Archive for February, 2010

This Sunday in Vinebranch: Reaffirmation of our baptismal covenant

February 12, 2010

This Sunday, February 14, we will conclude our sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer: “The Prayer Jesus Taught Us, Part 6: Thine is the Kingdom.” The scripture is Matthew 6:13b as found in the King James Version of the Bible (“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”). This is the familiar doxology that the Church says or sings every Sunday in worship.

All modern English translations include this doxology in a footnote to the verse. They do this because older manuscripts of this text have been discovered since the time of the King James translation that do not include it. Older manuscripts are assumed in biblical scholarship to more accurately reflect the original words of the gospel writers. It seems likely, therefore, that this doxology was a later addition (possibly in the second century) by the Church.

As one New Testament scholar noted, however, it would have been very unlikely that Jesus’ prayer would have concluded without a doxology. And this doxology is certainly the gospel truth: it resonates with the themes of this prayer and Jesus’ saving work. So in this case I side with Church tradition over against strict biblical scholarship. I believe, in other words, that it’s in our Bibles and in our liturgies (of the universal Church) because the Holy Spirit wants it there!

As a response to this Sunday’s sermon, we will invite baptized Christians in our congregation to reaffirm their baptismal covenant. This act of worship provides an opportunity for all of us to once again affirm our Christian faith and our ongoing desire to follow Christ by repeating the vows that we made (or that were made on our behalf) at baptism. At the conclusion of this liturgy, I will invite people to come forward and touch the waters of the baptismal font and remember their baptism and be thankful.

This is not a re-baptism; rather we use the gift of water to “call to our remembrance the grace declared to us in our baptism.” We periodically reaffirm our baptismal covenant because, although baptism is a once-for-all-time, eternal, and gracious gift of God, it is something that we must spend our entire lives living up to and into.

Everyone is welcome to join us for this special service. If you’re not yet baptized and would like to be, please email me at or see me after the service.

“My next guest is a very charming and provocative gentleman…”

February 11, 2010

Speaking of provocative, here is an interview from 1969 between two cultural heavyweights of their era, Woody Allen and Billy Graham. Who would put these two together? As Lou Reed might say, it’ s like ice cream and bacon. What strikes me is the tone of the interview: despite the jocularity, it is thoughtful, earnest, and respectful. They take one another and their points of view seriously. Credit both of them.

Perhaps it seems quaint now, but I deeply respect Graham’s effort to engage his culture—and without coming across like a judgmental prude. (Echoes of Paul in Athens in Acts 17?) I guess that’s why he’s Billy Graham!

One pastor’s response to great suffering

February 10, 2010

In light of our upcoming two-part sermon series, “Does God Love Haiti?” one of you pointed me in the direction of this presentation from a vicar in the Church of England. He spoke these words in the wake of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004. With great compassion and sensitivity, he correctly diagnoses the problem with a lot of pious talk about God’s involvement in the universe as puppet-master or master controller. If God’s sovereignty over the universe implies that God controls or causes every event in the universe, then we ought to be greatly alarmed by events like the tsunami, the flood on the Gulf Coast, or the recent earthquake in Haiti.

I was reminded of the earthquake in the San Francisco area that interrupted the World Series in 1989 between the Giants and the A’s. I was listening to a Christian radio broadcast the morning after the previous day’s disaster. The very well-meaning DJ explained that he had many good friends in the Bay area, and he was understandably relieved that they were O.K. But he said more than that, unfortunately. He said, “I just want to thank God that they’re O.K.” Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon for 02-07-10: “The Prayer Jesus Taught Us, Part 5: Deliver Us From Evil”

February 9, 2010

Sermon Text: Matthew 6:13

[Please note: Due to operator error (i.e., I forgot the recorder), there is no audio of the sermon this week. Sorry!]

A time of testing is in the air. Last week, one of you told me that your daughter is taking the Kaplan course for SAT preparation. I know the SAT has changed over the years, but the propaganda used to be that it’s not a test that you can study for. But of course you can study for it, and you ought to. How many of you are taking the SAT this spring? God bless you. Testing doesn’t end when you’re out of school, unfortunately. I might have mentioned this recently, but I would appreciate your prayers as I prepare to be “tested” by the Board of Ordained Ministry. I turn in all of my paperwork tomorrow for full ordination, and then I have to go defend myself before the Board in the spring.

I’ve mentioned this before, but my apprehension over the Board has manifested itself by these recurring nightmares I have about academic failure. I had two dreams last week about it. In one, I was back at Georgia Tech, taking a calculus exam. The test was being proctored by ministers on the Board of Ordained Ministry! In the other dream that I can remember, I was in a cooking competition, and the meal I was frantically preparing was being judged by these same ministers! Testing! Read the rest of this entry »

The ideology of the SAT

February 9, 2010

I mentioned in my sermon Sunday that when I took the SAT many years ago, we were discouraged from studying for it because, we were told, the SAT doesn’t measure knowledge; it measures aptitude. What is a student’s built-in capacity for learning?

We know better now, and I’m sure the SAT has changed a great deal since then. Still, here’s a fascinating New Yorker article published in 2001 on the history of the test and the man who inadvertently exposed its mistaken assumptions and ideology. Interesting fact: According to the author of the article, the first aptitude tests were developed early in the 20th century to keep Jews out of Harvard.


New two-part sermon series starting February 21: “Does God Love Haiti?”

February 9, 2010

“Does God love Haiti?” To most people, certainly most Christians, that is a silly question. Of course God does! “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” God is love, the author of 1 John writes. How do we reconcile this understanding of a God who is only loving with a world in which so many terrible, tragic things happen—like last month’s earthquake in Haiti, which killed tens of thousands of people?

What can we say about God and God’s good creation in the wake of disasters both natural and human-made? Inevitably, skeptics and atheists use these sorts of events to confirm their skepticism. Meanwhile, some believers, like Pat Robertson for instance, will “explain” these events in ways that contradict much of what Jesus Christ and scripture reveal about this loving God.

We will explore some of these issues in a two-part sermon series, entitled, “Does God Love Haiti?” on February 21 and 28. Brent will preach the first sermon, and Larisa will preach the second. Bring your questions. Everyone is welcome!

This Sunday in Vinebranch

February 4, 2010

Our sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer continues this Sunday, February 7, with Part 5, “Deliver Us From Evil.” Scripture will be Matthew 6:13.

Sermon 01-31-10: “The Prayer Jesus Taught Us, Part 4: Forgive Us Our Trespasses”

February 4, 2010

Sermon Text: Matthew 6:12

Click this link to download an .mp3 or press the play button below.

The following is my original manuscript of the sermon., a British Christian humor magazine, sponsored a contest asking its readers to compress the Lord’s Prayer into the size of a single text message. The regular Lord’s Prayer is 372 characters long; a text message is 160, so this takes some creativity. The winning entry was the following: [display on screen] “dad@hvn,ur spshl.we want wot u want&urth2b like hvn.giv us food&4giv r sins lyk we 4giv uvaz.don’t test us!save us!bcos we kno ur boss,ur tuf&ur cool 4 eva!ok?” [Read it aloud.] I like that. I also like the third place entry:, You rule, up and down. We need grub and a break. Will pass it on. Keep us focused. You totally rule, long term. Amen. Read the rest of this entry »

God’s forgiveness and our own

February 2, 2010

When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we are in part acknowledging the connection between God’s forgiveness and our forgiveness of others. Jesus makes that connection even more explicit—and perhaps more distressing—a few verses later in Matthew 6:14: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

The Church proclaims that God’s gift of grace and forgiveness is a free, unmerited, unconditional gift of God, available to us through Jesus Christ—not on the basis of what we human beings do, but on the basis of what God has done. This is one overarching theme of all of the New Testament. Yet Jesus’ words, ripped out of context and taken very literally, seem to contradict this concept: If we forgive others, then (and only then) will God forgive us. Read the rest of this entry »