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Sunday, September 22, 2019

This Sunday is Stewardship Sunday.  The sermon series on John has been pushed back by one week, so the original post for this Sunday will appear next week.  This Sunday’s sermon text is 1 Peter 4:10, “As each has a received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

This post will not have much to do with the order of worship this week, or the music for this week’s service.  Nonetheless, I hope that the content may still be a help as we prepare for worship this Sunday.  This post is actually more of a confession, that is related to this Sunday’s text.   But before going there, I’ll start with a joke, courtesy of my father-in-law:

“How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb?” 
Answer – “CHANGE???”

As many of you know, a lot of thought and planning goes into worship services.  So when there’s a schedule change, like there was this past Monday, it shakes things up a bit, and my knee jerk reaction is to get even more twisted out of shape than I already am, which is pretty twisted.  But changes occur and the Lord is sovereign over all of them (if only that were my instinctive response.)

When I arrived home on Monday evening, there was a Ben Lippen t-shirt lying on my bed, a hand-me-up from my son, Nathanael.  The shirt had a scripture verse printed on it: 1 Peter 4:10.  God is righteous and holy, and other times, he’s just flat out hilarious!

As I began thinking about what to write for this Sunday’s service, I went to John Calvin’s commentary on 1 Peter.  Regarding this particular verse, Calvin writes:

He (Peter) reminds us that we ought to bear in mind when we do good to our neighbors; for nothing more is fitted to correct our murmurings than to remember that we do not give our own, but only dispense what God has committed to us. 

In the adjacent and preceding verse, Peter writes “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”  On this verse, Calvin comments:

Peter adds, “without murmurings(grumblings)” for it is a rare example that one spends himself and his own on his neighbor without any disparaging reflection.

There are many, many sins that characterize this age, but the most acceptable, and as Jerry Bridges coined, “respectable sin” of our day may be grumbling.  It’s everywhere, and it’s constant.  Turn on the news on your TV or radio.  It is not information.  It’s kvetching.

Of course it is not so different in the church, though it ought to be utterly different.  But the Apostle Peter offers us a corrective to our griping in these verses–stewardship.   Calvin rightly applies the idea of stewardship to any and all gifts­–finances, spiritual gifting, and other gifts and talents that we may have:

If we then excel others in ANY gift, let us remember that we are as to this the stewards of God, in order that we may kindly impart it to our neighbors as their necessity and benefit requires…no one is to be content with one thing and with his own gifts, but every one has need of the help and aid of his brother.  This, I say, is a bond which God hath appointed for retaining friendship among men, for they cannot live without mutual assistance.  Thus it happens, that he who in many things seeks the aid of his brethren, ought to communicate to them more freely what he has received.  This bond of unity has been observed and noticed by heathens.  But Peter teaches us here that God had designedly done this, that he might bind men one to another.

When we give of our gifts, we are binding ourselves to one another, in love.  When we are reminded that these gifts do not belong to us, or even find their origin in us, we are no longer bound to the gift (which is bondage and idolatry) but are free in Christ to love and assist one another with the gift. 

As we worship the Lord this Sunday, may he help us to see that everything we have been given and blessed with comes from his hand, and that it is all meant to be used for his glory.   And should the Lord Jesus come back, may he find us faithful, grateful, and content in the work of stewarding his gifts.


Sunday, September 15, 2019 

The focus of this Sunday’s sermon passage (John 13: 1–20) is Christ’s servanthood and the example that the Lord has set for his disciples.

Matthew Henry summarizes this chapter by writing that there were four reasons for Christ washing his disciples feet, and the music and texts chosen for this morning’s service support all of Henry’s insights regarding this moment[1] More>


Sunday, September 8, 2019

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.   And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.  And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19: 11-13)

This is a curious passage of Scripture, and different commentators have very different reactions to it.  What I find intriguing and convicting is that Elijah doesn’t hide his face when I or most of us would.    There is no response from Elijah when an “act of God” occurs.  But when the low whisper comes to him, he hides his face at the entrance of the cave.  Elijah’s act of reverent and awe-filled worship comes in the stillness.

Our Scripture passage for this Sunday in John 11 brings us to another cave, the tomb of Lazarus.  This too is a scene of stillness, as Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days.

It is also a scene that unravels slowly in John’s gospel.  Jesus is in no hurry, intentionally.  It is a scene that contrasts the lowest and highest points of the Christian pilgrimage–death and resurrection.  The passage is full of weeping, but also full of wonder.

This Sunday’s offertory is a musical meditation on this scene, and a piece of music that I believe captures this miraculous moment in an astonishingly moving and evocative manner.  Scottish composer James MacMillan set verses 33, 35, 43, 44, and 39 of John 11 from the Vulgate translation of this scene, intended as a communion motet.  Like much of MacMillan’s music, this work entitled Videns Dominus (When the Lord saw) incorporates some of the vocal ornamental procedures of Gaelic psalm singing.  This type of oscillating vocalism, found still today in exclusive psalm-singing Presbyterian churches of the Western Isles of Scotland, effectively portrays the weeping of Lazarus’s sisters.  MacMillan sets the text “Lazarus, come forth,” three times, with each call growing louder, and with Lazarus’s name repeated three times in each call.  A good friend mentor and recently commented to me that  MacMillan uses repetition and subtle reharmonization to create the sense of time being suspended.  It could also possibly be thought of rhetorically, that Lazarus, as he awakens from his death slumber,  hears the call to rise faintly at first,  but  the command “Come forth!” grows clearer and clearer, or that the call is echoing in the tomb.  It is also interesting to note that when these words “Veni foras!” are set, there is no vocal ornamentation at all.  The command is set in a manner that is simple, clear, and unwavering.

There is another important consideration,  to which my friend alluded.  With the concept of “suspension of time” that MacMillan writes into the structure of his music, there is an implied sense of slowness.  The music requires that the worshiper be still and listen.

This points us to an important, but dying understanding of the nature of corporate worship.  We live in a culture that is losing the ability to slow down, concentrate for extended periods of time, and be still.   For most of us, Sunday is one of the rare moments of the week when we can be still and listen.  When we listen carefully to the preaching of the Word, we truly rest in the Word.   Worship, too, can and should have a sense of slowness.   As we see in John 11, Jesus is in no rush, because God’s glory is frequently manifested in our waiting and stillness as he works his mysterious providences in our lives for his glory and for our good.   Contrary to much of what we see in the contemporary evangelical church, our worship does not always have to be exuberant and energy packed.  When the Apostle tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, he is not telling us to work up fervent emotionalism.  He is telling us to allow God to do his transforming work in our lives, but this requires us to be active in disciplines that require stillness–reading the Word, hearing the Word (in speech and in song) praying, and coming together around the Lord’s table, as we will do this Sunday.

“Be still and know that I am God:  I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)


Sunday, September 1, 2019

When my boys were young, we would spend some intentional time memorizing texts that they could manage at that age.  The first verses that my oldest son memorized were from Psalm 149, verses 1-5.  My second oldest son’s first Psalm was our introit this morning, Psalm 117. When we’d arrive at the final verse of the shortest psalm in the psalter, he would shout at the top of his lungs “Praise the LORD!”  (His Sicilian intensity has not waned over the years.) The Trinity Psalter paraphrase that the choir sings this Sunday ends with that same verse he would shout out - “Alleluia, Alleluia,” meaning “Praise Yahweh, Praise Yahweh!” More>