Biblical Text: Matthew 16:13-20
Full Sermon Draft
Jesus asks a question in the middle of the gospel text – “Who do you say that I am?” This sermon takes a stab at what it would mean to answer it today. Take a listen and then try your answer.
1 Kings 1:1-4,15-35
1 Corinthians 12:14-31
The Bible’s habit of showing true humanity alongside God given office, the purpose of gifts for the good of the body
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.
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.
Biblical Text: Matthew 14:22-33
Full Sermon Draft
In this sermon I try to build off of the immediately prior context of parables, explanation and the feeding of the 5000. Jesus has established a rhythm of indirect teaching (parables) followed by direct teaching to the disciples. The feeding of the 5000 is the indirect teaching of the presence of God. We place a sacramental understanding on that. God is present in the bread. The walking on water helps us to grasp just what is on offer in that bread and put the appropriate boundaries on it. God is present and where is his most present, where in fact he is seen for who He is and worshiped, is in the boat.
American Christians has a fondness for talking about Jesus in their hearts. That is not wrong, but it is becoming a very loosey-goosey usage. What is more important that the Jesus in your heart is being found in the midst of His heart. His heart is with his bride, the church. Jesus doesn’t go strolling on the water with Peter after he rescues him. He puts him back in the boat, back in the heart of God.
1 Samuel 13:1-18
Christ & The Apostles – no wedge allowed, God’s time vs. our time
Applying the final proverb to the church, the many and various ways of the gospel, a gospel post-script
From an interview here…
Mohler: I get the impression that when you look at American Christianity in general, and American Evangelicalism in particular, you appear to see a church that is looking less and less like the church.
Hauerwas: I have great admiration for evangelicals for no other reason than they just bring such great energy to the faith and I admire that. But one of the great problems of Evangelical life in America is evangelicals think they have a relationship with God that they go to church to have expressed but church is a secondary phenomenon to their personal relationship and I think that’s to get it exactly backwards: that the Christian faith is meditated faith. It only comes through the witness of others as embodied in the church. So I should never trust my presumption that I know what my relationship with God is separate from how that is expressed through words and sacrament in the church. So evangelicals, I’m afraid, often times, with what appears to be very conservative religious convictions, make the church a secondary phenomenon to their assumed faith and I think that’s making it very hard to maintain disciplined congregations.
“How would you expect to find community while you intentionally withdraw from it at some point? The disobedient cannot believe; only the obedient believe.” …The Cost of Discipleship
This is the hard starting place for this generation. We hear lots of talk and angst and desire for community but rarely find it. We rarely find it because we are rarely obedient. There is a parallel within marriages or should I say our couplings. We withdraw. They can have our bodies, but not our hearts. They can have our presence, but not our attention. They can have our acts, but not our being. We have committed adultery before even opening our eyes. Likewise we are weak in faith and unbelieving because we will not be obedient to the Word. We do not keep the Sabbath, yet expect the Word to be present on demand. We keep a Sabbath mentally, but harden our hearts to our neighbors. Or keep it with our hearts, but stay our hands. We will not have a true husband or wife withdrawing a part of ourselves, likewise we will not have an ecclesia, a church, withdrawing ourselves. Thanksgiving precedes the miracle, obedience precedes the blessing. To those who have more will be given, but to those who have not, even what they have will be taken away.
“The community of the saints is not an “ideal” community consisting of perfect and sinless men and women, where there is no need of further repentance. No, it is a community which proves that it is worthy of the gospel of forgiveness by constantly and sincerely proclaiming God’s forgiveness…Sanctification means driving out the world from the Church as well as separating the Church from the world. But the purpose of such discipline is not to establish a community of the perfect, but a community consisting of men who really live under the forgiving mercy of God.” ..The Cost of Discipleship
“It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!” …Life Together
If the devil cannot convince you to withdraw from the church before ever really being part of her, he will try the opposite course, to push you through to the other side. The quickest way to accomplish this is to convince you that this group of people you have turned yourself over too isn’t worthy of that offering. This works as one of those brilliant almost truths because the church and that specific church in and of itself is not worthy. They are not worthy because those gathered are sinners. The church will break your heart. It might even rip you limb from limb. It might even put you on a cross. That is what it did to the one you follow. The chief priests and the leaders of the people handed him over to be crucified. The lie that resides in the midst of the devil’s truth is that he has stolen the mirror. When you see a bunch of sinners, we should see our own reflection. Our churches have become devoid of the mirror. Which leads many of us to react like Bonhoeffer’s horrified righteous. We remain alone either because we leave that gathering of sinners, or because we become expert at helping our enemy hide the mirror.
The authentic community is a gathering of lepers who have come for the cure. “You sins are forgiven, go and sin no more”. Yes we will sin again. And we return again and hear the same words – 70 x 7. The authentic church gathers to hear both the healing and the charge. In the healing she finds her strength. In the charge she finds her hope. It will not always be this way, because hope will give way to fulfillment. The perishable will put on the imperishable. The corrupt will receive the incorruptible.
“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.” …Life Together
Bonhoeffer here captures some of the shallow and rocky points to which the devil can drive us where faith can be shipwrecked. We can see four of these shallow points prominent in the American church of today. We are afraid of being alone or of solitude so regardless of confession or creed gather together under “non-denominational” banners. These gatherings often happen to be the largest because we are afraid of solitude. Not that the smaller church is truly solitude, but because we have no firm words to stand up we need the mass of feeling. The feeling provided by amplified music, lightshows, choreography and well-honed rhetoric often devoid of actual substance. That is the typical mood affiliation of the modern right(eous). Likewise there is a mood affiliation of the modern left that also rejects words for the warm fellow feeling of those who truly “love”. Because of being afraid of being alone the definition of “love” is so broad as to encompass those outside of the church as if they were members of the body. There also exist those who afraid of solitude conjure up the communion of saints through words. Not that the words are wrong or that the communion of saints is false, but we are not after the real content of the words, just the fellowship with an entity we invoke with words we do not understand. Those are the three shallows of the modern church, but a fourth exists on its periphery – in the narthex and the site of baptism but not in communion. The forth shallow are those who refuse the fellowship opting for the vanity of personal spirituality. The sole purpose of such an unconnected faith is to substitute the true body of Christ with a body that looks more and more like ourselves every passing day. Such a love affair can go on for a long time, but meets a rude end when on the death bed this body proves unable to save.
These are the shallows we are called to recognize and avoid. The life of the church is one of feast and fast, of fellowship and of solitude. We believe with the heart and confess with the tongue. We do not neglect to gather, yet we also ensure that we have our own oil and examine ourselves.
“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” …Life Together
The last peril is actually believing that such a place deserving of our love exists this side of the Kingdom. Even Ephesus was recalled to their first love. Philadelphia kept the word but had little strength. This is one part of what it means to be Christlike. Seeing the manifold faults of the church that separate her from our dream community, we love her as Christ loved her. As long as we are with-holding ourselves for our dream community we will continue to persecute the church as she actually is. It is only love, which covers a multitude of sins, that knows fully. Christ has fully loved the church and knows her fully. Can we say to the member that Christ has washed “I have no need of you”? There is a still more excellent way that everyday creates and abides forever.
Genesis 44:1-18, 32-34
Toward a definition of love, it isn’t love if is doesn’t cost, The Community of Love and the Resurrection
The Temple Rang with Golden Coins – Lutheran Service Book 787