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.

Say you want a revolution…

Sermon Texts: Isaiah 45:1-7 and Matthew 22:15-22
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First, I love it when the Children’s Choir signs. You can hear them on the Podcast well directed and taught by Mrs. Kristin Bayer who is a wonderful sax player and teacher. (I hope she doesn’t mind the plug.) The simplicity of the songs they sing makes worship and sermon themes very easy to construct. Someone has already done the hard work of distilling a biblical message to a child’s level – I get to piggy back it. And this Sunday had the serendipity to have lectionary texts very easily meshed.

Second, the Lordship of Jesus is something that Reformed usually do better having a strong Sovereignty of God theology. But even they take it in a different direction normally than I think the New Testament does. When most theologians start talking Sovereignty of God it is usually about election or salvation. Everything gets bent to a salvation theology. Not wrong, just not the entire story. The old and new testaments teach that God is actively involved in the world for the benefit of his people. He is not some distant deity. He is not some pull in case of emergency God or a galactic vending machine. He (typically) operates through means – like Cyrus, King of Kings of the Persian empire, or Pilate, Prefect of Judea or you and me wherever we might be.

That gets to that radical nature of “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.” The authority is God’s duly appointed. She is there for a reason. The authority should also recognize they are not an authority grounded in themselves. There is a Sovereign, an active one. All authority is accountable in the Kingdom of Heaven. That is why when the Beatles sing “everything’s gonna be alright” we don’t just tune it out as Pollyanna drivel. Everything’s gonna be alright, because He’s go the whole world in his hands.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like this…

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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

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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.

The Milk of Faith

Draft 1.0

There are some very simple statements that are rarely expressed that are the seed bed of faith. You get close to them if you look at the world and just say what you see. Do you see millions of atoms randomly moving around? Do you see a tragic beauty? Maybe just beauty? Probably your answer to that sets your course. You presuppositions typically set your logic.

I was converted in a way to our VBS this year. It did a masterful job of talking about some of the unexpressed basic assumptions. Who is God and how does He act in regards to us? What are your gut level thoughts and presuppositions about God? VBS took Psalm 139 as the text. I pays every Christian to bring those basic thoughts to life every now and then. The world and our adversary will try and convince you that you are a fool for thinking something like: God loves you no matter what. But that is what God has revealed about himself in the Bible, in Creation and most clearly in Christ, in the cross. Those simple statements are the simple milk of faith.

[Note – in the podcast the sermon starts about the 5:00 mark]

What good is theology anyway? A Pastor-Theologian Rant

This link is one of my personal axes.

Melville in Moby Dick writes…

What could be more full of meaning?- for the pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God’s quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favorable winds. Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.

Now ask yourself when that was last true?

The life of theology is in the pulpit, is in proclamation. If you can’t go proclaim it to God’s people, than it lacks the life giving Spirit. It isn’t the WORD.

There are all kinds of problems: 1) too many Pastors afraid of scaring away what flock they have with deep stuff and so staying in safe calm waters. 2) too many theologians looking for those calm waters in the rarefied air of academic safety. 3) too many itching-ears wanting to hear safe platitudes and forecasts of peaceful waters.

The WORD creates things. It calls people to change (Repent, for the Kingdom is here). It asks people to believe what is not immediately evident. The WORD is dangerous. We arbitrage risk. We insure for risk. We manage risk. Our danger is simulated – bungee cords, roller coasters, cliched rebellion, practicing theology where it doesn’t mean anything directly. When the church is open to danger. When the church has ears to hear the call to pick up the cross and walk toward danger because that is where the Spirit is blowing, then we might find pastor-theologians again. Until then, we will have safe and tame theology.

I’m all for Pastor-Theologians. But the first step is theologians giving up the safety of credentials and the academy for the the church. This guy is a great example.

Reformation Day Sermons

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Two choices with any Special Day sermons, preach the day or preach the text. Preaching the day is by far the more popular. People expect it. It is actually easier (maybe why it is more popular) – no translations to do, find some simple stories preferably cute about the people involved. But I think that puts the cart before the horse with most things Christian. The text or the Word drives the Christian story…drives the Christian. Preaching the day drains it of its vitality. The day becomes just another museum piece. One more birthday, anniversary or commemoration to remember. Preach the text and the living Word might show up.

Russell Saltzman here has heard or given one to many sermons on the Day. He gives some great examples of the species. It is also a great example of loss of hope. When the day has lost its vitality, it can’t inspire hope. The Word that inspires is absent.

Red flag of the parsons own views here – we made/make too much of the politics and the piety that came out of the reformation, and not enough of the original insight. For centuries the camps of Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed have gloried in their people and places and documents. And those things are important, but they don’t capture the complexity of the people – their tragic incompleteness. The original reformation insight allows for that incompleteness, and lets God complete things. And that insight came from the Word.

For no one is justified by works of the law…but now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the the Law – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 3:19-22).

If you read Saltzman’s last paragraph – he put his hope in the wrong place. Even the church, which will be protected until the end, is an imperfect and incomplete vessel – waiting to be made complete…waiting for the saints to be revealed…waiting for the righteousness of God through faith.

The Gospel according to Private Ryan

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Text: Luke 18:1-17

Most things have a normal curve outcome – i.e. lots of “c’s”, a few “A’s” and a few failures. As I was writing and practicing delivery, I knew this sermon was inverted – all or nothing.

Here is why it could strike out: 1) reference to child sexual abuse, 2) talking about how to be a disciple/holiness, 3) the major image being a secular motion picture, 4) continuing or heavily referencing the previous week’s gospel (the context is critical), 5) a heavy theological concept at the end (absolution coming ‘extra nos’ or outside of ourselves), 6) an analogy that if I took it out of the context of the image would be gross work’s righteousness, 7) a different outline or format than I typically use and 8) a general high level of emotional pitch throughout.

It was risk piled on risk. (Ok Holy Spirit, better show up for this one.) I was pondering right up until Sunday Morning if I had the guts to deliver it.

Links – Transparency, Church Finance and being in the loop

A few quick links.

Synagogues and churches are quite different, and not just in their view of the that guy from Nazareth. This talks about how they are financed.

And here is an article on probably the major line item in each of those church budgets, the rabbi/minister. I could have a few gripes, but transparency is a virtue.

Gordon Atkinson on the dangers of the sermon to your soul.

And a profound piece of wisdom that should probably be given to every graduate or heroically ambitious person in your life.

It Looks Half Built

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Luke 14:25-35

The travel narrative in Luke, what the lectionary has been taking us through this summer, is about discipleship. It is Luke’s collections of teachings and events that the disciples learned from Jesus on His was to the cross, as He prepared them for their cross. The lesson this week was one of those “cool it down” moments. We’ve all gotten caught up in something in the past, and that new thing takes over your entire life. The younger you are the more open you are to that type of infatuation. Everything comes up roses.

The life of the disciple in this world is not roses. The grace of forgiveness and new life is heady, but there are some thorns. The biggest is probably the half completed nature of salvation. That is not the half completed nature of salvation to eyes with faith, but if you look at the cross without faith, it looks like a king who didn’t have enough troops. And that cross is the pattern of discipleship. Here, we follow the crucified one. We feel like we have 10,000 troops going against 20,000.

Maybe it is just my phlematic german coming out, but I’ve never understood shiny-happy American Christianity. Sanctuaries that hid the cross, preachers that talked about wealth and prosperity, seven biblical secrets to a great life. I really throw any form of progressive-ism in the same boat. We’ve had 100 years of amazing progress in medicine and technology and what are the stats: higher rates of suicide, huge numbers on anti-depressants, shameful rates of incarceration and long-term unemployment. I’m not against “progress”. I liked being able to get my gall-bladder taken out and my youngest having surgery without great worry. These are blessings, but hold them in their place. The reality is life under the cross. Orthodoxy speaks reality better than anything I’ve heard. The cross does not preclude joy. For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross (Heb 12:2). But the joy comes through the cross, not around it. Everything else seeks to avoid the cross, or deny it, or minimize it. The disciple embraces it. Not without understanding – count the costs – with understanding the disciple embraces the cross and the only solid foundation, even if it looks half built to those perishing.