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Archive for May, 2012

Chain Letter

It took me a long time to learn that everybody carries a boatload of stuff around with them, and most of it isn’t pretty.

I was not very worldly or sophisticated when I went off to college. If I’d come from some little cow town, it wouldn’t have been so humiliating, but I grew up in a big city! Not that it made a lick of difference – I really didn’t know very much about life. The first year I was away at college, I met people who had troubles I didn’t even know a person could have. Troubles that made my “burdens” seem like fluff. Happy problem to have, actually, and I’m grateful my problems were mostly in the annoyance category.

I learned a little bit, from the people I met in college, about empathizing with others. I learned a little bit more when I began working at my vocation as an engineer. I learned more when I married, and oh, boy, did I learn when the kids came along. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but now when I meet someone, I find myself looking and listening to discover their back story, wanting to know about the chains they’ve carried. There was a time I couldn’t understand, and there was a time I didn’t want to. But that’s changed, for the most part. I find myself wanting to come along side and understand why they are the way they are. Why they do the things they do, even when it gives them no joy.

On rare occasion, you will meet someone who has realized that the chains most of us carry are not locked. They’re just dangling free, and for no reason at all, other than habit, perhaps, we continue to haul them around. We profess that salvation comes from faith in Jesus, but it’s kind of hard to tell if we really believe it or not from the way most of us act. Whatever was, is, or will be needed to free us from the things that bind us, Jesus already took care. Done. Over. Finished. Jailhouse doors are swinging in the breeze, chains are laying on the floor, loose. All you have to do is restrain yourself from picking them up again before you walk away. Too radical a message for most of us!

Chain Letter

Preached at Mt. Comfort Presbyterian Church on 20 May 2012. My friend, Colin Pritchard, wrote an awesome song about this passage.

(The file is a Windows Media Audio file – if you have problems, right click and download the file to listen.)

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When I read the Bible, especially the New Testament, I’m struck at how remarkable the message is. God loves the world – the whole world! Now, you may find this peculiar, but the thing that really stuns me about this message is that the love extends to human beings. I have no problem thinking God loves “cats and rats and elephants” (to borrow the words of a favorite childhood song), but it mystifies me that he loves us. ALL of us. For me, the message that comes through loud and clear when I read the Bible is that God’s love for the world is inclusive – it’s already expansive, and still-expanding!

Yet, the germ of Peter’s third sermon here in Acts gets trotted out regularly as proof of the exclusive nature of the Christian faith: “no other name has been given among humans through which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, Common English Bible).  I do believe, firmly, there is salvation in this name – God has willed it so, and so, it must be.  But I also firmly believe the Bible’s revelation of God’s complete sovereignty and freedom. The most sensible (and humble) statement I’ve ever heard on the matter came from Heinrich Bullinger in The Second Helvetic Confession (1561), when talking about the preaching of the Word of God: “At the same time we recognize that God can illuminate whom and when he will, even without the external ministry, for that is in his power; but we speak of the usual way of instructing men, delivered unto us from God, both by commandment and examples.” (5.007)  So, Christianity is exclusively inclusive?Or inclusively exclusive? How the heck is anybody supposed to logically hold both those things together?

Ah, there would be the problem. Logic is a great servant, lousy master. All we can do is confess the bit of truth that we’ve been given to know. Turns out, that job is plenty big enough.

In Jesus’ Name

Preached at Mt. Comfort Presbyterian Church on 29 April 2012.
(The file is a Windows Media Audio file – if you have problems,
right click and download the file to listen.)

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I have to admit I’ve always had trouble getting into Peter’s sermons. The Peter in Acts is not the good old Peter I’ve come to identify with in the gospel accounts. This Peter cuts right to the chase, eloquently. It’s the eloquent part I find jarring, he was always pretty frank about whatever was on his mind. But when I listened to his sermon this time, in the context of the angst currently churning through our denomination right now, I heard it in a way I’d never heard him before. This sermon was certainly addressed to the troubles “in the family” back in Peter’s day, I don’t doubt that in the least. But the kind of troubles we experience “in the family” don’t, evidently, change all that much. We still can’t resolve the tension between law and grace on our own – but today, I heard a clear voice and simple, straightforward advice: stop, and turn around.

Times of Refreshing Will Come, Acts 3:12-26

Preached at Mt. Comfort Presbyterian Church on 29 April 2012.
(The file is a Windows Media Audio file – if you have problems,
right click and download the file to listen.)

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