Saint Paul Brown

March 2, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, My favorite preacher, Question of the Week, Spotlight Answers by Mitzi Minor

I’m more likely to have favorite sermons instead of favorite preachers. But since the topic is preachers, and Paul Brown preached two of my all time favorite sermons, I’m choosing to thank God for sharing Paul with us for a time.

Paul was a Cumberland Presbyterian Minister and Professor of Worship & Preaching at MTS when I joined the faculty in 1993. At various times in his life he’d taught drama and also New Testament. And he could sing. When you put those gifts together with his passion for the gospel, his activist perspective (which grew from his gospel passion), and his biting sense of humor, you have an extraordinary preacher. I can still see him: leaning over a pulpit, eyes intense, finger in the air, gray-white hair flopping over his forehead, building to the moment when he delivered his punch line which invariably pierced my heart.

He had the guts to preach an Advent sermon on the “slaughter of the innocents.” “Whenever God acts in the world,” Paul said, “the world is going to act like Herod. You best be ready!” In another sermon he told of being a 2nd grader in a new school, getting into trouble because he didn’t quite fit in, & the teacher who understood, intervened, & saved him from a trip to the principal’s office. “She was Jesus to me,” he said. Then he charged us, “Go out & be somebody’s Jesus!”

My colleague Lee Ramsey speaks often of “Saint Paul Brown.” I concur! He isn’t a saint to me because of anything like perfection. He’s a saint to me because he thought widely and loved deeply, because he preached the gospel with his whole self, which is also how he lived the gospel. I am farther along on my spiritual journey because I knew Paul and heard him preach. I am blessed. I am grateful.


Dr. James Forbes

March 2, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, My favorite preacher, Question of the Week, Spotlight Answers by Ron McDonald

My favorite preacher is my father, Charles McDonald, whom I loved, although my favorite sermons were two of James Forbes’.  The first was a sermon that touched me as a young man, full of doubts and questions.  Wanting to be left alone I snuck into the normally unused balcony because I had heard he was a good preacher.

Though I didn’t expect to be inspired, when he left his text and began to speak from his heart, he built on the image of “I don’t care.”  “I don’t care if you have…” doubts, bitterness, fears, wounds.  He didn’t say there was a place in the church for a man like me, but I knew that there was at least one man, James, who accepted me just as I was.  That stuck with me.

Thirty years later I heard him preach at Calvary’s Lenten series on why God chose Memphis as the place where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would preach his last sermon.  He said it was because this is the place where the Civil Rights movement could be transformed from political action to spiritual action, for this was/is a town full of spirit.  He didn’t say that we had to be good, but it helped me accept and embrace who we are:  an earthy, dissent-filled, wounded, and joyful city of seekers and scoundrels.  We have to be humble, and that is good.


Alan Jones

March 2, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, My favorite preacher, Question of the Week, Spotlight Answers by Andy Andrews

I appreciate the preacher who can cast the large vision of God’s mysterious, benevolent and transformative activity in our complicated 21st-century world. Alan Jones, former dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, has this gift. He has a keen social critique, pointing out our missteps and fragility. All the while, he is radically optimistic about the future by always highlighting God’s endless love for each of us.


Jesus, then Stuart Smith

March 2, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, My favorite preacher, Question of the Week, Spotlight Answers by Mark Matheny

Second most favorite after Jesus (hey, that Sermon on the Mount is dynamite!), was Stuart Smith. He officiated at the wedding of my beloved Emily and myself. His dear sister gave me a fine collection of his sermons. He evinces a remarkable knack for finding universal truths in the midst of a narrow-minded culture. He also embodied gentleness and kindness alongside his sharp intellect.


Dr. Fred Craddock

March 2, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, My favorite preacher, Question of the Week, Spotlight Answers by Richard Smith

My favorite preacher, without question, is Dr. Fred Craddock; now 85 and retired as the Bandy Distinguished Professor of Preaching and New Testament at Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

He was discouraged from becoming a preacher because he was short, had a soft voice, and didn’t “bring the thunder.”  He once said, “No one wants to listen to pulpit bullies, behaving as though they had walked all around God and taken pictures.”

Instead, he brought the Bible to life with winsome, honest, down to earth stories out of his own personal experiences; all the while serving as an astute theologian and Biblical scholar.

He brings you into the story so that you yourself can hear God’s voice and word for your personal journey.  In the end, his stories lead you closer to God and to your own needed responses.


Rev. Leo Gray Sr.

March 2, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, My favorite preacher, Question of the Week, Spotlight Answers by L. LaSimba Gray, Jr.

My favorite preacher is my father, the late Rev. Leo M. Gray Sr. He lived the word as he preached the word.

I grew up with seven siblings and we  never needed anything. We never ate a meal without his blessings and we never went to bed without his presence in the house. No matter how late we stayed out at night, he waited until we got home.

He was a hard worker but knew how to manage money and save money. He made God first in our family. When the streets were not passable on Sunday Mornings, my father conducted church services in our living room.

He taught me to hunt and fish. How to grow watermelons in a garden. He bought an old 1951 Ford sedan and had my two brothers and me help him rebuild the engine.

He provided wise counsel during my troubled spots of adolescence. He was always there and through him I learned the power of ministry through presence.

When it came to announcing my calling to ministry, he lead me to the altar and told me what to say: “Tell the church what God has called you to do son.” As I made my announcement, he shouted for joy.

I miss him greatly, but I still benefit from the nuggets of his wisdom: “Every tub has to sit on it’s own bottom”; “Watch your company, know where they are going before you join in”; and “Do right, son, and good will follow you”.

Daddy, I am still trying to be just like you.


Rabbi Howard Greenstein

March 2, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, My favorite preacher, Question of the Week, Spotlight Answers by Micah Greenstein

Rabbi Howard Greenstein was the greatest preacher I have ever known. Part of what kept him great was that he never knew how extraordinary he really was!

He was the only rabbi to ever sing in the chorus of the New York Metropolitan Opera; he knew there was no job security in opera, so he became the rabbi whose speaking and singing voice “pierced the heavens.”

When a rabbi preaches or sings, the question is not, “How well does he play the role?” but rather, “Does he move my soul?” My father’s preaching voice stirred the conscience; his singing voice stirred the soul.

He was even teaching through his preaching twenty days before he died. The title of his final sermon was “When Life Is Worthwhile.” My father didn’t know these would be his final words, but perhaps God did.

“You don’t have to have a particular talent for religion to be a spiritually remarkable person; you only need to be fully human and willing to accept defeat and disappointment. You only need to find the courage to care. In that blessing alone, the courage to care, is the secret of immortality. Forever is the kind of future that can be for all of us. It all depends on what we do here and now.”

On October 22, 2006, my dad died in my arms. Beside the bed was an ethical will which ended with these words. The clearest evidence for the presence of God is the light and radiance deep within you, son. Don’t ever let that light go out.

I guess my favorite preacher’s voice isn’t silent in death after all. It still sings, teaches, and inspires me- every day.


Dr. Cliff Estes

March 2, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, My favorite preacher, Question of the Week, Spotlight Answers by Shane Stanford

My favorite preachers are worlds apart in terms of time periods and styles. But, they both have had the greatest impact on my own preaching and ministry.
First, I came to know the Lord under the teaching of Dr. Cliff Estes.  Dr. Estes is now an evangelist in Shreveport, La.  Unlike my more ‘teacher centered model’, Dr. Estes had a fiery style but was also one of the best at exegesis.  I would come home from church as a little boy and set up the living room like church and start to preach.  My family grew rather weary of ‘so much church’ on one Sunday.
Second, when I went to theology school, my advisor was a scholar in the sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  I had grown up in a community that had struggled greatly with race relations and my church was still segregated.  In fact, I left my church at 16 because they refused to allow a friend (who was African American) to join.  That is when I became a United Methodist.

However, under Dr. Richard Lischer (Professor of Preaching) at Duke University, I fell in love with the sermons of Dr. King.  To me, he was the most powerful ‘preacher’ I have ever heard. I realize there were so many other layers to Dr. King in his amazing work, but his role as preacher truly shaped a generation.


Barbara Lundblad

March 2, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, My favorite preacher, Question of the Week, Spotlight Answers by Steve Montgomery

Barbara Lundblad, Professor of Homiletics at Union Theological Serminary in New York and frequent Calvary Lenten preacher, has all the gifts of preaching that I look for: imaginative looks at familiar biblical stories, enabling me to hear them as I have never heard before; solid theological grounding that is enlivening; passionate presentations that demonstrate authenticity; witty, often-humorous, but always profound storytelling; and an uncanny ability to speak the truth, all the while being pastoral and prophetic at the same time.  In her sermons I find God’s grace through and through–grace that empowers me (hopefully) to preach in ways that are transformative for individuals and communities alike.


Dr. Robert Smith

March 2, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, My favorite preacher, Question of the Week, Spotlight Answers by Carol Richardson

When I reflect back on the influential preachers in my life, I remember those who “preached” with their kind and compassionate lives. Dr. Robert Smith, Professor of Preaching at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL, is such a preacher and teacher. Dr. Smith skillfully led me through the basics of preaching as a faltering, older female divinity student with his kind and encouraging words. In the pulpit, he demonstrated before us all the prophetic role of a preacher with his deep, resonate voice and his ability to connect the gospel story with our own. Dr. Smith lives the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Word always. Sometimes use words.”