"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ghosts of sermons past....

I recently came across a pile of church bulletin inserts, the ones with the Scripture passages on them, on which I had made notes while listening to sermons during the three years I served at Church of the Nativity. None of the words in bold are my own. The preachers are rarely noted in my scribblings but could be any of the regular staff who were there at the time. But I though a few excerpts were worth sharing, for the good of the order.

"When we start trying to separate the holy from the secular, it is almost impossible." I have no idea what the context of that quote was, though I'm sure there was some riff on separatist movements humming in the background. But the quote is a worthy one. While indeed we can go on about how it is not for us to judge the world, to separate out the holy from the profane, that is God's work... the more interesting aspect of this was the occasion of the sermon: Christmas Day. It is telling, is it not, that man seems to have this inborn need to try to separate ourselves off as holy, to draw the line beyond which there be dragons, to divide the spoils on behalf of the king, when it was Jesus himself who left the realm of holy to join the world of the secular, profane.

"The 'if it feels good' generation yields to the 'whatever' generation." The background hum here was the idea that America is entering a period of "nervous breakdown" and eventually "suicidal tendancies." How does the Gospel preach to a people whose motto is "whatever" and how do we give good news to those who relish their corporate depression. The preacher's answer was in self sacrificial love, which in a culture of depression both speaks to the self loathing tendancy but also stands out sharply with the naval gazing tendancy, both of which seem to accompany depression. What if the depressed are right that we're worthless, that we don't deserve what we have... you see, of course they're right, which is why God's grace is such an amazing gift, which is why we give away our honor, our possessions, our love. The preacher noted that apathy feeds depression, so surely the antidote is action. And the preacher notes the need for genuine action, not only lipservice or obligation works. "Let your love be genuine" he cites, and in a depressed cynical culture, nothing else will speak anyway.

God uses the Assyrians and Cyrus though they do not know god. Israel knows god and refuses to be used. (paraphrased) How amazing that God uses all people, even before the time of Jesus. How amazing that when the faithful refuse God, he still continues to show forbearance. How humbling that the outsider is the one who sets the insiders free to do God's purpose. The preacher pointed out that Cyrus came along with alot of messianic language, anointed king, God going before him... not just in his own culture but in the Scriptures. How awesome that an outsider like us could reflect the work of Christ, even before the incarnation. And of course, Christ was the ultimate outsider, though the people never would have expected their messiah be an outsider. He was outside the system of sin and death in order to lead the people to life eternal.

Which brings us full circle to the outsider stepping inside, the holy stepping into the profane, love breaking into the cynical world. Light in the darkness.

Blessed Advent.

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