Tag Archives: proclamation

Feet on the Mountain

Biblical Text: Isaiah 52:7-10
Full Sermon Draft

Christmas Day is always a smaller, more intimate time. Sometimes I wonder what it was like when that was not the case. But anyway, the sermon attempts to honor that. It is less a polished piece of rhetoric and more a personal message. An end to Christmas reflection for those who mostly have been on this church service tryptic (advent 4, Christmas Eve, Christmas day) in two days.

I’ve left in our opening hymn (A Great and Mighty Wonder) which the sermon owes a debt too, and our close, Away in a Manger. The simple invite to keep these things and ponder them in our hearts.

Stay in the Boat

Biblical Text: Matthew 14:22-33
Full Sermon Draft

Recording note: I had to rerecord the lessons, but the sermon is live. It is a skinny recording this week, sans the music, for that remix reason.

The point of a church is to make disciples. To make disciples is more complicated than it might sound. The hard truth is that Jesus was never about just getting someone to recite a creed (as important as it might be) or say a prayer (as meaningful as it can be). The disciple, as the reading from Romans would highlight, is someone that has “the word near you, in your mouth and in your heart”. The disciple is someone who has made the faith given to the apostles their own. To do that requires a work of the imagination. Sadly, it is that very imagination that I think our modern world fails at. If the ancient heresies were due to over-active imaginations, the modern are due to a lack. If they thought there was more in the text than actually there, we think there is much less. Ours is a spiritual poverty.

This sermon is an attempt to encourage the imagination of discipleship. The text is taken as a surprisingly deep, yet easy picture of the Christian life. There are two images, Peter getting out of the boat and Jesus and Peter getting in the boat, and then one image of narrative conclusion. All applied to our lives, to build up live in the boat.

Pronouns

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Biblical Text: Acts 2:1-21 (Genesis 11:1-9, Acts 2:22-41)
Full Sermon Draft

Pentecost, especially in the readings this year, is a day about language. For all we depend upon it, language is something that we don’t really think much about. We let writers and preachers do that. But if we don’t have the language for something there is a question how long it can actually exist, or if we can truly experience it. That is one of the spurs for stealing words from other languages – to experience and describe experience more precisely. One of the deep lessons of Babel is that when language breaks down, that is God’s punishment. Babel is God’s Punishment, Pentecost is God’s salvation.

The Jewish Pentecost was the receiving of the law at Sinai. That is the start of our salvation. It starts to make things clear, but the law itself has no power. That is this later Pentecost, when the Spirit is poured out.

The title comes from the diagnosis of a Babel and a call to a new Pentecost.

Our concluding Hymn is my favorite Pentecost one. LSB 500, Creator Spirit, by Whose Aid. The text is an ancient chant from the 8th century that comes to us through John Dryden the English poet. It displays both a sacramental view of the world and worship. At the end of verse two: Your sacred healing message bring, to sanctify us as we sing. But the jewel of it for me is verse three in how it describes the work of the Spirit abiding in us.

Your sevenfold gifts to us supply
Help us eternal truths receive
And practice all that we believe
Give us yourself that we might see
The glory of the Trinity.

Through the working of the Spirit, through His sanctification, we receive the eternal truth which is Jesus Christ. Receiving Christ and repenting, we then seek to follow him, to put into practice the love we have been give. And we do this because of our hope in the resurrection, that we might see the Trinity face to face. Just a beautiful hymn that maintains a bit of its chant origin.

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.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Numbers 16:1-22 and Luke 19:11-27

Numbers 16:1-22
Luke 19:11-27
The Holiness of God vs. The Risk of Proclaiming the Gospel

Resurrection Certainty

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Biblical Text: Luke 20:27-40
Full Sermon Draft

The first part of this sermon is a little snarky-er than usual. Sometimes you read something that just makes you want to say “well, what did you come out to see(Luke 7:24)”. Or in most cases it is more akin to desiring to say something like – well, I can’t refute your experience, and a bunch of people are harmonizing with you, but c’mon, grow-up, actually crack a book, or stop beating up on straw-men and turn to the real sources.” Beating up on American Mega-Church culture and feeling burned by what is obviously a 10K gold earring destined to turn your lobes green as if it were Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin or even Wesley shouldn’t be taken seriously.

But we are reaping the 30 years of that culture in the American church, so we have to. 30 years of shininess distracting from the deep wells. 30 years of assuming the gospel. 30 years of emotionalism (what the reformers called enthusiasm). And we have a bad hang-over or have trouble walking a single block, let alone picking up the breastplate of righteousness, because we are so out of shape. So we have to take it seriously. But that makes me snarky.

After getting that out of my system, the answer is the same as always. Ad fontes, returning to the sources, listening to the voice of Jesus. And the first word that needs to be heard is the gospel proclamation of the resurrection. Can these bones live? Absolutely. Because He is the resurrection. This is what Jesus does.

Inequality & Spirituality

Here is NPR with economist Tyler Cowen on his new book, Average is Over. The core of Cowen’s thesis is that we have become used to looking at things like the average or median wage to gauge the economy. In post-WW2 USA, and really in the US for most of its experience, the economy (GDP) grew and everyone got richer. Labor was always scarce, there was always the frontier, the competition was lying in smoking ruins allowing monopoly-like cartels that could share the wealth. All that is over. Outsized returns are now accruing to the 1% alone. Because of data tracking, which is really just getting started, we will identify the contributors easier. If you are talented it will become easier to get real rich. If you are not, well, robots and computers are going to replace you. The end result is increasing financial inequality. Not the 1% and the 99%, but to Cowan the 15% and the 85%.

There are two things that Cowen completely misses. Actually I don’t think he misses them so much as dismisses them as not credible. First, his explanation of happiness for a large group not in the 15%:

“Imagine a very large bohemian class of the sort that say, lives in parts of Brooklyn,” Cowen explains. “… It will be culturally upper or upper-middle class, but there will be the income of lower-middle class. They may have lives that are quite happy and rewarding, but they may not have a lot of savings. There will be a certain fragility to this existence.”

What does he mean by this? Well, I’ll take a stab. What he means is a class of poor enlightenment liberals. Let’s get even more explicit. A group that will largely practice self-restraint and late couple-pairing to raise their one child, but has no problem with: no-attachment sex, unlimited abortion, no-fault divorce and recreational drugs. Because they will have pseudo-prestigious (not real prestigious or they would be in the 15%) credentials they will be able to separate themselves from the riff-raff. They will socially amplify the difference by culturally associating with things the opposite of Monster Truck Rallies, say Shakespeare in the Park, which will be funded by a grant from the NEA in conjunction with the ABC foundation.

The first thing that Cowen misses is that we’ve seen that world before many times. A real power upper-crust, a cultural power broader based club like group with exclusionary behaviors and markers, and the people of the land. In the New Testament that equates to the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and the crowds. What was the big problem with Jesus? He challenged and made fun of the Pharisees pseudo-prestigious markers. He ate with tax collectors and sinners – the equivalent of going to a monster truck rally. What eventually breaks out in such a world is Mary’s Magnificat – “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy (Luke 1:51-54).” That has happened many times.

The second thing that Cowen misses or discounts to nothing is the Spiritual understanding of prior American generations. Is it a co-incidence that great inequality is emerging at the same general time of a great falling away from Christian teaching among the real ruling class? Cowen is an economist and it makes sense to explain to concentration as economic rationality. Talented people are more in demand, so their pay has become outsized. That is part of the happy justification for actually using position to extract the rents – I deserve it, I’m a meritocrat. Did not previous generations have such justifications? (The answer is yes). Sometimes they acted on them, but in the west they were typically bounded by Christian teaching if just the parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) or the Rich Man and his barns (Luke 12:13-21).

In a world oppressed by the rich and the oral law (your credit score record combined with all that big data), where the bread and circuses have lost their enchantment but we continue to rut around anyway because that is all there it, where society has become highly segmented class wise – hear this proclamation: Christ has come to set you free. There is neither Harvard nor University of Michigan, Temp employee nor Junior exec, beta-bohemian or alpha-elite. For you are all one in Jesus Christ. In Christ you are heirs. Through the Spirit you can live a life not of passing moments like envy and drunkeness and orgies and the like, but of of love, joy, peace, self-control. Because Christ has set you free.

Think that might preach?

Christmas Day – Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem

Nativity Icon

Biblical Text: Isaiah 52:9

Full Sermon Text

A prize goes to the first person who is able to identify the hymns referenced in the sermon. As to the Sermon, proclamation gives way to praise, especially when the mystery is so great.

The Gospel is a Proclamation (but even Jesus gave the sign of Jonah)

Joe Carter actually advances a “gotcha” argument. Which is really hard to do. He’s commenting on GQ playing gotcha with Sen. Rubio, but it goes far beyond that to real insight. Week in and out the preacher produces a sermon. And the core of any sermon is a proclamation. The simplest form of that proclamation is that Jesus is Lord. But we don’t exactly get what that means all the time. There are a bunch of other metaphors that the bible uses to talk about the proclamation. Jesus rose victoriously (Christ the victor). Jesus died for our sins (Christ the sacrifice). Jesus is the long expected prophet. Jesus is the bread of life. And a bunch of others. We call that bag of metaphors the gospel or taken out of Greek the good news. That proclamation is thrown out for faith to be awakened or the Spirit residing in us to respond to the truth.

And this is the point where Mr. Carter’s article is really good. Proclamations are usually followed with attempts to back them up. When I say Jesus died for our sins a natural question is why can I say that? My natural tendency would be to say lets look at the story. 1) Jesus claimed he could do this. 2) He gave that authority to the apostles. 3) He rose from the dead. That last point is the proof of his statements (i.e. the sign of Jonah). I could just as easily quote the Nicene creed – “I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins”, and say that this has always been the church’s teaching for 2000 years. Both of those answers to “Why?” are different and would/should be valid to different people.

Finding out which “whys?” resonate with people and using different ones is at the same time: a) respecting them and b) respecting the truth. A story way of saying this might be that paying attention to the “whys?” is the difference between the street preacher and the spiritual director. One flings out truth to largely deaf ears. The other seeks to let that truth illumine the life of the person under their direction. Figuring out when to be each is important.

Paragraph to Ponder

From Fr. Raymond Brown’s Anchor Bible Commentary on John, John 17:9-16…

If the disciples are sent by Jesus into the world, it is for the same purpose for which Jesus was sent into the world – not to change the world but to challenge the world. In each generation there is on earth a group of men given by God to Jesus, and the task of the disciples is to separate these sons of light from the sons of darkness who surround them. Those given to Jesus will recognize his voice in and through the mission of the disciples and will band together into one.