Jun 5 2017

This I Know 2.02 — Preaching from the Gospels

As I mentioned in my last post, one of the great things about liturgical churches is that they typically rely on the predetermined Scripture readings for their preaching texts. This gives them the option of a sermon based on the Old Testament text, the Epistles, or the Gospels. Growing up, I heard a lot of great sermons from the Gospels. In the 40 or so years following my evangelical wanderings, I can recall very few such sermons, aside from Christmas and Lent/Easter. I’m sure there were some others (there had to be, right?), but none that I remember as well as those I heard in my youth. (Think of that; I actually listened and remembered a lot of what I heard…)

From my experience over the last 40 or so years hanging out with non-liturgicals (let’s just call them evangelicals), it seems that evangelicals don’t really like to preach from the Gospels, unless it’s to preach about hell or the end times (usually out of context). To me, it makes sense. For one thing, it seems easier to fit the Epistles into a Western, modern mindset.  Paul, the most prolific of the NT writers, wrote very logically, and addressed a lot of issues which could be made pertinent to the local church. Although, Paul is not a modern writer and is more Jewish than many people realize, so there’s also context issues in many interpretations of his teaching.

The Gospels, on the other hand, are not as thematically organized and are more Jewish in their storytelling. They deal a lot with Jewish culture and politics, and are so rooted in time and place that it’s perhaps harder to translate into Modern America.

But wait–on one hand you have a bunch of letters by someone who only met Jesus after he had died and resurrected. On the other hand, you have 4 books full of the actual teachings of Jesus. What do you think you’d rather hear about? What is more important to understand?

I always pick Jesus. The author of Hebrews even starts out by telling us that Jesus is the only pure image of God that we have. And John starts out his Gospel by saying the same thing. Everything else, OT and Epistles, should be read having a good knowledge of Jesus. But, unfortunately it’s often the other way around in evangelical churches (yes, I’m generalizing… I can’t address each church individually…). My perception, based again on my years of experience, is that often people interpret Jesus through their understanding of Paul (or occasionally the OT, which causes LOTS of problems). The result is a lot of very bad theology.

Another thing about preaching on Jesus’ life and teachings is that it’s very hard to get around what Jesus says, like “Give what you have to the poor” or “always take the lowest seat” or even “do your good deeds in secret.” This is all so unAmerican that it just doesn’t sell well. We could go on: “I don’t condemn you.” “Be healed.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:60).

The Christianity I learned as a child was based on the stories about Jesus, and his parables and teachings. This is how I learned who God was, by understanding the nature of Jesus. Going forward, it is my intention to go through some of the major teachings in the Gospel that still influence me.

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    Jun 3 2017

    This I Know 2.01

    I probably should point out that this series of posts is not intentionally autobiographical. (If you haven’t read my last post, I suggest you read that and then come back here.)

    That is, my point is not to talk about me or my life, nor do I believe that you particularly care what it is that I believe and why. My point, rather, is to talk about the Christianity I learned as a child, in contrast to the Christianity I typically see in the news, on Facebook, etc. To do that, I have to talk somewhat autobiographically, so you’ll just have to get past that my own story is just a reference point to address the broader issues of the theology and morality of the Bible.

    Things that informed my early beliefs

    I think it was quite advantageous that I was raised in a liturgical church. Of course every church has some kind of liturgy whether they recognize it or not (it’s simply “what is done” when you’re together as a church). However, many liturgies are essentially devoid of any consistent theology. Lutherans, like Episcopalians/Anglicans, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, have liturgies which are based on those coming from the earliest church practices. 

    There are essentially two aspects of liturgical worship that important differences to recognize. The first is that the Liturgy is a corporate experience of theology. One of the ancient creeds are recited, the Lord’s Prayer is recited, there are prescribed Bible readings from the Old and New Testaments (and specifically the Gospels),  and hymns are sung that relate to the church season (lent, advent, etc.) or the prescribed Scripture readings.

    The 2nd aspect is the Lectionary, which is a book of prescribed Bible readings for the specific Sunday or event. Not only does this provide a wide variety of Bible readings, but these texts are also used as the basis for the weekly sermon. This does away with the random topic sermons or the “what’s bugging me this week” sermons so common in non-liturgical churches. It also makes the Bible the focus of the message, rather than being used as out of context proof texts to support the Pastor’s ideas. You know what I’m talking about. 

    A third important aspect (yes, I’m aware I said there were 2) that differs from non-liturgical churches is the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist, which is celebrated regularly, and which is the focus of liturgical worship, not the sermon. However, this is more of a theological difference and while I think it’s one of the most important differences, it isn’t really my point of this series, at least not yet.

    The result is that every week I learned theology. I heard it, I recited it, and I sang it. I heard complete Bible passages read with reverence, especially the Gospel reading. And, I heard countless sermons based on those Gospel readings. And, that’s the subject of my next post. 

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      May 26 2017

      This I Know 2.0

      About 8 years ago I started writing a series titled This I Know, revisiting the things I learned as a child that I still believe today. The title, if you haven’t guess, comes from the song Jesus Love Me, which just happens to be my foundational belief. Everything I know and understand about God, life, the universe and everything (going one better than Douglas Adams) is based on this presupposition.

      As an aside (which I tend to do a lot), I believe we are all presuppositional. That is, we all operate on certain foundational beliefs that are invisible to us for the most part, forming a sort of basic operating system. Philosophers tend to be more aware of their presuppositions than others, because that’s typically what they think about for fun. Some deny that they are presuppositional, but (no humor intended) that’s because of their presuppositions. Yeah, that response tends to drive them crazy…

      Anyway, I don’t go around all day focused on the fact that God loves me, because I’d never get any work done. But, how I look at everything, how I react to people, how I live my life, assumes that God loves me and that he is looking out for me–not that he shows me preferential treatment–but that I am important and have individual value. I can say “life is good” because the fact that God loves me is foundational to everything else.

      Now, Descartes claimed that all knowledge comes from knowledge of the self–I think, therefore I am. However, I wonder if knowing that God knows me (and cares for me) is more instinctive, and therefore known at a deeper level than a mental awareness of self. Just a thought.

      The Lutheran in Me

      I was raised Lutheran, which is a darn good way to be raised. That means from an early age I was not corrupted with crazy notions like the rapture or double predestination. I said one of the creeds every Sunday, heard the pronouncement of absolution (forgiveness), and heard a lot of sermons based on the Gospels (the Lectionary is truly a gift). Basically, going to church was a theology lesson. And, Lutherans believe that God loves us, and therefore we should love others because God loves them, too. Pretty simple.

      As I think back to what I was taught about who God was and what it meant to be Godly or Christlike, I realize how very little that has in common with contemporary Evangelical teaching. Seriously, it’s like a different religion. I don’t even recognize the Gospel in a lot of what I hear from folks like Franklin Graham or Jim Dobson.

      Another aside: Martin Luther actually coined the term “evangelical” (in German, of course) to refer to his movement within and without the Roman Catholic Church. I am actually rather offended that today’s so-called evangelicals have hijacked and perverted the term.

      What the Future Holds

      Over the years I have attempted to revive the “This I Know” series, but have always become side-tracked. It’s my hope that I can actually revive it now, revisiting the Christianity I was taught, and still hold to, because I think it’s so vary needed. We’ll see.


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        Mar 27 2017

        Cell phone provider ads, mic drops, and barriers to communication

        I hate cell-phone ads. Except for AT&T, whose ads are humorous and typically don’t bad mouth any other carrier. I’ve always hated Verizon ads since they got rid of the “can you hear me now: guy, which all come off as “hey, stupid people, we’re the best cell phone carrier!” The comes Sprint, which cleverly hired the old “can you hear me know” guy to say Sprint is almost as good but cheaper. They every are spoofing the “mic drop” ads.  Clever, but still kind of obnoxious. Then there’s Metro PCS, who’s better than Sprint. And so it goes. 

        One thing that particularly bugs me about the current Verizon ads is using the “mic drop” approach. These upset me. For one thing, I appreciate a good microphone, and cringe every time I see someone drop a good mic on purpose. It’s as stupid as Pete Townsend’s guitar smashing thing.

        The second thing wrong with the “mic drop” is that it is an attempt to signal that this is the last word, there’s nothing left to discuss. Or, at any rate, the person dropping the mic is unwilling to continue any discussion. It’s sole purpose is to shut down communication. Many of us like that, actually, but it’s a bad thing.

        Reasons for wanting to shut down a discussion include

        • Insecurity about what you believe
        • Hiding ignorance about a subject
        • Wanting to appear to be the authority (when you’re not)
        • Wanting to push your agenda through because it benefits you more than others
        • A neurotic need to be right
        • Just wanting the pain to end

        These are bad, for the most part. Conversation and discussion, on the other hand, are typically good. It’s good to have your ideas challenged, and to question purported statements of fact (“alternative facts”). You’ll never grow in understanding without this, and you’re likely to live in your own state of alternative facts rather than actual truth.  

        When anyone tries to shut down a discussion via a mic drop moment or some other tactic, you know you’ve hit a nerve. It’s up to you to decide how you are going to respond. Just never accept that it is truly the end of discussion.  

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