Church Pic 2
  • Letters Are Boring – 2014/11/23

    Scriptures:
    Psalm 100
    Matthew 25:31-46
    Ephesians 1:15-23

    Sermon:

    My world history teacher in high school looked just like Santa Claus. He used to come dressed up as ol’ St. Nick every year on the last day before winter break. It was a really nice little tradition.

    He was also maybe the best teacher I had in high school. I had him my first two semesters of high school in world history, and then I took a one-semester world religions class from him the following year (yes, my high school had a world religions course – there are some awfully nice things about going to a large public high school). He started every day the same way. You’d know he was ready to start lecturing because he would walk out from behind his desk, and he would sit on it. His legs would dangle from it and swing back and forth like a little boy’s do – it was in sharp contrast to the white-haired, Santa-look-a-like at the front of the room. You’d know he was done when the leg-swinging stopped and he walked back behind his desk and sat down. Sometimes he went the full 50 minutes of class, but that was the exception, not the rule.

    And how did he teach? Straight lecture, about 40 minutes. Of course, we could ask questions and stuff, but he didn’t do anything fancy – just talked to you. And really, “talking to you” is a better way to describe what he did than “lecturing.”

    You see, he didn’t really want history to be a series of facts for you to memorize – meaningless people and places that you have to know in order to please the teacher. No; to Mr. Isbell, history was an unfolding story. And the only way we could understand the world around us today was to understand what’s happened before. And the only way we could understand what happened before was by telling these stories of how one thing led to another.

    And that brings me to today’s reading from Ephesians, and why I do not like preaching from the letters in the New Testament. There are so many pastors out there who preach from them all the time – even most of the time for some pastors, and that’s just because they have so much good stuff to say. So don’t get me wrong; I like the New Testament letters. I’m not saying that they’re bad or worthless or anything like that. But, if I’m being completely honest, they feel like “textbooks” to me. They’re like the opposite of Mr. Isbell – they’re dry statements we’re asked to memorize, instead of exciting stories that reveal more about the world around us. Give me the stories that we read in the Gospels; the stories of the Old Testament; the fiery anger of the prophets, always set against some exciting historical narrative of people being at war.

    But the letters in the New Testament? They are, for the most part, recitations of facts about Jesus or Christian living. And that’s the best outlook on them. The worst is that they’re overlong, boring, and so confusingly written that you have to read every sentence three times over before you even understand how the sentence works, much less get what it means. I mean, today’s passage from Ephesians isn’t even that bad, and still we get this: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” Yikes. That’s one sentence! Seriously, who talks like that? And no wonder lots of pastors like to preach from these letters – the only way people are ever going to understand is if you have someone spend the whole week sitting around and trying to make sense of it!

    So here’s the short synopsis of this quick section of Ephesians. The first part is the part that praises the Ephesians for their faith. They’ve been so true and so blessed, etc., etc. The letter then gives blessings and heaps prayer on top of the members of the church at Ephesus.

    But then in verse 20, the letter takes a major turn. It reads, “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

    This little coda at the end of chapter 1 is what we’re really about today. Today, as you might have noticed, the sanctuary is in white. That is in honor of Christ the King Sunday. Sometimes also called “Reign of Christ” Sunday, this is a holiday in the church year that doesn’t really celebrate a particular “moment” in Scripture, which is unusual. For example, on Pentecost, we remember the Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit). On Transfiguration Sunday, we remember when Christ went up a mountain and had his clothes changed to dazzling white. On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ; Epiphany, the coming of the Wise Men; Maundy Thursday, the Last Supper; Good Friday, the crucifixion, Easter, the Resurrection. You get the idea. Almost all church holidays are based around some biblical event.

    But Christ the King Sunday is different. It is, first of all, the last Sunday of the church year (and yes, that means that next Sunday, if you want, you can say “Happy New Year” to people in church). But it’s also the day we celebrate something that’s not so much an “event” as it is something we consider to be true about the state of existence: we celebrate that Jesus Christ is ruling all creation.

    In our passage from Ephesians, this is emphasized greatly. The letter talks specifically about Christ being seated at the right hand of God. (This is obviously a metaphor; but it’s a strong one.) Christ rules alongside with God the Father, and is our King.

    This is extremely important to us as Christians because it means that the whole universe is governed by someone who cares for us, has our best interests in mind, and wills what is best for us. Now, bad things will still happen to us, of course – Christ is not the kind of King who tries to control every single thought and action of every one of his subjects. But it is a promise that we are being cared for by one who loves us and desires what’s best for us.

    It is also a very radical statement. In the time of Christ, you have to remember that Caesar claimed to be a god. The ruler of the Roman Empire fancied himself a deity – and in fact he did so to such an extent that he actually put it on the coins that Rome used.

    When we talk about Christ as King, it’s definitely a statement of what we believe to be true about the universe, that God is in charge. But it’s also a political statement. It’s a statement that says, “whatever politics I may prefer in my life as a citizen, my ultimate loyalty is to God.” That’s a profound statement – even a countercultural one. Of course, it’s possible to be an American and a Christian – but when push comes to shove, if you say “Christ is King,” you’re making a claim that, were your faith ever in danger, your loyalty lies with Jesus, and not with a country or a flag. It’s a very serious commitment.

    And that leads us to the final point in this first chapter of Ephesians, and that is where we are told that the church is the body of Christ. What’s great about this identification is that, if we are the body of Christ, that itself is a statement on how we are to be responsible citizens. If Christ is our King, and heaven is his Kingdom, that makes us citizens of heaven. And our duties as citizens are the simple charter that Christ lays out for us (and that I went over last week, too): love God and neighbor. That’s it. Those are the duties of the citizen of Heaven.

    Now, those are not always easy duties. They can be downright hard, actually. Loving God can be tough when we’re grieving, or things just aren’t going our way, or when we feel God leading us in a new direction in life that we simply don’t want to go. And we all know loving our neighbor can be difficult. I’m sure we all have plenty of experience with that.

    But you’ll notice that this letter to the Ephesians never claims that Christ is an easy King. Although the commandments are few, they are the most difficult and most important of all.

    So this is the Good News of Christ the King: Jesus reigns eternally and over all things. He has made us his subjects. And our duties as subjects are simple, timeless truths: love God, and love neighbor. Insodoing, we proclaim Christ’s kingship over all the earth. And what a glorious reign it is! Amen.

  • Letters Are Boring – 2014/11/23

    Scriptures:
    Psalm 100
    Matthew 25:31-46
    Ephesians 1:15-23

    Sermon:

    My world history teacher in high school looked just like Santa Claus. He used to come dressed up as ol’ St. Nick every year on the last day before winter break. It was a really nice little tradition.

    He was also maybe the best teacher I had in high school. I had him my first two semesters of high school in world history, and then I took a one-semester world religions class from him the following year (yes, my high school had a world religions course – there are some awfully nice things about going to a large public high school). He started every day the same way. You’d know he was ready to start lecturing because he would walk out from behind his desk, and he would sit on it. His legs would dangle from it and swing back and forth like a little boy’s do – it was in sharp contrast to the white-haired, Santa-look-a-like at the front of the room. You’d know he was done when the leg-swinging stopped and he walked back behind his desk and sat down. Sometimes he went the full 50 minutes of class, but that was the exception, not the rule.

    And how did he teach? Straight lecture, about 40 minutes. Of course, we could ask questions and stuff, but he didn’t do anything fancy – just talked to you. And really, “talking to you” is a better way to describe what he did than “lecturing.”

    You see, he didn’t really want history to be a series of facts for you to memorize – meaningless people and places that you have to know in order to please the teacher. No; to Mr. Isbell, history was an unfolding story. And the only way we could understand the world around us today was to understand what’s happened before. And the only way we could understand what happened before was by telling these stories of how one thing led to another.

    And that brings me to today’s reading from Ephesians, and why I do not like preaching from the letters in the New Testament. There are so many pastors out there who preach from them all the time – even most of the time for some pastors, and that’s just because they have so much good stuff to say. So don’t get me wrong; I like the New Testament letters. I’m not saying that they’re bad or worthless or anything like that. But, if I’m being completely honest, they feel like “textbooks” to me. They’re like the opposite of Mr. Isbell – they’re dry statements we’re asked to memorize, instead of exciting stories that reveal more about the world around us. Give me the stories that we read in the Gospels; the stories of the Old Testament; the fiery anger of the prophets, always set against some exciting historical narrative of people being at war.

    But the letters in the New Testament? They are, for the most part, recitations of facts about Jesus or Christian living. And that’s the best outlook on them. The worst is that they’re overlong, boring, and so confusingly written that you have to read every sentence three times over before you even understand how the sentence works, much less get what it means. I mean, today’s passage from Ephesians isn’t even that bad, and still we get this: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” Yikes. That’s one sentence! Seriously, who talks like that? And no wonder lots of pastors like to preach from these letters – the only way people are ever going to understand is if you have someone spend the whole week sitting around and trying to make sense of it!

    So here’s the short synopsis of this quick section of Ephesians. The first part is the part that praises the Ephesians for their faith. They’ve been so true and so blessed, etc., etc. The letter then gives blessings and heaps prayer on top of the members of the church at Ephesus.

    But then in verse 20, the letter takes a major turn. It reads, “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

    This little coda at the end of chapter 1 is what we’re really about today. Today, as you might have noticed, the sanctuary is in white. That is in honor of Christ the King Sunday. Sometimes also called “Reign of Christ” Sunday, this is a holiday in the church year that doesn’t really celebrate a particular “moment” in Scripture, which is unusual. For example, on Pentecost, we remember the Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit). On Transfiguration Sunday, we remember when Christ went up a mountain and had his clothes changed to dazzling white. On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ; Epiphany, the coming of the Wise Men; Maundy Thursday, the Last Supper; Good Friday, the crucifixion, Easter, the Resurrection. You get the idea. Almost all church holidays are based around some biblical event.

    But Christ the King Sunday is different. It is, first of all, the last Sunday of the church year (and yes, that means that next Sunday, if you want, you can say “Happy New Year” to people in church). But it’s also the day we celebrate something that’s not so much an “event” as it is something we consider to be true about the state of existence: we celebrate that Jesus Christ is ruling all creation.

    In our passage from Ephesians, this is emphasized greatly. The letter talks specifically about Christ being seated at the right hand of God. (This is obviously a metaphor; but it’s a strong one.) Christ rules alongside with God the Father, and is our King.

    This is extremely important to us as Christians because it means that the whole universe is governed by someone who cares for us, has our best interests in mind, and wills what is best for us. Now, bad things will still happen to us, of course – Christ is not the kind of King who tries to control every single thought and action of every one of his subjects. But it is a promise that we are being cared for by one who loves us and desires what’s best for us.

    It is also a very radical statement. In the time of Christ, you have to remember that Caesar claimed to be a god. The ruler of the Roman Empire fancied himself a deity – and in fact he did so to such an extent that he actually put it on the coins that Rome used.

    When we talk about Christ as King, it’s definitely a statement of what we believe to be true about the universe, that God is in charge. But it’s also a political statement. It’s a statement that says, “whatever politics I may prefer in my life as a citizen, my ultimate loyalty is to God.” That’s a profound statement – even a countercultural one. Of course, it’s possible to be an American and a Christian – but when push comes to shove, if you say “Christ is King,” you’re making a claim that, were your faith ever in danger, your loyalty lies with Jesus, and not with a country or a flag. It’s a very serious commitment.

    And that leads us to the final point in this first chapter of Ephesians, and that is where we are told that the church is the body of Christ. What’s great about this identification is that, if we are the body of Christ, that itself is a statement on how we are to be responsible citizens. If Christ is our King, and heaven is his Kingdom, that makes us citizens of heaven. And our duties as citizens are the simple charter that Christ lays out for us (and that I went over last week, too): love God and neighbor. That’s it. Those are the duties of the citizen of Heaven.

    Now, those are not always easy duties. They can be downright hard, actually. Loving God can be tough when we’re grieving, or things just aren’t going our way, or when we feel God leading us in a new direction in life that we simply don’t want to go. And we all know loving our neighbor can be difficult. I’m sure we all have plenty of experience with that.

    But you’ll notice that this letter to the Ephesians never claims that Christ is an easy King. Although the commandments are few, they are the most difficult and most important of all.

    So this is the Good News of Christ the King: Jesus reigns eternally and over all things. He has made us his subjects. And our duties as subjects are simple, timeless truths: love God, and love neighbor. Insodoing, we proclaim Christ’s kingship over all the earth. And what a glorious reign it is! Amen.

  • Come Join Us!

    Sunday Church Service: 9:30 am
    Adult Sunday School: 10:30am
    Wednesday Youth Service: 6:30 pm

    102 East 1st Street
    Marion, SD 57043
    Phone: (605) 648-3876
    Email: emmanuelpc@goldenwest.net
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