Monthly Archives: September 2014

Proper Authority

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Biblical Text: Matthew 21:23-27
Full Sermon Draft

Authority is one of those words that, depending upon your context, can be a dirty word today. That is truly a shame because it used to be something that was exercised with wisdom. Those with authority knew they also had accountability. Those with it respected where it came from and its proper use. They knew authority came in multiple forms – hierarchical and moral – and that you couldn’t last long with the first if you didn’t respect and preserve the second. Authority was always a grant, a gift, a grace. It was never something that you earned. If you took it you were a usurper.

This sermon has a simple movement:
1) Our current trouble with authority
2) Authority abused by the chief priests and elders of the people and proper authority in Jesus
3) Jesus’ grant of his authority to his people in discipleship

It traces a deep vein in the Gospel according to Matthew of the sources and uses of proper authority.

Paragraph to Ponder…

“In an uncertain universe, some things are still for certain: Dirty plates, if you put them on a plastic rack and push them into the machine and press the button, will come out clean–every time. If you work hard at your job and do it well, even if it’s a [bleep] job, there is some kind of satisfaction in that, whether you’re stacking plates, chopping vegetables, or just setting out a plate of food. There’s this magnificent moment before a plate goes out to the dining room, for instance, when you know, and it’s just for you. You think, Hmm, that’s a pretty good [bleeping] plate. And then it’s gone.”
– Anthony Bourdain, here

George Washington & Men With Chests

If you’ve ever read a good biography of George Washington you can’t walk away from it without a higher, if that is possible, appreciation of the man. Unlike Jefferson, who the more you read comes out pale in comparison to his foundational words, Washington grows. Ron Chernow has written the most recent “massive tome”, but I appreciated Richard Brookhiser’s shorter Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington. That book’s purpose was not so much to recount the life but to understand what made it great. Washington, for the first 175 years of American History was the indispensable man. Even though Jefferson wrote the documents we quote, Washington was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen”. And per Brookhiser, the reason is not anything inherent in the man – not a first class intellect, not a great natural general losing more than he won, given to pomposity at times with a volcanic temper – but the developed character of Washington. Washington strived to be a better person than he knew himself to be, and his country took heart at his example. He became a man for which other men would endure New York winters dreaming of Virginia summers, as Washington, childless, would dream of his “distant posterity”.

I couldn’t help but think of Washington when I read a much different understanding from New York Times editorial columnist Charles Blow. Quoting,

I would slowly learn to allow myself to follow attraction and curiosity wherever they might lead. I would grant myself latitude to explore the whole of me so that I could find the edges of me…I wasn’t moving; the same-gender attraction was. Sometimes it withdrew from me almost completely, and at others it lapped up to my knees. I wasn’t making a choice; I was subject to the tide….I would hold myself open to evolution on this point, but I would stop trying to force it. I would settle, over time, into the acceptance that my attractions, though fluid, were simply lopsided. Only with that acceptance would I truly feel free.

For Washington, character and freedom were in exercising will over oneself. For Blow, character and freedom are in being subject to the tide. For Washington, one struggled against our natural natures toward something better. For Blow, the greater good is accepting what our natures want to be.

Neither Washington nor Blow differ in their diagnosis of the human condition. Neither is actually that far from St. Paul’s lament, “I delight in the law of God in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (Rom 7:22-23)” All three had an ideal in their minds to which they were not living up to. The real question is one of will. Is the proper course Washington’s – willing his recalcitrant self in line with his ideal? Or is it Blow’s – willing his ideals in line with his nature?

St. Paul’s answer accords with Washington. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. (Rom 8:5-7 ESV)” This process is never complete until the resurrection when we will have the renewed flesh, but it is already starting now. It starts in our renewed minds and moves to a renewed will. Only in Christ can we actually be free, because only in Christ can we actually exercise our will. Collapsing our ideals to our nature is not a free choice, but a surrender of our freedom to the tides.

C.S. Lewis had an arresting image of modernity he called “men without chests”. Modernity produces lots of people with strong heads. Some who even know what is right. It also produces lots of people with strong guts. In the ancient world the guts were the seat of the emotions, so what is meant by that is lots of people with strong emotions. Some of them even right. What it fails to do is produce a Washington. It fails to produce men with chests, men who have hearts or wills that desire and put into action the best of the mind and gut while denying to bring into reality the worst.

This is what James meant when he would say “faith without works is dead (James 2:17)”. A sentiment Paul would agree with when he would say, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (Rom 12:2)”. Likewise Peter, “do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, (1 Peter 1:14-15)”. Do some cardio, workout your chest, your heart. In Christ, will to do the right.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Malachi 2:1-3:5 and Matthew 4:1-11

Malachi 2:1-3:5
Matthew 4:1-11
Marriage & Divorce as an image of covenant and faithfulness
The first person you meet

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Malachi 1:1-14 and Matthew 3:1-17

Malachi 1:1-14
Matthew 3:1-17
The weakness of mercy
The God who sustains it for us

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Nehemiah 9:22-38 and 1 Timothy 6:3-21

Nehemiah 9:22-38
1 Timothy 6:3-21
Coming full circle to slaves, yet having the same answer, the law
Freed from that slavery by the Spirit for the good represented by the law

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Nehemiah 9:1-21 and 1 Timothy 5:17-6:2

Nehemiah 9:1-21
1 Timothy 5:17-6:2
Our Place in the Story
Leaning into the fulfillment while living wisely in the present

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Nehemiah 7:1-4, 8:1-18 and 1 Timothy 5:1-18

Nehemiah 7:1-4, 8:1-18
1 Timothy 5:1-18
A Short thought on canon (Law, prophets and writings)
How the writings are both inspired but are better treated as general wisdom vs. doctrinal seeds

What Then Will We Have?

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Biblical Text: Matthew 19:27-20:16 (Lectionary Reading: Matthew 20:1-16)
Full Draft of Sermon

That title is Peter’s question that leads to the aphorism: the first will be last and the last first, and the parable of the vineyard. This sermon looks at in sequence:
a) the literal facts of the parable, that God provides our daily bread
b) what it reveals to us about God, that He is never less than just, but full of surprising grace
c) a moral teaching, that comparisons within the vineyard are dangerous and instead we keep our eyes on Christ
d) the end times hope, that in the regeneration/new world the heat of the day of the vineyard gives way to pure light.

Take a listen.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Nehemiah 2:11-20, 4:1-6 and 1 Timothy 2:1-15

Nehemiah 2:11-20, 4:1-6
1 Timothy 2:1-15
Counting Cost and the Source of Perseverance
Peacocking, creating divisions, the basis in the family, teaching the wider family of God