For a full blog of Pastor Doug Gerdts's sermons, visit Without Walls.
For the blog/sermons from our former Associate Pastor, Kaci Clark-Porter, visit Homiletically Speaking.
From time to time...
We will highlight a sermon here that speaks clearly to and about our congregation.
We therefore offer Doug's sermon below from August 11, 2019, based on Hebrews, Chapter 11.
A week ago yesterday, as surely everyone is tragically aware, a young man opened fire on the patrons of an El Paso Walmart with an AK-47. It was the 249th mass shooting this year. As of today, 22 persons are dead and 27 are wounded. The shooter surrendered to police shortly after and is cooperating with investigators. He told them that he was targeting “Mexicans” and in a manifesto that he may have posted minutes before the rampage, decried a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Within hours of the El Paso shootings, another gunman invaded a night club in Dayton, OH, and opened fire, killing 9 people. His motivation is as yet unknown.
On Wednesday, at President Trump’s direction, ICE officers invaded workplaces in Mississippi and detained 680 persons suspected of being undocumented. As of Friday, they released over 300. One end result? Children coming home from school to empty homes not knowing what happened to their parents.
On Thursday, the President and First Lady visited Dayton and El Paso in a supposed “invasion of comfort” for the wounded and the families of the dead. In El Paso, they posed with an infant orphaned because his parents were both shot dead while protecting him. Mrs. Trump held the baby and Mr. Trump was photographed with his trademark grin and “thumbs up.” The tragic irony cannot be lost: the child’s parents are dead and the person whose rhetoric has spurred a spike in hate crimes, is celebrating the invasion that is terrorizing Americans.
I’ve had conversations this week about what would we do if a shooter invaded our worship service. As a small step, I’ve started bringing my cell phone into the sanctuary so I can call 9-1-1. I also heard that throwing hymnals and Bibles at the shooter as that distracts and can save lives. Surprisingly, we never learned about that particular use of Scripture in seminary.
However the scripture in use this morning is nevertheless relevant. It’s a small part of a sermon delivered to a group of Jesus followers who were targeted in a city’s quest to thwart a brewing “invasion of Christians.”
To put things in perspective, some comments by noted preaching professor, Tom Long:
The [author of Hebrews] is not preaching in a vacuum; they are addressing a real and urgent pastoral problem, one that seems astonishingly contemporary. The congregation is exhausted. They are tired—tired of serving the world, tired of worship, tired of Christian education, tired of being peculiar and whispered about in society, tired of the spiritual struggle, tired of trying to keep their prayer life going, tired even of Jesus.
We recognize the problem, of course, but the Preacher’s response may astound us. The Preacher does not appeal to improved group dynamics, conflict management techniques, reorganized mission structures, or snappy worship services. Rather, they preach—preach to the congregation in complex theological terms about the nature and meaning of Jesus Christ.
They do not float on the surface where the desires of people cluster around this or that fad; but dives to the depths, to the hidden places where profound symbols work on the religious imagination to generate surprise, wonder, gratitude, and finally obedience.
That last progression really intrigues me: surprise to wonder to gratitude and
I get that it’s not nearly as linear as it may sound, and the progression may not be clearly road-marked as it’s traversed, but I believe it to be true. Something catches our attention or imagination, surprises us, even startles us – an opportunity, a new realization, a talent we didn’t know we had, a place to serve. If we stay with it, and not ignore or dismiss it, we sense the wonder in it – why us, why now, what if, could it be? Gratitude when we start answering those questions and we find new truth, new meaning, new direction, new understanding. Finally, obedience when we put action and a tangible response to that thing that was just a tantalizing surprise not very long ago.
But allow me to back us up just a bit – to the middle of the quote, the part about avoiding fads and snappy worship services and preferring instead to wrestle with deeper and more complex concepts and issues – on social issues, theological conundrums, problems faced by city residents, immigrants, incarcerated persons, global issues, the environment, parenting dilemmas, and, most importantly, the most faithful and courageous response to the call to be the body of Christ during this time of invasion. That sounds like you – a congregation that eschews fluff and fad – and prefers to dive deep even to the unknown.
Yes, the world is an unfriendly, even hostile place, at times. Yes, living a life of obedience, even gratitude, is difficult at times. Yes, living the way of Christ is arduous, even impossible, at times – yet to all of that, Hebrews says: keep the faith – and then proceeds to answer the question: what is faith?
Faith, it claims, is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
What is faith?
Faith is a strange thing. It is complex, it’s multi-faceted, and it’s even contradictory.
It’s at once a gift of God’s unconditional love that simultaneously requires a human
response of trust and gratitude – which then compel us toward acts of love and justice.
Faith is knowledge that seeks understanding, that takes us from our heads to our
hearts and then to our hands and to our feet.
Faith is that which gives us strength and patience to cope with life’s trials and tribulations – that gives us the assurance that life goes on, that prompts the conviction that things not seen will be a reality, that encourages us that hope for a new world is the blood of our veins.
Faith is a kind of seeing, of seeing something compelling in the life and teachings and actions of Jesus Christ and/or in the communal life of Jesus’ followers. Imagine that. Someone may find faith – new or rekindled or renovated – by witnessing your life and that of this community. Wonder if that’s true about us?
Faith tells us that the meaning of life is in loving God and loving our neighbor – even, and especially, in world where mass shootings are a nearly daily occurance. We say this every single Sunday – because it’s important, because it’s the core of our faith, because it’s the only counter-invasion we have.
Faith then, is the perception, the conviction, and the assurance that the way of Jesus is the way to become who we most truly are—creatures made in the image of God. More importantly, we trust that all other persons – even those unleashing a barrage of bullets with an assault weapon or a couple who would exploit a newly orphaned baby to pander to a base of rabid supporters – yes – even they are made in God’s image.
That's a fair amount of theology and it's not a lot of fluff or fad. It's back to basics: the way of Jesus is the way for us to become who we most truly are -- creatures made in the image of God.
Like most sentences of worth -- it's simple but not simplistic -- and it requires thought and prayer and reflection and pondering and conversation: hence the church! What does it mean to be made in the image of God? What was or is Jesus' way and how can it be our way?
If we take seriously those questions, we may be surprised by the answers, we may wonder how they impact our lives and community, we may discover an underlayment of gratitude, and we may even sense a compelling need to respond in obedience to God's love. The answers may even lead us to another kind of invasion: an invasion of hope. Maybe that invasion of hope might also renew the courage of our faith and enable us to live freely and meaningfully in this beautiful but dangerous world.
May it be so.