Church Pic 2
  • The Lightning Storm – Pastor David’s Sermon – 2014/10/26

    Scriptures:
    Psalm 46
    Jeremiah 31:31-34
    Romans 3:19-31

    Sermon:

    It was the summer of 1505, and a young man was traveling down a German road. He was a boy like many others, doing what his daddy wanted him to do. In his case, this meant going to study to become a lawyer. He had always been a bright boy, albeit a somewhat morose one. He wasn’t really cheery, let’s just put it that way. He entered the university at 19, and graduated with a master’s degree at 22. His father sent him to become a lawyer. He was going to be one of the great legal minds of his time, his father was sure, and the law would offer the certainty of a good future.

    Well, this July day in 1505, the young man was off to law school on horseback, when suddenly a flash storm began. The storm was a downpour; there was thunder and lightning. And the lightning got ever closer to the boy. In desperation, he cried out to God for help, but the storm raged on. He cried out again, promising that, this time, if his life would be spared, he would abandon the things of this world and become a monk, devoting his life to the service of God.

    As the storm continued, the young man found himself unharmed. And when it passed, he turned his horse around, and instead of heading off to become a great lawyer, he rode to the nearest cloistered monastery, and he became a monk.

    His father was furious, as fathers often are at turns of events like this one. His boy had been given the best of educations – and he was throwing it away! On a church vocation! He was never going to make anything of himself by doing this! I mean, after all, if he were a lawyer, surely people would know his name. But as a monk? Who was going to remember the name of Martin Luther?

    For those of you who aren’t aware, Martin Luther was one of the most famous religious figures in history. He lived in Germany in a time when Europe’s Christianity was at its most corrupt. It’s hard for us to imagine, but if we were in Europe 500 years ago, there was only one church – there weren’t a whole bunch of denominations like today. But once upon a time, that wasn’t the case. And for about 1300 years, that worked just fine. And then, through a series of corrupt church leaders who decided that all that was important was money and power, a lot of the church came crashing down. People lost confidence in their leaders, and thus lost confidence in the Church. People didn’t know where to turn.

    Now, I’m not saying any of this to be down on the Christianity of the early days of the church. Most of the good stuff we have today still comes from those early days of church, in its first 1500 years or so. But the fact remains, in the 1500s, there were some corrupt people on top, and Luther wanted to challenge that. He famously posted his 95 theses – 95 arguments about church policy – on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, to debate with local church leaders. No one took him up on his offer. He wanted things we now take for granted, like the people actually receiving the bread and cup at Communion (at the time, many churches were doing “ocular Communion” – that is, Communion with your eyes – as you would watch as just the pastor took Communion). Other things, too, like celebrating worship in your native language, rather than Latin.

    We take those things for granted now, but they weren’t always a given. And Luther wasn’t the only objector to the policies of these corrupt leaders. Of course, Luther’s followers would become the groups we today call the Lutherans. But in Switzerland, they followed another man, name John Calvin.

    Calvin was a unique theologian. Like Luther, he was highly educated. He really believed very strongly in a Christian system of government, and he strongly believed in being organized. He was the first to found the churches which today are called “Reformed,” as well as the ones that call themselves “Presbyterians,” like this one. Calvin envisioned pastors and elders and deacons, running the church together. He envisioned a strong emphasis on both religious and secular education. But most important to him were the central tenets of Christianity, and that they be faithfully communicated.

    If you’re observant, and if you didn’t fall asleep during the children’s sermon, you’ll have noticed that some things are different in church today. First of all, our hymns were from Luther, and Calvin, and later we’ll have two from Charles Wesley, who was one of the founders of Methodism. You’ll also notice, I’m sure, that, today, I’m in red and so are the paraments (that’s a fancy church word that is never used in any other context). Normally, red is only used for Pentecost. But red, in Protestant churches, is also used (albeit optionally) on one other day – and that’s today: Reformation Sunday. Why? Because Pentecost is the day the church was born, and we use red. And today, we remember the day the Protestant churches, including our Presbyterian heritage, were born. Today is the day that we celebrate the Protestant Reformation and becoming the church we are today.

    Now, a very fair question would be this: why would we celebrate division in churches? Remember how I said that, 500 years ago, there was really only one denomination? There are six denominations in Marion – and we’re not exactly a huge city. Why would we celebrate the loss of Christian unity?

    Well, that’s a fair question, and there are a couple of answers. First of all, for the reformers, it wasn’t about leaving the church. Luther, Calvin, and the rest didn’t actually plan on making their own denominations. I think that’s a common misconception; people often believe that the whole point of these guys was to leave, but it wasn’t. The reason it’s called the “Reformation” is that they wanted to “reform” the Church as it was, and eliminate the corrupt aspects and return to what the Reformers envisioned as a version truer to what the Early Church had, as recorded in the book of Acts. Unfortunately for them and for church unity, they were unsuccessful, but their arguments were so persuasive to so many people that many could no longer continue to worship in the Church as it was at that time. So they formed their own denominations.

    So, a part of the answer as to why we celebrate this division is that it’s like a birthday; we were born that day. And just as the birth of a child means that Mom and Dad don’t have the same relationship anymore, so too a new church birth changes things, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely a bad thing.

    The reason I want to talk about this minor little celebration in the church calendar is this: a lot of times, people ask what it is to be Presbyterian, or to belong to the Presbyterian Church. There are a lot of options when it comes to churches; so why this one? What’s so special about this denomination?

    Well, since it is Reformation Sunday, I thought today might be a nice day to talk about the guiding principles of who we are as Presbyterians, and what we believe.

    During the Reformation, there were five basic affirmations made by the Reformers, and for some reason we in the church always talk about them in Latin, because that was the language of discourse in the 1500s, when the Reformers were writing. These concepts were:

    Solus Christus
    Soli Deo Gloria
    Sola Scriptura
    Sola Fide
    Sola Gratia

    Christ Alone
    To God Alone Be the Glory
    Scripture Alone
    Faith Alone
    Grace Alone

    These are really important affirmations, because they stand at the heart of who we are as Presbyterians, and what we believe – so I’d like to go through them one-by-one.

    Solus Christus is Christ Alone. I put this first because this is the heart of everything. Christ is the cornerstone, the foundation piece, of all Christian thought and theology. For us as Christians, there is no one else.

    It is in Christ alone that we find comfort; it is in Christ alone that we achieve salvation. This is so important, because it informs everything else about our theology. We read Scripture through this lens; our actions are supposed to be through this lens; everything about us is to be filtered through Christ.

    The second one I have up there is To God Alone Be the Glory – Soli Deo Gloria. This one is intimately related. This is about what it means to be a Christian. The Reformers here had in mind that some people were admiring the church itself in a way that was too close to worship, so they wanted to remind people that only God is worthy of our worship – not the building or the hierarchy of the church. In spite of our own differences in historical context, this particular little idea is perhaps more important now than ever.

    We admire people all the time; athletes, celebrities, politicians, historical figures. And there are certainly many people out there to admire. But at the end of the day, we have to remember that even the best of us are only pale reflections of God’s goodness. The idea that we would give honor and glory to money or material things is very tempting in our culture of “more” and “newer” and “faster.” But a new iPhone isn’t really all that great; something better will come out by the time you get yours out of the box. The only constant Good that we can find is God.

    So next, we have Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone. This means that it is Scripture alone which reveals to us God’s will and ways of operating in the world. This is one of the reasons that translating the Bible into the languages of the people was so critically important to the Reformers: you have to give people the words of the Scriptures, so that they can actually hear and understand them for themselves. We are supposed to listen to Scripture based on what it and the leading of the Holy Spirit tells us – not what someone tells us we have to believe.

    Fourth we have Sola Fide, or Faith Alone. Chapter 3 of Romans was the reading for us today, because it is one of the most important Scriptures to the Reformation. Verse 28 teaches, “We hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” In other words, it’s not that we have to be good; we have to believe.

    As with so many other things, we tend to find that obedience tends to follow from faith, not lead to it. When we truly believe, we live as if we believe. And if we believe that God is good and active and wants the best for all creation, then we find that we strive to want to live in a way that is pleasing to God. And when we strive for that, we find it easy to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. But these things come out of faith, as a response to God’s goodness and mercy. So while good works happen, they don’t hold the key to our salvation. And, by themselves, they’re mostly just happy accidents. Because true goodness springs solely from faith in God, and in our attempts to live out that faith.

    Sola Gratia, or Grace Alone, is the final point you see up there. This one relates directly to salvation, and ties in nicely with the previous point. Look, people are wonderful, but they’re also terrible. At our best, we do great things; we are capable of overcoming our baser instincts and doing things that truly inspire those around us and show how in-touch we can be with the will of God in our lives. BUT… most of the time? Well, most of the time, we’re not so great. We make mistakes constantly. We take advantage of others. We try to do the minimum amount we have to do to get the maximum reward.

    The truth is, that’s just how we’re wired. It’s not what God wants nor intends for us, but it is reality. And as long as we’re wired like that, we can’t possibly be good enough to merit God’s favor. Because even when we want good things, we want them badly. We want peace so much, we’ll kill for it. We want to end hunger so bad, we’ll take food away from people to show it. We want equal treatment of all people so much, we don’t care whose rights we have to take away to prove it. We want everyone to have basic dignity, and we don’t care who we have to insult to prove it. We constantly do this little hypocritical dance. And if we had to rely on our own goodness to win God’s favor, surely we would come up short. But there’s good news; that is that God has grace.

    Our passage from Romans today, in verses 23 and 24, said, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” God is aware that we are not good enough on our own. But because God loves us, we are given the gift of grace. God shows us love and goodness – even salvation – although we have done nothing to earn it. Paul is pretty clear about this in Romans – it’s not about following the law, or listening to religious authorities, or reading your Bible every day, or working hard at your job, or helping the poor, or caring for the sick, or anything. Grace is a gift, freely offered, with no expectations of repayment. That’s the definition of what a gift is.

    But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to pay God back for this awesome gift. We should try to live in accordance with God’s will for our lives, not because we have to, but because we appreciate what we’ve been given, and want to show our gratitude. Therefore, our daily lives become about being thankful to God for gifting us with Grace, even when we didn’t deserve it; we try to live our lives as a offering to God, to show that we appreciate what we’ve been given, and want to live in honor of that gift.

    So, that brings us back to our original question: what does it mean to be a Presbyterian? Well, it means to believe that Christ is at the center of everything; it means believing that God is the only one deserving of our worship and dedication; it means believing that Scripture is a window into God’s will; it means knowing that we can’t do enough good works, so we must have faith. But above and beyond all of that, it means believing that God loves us, and shows us grace. So we thank our church forefathers and foremothers, who have showed us these timeless truths. Now let us go forth, and show the world what it means to be recipients of God’s Grace. Amen.

  • The Lightning Storm – Pastor David’s Sermon – 2014/10/26

    Scriptures:
    Psalm 46
    Jeremiah 31:31-34
    Romans 3:19-31

    Sermon:

    It was the summer of 1505, and a young man was traveling down a German road. He was a boy like many others, doing what his daddy wanted him to do. In his case, this meant going to study to become a lawyer. He had always been a bright boy, albeit a somewhat morose one. He wasn’t really cheery, let’s just put it that way. He entered the university at 19, and graduated with a master’s degree at 22. His father sent him to become a lawyer. He was going to be one of the great legal minds of his time, his father was sure, and the law would offer the certainty of a good future.

    Well, this July day in 1505, the young man was off to law school on horseback, when suddenly a flash storm began. The storm was a downpour; there was thunder and lightning. And the lightning got ever closer to the boy. In desperation, he cried out to God for help, but the storm raged on. He cried out again, promising that, this time, if his life would be spared, he would abandon the things of this world and become a monk, devoting his life to the service of God.

    As the storm continued, the young man found himself unharmed. And when it passed, he turned his horse around, and instead of heading off to become a great lawyer, he rode to the nearest cloistered monastery, and he became a monk.

    His father was furious, as fathers often are at turns of events like this one. His boy had been given the best of educations – and he was throwing it away! On a church vocation! He was never going to make anything of himself by doing this! I mean, after all, if he were a lawyer, surely people would know his name. But as a monk? Who was going to remember the name of Martin Luther?

    For those of you who aren’t aware, Martin Luther was one of the most famous religious figures in history. He lived in Germany in a time when Europe’s Christianity was at its most corrupt. It’s hard for us to imagine, but if we were in Europe 500 years ago, there was only one church – there weren’t a whole bunch of denominations like today. But once upon a time, that wasn’t the case. And for about 1300 years, that worked just fine. And then, through a series of corrupt church leaders who decided that all that was important was money and power, a lot of the church came crashing down. People lost confidence in their leaders, and thus lost confidence in the Church. People didn’t know where to turn.

    Now, I’m not saying any of this to be down on the Christianity of the early days of the church. Most of the good stuff we have today still comes from those early days of church, in its first 1500 years or so. But the fact remains, in the 1500s, there were some corrupt people on top, and Luther wanted to challenge that. He famously posted his 95 theses – 95 arguments about church policy – on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, to debate with local church leaders. No one took him up on his offer. He wanted things we now take for granted, like the people actually receiving the bread and cup at Communion (at the time, many churches were doing “ocular Communion” – that is, Communion with your eyes – as you would watch as just the pastor took Communion). Other things, too, like celebrating worship in your native language, rather than Latin.

    We take those things for granted now, but they weren’t always a given. And Luther wasn’t the only objector to the policies of these corrupt leaders. Of course, Luther’s followers would become the groups we today call the Lutherans. But in Switzerland, they followed another man, name John Calvin.

    Calvin was a unique theologian. Like Luther, he was highly educated. He really believed very strongly in a Christian system of government, and he strongly believed in being organized. He was the first to found the churches which today are called “Reformed,” as well as the ones that call themselves “Presbyterians,” like this one. Calvin envisioned pastors and elders and deacons, running the church together. He envisioned a strong emphasis on both religious and secular education. But most important to him were the central tenets of Christianity, and that they be faithfully communicated.

    If you’re observant, and if you didn’t fall asleep during the children’s sermon, you’ll have noticed that some things are different in church today. First of all, our hymns were from Luther, and Calvin, and later we’ll have two from Charles Wesley, who was one of the founders of Methodism. You’ll also notice, I’m sure, that, today, I’m in red and so are the paraments (that’s a fancy church word that is never used in any other context). Normally, red is only used for Pentecost. But red, in Protestant churches, is also used (albeit optionally) on one other day – and that’s today: Reformation Sunday. Why? Because Pentecost is the day the church was born, and we use red. And today, we remember the day the Protestant churches, including our Presbyterian heritage, were born. Today is the day that we celebrate the Protestant Reformation and becoming the church we are today.

    Now, a very fair question would be this: why would we celebrate division in churches? Remember how I said that, 500 years ago, there was really only one denomination? There are six denominations in Marion – and we’re not exactly a huge city. Why would we celebrate the loss of Christian unity?

    Well, that’s a fair question, and there are a couple of answers. First of all, for the reformers, it wasn’t about leaving the church. Luther, Calvin, and the rest didn’t actually plan on making their own denominations. I think that’s a common misconception; people often believe that the whole point of these guys was to leave, but it wasn’t. The reason it’s called the “Reformation” is that they wanted to “reform” the Church as it was, and eliminate the corrupt aspects and return to what the Reformers envisioned as a version truer to what the Early Church had, as recorded in the book of Acts. Unfortunately for them and for church unity, they were unsuccessful, but their arguments were so persuasive to so many people that many could no longer continue to worship in the Church as it was at that time. So they formed their own denominations.

    So, a part of the answer as to why we celebrate this division is that it’s like a birthday; we were born that day. And just as the birth of a child means that Mom and Dad don’t have the same relationship anymore, so too a new church birth changes things, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely a bad thing.

    The reason I want to talk about this minor little celebration in the church calendar is this: a lot of times, people ask what it is to be Presbyterian, or to belong to the Presbyterian Church. There are a lot of options when it comes to churches; so why this one? What’s so special about this denomination?

    Well, since it is Reformation Sunday, I thought today might be a nice day to talk about the guiding principles of who we are as Presbyterians, and what we believe.

    During the Reformation, there were five basic affirmations made by the Reformers, and for some reason we in the church always talk about them in Latin, because that was the language of discourse in the 1500s, when the Reformers were writing. These concepts were:

    Solus Christus
    Soli Deo Gloria
    Sola Scriptura
    Sola Fide
    Sola Gratia

    Christ Alone
    To God Alone Be the Glory
    Scripture Alone
    Faith Alone
    Grace Alone

    These are really important affirmations, because they stand at the heart of who we are as Presbyterians, and what we believe – so I’d like to go through them one-by-one.

    Solus Christus is Christ Alone. I put this first because this is the heart of everything. Christ is the cornerstone, the foundation piece, of all Christian thought and theology. For us as Christians, there is no one else.

    It is in Christ alone that we find comfort; it is in Christ alone that we achieve salvation. This is so important, because it informs everything else about our theology. We read Scripture through this lens; our actions are supposed to be through this lens; everything about us is to be filtered through Christ.

    The second one I have up there is To God Alone Be the Glory – Soli Deo Gloria. This one is intimately related. This is about what it means to be a Christian. The Reformers here had in mind that some people were admiring the church itself in a way that was too close to worship, so they wanted to remind people that only God is worthy of our worship – not the building or the hierarchy of the church. In spite of our own differences in historical context, this particular little idea is perhaps more important now than ever.

    We admire people all the time; athletes, celebrities, politicians, historical figures. And there are certainly many people out there to admire. But at the end of the day, we have to remember that even the best of us are only pale reflections of God’s goodness. The idea that we would give honor and glory to money or material things is very tempting in our culture of “more” and “newer” and “faster.” But a new iPhone isn’t really all that great; something better will come out by the time you get yours out of the box. The only constant Good that we can find is God.

    So next, we have Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone. This means that it is Scripture alone which reveals to us God’s will and ways of operating in the world. This is one of the reasons that translating the Bible into the languages of the people was so critically important to the Reformers: you have to give people the words of the Scriptures, so that they can actually hear and understand them for themselves. We are supposed to listen to Scripture based on what it and the leading of the Holy Spirit tells us – not what someone tells us we have to believe.

    Fourth we have Sola Fide, or Faith Alone. Chapter 3 of Romans was the reading for us today, because it is one of the most important Scriptures to the Reformation. Verse 28 teaches, “We hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” In other words, it’s not that we have to be good; we have to believe.

    As with so many other things, we tend to find that obedience tends to follow from faith, not lead to it. When we truly believe, we live as if we believe. And if we believe that God is good and active and wants the best for all creation, then we find that we strive to want to live in a way that is pleasing to God. And when we strive for that, we find it easy to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. But these things come out of faith, as a response to God’s goodness and mercy. So while good works happen, they don’t hold the key to our salvation. And, by themselves, they’re mostly just happy accidents. Because true goodness springs solely from faith in God, and in our attempts to live out that faith.

    Sola Gratia, or Grace Alone, is the final point you see up there. This one relates directly to salvation, and ties in nicely with the previous point. Look, people are wonderful, but they’re also terrible. At our best, we do great things; we are capable of overcoming our baser instincts and doing things that truly inspire those around us and show how in-touch we can be with the will of God in our lives. BUT… most of the time? Well, most of the time, we’re not so great. We make mistakes constantly. We take advantage of others. We try to do the minimum amount we have to do to get the maximum reward.

    The truth is, that’s just how we’re wired. It’s not what God wants nor intends for us, but it is reality. And as long as we’re wired like that, we can’t possibly be good enough to merit God’s favor. Because even when we want good things, we want them badly. We want peace so much, we’ll kill for it. We want to end hunger so bad, we’ll take food away from people to show it. We want equal treatment of all people so much, we don’t care whose rights we have to take away to prove it. We want everyone to have basic dignity, and we don’t care who we have to insult to prove it. We constantly do this little hypocritical dance. And if we had to rely on our own goodness to win God’s favor, surely we would come up short. But there’s good news; that is that God has grace.

    Our passage from Romans today, in verses 23 and 24, said, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” God is aware that we are not good enough on our own. But because God loves us, we are given the gift of grace. God shows us love and goodness – even salvation – although we have done nothing to earn it. Paul is pretty clear about this in Romans – it’s not about following the law, or listening to religious authorities, or reading your Bible every day, or working hard at your job, or helping the poor, or caring for the sick, or anything. Grace is a gift, freely offered, with no expectations of repayment. That’s the definition of what a gift is.

    But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to pay God back for this awesome gift. We should try to live in accordance with God’s will for our lives, not because we have to, but because we appreciate what we’ve been given, and want to show our gratitude. Therefore, our daily lives become about being thankful to God for gifting us with Grace, even when we didn’t deserve it; we try to live our lives as a offering to God, to show that we appreciate what we’ve been given, and want to live in honor of that gift.

    So, that brings us back to our original question: what does it mean to be a Presbyterian? Well, it means to believe that Christ is at the center of everything; it means believing that God is the only one deserving of our worship and dedication; it means believing that Scripture is a window into God’s will; it means knowing that we can’t do enough good works, so we must have faith. But above and beyond all of that, it means believing that God loves us, and shows us grace. So we thank our church forefathers and foremothers, who have showed us these timeless truths. Now let us go forth, and show the world what it means to be recipients of God’s Grace. 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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