Category Archives: Uncategorized

This is the Catholic Faith (A Meditation on the Immanent Trinity and its competitors)

Text: Matthew 28:16-20, Athanasian Creed
Full Sermon Draft

Trinity Sunday is the one Sunday a year that I feel free to talk a little pure theology. It is not that my sermons other Sundays are theology free, they couldn’t be if you were being faithful. It is that there are theological ideas that I think explain a lot in a compact form, but you end up explaining and lecturing instead of preaching, and the point is preaching. Trinity Sunday, with its spotlight on the Athanasian creed (which I left our congregational recitation in the recording), is a day given to deep foundational theology. What God is in Himself. Don’t worry, I connect the concepts of the economic and immanent Trinity to Pixar, Marvel and DC, so I hope I brought it down a little. It is a day to make clear the God we invoke, Three in One, and expose the idols of the age.

10 Theses on Prayer


10 Theses on Prayer after Teaching 1 Kings 8 and The Catechism on the Lord’s Prayer

1. All true prayer is placing before God his own words and promises
2. This is even more the case when our words are inappropriate
3. We pray that what is certainly true with God would also be true with us, now
4. Thanksgiving is appropriate for when we are given eyes to see what God has done
5. Sometimes the answer is no
6. Maybe worse are when the answer is yes, but we didn’t mean that petition, not really
7. Prayer is the language of the exile who was given a promise
8. Not all exiles have promise, learn to discern holy exile from discontent
9. The prayer of the exile is two-fold. First, sustain a remnant for your name
10. Second, be present with me, here in exile, such that you might bring me home.

Shoebox Week

We have in the past packed shoeboxes. It has been a congregational mission running up to Advent, but it was distributed. We provided boxes and info and delivery, but asked individuals to pack their own box. One of our members in the pictures below had done this with her mother. They had been trying to double the number of boxes they did each year and when her mother passed away it became something of a memorial. But now she was looking to double from 18 to 36. The individual approach wouldn’t work so well. She engaged the women’s group and they took it on as a mission. Those in the congregation could still pack their own, but we also asked started to ask for specific items, like 36 toothbrushes and 6 dyno-trucks (for the mid-boys) and baby-dolls for the girls. Also soccer balls (deflated w/pump) for the older kids. If you couldn’t pack your own, some of these smaller items were within reach. A big help from Thrivent action grants as well. A Thrivent T-shirt is in each of those bags. Maybe not the advertisement they were thinking of, but good. Last night they packed all those boxes. Plus it looks like we will get roughly a dozen pack your own. Margaret met her goal. (No idea how we meet next year.) And I have to add that we met a personal goal that I had. When I started encouraging this I had hopes that we would reach a total number of boxes equal to every family in the congregation. With this year it looks like we will have done that. And with how it was collected, I think we got much deeper participation than we ever could have each alone. A beautiful example of “Life Together”.

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Out of the Heart…

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Biblical Text: Mark 7:14-23
Full Sermon Draft

This is the second part of the Jesus’ discussion in Mark chapter 7. The first part (last Sunday) focused more on the centrality of the Word of God. In the words of the Lutheran confessions that would is the sole norm of life and faith. It is the norming norm. All of our traditions must conform to the Word of God. The second part Jesus turns from false source of authority to the source of our problems with it. It is not that we don’t know the Word of God, but that naturally, out of the heart of man, come evil designs. What we take into the body cannot defile us as Mark comments settling the question of foods once. But we naturally take part in wickedness and fall into foolish ways.

The sermon examines Jesus’ comments on both wickedness and foolishness and puts it in the context of the larger bible’s discussion of understanding and foolishness. It then bridges into the good news. Out of our natural hearts come wickedness, but God is about replacing those hearts.

The Indwelling Word

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Biblical Text: John 6:51-69
Full Sermon Draft

This is the third and last sermon on the “Bread of Life Discourse” in John 6. The typical and easiest way to understand the entire discourse where Jesus says we must eat his flesh and drink his blood is as a reference to the Lord’s Supper. That isn’t wrong, but we do have to ignore that fact that when Jesus said it the crowds who heard it had no recourse to the sacrament. What this sermon attempts to do is proclaim the gospel from this most perplexing text with the sacrament not as first resource but as an gift that embodies for all time the truth.

What I latch onto is Jesus’ embellishment of eating the flesh and blood as the gateway or image of Christ abiding or indwelling in us. Just as the Father dwells in Christ or Christ as the perfect icon of the Father, by eating Christ he dwells in us. Creation has always been about building a dwelling place or a temple for God. In Christ we have the perfect temple, and we are made the living stones as God dwells in us. As Christ is the icon of God, we become the body of Christ and icon of a sort (although that might be a little strong this side of the New Jerusalem). That flesh and spirit incarnation is always a scandal to the world which wants to keep them separate.

Yet as Peter says – these are the words of eternal life. The second part of the gospel explored is Peter sequence where we believe first and then come to know. We must eat first – take Christ into us – to know. The body and blood of Christ give us a sure foundation. We can know because he is the bread that has come down. If we keep it outside of us, we can’t know. Belief comes first and it is belief from the heart.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Isaiah 26:1-19 and 1 John 3:1-24

Isaiah 26:1-19
1 John 3:1-24
The law & the place of the law in our lives
Luther & Calvin on “How do you know” or assurance of salvation

A Quick DVD Review – Snowpiercer

snowpiercerposterI was initially intrigued about this film because of the highly unusual release it received. Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein wanted 20 mins cut and some other stuff inserted. The director, South Korean Bong Joon-ho, refused. So, Weinstein dumped the film in limited release and on Video on Demand the same day. That is the release pattern of very bad movies or high critical/low production value movies, i.e. art house. Snowpiercer has A-list talent, Chris Evans otherwise known as Captain America, and it has high production value, i.e. budget of $42M. For Mr. Weinstein to dump it this way would probably mean a loss. Say what you will about Hollywood, but money usually trumps ideology. When it doesn’t, hmmm. (Note, there are other answers that put forward other explanations, like this, but they all strike me as after the fact of the movie garnering attention.) So, I got myself a copy.

At a very basic level, Snowpiercer is an effective thriller. Someone looking for The Bourne Identity 10 could enjoy this film simply from an action standpoint. But to end it there doesn’t capture all the subtle differences. I say subtle because the differences are at the worldview level. This movie invites reflection that Jason Bourne just would never countenance. Even American “art house” flicks would not invite some of the contemplation of Snowpiercer. My guess is that it is exactly the type of interpretation I’m thinking of that caused the producer to first demand cuts and additions and then dump the film.

You can almost see the elevator pitch: global warming apocalypse creates Marxist class struggle in confined space – Hunger Games meets Aliens, hence the “Fight Your Way to the Front” tagline. The movie has that form, but it is actually quite subversive to it. First, the whole global warming part is a smoke screen. Fear of global warming leads to a human attempt to geo-engineer the climate. That double hubris leads to the planet freezing and the only survivors being the passengers on the super train. The trouble is what we think we know and what it causes us to do, not on an environmental screed. Likewise the Marxist class struggle is the form of the action, but the entire string of events is turned on its head by two revelations. The final meeting with the material “god” of the train and the immediately prior action spurred by the anti-hero form the basic choice – stay within the materialist universe or reach for transcendence. The final bit of subversiveness is the presence of an actual hero and a hero’s journey. The only heroes we get today are in Chris Evans’ Captain America spandex. Mr. Evans gets the chance to play a hero outside of the spandex. His journey even includes the rejection of comfort and the embrace of sacrifice.

Ultimately Snowpiercer is bound and limited by its genre, an apocalyptic thriller. It is a piece of pop-entertainment. But where the outcome of most such thrillers is how the anti-hero secures material comfort and security, how the world is made sane again. In this one the world, the entire rigged system, is rejected and transcendence in hope is chosen. It is not explicitly Christian, the transcendence is not even religious from the viewer’s perspective, but the themes are not ones allowed in pop entertainment. Snowpiercer is smart pop entertainment. Pop entertainment that instead of stoking materialist impulses asks questions of a new world and transcendence. No wonder Weinstein wanted to edit it. That is dangerous stuff for the American mind.

Music Recital/Organ Fundraiser – Oct 5th @ 4 PM

I should have had this up much sooner, but I want to invite everyone to a great afternoon of music this Sunday at 4 PM. We at St. Mark are inching our way toward a new organ and some of our musical members (and some fabulous conscripts) have agreed to help out. The featured artists are the Vertex Saxophone Quartet. I’ll include their write up below, but they have a wonderful sound and you should come listen. Also on the program are the St. Mark’s choirs – adult and children. My amazing daughter with a friend of the congregation, and the Bare Bones Trombone Trio. As our organizer says, there will be plenty of kids around, so bring the family for an eclectic program of music.

Recital program

FEATURED ARTIST

The Vertex Saxophone Quartet has been performing in the Rochester area since it’s founding in 2009. All four members are graduates of the Eastman School of Music. Dr. Chisato Eda Marling is on faculty at both Nazareth and Houghton Colleges and is a Vandoren Performing Artist. Mrs. Kristin Bayer is the saxophone instructor for Eastman Community Music School. Dr. Mark Kraszewski is the Jazz Studies professor at the University of Rochester, and Mrs. Nancy Boone-Bahr is a faculty member at the prestigious Hochstein School of Music.

Upcoming performances for Vertex include a recital in Wilmot Hall at Nazareth College on Sunday October 19th at 3:00pm. The quartet is also recording at the Hochstein Performance Hall on Wednesday November 5th at 12:10pm as part of WXXI’s Live from Hochstein recital series. Both concerts are free and open to the public.

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

Apologetics vs. Proclamation – Attempting to Write Again

I haven’t written much here recently. I think that has been for three reasons. First, I’ve been recording the daily lectionary. One of the phrases of the early reformation was ad fontes – to the sources. Emphasizing the habit of daily bible reading and reflection seems to be a prime pastoral example. Second, the stuff that I’ve felt it necessary to write has either been longer in nature or just doesn’t fit in a blog type post. I could write 500 words that might get read, but all they would do is form two camps – those who have the background to understand what I would write and those who would reject it simply because it assumed too much. I’m sure that sounds terribly pompous, but I’m starting to understand Jesus’ phrase “to those who have more will be given, those who have not even what they have will be taken away (Matthew 13:12).” Having just preached through the parables in Matthew 13, the staggering heartbreak contained in that phrase resonates. I could write 1500 words, or a booklet as I did over the winter that starts at the footings of the foundation, but seeing that length would be immediately ignored – TLDR. The division happens anyway – either by hard soil or thorns. Third, writing is expenditure. I felt that I needed to put something back in the account. I needed to do some reading and some thinking.

Part of that thinking was simply about a fundamental choice in pastoral practice. When teaching the faith or in evangelism efforts, what amount of time is put on argument or persuasion verses simple proclamation – call it apologetics versus proclamation. When you don’t think you are far apart, when you think the same Spirit might be at work, love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Apologetics is perfect. When you think it might be a different spirit (2 Cor 11:4, Gal 1:6-8) the apostolic example is not bearing with but rebuking and simple proclamation – here I stand. More and more I have felt that the simple proclamation is the necessary medicine, that apologetics are falling on deaf ears and hard hearts.

Why I’m writing today is that I read a piece of recent research that captures this feeling directly. This is Dr. Mark Regnerus highlighting some of the results from His Relationships in America study. I’m going to post in one of his telling results tables.

Regnerus Data

Among the survey questions, asked of Americans between 18 and 60 years of age, were positions on the seven activities listed on the left. Orthodox Christian teaching on all seven of these activities is clear. Pornography is a sin. Premarital sex (I take Premarital cohabitation as a euphemism) is a sin, likewise sex outside of marriage (i.e. no strings attached) is a sin. Marriage is to be for life. It would be acceptable for a Christian to separate, but separation does not imply re-marriage unless the first marriage was to a pagan. All of these are actually basic applications of the sixth commandment and Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10:1-12 or Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:1-16.

The total sample representing that population, again Americans 18-60 years of age, was 15,738 represented by the “Population Average” column. Regnerus splits out four subsets out of that group. He finds 233 non-christian gay and lesbians. He finds 191 gay and lesbians who report as Christian. He finds 990 people who attend church regularly (churchgoing for this survey means at least 3 times per month) who support SSM. Dr. Regnerus writes, “In order to ensure this is not just an exercise in documenting the attitudes of Christians “in name only,” I’ve restricted the analysis to churchgoing Christians—here defined as those who report they attend religious services at least three times a month and who self-identified with some sort of Christian affiliation. And I’ve restricted the analysis to those who report a position either for or against same-sex marriage. (I’ve excluded the one-in-four who reported they are undecided.)” He also reports the responses of the 2659 church-goers who don’t support SSM.
Now let me attach this to what I was thinking before about apologetics and proclamation. I don’t know how this is possible but there are 5.1 percent of folks who attend church at least three times per month and oppose SSM but never-the-less think that no-strings-sex is OK. Now I’ve got to believe this might be a butterfly ballot and hanging chad problem akin to those Palm Springs Jews who voted for Pat Buchanan, but if not this is a group that you would use apologetics with. They might go to their grave with a wrong belief, but we all do that in some ways. Love covers a multitude of error. When you look at the response of the gay/lesbian cohorts this is clearly in the proclamation territory. This is the teaching of the church, when you are willing to give it a listen come back, but the first step is repentance. The troubling case is what do you do with the 33% of church-going Christians who support SSM and also agree that key parties are just groovy? The church has said apologetics for decades.  This is not what that word actually means, but it has been issuing apologies for clear teaching for a long time.  I think what this research shows is that apologetics is the wrong answer. The right answer is a clear call to get your thinking in line with that of Jesus.  (It might take longer to get practice in line, and we struggle with the sinful nature entire lives.  But it starts with orthodoxy, having the open heart to admit the truth comes first.  If I say I have no sin, then the truth is not in me – 1 John 1:8-9.)
Now we turn to the effects of such a turn. The good news, my guess is, is that a large majority of folks in the first column would feel heartened if the church stopped being a squish. But let’s explore the bad news. First, only 17% of the total population is with you. There is another 6% of the total population that are church go-ers. Some portion of that group would repent, but some portion would stick around and “fight” ala the Catholic Spirit of Vatican 2ists and the agitators that have lead the ELCA and the PCUSA off the cliff, and some portion would just melt into the non-churched. You would have dissension for a time within the church itself until it sorted out and the majority learned to ignore the agitators on simple questions of the moral law. (I think some of that is what has already happened, so that may not be as big a concern.) The second implication is that the reduced Christian church would be dramatically at odds with the society around it. Now maybe God is merciful and grants repentance, but it is just as likely that the simple proclamation leads to clear polarization. Good news is that the population at large is not completely with the non-christian gay/lesbian worldview depicted. But what those numbers also indicate is that at current course and speed there is a lot of ruin still possible. Imagine a world where roughly 80% had no qualms about porn vs. 31%. Instead of being late-night Cinemax it would be on NBC prime-time. PBS would be staging Masterpiece Theatre that had the refined take on what I shall not write.

What part of my thinking has been about is just how does a church that is 17% (or less in some places) work? And maybe just as importantly, how do you talk about that emerging reality when, for those say 60+ to match what the survey left out, this is not their experience nor the answers they attempted?  There are some very hard choices to be made.