These gems come from our 2015 conference chaplain Jim Munroe.
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…
One final post before we give the depression talk a rest, and only because the source material is so remarkable. I’m referring to Andrew Solomon’s reflection on you know who for The New Yorker, which appeared late last week. With trademark compassion, he put his finger on a big part of what makes Robin Williams’ death so shocking:
When the mass media report suicide stories, they almost always provide a “reason,” which seems to bring logic to the illogic of self-termination. Such rationalization is particularly common when it comes to the suicides of celebrities, because the idea that someone could be…
Sometimes an infant can bring you rest. No I’m not crazy; I have three kids, the youngest born just last October. I did say “sometimes”! Infants in general DO NOT bring you rest, specifically Larkin babies, they love to scream…all day and night. I once wrote a sermon bobbing up and down for two hours to keep the baby asleep…Infants are A LOT of work and rest is not a word associated with them…typically. But sometimes, as a nursing mother, I have certain moments where my baby pins me down to a couch or a bed, rendering me incapable of…
One of the projects our interns have been working on this summer is an expansion of our sermon archives. We’re happy to let you know that the first stage is completed and ready for your enjoyment!
The expansion is comprised of two large “collections”: one from long-time Mbird contributor RJ Heijmen, whose sermons from his time at St Paul’s in New York have been added, and the second from Paul Zahl, whose sermons from his tenure as Dean of the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, AL have been added, over 130 in total. A few references may be a little dated now, but the core message is anything but. Together, they represent two generations of preaching the Gospel of grace in a fresh and down-to-earth way that we hope will be helpful and refreshing. All 130 are searchable by scripture and date.
- Click here to browse and begin downloading the archive of Paul Zahl sermons.
- Click here to browse and begin downloading the archive of RJ Heijmen sermons.
Subscribe to The Mockingpulpit podcast by clicking here. New sermons added every week!
P.S. Loyal listeners: Don’t be shy about giving The Mockingpulpit a rating/review on iTunes. We need all the help we can get spreading the word.
Here is a drastic parting of the ways with a theology of glory. The Christ of the Cross takes away the possibility of doing something. The theologian of glory might be able to follow to the point of accepting the truth that Christ has fulfilled all things, but then that will have to be used as a motivational tool to make sure the law gets its due. The point is precisely that the power to do good comes only out of this wild claim that everything has already been done. The language has to break out into preaching. Never mind that when we look to ourselves we find no sign of good works. Never mind our fears and our anxieties. We are looking in the wrong place. Look to Christ! He has done it all. Nothing will be gained by trying to shore up the Old Adam. Christ leaves nothing for the Old Adam and Eve to do. The old can only be killed by the law, not given artificial respiration by recourse to it… To the theologian of the cross the language of grace and faith must be pushed absolutely to this length – until it kills the old and raises the new.
-Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross