Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wednesday Sermon post-mortem

Ok, so in the spirit of going transmedia, I'm going to try to play with a new theme -- a sermon post-mortem. I'm thinking this is like a look at the cutting room floor combined with director's commentary and opportunities for follow up. The combox will be open for you to chime in with your comments and links and debates.

So for a trial run, I thought I'd quickly review this Wednesday's sermon
So our emphasis this past week was Acts 8:26-40.

Immediately after the sermon, I received a few smiling comments from our Baptist friends ... about Philip taking the eunuch down into the water for immersion. Honestly I didn't focus on Baptism because I don't think the mode is what's important in the text. Also, I'm a Presbyterian, and as we know, Presbyterians are Baptists who are afraid of water.

Early on in the sermon, I talk about the Ethiopian church that claims to house the ark of the covenant. I learned about this from Smithsonian Magazine's story.... In it we learn that the Ethiopian church (like the Egyptian church) also has mythology about Jesus and Mary sojurning there during the Herodian Persecution. The ark is supposedly housed in a secret treasury in Axum ... a lone priest is given the charge of guarding the ark...he's the only one allowed in, and he is never allowed out. Very much like the keepers of the holy grail in some grail lore (particularly in the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade version of the story).

Then we get into the issue of the miraculous and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In the sermon I shy away from the "Word of Knowledge" concept to prefer the idea of "Sanctified Intuition"....the idea that we personally receive a "Word of Knowledge" implies that we've received infallible revelation directly. "Sanctified Intuition" on the other hand implies that God works out his providence, and the more sanctified we are, the more attuned we are to seeing His hand at work. This article does a nice job of explaining what I'm getting at. However the point led up to this statement:

"Not every impulse is a move of the Holy Spirit" -- here's an illustration of that point that wound up on the cutting room floor. About 6 years ago, I had a great idea .... to host a Maximum Impact leadership simulcast here at the church ... but we were a small church and we needed to get some partnership to afford it and publicize it. I prayed it over .... it felt right. I sought counsel and received good advice. I approached the local business newspaper and they were on board. They hired a local event planner to make it happen. They publicized it. Two days before the event, I got a call from the publisher, a friend of mine. He told me there were 2 names on the registration list and he felt like he had to cancel. Blessedly it didn't damage our relationship, but I felt humiliated. Now I'm a little more cautious about how I read that inward compass. I understand that at times my own sin gets in the way of my intuition ... thus the need for it to be sanctified.

Then I speak to the Presbyterian/Reformed tendency toward Rationalism ... disparaging intuition at all. In illustrating our need to rely on the teaching work of the Holy Spirit, I reference the solo that was sung earlier in the service ... but the solo isnt on the audio sermon .... it was "Spirit of God Descend upon my heart" (text and tune here, though Phil sang a very different setting ... more melancholy and yearning). The key verse for the purposes of this sermon was: "Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear.To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh,Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer."

Here another illustration went to the cutting room floor -- I'm a big Jimmy Buffett fan (or was)... the song "Cowboy in the Jungle" has a great refrain "Roll with the punches/ learn to play all of your hunches/ make the best of whatever comes your way/ Forget that blind ambition/ and learn to trust your intuition/ plowin straight ahead, come what may" (Of course Buffett has a kind of hedonistic easy-breezy approach to this ... I'm not sure that he's thinking about the Holy Spirit .... even so, I like the song.... a lot.... just thought it would take too much intro to work this into the sermon).

Another illustration here that went unused -- Blink by Malcolm Gladwell -- mainly because I hadn't read the full book, just book reviews of it. In it he focuses on the idea of snap judgments and the way our brain works faster than our thinking.

Moving on to the next big point .... faith is not a lone ranger journey. We're not called to go through this alone. Scripture is sufficient in conveying the Main things .... I mention Alastair Begg's use of this phrase "The main things are the plain things". Even though scripture is sufficient, we need teachers to lead us and guide us. Alastair is one of the teachers I rely on .... here's a taste of his schtick and if you really like it, check out his church's website. For other good teachers, I suggest of resources from an abundance of great teachers.

I also mention the key qualifier for evaluating your teachers: "The teaching all points back to Christ" .... lots of illustrations wound up on the cutting room floor here... Mainly because they were personal stories that would malign the character of prominent Christian leaders. I thought it better to look at John the Baptist as the model "He must increase, I must decrease"

I discuss how we complicate evangelism with complicated methodologies rather than simply pointing people to Jesus. In that discussion, I talk about the history of the Second Great Awakening and some of the extraordinary technique used there that was spiritually unhelpful. For further reading, I commend Iain Murray's Revival and Revivalism, BB Warfield's work on Perfectionism, and the recent book A City Upon a Hill (see my review). The amazing quote from City Upon A Hill comes from Finney, reflecting upon his highly engineered and scripted revivalistic methodology, even he came to feel it was were “so much policy and machinery, so much dependence upon means and measures, so much of man and so little of God.” (115).

The closing hymn was Come Holy Spirit, Dove Divine (lyrics and music here).

So that's the post mortem... the combox is open (and John Jensen, I know you had some good comments, so jump in)

Soli Deo Gloria