Sermon – “Fading Glory” – Matt 16:21-28

This was a fifth Sunday of the month and a holiday weekend, so I knew attendance would be lite. So the sermon was set within a very stripped down service. I had intended to use matins on Sunday Morning, but when I saw the attendance, I switched to the prayer service that was used on Saturday night. There would not have been the voices to sustain the liturgical songs. Lesson learned.

In regards to the sermon. I made one big mistake, I think. I always try to come up with modern and thought provoking examples. Part of the theme of the sermon was the spiritual need to take risks – that we like staying in past success or fading glory. Those risks might lead us through the cross, but they are necessary when following Jesus. As one of 4 examples of people refusing to take risks to their detriment I used a current political example. Sen. Obama gave a great speach in 2004 that even filled this cynical man with hope. And his whole campaign has been an attempt to live in a recreate the Hope of that speach. I still think it is a valid example of our tendency not to take risks to our detriment, but I get the impression that two things happened: 1) many just tuned me out after that and 2) the political reference will be the only thing remembered. I put it in there becuase: 1) I thought it was a compelling current example and 2) it was a risk in line with the theme – a series of risks that included a direct call for the congregation to find the final needed Sunday School teacher for next week. I will try my best to avoid such references in the future. It was an unnecessary risk. Lesson learned.

Given that I still feel good about the sermon, but I know I could write a better one. It might be the cumulative effect of the two lessons above, but this is the first lesson that I’ll look forward too in three years. I’ve got more ideas and thoughts and a clearer understanding of the message. Too bad there are no mulligans in preaching.

Friday – Pentecost 15

Job 9:1-15, 32-35
Acts 10:34-48
John 7:37-52

We hear an echo of the Ethiopian and Philip. The eunuch’s question was, “Here’s water, what is to prevent me from being baptized?” The eunuch knew there used to be a wall, a law separating him from that washing. Now Peter asks, “Can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people?” There used to be a firm wall to Cornelius. That is why he was called a God-fearer. He believed, but could not be received into the assembly of Israel. Now, after Christ has torn the temple veil, after Christ has fulfilled the law, is there anything that forbids baptizing, forbids bringing these people into the assembly? No! In Christ there is no Jew or Greek. It is not that the catagories ceased, but that Christ fulfilled them. In Christ we find our common new humanity. And Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

May God remind you of your baptism and keep you in the new creation.

Thursday – Pentecost 15

Job 8:1-10, 20-22
Acts 10:17-33
John 7:14-36

Evangelism is a odd thing. The typical corporate response is to set up a “spear-catcher”. One of the group has to tell the bad news about the quarter or the event, and that person catches the spear because the messenger is always shot. After that sacrifice, the higher-ups can look good talking about the plans, visions and what-not to make the future look better. The guys in charge give the bad news to lower totem pole people and keep the good news. God did the opposite. He proclaimed that we are all sinners, and He caught that spear, a centurion’s spear right in His side. He then tells us to go and tell the good news of forgiveness. God’s ways are not ours.

Evangelism is also odd in who is prepared to hear the Word. Would a Gentile Roman Captain living in Caesarea have been Peter’s first choice for evangelism. Probably not. In fact Peter even admits that he would not be there at all except for a vision. Yet, Cornelius was prepared while those with the revelation and the law were not. We just don’t know who God has prepared to hear his Word.

But the point for the disciple is that when called you respond. God has prepared things in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10). We can throw off that planning, it is called sin, but the better spiritual path is to say yes, however reluctantly. Peter, why he is often an example, he just goes. And it is not like we are sharing bad news. The law is on everyone’s hearts. They know they are sinners. What they don’t know is the gospel. Jesus lived and dies and rose for them. Jesus took care of that sin. We get the message of a solution.

May you recognize and respond to the various good works that God has planned for you in advance.

New Sidebar Link – Healthy Hearts

I have added a catagory called Area Ministries and a link under that catagory called healthy hearts.

That link takes you to a page for a Support Group Ministry based out of Ridgeland Community Church. This Tuesday (8/26) I met with the sponsors and people behind this ministry. You might have seen the front page ad in the Penny Saver this week as well. They will be sponsoring three Groups:

Grief Share – This is a support group for people who have lost loved ones and are finding their way through the grief
Divorce Care – This is a support group for those going through or who have gone through a divorce and the pain that it can cause
Celebrate Recovery – This is a more general group based around hurts, hang-ups and habits. Serious substance abuse might not be the best use, but recognizing and altering personal bad habits.

Part of the vision of this ministry is allowing smaller churches to come together and address hurts and needs in a way they might not be able to otherwise. The groups are 13 week (one quarter) meetings which you can join at any point. They are biblically based and produced originally out of Saddleback (Rick Warren’s church). The organizers clearly have a pure heart for this ministry.

If you are having trouble in any of the areas these would address, please contact me. As your minister, I would like to support you in any way that I can. If you would like to enroll, I would also want to be sure that you have the time and opportunity to process the experience after the 13 weeks.

For further information, the link is above or in the side-bar, or please contact me directly.

Wednesday – Pentecost 15

Job 7:1-21
Acts 10:1-16
John 7:1-13

The text in acts today is frought with danger for the culture of today. The event told by Luke between Peter and Cornelius is basically the pattern for every change that would break a specific passage of scripture. The early church was basically Jewish. While Jesus would confront the Pharisees about legalism, he was still on observant Jew. The natural inclination would have been that being a Christian also ment being a Jew. We’ve seen how the disciples still gathered in the temple. And here we see Peter saying no to “unclean foods”. Peter receives a vision – “What God has cleansed, you must not call unclean.” With that vision the future course of Christianity is set. Paul will be preaching the cermonial/civil law free gospel, and Peter will eventually side with Paul, on the basis of this story. One modern application of that story would be (I’m sure has been) in regards to homosexuality. I think it would be fair to say that the vast majority of Christians would prefer to err on the side of what looks like love and welcome and affirm homosexual activity. And people like Bishop Robinson of the Episcopal church and others step forward and claim, usually under the title of “being prophetic” or “using the prophetic voice”, that God is calling the church to welcome these acts – just like God was calling Peter to accept the that the food had been made clean. It is a wanted and seemingly logical application of the story until you consider the impacts. Who is prophetic, or who gets to make these claims? What is the judge of authenticity? Lutherans will hold up the written Word, the Bible, as the final authority, but these prophetic claims are essentially attempting to alter the bible (Romans 1:26-27 is pretty clear). The question is fundamental. Do we believe in the ‘apostolic church’ of the Nicene Creed, Paul’s message of the Gospel in Galatians and Jesus warning about relaxing the law (Matt 5:19), or do we believe in universally authoritative ongoing revelation or prophecy? The apostles spoke for the universal church. Today we do not have living apostles, but we have their written words. There are all kinds of things in that Word that we might not like, but that is the authority revealed to us – the Word is where we find the promises, the gospel. When you try and alter one, you lose the other.

May the Lord grant His church the wisdom to listen to His Word.

Tuesday – Pentecost 15

Job 6:1-21
Acts 9:32-43
John 6:60-71

We had a small break in the Acts story. Luke (the writer of acts) tells us about the Samarian mission and Philip. He also gives us the start of Paul – the Damascus road experience. With today’s text we are back on the main early thread. This is a Parson Brown conjecture from trying to piece together the NT accounts and the early church history, but Peter is the solidifier of early church missions. First we had Philip in Samaria, and now Peter travels to Lydda and Joppa which are both on the way to Samaria. Paul is sent out from the Antiochan church and then Peter shows up causing the confrontation Paul records in Gal 2:11. It continues through chruch history with Peter moving to Corinth for a time and eventually on to Rome, both following Paul Peter solidifies, rock that he is, what others have planted. Hence the Pope not only claims the see of Peter, but actually the see of Peter and Paul. (He always gets to one up everyone.)
Speaking of back on the main thread, Peter travels around visiting the saints, and heals Aeneas and even brings Tabitha (or Dorcas in greek) back to life. The miracles that Jesus did are now found in the Apostles. Which in our modern time is always a hard story to read. Where are our amazing miracles? They do happen sometimes. We all know of isolated cases of healing or the miracles the Roman church confirms to ‘make a saint’. It seems capricious. But what is the fundamental point of miracles? They are signs and wonders. They point to the underlying truth of the claims made by those doing the miracles. Jesus said, “If you don’t believe me at least believe the miracles.” Ultimately miracle belief is not enough, but miracles are like apologetics. You can’t argue someone into belief, but you can give reasons for why belief is reasonable. When was the last time you knew of someone restored to this life from the dead? Joppa saw it and “many people believed in the Lord.” The miracles support the message. They are not the end in themselves.

May you see the truth of the the Lord Jesus even if you don’t see a miracle.

PS. I knew a woman in elementary school by the name Dorcas (which means the same thing as Tabitha, gazelle). Poor woman, times changed on her. As late as 1938 it was the 638th most popular girls’ name – ranking above Isabella, Angelina, Hallie, Sydney, and Lisa along with many others. The culture, especially with girl’s names, went away from Biblical names (even obscure ones like Dorcas) toward the more idiosyncratic. Names tell a lot about a time period.

A Comment Question that others might have

In the comments Liz Waring asks – “Would it also be possible to post the entire sermon after it’s been given?”

The answer is yes. In fact the full text of the sermon is on the website connected to the word cloud picture in the sermon posts. If you have MS Word or MS Word viewer just click on the word cloud and the full text (at least the written text which is usually 95%+ what is given) of the sermon will pop up. You can also right click on the word cloud and choose the ‘save target as…’ option to download and save the file.

There is a second option if you want the text, but don’t have MS Word or viewer and don’t want MS on your system. I post the sermons in text only form to a separate site. On the sidebar under toolkit is a link called Parson Brown’s Sermons. That link takes you to a site that has all of my delivered sermons by date. The format that page uses is strictly text, so the helpful formatting gets lost, but the text is there.

The last option is that if anyone want the text, just drop me an email and I can directly send you the file, or if you want paper contact the office and we can make a copy.

Now that I am delightfully happy that someone asked about what I was saying, my day has been made. May the Lord make your day as happy.

Sermon – My Assembly – Matt 16:13-20

The subject of this sermon is the Church and what it means to be church. Those thoughts have come up repeatedly in the last couple of weeks. I knew when I first read the lesson for today, the handing of the keys in Matthew, that the church would be a good topic. The Lord led me to some good experiences in preaching on it.

This sermon is about a page longer than normal, and the thoughts and the paragraphs were deeper and more developed. I think I went a full 20 mins. That said, as I gave it Saturday Night/Sunday Morning I can’t say that I saw heads nodding or getting real impatient. The same faces that don’t really want to be there had the same expressions, but the length did not seem to cause narcolepsy.

There are some portions that I really like (for example the closing paragraph.) There are portions that I like, but afterward think are probably extraneous (the text portion on the wrong answers to who Jesus is.) I still think they are defendable and good, but they belong in a different sermon. I didn’t edit ruthlessly enough at that point.

It is a serious sermon, about a serious topic and one that has much confusion today. You could spend a year on the subject. This is 20 mins. The best thing I can say is that it is textual. The entire structure comes directly from the text. Thw Wordle at the top gives you a very good idea as to what is important. I tried to get the church squarely on top of Jesus in the picture, but it wouldn’t give me that.

Peace be with you and your family.

Friday – Pentecost 14

Vampire Parson Brown reporting for duty, that 3 AM volleyball game was great. It is not good for a married man with kids to all of a sudden have larger blocks of time. They get wasted. Oh well, only one more day.

Job 2:1-13
Acts 9:1-9
John 6:27-40

Saul, still breathing threats and murder, or as he lables himself elsewhere, zealous for the traditions of our fathers, receives a direct call. “I am Jesus, rise…you will be told what you are to do.” Today when someone says they saw Jesus we say, yep, sure, and I’ve got a nice padded room over here. The funny thing is that might not have been far off from Saul/Paul’s reception. We will read more of the story in Acts, but in Galatians Paul himself tells the story. Paul goes to Damascus, then goes to Arabia (Gal 1:17) and then back to Damascus. Paul is always defending his apostleship and call. It is as if his preaching is accepted, but then his authority is always questioned. It forms an interesting dynamic in the NT. Arguably the most quoted and influential apostle, the largest section of the NT, is also the only one seriously questioned with the book. If you were gathering sacred scriptures for your religion, would you pick the most doubtful bona fides to be the clearest and original messenger or systematizer? The ways of God are not the ways of man. God is glorified in through the weakness of man. Saul the zealous rabbi was stong in men’s eyes and had the best resume. Paul the apostle was weak in men’s eyes, and had a questionable resume at best – You saw Jesus in a vision Paul? Why don’t we go see Peter instead. – But God chose Paul to be the apostle to the gentiles and to write all those letters. Praise be to God who shines through weakness.

May God be glorified also in your weakness.

Open Source Liturgy

This is a staggering suggestion/operation. The United Methodist Church, or at least some within it (I don’t know enough about it to really answer) is modeling the development of the new liturgies upon open source software development. Knowing a little about both worlds (open source and liturgical) that idea is exciting and shocking at the same time. The high liturgist will rattle on all the time about the liturgy being the words and the voice of the people, but at the same time the official liturgy is usually controlled by a select group of hermetically sealed liturgists. If an ‘open source’ liturgy could actually be developed it might actually represent the ownership and buy-in to litugical worship that is so often lacking. I’ve often commented that ‘contempory worship’ is really just an amorphous term for worship that connects with our life, or more often that connects with my wife, husband, son, daughter or relative’s life who has left the church. The real secret of open source is that only the most committed and able actually consistently devote the time. The imagined democracy disaster rarely if ever happens. The people are amused with other activities. Open source is a mission activity, a service to the community. What emerges is good software designed and enacted by experts who care with the buy-in of others who know or who at least admit they had the opportunity to change. The question is if those ivory tower liturgists will put their money where their mouth is, or if they will balk at this. I will be watching this with great interest.