sermonseries

Sermon series – there hasn't been a time when pastors haven't used them. They usually appear during Advent, Lent, and summer. They provide a nice "break" from time to time. But there are preachers who move from one sermon series to another the entire year. They often attempt to answer relevant questions: How can I have a stronger faith? How can I be a more patient person? What can I do when I feel adrift? Perhaps this format springs from a desire to create a "hook" that brings people back each week, much like movie theaters ran weekly serials along with the regularly scheduled movie in the '40s and '50s. the goal was to bring the customer back each week. Sermon series may also reflect the style of writing in some current TV shows, whose weekly episodes build on those of the previous weeks. Still, the question comes, "What if I'm not interested in the subject matter of this series?"

Perhaps the most universally interesting "series" is the four Gospels narratives. Each week the hearer experiences an episode from Jesus' life and ministry from beginning to end. The genius of this series is that Christ is always front and center and not tacked on at the end of the sermon as the quick fix to solve the particular problem which the series raises that week. On a small piece of paper taped behind more than one pulpit, I've seen the words, "Sir, we would see Jesus." That is a powerful tap on the shoulder to every preacher. Your hearers have come to meet Jesus. They have come to hear Jesus. They have come to receive Jesus in word and Sacrament and to express their thanks and commitment to Him with praise and thanksgiving. I could read a dozen books that tell me how to be a better parent, how to cope with loneliness, how to secure for myself financial peace of mind. Our preachers did not go to seminary to learn answers for those problems. The Bible was not written to provide those kinds of answers. But what we did go to school for was to learn how to diagnose all of those worries and anxieties as forms of idolatry and call the hearer to repentance. We went to seminary to learn how Jesus forgives and heals from such idolatries. When the man shouted to Jesus, "Make my brother divide the inheritance with me," I wonder how many of today's preachers would reply, "Next week I'm beginning a new series on how you can find financial peace of mind. Come and listen to it."

Jesus offers better, and so should our preachers. The preacher's challenge is to address concerns in such a way that Jesus' words are fulfilled: "He that hears you hears me."

johnsonamendment-3

Earlier this year the President vowed a relaxation of the Johnson Amendment. What is that? The 1954 Johnson Amendment passed by Congress states that non-profits cannot speak in favor of or against any political candidate. The Johnson Amendment was passed by Congress as an amendment to section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code. It states that entities which are exempt from federal income tax cannot "participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of – or in opposition to – any candidate for public office." Enforcement of this amendment has been practically non-existent, to say the least. For example, when he was a presidential candidate, Bill Clinton appeared in many African-American congregations and received endorsements from their clergy without so much as a yawn from the IRS. (And since there are more than religious groups who have 501(c)(3) standing, this ruling should have applied to labor leader endorsements and others as well.) But sometimes the government unwittingly gets it right, even if for the wrong motives.

Lutherans and other Christians have understood that the Amendment threatens no penalty for speaking either for or against moral issues of the day from the pulpit, only for endorsing or condemning candidates by name who may espouse or condemn those issues. Speaking only to the issues certainly helps pastors avoid ad hominem attacks and breaking the eighth commandment. By focusing on the merits or flaws of any issue from a Biblical perspective, the pastor can more successfully keep the church free from the appearance of identifying with a particular party or candidate, although admittedly, this has become more difficult over the years as political parties have become less tolerant of those who don't support their party's platform on various moral issues. (Yes, one can be a Democrat and oppose abortion, just as one can be a Republican and support LGBTQ issues).

In 2015, a Christian polling firm found that 79 percent of Americans thought clergy should not endorse candidates during worship services. Evangelicals were more likely to say pastors should be able to do so — 25 percent compared to 16 percent — but support for clergy endorsements was low across the board. According to a 2016 Pew report, only 10 per cent of parishioners have heard pulpit endorsement or condemnation of specific candidates, so relaxing the Johnson Amendment doesn't seem to be such a big deal after all. Of course, outside of the worship service, pastors are just as free to endorse or oppose a candidate as any other citizen, and they are just as free to sin as any other citizen who rips a candidate on Facebook or on any other social media. Sin has always been an equal opportunity destroyer.

 

pastorsandweddings1

I share with you the following from The Alliance Defending Freedom for Faith and Justice:

"There is a common misconception that pastors who sign marriage licenses have become "agents" of the state who could be forced to perform same-sex weddings. That is false. Just because an individual has permission to act does not mean that the state can force that person to act. For example, motorists obtain state permission to drive on public roads, but the state cannot require them to drive. Similarly, pastors are authorized to sign a marriage license, but they cannot be required to perform marriages.
Pastors are not acting on the state's behalf. For now, they still enjoy the same religious freedom they have exercised for decades: the right to decide who they will – and will not – marry."
"There are a host of practical concerns that should cause pastors to think very critically and prayerfully before deciding to stop signing state marriage licenses. By refusing to sign marriage licenses, are pastors participating in the further deterioration of an institution that society – and particularly children – desperately needs? Is such a step practically necessary when there are currently no attempts to force pastors to perform weddings that violate their faith?"
"Consider also the legal ramifications for a couple that is religiously married, but not civilly married. Civil marriage affects property right, assumptions of paternity, probate and inheritance rights, family visitation rights, and numerous other legal issues. How will these legal matters be addressed? And if pastors do encourage couples to obtain a separate civil marriage, why is it appropriate for congregants to do something (sign a marriage license) that pastors will not?"
The following is NOT from the above-quoted Alliance Defending Freedom, but are my thoughts:
Occasionally our pastors have been asked to perform "religious" weddings that do not notify the state, that is, there is no civil license obtained, signed, or recorded with the state. Pastors may not agree to perform such weddings. In addition to the legal problems this raises as noted above, there is this: Oftentimes these are requested in order to retain certain financial benefits that would disappear should the state or other entities find out a person has remarried. This can amount to defrauding those who are paying certain survivor pension or insurance benefits and is certain to invite inquiry by the IRS. Being complicit in such a matter could lead to legal penalties for the pastor and for his congregation. If loss of financial benefit is the reason, I'm sure the AARP or some other group would be pleased to lobby the government to change the laws!