Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Trinity: God as Father

Sermon for June 16, 2019 

Read Romans 5:1-5  and John 16:12-15

It seems appropriate on this Father's day that we conclude talking about the trinity with God the Father. God the Creator.  Usually listed first when we name the trinity, God the father is an image that springs easily to mind.  In fact, in a poll of Presbyterians taken a few years ago revealed that 94 percent of those serve A "Our Father.”

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Trinity: God as Christ

Sermon for June 2, 2019 

Read Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:44-53

We're going to be talking about the Trinity over the next few weeks. We confess that we worship the Triune God, and yet we rarely talk about what that means. But it’s a concept that allows us to understand the inherent relational nature of our God and why that’s important. So each week for the next three week's we're going to talk about a different person of the Trinity.

And I want to begin by talking a bit about the Trinity as a whole. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that Jesus Christ our Savior and the Holy Spirit our Sanctifier are truly one with God who made the heavens and the earth and who called Israel to be a light to all nations. God is not a solitary and self-enclosed being. Which is what we often imagine God to be. Indeed, being a solitary self-made being is what  we often aspire to be.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

A Helper in Love

Sermon for May 26, 2019 

Read Psalm 67 and John 14:23-29

If I were to ask you why you were here this morning, what would you say?

Would you talk about the importance of community in a church? Or maybe you would mention something about loving the music. You could talk about how much you miss church when you aren’t here, or perhaps you would talk about refilling your soul. Or you might even mention not wanting to miss the riveting sermons.

Whichever those answers speaks to you, they all have one thing in common: we are the center of those answers. We usually come because of how it makes us feel, or what we get out of it. But as Reformed Christians we believe that the heart of worship is all about God.

Our own book of Order says "We are gathered in worship to glorify the God who is present and active among us – particularly through the gifts of Word and Sacrament." Because the focus of worship isn’t us, it’s God.

Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher in the 19th century, spoke about worship using the analogy of a drama. "When we come to worship God, we generally feel as though the preacher and other ministers are the performers and God is the subject of the performance and we as the congregation are merely the audience…but this is a terrible misunderstanding of worship." He is describing a consumer-oriented approach, focused more on what we receive than what we give.

It’s like the old joke. While driving back home from church one Sunday morning, the mother said, "The choir was awful this morning." The father commented, "The sermon was too long."

There was silence for a bit then their seven year old daughter piped up from the back seat, "You have to admit it was a pretty good show for a dollar."

When we focus on the idea that the congregation is the audience in worship, we have the same expectations that any audience might have for a show. Did I like the music? Did I feel like the scriptures were understandable? Did I find the sermon engaging and thought provoking? How well was this experience tailored to me?

But worship isn’t something we go to experience. It’s something we go to do together. Every single person in the congregation is part of worship. It’s not something that you come to watch, but something you come to participate in. And this dates back to our biblical roots. In Hebrew, the word used for worship means "a bowing down." For the Hebrews, worship was a verb, something you did. The same idea is behind the New Testament Greek word for worship which means "to serve." Worship is an action, not a show.

We come here to offer praise and glory to the one who has given us everything! We come to offer our prayers to God, to try to understand better how God is working in our lives. We don’t come here to be served, but to serve God. So on days when we don’t really feel like church, it helps to remind ourselves that it really isn’t about us, but about offering our very best to God.

It’s a mistake however to think of God as having a passive role in worship this morning.
Kierkegaard goes on to say, "Authentic Christian worship is just the opposite. We, the congregation, are the performers. The preachers and other ministers are the directors of the performance and God is the audience." While he is right in refocusing worship away from the congregation and back to God, God is far from a passive audience. In our own definition of worship we talked about God as a present and an active participant. Worship is for God, but God also participates!

Because the Reformed tradition has long talked of worship as a meeting between God and the people of God. We come here to offer praise and glory, and also to learn of our own roles in our relationship together.

Worship is our work together, which the Reformation gave back to us by allowing people to worship in their own language and give voice to their own prayers and songs. Worship is our work as the people of God together listening and responding to what God has to say to us.

That’s why prayer is the heart of worship whether it is spoken, sung, held in silence or done through movements. There are so many ways to pray and all of us draw us closer in worship, and many people’s favorite is through music.

In worship, music is never presented as a performance for the congregation but as an offering of praise, thanksgiving, penitence, or petition to God. While worshipers are often caught up in the beauty of the music or the words, the purpose is not to bring attention to the musicians or singers but to point to the Creator who makes all things beautiful and enables us to be creative as well.

That’s why we tend not to clap in the church, because clapping is a response to a performance, and music offered in worship isn’t a performance. When a musical piece particularly moves you, calling out Amen is far more appropriate. It is after all, another form of prayer to God. By calling out amen, you are joining in on the prayer.

Don Hustad, a prolific writer and seasoned worship leader, has suggested, somewhat whimsically, that a banner should be displayed over the entrance to any place of Christian worship reading, "Warning: God Is Here!" Our worship as Reformed people is not only about God, it is a direct response to God. As worshipers we must always remember that God is truly present, active, and involved in our worship, and that our worship is a response to what God has done, is doing, and is about to do in our lives.

Worship is so rich and deep because it’s not about just us. It’s about our relationship with the God who loves us, now and always. Whatever your reasons for coming to worship today, know that God meets you here to worship with you and empowers you for the days ahead. Thanks be to God! Amen.

What is Worship?

Sermon for May 19, 2019 
Read Psalm 95:1-7 and John 4:19-27

While we may be on the far side of Easter, our passage from John this morning is set during the last supper. Jesus is still talking to his disciples about what is going to happen next. And life for them is about to change pretty drastically. Again. After all, it already changed pretty drastically when Jesus came into their lives: some left behind families and learning trades. One walked away from a good job as a tax collector. All to follow Jesus across the countryside learning from him. And now Jesus tells them that he is going away.

The disciples ask him what happens now. How will Jesus ministry continue? And Jesus answers them "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." The ministry of Jesus will continue through his followers when they love him and keep his word.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Receiving the Spirit

Sermon for April 28, 2019 

Read Psalm 118:14-29 and John 20:19-23 

So our scripture this morning picks up right after last Sunday. This is later that same day, after Peter and John had come back and reported the empty tomb, after Mary had come back and told them about her miraculous conversation with Jesus, who has been raised from the dead!

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Early In the Morning

Sermon for April 21, 2019 

Read Acts 10:34-43 and John 20:1-18  

In the joy of Easter morning, we must start where the biblical story does, with a journey to the tomb. We all know what it is like to walk that road with Mary. It is as ancient as the first Easter and as contemporary as today. 

Mary’s Easter began as just an agonizing extension of Good Friday. Her weeping continues there by the tomb in the darkness. Then she notices, the stone is rolled away. The body of her beloved teacher must be gone, stolen, desecrated. Mary’s journey that morning is our journey on many a morning.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Practice of Pronouncing Blessing

Sermon for April 7, 2019 

Read Numbers 6:22–27 and Mark 2:23-28  

This week I want to talk about the practice of pronouncing blessings. To many people the idea of blessing something sounds vaguely mystical, and something that is better done by a member of the clergy. Now, when I was living in the south, I heard phrases like Bless your heart often, but usually they weren’t blessing anyone.