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The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston

The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston is senior pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York, NY.

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Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York, NY

Dr. Scott Black Johnston: Groundhog Day and Egypt

February 07, 2011

This past Wednesday, as I was wrapping my scarf around my neck and heading out the door, my son, Ollie, asked me, "Daddy, what kind of worship service are you having for Groundhog Day?"


I chuckled, and explained, "Son, we don't do anything special at church on Groundhog Day."  

"You don't!?" he replied in a surprised and sort of sad way.

I have been thinking about his response.

Ollie's life at school involves celebrations of many sorts, including traditions and holidays that we do not celebrate at home or in church (everything from Kwanzaa, to Hanukkah, to Chinese New Year). He is still in the process of figuring out whose calendar belongs to whom.

Since Ollie likes the story behind Groundhog Day, about a furry and often sleepy animal who predicts the weather, he wanted to know if it was "one of our days."

That makes sense to me.

At the same time, our Groundhog Day conversation sent me down another alley. Throughout this week, I have been asking myself, "What does belong in worship, and what doesn't? What things do we want to mark, to consider, and to pray about in church, and what things do we want to leave for the wider culture, the news media, the public square to mull over?"

That brings me to Egypt.

Am I really jumping from Groundhog Day to the turmoil in Cairo in one short post?

Well, yes.

During the first half of [last] week I was working on a sermon about North American popular culture and Christianity. It felt like important stuff. It still does, and I will return to that subject next week.

However, I changed direction because, as the days went by, the news reports out of Egypt kept troubling my soul. At first I thought, if the U.S. State Department cannot keep up with the rapid unfolding of events, it would be lunacy for the church to engage the situation.  After all, the conclusion is uncertain and the actions of the various players so unpredictable.

That's when I caught myself up short. Good golly.

I serve a congregation that, exactly a year ago today, sent 12 women on a mission trip to Egypt. There are Egyptian Christians in our pews. This spring we will sponsor a craft sale to benefit children who live in and around the Cairo garbage dumps. This is a congregation that realizes that "love your neighbor" extends beyond - way beyond - the person in the next apartment.


Surely, surely, we need not fear our own shadow as history unfolds in the Middle East. Surely, the gospel has something to say.

My new sermon for Sunday [was] entitled, "Tell Old Pharaoh, Let My People Go." Our scripture passage is Exodus 7:14-21.

[Taken with permission with slight revisions from "Sharp About Your Prayers," the blog of the Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston. Originally posted Feb. 4, 2011]

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