Posts Tagged ‘prosperity gospel’

Sermon 12-24-17: “We Saw His Star When It Rose”

January 4, 2018

Today’s sermon investigates three different responses to the news of the newborn king: from King Herod, from the scribes and chief priests, and from the magi. At different times, our own responses to Christ our king may be similar to each of these. How can we become more like the magi?

Sermon Text: Matthew 2:1-12

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“We three kings of orient are/ Bearing gifts we traverse afar/ Field and fountain, moor and mountain/ Following yonder star.”

Literally one of my favorite Christmas hymns. Just a beautiful melody. Yet it’s wrong in nearly every detail!

First, these magi worked for a king—they were courtiers; they were not kings themselves. They believed that the movement of the stars foretold important events happening on earth; likewise, when something important was happening on earth, they believed that it would be reflected in some way in the stars. So their job was to study the night sky, discern what important events might be happening here on earth—or might be about to happen—and report to their king what the “latest news” was. Also, we have no idea how many of them there were—probably more than three. The “three” comes from the number of gifts they gave to Jesus, but that doesn’t indicate how many of them there were. And they weren’t from the Orient; they were from the Middle East—likely Babylon, or the Persian Gulf area. So there probably weren’t three; they weren’t kings; and they weren’t from the Orient. But besides that it’s a great song!

Notice verse 2: They came to Jerusalem seeking the newborn “king of the Jews” because they saw his star rising. We don’t know what this star was—it might have been a natural astronomical event or a miraculous event created by God to lead these men to Jesus. We don’t need to get hung up on what the star was. It sounds to me like the star that led them from Babylon to Jerusalem might have been a completely natural event—highly unusual but scientifically explainable, which the wise men, because they were the world’s leading experts on the movement of stars and planets, were able to see.

But then, in verses 9 and 10, when the star moves and comes to rest over the place where Jesus is, it sounds like that is a supernatural event.

Does it matter? Not at all! If it was a natural event—which astronomers today can study and explain scientifically—it was a natural event designed by God before the Creation of the world to appear at this particular time and place in order to lead these wise men to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Just think: God is so powerful, so sovereign, so in control of this universe that he doesn’t even need to work a miracle that defies the laws of physics in order to be active in the world: he can work through natural events. God is always working at every moment in every event and through every person to accomplish his will in the world! This is called the doctrine of God’s providence, which means that we can know that everything that happens in the universe happens according to God’s plan and purpose! By the logic of providence, God is constantly intervening in the world, so, in a way, “miracles” happen all the time—even when modern science can explain why something happens. A scientific explanation is merely the most superficial reason; there’s always a deeper reason. And God is always behind it. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 06-26-16: “Jesus Is the Rock”

July 7, 2016

Opening the Scriptures graphic

We Christians are in danger of believing in a “spiritual prosperity” gospel. We think that if we’re doing everything right, spiritually speaking, then life is going to be smooth sailing. This isn’t at all what scripture teaches. Instead, as the apostle Paul makes clear when he cites this passage in Exodus, we Christians are all on a wilderness journey. In order to survive, we all need the spiritual water that Christ our rock provides us.

Sermon Text: Exodus 17:1-7

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We Americans will get to vote this November. Given America’s power, and its role in the world, that’s always a big deal. But it’s unlikely that our vote in November will have as large an impact on the world as the vote last week in Britain. I’m referring, of course, to the British voting to leave the European Union—a vote otherwise known as “Brexit.” Proponents of leaving the EU argued that Britain had sacrificed too much of its sovereignty to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels—and, unlike in a democracy, the British people couldn’t vote them out of office.

So Britain voted to leave. Who knows whether it will be a good thing or a bad thing. But the bottom line is, the British thought EU leadership was leading them off a cliff, and they believed they could do better on their own.

Interestingly, a similar thing is happening in today’s scripture. Just a few months earlier, Moses had led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt—which was a great thing. Only now they were having second thoughts. They were in the wilderness; they were facing a more difficult journey than they had bargained for; and now, in today’s scripture, in this hot, arid climate, they are thirsty—and they fear that Moses is leading them off a proverbial cliff. “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” Read the rest of this entry »

When do we Christians cease being “blessed,” hashtag or otherwise?

February 15, 2016

My daughter sent me a link to this heartbreaking op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times. The author, Kate Bowler, a professor at Duke Divinity School, has Stage IV cancer. Her area of expertise is the prosperity gospel in America, and in this article she relates the promises of that movement’s theology to her terminal disease. Proponents of the prosperity gospel, she said, want to have control over their lives: they believe there’s no problem they can’t solve by reciting the right words and believing the right doctrines. In so many words, it’s always within their power to persuade God to do their bidding.

I’m sure she’s right, and you’ll get no defense of the prosperity gospel here. But there was one part of the article that bothered me. Her words are familiar from my own experience at a United Methodist-affiliated seminary like Duke Divinity, Emory’s Candler School of Theology. She writes:

If Oprah could eliminate a single word, it would be “luck.” “Nothing about my life is lucky,” she argued on her cable show. “Nothing. A lot of grace. A lot of blessings. A lot of divine order. But I don’t believe in luck. For me luck is preparation meeting the moment of opportunity.”This is America, where there are no setbacks, just setups. Tragedies are simply tests of character.

It is the reason a neighbor knocked on our door to tell my husband that everything happens for a reason.

“I’d love to hear it,” my husband said.

“Pardon?” she said, startled.

“I’d love to hear the reason my wife is dying,” he said, in that sweet and sour way he has.

My neighbor wasn’t trying to sell him a spiritual guarantee. But there was a reason she wanted to fill that silence around why some people die young and others grow old and fussy about their lawns. She wanted some kind of order behind this chaos. Because the opposite of #blessed is leaving a husband and a toddler behind, and people can’t quite let themselves say it: “Wow. That’s awful.” There has to be a reason, because without one we are left as helpless and possibly as unlucky as everyone else.

Read the rest of this entry »