You cannot be be my disciple

We had a powerful sermon last Sunday on one of those “difficult” passages of Scripture, one that reminds us that Christianity is not merely about “family values”:

26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. . . .33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.  (Luke 14:26-27, 33)

See what Pastor Douthwaite does with this after the jump. [Read more...]

Bad sermons

Karl Barth (not to be confused with the good Karl Barth of the LCMS) was a neo-orthodox theologian, which isn’t as good as being an orthodox theologian, but it was arguably better than being a liberal.  Which he was when he first got out of seminary, to the point that he was called in his Swiss parish “the red pastor of Safenwil.”  Barth recalled the bad sermons that he used to preach.  Fred Sanders posts about the time he preached on the text of the Titanic:

Looking back on these early days, Barth later remarked with some regret, “During my time as a pastor… I often succumbed to the danger of attempting to get alongside the congregation in the wrong way. Thus in 1912, when the sinking of the Titanic shook the whole world, I felt that I had to make this disaster my main theme the following Sunday, which led to a monstrous sermon on the same scale.” (from the definitive Barth biogarphy by Eberhard Busch, p. 63) Yes, Barth took as his sermon text the current event of a disaster, rather than an actual portion of Scripture. [Read more...]

“Get behind me, Satan!”

What we heard from Pastor Douthwaite on Sunday, preaching on Matthew 16:21-28:

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Ouch. Poor Peter. He meant well. He really did. He loved his Lord. He had come a long way since that first day by the Sea of Galilee. And yet, with this word of Jesus, he seems back on square one. No, actually, it’s worse than that. For while before he might not have known Jesus from Adam, at least he wasn’t working against the Lord – he was minding his own business. But now, not only does Jesus call him Satan, an enemy of God, he then says you, Peter, are getting in my way! You are a hindrance to me. You’re not thinking right. Your mind is not on the things of God but on the things of man. . . .

Now, what did he say that caused such a violent reaction from Jesus? He said: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” in response to Jesus’ statement that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter was thinking: Jesus, as I just said, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. You are the Son of the God who brought His people out of Egypt, who parted the Red Sea for them, who kept them through the wilderness, fed them with manna, gave them water to drink from a rock, and who is mightier than all the armies of the world. You are the Son of the God who created all things and keeps the sun and moon and stars and earth in their courses. You are the Son of the God who feeds all living things, like you fed the over 5,000 in the wilderness not too long ago. There is no one greater than you and your Father in heaven. He won’t let this happen to you. He will protect you. He will stop those who oppose you and seek your life. . . .

Peter is trying to tell Jesus how to do His job; how to be the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Which is what we do, too. We confess with Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And maybe even one better than Peter, we know the story of the cross, of His death and resurrection, and forgiveness and all of that. We got that. . . . Yet when we find out what that means for our life, how often do we think as Peter thought? When pain and suffering come into your life. No, Lord. When faithfulness to God’s Word means giving up what you want and think you need. No, Lord. When we’re told, as we heard from St. Paul today, to bless those who persecute you . . . to be patient in tribulation . . . to feed and give drink to your enemy. No, Lord. When earthquakes and hurricanes threaten. No, Lord. When being a Christian means bearing the cross. No, Lord. I’d really rather not, Lord. Some other time, Lord. Somebody else, Lord. No, Lord, I’m your child. Shouldn’t I get good things, Lord? Long life, Lord? Blessings and not sadness, Lord? No, Lord. No. . . .

The cross is how Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, still today, is for you. For the purpose of His cross, and the crosses that you bear, are not just His death and resurrection, but your death and resurrection with Him. You’re going to one day die because you’re a sinner. You cannot get around that. But to die with Christis quite a different thing. It means to die a death that ends in resurrection and life. And it is a death and resurrection that is already taking place in you, as you die and rise with Christ in baptism, as you die and rise with Christ in repentance. As you die to your old way of life, your old way of thinking, your Old Man’s “No, Lord,” and rise to live a new life, a “yes, Lord” life, a right-side-up-in-an-upside-down-world life.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 11 Sermon.

Urban Legends pastors tell

As I’ve often complained, a major way that urban legends get spread around is as sermon illustrations.  Some of these are more in the related genre of scholarly legends.  But thanks to Trevin Wax for catching these:

1. The “eye of the needle” refers to a gate outside Jerusalem.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” says Jesus in Mark 10:25. Maybe you’ve heard of the gate in Jerusalem called the “eye of the needle.” The camel could pass through it only after stooping down and having all its baggage taken off.

The illustration is used in many sermons as an example of coming to God on our knees and without our baggage. The only problem is… there is no evidence for such a gate. The story has been around since the 15th century, but there isn’t a shred of evidence to support it.

2. The high priest tied a rope around his ankle so that others could drag him out of the Holy of Holies in case God struck him dead.

Various versions of this claim have been repeated by pastors, but it is a legend. It started in the Middle Ages and keeps getting repeated. There is no evidence for the claim in the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Mishna or any other source. Furthermore, the thickness of the veil (three feet) would have precluded the possibility of a priest being dragged out anyway.

3. Scribes took baths, discarded their pens, washed their hands, etc. every time they wrote the name of God.

As a way of getting across the reverence of the Jewish and Christian scribes toward God, preachers like to describe the honor given to God’s name. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that scribes did these sorts of rituals every time they came across the name of God.

4. There was this saying among the sages: “May you be covered in your rabbi’s dust.”

This is one of the most pervasive and fast-spreading stories to flood the church in recent years. The idea is that as you walked behind your rabbi, he would kick up dust and you would become caked in it and so following your rabbi closely came to symbolize your commitment and zeal. Joel Willitts explains:

This is powerful stuff isn’t it? Well the only problem is that it just isn’t true… The context in which it is given in Mishnah Aboth 1:4 is expressly not what is assumed by those who promulgate this idea.

5. Voltaire’s house is now owned by a Bible-printing publisher.

Voltaire was famous for saying, “One hundred years from my day there will not be a Bible in the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker.” There is a myth out there that within 50 years of Voltaire’s death, his house was owned by a Bible society that used his own printing press to make Bibles. Sounds like a great story, but it’s not true. Regardless, Voltaire’s prediction of the demise of the Bible was vastly overstated.

6. Gehenna was a burning trash dump outside Jerusalem.

I’ve used this illustration many times. But there isn’tevidence to support this idea. Still, because it seems like a reasonable explanation for the origin of the Hinnom Valley as “hell,” commentators and preachers have accepted it. It’s possible that the verdict may still be out on this one, but not if Todd Bolen is right:

“The explanation for the ‘fire of Gehenna’ lies not in a burning trash dump, but in the burning of sacrificed children. Already in Old Testament times, the Valley of Hinnom was associated with the destiny of the wicked. That the valley was just outside the city of Jerusalem made it an appropriate symbol for those excluded from divine blessing.”

7. NASA scientists have discovered a “missing day” which corresponds to the Joshua account of the sun standing still.

Please don’t repeat this myth. There has been no “missing day” discovered, and the legend has been circulating longer than NASA has been in existence, with different scientists playing the part.

via Urban Legends: The Preacher’s Edition : Kingdom People.

I would add:  Medieval theologians once debated how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  Although I think this is an excellent question, this was rather a later joke at the scholastics’ expense, rather than something the scholastics actually considered.  See this.

Wrestling with God

Our Scripture in church yesterday was another one of those enigmatic, yet profoundly evocative texts:  Jacob wrestling with the LORD (Genesis 32:22-30).  Pastor Douthwaite’s sermon, again, unfolded and applied it in some striking ways.  Read the whole sermon here:   St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 21 Sermon.  I will just quote a few sentences:

We find out that God was there with Jacob. In fact, it was God who was wrestling with Jacob! God appearing in hostile form, in order to help Jacob. . . .

God lets Himself be overcome, to bless Jacob.. . .

The God who appeared hostile in the night was Jacob’s Saviour in the morning.. . .

The Son of God who, just as in His wrestling match with Jacob, allows Himself to be overcome by man on the cross, in order to bless.. . .

So that you, like Jacob and like this widow, though you must wrestle and struggle night and day, not let God go. . . .That in the struggle, you cling to Him alone. That in the struggle, though God seem like an enemy, you cling to Him as your Father.. . .

How do you cling to a God you cannot see? Where do you cling to Him? By, as St. Paul told Timothy, clinging to His Word.. . .

Know this: that the God who came to wrestle with Jacob, the God who came and struggled for you on the cross, the God who overcame sin, death, and the devil, the God who comes now and cares for you, will not let you go.

What were you made to see in this text?

The Rich Man & Lazarus

Those of us whose churches follow the three-year lectionary on Sunday heard  the account of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) and very likely heard a sermon about it.  Last week we had what I found to be a very enlightening trading of notes on a rather challenging parable.  Let’s do that again with this parable.

Here is some of what our Pastor Douthwaite said about it.  (Read the whole sermon, which delves into some fascinating details in the text that are very illuminating.)

Don’t assume things about God, that you know what God is doing and why He’s doing it. That’s a dangerous thing to do, although (it seems to me), it’s done all the time. Don’t assume God is your friend because your life is good, and don’t assume God is against you because things are difficult and trials are many. The truth may be exactly the opposite. The man who had been so rich was now eternally poor, and the man who had been so poor was now eternally rich. . . .

Jesus has come to turn beggars into rich men. For He was the truly rich man who for our sakes became poor (2 Cor 8:9). Who came to all of us Lazarus,’ not to dip only the tip of His finger in water, but to give us the living water of His Word that we may drink and never thirst again (John 7:37-38). Who came not merely to soothe our wounds with the licking of dogs, but to wash and cleanse and heal us from the leprosy of our sin with His forgiveness. And who came to feed us not with crumbs from His table, but with the feast He has come to provide – the feast of His own Body and Blood. And these gifts He comes to give to all people, whether they be rich or poor on the outside, whether they be notorious or hidden sinners – for spiritually, we are all Lazarus’. Crippled and left to die by sin. Wholly dependent on the mercy of God. And so we pray: Lord, have mercy.

And He does. Always. Jesus is no rich man that bypasses, steps over, or ignores those in need. Who feeds the dogs and not His children. Never. For whether or not you have riches in this world, the Spirit, through the Word of God – through Moses and the prophets – directs our eyes where true riches are to be found. The riches that poured forth from the cross. The cross which shows us who God truly is, what God has done for you, and how much God loves you. So that we never have to guess or assume the mind of God – the cross is the mind of God. Who came for you, to die for you, to forgive you. . . .

But there is another clue to Lazarus’ faith, when Abraham told the rich man: “Besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” Now, it makes sense that those in torment would want to cross from there to the comfort of heaven; but who would want to cross the other way? Why would Abraham say that . . . unless, perhaps, it was Lazarus who was ready to do so. To comfort the one who refused him comfort. To serve the one who refused him service. To help the one who refused him help. For is this not the love of Christ, who did these things for us on the cross? Is this not the love of Christ living in Lazarus’ heart?

That is the love that has been given to you. By the one who did cross the chasm – the only one who could – and served you who were dead in your trespasses and sins, to raise you to a new life in Him. A new life of faith and forgiveness, and of love and service – even to those who sin against you.

For now, we bear the cross – but it will not always be so. A day of rest is coming for all who are in Christ.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 18 Sermon.

What did you pastor do with this (or, if you are a pastor, what did you do with it)?  What did you learn from this text?  How did it affect you?


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