Skip to content

Good Bones

“Good Bones” Ezekiel 37:1-14 © 5.20.18 Pentecost B by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

When some friends of ours bought their current home, they renovated it, both to suit their tastes and needs and because no updates had been made in the over two decades the previous owners had lived in it. When the work was finished, they invited us over for a tour. As we began the walk-through, the wife said “the house had good bones.”

What did she mean by that? According to, “good bones” is used to describe a house that may not look that great on the outside, but underneath is in fantastic condition. For example, the floor plan flows. The dining room isn’t at one end of the house and the kitchen at the other. So, good bones is about connection.

“Good bones” also means “there’s room to breathe, and plenty of light. Homes with good bones typically feel spacious rather than cramped…” There’s a bright, airy ambience.

Finally, there’s no need for major repairs. The infrastructure—like the foundation, electrical, and plumbing—is good (

Read more…


“Mama, Are Going to Sing?”

“‘Mama, Are We Going to Sing?’” 1 John 5:1-6 © 5.13.18 Easter 7B (Mother’s Day) by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

During the dark days of World War II, a young Dutchman named Christiaan Beker lay in a hospital bed in Berlin. Death was close at hand. Enslaved by the Nazis and forced to work in a U-boat factory, he had contracted typhus. Chris was sent to the infirmary of the labor camp, but there was no doctor there, only an attendant. Moved finally to a hospital, the Dutchman received care. But he was thrown out on the street in his pajamas when his bed was needed for a German soldier. Somehow he made his way back to the factory, but he found that the whole complex had been reduced to rubble by Allied bombs. So he was left with nothing. His captors sent him to yet another camp, where he collapsed. He was finally transferred to a hospital by some foreign workers.

One day a Polish boy was put in the bed next to Beker’s. Beaten senseless by the Germans for picking up a cigarette butt, the young man could barely mumble. He died three days later. A biographer of Beker’s comments: “Chris had never before been face-to-face with such brutally inhuman cruelty; its effect was staggering….It was then, while lying beside the wasted body of a Polish boy murdered for less than no reason at all, that Chris determined to become a theologian.”

The writer continues: “But it was not clear that Chris himself would live. Convinced finally that he would not, he made his way to the window to see how he would die. The night sky itself was a conflagration, bombs exploding and buildings consumed in flames. Sick with typhus and viewing the apocalypse, Chris confessed that ‘only God is real’” (Ben Ollenburger, “Suffering and Hope,” Theology Today, October 1987: 357).

Johan Christiaan Beker became one of the world’s foremost biblical theologians, eventually teaching at Princeton Seminary. His book Paul the Apostle, written in 1980, is probably one of the top ten works to influence my theological development. Reflecting on the experiences of his life, he once wrote: “A biblical theology of hope views the present power of death in terms of its empty future and therefore in the knowledge of its sure defeat.” (For a brief summary of Beker’s life and work, see the memorial tribute at

Read more…

An Ascension Faith

“An Ascension Faith” Ephesians 1:15-23 © 5.6.18 Ascension B by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

Somewhere around 328 AD, Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine I, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. While there, according to tradition, she identified two locations on the Mount of Olives associated with the life of Jesus. One was a grotto where he taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. The other was the place of his ascension. When she got back to Rome, she ordered that sanctuaries be built on both spots.

Another version of the story says that a pilgrim named Egeria visited the site of the ascension in 384, and a church was built there six years later, funded by a Roman noblewoman named Poimenia. That building was destroyed in an attack by Persians in 614, but subsequently restored. An account from 690 by a pilgrim says that the church, the Chapel of the Ascension, was round and open to the sky. Inside was a central aedicule, a small niche shrine with a canopy, where the pious could see the footprints of Jesus, made as he ascended into heaven. The pilgrim said that the prints were “plainly and firmly impressed in the dust.” As a memento, the faithful could take home some of the dust.

A mosque and minaret were added next to the Chapel of the Ascension in 1620 and the entire site remains in Muslim possession. The stone slab containing the left footprint of Jesus was taken to another mosque in the Middle Ages, but visitors can still see the right impression on the floor inside an asymmetrical frame (,_Jerusalem;

Read more…

The Man Who Found His Name

“The Man Who Found His Name” Acts 8:26-40 © 4.29.18 Easter 5B by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

This is absurd, Philip thought. What was he doing in the desert, by himself, at noon? Who could know how long he was going to be out here? Why hadn’t he brought food and water? What did God have in store for him? When God spoke, in this case through an angel, he obeyed, but he couldn’t help but wonder.

In a way, Philip’s journey to this place had started much earlier than that morning. So much had happened since he was ordained a deacon, beginning his service in the church by providing for the needs of widows and orphans, distributing food, clothing, and funds so that all would be cared for. But then came that fateful day when Stephen, a fellow deacon, was stoned to death—murdered, in Philip’s view. An approving onlooker, a Pharisee named Saul, had begun that very day persecuting the church with unbelievable ferocity. People were dragged from their beds in the middle of the night and thrown in prison, facing torture and execution. Those who escaped the raids fled Jerusalem, looking for any place of safety in the surrounding provinces. The apostles, though, stayed in the city, including the other Philip, from Bethsaida in Galilee. Deacon Philip only hoped they could survive Saul’s rage.

Why he chose to go to Samaria City Philip didn’t know. It seemed right at the time. The persecution turned out to be literally a godsend for the folk in that place. Instead of staying in the known, comfortable environment of Jerusalem, the deacons and other believers had been forced to go and do as Jesus had commanded. They were witnessing in Judea and Samaria. What was next? Philip thought. "The uttermost parts of the earth?" That’s what the apostles reported Jesus had said.

Read more…

Song of Passage

“Song of Passage” Psalm 23 © 4.22.18 Easter 4B by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

The term “rite of passage” wasn’t coined until 1908 by a man named Arnold van Gennep. But ever since there has been a human race, people have been growing up and growing old and marking significant events along the way with ritual and record. Like our ancestors for eons before us, we celebrate birth, puberty, engagement, marriage, becoming a parent. We mourn the dead and prepare for our own passing. We could think, too, of the first tooth or step, first day of school or first date, graduation, getting a driver’s license, moving away from home or buying a new one, starting a job, retiring.

All of these marker events are associated with what we’ve become accustomed to thinking of as definable stages of life, thanks to authors both scholarly and popular. We speak, for example, of the “terrible twos” and the “midlife crisis,” and maybe the “tweens” and “emerging adulthood.” With each stage, there are particular tasks to accomplish, passages to negotiate. Sometimes the journey is easy, but quite often, it’s hard. We come through, but having learned lessons at great cost to soul and spirit and body.

Read more…

“To This We Are Witnesses”

“‘To This We Are Witnesses’” Acts 3:1-26, Luke 24:33-49 © 4.15.18 Easter 3B by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

It’s Easter evening. The eleven apostles left after Judas’ suicide are gathered with other followers of Jesus. Two people who were met by the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus burst into the room with news that the crucified Jesus was alive and had shared a meal with them. This was in turn confirmed as Cleopas and his companion heard how the Lord had appeared to Peter.

Then suddenly, without warning, Jesus stands in their midst. Their first reaction, as ours would be, was fright. They thought Jesus was a ghost, even though they had just heard how he had eaten a meal. He proved to them he was no phantasm, but truly present in the flesh, by eating some fish and inviting everyone to touch him.

Then Jesus repeated what he had done on the Emmaus road, explaining what had been written about the Messiah—the Christ—in the Torah, prophets, and psalms. He commissioned those present to be his witnesses; to preach an inclusive, universal message of repentance and forgiveness; and to wait for divine power for their work.

Read more…

The Main Thing

“The Main Thing” John 20:19-31 © 4.8.18 Easter 2B at First Presbyterian, Amory, MS by Tom Cheatham

If there’s a mantra or motto for skeptics, it’s probably “seeing is believing.” Claims about a product, an institution or a person’s competence have to be backed up by what we’ve observed; our experience confirms or casts doubt on the truth. Suppose someone selects a car on the basis of ads on TV, talking with friends and family who have a similar or the same vehicle, and getting an online recommendation from Edmunds and Car and Driver. Then comes the test drive and purchase at the dealer. But the car doesn’t perform as expected and desired. Gas mileage is well below what was predicted. The engine is sluggish. There are annoying little rattles everywhere. The electronics act up. The evidence, then, would tend to discount the advertising claims and the opinions of the experts, as well as initial impressions. Our new car owner might even begin to wonder what and whom he or she can trust.

Or how about the young adult who enrolls in a university because the cool website convinces him or her that the school is just right? So do the campus visits with current students and potential professors. The classes offered will be challenging but fun. The social scene will offer lots of opportunities to meet the all-important potential romantic partners and make friends. There’s even an emphasis on learning through service and/or co-op placements. Plus the financial aid package offered is generous. In his or her years at the school, the student indeed makes lots of friends, learns a marketable skill, and feels a sense of connection. The claims were true, first impressions accurate. So the grad, now an alum, becomes an enthusiastic supporter of the institution, and years down the road, she gives millions to endow a faculty chair; he becomes president of the school he loves.

The text for the morning is a story about a disciple who was first skeptical, like the car buyer, but then like that university student, became an ardent and tireless servant of a cause. A legend first recounted in the apocryphal Acts of Thomas tells us he even carried the gospel to India as a slave. And he was held in high enough regard by one segment of early Christianity—the Gnostics—for them to name a now famous or infamous non-canonical gospel after him, a collection of 114 sayings of Jesus, some of which purport to have been secretly delivered to the apostle. But before India, before being co-opted by one branch of the early Church, I think Thomas had been burned a few times. Like the proverbial scalded dog, he didn’t easily trust without a good bit of convincing over time. His experience led Thomas to maintain a healthy skepticism, a wait-and-see attitude, about most things. And those things included the outrageous claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

Read more…