My hope for Duke Chapel is that we would continue to be a place and people of mediation. That we would embody hospitality towards all kinds of different worshipping traditions: High Church, Low Church, and “no church” folks. I want us to be a beloved community, representing the beauty of God.
Article-interview by Peter Menkin
It is almost trite to say Christians enjoy a good sermon. But those who go to worship at Duke University Chapel have the pleasure and good fortune of having strong preachers with a Christian message. The new Dean of the Chapel is in this line of quality preachers, and his administrative skills are not only sound, but up to the task as the months that have passed from his entry in 2012 to this 2013 demonstrate. This Religion Writer has heard of no complaint.
This big job in what is really a large building serves the larger community around the school as well as the University. The new Dean Luke Powery is part of that line of pastors serving both communities. The interview with him done by phone, starting October, 2012 and stretching to this day in April, 2013, tells us much of his ability to pastor and his plans for the Chapel. These segments of conversation in interview were done with Dean Powery from this Religion Writer’s home office in Mill Valley, California, but 11 miles north of San Francisco, to the Dean at his office in the Chapel located in Durham, North Carolina.
One thing noted by the American Press in general of the new Dean Luke Powery is that he is an African-American. Apparently such public information still merits notice, and this is good for he is the first African-American Dean at the University. Times change. There is an African-American in charge who was chosen for his fine work as a Pastor, his administrative skills, and because of his ability to give a Sunday sermon or not.
Not only is his language contemporary in his sermons, sometimes enriching, but his very presence as Dean contemporary as a statement of the times. This Religion Writer thought his background and that he is an African-American brought not only a uniqueness to his importance, but more so, his brilliant grasp of affairs and his meaningful sermons so unique in some ways, yet contemporary and traditional in matters of substance and ways.
There are YouTube with this story to enrich readers with their video presence. See for yourself the Dean speak from the pulpit. He is reputed a preacher to hear. The Dean in the pulpit was a pleasure for my ears, especially in his occasional use of the creative phrase which I as journalist and writer noted in listening while watching a YouTube of him in action as Preacher.
In a background interview by phone made prior to the interview, Dean Powery said:
I am beginning to view here my ministry as one of mediation. This may become … this could become an overarching theme, and by that I mean bringing together all kinds of people, high church folk, low church folk, no church folk…(the various schools), bridging university people and community people. It’s even bridging various art forms, and the roles the arts play here. At my installation there was two pieces at the choir, but we also had a choral piece where we used steel drums. That we had the organ and the steel drums in the service speaks volumes about what the church is about.
In another part of a conversation with him, I likened onto this phrase of his: This is an ongoing mission. We have a staff of about 25 in the chapel. Mission is important, if not first ranking with him and he was on it right away.
The Duke University website about the Chapel says: Located on Duke University’s West Campus, Duke Chapel is as magnificent in structure as it is rich in ministry. Construction of the Chapel was begun in October of 1930 and completed two years later. During that time students continually congregated at the stonemasons’ huts to watch the Chapel take shape. It was first used for Commencement in 1932 and was formally dedicated on June 2, 1935.
This quote from the website is very telling for it gives some substance to the fact the University has a strong sense of the need for Worship in the Christian community. Granted the Chapel is non-denominational, but it is clearly Christian: Duke Chapel is one of the most visible chapels among leading research universities in the United States. Regular Sunday attendance during semesters is around 1,000, rising to 1,500 for special occasions, and 3,500 for Easter. This vibrant participation makes the Chapel as exciting a context as any in which to address the opportunities and challenges facing all faiths in contemporary America. With a highly talented and motivated staff, Duke Chapel works hard to be an exemplary institution in worship, music, and ministry—engaging all to look to the future with faith, gratitude, and hope.
You may also find this a worthwhile to read interview, as this Religion Writer found it a well worthwhile act of work in holding.
INTERVIEW WITH NEW DEAN OF DUKE CHAPEL THE REVEREND DOCTOR LUKE POWERY WITH RELIGION WRITER PETER MENKIN
1. Congratulations on becoming the new Dean of Duke University Chapel. This is a two part question, and the first is about your predecessor. Talk to us some about his work, and how that work bears on the work you will do as new Dean. If you like, speak of the tradition you will bring forward, and in the short time you’ve been Dean, what your first impressions of the job may be as you’ve found it. The second question, tell us something of how you prepare a sermon for Sunday, for this Religion Writer has heard you give a good sermon. For example, do you begin the work the week before, and do you look at the readings primarily for inspiration. This isn’t a request for tips, it is more to discover something of your own reflections on the work of homiletics you’re going to do and have done, either recently or in the past.
To answer the first part of that question, there are two things that stand out in my mind regarding my predecessor, Sam Wells. Those two emphases are: outreach to Durham and the wider community, and an initiative called Faith Council, which focuses on interreligious dialogue and interfaith engagement. There is also, of course, the great tradition of preaching and liturgy that has been a part of the Chapel’s Sunday worship for a long time now.
The Chapel’s Religious Life Program oversees and engages with a variety of religious groups on campus. Some of those groups included in the Faith Council are: Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, and Protestant traditions. We also have a student ministry called PathWays, which is multidimensional, involving mentorship and classroom-work as well as public service.
The Chapel is pastoral, administrative, academic, and has a public voice in the community (Durham, North Carolina, and beyond) in which it serves. It offers a mosaic approach to ministry. Compared to other major universities, Duke Chapel is a distinct place with a kind of vibrancy that interplays on many layers. A sign of some of that involvement can be seen on a weekly Sunday basis. We have close to 1000 people in the pews, which is quite unusual for a University Chapel. We accomplish this through great support through offerings, private donations, endowments and the University, and by remaining open to new ideas.
To answer the second part of that question, for me, the first step in sermon preparation is prayer. Before I even approach the Biblical text I approach God with an open ear and heart. With that posture, I begin a conversation with scripture by doing my exegetical work of history and literature, and closely reading the text itself. In some ways, I am reading the world as I engage the text—what’s going on at Durham, at Duke, what’s happening in the news—and asking myself, “What is one way that this passage intersects with this human life?” Once I discern the answer to that question, the challenge becomes easier. Then it’s time to decide how I am going to put the sermon together, not only how I will share the Biblical text, but how I will share it as a word of hope, with God’s help.
My experience and nurturing — my entire formation — has been highly ecumenical. I am ordained in the Baptist tradition and I grew up in the Pentecostal Church. My own academic interest and writing has focused on the Holy Spirit (pneumatology). My upbringing shaped that interest and while it includes Pentecostalism, I also strive to see beyond Pentecostalism as well. I’ve found ways to broaden my own experience via the work of Jurgen Moltmann, gleanings from the episcopal tradition, and the early church traditions—especially the Eucharist. There is a deep sense that without the Holy Spirit not much work of worth can happen in our lives. The Spirit is vital; the breath of God is vital. The Spirit crosses Christian traditions and helps to bring us together.
2. No Doubt the Chapel is a beautiful place, and the music excellent. I think readers, like congregants, are always interested in the music of worship. Just like music journalists ask musicians of the popular kind, tell
us as a minister of worship what hymns are favorites of yours, and something about your own faith experience in worship when it comes to the integration of choir and liturgy. Please feel free to give concrete examples, and even quote lyrics, if you wish.I have a degree in music and also grew up in a musical family; so much of my education came through the medium of music. I came from the apostolic tradition, where music is the handmaiden of theology. So for me music was always a vital part of the worshipping community. I experienced singing preachers who sang in the beginning of the sermon, the middle of the service, and the end of the service. So I learned that music comes from the preacher, not just from the choir.
At this moment, Here I am Lord is the phrase I find myself singing most. It is a song found in several hymnals. I first heard it at a memorial service, and I sang it as a farewell call in a church in Switzerland. In one Chapel Choir rehearsal we sang the words and it held great meaning for me. The other hymn is an African American Spiritual, Soon I will be done with the Troubles of the World, which is a mixture of the human reality of trouble, and struggles as we hope in God. “No more weeping and a-wailing.”
Music is so much a part of worshipping God at Duke Chapel. Sometimes when the song feels really meaningful, the organist will pick up the tune and incorporate it into the recessional music.
3. Of your background and the reason for your answering the Call to be Dean, speak to us about your own preparation (in the spiritual and religious sense) for the decision to do so, and something of your journey toward your accepting the Call and being installed as Dean of the Chapel. I think everyone likes to hear a pilgrimage story, and this Religion Writer suspects answering a Call as important as the one you answered is a pilgrimage. Is it not?My father has said, “Take a song on a journey.” So, I feel that I’ve always been on a journey. In terms of my own calling, I was always in conversation with friends, family, a community of people (obviously my wife!), but this particular call to Duke came out of nowhere. We were not looking to move when it came on our radar, so conversations with friends and others became critical. I needed to smell the air and meet the people, so we came down from New Jersey to visit. And for the first time since the opportunity arose, I got a sense of the possibility of coming to Duke, of moving south. I became aware of the geographical change – of the shifting in the intellectual landscape. And now that I’ve been here, I can even see a trajectory change in my own writing and research. It is a different geographical location both literally and metaphorically.
There is a book I am co-authoring with Fortress Press out of Princeton: An Introduction to Preaching. My co-author is Presbyterian; I’m a Baptist. I’m Black; she’s Caucasian. And in our conversations with each other and the text we are writing, we are taking context seriously. It will be coming out in the fall of 2014 and I’m sure some of what I’m saying about geographical location will show up on those pages.
4. So much of the work of a Chapel is work with students. Talk to us about the work of the student in his or her community life, and especially campus life. Especially note the place of worship and, in particular, the Chapel in the spiritual and religious life of a student at Duke University. Is it similar to the work of other University school chapels?The heart of any university is really its students. So the ministry that is done attempts to facilitate the spiritual life of students. Some of the Chapel staff teaches and engages students in the classroom, with the hopes of integrating their intellectual and the spiritual worlds. Others on staff primarily engage students by meeting with them one on one, and facilitating small groups discussions outside of the classroom. These activities happen primarily through PathWays and Religious Life. PathWays promotes vocational discernment and spiritual analysis, that asks students to ask: “What is God up to? How is God calling me? What does God have to do with all this?” Students in PathWays and other Religious Life groups have a lot of opportunities to decide where to “plug in” to the community at large, whether its mission trips, community service, interfaith dialogue, or a service project directly connected to their spiritual life and field of study.
A service of worship in Duke University Chapel. The Rev. Dr. Luke Powery delivers a sermon entitled “Why Are You Afraid?” Mark 4:35-41 Bulletin: http://bit.ly/LLIIyK
5. As we come to the end of our conversation by phone, and we have learned something about your faith, work and even your Sunday sermon work, now is the time to talk about anything you like. Is there anything I have not asked, of you that you want to say? Thank you for your time and the opportunity to make your acquaintance in this interview.My hope for Duke Chapel is that we would continue to be a place and people of mediation. That we would embody hospitality towards all kinds of different worshipping traditions: High Church, Low Church, and “no church” folks. I want us to be a beloved community, representing the beauty of God. In my own formation, this idea comes from the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr., where it is God’s community, God’s diversity, which includes all genders and classes of people in the crossing of boundaries for the glory of God. Wesley would say that we come to this through works of mercy. So that is what we will strive to do. But we will always be working toward it, because it never fully arrives. For, in the end, the beloved community is the home of God.
This unusual sermon for Easter given by The Reverend Doctor Luke Powery is certainly a statement about the secular culture and the popularity of the American writer Anne Lamott’s work as a Christian and woman of faith. But after all, she as a very good and readable, popular writer who as artist embodies so many of the attitudes and tastes of so many seekers and erstwhile Christians today. When I think of this sermon, I think it almost an exaggeration of the Dean’s unique style and that it almost matches author Anne Lamott widespread fame and well read, many sold, books about Christianity. To a degree, it is given to catch the ear of students. For is not that the primary business of the Chapel’s work?
Why Are You Weeping?
A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013 at Duke Chapel
Mary Magdalene has forgotten that it is Easter. According to one writer, there are three essential prayers—help, thanks, and wow (Anne Lamott). Easter is supposed to be a wow Sunday. Right? Can I have a few witnesses to say ‘wow’? But, Mary makes it a woe-is-me Sunday, not a wow Sunday. Come on, Mary, don’t rain on our Easter parade today or dampen the mood of our party. Don’t wrinkle our frilly dresses or mess up our new fancy hairdos or crush our favorite white Easter lilies. O Mary don’t you weep. But that’s exactly what she does “early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark.” Mary “stood weeping outside the tomb” in a pool of tears that drench this story. One commentator says that this biblical text is “awash in tears” (Allen Callahan). The pages of the pericope are still seemingly moist with Good Friday sorrow. But it is trumpet-tongued, brass-blasting Easter at Duke Chapel! Yet Mary reveals that we are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world. Mary “stood weeping outside the tomb.” Weeping is more than tears; it includes wailing and lamentation for the dead. It’s an ancient Jewish expression of mourning and grief.
Why does Mary weep? She says, “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” Mary does not weep as a sign of the penitence of the gift of tears nor does she weep over the bitter division in this country over human equality. Mary weeps because she mourns the loss of Jesus. The God she knew is gone. I did not say she mourned the death of Jesus in this case, because Jesus was already dead. She weeps because Jesus is lost. The One, who declared his university major to be finding the lost, was lost himself, and she couldn’t find him. Her weeping, or what John Donne calls “fruits of much grief,” flow because of the presence of the absence of Jesus. Jesus is MIA, missing in action. Mary had gone to the tomb because that was where she was used to finding Jesus, the dead Jesus, the impotent Jesus, the Jesus- who-does-not-meddle-in-my-life-Jesus, comfortable and cozy Jesus. Mary had become used to the place of death so she weeps because what she had come to expect had shifted all of sudden and everything she knew, Jesus, was gone. She weeps due to a nostalgic disorientation.
“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Mary still expects to find a dead Jesus in a dark tomb, located in the same old place and acting in the same old way. Controlled, cold, numb, and locked in a grave cave. Mary has forgotten that it is Easter. She weeps because she has lost what she has known to be reality, the usual place where she thought she could find Jesus forever—in a mausoleum manger. “They have taken away my Lord,” my personal Jesus, my concept of who Jesus is. I wish I could return to the days when it was as simple as ‘Jesus is the answer,’ a simpler way, no complexity to theology, no unanswered questions because the ‘bible tells
me so,’ the good ole days when I ruled God from the throne of my own anxiety, and wrapped an entombed Jesus, not in swaddling clothes, but in a psychological safety blanket. That dead Jesus was gone for Mary. Where she left him, he could no longer be found. The Jesus she knew and believed in was lost, the tame Jesus of her childhood, the one with blond hair, blue eyes, and a pointy nose on the fans used in the country church. Her Jesus, her Lord, was lost. The one she understood. The dead Jesus laying in a dead place. A Good Friday world for an Easter people.
This is in stark contrast to what Anne Lamott dreams about in her book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. She dreams of an Easter like the resurrection vision of a child in Sunday School who drew an Easter Bunny, not Mary, outside of the empty tomb, joining eternal life with a basket full of chocolate eggs. With that vision, the tomb would be tasty. Yummy yummy to my tummy. What an Easter it would be— chocolate, white chocolate with macadamia nuts, dark chocolate melted over strawberries, Hershey chocolate ice cream cake, chocolate-covered grits with scrambled eggs. Maybe or maybe not. Either way, scientists have argued for years how eating sweet chocolate makes us feel good and is more pleasurable than listening to your favorite music or winning the lottery or even falling in love (don’t let your
significant other know that secret!). Chocolate can lift you to heights you’ve never seen before, they say. And a 2012 article in the New England Journal of Medicine argues that chocolate consumption contributes to one becoming a Nobel Prize winner; with this theory, we probably have a house full of Nobel Laureates!
Anne Lamott dreams of a chocolaty Easter—innocent, child-like, and care-free full of chocolate fountains flowing deep and wide outside of the tomb with the Easter bunny as the doorman. This is a dream. Not the reality she knows. On the contrary, she’s not surprised by Mary’s weeping in a Good Friday world.
Mary, not the Easter bunny, stood outside the tomb, without a basket full of chocolate eggs, but carrying despair and hope in the chest of her heart. Mary weeps because she finds herself in a Good Friday predicament on Easter morning. What else can she do in this situation? She could post a jazzy and flashy neon-colored flyer with Jesus’ picture on it and put “Missing” at the top and hang it outside of the Bryan Center; but how could she do that when it seems as if Mary doesn’t even know what Jesus looks like anymore? She had lost Jesus or at least her conception of him. She had gotten so used to a dead Jesus that a living Jesus was a stranger to her. And how strange this is when Mary learns how to weep from Jesus who wept at the tomb of Lazarus. She picks up where he left off—weeping. Mary loves Jesus and her tears are signs of that grieving love. But maybe the flood of tears blinds her eyes so she doesn’t recognize Jesus when Jesus asks her face to face, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She “saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.” She sees him but doesn’t see him with the eyes of faith. You can love someone but once that person changes you may not recognize him/her anymore. They may be so different because death and life are different. A dead Jesus is distinct from a living Jesus. UNC’s men’s basketball is different from Duke’s men’s basketball, and we know who’s dead and who’s still alive in the tournament! Jesus had changed clothes because he was alive and shook off the sting of death’s designer attire. Death’s clothing won’t fit on a living God. Jesus left his tomb linen suit in the deathbed of the grave and was now wearing living clothes of light.
The question “Whom are you looking for?” suggests that the real issue was that Mary was looking for the wrong Jesus, a powerless dead Jesus in a cold tomb, just laying there. Not a living risen Jesus and Lord. She doesn’t recognize him because she wasn’t used to a living risen Jesus. She looked for him in the wrong places and had gotten used to a God who lies dead, inactive. A small, lifeless Jesus she could control and even carry around as she offers to take him away, if she can find out where he lays. But the living Jesus looks right at her.
Then Comedy Central arrives in the midst of a tragic time. After Jesus asks her why she’s weeping and who she’s looking for, Mary speaks to him “supposing him to be the gardener.” She’s talking to the incarnate God but thinks he’s a gardener. That’s like walking around in a department store shopping and someone asks you if you know what row the Clorox bleach is on; and you weren’t even wearing an employee nametag. What made Mary think that Jesus was a gardener? Was it his tattered clothes or his accent or his humble demeanor, or his skin color or his body odor? Was it that he resembled God in the Garden of Eden? Was it the sweat on his brow or the scars on his hands? A gardener? That’s like someone saying to me, ‘you look like a preacher.’ What’s that supposed to mean!? You can’t always judge a book by its cover. The writer of Hebrews teaches us not to neglect showing hospitality to strangers because by doing so some have entertained angels without knowing it. Mary was entertaining the resurrected God but she didn’t know it. She saw a gardener.
According to various accounts, Sir Winston Churchill did not have the greatest relationship with his parents. As a young boy, he was berated by his father and told that he would grow up to be a failure. They perceived him to be less than what he was. What they saw, he was not. On top of that, he had a speech impediment and was discouraged by some of his teachers; sadly, most of us have probably had a teacher or a school counselor like that, who only knew how to be a midwife for stillborn hope. Yet, Churchill became one of the major 20th century leaders in the world. You can’t judge a book by its cover. Too small. Too big. Too tall. Too short. Too thick. Too thin. Too loud. Too soft. Too uneducated. Too unsophisticated. Too human to be divine.
Jesus can be right in front of us but we don’t recognize him because we think he’s just a yard maintenance man. Our lack of recognition keeps us weeping in the dark of dawn. Even when resurrection comes, we may not recognize it because we’ve become so used to, so familiar with crucifixions, dying and death. And as the psychologists have taught—familiarity breeds liking. Liking death can become the norm when we hold membership at the Jerusalem temple of the tomb. Those who attend services there are dead too among the saintly zombies or at least counting down to the date of their death on the website, deathclock.com. No wonder weeping occurs. That is, weeping over our own death. Perhaps Mary weeps because a part of her dies when Jesus died. I don’t know but I do know that she weeps because of disorientation due to losing her Jesus, the dead Jesus. But she’s the one who’s really lost because she doesn’t know resurrection when it’s even staring her in the face.
Good Friday weeping on Easter intrigues me, but I guess it makes sense since my former students at Princeton Seminary used to call me the ‘doctor of death.’ Mary’s weeping is fascinating and I wonder something else about her weeping. Unwittingly perhaps, Mary weeps even as a
deep yearning for the return of Christ. In fact, she weeps for resurrection and as a summons, an invocation for the presence of the risen Lord. She doesn’t know this but her tears are prayers. Sometimes we cry and we don’t even know why. We’re weeping for resurrection. And just as “at the tomb of Lazarus, [Jesus’] tears inaugurated the triumph of life over death. So too, tears inaugurate the triumph of life over death here” (Callahan). In this context, we are reminded of the words of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25).
Jesus, the one who rises and calls us by name (“Mary!”) even if we don’t recognize him, even if we think he’s still dead. He’s calling you. The risen, living Jesus refuses to be imprisoned in death’s solitary confinement. This living Jesus cannot be controlled by our theological paradigms or ecclesial traditions embalmed in a tomb. We won’t find the living Lord of light there, dressed in death’s dingy clothes. Jesus is alive and on the move in the world, which is why he tells Mary “Do not hold on to me.” You can’t control me. You can’t hold me down or hold me back or keep me dead and useless. There’s too much work to do in the world. Too much interceding and healing and comforting and reconciling. Bringing peace in the midst of conflict. Love where there is hatred. Justice where there is oppression. “Do not hold on to me” with your sanctified straightjacket. Release me for the work of redemption. To ascend to the Father in order to lift you higher. Don’t look for me at the tomb. You’ll look for me and I’ll be gone. I’m not there. I won’t bring you back to the way it was because I’m no longer dead. “The way out of the darkness is only by moving ahead” (Craig Barnes) into my resurrection light. Don’t dwell on the memories of the past, but remember the future I have for you.
Why are you weeping? Mary weeps not because she fears death but because she fears life, the new adventurous, unpredictable, resurrected life and future in Christ. The old, lost, dead predictable, comfortable ways, dead Jesus, had passed away. Behold, the living Jesus was making all things new. Weeping for all things new. A new start, a new beginning, a new day, when there would be no more tragedy and agony. All things new. What we see in the flesh of the risen Lord is God’s embodied promise that a new day has begun in Christ and that resurrections still happen. All things new. A new start with your family that had fallen apart. A new job when you’ve just lost a job. A new dream for your life when you thought all you were capable of were nightmares. A new medical invention that may actually help cure cancer. All things new.
Because Jesus got up, we can get up, as he lifts us up as he ascends to the Father. Mary was down but when Jesus calls her name he lifts her spirit up, he wakes her up, he resurrects her, which is why she had been weeping for resurrection all along. Mary hoped for all things new. Mary’s weeping ceases in the presence of the resurrected Christ who resurrects her when he calls her name. She was dead but in that moment he made her alive. She no longer needed a dead Jesus because the living One was right in front of her. Mary had “seen the Lord” and her life was never the same again. She became an apostle to the apostles.
After all she had been through in the past this was an unexpected future. We can’t control the future but Christ leads us into the future and holds the future. We can’t hold on to him because he’s actually holding us. Why are you weeping? O Mary don’t you weep, mothers don’t you weep, fathers don’t you weep, sons don’t you weep, daughters don’t you weep, students don’t you weep, faculty don’t you weep, facility workers don’t you weep, coaches don’t you weep, university administrators and staff don’t you weep. Because in the life of the risen Christ we pass from death to life, from death’s tomb to God’s triumph, from an old age to the inauguration of a new one. An age when “[God] will wipe every tear from [our] eyes.” An age when “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” An age when we just might have chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Mary had forgotten Easter in her Good Friday world. But she no longer weeps and we no longer have to sing, “O Mary don’t you weep.” For weeping may endure for the night but Easter joy comes in the morning. This morning. Jesus is not dead. He is alive. I told you it was a wow Sunday. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Not even Easter bunny chocolate can beat that. Alleluia!
Easter Sunday Worship – 3/31/2013 – 11AM – Luke Powery
This work appeared originally Church of England Newspaper, London by Peter Menkin. Contact author Peter Menkin: firstname.lastname@example.org