Congregational Meeting – Presentation Material

The files below contain the congregational presentation from 9/25/11. If you were present you heard the discussion and presentation. If you couldn’t make it, but have questions or concerns please contact pastor or our congregational president. Going along with the sermon of the day – the presentation is a challenge to the congregation.

Congregational Update Sept 2011 – Powerpoint File

Congregational Update Sept 2011 – PDF file

By what authority…?

Full Text of Sermon

This is sermon is one of those all or nothing affairs. Its football season, so I’ll use a football analogy. Sometimes you are handing the ball to the running back on a dive play. Its going to get roughly 3 yards and move the chains. Most sermons move the chains. Teaching is moving the chains. Sometimes the dive play opens up and you get a 20 yard scamper. Sometimes in sermons you don’t just teach but can inspire as well. And then there are the go routes. You tell your fastest receiver to go. You hold the ball as long as you can without being sacked, and then you throw it as far down the field as you can hoping that speedy guy runs under it. It is all or nothing with a side possibility of a turnover.

Jesus took his chances. He was always asking ‘who do you say I am?’ It’s an all or nothing question. The specific topic is stewardship. Churches need tithes and offerings to operate. But stewardship is a secondary question. If you haven’t committed to an answer to the authority the church works under, then stewardship is just dues. So stewardship sermons ask that primary question. Who do you say the crucified one is?

A German Pope at the Erfurt Agustinian Monastery

Benedict XVI, a German, is on a trip to Germany. One of his stops is in Erfurt at the monastery that trained and sheltered Luther. Here is the link to the full text of his comments. The full comments are short, but this is a clip. Benedict has clearly been formed in some way by Luther’s thoughts. He doesn’t mention Law and Gospel, but he talks about the revealed God/(hidden god) and talks about the deep question of how does God interact with me. You don’t get more Lutheran. Especially coming from the Anti-Christ whore of babylon Roman Pontiff. Interesting through-out….

As the Bishop of Rome, it is deeply moving for me to be meeting representatives of Council of the EKD here in the ancient Augustinian convent in Erfurt. This is where Luther studied theology. This is where he was ordained a priest in 1507. Against his father’s wishes, he did not continue the study of Law, but instead he studied theology and set off on the path towards priesthood in the Order of Saint Augustine. On this path, he was not simply concerned with this or that. What constantly exercised him was the question of God, the deep passion and driving force of his whole life’s journey. “How do I receive the grace of God?”: this question struck him in the heart and lay at the foundation of all his theological searching and inner struggle. For him theology was no mere academic pursuit, but the struggle for oneself, which in turn was a struggle for and with God.

“How do I receive the grace of God?” The fact that this question was the driving force of his whole life never ceases to make an impression on me. For who is actually concerned about this today – even among Christians? What does the question of God mean in our lives? In our preaching? Most people today, even Christians, set out from the presupposition that God is not fundamentally interested in our sins and virtues. He knows that we are all mere flesh. Insofar as people today believe in an afterlife and a divine judgement at all, nearly everyone presumes for all practical purposes that God is bound to be magnanimous and that ultimately he mercifully overlooks our small failings. But are they really so small, our failings? Is not the world laid waste through the corruption of the great, but also of the small, who think only of their own advantage? Is it not laid waste through the power of drugs, which thrives on the one hand on greed and avarice, and on the other hand on the craving for pleasure of those who become addicted? Is the world not threatened by the growing readiness to use violence, frequently masking itself with claims to religious motivation? Could hunger and poverty so devastate parts of the world if love for God and godly love of neighbour – of his creatures, of men and women – were more alive in us? I could go on. No, evil is no small matter. Were we truly to place God at the centre of our lives, it could not be so powerful. The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – this burning question of Martin Luther must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.

Another important point: God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis regarding the origins of the universe. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man. Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “What promotes Christ’s cause” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture. This presupposes, however, that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.

I’m getting old (or pop-culture landmarks meet law and gospel)

Nirvana’s Nevermind was released 20 years ago. I caught this NPR story on the radio this morning that brought it to mind. I wouldn’t want to treat essentially ephemeral things with weighty seriousness, but occasionally something breaks through. Aesthetically would anyone put Smells Like Teen Spirit next to say Bach – no. But that isn’t what pop music is about. Its about catching a vibe. You get the pop music you deserve. Stuck with Katy Perry and Britney Spears – look in the mirror. Of course I would say the same thing to oh my am I getting old about Michael Jackson and Debbie Gibson. Trust me – Katy sounds really good now, and you will still bop along when you embarrass your kids 20 years later, but you’ll just be putting on a brace face. Back to the point. Pop music catches a vibe and occasionally goes deep. Nevermind…that is the deep end of the pool.

Here is why. Pop music is ultimately the law. (Even the stones cry out.) In expressing a vibe of the day it is expressing the wants, desires, actions and works of its singers and listeners. If you want to know the status and sins that any given culture is experiencing, listen to its pop music. There are really only three ways that pop expresses the law: 1) a glorying in breaking it. (Rom 1:30) This is long an glorious vein and most of the truly fun and playful pop songs are here. Say what you want about Katy – her songs can be fun…at least for a while, until you actually try and live them. 2) A rundown of the effects of breaking the law. This is every pop song in the vein of Seger’s Against the Wind or the road songs like Journey’s Wheel in the Sky, Bon Jovie’s Wanted or the Eagles’ Tequila Sunrise and Fast Lane or more recently Coldplay. There are memories of fun, but the fun doesn’t seem fun anymore. And the bills are coming due. And road seems hollow.

Then then you get to #3. 3) This game is rigged and I ain’t playin’ it no more. The Stones’ Gimme Shelter and almost every track on Nevermind. These are the pop songs that you can play 20 years or 40 years later. They sound from their time, but they also transcend it, they still sound current because you can hear the human condition. They are not just breakin’ the law or recovering from it. Every generation does that in its own way. These are at the end of that spiral. They are looking for more. “It’s just a kiss away.” “I swear I don’t have a gun.” When you are there…the gospel might be heard.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like this…

Full Text of Sermon

The toughest part about grace to me is its timespan. Grace comes daily. Grace comes hourly. As the spiritual goes – “I need thee every hour.” Grace is like manna, you can’t store it up. It falls and you collect it and if you try and hold on it goes bad. You have to go back out and get more. The Christian is being led to trust God for that daily bread. We think that with the law we get certainty or control, but that is really just a mirage. The law is more like the tar-baby. If thrashing around in the goo is control – ok. But it just gets you deeper and dirtier. The cross is the display of the lengths and depths that God will go to, to ensure our daily bread. But that timespan, that living hour to hour, is tough right now in this world – to eyes trained in scarcity and preservation.

The Civic Religion and the Sure Hope

Full Text Link

As with so much else in America, if you want to cut to the soul or the bone of a matter you need to listen to Lincoln. (And Silent Cal Coolidge, but he didn’t live in exciting times, but his Autobiography and letters are deeply full of wisdom and heart.) But Lincoln instinctively knew the limits and failures of the civic religion. In the Gettysburg address:

…We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here…

The civic religion is part of the law. And the law has no power to save, to grant life. The sure hope is in Jesus Christ who grants eternal life which will surely not be snatched away.

So at St. Mark we juxtaposed the Sept. 11 memorials and our Church’s 110th anniversary. The one is good and proper, the other proclaims life and hope.

Can you have a culture without the cult?

Here are two items that caught my attention.

This link uses the Sherwood Baptist movie franchise as a jumping off point. If you’ve seen Fireproof, Flywheel or Facing the Giants you have the idea. Lots of pointy headed types (like me) might find the story-lines trite, but what I would say is that they’ve gotten a lot better a lot faster than I thought they would. And they’ve done it without giving up their moral core. Where Flywheel was almost enough to make me wince, the second two were at least as good as any of the secular professional stuff shown on THE Family Channel. (Let me just say that it should be the non-family channel, or the how to redefine The Family Channel. This show, which infuriatingly parson’s wife actually watches, it the most trite unreal dangerous piece of propaganda I’ve seen in a long time.) I don’t exactly like things being sold as “christian”, but you’ve got to start somewhere. What I share or like is this vision:

Will the day ever come when a church produces a film that wins an Academy Award? Or a musical that wins a Tony? Or a collection of poems or short stories that wins a Pulitzer? I pray that day will come. But the point, of course, is to change the world and not to win its applause. For believers, there is always an audience of One, and that One is pleased when we honor him with the best of our talents and efforts and also when we participate in the redemption and re-creation of all things.

The second link is related. I think it is actually the opposite of the first insight. I want you to look at the direction of its argument. It starts out with something that is true – church is the most culturally and ethnically segregated hour in the USA. Some of that is due to church strategies (such as most church growth programing of like attracts like). Some of that is due to the fact of geography – we live where we live. Some of that is culture. Black church culture is strong and different. In the same way liturgical churches and non-liturgical churches are just different. But it starts with something troubling and true, moves to something true but not really troubling (does anyone really want to spend another hour of their life watching a screen?), and then gets to something (the point) really questionable – the real world accepts homosexuality, so the church should also as a means of lessening the culture divide. Then look at the author’s suggestions. You start with something that every pastor should already be doing but then regress into dropping theology (as if doctrine were something trivial) and finally consult the experts – your teenagers. [Yes there is a smidgen of truth in some of the lines – dropping theology is not actually what is advocated, instead moving to story theology, but that is usually done so poorly they are the same thing. Yes, kids can help you at times and you should know what they are reading if just to be sure it is not the cultural arbiter.]

So instead of creating something that interacts with the world, even if it is sub-standard right now, but we are learning, link two says drive all the way to where the culture is at abandoning teachings and principles.

Art interacts with the world and seeks to change it. Christians do not so much want to use culture as to make it. They don’t want to be the iPad people but the people who create the apps used on it.