Archive | March, 2013

I am preaching the same sermon four times in a row…thank you Lectionary very much.

16 Mar

I don’t know a whole lot about the history of the Lectionary.  I guess I could at least do a basic search on Wikipedia, but not right now.  Clearly, someone put a lot of time and thought into the selection of passages because they fit well with the Christian calendar.

For example, it’s Lent right now.  A seven week period leading up to Easter.  This year for Lent I decided to follow the Lectionary Gospel readings which happen to all be from Luke.  Not having done a ton of digging into each passage ahead of time, I surmised that the readings would help the disciple of Jesus look inward, be penitent for sin, and seek to eradicate sin in advance of the grand celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter.

But each week what we have found is a thread around the idea of movement.  In every single reading, there is a clear emphasis on the idea of movement in our lives away from sin and toward Jesus..

Much to the glee of some in our church family, at the end of each sermon, I have called for people to make an outward physical move symbolizing what is hopefully an inward spiritual reality.

One week it was the traditional “come forward to kneel at the altar.”  We have strong revivalist roots in our tradition, and I praise God for the response.

The next week I asked people to write on the Scribble cards we have in the hymnal racks on each of our pews.  They could write a sin they were struggling with, or anything they wanted to talk about, and give it to me or another person with whom they could talk further.  Again, it was wonderful to see the response.

Last week during Silent Sunday, one of youth leaders had a great idea that we used.  We handed each person, upon entering the sanctuary, a “Hello my name is…” sticker badge, but we instructed them to wait to write on it until they received instructions in the sermon.  Being Silent Sunday the sermon was on-screen.  Just as the Prodigal Son (a wonderful story of movement) did not feel worthy to be called “son”, but instead felt he was only worthy to be called “servant,” we asked people to write a false name on the badge.  Perhaps it was a name they were called by someone, a name that hurt.  Or maybe it was a name they call themselves in the quietness of their own minds, but still a name that is not true.  They were then to peel off the badge, place it on their shirt, and walk to the front of the sanctuary where we had placed the large cross we use for our Good Friday Cross Walk.  People could then remove the badge, place it on the cross, symbolizing the new life that Jesus makes possible for us through his death and resurrection.  Then at the foot of the cross there were baskets with pre-printed badges that said “Hello my name is Son of the King” or “Daughter of the King.”  They could then take a badge that has their true name, and place it on their shirt.  This received the biggest response of all.

So here I am again, on the eve of preaching yet another sermon about movement.  Many people call this week’s passage “The Parable of the Tenants” (Luke 20:9-19).  It is better titled “The Killer Tenants.”  I’ll be honest.  There is part of me that is thinking “Enough already…people are going to get sick of what is essentially the same sermon four Sundays in a row.”  If you read the parable, you’ll see why I’m saying this.  Don’t get me wrong. These are four different passages, and I have studied and written four brand new sermons each week.  And yet I wonder if people are going to start feeling tired of it.

Before I get too far down that road, I go back to the genius of the Lectionary.  Some of you might not be aware of what the Lectionary is.  To keep it simple, it is a plan for pastors to select biblical passages to preach on each week.  Each week there are four passages, one each from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Gospels and the New Testament. In many churches that follow the Lectionary, each of the passages are read aloud during the worship service.  The sermon might focus on one, or if the pastor is particularly creative they will weave together all four.  In three years, if you follow the Lectionary, you will have covered a wide swath of the Bible.  It is an ancient plan that has been revised over the years, and it is amazing.

As I think about the selection of these passages from Luke for Lent, I realize that they come from the life and ministry of Jesus.  People who watched him, followed him and listened to him must have thought he sounded like a broken record.  Let’s face it, he repeats himself quite a bit.  Though the Lectionary selections in Luke for Lent are purposefully chosen to emphasize the need to remove sin and commit fully to Jesus, I suppose it wouldn’t have been all that hard to come up with the instances in Luke where Jesus himself is talking about these themes.  He speaks about them all the time.  So may that be instructive to us.  Just when we’re feeling sick of being harped on for being sinful and needing to commit more fully to Jesus, he says it again.

But here’s the kicker.  Why would he do that?  To make us feel guilty?  Not at all! Instead he speaks this truth to us because he loves us and wants to show us the abundant life that only he can offer.  He sees us captivated by lesser things.  And doesn’t American culture promise us the good life, only to re-neg on that promise by giving us much less than what we thought?  It reminds of me playing all those games at our local LaserTag establishment.  Skee-ball, basketball shots, the game where you roll a token down a slot and try to get it in the bull’s-eye, or the game where you try to push the button when a light is flying around a circle and your button-push stops the light on a numbered circle, and you’re hoping to get the jackpot?  Then you get tickets for winning these games.  You turn your tickets into the ticket-eater and it pops out a receipt.  You’re all excited from winning pocket-fulls of tickets, and it feels great to load them into the ticket-eater.  You take your receipts for 368 points to the prize counter, only to be slapped in the face with the reality that you’re thousands of the points short of the iPod.  You walk away with gummy bracelets.  Jesus says I have an iPod waiting for you and your are gorging yourself on gummy bracelets.

Do you know anyone who bought into our culture’s idea of happiness and fulfillment only to be severely disappointed and disillusioned?  Maybe it was you.

We need movement.

Returning Prodigals…Discussion

13 Mar

A few days ago we had our second Silent Sunday, and the passage we studied at Faith Church was Luke 15:11-32, traditionally called The Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Because it wouldn’t work to well to have a sermon on Silent Sunday, we had a time of guided reflection, punctuated with 5-minute periods of silence throughout.  You can download the entire service PowerPoint presentation here (in PDF format).

So how about you?  Do you identify with the younger son?  The older one?  In sermon discussion group after the service, a couple people said they also identified with the father.  Maybe you have lost someone in your life, and you feel the same way?

As you look through the PDF, what name might you put on your name badge?  Though we’re not in the worship service, do you need to surrender that name to the Lord and take your rightful, true name?  “Son or Daughter of the King!”

Returning from prodigal fundamentalism

9 Mar

In the fall 2001, with the disaster of 9/11 still very much turning our national future into a huge question mark, my wife, Michelle, and I felt our personal lives were in a fog as well.  We had just moved back to Pennsylvania after a year of missionary service in Kingston, Jamaica.  Expecting it to be our life’s work, we returned home broken, feeling a mixture of emotion that included failure, confusion, and hope.  Within a few weeks, close friends of ours living in Denver, Colorado, had their first baby, a girl, and tickets to see U2.  We hopped on a plane, excited to spend time in the Rockies, a first for us, and most of all to be with our friends, Ray, Holly, and their new baby, Grace.  One evening they took us to visit Ray’s uncle who lived nearby.  We had never met him before, but because he had been influential in Ray’s life, I looked forward to talking with him.

I’ll never forget what he said when we walked in the door.  No greeting or formalities.  No small talk.  Instead it was “Ah, more Bible college fundamentalists.” (Or some other word like “legalists”, “hypocrites”, etc.)  I was taken aback.  Having just served a year on the mission field, I thought we were fairly cutting edge Christians.  His words described us as run-of-the-mill, backwards, and possibly a bit brainwashed.  Who of us wants to admit that we’re not our own free-thinking, person?  Surely not me.  So I tried to get over myself and pick his brain a bit.  Definitely a provocateur, when I asked him what books he recommended, he led with a book about Christianity and karma or Buddhism.  I don’t remember the title, but I got a sense that he was purposefully trying to get under our skin (though I can imagine a book about Christianity and eastern religions could be very thought-provoking and now wish I had the title).  Fact of the matter is, it worked.  As you can tell, I haven’t forgotten that conversation now over ten years old.

His second recommendation, and by his tone, a much more serious one was Henri Nouwen’s The Return of The Prodigal Son.  He described it as “the best book on the spiritual life” he had ever read.  At the time I had never heard of Nouwen, at least not in any meaningful way.  That alone is a piece of evidence that my friend’s uncle’s untested assessment of us was on the money.  Nouwen’s work is astonishing in it’s power, possibly enhanced because the book, like most of his writings, is so short.

I purchased a copy of the book when we returned home and devoured it.  In the past ten years I have read it numerous times, recommended it many more, and spoken on the parable or at least referenced or quoted material from the book in sermons, teachings and seminary papers.   Can you tell that I would heartily encourage you to read this book as you meditate on the parable?  As I think about coming home from Jamaica, and the changes in our lives over the last ten years, there is a sense in which we were prodigals returning to the father.  My friend’s uncle was correct in his label.  While I believe we had a Bible college experience that could perhaps be classified as generous fundamentalism, in large part because of the influence of our two sets of parents (our fathers were each professors at the college and our families were both very mission-oriented), we have still been on a journey to understand what it means to rest in the embrace of the father and understand his heart of grace.

The parable of the Prodigal, one of Jesus’ best-known and loved, is a short story with loads of emotional force and truth.  I once heard a sermon describing how all three of the main characters in the story are prodigal in their own way.  Prodigal Waste, Prodigal Pride, and Prodigal Grace.  Perhaps you will read the story and try to match them up.  You might also join us tomorrow at Faith Church as we’ll look at this story in a very different way than you might have ever experienced.  Shhhh…it’s a surprise.

Current events and dead fruit trees

5 Mar

On Sunday we looked at Luke 13:1-9 where Jesus talks with a crowd about some current events, and then he tells them a parable.  Perhaps you might read the verses again to remind yourself of the story.

Basically the two parts go like this:

Part 1 – In current events, people died, but not because they were more sinful.  The fact of the matter is that we’ll all die, Jesus says, unless we repent.

Part 2 – In the parable, the owner will cut down dead fruit trees, unless the garderner’s fertilizer treatments cause it to bear fruit.

Do you see how these two sections are related?

The hope of the world….fertilizer!

2 Mar

I once listened to a very thought-provoking audio book called An Edible History of the World by Tom Standage.   I learned a lot about seeds, food development, and especially fertilizer.  Standage does an excellent job digging through the history and progress of fertilizer.  Many of you have gardens and you know what a wonderful difference fertilization makes to your flowers and vegetables.  Here in Lancaster County fertilizer is an aroma we know quite well.  The other day, I thought for sure someone had done something very awful in our bathroom, or perhaps worse that a sewage pipe was backed up.  I should have known better.  The farmers around us were applying winter fertilizer to their fields.

Standage convincingly shows that without fertilizer, we would not be able to feed the world.  Fertilizer is, in a very real sense, the hope of the world.

Jesus knew about fertilizer and he discusses it in a parable.  In preparation for tomorrow’s sermon, read Luke 13:1-9.  Perhaps you need a little hope, a little fertilizer!