Monthly Archives: June 2013

Cursive Writing, Biblical Transmission, Revelation and Hope – Pastor’s Corner (July 2013)

There is a small skirmish in the civilization wars going on in the elementary schools. Many schools have dropped cursive writing from the instruction list. You can probably see the divide immediately. Those with artistic and civilized dispositions are crying “the horror, the horror”. Those with cold utilitarian logic are saying “why waste the time”. While my cursive styling was never one to be captured for the ages, there is still something about it that encourages a wistful melancholy at the thought of my children never physically learning it themselves. Yes, it is probably never to be used, but neither are any of the better things in life. Some jars are made for common use while others you bring out at Easter.

Tied in with that wistfulness around handwriting is a story about the scriptures. For 1500 years, just counting the NT period, the scriptures where transmitted by laborious hand writing. Some copies, like Codex Sinaiticus are professional scribes’ straight lines and uniform lettering. At least 4 hands poured over that manuscript checking and correction any perceived spelling errors. Sometimes causing fights over spelling as corrector #1 would correct and corrector #2 would restore the original. Codex Sinaiticus is roughly the earliest fullest collection of the Bible that we have, but individual books and sub-collections earlier are plentiful. (Much more plentiful than any other ancient document. For example if you had to drink a milliliter of soda for each ancient manuscript of the Illiad, the closest in number to the NT, you would only have to drink two cans of Pepsi. For the New Testament you’d have to drink 12 two-liters.) Paul’s letters would circulate together. The Gospels would circulate together. But the most interesting history is probably Revelation. That book has an almost completely separate transmission history. The professional scribes are nowhere as numerous which can be told by the handwriting and spelling. Revelation was transmitted and kept in the cannon not by the skilled and the professional but by the lovers and the convinced. It is truly a letter to and from the church. The skilled and professional might scoff at the church being out of its mind, just like the utilitarians silently laugh at the mothers trying to preserve cursive.

I ran across what is a beautiful lay-woman’s continued use of Revelation in that tradition, and a beautiful if rough (like the copyist handwriting) expression of the Gospel. You can find the entire letter here from Hunter Baker and I’d encourage you to read it, as I can’t capture it all. The writer goes to the letter to the Church in Pergamum (Rev 2:12-17). The letters to the churches follow a general pattern, a description of the risen Christ, a praise, a correction, a call to repent and a promise. Pergamum is praised for holding fast to the name of Christ, but corrected for tolerating false teachers who lead people astray. And this anonymous writer gives us a modern application. Quoting…

To those of you who would change the church to accept the gay community and its lifestyle: you give us no hope at all. To those of us who know God’s word and will not dilute it to fit our desires, we ask you to read John’s letter to the church in Pergamum. “I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore!” You are willing to compromise the word of God to be politically correct. We are not deceived. If we accept your willingness to compromise, then we must also compromise. We must therefore accept your lying, your adultery, your lust, your idolatry, your addictions, YOUR sins. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

We do not ask for your acceptance of our sins any more than we accept yours. We simply ask for the same support, love, guidance, and most of all hope that is given to the rest of your congregation.

The Gospel is not about acceptance of sin or our natural condition. We are all born sinful. We are all inclined to things we ought not to do. And the law of God holds us accountable for those things, even when we can’t help it. But Father didn’t leave us in that pitiful natural state. First he sent his Son Jesus who paid for all that wrong on the cross. In Christ we are part of the family, and families love each other, even the black sheep – and in this case we are all black sheep. Second – proceeding from the Father and the Son – the Spirit has been placed within us. And that Spirit wars against our flesh.

The letter writer citing Revelation clings to that hope. Not acceptance of sin, but forgiveness and conquest. Not simply condemnation, although calling a spade a spade is necessary, but in the freedom to speak the truth, finding love and fellowship. We have all fallen short. Even the best church in the letters in Revelation has “fallen from its first love (Rev 2:4).” We are all in need of hope. That is what the church is about – a family trying to preserve the beautiful, the things that remind us of our hope in Christ, until this war ends.

Pulling Back the Veil

There is one word that ties together all three major Supreme Court decisions of the last two days – lawless. What we must come to realize is that the United States is no longer a nation of laws, but a lawless nation.

The Voting Rights acts, regardless of true complaints about using 60’s era data in 2006 and the craven nature of the Congress in these regards, the VRA was extended with large majorities in House and Senate and signed by a President who received the majority of votes from the area most effected. The Supreme Court acted lawlessly throwing it out.

With the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) the reasoning is the same but worse. The act was passed many years ago and signed into law by President Clinton. It made a simple definitional statement about how the federal government would treat marriage experimentation by the states. Quoting Justice Scalia’s dissent (through Rod Dreher):

The majority concludes that the only motive for this Act was the “bare . . . desire to harm a politically unpopular group.” Ante, at 20. Bear in mind that the object of this condemnation is not the legislature of some once Confederate Southern state (familiar objects of the Court’s scorn, see, e.g., Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S. 578 (1987)), but our respected coordinate branches, the Congress and Presidency of the United States. Laying such a
charge against them should require the most extraordinary evidence, and I would have thought that every attempt would be made to indulge a more anodyne explanation for the statute. The majority does the opposite—affirmatively concealing from the reader the arguments that exist in justification. It makes only a passing mention of the “arguments put forward” by the Act’s defenders, and does not even trouble to paraphrase or describe them.
See ante, at 21. I imagine that this is because it is harder to maintain the illusion of the Act’s supporters as unhinged members of a wild-eyed lynch mob when one first describes their views as they see them.

The court again acted lawlessly where the first two branches of government were completely able to repeal DOMA should they desire. They compounded this lawlessness by putting into case law that the only reason for opposing fundamentally altering marriage was bigotry. If you are an orthodox Christian in the United States you are now a bigot and have been put on warning.

And the lawlessness continued with the CA prop 8 ruling. Even worse, prop 8 was a popular direct democracy ruling. In a state that is famously of the left coast (emphasis on the left), the popular ballot had altered the state constitution to enshrine the thousands of years view of marriage. The lawful way to have repealed this would have been to amend the constitution again. But the government of CA refused to defend what the people voted for. Federal judges tossed the ruling out. And the Supreme Court denied standing for those that would defend the voice of the people legitimately expressed. A cabal of black robed judges and craven politicians acted lawlessly.

Being a lawless nation, especially one where the lawlessness is exercised by those specifically given the authority to exercise the law, is a horrific and scary place to be. Let me transition for a second to what has been churning my gut for a while now, but the last 24 hours have just “pulled back the veil” completely.

First St. Paul on who is lawless, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4: “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”

If that is a little apocalyptic for you lets ask the apostle John, 1 John 3:4-8″ “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

Lets continue with the Apostolic testimony. From the writer of Hebrews quoting Jeremiah, Hebrews 10:16-18 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”

And from Peter: 1 Peter 4:3-5 “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”

And also from Peter: 2 Peter 3:17-18 “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

And for the “we follow Jesus only crowd” or “Jesus first, forget the Apostles” check out Matthew 7:23 ” And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”…and Matthew 23:27-28 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”…and Matt 24:12 ” And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”

I want to give Paul the last word in this section, Titus 2:11-15 “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”

The lawlessness is being revealed openly. Satan has his day. This is what Paul talks about in Romans 1. We are being handed over. We see it in what Paul describes in Romans 1:24-32 and Galatians 5:16-26. In apocalyptic language we see the two beasts – the lawless state (who can fight against it? – Rev 13:4) and the false prophet (Rev 13:11-18). And I know that I’ve just gone into cloud cookoo land quoting those, but this is said for those who have ears – “here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints (Rev 13:10)”. The Lord reigns. He is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty and the judgement against the beasts has already been entered (Rev 19:19-21). This has happened before and unfortunately it will probably happen again. But it is your call to stand firm in the faith. To witness to the truth of the resurrection and grace of Jesus Christ in the midst of a lawless world.

Theologies of the Law – How to Think About Pluralism

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Biblical Text: Galatians 3:23-4:7
Full Sermon Draft

One admission, this probably moved too much from a sermon proclamation into a paper. That is probably a result of the second admission.

Second admission, as the word cloud probably tells you, it might be more about the law than the gospel. For a sermon on Galatians, that is saying something. The Law comes through a lecture; the gospel by proclamation.

Those admissions aside, thinking in Law & Gospel terms about the world around us, the biggest problem in the church today is not in regard to the Gospel side of the theology. The concept of the Gospel is grasped if not always the heart faith. (In my head what you see when that happens is cheap grace.) What is missing or out of kilter is a full appreciation of the law and its purposes.

Following Paul’s argument in the text there is one Gospel. The good news of the God-man Jesus, the Christ, who gave himself for us on the cross. He bore the law so that we could be the sons and heirs. He exchanged places.

There is one perfect law (the revealed law of God through Moses), but there are many “laws” which mimic and discern the elementary principles. The law was given, to all peoples in various forms, as a guardian. Some of those laws are better than others. A law built rigorously around Confucius would be a good one. It is still a law that we can’t keep. One of the things that is was designed to teach, but the law is still good and wise, and Confucius was both.

When pondering or working our way through a pluralistic world, keeping the Gospel pure meaning that it is only by faith through Jesus Christ is the first priority. It is deadly muddled headed thinking to import Buddha or any other figure into the gospel. But, the Christian can admit and admire nobility and wisdom in other cultures as a matter of the law. An alien culture or law might have captured something clearer or better than our own guardians. But they are all guardians. As a baptized Christian who has put on Christ, you are no longer under a guardian. The kingdom is yours. The only question is do you apply the lessons of the law with the grace of the mature heir, or so you squander the inheritance?

All have fallen short…

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution (the best economics blog out there and possibly the best blog) on Three Felonies a Day, crime-less crime, the lost common law tradition as we have polluted our federal law, and the implications of the falling cost of obtaining evidence. If you don’t think this all adds up to tyranny, or think you are immune, you are deluding yourself and the truth is not in you.

There are also some great theological angles right out of Romans 1. Putting aside God and the moral law, turning to ourselves and the created order, God gives us over to our desires. So you don’t want an omnipotent and omniscient God who humbles himself on the cross? So your want to build a tower (or a computer system) that will keep your fame (or your infamy) forever? Fine. You get a government that can charge you anytime it wants. You get government bureaucracies that exercise their omnipotence against those out of favor without grace. You get a government that can track you anywhere. And soon to be added, knows everything about and controls your health. We get what we want.

But I’m just a ooga-booga, Jesus freak, religious nut. Pay no attention. 2000 years of reflection by the best minds of many times and places I’m sure are completely wrong and soooo passe anyway.

Observation – A Theological Noodling

sparrowsI probably shouldn’t write this up, but it seems to me to be part of our problem as a people and as the church. Because it is so “on the money” I feel compelled to think it through.

It seems that Hospitals or insurance companies or both have created a new category. The category that I heard was called observation. It is not the emergency room, or more appropriately it comes after the emergency room, but it is not true admittance either. Talking it out with the bible class they eventually accepted my description as a place for chronic (i.e. long term incurable) illness when it is bad enough that home doesn’t seem possible, but there is no immediate treatment beyond nursing care.

Now that might actually make sense as a short term nursing home. The problem comes in with money. Medicare evidently won’t pay for “observation”. If the person was admitted, then it pays. So, the bills for observation are sent to the individual, and insurance companies will often over-ride decisions about admittance relabeling them as observation. The conversation went something like this.

“So there really is no treatment for the person beyond nursing care, right?”

“Yep”

“So this could be taken as the insurance company’s (meaning believe medicare or medigap coverage) saying there is no treatment applicable. The place for this person is either home, home with family or a nursing home, not the hospital.”

“Yep, but the family can’t do that.”

“Ok, another way to put it might be that this is the insurance company’s ham-handed way of say you need to have end of life discussions. There is no treatment. It is not getting magically better. If you are rich enough to pay, you can delay that talk. If not, the family needs to discuss what is happening.”

“Yes, but what if there is no family?”

And I just let the conversation stop because nothing good would come from pushing it, or what I am writing here is part of working out where that conversation goes next.

There are some stated or implied expectations here. First, that the person with a chronic advanced stage illness deserves advanced care. Second, that families are incapable or should not be expected to bear the burden of care in home. Third, that someone not the family should pay. Fourth, that this would be universally available regardless of if there is anyone that feels a family compulsion. And I would include one assumption here that by advanced care the expectation is physical/material and not spiritual.

My thesis here is that list of expectations and assumptions displays a great deal of Christian compassion, but it has thrown out the most important bit. Throughout that situation there is pain. There is the pain of a person dying and suffering. There is the pain of carrying and caring for that person. There is the pain of broken relationships and fractured families. There is the pain of helplessness. And it is Christian love to alleviate pain. Treat others as you would wish to be treated. But the deeper Christian teaching is that what people need most is not physical/material but spiritual. Hospitals themselves are a Christian invention, a carrying out of a moral lesson of the Good Samaritan. (Hence all the Hospitals names Good Samaritan or St. Luke’s.) But long before we had the material ability to really do anything we had hospitals. Why? To alleviate and help carry the material pain, so that the patient and the loved ones could focus on the spiritual needs. What is the one thing excluded from hospitals today with a mixture of disdain (the white-coat emphasis on technology and surgery vs. Spiritual) and law (Hippa laws)? Ask yourself what would your reaction be if the prescription at the hospital was for a heavy dose of morphine, a visiting nurse service and a chaplain?

Our assumptions are all material. We fear pain and suffering so we seek to banish it or hide it. But these apparent calamities and illnesses are given to direct us to the great truth. “I tell you my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:4-6).” St. Paul states his purpose in this life, “that I may know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead (Philippians 3:10-11).” The Christian’s suffering is a sharing the sufferings of Christ. If our assumptions were Christian, if they included the spiritual realm, instead of fearing death we would take it as our last great chance to witness to the hope that we have in us.

Now that is one part of the problem – Christians who are not acting like Christians. The lamp of Christian witness in the face of suffering has been place under the bed (Luke 8:16). The second part, the cultural part, is the problem with the law. We as a people are attempting to carry out Gospel ends – caring for everyone – though the means of the law. The deep problem here is twofold. First the law is not a means to actually accomplish anything. Make a law and it is never really done. The law was given to show us just how far short and how limited we are as creatures. If you take it upon yourself to honor your father and mother by ensuring their material comfort and well-being in the face of chronic illness and death, you will soon find out how onerous that burden is. And so we seek to pull in others to help us, also by law. Tax the young to pay. Move mom to the nursing home as soon as Medicaid is available. And that is what the law demands. But what the law does is show us how inadequate we are. With all the powers of the US government we are not able to carry this burden. The second problem with the law is that we are natural law-breakers. For every person who is attempting to take care of dad through the law there are many more who have ditched the responsibility. The second we make a law is the second that we find out all the ways it can be abused and evaded and made to favor us. The only place you have to look is medicare fraud to find that proof. But that is far from complete. The question of “what about those who don’t have family?” highlights the trouble. Everybody has family. We were not created ex nihilo. But the lives that we have lived might have alienated our family. Our family might be running from responsibility. We might have aborted our family. We might have raised them with our material longings only. It is not a lack of family, it is the result of sin. The way to address that is through repentance and acknowledgement of our state. Addressing the problem of sin with more law doesn’t work. The law was given to multiply the sin (Rom 5:20), not to alleviate it.

Observation, as far as I can tell, is a gross tool of the law. Either cough up the money to fulfill the burden, or dodge it. But neither of those paths leads to a good outcome. What they should do is point us toward what is truly necessary – the gospel. There is someone much greater who observes us and has felt all that we are going through, Jesus Christ. We are all in observation and someone else has already paid the price with his blood. When every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.

The more we deny this and run from it, the worse our rebellion and problem will get. Repent, and believe the good news. The Lord is merciful and may yet stay his righteous judgment.

Prayer

Rod Dreher pulls up a quote from a blog reader that is very true.

Of all parts related to faith – doctrine, worship, study, fellowship, service – the most predictive is prayer. The only thing I’d add is that while you might think a deep prayer life would be better than simple bedtime and meal prayer, everything I’ve seen, read or experienced says no really. Prayer is the digital switch of faith. When prayer is a constant however small in your life faith perseveres; when prayer has left the faith went first. Luther explains the second commandment – Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God – in prayer terms. We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie or deceive in His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks. So after the simple law – Do not have any other Gods – the immediate next step is how do we relate to this God correctly. And the answer is prayer. The first part of living the Christian life is prayer.

This is not to downplay a structured and deep prayer life. Solid practices are a good part of “watching”. I’d point you at a couple of items. Here is a recent sermon on prayer. That sermon references a work that I believe is available in the public domain in an older translation (or just ask me I’ve got it) – Luther’s Simple Way to Pray, but it also available in a refreshed translation at CPH or on the Kindle at amazon. Less than two bucks. Filled with all the reformer’s insight.

VBS 2013

KingdomRock_Logo_LR_Color Please click on the page tab above or click here to get the scoop (When, Where, Who) on VBS this year and pre-register. Hope to see you all there Aug. 19th – 23rd!

Through (the) Faith in/of Christ

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Biblical Text: Galatians 2:11-21, Galatians 3:10-14
Full Sermon Draft

We are continuing our reading through Galatians and have come to the raw heart of the letter. Contextually a snub. Peter stops eating with gentile Christians. But Peter’s actions put into question the very heart of the gospel. Is it “Christ and {fill in the blank}” or pure grace? Even if Peter would say grace, his actions say “and”.

What this sermon encourages is three things:
1) the THE Faith, the doctrine of the church, is important. Paul’s argument with Peter is over a doctrine – by Faith alone or faith and. The doctrine is important enough for apostles to argue about face to face. (Although more in a law way of reminding us what we actually believe so that our actions may come in line.) Through THE FAITH in Christ; or Christ is the truth.

2) Faith itself, that which believes, is more important because that is what changes hearts. Through faith in Christ; or Christ is the life.

3) Both of those things can become works. The deeper importance is the we rest not on THE Faith, nor faith itself, but on the faith of Christ. When we waver, Christ does not. Through the faith of Jesus Christ; or Christ is the Way.

Always nice to find support…

Here is Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, a man who has actually stood in the pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist, saying something very similar to my sermon back in February. Always nice to find support from someone closer to the real thing as it were…

…Americans of faith—and according to Gallup that includes 92 percent of us—thus must face unflinchingly the question of who are Dr. King’s rightful heirs.

Powerful critics argue that Americans should not tolerate public advocacy on “social issues” by my fellow Christians and by individuals and communities of faith according to our understanding of our sacred texts. In his letter, Dr. King wrote that he too was assailed by critics—including white Christian clergy—who claimed that a minister of the gospel had no legitimate business advocating on social issues.

Other powerful voices argue that social changes that violate traditional and biblical values are inevitable and that those who oppose such changes will end up “on the wrong side of history” and thus should be swept aside. Dr. King, however, wrote to his critics from jail that such views grow “out of a tragic misconception of time,” including the “strangely irrational notion” that time inevitably progresses toward good, never toward evil. The truth, he wrote, is that “time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively.”

Father’s Day, Baseball, Status and Religion

worker-vineyard_bas_reliefThis is Fay Vincent, former Commissioner of Baseball, reflecting on some of his Father’s advice. Most of it is fine stuff. Advice to live a quiet honorable life. That and one line of his advice is what crosses into another column.

Here my father reflected the Great Depression and his experience of graduating from Yale with every athletic honor—only to discover the sole job available was digging post holes for the local electric utility

Reflect for a second on a generation and culture where digging post holes is where you started, even with a Yale degree. Also reflect for a second on that Yale sheepskin holder gladly doing that work. What does it suggest both about work and the cultural view of it?

This is David Brooks reflecting on a very similar move by another father.

About a century ago, Walter Judd was a 17-year-old boy hoping to go to college at the University of Nebraska. His father pulled him aside and told him that, though the family had happily paid for Judd’s two sisters to go to college, Judd himself would get no money for tuition or room and board.

His father explained that he thought his son might one day go on to become a fine doctor, but he had also seen loose tendencies. Some hard manual labor during college would straighten him out.

As Brooks goes on “Judd went on to become a doctor, a daring medical missionary and a prominent member of Congress between 1943 and 1963.”

That advice and actions of both of those Fathers would leave many aghast today is my bet. Brooks captures something true I think.

More important, that people then were more likely to assume that jobs at the bottom of the status ladder were ennobling and that jobs at the top were morally perilous. That is to say, the moral status system was likely to be the inverse of the worldly status system. The working classes were self-controlled, while the rich and the professionals could get away with things.

These mores, among other things, had biblical roots. In the Torah, God didn’t pick out the most powerful or notable or populous nation to be his chosen people. He chose a small, lowly band…In the New Testament, Jesus blesses the poor, “for yours is the kingdom of God.” But “woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.”

Work in and of itself was ennobling and worthwhile. Even the rich and powerful had a moral check on them, and like the unjust judge (Luke 18:2-8), even if they thought it was bunk, they’d have to give justice to stop the outcry. With the rolling outright rejection of Christianity and more important Christendom (simply the understanding that the state is taught its ethics by the church), that check is gone. Like Paul says in Romans, if you won’t be instructed by the Word, God says fine and hands you over to your desires. And so we have naked lawless state that feels no shame in lying to us or listening in on whatever they want to. In fact they feel justified and get angry when countered because after all they are at the top of the only status hierarchy left. Who are you to complain? On what legitimate basis?

[Insert “repent, return to the Word, and God may yet be merciful” sermon.]