Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Sermon Video: "Hosanna!" - Mark 11:1-11

 As Jesus' journey to the Cross reaches Jerusalem, on the Sunday before Passover begins, Jesus chooses to ride the last two miles into the city, on a donkey. Why? His humble entrance fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah (9:9), contrasting with the vainglory of kings among men. Additionally, Jesus control over the details of his entrance (knowing where the colt will be, what his disciples need to say) demonstrate that his upcoming Passion is a choice, he is a willing participant, not a victim.

The people shout "Hosanna!", a Hebrew imperative meaning "Save us!" that can be turned around in a moment of joy to mean, "Savior!" Truly, Jesus has come to Jerusalem to become the Savior, not just of the children of Abraham, but of humanity: past, present, and future. The Savior of the World. Hosanna, indeed.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Sermon Video: "I want to see" - Mark 10:46-52

He's known as Blind Bartimaeus for a reason. When Jesus came to Jericho, where Bartimaeus sat begging, he didn't hesitate to cry out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" When those standing by tried to quiet him, he shouted louder. Jesus heard him, called him over, and asked him what he wanted. The question seems obvious, the blind man wants to see, but people are fully capable of not seeing their own most serious needs. Bartimaeus had no such trouble, he confidently told Jesus, "I want to see". After he was healed, he followed Jesus...Do we tell God what we need? Are we honest with God when we pray? God knows everything we could tell him already, but it is God's will that people approach him, in faith, and ask.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Is it my job to police the communion line?


The meme above has been bouncing around social media as a response to a recent vote (168 to 55, Abortion rights: US Catholic bishops face clash with Biden - BBC news) by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  The USCCB is attempting to provoke a showdown with Catholic politicians with whom they disagree, in this case on the issue of the legality of abortion, by potentially denying them the Eucharist (i.e. Communion).  This move is opposed by the Vatican, and unlikely to ever be enacted and/or enforced, but it raises an important question that reverberates outside of the Catholic Church as well (as evidenced, in part, by the above response from a gay Anglican priest in Toronto, of course on social media everyone seems to have a 'dog in the fight').  As an ordained American Baptist pastor, is it my job to watch the communion line?  {prior to COVID we passed the elements down each aisle with ushers, since then we've been coming up front one family at a time to take them from the altar, a practice we will likely continue post-pandemic; so technically there is a 'line' now}

Some background for those of you unfamiliar with how communion works in your typical baptist church (whether or not they belong to a denomination).  For us, the ordinance (the fancy word we use when we need to use a fancy word) of communnion  is not a question of transubstantiation or consubstantiation.  In other words, it isn't a question of whether or not the bread and wine are tranformed into the body and blood of Christ, however one chooses to describe it (that was the heart of the argument that led to the Reformation, and eventually people killed and were killed over the issue during the Thirty Years War.  {See: What Every Christian Should Know About: Church History, part 3 at the bottom of the page}  For a quick primer on the various Christian views of communion: Transubstantiation, Consubstantiation, or Something Else? Roman Catholic vs. Protestant Views of the Lord’s Supper - Zondervan Academic blog.  

Most baptists would agree with Huldrych Zwingli that communion is a memorial, with some leaning toward the view of John Calvin that the ordinance does invoke the spiritual presence of Jesus, albiet in a way significantly short of that embraced by the Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans.  That being said, as an American Baptist minister, when I preside over communion (which we do once a month, typically on the 1st Sunday unless I'm not here, then it gets bumped to the 2nd) I normally say, "We here at 1st Baptist celebrate open communion, by that we mean that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are free to join us if you choose."  Those words don't come from a book, or denominational HQ (that's not how things work when you're a 'low liturgy' baptist, each church/pastor decides many such for him/herself), they simply reflect what we believe, and when I remember to say them, they're an invitation to any visitors or relatively new people.  Morever, after I say the prayer (again, extemporaneously given) it has been my habit (learned from the independent baptist pastor, James Frank, who led my family church for 40 years) to simply close my eyes, bow my head, and spend the time until everyone is ready receiving the element(s) to pray.  The end result?  I don't know who is participating in any given week.  I don't know if a particular individual in my church skips communion on occasion, or regularly.  My thoughts on this matter mirror my thoughts about the offering.  When the plate is being passed (in the COVID era we just left it in the back, and that seems likely to continue) I don't look to see if anyone is putting something in or not.  The point with both is that the decision to participate (or give) is between that person and God.

As baptists we believe in the doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers.  Long story short, my role as pastor doesn't set me apart from the congregation, we all partake of the same Holy Spirit, we all are held to the same standards of conduct and service.  Using Paul's analogy of the body of Christ, we are all a necessary part.  This has numerous implications, one of which is the elevation of one's own responsibility before God (not to the level that it negates collective church discipline when necessary), particularly in matters of conscience.

Which brings us back around to communion.  Paul, writing to the church at Corinth about the Lord's Supper said this, 

1 Corinthians 11:26-32 New International Version

26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

The key phrases here are: "in an unworthy manner" (vs. 27), and "Everyone ought to examine themselves" (vs. 28).  Given these instructions, it seems to us (as baptists) that it isn't up to a church officer (be he/she a deacon, pastor, bishop, or any other title) to decide who is, or is not, worthy of participating in the Lord's Supper.  Those who do so 'in an unworthy manner', perhaps by doing so with irreverance or with unconfessed sin between him/her and God, will be judged by God himself, not by me.

Lastly, Rev. Daniel and I probably disagree about a lot of things theologically speaking, but I certainly echo his final statement above, "What if somebody 'unworthy' receives it?"  "Uh, that would be everybody."  Our approach to the table is always an act of grace for known but Christ is worthy, our acceptance of the bread (body) and cup (blood) is always an act of grace for our sins doom us otherwise, no matter what we undertand the bread and wine to be.  At any given church service, at any kind of church, there are those who ought to abstain from participation until they confess their sins and repent, and there are those who are just going through the motions due to either unbelief or complacency.  In the end, seperating the 'sheep from goats' isn't my job, thanks be to God for that.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Sermon Video: Greatness in God's kingdom: service & sacrifice - Mark 10:35-45

 After his third and final prediction of his upcoming death, while journeying to Jerusalem for that purpose, Jesus is asked by the brothers James and John to elevate them to the 2nd and 3rd place of honor in his upcoming kingdom. Aside from the incredible chutzpah this request demonstrates, it also shows that the disciples still haven't internalized that the spiritual kingdom that Jesus intends to establish will not be run by this world's rules. So, once again, Jesus enlightens them, once more emphasizing that greatness in his kingdom is a matter of service and sacrifice. Indeed, Jesus himself is the prime example of humilty, service, and sacrifice when necessary. That his sacrifice will have the power to be a 'ransom for many', i.e. the basis of our salvation, ought to encourage his Church to transform our world through the same means of acting as servants rather than the fool's errand of trying to bring about the will of God through politics, power, or violence.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Sermon Video - Christian Patriotism: Our Citizenship is in Heaven - Philippians 3:20-21

 I recorded this message ahead of time given that we will be visiting family and enjoying our vaction on the 4th, but the topic is too close to my heart not to address patriotism from a Christian perspective.

With 'Christian' Nationalism on the rise, questions regarding the proper role and limites of patriotism for followers of Jesus are deeply relevant to discussion happening throughout the Church.  What does it mean that Christians are 'citizens of heaven'?  How does this impact our concurrent role as citizens of whatever nation we live in?  In addition, how does our knowledge of God's plan for history (that is, that Jesus will return and reign over the whole earth) impact how we live our lives?  As in many things, Christian patriotism requires both perspective and an adherance to ethical standards.  In the end, if our patriotism is interfering with our development of the Fruit of the Spirit it has ceased to be a virtue and has become, for us, a sin.