Preaching In A Polarized World

20 11 2015

Source: Preaching In A Polarized World

Preaching In A Polarized World

20 11 2015

Topical preaching has never been an easy for me. I’ve always been leery of reducing the Gospel to just one more opinion in a cultural landscape littered with opinions. In today’s polarized political culture, that’s more likely to happen than ever before.

I like to think that in preaching, we reach for a deeper truth, defined poetically, or artistically if you will. A truth that is compelling for what it is; truth that moves us to live up to the best of who we are as children of God. Not one that leaves us comfortably in our opinions. Which for me is the definition of political truth.   The trade off you make to gain voter support.  In that world, appearance trumps substance.

I know, I know, my bias is showing. Yes, my model for ministry has always come from the poets, writers and artists of our world. That’s the well I draw from in preaching and ministry. To me, theology and ministry is far more art than political science. Though, leading an institution certainly demands political skills. No one wants to hear a poet at a council meeting. I’ve learned that the hard way, and I think I’ve worked hard to develop those skills.  Not always successfully, I admit.

When I made my ordination vows, I promised to faithfully proclaim the Gospel under the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, not to faithfully toe a “party line.”

So, here is the bind that I find myself in today. To preach the Gospel faithfully places me squarely on one side of the political divide against the other.

The core Gospel message of welcoming the stranger, living by faith and not fear, acting with compassion while embodying for others the mercy that we ourselves have received from God; is anathema for huge segments of our population. Ironically, the population that most identifies itself as Evangelical Christian.  Go figure.

I have been overly sensitive I think, to the charge of being politically biased over the course of my ministry.  That has led me to shy away from topics at the expense of faithful proclamation of the Gospel.

But here’s the thing. When the Gospel sounds like partisan propaganda for the other side, maybe that’s the time to reevaluate the side you’re on.

In any case, the Gospel and the teaching of Jesus speaks clearly. Whether we pay heed has always been another story.


19 11 2015



19 11 2015

The feast day Christ The King comes at a time of high anxiety around the world.  The terrorist attacks in Paris, the bombing of a Russian passenger jet, more attacks in Beirut.  The latest wave of cruelty and brutality by religious extremists that threatens to cast the long shadow of fear that makes the liberty and openness of a free society feel like extravagant luxuries we can ill afford.

In our Gospel on Christ the King Sunday, Pilate will ask Jesus, point blank, whether he is a king. (John 18:33-37, 38).  The religious leaders have backed Pilate into a corner, threatening to report him to Rome if he does not sentence Jesus to death.  Even though Pilate is looking for a way out and release Jesus, the threats by the religious authorities are not to be trifled with.  Pilate fears these threats, and seeks to protect himself.

Jesus answers that he has come into the world to bear witness to the truth, and extending an invitation to Pilate, declares that everyone who belongs to the truth can hear him.

Pilate responds bluntly across the ages of human history, “What is truth?”

Pilate can not hear the truth because the sound and fury of fear drowns out the the still, small voice of truth.

Nothing has changed.  When we live in fear, we live a lie.  For Pilate, it was the fear of his political career.  Fear takes many forms.  Listen for it today.  Note those who spread it and seek to exploit it.

Truth is always the first casualty of fear, whatever form it takes.

On Christ the King, we honor the Truth born on the fringes of an empire, forced to flee as a refugee to Egypt, who refused power for the sake of love and would not yield to fear.

Those who belong to the truth can still hear his voice.

Multitasking For Mission (God’s)

6 02 2015

Multitasking For Mission (God’s).

Multitasking For Mission (God’s)

6 02 2015

We live in a multi-tasking world. That’s nothing new. Our daughter and her husband just had a new baby, their third, and like most young mothers multitasking is now her middle name.4881scd

At work, we are likely to have many projects open, not just one.   Technology today makes multitasking easier and inevitable. As I write this, my email program displays notifications of incoming emails at the top of the screen. I can reply, or delete, without leaving what I’m doing.   Mostly I ignore it, but it can be a helpful tool when I have a long project. In any case, multitasking is just the way things are done today and we’ve all adjusted and accommodated to that reality.

There is one spot that has been relatively immune to multitasking. Our churches. Specifically our worship space. As a result, the church sanctuary is probably the most underused asset and resource a congregation has.

Think about it. Most sanctuaries are only used for a couple of hours on Sunday morning. By Sunday afternoon, everyone has gone home, the pastor is probably napping (at least this one is), and the sanctuary stays dark for the rest of the week.

Congregations for the most part, don’t give this a second thought, because they have pretty much defined their mission as Sunday morning worship. And the sanctuary exists to support that mission.   But wait a minute.

What if we expanded our understanding of our mission? More along the lines that Jesus had in mind. Not so much connecting with people on Sunday morning…but connecting with people; period. Sharing the Good News. The sanctuary can be a wonderful place for that to happen. And not just on Sunday morning.   Saturday afternoon. Wednesday night. You name it. The sanctuary is freed to play an integral role in the overall mission of the congregation, and in the life of the community.

When you think about it, it’s not such a stretch. A typical church sanctuary has: 1. seating, 2. sound system, 3. video system. All of these have broader applications than Sunday morning. The church sanctuary can be the perfect place to host an Open Mic night. Poetry readings. Open music jams. Art gallery. Photo gallery.   It can provide rehearsal space for choral groups, local bands, and orchestras.

Seeing the sanctuary differently allows a congregation to connect with an entirely new group of people. Why is this important?

Well, if we see creativity as a gift of God, using the church sanctuary to support creative expression is putting the sanctuary to use supporting what God is doing in our community and in the lives of its people.

That’s a much more powerful witness than empty worship space.

Fishing On The Sunday Morning Side Of The Boat

30 01 2015

Fishing On The Sunday Morning Side Of The Boat.


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