Marshall Morris remembered…

As you most likely know, our dear brother Marshall Morris was called to glory on Dec. 21st and we had the funeral a couple days ago. You can go to the front page of the Peace web site and listen to the funeral and some of the reflections of his son Brian. I am hoping that there might be some who would like to click on the “comment” box below and share a remembrance or story concerning him, what you appreciated about him, and/or how he was a gift of God to you. I know I will certainly miss him. We pray for his wife, Grace, and his sons Brian, David, and Mark.

Sermons and the message of Christmas

Judging from the web site traffic from the last blog, sermons are a hot topic. I touched on the issue of what a sermon is and what it’s goal is. Over the past few months as part of my desire to improve as a preacher of God’s Word, I have been sampling and paying attention to sermons in other Christian churches – both in print and on podcasts… In my observations, my concerns that preaching has become a very neglected art in Lutheran churches has just been expanded to include even more of Christendom.

At Christmas time usually there are a few sermons that are reported on by the press. The two that usually get mentioned are the sermons of the Pope and then also the Archbishop of Cantebury (the head bishop of the Anglican Church).

Here is what the Associated Press reported about the Pope’s Christmas sermon:
Pope hopes for a way ‘to a just and lasting peace’

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI marked Christmas with a call for an end to violence and urged people everywhere not to lose sight of their need for God in an age of technological marvels.
Wearing shimmering gold vestments and a golden miter, the pontiff delivered his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” speech — Latin for “to the city and to the world” — from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to a cheering crowd in the sunlit square below.
“With deep apprehension I think, on this festive day, of the Middle East, marked by so many grave crises and conflicts, and I express my hope that the way will be opened to a just and lasting peace,” Benedict said, making a special mention of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

THAT is what the secular press reports concerning the message of the Pope’s sermon. Missing from that report is, of course, what Christmas is all about: Jesus Christ!

But if you want to take the time to read the whole text, it is actually quite a beautiful and Christ centered sermon. You can read it at: http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061226/LOCAL17/612260326

The other sermon of note by Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, is quite another story indeed and reflects everything not so good about the Christian sermon these days. Here is a quote of what the BBC reported concerning the sermon:

Archbishop fears for Middle East

Dr Williams recently returned from the Holy Land
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has given a Christmas Day sermon urging people not to forget the tragedies of the Holy Land.
In an address inspired by a recent visit to the region, he said both Israelis and Palestinians feared being ignored as the world looked elsewhere.

He voiced concern over an “almost total absence” of belief in the region that a political solution can be found.

The archbishop delivered his sermon at Canterbury Cathedral in Kent.

He said he was inspired by a medical director in Bethlehem – the West Bank town where Christians believe Jesus was born – who told him: “The poorest deserve the best”.

That slogan was underlined by the Christmas message, he said…..

Notice again that the main message of Jesus Christ is completely missed in the report. But unlike the Pope, if you actually read the text of the sermon, you find that the BBC report was correct! The message of Christ and his salvation through the forgiveness of sins is almost completely absent from his sermon. Instead it was basically a standard speech on the Israeli and Palestinian conflict that any politician could have given. You can read the “sermon” in its (short) entirety here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6208653.stm

What is the purpose of a sermon? To bring into focus Jesus Christ for our lives through the preaching of the LAW (that which in the scripture show us our sin and the demands of God) and the GOSPEL (that which in the scripture shows us the salvation won for us by Christ.)

Too Long Sermons!

So, yesterday I got several comments after the service saying how nice it is to have short sermons! I guess I DID have a short sermon! There was a skit that was about five minutes long, and then I spoke for perhaps another 4 or 5 minutes (I am guessing since I didn’t record it)…

Of course people are pretty happy the other times I have short sermons as well!

REALLY TRULY, I am glad WHENEVER the congregation is happy – EVEN IF it is hard to take sometimes because the obvious implication is that my sermons are pretty awful!

THIS IS WHAT I AM THINKING ABOUT THE SUBJECT… and I would LOVE to have your feedback it:

1) Firstly, I really ENJOY preaching and sharing God’s Word. This, obviously, is a blessing and a curse for you folks!

2) FRANKLY, I KNOW that not all my sermons are very good! And there is no good excuse for it. For me it is a matter of continual repentance and the seeking of forgiveness and renewed discipline. It is a constant struggle for any pastor to preach well every Sunday, to have interesting ideas and effective ways of presenting the Gospel and the Christian life. It isn’t exactly an easy thing to do week after week, and so, unfortunately, it is an easy thing to let slide. In seminary they teach you that it should take a pastor a minimum of 8 hours to prepare a sermon. I haven’t met a pastor who takes that much time to prepare. Most of us have a hard time prioritizing our work since we are so distracted with all the other things that need to be done around the church – and usually we don’t have someone looking over our shoulder through the week like most work places.

3) People tell me that when a sermon gets too long it gets hard for them to concentrate and their minds start wandering… This is a truth which is very much scientifically documented… The modern mind is “trained” by the television to pay attention for about 12 minutes before the next commercial comes! This truth IS important for us pastor’s to understand and apply! But what confuses me is that sometimes the same people who complain most about my sermon lengths are the same ones who are thrilled to tell me all about the radio or TV preachers they listen to who regularly speak for more than 30 minutes… I try to listen to these preachers and some of them are surprisingly NOT very charismatic or exciting as speakers… I can’t figure that out…

However true the above is, I have several concerns:

4) I wonder how short is too short? Maybe it would be the best thing to just eliminate the sermon and just have a quick run through of the Liturgy each Sunday. Maybe THAT would make people really happy! Maybe we could market Peace Lutheran as the “Church Without a Sermon”! People would finally be convinced that Peace is the place for them and our attendance would skyrocket!
OK, seriously, we have to ask ourselves: What IS the PURPOSE of the sermon? – What reason is there to listen to it? More basically: What IS a sermon? Most basically a sermon IS an exposition and application of scripture to our lives… An application of the Law and Gospel to our lives that our hearts might be turned from sin and evil and be drawn to Jesus Christ and His salvation! For those who have a hard time with longer sermons I am always concerned about the underlying reasons: Is your reason a matter of practical issues, or is it because your heart is really so far from God and you don’t really WANT to pay attention to it? There is an offense of the Gospel that has to be recognized!

5) Part of my own personal struggle with sermonizing is that I am convinced that by far the vast majority of our own congregation has a terrible lack of understanding of God and His Word. In the days gone by a Christian could be a Christian without much of a bother. The truth was the truth and no one really questioned it… Contrast that with today where the only truth is that there IS NO TRUTH. I look out at the congregation and see massive doubt, despair, and a general falling away from the Truth – mostly as a result of the fact that people’s reasonable knowledge of the faith and scripture is so shallow. (So shallow they don’t even know what they are missing…) So consider my situation when I know the ONLY time the vast majority of the congregation will even consider the Word of God for their lives is during the sermon time: No wonder I get pretty anxious to take advantage of as much time as I can!
But of course, if the cumulative effect of a long sermon is detrimental in the end, certainly it would demand of me to keep the sermons SHORT!

SO, IF YOU HAVE GOTTEN TO THE END OF THIS BLOG (WHICH IS ALMOST AS LONG AS ONE OF MY SERMONS!) PLEASE RESPOND Post anonymously if you want! Whatever you say might hurt – BUT IF THE TRUTH HURTS, SO BE IT! It is the truth that in my weakness God will be glorified more and more and that HIS GRACE IN ME will be more plain for all to see!

Giving thanks for the religious freedom we have!

AND PRAYING FOR THOSE WITHOUT!

Perusing http://www.firstthings.com, I found out some things I really didn’t know about Turkey and its treatment of the Christian church. Turkey is supposed to be one of the most accommodating of Muslim nations… and yet HERE are some astounding facts:

In a fine essay in Newsweek, George Weigel notes some of the restrictions placed on Christians in Turkey. The Orthodox Church cannot govern itself. Turkish law decides that the ecumenical patriarch must be a Turkish citizen living in Turkey. A recent memorandum from the patriarchate said, “The result of these restrictions is that in the not so distant future the Ecumenical Patriarchate may not be able to elect a Patriarch.” The Turkish government closed the patriarchate’s only seminary in 1971 and has refused numerous requests to reopen it.

The government refuses to grant the patriarchate legal “personality,” in defiance of the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, which defined the legal position of minorities in Turkey. Refusing to recognize the patriarchate as a legal entity means that it exists at the sufferance of the government and is subject to the waxing and waning of political whims and passions. In Turkey, popular passions about “Christian” and “Greek” influence are frequently paranoid in character and intensity.

The government refuses to give work permits to non-Turkish citizens who want to work at the patriarchate. So the handful of non-Turks at the Phanar, as the site of the patriarchate is called, have to leave the country every three months to renew their tourist visas. Moreover, the patriarchate is not allowed to own property. It owns none of the churches, schools, or monasteries under its jurisdiction, and the state has recently seized the thirty-six cemeteries where are buried the generations of the Orthodoxy that once was. The state decides who can teach in schools that serve the Orthodox, as well as which books may be allowed in school libraries.

Writing on the eve of the pope’s visit, Weigel said: “No Christian community in the West would tolerate such conditions, which involve violations of basic human rights. If Turkey is to be the model of a modern Islamic society, it must remove restrictions on the exercise of some of the most fundamental aspects of religious freedom: the freedom of religious communities to educate their people, perform works of charity and choose their leaders according to their own theological self-understanding.

WE NEED TO PRAY FOR OUR CHRISTIAN BROTHERS AND SISTERS AROUND THE WORLD! And give thanks for the freedom to worship that we have here in the United States…