Archive for November, 2009

Sermon for 11-29-09: “Hope”

November 30, 2009

Sermon Text: Luke 21:25-36

Here we are: the season of Advent. It’s a season that is technically a lot like Lent: It’s a time when we get ourselves in shape, spiritually speaking, for the upcoming Christmas season. The Christmas season officially begins at 12:00 a.m. on December 25. Of course, you wouldn’t know this if you’ve been to the mall or a department store. Outside the church, the Christmas season is in full swing. The Christmas season unofficially begins when Santa Claus makes an appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Now is the place where you might expect a good Methodist preacher like me to get on my high horse about how wrong our pop culture is to celebrate Christmas so early; to complain that Christmas is over-commercialized; to complain that we should focus more on Jesus and less on Santa Claus; to complain that we overemphasize Christmas at the expense of Easter, et cetera. But you know what? Read the rest of this entry »

Texted question from last week: “What is truth?”

November 29, 2009

Someone texted the following question to me in last Sunday’s service, which I didn’t answer during the sermon time:

Why does Pilate ask what is truth? Does he think there is more than one truth?

This question refers to John 18:38a. Jesus tells Pilate that he came into the world “to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate responds, “What is truth?” Pilate’s question sounds deep and philosophical. To our ears, it even has a contemporary post-modern ring to it. I suspect Pilate’s tone was more dismissive than soul-searching: What is so important about truth that you would be willing to give up your life for it? Pilate perceived that the truth to which Jesus testified—the truth that Jesus embodies (John 14:6)—was no threat to him.

I don’t know whether Pilate thought there was more than one truth. If so, he likely believed that his truth, represented by a Roman army of overwhelming force, mattered far more than the truth of this kingdom-not-from-this-world.

The careful reader of John’s gospel may see similarities between Pilate and Nicodemus in John 3: After Nicodemus’s encounter with Jesus, Nicodemus seemingly throws up his hands and says, “How can these things be?” Like Pilate, he is a powerful and well-connected representative of authority who fails to grasp the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Dylan: “Well, I am a true believer.”

November 27, 2009

Bob Dylan recorded three albums of overtly Christian or gospel songs between 1979 and 1981. He was at that time very public about his conversion to Christianity and, for a while, only performed his new material. Since then, he’s mostly returned to making “secular” music. (The scare quotes indicate my rejection of the distinction between “Christian” and “secular” music: all good music is deeply spiritual and religious, in my opinion.) It has become a cliche for writers and journalists to say that Dylan “renounced” his Christian faith around 1983, in spite of the following evidence: Dylan never stopped performing much of his gospel-era songs; he continues to pepper his songs with biblical allusions; he speaks often about faith in God (here’s one random example), including a 2004 interview with Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes; and several years ago, he recorded a new version of his explicitly Christian Slow Train Coming song “Change My Way of Thinking” with Mavis Staples for a gospel tribute CD.

Still, since most critics and journalists ignore all this evidence and accept the cliche that he abandoned his faith, Dylan’s new Christmas charity album has confounded many people. Does Dylan really mean these words he’s singing? Bill Flanagan, whose interview with Dylan was published this week, elicited this exchange:

BF: You really give a heroic performance of O’ LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM The way you do it reminds me a little of an Irish rebel song. There’s something almost defiant in the way you sing, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”  I don’t want to put you on the spot, but you sure deliver that song like a true believer.

BD: Well, I am a true believer.

What bothers me is the unspoken presumption that an artist of Dylan’s stature must be putting his listeners on. “He can’t really believe all that, can he?” Why is it so hard to imagine? There are a lot of us “true believers” out here, you know? Read the entire interview, and buy the album if you can. All proceeds support a worthy cause.

Sermon for 11-22-09: “Christ Our King”

November 26, 2009

Sermon Text: John 18:33-38a

Today is a special Sunday known as Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the Christian year. It’s sort of New Year’s Eve, if you want to think of it that way. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. While we don’t have noisemakers, party hats, or champagne, we do have good reason to celebrate because Jesus Christ is our king.

Speaking of royalty, when I was 15, my family and I took a two-week trip to the British Isles. We spent a week in England. While we were in London, we had just finished visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral and were walking around the streets of London when something remarkable happened. We stumbled upon a parade and saw the queen. She was about as far away from me as this front row of chairs is. We took Read the rest of this entry »

“It’s the end of the world as we know it”

November 25, 2009

Do we feel fine? Since this Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, we (along with most of the Church Universal) will be examining that topic as we look at Luke 21:25-36. Since it’s my favorite R.E.M. song, and the best “list song” this side of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” now is a good time to link to a nice live version. I don’t know what the end of the world has to do with Leonard Bernstein, Lenny Bruce, Lester Bangs, or Leonid Brezhnev, but who cares? What a great song!

Seriously, how do pop-culture images of the end of the world (here’s one recent and popular example) compare and contrast with our Christian hope? The Bible, after all, doesn’t teach simply the end of the world, but the end of the world as we know it. That distinction means everything.

"Ryan started the fire!"Finally, wanna know what the worst “list song” ever is? Well, here’s a very funny parody of it for you “Office” fans out there.

Collect of the Day: Clive Staples Lewis, Writer, 1962

November 24, 2009

Today, our brothers and sisters in the Episcopal Church honor C.S. Lewis. From today’s Daily Office,

O God of searing truth and surpassing beauty, we give you thanks for Clive Staples Lewis, whose sanctified imagination lights fires of faith in young and old alike. Surprise us also with your joy and draw us into that new and abundant life which is ours in Christ Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Here’s an appreciative, though critical, recent essay on Mere Christianity, by Anglican bishop and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, who himself wrote a very fine apologetic book called Simply Christian, which I’d recommend to everyone.

This Sunday in Vinebranch: John 18:33-38a

November 19, 2009

This Sunday, November 22, we will be celebrating New Year’s Eve—sort of. It’s the last Sunday of the Christian year, known as Christ the King Sunday. Our scripture includes a discussion between Pilate and Jesus about whether or in what sense Jesus is a king. Jesus tells him, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

Is Christ’s kingdom only otherworldly or does it have some bearing in this world? What does it mean to follow Christ our King? Do we listen to Christ when he speaks to us?

A song I wrote: “My Own Worst Critic”

November 18, 2009

I’ve struggled for most of my life with a small, nagging, hyper-critical voice in the back of mind that too often criticizes my words and actions: “You’re doing this wrong… No one cares what you have to say… People don’t like you…” No, it’s not a literal voice! I’m just susceptible to thoughts and feelings that lead to self-doubt. I suspect many of you can relate. By God’s grace, I’m learning to tune that voice out, and it’s not as loud as it once was. About six months ago I wrote and recorded a song about it called “My Own Worst Critic.” I’m going to play it with the Vinebranch band on Friday but readers of this blog can get a special sneak preview. (Ha!) Click the link below.

My Own Worst Critic

The words are as follows:

Read the rest of this entry »

Vinebranch Coffee House

November 18, 2009

The Vinebranch Coffee House is happening this Friday, November 20, from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. in Trinity Hall. If you’ve been before, you know it’s a great date night and first-rate entertainment: There’s live music across a range of genres performed by the very talented Vinebranch band. There’s free Starbucks coffee and free dessert. (There’s also free childcare for children in third grade and younger, so don’t worry about a sitter.) And it all takes place in a relaxed and intimate coffee-house setting in Trinity Hall.

I hope you’ll come and invite a friend or two. Click here for more info.

Odds and ends from last Sunday

November 17, 2009

No sermon to post this week, since I was a liturgist in the traditional services. It’s funny: I’m in the traditional service so infrequently that I often forget or fail to remember how things are done exactly in this particular church (for example, on Communion Sundays the Lord’s Prayer is sung). I told someone about this challenge, and my resolve not to make any liturgical mistakes. I promise these words came out of my mouth: “I’ll try not to trip over the furniture.”

So what did I do? I literally tripped! Not over the furniture, but on my robe! In the 8:30 service, as I was standing up from leading the children’s sermon, I stepped on the inside edge of my robe and fell. Very embarrassing, but I recovered with a quip (“We don’t wear robes in Vinebranch!”) and took the inevitable teasing from Don with good humor. (Larisa has more practice at this than I do.)

Do you like reading prayers? If so, here is my pastoral prayer from Sunday:

Almighty God, who is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine: We give you our thanks and praise for your tender and merciful love. We haven’t known a moment of life that was not infused with your grace. By your grace, we possess this gift of life, this breath we take, this heartbeat; by your grace we have been cared for, loved, and nurtured by parents, grandparents, other relatives, and friends; by your grace we have been inspired by teachers and mentors to be our best selves; by your grace we experience friendship and love; by your grace we have been brought into a saving relationship through the life death, and resurrection of your Son Jesus; by your grace we find our heart’s deepest desires met in you; and by your grace we find fulfillment, peace, and joy as you graciously enable us to take part in your mission in the world.

Everything we have is from you. Everything we are is because of you. Root out the sin in our lives that so easily prevents us from being grateful; that causes us to feel insecure and afraid; that prevents us from trusting in you in everything. During this stewardship season, enable us to do your will—to give faithfully in response to your countless gifts—that people in our community, country, and world may also experience your gift of eternal and abundant life.

We lift up in our hearts your universal Church all around the world; make it faithful to your mission. We lift up this nation, the President, Congress, and the courts, and our soldiers who are in harm’s way in Afghanistan and Iraq. Inspire all people of good will to work for peace with justice in this world. We also bring before you our own concerns for family friends, and ourselves. Give us the grace, love, healing, and peace that we need. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus, who taught us this prayer: [Pray Lord’s Prayer].

Amen.