that the Apostle Paul himself wrote the letter, most scholars, as do I, think that the author of
this letter is a church pastor who feels himself part of the Pauline school. He therefore writes in the name and voice of his teacher and mentor, Paul. Timothy, too, is not the Timothy who
discipled with the Apostle Paul. In this letter, Timothy is a symbol. The author, whom many scholars like Tom Long, call “The Pastor”, remembers the warm relationship between Paul and
his young disciple, Timothy. So, when the Pastor thinks of the struggling leaders of one of his churches, he sees young Timothy in them, and so he addresses them the way he believes Paul
would have addressed young Timothy in a similar situation. A situation where the Pastor is coming up on the end of his life journey, as Paul had years before, and he, as Paul no doubt had,
wants to leave a message of encouragement and inspiration for all the Timothy’s, all US Timothy’s, who will follow him in the footsteps of faith. We, you must understand, all of us, are Timothy. The Pastor is speaking to us.
The second thing we need to figure out is what exactly is this Pastor, speaking in the name and authority of Paul, saying. And why does the Pastor talk as though somebody is dying
and getting ready to meet their maker on the doorstep of judgment day? Listen to that language.
“I solemnly swear.” These opening verses are like an oath where someone swears a promise with her hand on a Bible. Tom Long says, “But the Pastor is in no ordinary courthouse. He is
standing instead in the great court of God at the end of time, the court where Jesus Christ is the judge of the living and the dead.”
It’s like the Pastor is swearing on a Bible in front of all of heaven and Christ Jesus himself. That gives some urgency to what he is saying. That gives some credibility to what he is saying. It’s one thing to say “trust me,” when you ask someone to pay attention to what you’re telling them. To believe what you’re telling them. It’s something else altogether when you tell them, I swear on my mother’s grave, I swear on the life of my children, I swear on the coming of the kingdom of God. You talk like that, people sit up and listen. People tend to think you’re saying something that not only ought to be believed, it ought to be done.
That’s why this sounds so much like funeral talk. The Pastor is swearing. He’s not swearing on a Bible, or his mother’s grave, or his children’s lives. He is swearing on his own life, on his eternal life and eternal relationship with God and Christ Jesus, and, even more importantly, he is swearing on THEIR eternal life and their eternal relationship with God and
Christ Jesus. He’s saying, “I swear on your lives! I SWEAR. On. Your. ETERNAL lives!”
Now that ought to make them sit up, listen up, and act up. It’s not just him and heaven he’s talking about. It’s them and heaven, he’s talking about.
I swear to God on YOUR eternal life that this church will make a difference in this world.
You hear somebody talking like that, you believe somebody talking like that, you’re bound to get up off your pew and try to make a difference in this world. Cause you don’t want things to be
different from what you expected in the next world. Do you? I swear to God on your eternal life that you don’t.
See what I mean. People swear on their own lives, well, that’s interesting. People swear on YOUR life, well, that’s troubling.
Yes. He’s talking about judgment day. And how you meet judgment day. He’s talking about the kind of thing that happens after you’ve lived, after you’ve worked, and now that you’ve
died, you’re being judged on how you lived and worked. Christ is described as the judge of the living and the dead, and there’s all this talk about Christ the divine judge appearing in his eternal
Kingdom evaluating the people knocking on the door of that Kingdom. That’s dead people talk.
That’s did I or did I NOT get into heaven talk. That is swearing talk. But the Pastor is not swearing about himself. The Pastor is swearing about his people. The Pastor is not swearing
before God and Jesus and all of heaven that he did something. The Pastor is swearing before God and Jesus and all of heaven that his people had better DO something.
And all these powerful and challenging and even frightening remarks about swearing and doing and judgment . . . they are all just introductory remarks. He hasn’t gotten to his speech yet.
This is him opening his speech by telling his readers in whose name and presence and authority and power and coming kingdom he is giving this speech. In other words, don’t ignore
what I’m saying. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like me, don’t like how I look, don’t care for how I sound, get mad at what I say, are determined not to do the things I am telling you to do, you’d
better listen, learn, and legislate because I’m not speaking on my behalf, I’m speaking on behalf of the one who even now appears in his kingdom as the judge of the living and the dead. And
that is either you or gonna be you!
Yes, the stakes are very, very high. I tell you—I swear to you—that I have a job for you to do. I want you to do a little talk. Don’t stress over it. Just know, to give you a little context, all the television networks are going to cover it live, all the world leaders are going to be sitting in a reserved section at the front of the hall, and your mother will be watching. The Pastor is telling us. I want you to do a little talking. I want you to do a little life walking. Don’t stress over it. But just know, to give you a little context, God and Jesus are both going sitting in a reserved section at the front of creation, listening to everything you say, watching everything you do. In other words, boy, don’t mess this up.
I suspect that Dr. Brown has felt that most of his ministry. All of us do. Boy, girl, don’t mess this up. It’s not just that God and Jesus are front and center, watching everything you do. It is that God’s people are front and center, needing you desperately to do something. It’s not about you being judged, it’s about them being saved. And I don’t just mean saved spiritually, though I
do mean that. I mean it’s about saving them from the horrors and torments, the injustice, the racism, the poverty, the sexism, the heterosexism, all the ism stuff that decapitates and destroys
human hope and promise. All those people, shackled by all that hurt, buried beneath all that pain, are in the house, in God’s big house of creation, on the front row of every ministry moment
in your life, and they are crying out, pleading that you live the right kind of life, a sacred, faithful life dedicated to living into Jesus’ expectations. That is why Dr. Brown gave himself to the kind
of work that he did. Not because he wanted to be popular. Not because he wanted everyone to like him. Not because he wanted to feel proud. But because he knew that when God and Jesus
come down front to watch you live your life, they don’t come alone. They buy out the arena so all God’s people can watch with them. At the end, when your time on stage is spent, it’s not
about whether those people of God stand up and applaud, its about whether they lower their heads and pray . . . in thanksgiving. Thanksgiving not because you are great; thanksgiving
because you did great things for God’s people, even when some or even many of God’s people hated you for it.
Your job, you Timothys of the first century and us Timothy’s of the 21st century, is to proclaim the message. Preach the word. By what you say. By what you do. It’s more than just
words. It’s also living what the Word contains. People can’t hear you if all you’re doing is talking.
So, having told his people why they’d better pay attention, the Pastor now tells them what to pay attention to. And he’s clearly speaking not to the dead but to the living. And not to the
retired, but to the working. He may have finished the race, but he’s not over at the finish line lounging, drinking cold Gatorade, looking at his speed time—he’s yelling at the runners who are
still on the track. Pick up the pace! Get a move on! Are you walking or running? Don’t let that runner hold you back, go around him! Move your feet! Open your mouth! Pump your arms!
Don’t you fall behind. Don’t you fall behind. Don’t make me get back in this race and get up in your face!
That seems like what’s going on here. Before he gets to talking about how he’s finished the race, he’s talking to the people who are still running the race, and he’s telling them to move
it! He’s swearing at them to move it!
Proclaim the message. Preach the word. I don’t care whether people think it’s the right time for this message you’re proclaiming, proclaim the message anyway. Convince. Rebuke.
Encourage. Teach. It’s not about whether people are ready to hear the message. It’s about whether you are ready to deliver the message. I think of one time San Francisco 49er
Quarterback Colin Kapernick. You remember how he knelt to proclaim the injustice of police brutality against African Americans. When he proclaimed the message this country wasn’t ready
to hear it. He lost favor because of it. He lost his job because of it. He lost his career because of it. Because people weren’t ready to hear what he had to say.
But when the whole world saw that police officer kneel on George Floyd’s neck and crush the breath out of him in slow motion for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, while the world
watched, and decided we couldn’t stomach this kind of behavior anymore, a lot of people thought the time was right to kneel in solidarity with the young, one-time quarterback. It wasn’t
as risky for us, because the times changed when the video of that murder that went viral around the world. In our time, yeah, everybody can kneel because people are finally ready to hear the
message. In that day of judgment that the pastor talks about here, on this matter, we won’t stand out for standing up the way Kapernick will because we didn’t do our standing until people were ready to stand with us. Kapernick pretty much stood alone. Just like the pastor says we should all do. Whether the time is favorable or not.
Though he was taking a knee, Kapernick was making a stand. And too many of us let him stand alone. We didn’t truly stand beside that kneeling quarterback until that police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck. When most of us meet our Lord, we’ll have to confess that we didn’t stand sooner because the timing wasn’t right.
You take a stand not because people are ready. You take a stand because people are hurting and the world is suffering. The Pastor warns us that it will be even harder to take a stand
when we know we should because people will not want to hear what we know we must say. In fact, not only will they not want to hear what we know we must say, they will lift up people to say only what they want to hear. That’s why Tom Long declares that the people will “want to hear things that entertain them, make them feel good, and flatter them into thinking well of themselves.”
Or, as the Pastor puts it, for the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, when they will turn away from listening to the truth. Hey, that’s us. We’re here. In this
alternative facts, post-truth world. Where, in a pandemic, we don’t listen to scientists, we trust our gut. Where, in the midst of an explosion of racism, we don’t seek justice, we read a few books. Where, in the midst of watching unarmed men crushed beneath the weight of a state agent or the homes of women infiltrated with murderous intent while they sleep in their beds, we
don’t seek transformation, we talk about finding bad apples. Where, in a world where the sitting president of the United States is on public record testifying to his sexual assaults against women, we don’t press for gender equality, we kill any hope for the Equal Rights Amendment once and for all.
But, as for you, the Pastor says, you carry out your ministry, you run your race, you fight your fight as if God and Christ Jesus and all of heaven itself are cheering you on. Yes, you do this, you will suffer. You tell people what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear, you push people to go fight over there when they would rather sit comfortably over here, you cry
out with a prophetic challenge when people would rather you whisper sweet nothings, you will pay a dear price. As the Pastor, who feels himself poured out, has clearly paid a price.
That is why, although it is great to have great success in ministry, success is not the measuring stick of greatness in ministry. Not by itself. Listen one more time to Tom Long.
“This is important to say because, in this world, other standards of evaluation compete for our attention. Pastors today are notorious for comparing (sometimes secretly) their success in
ministry by the size of membership or budget or building, and the Pastor is saying, ‘None of that matters. What matters is only that ministry that can stand unashamed on that day when Jesus
Christ is revealed as all in all.”
This is an important point. Hoffman Brown’s ministry should not be measured by the way we like to measure things. How many people joined? How many ministries established?
How many apartments built? How much money raised? How many children baptized? No, the Pastor is saying that is not what ultimately matters when Christ looks. What matters is whether
you proclaimed, by the way you spoke, and by the way you lived, the presence and purpose of Jesus Christ. Because it might well be the case in this crooked world of ours, that the more you
proclaimed Christ, the fewer people joined. The more you proclaimed Christ, the more ministries you lost. The more you proclaimed Christ, the more people withheld their money.
The more you proclaimed Christ, the more you felt like you were drowning in the baptismal font.
The more you proclaimed Christ, the more trouble you brought down on your head. But in the heavenly arena, that is the kind of ministry that will get you a standing ovation from God.
But here on earth, yes, it can cost you. That is why, when the Pastor comes to the end of his ministry journey he describes himself as being poured out. He’s saying goodbye. He’s
swearing, goodbye, and good luck if I have to come back here because you’re not proclaiming and living the Word.
He’s using this image that would have been very familiar to people in the first century.
Tom Long says it well. “The image, a common one in antiquity, is of a cup of wine or blood being poured out at an altar as a sign of sacrifice and devotion to a god. Thus, [the Pastor]
portrays his own life as an offering to God, a pouring out of himself in devotion. The cup is nearly empty now . . .”
This is a mesmerizing way to describe the end of his ministry. A life poured out, spilled out in dedication to God. Every worship service. Every Bible study. Every prayer night. Every
mission encounter. Every prophetic engagement. Every protest march. Every hymn sung.
Every child lifted up. Every couple married. Every saint buried. Every such moment is a pouring out of mortality in the service of immortality, until finally, one day the cup is nearly
There are two moments of that emptiness. The one we mark today is one to celebrate.
Where the cup of active ministry is nearing empty and the time has come to retire. The other will one day be marked in a different kind of celebration, bittersweet and grieving, when the
emptiness is full. In both cases, we are to see that what was done, this pouring out, was not an emptying out, but a pouring into, a sharing into new life with Christ. New life breaking through
here on earth. New life entered blissfully into in heaven.
The point is, he knows, he celebrates, he swears that his time has come. It’s time for the Pastor to go. He has fought his fight. He has run his race. And he has won. He is recognized by
his followers now. He will be recognized by God and Christ in the future. So, Long writes: “Olympic athletes today compete for the gold, silver, and bronze medals, but in the ancient world
the trophy in an athletic contest was a garland wreath placed as a crown on the head of the winner. Just so, ‘Paul’ anticipates that his endurance in ministry will be rewarded with the ‘the
crown of righteousness,’ which Christ, the Lord of all, will place on his head on that Great Judgment Day.”
Here at the end of his ministry, the Pastor is looking forward and hoping God will approve, and looking back and trusting his members will understand why he pushed them and
why he expects them to keep pushing themselves.
When you, like the Pastor, look back at your ministry from the end of things, Dr. Brown, I wonder what you see. What you feel. For yourself. For your people. I wonder what moments
you would look back on as the best and I wonder if your members would have realized just how special those moments were in the time when you were experiencing them.
I wonder if we ought not to try to make a pact to live like that more often. Not from the perspective of retiring. I do admit that sometimes I like to think about what life will feel like
from a retired standpoint. Just how does it feel, Dr. Brown? Give me a little testimony. I hope it feels as good as I’m anticipating it will feel. But not like that. Know what I wish. I wish we
could for a moment experience what it was like to live life from the perspective of being in the presence of God. Not in the way we experience God now. Distant. Through prayer. Through
worship. Through Spirit. No, directly, like being with God in the directness that I have in being with all of you. What would that feel like? I suspect it would feel like not worrying about all the
silly mess I worry about now. I suspect it would feel like not letting people get away with the evil stuff they get away with now, doing the things that they do to other people now, because I’d
feel the release of not worrying about what other people thought of me, I’d only worry about what God thought of me. I’d not worry about what other people could take away from me. I’d
worry only about what God could give me. I’d not worry about job or house or fame or social standing or Facebook likes or Instagram shares, I’d just think, I’m standing beside God and the
only thing that matters is that God likes standing beside me. How can I make how I live now work so that when I stand in heaven then, God will like standing with me? I swear to you, that is
what the Pastor is trying to get across to his people. He’s trying to get them to understand that is how he tried to live his life. And it is how he wants them to live their lives.
You see, the way the Pastor looks at it, a retirement service isn’t just about one person finishing the race, it’s about all of us reconfiguring the race.
Him saying that he was finished the race was a rather sneaky way of also saying that the race wasn’t finished. Yes, he had crossed the finish line. But the Pastor is a preacher like Paul.
And he knows what we know about the race Paul ran. Paul may have finished the race, but he didn’t stop until he died running for Jesus in Rome. You can get off the track, you can finish the
race, but you never stop running. Because even when you are too old or too infirm to run yourself, your people, the people you have charged to ministry in your place, they run in your
stead. It is clear that the Pastor wants his people to keep running in his stead. This race is not a solo race. It’s a relay race. He’s passing the baton to those who will follow him. Just as Dr.
Brown is passing the baton to this church and the members and pastors who will follow him here.
This celebration isn’t just about the retirement of Hoffman Brown’s ministry. This celebration is also about the continuation of Wayland Baptist church’s ministry.
I am reminded of a movie about what most sportspeople consider the greatest racehorse of all time: Secretariat. In the movie, a woman named Penny Chenery takes over her parent’s
horse farm as both of her parents are dying. Determined to hold on to the farm and her father’s dream of raising and racing horses, she raises a young colt and races him, even when her
financial situation is in peril, even when other owners looked down on her as a woman in charge, even when her own husband and brother doubted her, even when she was on the verge of going broke and losing everything her parents had devoted their lives to. After he has been horse of the year, and has one the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the first two legs of the Triple Crown, he is set to run the last of the Triple Crown races, the Belmont Stakes. The longest and most grueling of the races.
There is this scene with Penny, talking to her horse, Secretariat, in the horse barn the night before the big race. She is remembering how she has fought the good fight to care for and
train and race this horse and protect her father’s dream and her parents’ home. Stroking the horse’s nose, rubbing his head, she leans in close and whispers in Secretariat’s ear. She says: “I realize something. I’ve already won. I made it here. I didn’t quit. I’ve run my race. Now you run yours.”
The rest is racing history. Secretariat’s 1973 performance at the Belmont Stakes, where he bested his closest competitor by a mind-blowing 31 lengths, is widely considered one of the
most stunning horse races of all time. 47 years later, no horse has yet to run that race that fast.
“I’ve run my race,” Penny Chenery told Secretariat. “Now you run yours.” The Pastor is saying exactly the same thing to all his Timothy’s. “I swear,” he says, “I’ve
run my race. Now you run yours.”
I suspect Dr. Hoffman Brown is swearing the same oath and making the same charge this day to all the saints here in Wayland Baptist Church. Hoffman Brown has run his race.
Wayland, now, you run yours.
Hoffman Brown has run his race. Now it’s time for you to run yours.
BY MICHELLE WALKER
It is my pleasure to introduce this year’s future Black Alums! Eight new students began this year. I asked them to answer two quick questions: why UPSem and to what are you most looking forward.
Juliette Davis, M.Div., Chester VA
I chose UPSem because the staff/faculty placed particular emphasis on being invested in my success. I was also impressed with the emphasis on UPSem as a faith community verses just a place to get a degree. I am looking forward to growing in the knowledge of God and opportunities to apply what I learn as well as sharing it with others.
Ayesha Edwards, MACE/MAPT, Valley Stream NY
In the past 2 years, my passion for social justice and reconciliation has become quite voracious, and after attending a virtual open house last November, I knew in my spirit that this was the right fit to equip me for the present and future work God has called me to do. I look forward to learning and growing with others. The content will, of course, increase my knowledge and expertise, however, I’m most excited about the personal development that will come from being engaged in such a rich, diverse community of people.
Donna Graves, M.Div./MACE, Portsmouth, VA
The dual MDiv/MACE program is my main reason for choosing UPSem and personal friends are alumnae. I came on a weekend about a decade ago and seeds were planted at that time. I’m a slow bloomer! Finishing! Seriously, I am looking forward to learning the skills and practices that will prepare me to open a retreat center. The center’s world class servant leaders will welcome and encourage individuals and families to find more balance through exceptional hospitality, spiritual practices, activities and humor.
Nigel Lovell-Martin, Th.M., Davie, FL
Nigel entered Union Presbyterian Seminary to pursue advanced theological study for the Master of Theology (Th.M.) degree focusing on young adult faith formation and drawing upon the contemporary influences of the digital culture. The seminary’s renown for academic rigor, superior program in Christian Education, and outstanding faculty were factors that influenced his decision to attend here. He values the ecumenical mix of faculty, staff, and students as a hallmark of community life at UPSem and looks forward to engaging in deep theological discourse. He is a Minister of Word and Sacrament of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Adebayo (Bayo) Ogungbade, M.Div., Chesterfield VA
I chose Union Presbyterian Seminary because I admired how Union promotes community engagement around Richmond and how it helps to provides you with a unique skill set that allows you to be your own version of the “Church in the World.” I am most looking forward to engaging and learning from other students who come from diverse, belief, racial, ethnic, age, and socioeconomic statuses than me. To be around other seminarians from vastly different walks in life than you is a blessing.
Valerie Rawls, MAPT, Atlanta GA
I am the Co-Visionary, and Founder of the EcoWomanist Institute (EWI). I chose to obtain the Master of Arts in Public Theology (M.A.P.T) degree from Union Presbyterian Seminary (UPSem) to increase my understanding of the scriptures, to grow spiritually and intellectually, to learn from the world-class faculty, and to have access to the exceptional resources like the Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon Center for Womanist Leadership, and the Center for Social Justice and Reconciliation. This degree will validate and enhance my current interest to move from the intersections, to the integration of Ecospirituality, Ecojustice and Ethics within the EcoWomanist narrative. I’m looking forward to enlarging my spheres of influence by meeting faculty, and fellow students that I pray will become lifelong colleagues and friends. My Union Presbyterian Seminary M.A.P.T designation, and the outstanding UPSem brand recognition will position me personally (spiritually) and professionally to expand my public witness to make moral and ethical decisions that will uplift humanity and enable me to excel in my endeavors while bring additional credibility to the goals and objectives of EWI.
Sandra Scott, M.Div., Henrico VA
UPSem offered the opportunity of interfacing personally with classmates, faculty, and administrative staff. A spirit of hospitality resides here, with a regularly communicated willingness to answer questions and troubleshoot problems. I am thankful to be a part of the UPSem learning community!
One month into my UPSem journey as an MDiv student, I am already experiencing what I looked forward to, and that is–going deeper into God’s word to discover more than what I think I have known.
In Charlotte, we welcomed Angela Gerena-Diaz of Winston-Salem, NC, to the M.Div./MACE programs.
Giving a Mighty Mite
BY HELEN BESSENT BYRD
“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43b-44 NRSV).
Recently the familiar story told by Jesus to the disciples about the poor widow’s offering in the temple was the lectionary gospel scripture. She only had a mite to her name. She had two coins that amounted to 1/64 of a day’s earnings. Jesus said the widow gave “out of her poverty while others gave out of their abundance.” What the widow gave was a gigantic gift, a mighty mite. She gave all she had.
This story illuminates a caution and teaches us a lesson. The caution is that the “haves” (scribes or wealthy) in a church, community, or nation must be careful not to exploit or take advantage of the poor or “have nots.” Consider the practices in churches today. We expect 10% of a family’s $100,000 income. Do we also expect $50,000 if a families $500,000 income. The proportion of income to be given by the wealthy to the church is not equivalent to that of the poor. Remember we must live simply so the poor can simply live.
The lesson in this story is the significance of giving. It is meritorious or praiseworthy to give even if you only have a little. Your mite is mighty! When you are willing to give it cheerfully to help others, God blesses you and multiplies your blessings. A man had a reputation for giving extensively to the Lord’s work. He explained it saying I am like the farmer who said, “I keep shoveling into God’s bin and God keeps shoveling back into mine, and he has the bigger shovel!” It’s not what you’d do with a million, if riches should ever be your lot, but what are you doing at the present with the $10 dollar bill you’ve got?
As we approach the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, remember to give to Union Presbyterian Seminary also. Although it may have been years ago when you were facing tuition and fees, room and board, internship and supervised placement expenses, those required experiences and expenditures are much more costly. Please go to the website and give. Note on the online form or on your check BAA to tag this relationship and reminder.
*M.Ed., Temple University ’65; M.Div., Union-PSCE ’07; Ph.D., UConn ’72