The winner of the 2017 Wilbur C. Ziegler Award for Excellence in Preaching is the Rev. Dr. Thomas Blackstone, pastor at Pleasant Street United Methodist Church in Waterville, ME.
Rev. Blackstone preached at the Annual Conference session on Saturday, June 17, 2017, on Matthew 15:21-28
, the story of the Canaanite woman
Speaking of her encounter with Jesus, Rev. Blackstone said:
Read Rev. Blackstone's complete sermon
“So here she is, the very embodiment of the outsider, the rejected one, whose exclusion from mercy came from the very lips of Moses himself, speaking for God, and she asks for the very thing that the Bible says she can’t have: Mercy. Not because she’s unworthy, not because she’s a bad mother, not because she has an evil reputation, but simply because … she was born that way: born on the wrong side of the racial, ethnic, tribal line that had stood for centuries.”
He points out that Jesus’s response to her, at first, is not what we may hope.
“It’s to Matthew’s credit that he doesn’t give us the inspired story we want
, but the inspired story we need
,” Rev. Blackstone said. “Jesus, for whatever reason, does what the body of Christ still
does when confronted with the one who doesn’t quite fit our definition of acceptable. Jesus, says … nothing. Dead silence.”
But when He does respond, Jesus praises not the woman’s obedience, but her faith, Rev. Blackstone said.
“By praising the greatness of this Canaanite woman’s faith
, by raising her up from the dust, by speaking to
her rather than about
her, by recognizing the image of God already in her soul, Jesus has set aside
policy, and has shown the church how
to be the Church of Jesus Christ when there’s a Canaanite, an outsider, an incompatible, a suffering brother or sister standing right there in front of us, asking for mercy,” he said. “It’s not about charity
, it’s about justice
And that lesson in how to be the Church is one we still need, Rev. Blackstone said.
– some of them our own children – are standing at the door of the church, longing to come in,” he said. “They are standing there, cautiously, because (despite our faults) they sense God
in us, someplace beneath all that silence, misinterpreted scripture, and prejudicial legislation. They can hear the authentic Jesus in our heritage and in our passion for mission, despite the racism and white privilege that gets in the way of our discipleship, and
they can hear the rush of the wind of the Spirit that we keep trying to squeeze into containers of fear so that it won’t change us.”
“It’s time to let that Spirit loose,” he said.
It’s time, Rev. Blackstone continued, to let “
Jesus strip away the false narratives of the church that we’ve told ourselves, who’s in and who’s out …”
“And if this
church can find that
Jesus and let him break our sinful selves open yet one more time, and put us back together with a lot less
judgement and a lot more
justice, mercy, and faith, then maybe some of those Canaanites will do us
the honor of crossing
the threshold, standing
by our side, and reminding
us that God wants them here because of the greatness
of their faith: And as they
walk in the door (hear this now!), it’s time for folks like me, who are invested in and benefit from the status quo
, it’s time for folks like me to stop
talking … and listen … and change. It’s our only hope.”
About the Award
The Wilbur C. Ziegler Award for Excellence in Preaching is given each year to a pastor who demonstrates “excellence in preaching the whole Gospel, addressing both personal and social salvation.” The honoree is then invited to preach at Annual Conference. The award was created in 1981 by the Mathewson Street United Methodist Church in Providence, RI.
See a list of past Ziegler Award recipients