What’s His Name?

Brothers and sisters,

I wanted to give you all a little insight into our up-coming summer sermon series. At this point in the church calendar, we’ve got a huge swath of time in which there are no major Christian holidays. That means that we’ve got a little more freedom over the next few months to explore some really interesting parts of the Bible. This is the time of year when we get to experiment some with different ideas, different passages, different books and authors.

So, as part of that, we’ll be starting a sermon series on June 11 entitled, “What’s His Name?” Now, writing the name of the series down doesn’t quite do it justice. To really understand the title, you need to imagine you’re having a conversation with a friend or a family member. As you’re talking, you say something about someone you know or know of — a friend of a friend, an old coworker, a famous person—but you can’t quite remember their name. So, you sit there, snap your fingers repeatedly, and say, “Oh, what’s his name? What’s his name?!” That’s the title of the sermon series — the snapping of the fingers, the feeling that you know this, and the question, “What’s His Name?

For this sermon series, we’re going to be looking at more obscure books of the Bible or more obscure passages from famous books (we’ll end with a passage from Luke’s gospel that almost never gets preached on). The idea behind this is pretty simple—there are some really interesting texts that don’t often get preached on. In prepping for this series, I ran across some interesting numbers related to which parts of the Bible get preached on and which ones don’t. These numbers are based on the passages chosen by the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). For those that may not know, the RCL is a three-year cycle of verses that cover most of the Bible. In other words, if you read through every passage selected by the lectionary, you’ll read most of the more famous passages from the Bible. In that sense, it can be a wonderful tool!

However, the RCL has some glaring gaps in the passages it chooses, with some books of the Bible being completely ignored (books like Nahum or Jude). To give you the numbers, the lectionary covers 72% of the entire New Testament. But when you break that down, the lectionary covers 90% of all four Gospels and only 54% of the non-Gospel parts of the New Testament. But, are you ready for the most glaring gap in the lectionary? If you exclude the times the RCL recommends one of the Psalms, the lectionary only covers 13.5% of the Old Testament. 13.5% of all those sacred scriptures! This summer, I hope we can remedy that. And I hope that by looking at some of these more obscure passages, you’ll be inspired to go and read some of the books of the Bible that maybe you haven’t thought of before!

Grace and peace,
Pastor Ben

The Legend of Zelda and Loneliness

Brothers and sisters,

As many of you know, last week a new video game that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time came out—The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Now, since it came out last Friday, I’ve spent a good chunk of my free time playing it and have thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m pretty sure I haven’t even gotten to the best parts yet! I haven’t beaten the game, so I don’t know the full story or what all the major themes of the game will be, but there is one theme that has already been explored and I want to talk about it.

Before I do that, though, I want to give you a little con-text about Tears of the Kingdom. See, it is a sequel to a previous Zelda game, which is a rarity in the Zelda franchise. Typically, each game is a stand-alone game with a new version of Hyrule (the fictional world you play in), a new version of Link (the character you play as), and a new version of Princess Zelda (who the series is named after). But since Tears of the Kingdom is a sequel, you play as the same version of Link from the previous game, called Breath of the Wild. And there’s an important change that has happened in Link’s life between the two games.

In Breath of the Wild (the first game), Link is alone. The brief version of the story is that Link has woken up to a Hyrule that has been devastated by a great evil. One hundred years ago, Link had fought against that great evil and lost, nearly dying in the process. The only reason he survived was because of fast thinking from Princess Zelda. In Breath of the Wild, Hyrule has been broken. Link’s memories of his friends have been erased. And the few people Link meets tend to blame him for the fall of Hyrule. He is able to make some friends along the way, but it is a game about grief, burden, loss, and redemption. And while it is an undeniably beautiful game and story, Link undeniably feels alone.

In Tears of the Kingdom, that has changed. Link and Zelda had managed to save Hyrule at the end of the first game and the citizens have begun to rebuild. And now, Link has friends. There are people who care about him and support him. When the game begins, Link has been missing for several months after being attacked by a new great evil threatening Hyrule. But when he makes it back to civilization, everyone he meets starts each conversation by saying they’re so glad Link’s back! They’re worried about the injuries he’s sustained. They caution him not to push himself too hard—they don’t want to lose their friend again. And it’s touching to see that so many of the people who care about Link in Tears of the Kingdom were friends he made in Breath of the Wild.

So, why bring up these two games? Because I appreciate the change they highlight. In Breath of the Wild, Link is made to feel like he is alone. In Tears of the Kingdom, it’s revealed that he isn’t. He has friends and allies who care about him. And I think that’s a good message for everyone to hear right now. You are not alone. If you are getting this newsletter, it’s because you are a member of Hope Valley Baptist Church, which means you have a whole host of brothers and sisters in Christ you can reach out to. You have a pastor whose phone is always on. If you ever need help, please reach out.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Ben

P. S. Once I beat Tears of the Kingdom, y’all can expect another nerdy Illuminator article!

Thanks All-Around

Brothers and sisters,

I want to do three things: thank everyone for helping with our events this month, remind folks of another chance to help out, and share an Easter poem that I appreciate.

First, thank you to everyone who came out to participate in the special Holy Week services we had at the beginning of the month! Between the Hand-Washing service, our Good Friday service, and the East-er Sunday Baptism service it was a wonderful week of worship and community with each other. Thank you to all the volunteers, musicians, and committees that came together to make those services what they were, in particular, the handbells, the Deacons, and the baptism committee. Again, these services were wonderful and they could not have been as meaningful as they were without the participation of so many people.

Another group I want to be sure and thank are the family ministry team and the missions team. They were the two groups that coordinated and led the church’s Easter Egg Hunt this year which was a success! We had twelve kids come out, make crafts, eat snacks, hear the Easter story, and hunt eggs. Thank you to everyone who helped plan that event out, prepare all the crafts, and then help the kids collect eggs. Also, thank you to everyone who filled Easter eggs this year or who donated money to help with this ministry. We were able to share abundantly with the kids because of you. Thank you!

With that in mind, I wanted to remind everyone again that we will be having our Church Yard Sale next Saturday, April 29 from 9 a.m. through 2 p.m. We still need plenty of volunteers to help out that day. You can come and help at different stations within the sale (housewares, books/DVDs, etc.), help with refreshments, or, if you’ve got a truck, you can come help carry anything leftover to Goodwill at the end of the day. You can also come and help out in the days leading up to the sale — setting up the gym, moving items into their stations, pricing, etc. But I’m looking forward to this because it gives us a chance to meet a wide array of people in our community. It allows us to see them and them see us.

In fact, all of the things I’ve mentioned in this article are instances where we, as a church, came together to tell people that they were seen. We came together to embody our faith, to live it out, because we understand that Christianity is not just an intellectual position to be held — it is a life that we live. And that is all based on the fact that we worship a risen Savior. That takes me to the poem I wanted to share with you all entitled, “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” and written by John Updike:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the
molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Ben

The CROP Walk

Brothers and sisters,

This past Sunday, I participated in my very first Durham CROP Hunger Walk! To say that I had a good time would be an understatement! It was a wonderful opportunity to get to go out and be a part of the wider Durham community as we came together to do our part to fight against hunger. There were hundreds of people there, all decked out in our CROP Walk swag. And, ac-cording to the CROP Walk website, they raised just under $125,000 to help fight hunger here locally and abroad.

What I appreciated most about the whole experience was the diversity of people, events, and education all around me. There were bands that played for us. There were dancers who performed. We were led through a stretching routine that reminded me of some of the dance moves from last year’s Vacation Bible School. I saw friends from seminary that I hadn’t caught up with in years. And, if I’m being honest, even a Tar Heel like me looked up at Duke Chapel and the flowers in bloom around it and thought, “Yeah, this place is kind of pretty, I guess.” And when we finally did start walking, it all reminded me of Holy Week.

CROP Walk happens on Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time. He came in to shouts of, “Hosanna,” and palms waving be-fore him. The people around him were filled with hope for what they thought he was going to do. And they were right to have hope, but Jesus was facing down a different enemy than they’d originally thought he would. Jesus rode into Jerusalem that day knowing full well that his week was going to end with a cross. He knew that at his last supper with his disciples, one of them would slip out to betray him. There were so many reasons for Jesus to stop walking. So many reasons for him to say, “How can anyone beat the power of sin? How can anyone conquer death?” But he kept walking.

In a similar way, we walked on Sunday knowing full well that we would not be able to defeat hunger on that one day. There will, most likely, al-ways be hungry people in our society. And there will, most likely, always be systems and structures that make it difficult for people to consistently feed themselves and their families. There are plenty of reasons to stop walking each year to end hunger. But there is always one reason to keep going—hope. We walked to raise money. We walked to raise awareness. We walked to make sure those who go hungry in our city and in our world do not go unseen. Christ walked into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday knowing that a cross await-ed him, but believing that there was life and hope on the other side. We walked on Sunday knowing that there would still be hungry people, but believing that if we keep walking, keep believing, keep hoping, that one day we might just see an end to hunger. That feels like an Easter message to me.

So, Palm Sunday next year is March 24—save the date!

Grace and peace,
Pastor Ben

Annual Gathering

Brothers and sisters,

By the time you’re reading this, I will be in Winston-Salem at the Annual Gathering for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina (CBFNC). For those that may not know what all happens at the Annual Gathering, this is basically CBFNC’s annual state meeting where ministers from CBF churches all over North Carolina come together to meet each other, worship together, go to workshops, and conduct business for the state de-nomination.

That description of it sounds too formal. At the Annual Gathering, I’ll get the chance to meet up with friends and colleagues from all over the state — people I haven’t seen since last year’s Annual Gathering. I’ll get a chance to hear how they’re doing and what their congregation has been up to over the last year. I’ll also get to meet new folks and build some new relationships. More likely than not, I’ll get to catch up with a group of people from a church I served at as an intern years ago (they send a group of about 6-8 people every year). It will be a wonderful time to see folks and let them know what good things we’re up to here at Hope Valley.

The workshops end up being wonderful opportunities to listen to other leaders from around the state or from around the country that have new and interesting ideas on things to do at church. They provide chances for those of us gathered there to talk about the things happening in our local contexts and encourage one another. There’s a saying, “Theology is done in community,” and the workshops provide that community.

And the worship services end up being wonderful moments where we can all come together and worship God together. All different people from all different contexts, bringing their gifts and their talents to bear to offer God honor and glory and praise. Preachers offer words of encouragement and challenge. Worship leaders provide musical experiences that are interesting, varied, and affirming. And testimonies offer even more insight into the incredible creativity of God’s people and God’s churches all across our state.

All in all, Annual Gathering is a great time of reflection, introspection, community, and inspiration. I’m sincerely looking forward to this Thursday and Friday.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Ben

A Sunday Afternoon Walk

Brothers and sisters,

This past Sunday, I had a unique opportunity. Normally, on the first Sunday of each month, we our Deacons meet to discuss our ministry together and how we can best serve the church moving forward. But, this week we were unable to meet, deciding instead to post-pone our meeting until this coming Sunday, March 12th (P.S. To any deacons that didn’t know that—Deacons Meeting this Sunday at 2:00 PM). Since it was a perfect day outside, I decided to go for a walk in a familiar place—UNC’s campus.

I parked on Franklin Street and made my way to-ward Carolina, taking in the spring air and enjoying the day. As I stepped onto campus near Pettigrew Hall, so many memories came flooding back. I walked past the music department where I had taken some of my favorite classes. I passed Davie Poplar and the Old Well—icons of the university. I would have lingered at each, but Davie was surrounded by a group of young people doing team-building exercises for some kind of organization and there was a young woman doing a graduation photoshoot at the Old Well. Moving on past South Building, I passed Carolina Hall, which houses the Religious Studies department. And I couldn’t help but smile as I remembered all the time I spent in that building. I remembered the way I was challenged there. I remembered how my love for digging into religious texts and history was fostered there. It was wonderful.

I passed through the Pit and Student Stores next, taking in just how much Carolina merch you can buy these days! Some made sense—shirts, blankets, mugs, etc. Some made less sense, like cheerleader outfits for dogs (and yes, outfits—plural!). I managed to get out of there with some money left in my bank account and made my way down to South Campus, where I passed by my old dorms and reminisced about late nights with friends, late nights with book and papers, and afternoons spent throwing a frisbee around. And as I made my way back up to Franklin Street, I was reminded of the “hill” in Chapel Hill!

I tell you all that not as an advertisement for UNC or anything like that. I tell you all about that because I remember the feelings that came over me as I walked the campus. It was a feeling of being at home, a feeling of nostalgia as I walked familiar paths, and a feeling of joy as I passed students and wondered what incredible experiences they were having. It was a day to revisit a part of the story of my life that was just wonderful. And so I wanted to ask you all, where are the places you feel that kind of joy? Where are the places you experience that sense of being “at home”? Where are the places that help you reconnect with the story of your life? Where are the places you feel close to God?
Grace and peace,
Pastor Ben


Brothers and sisters,
As the Christmas season wrapped up in the beginning of January, I remember saying to Robin and Kathryn, “Well, we’ve got a little time before Lent will be here this year.” Then, I blinked. And now, it’s Ash Wednesday!

The actual practice of coming to worship on a night like tonight and having ashes placed on one’s head dates back over a thousand years, with the earliest recorded mention of Ash Wednesday coming sometime in the 8th century. The ashes themselves are meant to signify several different things. In one sense, they are a reminder to us of the words of God to Adam after the Fall, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis
; emphasis mine). Thus, the ashes remind us of our own sinful nature and of our mortality.

In another sense, the ashes are meant as a sign of grief. We grieve over our own sins and understand that we ought to confess and repent. We grieve the brokenness of our world and acknowledge that there is so much work to be done to help people with their daily needs, as well as their spiritual needs. And we grieve that while we know God’s kingdom is coming, it has not come yet. And so the ashes can be understood as a sign of grief for the way things are, longing for the way things ought to be, and hope for the way things will be one day.

There’s one other interpretation of the ashes that I will put forth in my Ash Wednesday meditation tonight. I also see the ashes simply as a marker of who we are as Christians. They are outward signs of inward truths. Those truths? That we have decided to follow Jesus. That we understand that there is a cross that awaits us at the end of this season. That we choose to help others even when it may not be in our best interest. That we believe in the inherent dignity of all people, created by God in God’s own image. That we know that even if there is a crucifixion coming, even if our bodies are mortal, that Christ has already overcome death.

So, Ash Wednesday is kind of a strange day of the church calendar. It is a day on which we mark ourselves with a symbol the reminds us of our own mortality. The cross of ashes is a mark of death. But it is also a day on which we declare that death does not have the final say. Yes, we are all of us taken from the dust and to the dust we shall return, but there is still more beyond that moment. And in the meantime, the ashes convict us of our need to reach out to those who need help, to work for God’s kingdom in all that we do, and to remember that no matter how dark things can get—God is with us. Always. May we live into the truth of the Gospel during this Lenten season.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Ben

Souper Bowl and the Super Bowl

Brothers and sisters,

As I write this article, we are just a few days away from Super Bowl LVII between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles. I’m excited for the game! You’ve got a superstar quarterback in Patrick Mahomes going up against a team in Philadelphia that has few (if any) true weaknesses. Some pundits are excited over the possibility of a tight game. Others are serving up hot takes saying that the game’s going to be a blowout. Regardless, Sunday night will be fun!

Since the Super Bowl is this Sunday, I wanted to remind you all one last time that our church’s Souper Bowl of Caring will be wrapping up at morning worship. You can still bring needed food items on Sunday, February 12th (needed items are listed on the Souper Bowl of Caring announcement in this Illuminator). As part of this effort, we are going to ask the children on Sunday morning to help bring some of the food up to the altar as a tangible sign that we engage in these kinds of projects as part of our commitment to God and God’s kingdom. So, the children will walk down the aisles of the sanctuary on Sunday morning with a wagon. If you’d like to participate by placing some food in the wagon, be sure to sit near the aisle on your pew. You can either bring a food item to place in the wagon or we’ll be happy to bring you one before the service. I think this will end up being a wonderful way for our children to see the church at work and understand that everything we do is ultimately for God.

I will also tell you to stay tuned over the coming months as we begin to transition from winter to spring to summer. The staff and several committees are already working on opportunities for missions, for fellowship, and for special worship services. From the church yard sale, to special Lenten services, to the return of a little friendly competition between college fanbases, there’s a lot that will be happening at Hope Valley over the coming months!

Also, based on absolutely nothing but what I hope happens, I think Kansas City wins, 28-24, with Mahomes leading a touchdown drive in the last two minutes.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Ben

Opportunities for Delight

Brothers and sisters,

Two weeks ago, I wrote to you all about some of what we’ve been discussing in our Wednesday Night Bible Study meetings. We’ve been reading through the book Worship Come to Its Senses by Don E. Saliers and we’ve been thinking about some of the “senses” that Saliers says worship may be missing. Last night, we talked about some of what Saliers has written about the sense of delight that we can find in worship. And there was one phrase he used that sticks with me today. He talked about a Christian way of living into “the marriage of duty and delight.” And that can seem like a strange phrase, but I’ll give you an example that may seem a little weird at first, but bear with me.

Right now, I’m replaying one of my favorite games. It’s a cozy farming simulator called Stardew Valley. The plot is simple enough: your character was working a thankless job in the city when they learn that, in his will, their grandfather left them his old farm in Stardew Valley. As the player, you then go about the business of reviving your grandfather’s farm. It’s a really easy, relaxing game (so relaxing, in fact, that I sometimes fall asleep while playing it, dooming my character to run into the side of a mountain until I wake up). And there are so many amazing things you can do in the game! You can fight monsters and clear out old mines. You can restore the local community center and help revive not just your farm, but your whole community. You can build structures and plant your crops in such a way that you create a farm that not only produce lots of crops, but looks beautiful. And all that is wonderful—I take great delight in playing the game! But to get to all that, you have to do the basic things. Crops have to be watered. Weeds need to be cut away. Animals need to be fed. Resources have to be gathered. There is a certain sense of duty that goes along with Stardew Valley. Certain things have to be done on certain days. But if you master those basic things, you can see opportunities to do delightful things within the game. But is starts with your regular duties.

In a similar way, when we come to worship each week, even on those days we don’t necessarily feel like coming, we begin to see opportunities for delight. We become more familiar with the structure of worship and we can begin to see moments that bring us joy. When we come to worship regularly, we learn our favorite hymns and get to sense the joy that comes from hearing them sung by a room full of people. When we come to worship dutifully, we can hear the communion liturgy and internalize it, remembering the traditions of the church — the ones that teach us of God’s love — have been passed down for generations dating all the way back to the disciples themselves. When we come to worship regularly, we can learn about the things happening in each other’s lives and we can see the ways that God may be calling us to love our brothers and sisters, to reach out to our community, or to grow in our faith. And in doing all of that, we experience the joy and delight of a God who loves us deeply. The “marriage of duty and delight” is that understanding that God is with us in everything and because of that, we can take joy in everything.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Ben

Why do we worship?

Brothers and sisters,

As we start this new year, one of the things that has been on my mind a lot has been worship. Why do we worship? Why do we do the things we do in worship? What does our worship say about our relationship with God? As part of that process of thinking and wondering, I made my way back to an old favorite book of mine, Worship Come to Its Senses by Don Saliers. The book is short, but it asks a lot of good questions and offers a lot of meaningful insights into what it means to worship.

In fact, the book is so interesting, we are reading through it and talking about it during our Wednesday night meetings (you’re welcome to join us!). Last week, January 4th, we took a look at the introduction to the book and pondered this double question that Saliers offers, “What makes Chris-tian worship true and relevant, and how can our liturgical gatherings shape and express authentic Christian faith and life in the world of everyday?” (p. 13-14). And so, I wanted to offer you all some of my own opinion on those two questions. First, what makes Christian worship true and relevant comes down to the fact that we believe that God is present with us in worship. We cling to Christ’s promise that whenever Christians gather together, God is with them. And so the truth of any worship service comes from God. The service must be rooted in God or it can never begin to approach truth. The relevance of worship, then, has to come from us understanding that the God we encounter in worship is the same God we meet in our everyday lives. Worship is not something we do from 11:00-12:00 on Sun-day morning. The actions, the attitudes, the affirmations have to make their way out the door and into the world. Otherwise, worship is irrelevant at best.

That answer bleeds over into my opinion on the second part of Saliers’ double question—how can our liturgical gatherings shape and express authentic Christian faith and life in the world of everyday? I think the best way to answer this question is with an illustration. On Communion Sundays, we ask folks to grab a communion cup as they are coming into worship. The ushers don’t force anyone to take a cup, but they also don’t “verify” that a person “should” get a communion cup or not. They simply offer the cup. Because communion isn’t about making sure we’re worshiping with the “right” people. It’s about worshiping with everyone. As part of the liturgy on Communion Sundays, you’ll usu-ally hear me say something like, “The invitation to this table does not come from me or Hope Valley; it comes from Christ himself.” And that’s the truth. Christ calls us to share a meal with each other when we come to worship, regardless of who has come to worship. We fellowship together without asking questions. In other words, communion teaches us to love our neighbors regardless of who they are. It teaches us that grace is available to everyone because grace comes from God, not from us. It reminds us that Jesus understands the importance of fellowship and pushes us to create spaces of community together. That aspect of worship can genuinely affect our daily living in such a way that others see God through us—if we let worship shape our lives.

So, I offer Saliers’ double question to you all—what makes Christian worship true and relevant, and how can our liturgical gatherings shape and express authentic Christian faith and life in the world of everyday?

Grace and peace,

Pastor Ben