Must have been almost fifteen years ago. I was sitting down with the chaplain of a prestigious New England prep school, and although he was being incredibly polite about it, he was sussing me out. You see, I was a stranger on campus, brought there on behalf of the para-church organization for which I worked, at the invitation of the school’s Christian fellowship group. He had every right to know where I was coming from before signing off on my presence/involvement, a responsibility to parents and administrators to ensure that students would be spared any high-pressure proselytizing while away from…
Donald Trump went to church last Sunday. Lots of people did. My guess is he doesn’t do that on the regular. Nor do most people who at one time or another have been religiously observant but for some some reason have been on a kind of hiatus. But you run for president and go back to church and people take notice.
I suppose it’s the job of the press to take note of such things. I don’t begrudge them. There is a curious bi-product of this kind of reporting though. It poses a kind of religiously voyeuristic Twilight Zone question: what…
The following speech/sermon was given by Martin Luther King, Jr after the bombing at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963, just three weeks after the March on Washington.
This afternoon we gather in the quiet of this sanctuary to pay our last tribute of respect to these beautiful children of God. They entered the stage of history just a few years ago, and in the brief years that they were privileged to act on this mortal stage, they played their parts exceedingly well. Now the curtain falls; they move through the exit; the drama of their earthly life comes…
How better to mark the first day of Epiphany than with a contribution from the esteemed Wesley Hill, who was kind enough to send us the text of the homily he is preaching today on Matthew 2:1-12.
One of the reassuring things about the new Star Wars movie—which I confess I’ve only seen twice—is how predictable it is. Some of my friends have complained that it’s ridiculously derivative, virtually a remake of the first Star Wars from 1977, but most of us, I think, are very happy with how comforting the sameness feels. We have some of the same beloved characters…
This handy guide comes from the first appendix to our newest book, Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints), coauthored by Will McDavid, Ethan Richardson, and David Zahl. Hope you enjoy:
The distinction between law and gospel is the highest art in Christendom
A strong belief of Luther, and those who follow in his footsteps, is that people should not be enticed to church by the Gospel and then, after believing, turn toward self-improvement. The Law always kills, and the Spirit always gives life. This death and resurrection of the believer is not a one-time event, but must be repeated continually: It is the shape of the Christian life. On Sundays, therefore, some form of the Law is ideally preached to kill, and the Gospel to vivify—“the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6). But in many situations, the Law is mistakenly preached to give life, on the assumption that the believer, unlike the new Christian, has the moral strength to follow the guidelines. This leads to burnout, often producing agnostics or converts to Eastern Orthodoxy. Words like ‘accountability’ or ‘intentionality,’ for example, are sure signs that the letter, rather than the Spirit, is being looked to for life. To help distinguish this form of misguided Law from the Gospel, here’s a handy guide:
1. Listen for a distortion of the commandment: Anytime a hard commandment is softened, such as “Be perfect” (Mt 5:48) to “just do your best,” we’re looking to the Law, not the Gospel, for life.
2. Discern the balance of agency: If you’re in charge of making it happen, it’s misguided Law. If God’s in charge, it’s Gospel. If it’s a mixture, it’s Law.
3. Look for honesty: If you or others either seem ‘A-okay’ or ‘struggling, but…,’ then likely it’s because the Old Adam is alive and well (there will also be a horrible scandal in the next three months). If people are open and honest about their problems, such freedom shows the Gospel is at work.
4. Watch for exhaustion: If the yoke is hard and the burden heavy week after week, then the letter’s probably overpowering the Spirit.
5. Examine the language: If you hear ‘If… then,’ ‘Wouldn’t it be nice…,’ ‘We should all…,’ or anything else that smacks of the imperative voice, it’s implicit works-salvation. If you hear the indicative voice—‘God is…,’ ‘We are…,’ or ‘God will…’—then it’s probably Gospel.
6. Watch for the view of human nature, or anthropology: If human willpower, strength, or effort are being lauded or appealed to, it’s Law. High anthropology means low Christology, and vice-versa.
7. Finally, keep an eye out for the ‘Galatians effect,’ summarized by St. Paul:
Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? (Gal 3:2-5)
If how you’re approaching or being told to approach Christianity now feels different from “believing what you heard,” we’re in Galatians territory. Christianity is Good News, and it never ceases to be Good News.
A privilege this morning to share a reflection from The Rt. Rev. Jeff W. Fisher, Bishop Suffragan of Texas, adapted from a sermon given last month at Trinity Episcopal Church in The Woodlands, TX, “Not Your Grandma’s Good Shepherd”. You can read more of Bishop Fisher over at his blog.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it….
Another appropriate Easter quote comes from a sermon on Lamentations 3:22-41, found in Rudolf Bultmann’s sermon collection, This World and Beyond:
The way to God leads not to hell but through hell, or, in Christian terms through the cross. It leads us not to hopelessness but to a hope which transcends all human hope; and we must silence all human hope, if that divine hope is to dawn for us.
We must make this clear to ourselves: for man as he is, laden with wishes and plans, with longings and hope — and this means for us all, we who form our dream pictures as to how our life should go according to our desire and will — for all of us the way to God is the way into that darkness which for us means hell…. the breath of the Lord can sweep away everything of ours in a second and for our eyes there is nothing left but comfortless waste. That is the meaning of God: His majesty annihilates whatever stands independently. His word is a word that slays.
This hell we must traverse; before the life of the resurrection stands the cross. “It is the essence of God” says Luther, “first to destroy what is in us before He bestows on us His gifts.” (p 233)
This selection of a sermon comes from John Zahl’s collection, Sermons of Grace, available here. For those who made it to Liberate this year, the moving illustration towards the end should sound familiar:
My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Unlike the peace of the world, the peace of God lasts. The forgiveness of God is not a bait-and-switch trap. It does not expire. When Jesus uttered those fateful words on the cross, “It is finished,” he meant what he said. The heavenly parking meter is not ticking.
Imagine, if you will, a cup of…
Jimmy Kimmel was at it again this past week, God bless him, ht TM:
The timing was pretty uncanny, given the lectionary reading for this past Sunday on 1 Cor 8:1-13, which includes the line “Food will not bring us close to God.” I took that as a cue to ruminate on the religiosity of food from the pulpit, and it seems to have struck a chord:
P.S. Happy to report that the issues we were having with The Mockingpulpit podcast not syncing/updating on mobile devices has been resolved! You may need to re-subscribe.
We’re happy to announce another Mbird-friendly book out now: friend and Mbird contributor John Zahl‘s new sermon collection from Grace Church, Charleston, titled Sermons of Grace! We can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s available for purchase on Amazon here. The sermon below is the book’s opener and a great beginning to Advent, first given on Dec 1, 2013.
Prepare the way of the Lord… (Matthew 3:3)
John the Baptist’s words this morning are unequivocal: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” It is undeniable that “preparation” is one of the main themes of Advent.
The readings in Advent contain an eschatological emphasis, which means that they deal with…
After being in the ministry for 50 years, The Rev. Dr. Stephen Tyng (who, from 1845-1878, was rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church, where we hold our annual NYC Conference) was asked to deliver a series of lectures to the School of Theology in Boston University entitled “The Christian Pastor.” This particular quote comes from his lecture on the topic of preaching. He never intended to have them published, but evidently the students were so blown away by the whole presentation that they insisted the talks be made available. It’s always reminded me of the mission of Mockingbird:
This is your message…