This Week

Title: Making Disciples
Abstract: The previous week’s sermon gave an analysis of the external and internal factors contributing to the decline in membership which the church has experienced over the last three generations. This week’s sermon looks at those churches which exhibit signs of renewal and resurrection on the other side of the decimation and at what they suggest about the church’s future. Rejected, on Biblical grounds, are churches that seek to become “successful” by merely implementing certain programmes or management models, churches that seek to capitalize upon the cultural dissatisfaction with the church by being “un-church,” or churches that become general “centres of spirituality” as opposed to exalting the name of Christ in all its specificity. We have a promise in Matthew 16.18 and Matthew 28.20 that God will always advance His kingdom through the visible church, and that the plan for that advancement is his to direct, not ours. Only when Christ is at the head of the church and at the forefront of its proclamation can it claim to be built upon a rock. This Christ-focus is what should ground its worship. Only when the commission to “make disciples” is taken seriously can the church claim to be fulfilling its Christ-given missional purpose. Churches that appear to be emerging with health and vitality from the ruin of the last 60 years can be found on both sides of the mega-church/emergent church divide. While the size and style of the congregation and most notably the worship, appear quite different in these two different kinds of churches there is agreement around at least three things. Future church must be relational, missional and participatory. There is in both kinds of church, a sense of core vs. periphery and a dynamic movement of periphery into core and core out into the world to replenish the periphery. A small group experience, where teaching and learning, the development of a Christian identity, happen within a relational medium, is essential for each member in addition to their Sunday worship experience with the gathered community. A practice of story telling is also essential. It may begin in small groups, as members of the church begin to tell their stories (always in connection to the larger Christian story) to one another, but it ends with an ability to commend the Christian life through authenticity (obedience to the gospel in every part of our life; walking the walk) and through story telling (talking the talk) in the world at large.

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Previous Weeks

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Sermon DateSermon TitleSermon Abstract
6/24/2012Making Disciples The previous week’s sermon gave an analysis of the external and internal factors contributing to the decline in membership which the church has experienced over the last three generations. This week’s sermon looks at those churches which exhibit signs of renewal and resurrection on the other side of the decimation and at what they suggest about the church’s future. Rejected, on Biblical grounds, are churches that seek to become “successful” by merely implementing certain programmes or management models, churches that seek to capitalize upon the cultural dissatisfaction with the church by being “un-church,” or churches that become general “centres of spirituality” as opposed to exalting the name of Christ in all its specificity. We have a promise in Matthew 16.18 and Matthew 28.20 that God will always advance His kingdom through the visible church, and that the plan for that advancement is his to direct, not ours. Only when Christ is at the head of the church and at the forefront of its proclamation can it claim to be built upon a rock. This Christ-focus is what should ground its worship. Only when the commission to “make disciples” is taken seriously can the church claim to be fulfilling its Christ-given missional purpose. Churches that appear to be emerging with health and vitality from the ruin of the last 60 years can be found on both sides of the mega-church/emergent church divide. While the size and style of the congregation and most notably the worship, appear quite different in these two different kinds of churches there is agreement around at least three things. Future church must be relational, missional and participatory. There is in both kinds of church, a sense of core vs. periphery and a dynamic movement of periphery into core and core out into the world to replenish the periphery. A small group experience, where teaching and learning, the development of a Christian identity, happen within a relational medium, is essential for each member in addition to their Sunday worship experience with the gathered community. A practice of story telling is also essential. It may begin in small groups, as members of the church begin to tell their stories (always in connection to the larger Christian story) to one another, but it ends with an ability to commend the Christian life through authenticity (obedience to the gospel in every part of our life; walking the walk) and through story telling (talking the talk) in the world at large.
6/17/2012Former Glory This sermon is the first in a two part series looking at how the church can have lost so much ground in just three generations (pt. 1) and at what it is in those parts of the church today which exhibit health, that can indicate something about the way to future renewal. The church currently stands at an analogous place in its history to the place where the remnant people of God stood upon their return from the exile in Babylon. As they face the work of rebuilding their temple in Haggai chapter 2, the overwhelming sense is of what has been lost, of former glory juxtaposed with present diminishment. The sermon proposes 3 external factors which have contributed to the decline of the church and, since the prophets are really always most interested in the internal factors (what God’s people themselves have done that has contributed to the problem -- things of which they need to repent), 3 internal factors which see the church involved in and responsible for its own decline. Three external factors: 1. the spirit of the 1960s (the reimagining of the family, withdrawal from institutions and dubiousness as to their authority), 2. the spirit of the Trudeau era (personal freedoms trumping communal values, compartmentalization of religious such that truth and morality became matters on which we could reach diverse conclusions as a society, secularization, pluralism), and 3. the changes to modern lifestyle (influence of media, filling of the vacuum created in the Trudeau era by alternative answers and alternative entertainments). Three internal factors: 1. the influence of the historical critical method upon the study of the Bible among a people for whom the Bible was everything. Doubting the uniqueness, authority, esteem and urgent importance of Scripture and Scriptural obedience compromised mission and the call of people to salvation through Christ. The residual social gospel had aims that could be accomplished apart from belief in Christ, so the church lost its distinctiveness/purpose. 2. The church became locked into a particular culture, majoring in the minors, confusing the essence of its gospel with the packaging of a certain church culture. 3. This culture soon began to look dated, but the church’s inherent small c conservatism prevented change until it was far too late. What needs to happen as we grope for hope in place of our lament is the same as what happens in Haggai. The people need to recover their love of temple-building (as opposed to building their own houses and private concerns). They need to listen and heed the word of God (renewed obedience in Christian living). They can take heart in the two-fold promise of God given to the faithful remnant in Haggai chapter 2. The first promise is for the present “work for God is with you.” And the second promise is for the future “God will renew the splendour of His house, such that its future glory is greater than its former glory.” The experience of the last 60 years must be weighed against the word of hope which assures the faithful of a future, leading Christians today to believe that the church is down, and there is much to be repented of, but it is not out. Our God is faithful even when we are not for he cannot deny himself.
2/20/2011Self conscious vs. God-conscious This sermon is about what it means to seek first the kingdom of God. Are our ambitions in relation to the approval of people? Is our life a calculation? If so, then we will be always fraught with anxiety. Jesus speaks of a way of care-free living where we ask for what we truly need and are assured of God’s faithfulness in providing it. The Lord’s prayer encapsulates this kind of simple piety. When our life becomes more God-conscious than self-conscious we will have found the key to living without worry, and only then will we be fit to be called disciples of Jesus Christ.
1/23/2011The Leadership Class This sermon is the first in a series on the sermon on the mount. It connects the qualities and conditions which are called “blessed” in the beatitudes (poverty, meekness and purity of spirit, mercy, peaceableness, hunger and thirst for righteousness, mourning, persecution) with the qualities of a person empty enough of ego to begin the walk of discipleship. Jesus wants those who can reflect his light and savour in the world, and so be salt and light in the world themselves.
3/14/2010Selfishness This sermon is about the opposition between love and selfishness. Using the Lord’s supper as an illustration of the Christian ethic of love, mutual service and self-giving, Paul draws a contrast between this and the ethic of slavishishness and selfishness that pertains at the table of the false gods (whom Paul calls the idols or the demons). Christians who have eaten at the table of the Lord should no longer have anything to do with the ritual eating and drinking that tied them to idol worship. But what is the Christian to do then at the majority of social occasions in Corinth where idol meat is served and where the company is likely to be mixed (some pagan, some Christian)? Paul’s rule is that the Christian is free to eat anything, but that that freedom ought to be tempered by a) what serves the needs of the neighbour (that will sometimes mean abstaining if the brother or sister has a weaker conscience) and b) what gives glory to God. Therefore the ethics Paul commends on this matter are very situational/contextual. Christians continue to believe that eating at the Lord’s table enables us to “participate in” Christ ie. to take on something of his mind and heart. So how has our eating and drinking at the Lord’s table changed us into a greater Christ-likeness? For surely all people are on a journey upward into the kingdom of love, or downward into the kingdom of selfishness. The habits we develop in this life concerning the exercise of love or of selfishness really do change us, and really do fit us either for heaven or for hell.
3/7/2010Idolatry Some of the false teachers in Corinth are appealing to the freedom Christians have in Christ (“all things are lawful for me”) to justify behaviour that is heedless of God’s Word and will for us, and thoughtless toward others. What the Corinthians are doing and the offense it causes can only be understood in the cultural context of 1st century Achaia (Greece) where shrines to pagan gods and to the emperor abounded. These temples served as the abattoirs of the ancient world. Leftover meat from religious sacrifices was sold in the temple restaurant and in the marketplace. The temples were also the brothels of the ancient world, since they employed prostitutes for use in the “religious” mysteries. Because some in the Corinthian congregation had come out of a pagan background, and had participated in worship rites in the pagan temples, even the smell of the meat might trigger a bad conscience, and thoughts of the former life. Paul pleads for freedom to be tempered by consideration for what is beneficial toward self and neighbour. He also pleads for freedom to be tempered by discernment about what is ruling our lives: if we are unable to forego a “freedom,” perhaps we are a slave to it. Most passionately Paul pleads for freedom to be tempered by a sense that Christians are not their own – they have been bought with a price and are consecrated, as temples of the Holy Spirit, to the service of Christ. Paul says this particularly of the body, since there are some false teachers in Corinth who are trying to draw a dualistic division between the soul and the body, as if God did not care about what the body did, with respect to food and sex choices. Whereas the city of Corinth is given over to idolatry, Paul argues that the Christian ought to be totally given over to the love of the one God and of neighbour. The two great commandments are an antidote to idolatry since they exert God’s claim over our every faculty. Idolatry is still a temptation for us today, and Paul’s advice about the kind of considerations that ought to discipline our freedom is still very apropos.
2/28/2010Immaturity It may take a long time to mature in Christ to the place where thoughts as well as actions are disciplined and a loving heart replaces a selfish one, but most Christians learn to put away first the very glaring external sins that cause scandal. Paul, however, found such sin in the Corinthian congregation, and with it an attitude of superiority and self-justification. Paul calls such sin, where we talk a good talk but walk a slovenly walk, immaturity, and it prevents him from talking about the deeper mysteries of the faith with the people, since he has to keep reminding them of the basics. Paul’s pastoral answer in the face of such sin is to sweep it out entirely, like the thorough house-cleaning the Jews do prior to Passover, to get rid of every speck of leaven in their houses. Such sin, such Christian immaturity, like leaven, can work upon a whole congregation, until all of them become immature and careless about how they live. This is an important word for us in our day when church discipline has reached such a pass that one is liable to be labeled “judgmental” or “censorious” if he cannot just wink at sin in the church like a “man of the world.” Instead of leading a double life Paul wants his people to live in sincerity and truth, because the Passover lamb (Christ) has been sacrificed for us. Our cleansing has come at a price, so we ought not lightly to wallow in dirt again.
2/21/2010Quarrelling This sermon is the first in a Lenten series on some of the spiritual problems which existed in the Corinthian church (and in our churches). The factionalism in Corinth which was at the heart of their quarrelling (“I belong to Paul, I belong to Apollos”) was really an issue which concerned ownership of the church. Our tendency is to make the church more ours than Christ’s and to assume, in the things we fight over, that the church is more ours than anyone else’s. In Corinth the quarrelling became so bad that some Christians began taking one another to court. Paul says this is shameful, first of all that Christians are wronging one another, secondly that they should submit to the judgment of a pagan judge instead of sorting out their quarrels in-house according to the gifts of wisdom that Christ gave, thus bringing the gospel into disrepute. Paul is not saying that there is never a just cause at the bottom of quarrels Christians have with one another – getting the satisfaction we need and that God’s justice requires is permissible; what is “of the flesh” is entertaining a vengeful attitude that simply wants to destroy the other person, and losing sight of what is incumbent upon us as Christians (to behave graciously) in the course of winning our point. Ultimately we should care more about Christ’s goals in the church than our private agendas, and more about maintaining our Christian integrity than winning or losing our point. A quarrelsome spirit is like a cancer in a congregation – a victory for Satan – because it keeps us spiritually immature, and does not commend the gospel to the outsider. We must deal with this sin by giving it no quarter – by cutting it out. This sermon was preached on a communion Sunday.
2/17/2010Blessed to No Advantage This sermon discusses the cautionary tale of the Israelites in the desert, who were blessed with an awareness of God, but who still sinned and whose end was destruction. Paul argues that they were blessed to no advantage, his point being that if this was the case with them, how much more so for those of his Corinthian congregation who have come into the covenant belatedly, who have been blessed with an awareness of God, but who continue to sin. If knowing the reality of God does not proof us against falling away to our destruction (as was the case with some of the Israelites who left Egypt, as Paul warns will be the case with some in Corinth, if they continue in sin, and which we sense is the case when we meet a person who has been in church all their life (exposed to the blessing) but still has profited little (ie. has failed to transform)), then what hope is there? Is falling to sin inevitable? Paul says that God never tries us without also offering a way out. In God’s creative recapitulation of history, he has not a whole nation, but one representative go into the desert, not for 40 years but for 40 days, and where man failed, he succeeded. Where we fell he stood. This is our way out of the cycle – to trust in Christ for our salvation. (This scripture reading, sermon and the hymn “Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah” supplied the “God’s Word Proclaimed” section of the Ash Wednesday service in 2010. The rest of that service, without the “God’s Word Proclaimed” section, can be found at the “special services” tab of these webpages).
2/14/2010Marriage This sermon looks at marriage, and more specifically Paul’s advice about sex within marriage. Paul is not a prude. He recognizes that not all people have the gift of celibacy as he does, and that marriage is the proper context for the full expression of human sexuality. There are reasons why this most rewarding and potentially destructive force (human sexuality) is kept within marriage in God’s intent. The kind of gracious exchange and self-giving which is what good sex is about, also require a context of security and commitment over long years. In a marriage, intimacy becomes the outward sign (sacrament) of the kind of gracious exchange that is taking place at many levels in the relationship. So far from being anti-sex, Paul warns that if married people do not attend to the intimate side of marriage, there are consequences both for the marriage and for our spirituality. Holiness with Paul is not a cold thing; it is worked out in the warm domesticity of life. Paul also assures Christians who are wed to non-Christians that their marriage can nonetheless be holy. Paul’s high view of marriage, and of the role of sex within marriage is measured by what he says to people in these unequal partnerships: a) your marriage is not disposable – stay unless your partner refuses to stay with you b) your marriage can actually be a source of sanctification for your partner and your children.
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