Tag Archives: liturgical worship

The Imminent Decline of Contemporary Worship Music: Eight Reasons OCTOBER 27, 2014 BY T. DAVID GORDON

By imminent decline of contemporary worship music, I do not mean imminent disappearance. Commercial forces have too substantial an interest to permit contemporary worship music to disappear entirely; and human beings are creatures of habit who do not adapt to change quickly. I do not predict, therefore, a disappearance of contemporary worship music, sooner or later. Already, however, I observe its decline. Several years ago (2011) Mark Moring interviewed me for Christianity Today, and in our follow-up communications, he indicated that he thought the zenith of contemporary worship music had already happened, and that the movement was already in the direction of traditional hymnody. He did not make any claims about the ratio of contemporary worship music to traditional hymns; he merely observed that whatever the ratio was, the see-saw was now moving, albeit slowly, towards traditional hymnody. If the ratio of contemporary-to-traditional was rising twenty years ago, it is falling now; the ratio is now in decline, and I suspect that decline will continue for the foreseeable future. What follows is a painfully abbreviated list of eight reasons why I think this change is happening.

  1. Contemporary worship music hymns not only were/are comparatively poor; they had to be. One generation cannot successfully “compete” with 50 generations of hymn-writers; such a generation would need to be fifty times as talented as all previous generations to do so. If only one-half of one percent (42 out of over 6,500) of Charles Wesley’s hymns made it even into the Methodist hymnal, it would be hubristic/arrogant to think that any contemporary hymnist is substantially better than he. Most hymnals are constituted of hymns written by people with Wesley’s unusual talent; the editors had the “pick of the litter” of almost two thousand years of hymn-writing. In English hymnals, for instance, we rarely find even ten of Paul Gerhardt’s 140 hymns, even though many musicologists regard him as one of Germany’s finest hymnwriters. Good hymnals contain, essentially, “the best of the best,” the best hymns of the best hymnwriters of all time; how could any single generation compete with that?

Just speaking arithmetically, one would expect that, at best, each generation could represent itself as well as other generations, permitting hymnal editors to continue to select “the best of the best” from each generation. Were this the case, then one of every fifty hymns we sing should be from one of the fifty generations since the apostles, and, therefore, one of every fifty should be contemporary, the best of the current generation of hymnwriters. Perhaps this is what John Frame meant when, in the second paragraph of his book on CWM, he indicated that he had two goals for his book: to explain some aspects of CWM and to defend its “limited use” in public worship. Perhaps Prof. Frame thought one out of fifty constituted “limited use,” or perhaps he might have permitted as much as one out of ten, I don’t know. But our generation of hymnwriters, while talented and devout, are not more talented or more devout than all other generations, and are surely not so by a ratio of fifty-to-one.

  1. Early on in the contemporary worship music movement, many groups began setting traditional hymn-lyrics to contemporary melodies and/or instrumentation. Sovereign Grace Music, Indelible Grace, Red Mountain Music, Reformed Praise all recognized how difficult/demanding it is to write lyrics that are not only theologically sound, but significant, profound, appropriate, memorable, and edifying (not to mention metrical). If the canonical Psalms are our model, few hymn-writers could hope to write with such remarkable insight (into God and His creatures, who are only dust) and remarkable craftsmanship (e.g. the first three words of the first Psalm begin with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph (א), each also has a shin (ש), and two of the three also have a resh (ר), even though each is only a 3-letter word. Even those unfamiliar with Hebrew cannot miss the remarkable assonance and alliteration in those opening three words: “ashre ha-ish asher”).
  2. As a result, the better contemporary hymns (e.g. “How Deep the Father’s Love,” “In Christ Alone”) have been over-used to the point that we have become weary of them. These two of the better contemporary worship music hymns are sung a half-dozen times or a even a dozen times annually in many contemporary worship music churches; whereas “A Mighty Fortress” may get sung once or twice (if at all); but neither of the two is as good as Luther’s hymn. What is “intrinsically good” (to employ Luther’s expression about music) will always last; what is merely novel will not. Beethoven will outlast 50 Cent, The Black Eyed Peas, and Christina Aguilera. His music will be enjoyed three hundred years from now; theirs will be gone inside of fifty years.
  3. It is no longer a competitive advantage to have part or all of a service in a contemporary idiom; probably well over half the churches now do so, so we have reached what Malcolm Gladwell calls the “Tipping Point.” Contemporary worship music no longer marks a church as emerging, hip, edgy, or forward-looking, because many/most churches now do it. Churches that do not do other aspects of church-life well can no longer compensate via contemporary worship music; they must compete with other churches that employ contemporary worship music. Once a thing is commonplace, it is no longer a draw. And contemporary worship music is now so commonplace that it is no longer a competitive advantage; to the contrary, smaller churches with smaller budgets have difficulty competing with the larger-budgeted churches in this area.
  4. As with all novelties, once the novelty wears off, what is left often seems somewhat empty. In a culture that celebrates what is new (and commercial culture always does so in order to sell what is new), most people will pine for what is new. But what is new does not remain so forever; and once it is no longer novel, it must compete by the ordinary canons of musical and lyrical art, and very little contemporary worship music can do so (again, because its authors face a fifty-to-one ratio of competition from other generations). Even promoters of contemporary worship music prefer some of it to the rest of it; indicating that they, too, recognize aesthetic criteria beyond mere novelty. Even those who regard novelty as a virtue, in other words, do not regard it as the onlyvirtue. And some, such as myself, regard novelty as a liturgical vice, not a virtue because of its tendency to dis-associate us from the rest of our common race, heritage, and liturgy.
  5. Thankfully, my own generation is beginning to die. While ostensibly created “for the young people,” the driving force behind contemporary worship music was always my own Sixties generation of anti-adult, anti-establishment, rebellious Woodstockers and Jesus freaks. Once my generation became elders and deacons (and therefore those who ran the churches), we could not escape our sense of being part of the “My Generation” that The Who’s Pete Townsend had sung about when we were young; so we (not the young people) wanted a brand of Christianity that did not look like our parents’ brand. Fortunately for the human race, we are dying off now, and much of the impetus for contemporary worship music will die with us (though the commercial interests will “not go gentle into that good night,” and fulfill Dylan Thomas’s wish).
  6. Contemporary worship music is ordinarily accompanied by Praise Teams, and these have frequently (but by no means always) been problematic. It has been difficult to provide direction to them, due to the inherent confusion between whether they are participants in the congregation or performers for the congregation. In most circumstances, the members of the Praise Team do the kinds of things performers do: they vary the instrumental or harmonious parts between stanzas, they rehearse, etc. In fact, if one were to watch a video of the typical Praise Team without any audio, they ordinarily look like performers; their bodily actions and contrived emotional expressions mimic those of the entertainment industry.

Theologically and liturgically, however, it is the congregation that is to sing God’s praise, and what we call the Praise Team is merely an accompanist. But there is a frequent and ongoing tension in many contemporary worship music churches between the performers feeling as though they are being held back from performing for the congregation, and the liturgists thinking they’ve already gone too far in distinguishing themselves from the congregation. Many pastors have told me privately that they have no principial disagreements with contemporary worship music, but that they wish the whole Praise Team thing “would go away,” because it is a frequent source of tension. I have elsewhere suggested that the Praise Team is not biblical, that it actually obscures or obliterates what the Scriptures command. I won’t repeat any of those concerns here; here I merely acknowledge that many of those who disagree with my understanding of Scripure agree with my observation that the Praise Team is an ongoing source of difficulty in the church.

  1. We cannot evade or avoid the “holy catholic church” of the Apostles’ Creed forever. Even people who are untrained theologically have some intuitive sense that a local contemporary church is part of a global and many-generational (indeed eschatological and endless) assembly of followers of Christ; cutting ourselves off from that broader catholic body may appear cool for a while, but we ultimately wish to commune with the rest of the global/catholic church. Indeed, for many mature Christians, this wish grows as we age; we become aware that this particular moment, and our own personal life therein, will pass away soon, and what is timeless will nonetheless continue. Our affection for and interest in the timeless trumps our interest in the recent and fading. We intuitively identify with Henry F. Lyte, whose hymn said, “Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.” We instinctively wish to “join the everlasting song, and crown Him Lord of all” (to use Edward Perronet’s language). Note, in fact, the opening lines alone of each stanza of Perronet’s hymn, and observe how, as the stanzas move, our worship is connected to both earthly and heavenly worship, past and future worship:

All hail the power of Jesus’ Name! Let angels prostrate fall;…
Let highborn seraphs tune the lyre, and as they tune it, fall…
Crown Him, ye morning stars of light, who fixed this floating ball;…

Crown Him, ye martyrs of your God, who from His altar call;…
Ye seed of Israel’s chosen race, ye ransomed from the fall,…
Hail Him, ye heirs of David’s line, whom David Lord did call,…
Sinners, whose love can ne’er forget the wormwood and the gall,…
Let every tribe and every tongue before Him prostrate fall…

O that, with yonder sacred throng, we at His feet may fall,
Join in the everlasting song, and crown Him Lord of all!

It is not merely that some churches do not sing Perronet’s hymn; they can not do so, without a little dissonance. Everything that they do intentionally cuts themselves off from the past and future; liturgically, if not theologically, they know nothing of martyrs, of Israel’s chosen race, of David’s lineage. Liturgically, if not theologically, everything is here-and-now, without much room for angels or seraphs, nor every tribe and tongue (just those who share our particular cultural moment). To sing Perronet’s hymn in such a setting would fit about as well as reading Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at a Ku Klux Klan gathering.

“Contemporary worship” to me is an oxymoron. Biblically, worship is what angels and morning stars did before creation; what Abraham, Moses and the Levites, and the many-tongued Jewish diaspora at Pentecost did. It is what the martyrs, now ascended, do, and what all believers since the apostles have done. More importantly, it is what we will do eternally; worship is essentially (not accidentally) eschatological. And nothing could celebrate the eschatological forever less than something that celebrates the contemporary now. So ultimately, I think the Apostles’ Creed will stick its camel’s nose into the liturgical tent, and assert again our celebration of the “holy catholic church, the communion of the saints.” The sooner the better.

(Photo credit: Aikawa Ke/ Flickr)

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ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

T. David Gordon

T. David Gordon

T. David Gordon is Professor of Religion and Greek at Grove City College, where since 1999 he has taught courses in Religion, Greek, Humanities, and Media Ecology. He is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. He is the author of Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers and Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Re-Wrote the Hymnal. His personal website is www.tdgordon.net. He lives in Grove City, PA, with his wife Dianne, and daughters Grace and Dabney (and innumerable cats). 

Hallowed be His Name

Worship, that is about hallowing God’s Name. That’s how Jesus tells us to pray, “hallowed be Thy Name”. We are called to bring glory to God’s Name. As the Blackabys point out: “If, however, our actions detract from God’s reputation…We can so tarnish the name of father that we hinder other people in coming to God.” (Experiencing God day by day  Henry and Richard Blackaby p 229)

People today are hungry for God, God the Father of Jesus Christ, the all-powerful, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and Sustainer of all. But we, as Christians, have trivialized His Name so much. Starting decades ago, Jesus our buddy, our brother, our co-pilot. How can God be all – powerful if He needs us to lead the way and He’s just there to buck us up. I can always use another buddy, God has blessed me with many, but what I really need is an all powerful God, who created the universe, controls the universe and is completely in control of how this is all going to play out and how I, as an eternal being in Jesus, will live my eternal life. The world really wants to know that God. The world wants to see Him being treated worshipfully and reverently by His people. How can they take seriously a God that when we leave “worship”, it’s about the same way we would feel leaving an Aerosmith concert. All pumped up, but not for the right reasons.

Our worship should be respectful in terms of how seriously we take God vs how much it’s really about us. We talk about profaning God’s name vs Hallowing His Name. How does a “praise band” hallow God’s Name in worship. Seems to me that trivialize God’s Name for our own comfort and amusement. How can anyone else take His Name seriously, turn to Him as the true strength against the evil of the world, the true salvation of the world, the true sustainer of the world? “Jesus is my buddy, Jesus makes me happy, it’s all about me la, la, la”. One person said they really question a song about Jesus when the number of personal pronouns outweighs anything else in the song. Me, I, ours, it’s not really about Jesus is it? It’s really about you, isn’t it? That’s what distinguishes hymns about God, they are all about God, how He is the ultimate, how we glorify Him. He is the infinite, eternal, all powerful God, there is so much to say about Him, not what we usually have now, a mindless mantra, repeating over and over some particular attribute. The attribute the singer clings to because they really don’t know all that much about God. Jesus told us: “KJV Matthew 6:7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” [Bible works}

We are taking God, the rock of our salvation and making Him the rock and roll of the trivial. We’re trying to turn worship into a time that pleases us, not Him, making His Name common place and trivial, what’s the point of glorifying Him? After all it is all about me, right? God is a tool for me, to use or not use as I deem necessary. He’s not the all powerful Savior, Sustainer, Creator, all powerful God. He’s just something to amuse and please me. If He doesn’t serve my purposes, well there are other alternatives in our great post-modern world, things that will make me “happy”, because the ultimate goal isn’t the reverential worship of God almighty, hallowing His Name. The ultimate goal is that I “like” things and they make me happy. “We ought to pray daily, as Jesus taught us to, that God’s name be treated as holy.” (Blackabys)

Relationship with Jesus is relationship with His church

Anyone who is to find Christ must first find the church. How could anyone know where Christ is and what faith is in him unless he knew where his believers are?

Martin Luther

One of my big pet peeves, I don’t need church, I just go worship God my own way, if it all. This idea that God owes me for all I’ve done, hey great I’ve been. When they list it out, have to tell you not very impressive, and God is never going to be impressed. He gave us His Son, and folks Jesus is the only way and to be in Jesus you have to be in His Body, which is His church. “…for most of Christian history, a relationship with God was inseparable from a relationship with the church.” (Tish Harrison Warren “The Church is Your Mom” via Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics in Leadership Journal Summer 2015 p 16) I can just not get over this attitude that each person seems to expect personal treatment according to their whims. They expect the church to be there for them, but they have no responsibility to anyone else it’s all about them.
This is Jesus’ church He told us that He would build His church on this rock. But no that’s not good enough, it’s our way or no way. Guess what, it’s Jesus way, His church and don’t let your attitude fool you into believing it’s about you, it’s about Jesus and His church.
“Most believers over the last two millennia – Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox alike – would deem spiritual life without the church as incomprehensible and impossible as biological life without a mother.” There can be no communion with Jesus unless you are in communion with His Body, the church. Those who think they can make it up on their own are sadly deluded and despite what they think, they are not in communion with Jesus. Jesus establishes His own church and then decides to make millions of exceptions and still have His church serve those exceptions??? I’d like to see how you work that deal with your oncologist. Sure I have cancer but you have to come to me, or better yet I will do it on my own at home and fix it. Folks you have cancer, sin! As we’ve said the church is a hospital for sinners. You can chose your own way and die for eternity, or you can trust in Jesus’ church to life everlasting.

Real truths need to be poured over and really absorbed. Not superficially like the world.

Listening to Radical Grace Radio Podcast which is done by a Lutheran pastor and lay person down in Florida. Matthew Pancake says the Magnificat never meant much to him until he had to learn it for choir. We learn things by repeating them over and over again. He says he suddenly realized what it was saying.
Hmmmm isn’t it so true. That is what liturgical worship is all about. Liturgy is deep, it is full of meaning. If people would stop treating it as just rote and really think about what it’s saying, what it means in our life, it will impress Biblical teachings and elements, God’s Word into our soul.
The problem is that our world wants a blunt ten second sound byte, tell me and I will decide whether I want it or not and move on. Yea, and we wonder why we are becoming more superficial and frankly crude. No one really makes us think, except that the church should be making us think through Biblical teaching and through fundamental Christian worship. But we want everything dragged down and diluted to make it easy for us. Sorry, but church is not ding-dong school, like too much public education. It’s intended to push, to make you think, to constantly have God’s Word hard-coated into your very soul.
God is not superficial, He gives us what we need in order to be pressed into our brain, heart and soul. For us to repeat over and over and when those times of trial come, we have God’s teaching right where we need it. When we have it hard coated it comes right back to us when it matters. We have taken the time to repeat it, to think about it, to let the Holy Spirit have time to really drill it into our head and soul. Something that we don’t do in our superficial, tell me something new and easy right now, world.
Liturgy, Bible study, prayer, may all seem rote, even tedious. But when it really is impressed on our brain, heart and soul, through regular worship, repetition, prayer then we truly begin to live in a way that is responsive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and become less responsive to the leading of the world. We begin to realize more and more how deep God’s Word is and how superficial and tedious all the blah, blah of the world really is.

It’s not The banal, provincial and idiosyncratic, it’s about true Christian worship.

It’s about the infinite, the whole Body

One of the main points of Christianity is its universality, it’s timelessness, about being so part of something so much bigger, infinitely bigger. Christianity is not limited to a time and place, it is worship that we share with all the generations of brothers and sisters in Jesus who have preceded us, all who will follow us and all who are around the world.

That connection surely is in Jesus, the Triune God, but it is also in shared worship. Be honest, if Augustine showed up at the door of First St Johns today, he would get it.  Yea there are variations, especially since the time of Martin Luther, but Augustine would still understand that this is Christian worship. If someone from Liberia, Thailand, Russia, South America showed up at First St Johns they would recognize what is going on, they would be comfortable that they are with fellow Christians and know the point of what we are doing at worship.

When we do our provincial, idiosyncratic, bouncing around that is only meaningful to your particulaf generation, in your little part of the world, to your little culture, that doesn’t apply geographically, generationally, that is only about your tastes, your preferences, you have limited yourself. It’s really not about worshipping Jesus, it’s about worshipping your preferences, and Jesus just happens to fit those preferences.

Liturgical worship is not about “little ole me”, it’s about being part of something infinitely bigger, that cuts through time, generations, thru space, across cultures, both now and through history. Liturgical worship, genuinely ties me to the worship of Christ, to hundreds of millions of people in time and space.

Sure would I like a time where I’m being entertained by Michael Card, Rich Mullins (yes I know he is in the presence of the Lord)’ Chris Rice, John Michael Talbot, Carmen. All due respect but those musicians are part of an older generation and now it’s about Mandisa, King and Country, David Crowder. Sorry for most out there, they are only going to recognize the names of their generation. Sorry, I’m much more interested in being tied to brothers and sisters in Jesus around the world and down through history, than those who are Michael W Smith fans talking about Jesus.

As much as many would like to think that “worship” today is oh so cutting edge and meaningful, be honest it’s really not. It’s all about you, all about your entertainment, and not really not about worship. You may think your praise band is the most plugged in, but to Christians around the world and through history it’s not! Not even recognizable, to most Christians and to the vast majority of Christians even offensive.

Yea, you want worship your way, but it’s time to recognize that it’s not about you. Christian worship is and always will be about Jesus first, then about you being part of the “catholic” that is “universal, authoritative ” true Christian church that is about serving Christ and His people and not about your provincial, narrow tastes. You may think new is somehow more enlightened and applicable, but it’s only to you and your big box church are a tiny part of the universal church in time and place. Maybe it’s about time, for you to become part of the universal church and save the entertainment for afterwards. By all means Michael Card coming to your church, invite me. I’m inviting you to real worship, that will unite you with Christians throughout the world and history at First St Johns.

Renewal of a great Christian Church

I’ve been the pastor of First Saint Johns for five years now (wow, I cannot believe FIVE YEARS!) OK, I’m better now, anyway, First Saint Johns really is a great, old downtown, almost cathedral. A place where God is truly glorified and has been for 140 years. It is also the focus on a “Renewal” effort, in order to rebuild a great temple to God.
Due to that I have done a lot of study and experimenting and while this is a message to someone else who is helping on this, I thought I would share this with the blogosphere.
While it might look like First St Johns has been a stuffy, tradition bound church, actually First St Johns “traditions” have been changed considerably in the last five years. While you might assume it has always been a liturgical type of worship, when I started there it was much more a kind of “folksy” as it were, contemporary, really wasn’t feast or fowl. I did not come to First St Johns with an agenda for liturgical worship, but the more I studied and also interacted with other ministries I felt that this is the way we should go. There was a lot of study and thought that went into this, there were no snap decisions and has been handled in a pretty subtle way, partly so that I could learn to do this better (and yea, I have a ways to go). Liturgical worship is not part of my experience, I did not grow up in any particular Christian tradition and my first years were in the United Methodist Church, so it’s not based on an agenda, but in terms of how are we best serving. I certainly could be doing some things in an unconventional way, but there again, I think the repetition of liturgical worship is built in to the worship in order to reinforce the point of the worship for the day. I would agree worship may appear to have a lot “stuffed” in and I’m not sure that’s the best way to go, but I really think a little overkill is more effective and I think it is effective in terms of overcoming years of downplaying Scripture in the church.
There is the issue in terms of using unfamiliar language, I’m not trying to intimidate, with liturgical language. But I think for too long the church has not challenged people, that it has made it easy and not made it something that was something important and God’s glory but that was supposed to be easy and therefore not even worth trying to understand.
I’ve done a couple of worship services, and planning to do it again, that walks through the service and explaining what it was about and why it’s done, something I try to stress for new members also. I really don’t think it’s an issue of “alienating” as much as including people in something that they should come to recognize as something so much bigger, more meaningful, that God does really change lives, His ways are not our ways, be a part of something that is God’s and not something that the church is, again, doing to lower itself into the world, but to raise God’s children above the world.
As I said in my sermon yesterday, worship in a more ancient manner ties us to the ancient church and also as a common factor with Christians around the world. I have seen a lot of current research that finds a desire in people, who, living in a period of such fragility, that we’re in, failure of institutions around us, the desire is for something that is stable, that has survived the centuries, that reaches to a massive number of Christians. Something that is solid, has stood the test of time and will move into the future.
The more we build that, establish that and project that, the more people will realize what they are not getting in their lives right now. During the Pentecost period, we do, mix things up a little. But during the high seasons, I want to emphasize the sacredness of those times and remind people of the important points of Christianity.
The reason why I resist a lot of praise songs is that the emphasis is changed from Jesus to the individual. One of the members of the congregation made an interesting observation (and I’m not really sure he supports liturgical worship), but he said that he’s always counted the number of personal pronouns in “praise music” and the I, me, mine always seem to dominate praise music. Hymns were written to be another way to convey the message of that day’s topic, too much praise music sounds nice, but there seems to be either little teaching or rather superficial teaching. I would very much like to do more with praise music. We’ve been trying to get a First Friday function ramped up to showcase Christian praise, I’d like to do other times of praise music, Erin Bode was at First St Johns a couple of years ago for an evening event. Believe me I love contemporary Christian music music, I have an extensive personal collection.
But it also raises another issue what you and I think of as contemporary Michael Smith, Amy Grant, Michael Card, and what older members think of, Gaither Band, is not what people today think of as contemporary “King and Country” “David Crowder” Modisha, which I also happen to like, but I’m sure you can see that kind of music would not go over big with the majority of people in the congregation. Gaither Band, would not be a big hit with younger members. I really am interested in any suggestions and if it really comes to pass that it would be doable to do a separate contemporary I would certainly consider it.
My reluctance there would be something that other churches have found in doing separate services for awhile, is that it tends to separate the congregation, segment it, instead of bring it together. We may not be able to avoid that since I would very much like to implement a separate Spanish speaking worship, but I honestly believe that at this point, more liturgical worship is what younger people are looking for in terms of stability and other factors that I could go into and would actually unite everyone in one method, vs, doing something that would be more pleasing to one group and would not speak to any other groups.
While I realize that these conclusions are not going to generate a whiz bang. upturn, I do believe that it has stabilized the congregation and given it something that can be shared by everyone and they can bring something that is rather unique into the world as a whole.
One other factor for me is this, I really do have to pick a lane with this church. We have been enormously blessed, and we are in relatively good shape, but we do need to stabilize on a common ground and take that into the world and trust that God is going to use this unified outreach and bless it to His glory and grow His church at First St Johns

The Holy Spirit gives us the Church to serve the world First St Johns Memorial Day May 24, 2015

[For the audio version of this sermon click on the link above]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit, AMEN

Today is Pentecost, the birth of the church, when the Holy Spirit descended on those who were chosen to establish the church and to bring it into the world. The church was given authority by Jesus through the Holy Spirit. This is why the church is important, because through Pentecost it was empowered to preach, teach, administer the sacraments, keep the keys and be representatives of Christ on earth. Nothing, no one, there is no other way that Christ’s ministry is conducted on earth than through His church. I emphasize HIS not mine, not yours, not the people who built it. This was built and has been maintained under the direct authority that Jesus has given it through the Holy Spirit. So when someone tells you they don’t need the church, about worshipping God sitting at the beach or on a mountain, that is just pure rationalizing nonsense. The church was authorized by Jesus, this is when the church was born, on Pentecost, the church is the ministry of Jesus Christ on earth, He is the Son of God which He demonstrated through His life, as Luke says at the beginning of Acts: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1: 1-3 ESV)

Today is also Memorial Day, which is an unusual juxtaposition of topics. The ultimate hope and promise of the world is in Jesus, that hope and promise ministered through His church. We take for granted, that the church is a constant reminder of Hope and promise, it is the church that is always there at those most important points in life; birth, being a part of the church, death, those times in our lives when we need more than the limitations and superficiality of the world, the empty platitudes of a shallow, sinful and hopeless world. We, in the church don’t dwell on the emptiness of this life. We focus on the hope and promise of eternal life. That hope and promise is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and culminated in the appearance of God the Holy Spirit in the form of flames dancing on the heads of those who Jesus appointed to be the evangelists and ministers of His church, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18). That is our hope and promise, not what man does in the world, but what the Holy Spirit does in the church of Jesus Christ. It is only through Him who works through His church that we have the hope and promise of life eternal, real life, life more abundant in the resurrection.

Memorial Day is an important day, we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, who remembered Jesus’ words when He said: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”(John 15:13 ESV) The beginnings of Memorial Day were right after the American Civil War, a war that has close meaning right here in York. Some local activity and especially west where the greatest battle in North American history took place, the Battle of Gettysburg. Men and women who died in a war to free those who had been kept in slavery, so that they would be free to live their life.

Memorial Day was instituted as “Decoration Day” in 1868. War often has many noble causes, and certainly those who died in serving their country have given their all, regardless of the nobility of the war, have without doubt served nobly to put themselves in harms way to serve their fellow man. But there is a sobering reality of war, in that nobility there is such terrible tragedy. Charles Oliver was a chaplain in the confederate army during the Civil War and wrote the following during and after the fighting around Chancellorsville, Va in May 1863: “War is such a strange thing. Here we are gay, careless, jocular, yesterday we ran for our lives across this very field, while death dealing shot were sweeping over its hills. Today some of us laid the shattered remains of our brave comrade T.E. Dillard in a soldier’s grave; at this moment though the sun shines so brightly, and the breeze kisses our cheeks so kindly; yet are we now in the midst of a great terrible battle … All this day I have been oppressed with the thought that it was the Sabbath.”[1] A man of God who willingly rushed to serve those in the midst of terrible tragedy, remembering amid tragedy that we all will kneel in worship of God.

Specialist Emily Thompson wrote the following while serving in Afghanistan: “There is a numbness inside that I can’t seem to figure out. I miss home. Yet, I think about those who gave their lives before me, those who are dying right this instant, and I miss home for them even more. Such a sense of guilt is present when I think about home. I wish to leave so badly, yet I do not feel worthy of leaving this place. Going home leaves a part of me behind, one that I will never get back. A piece so lost, like those who have fallen and given their all for someone like myself. Six feet under and remembered as a memory; I pray for peace. I swear to live for them, to drink and celebrate the greatness that they are, and to breathe in the life that they have lost. For each and every one are my blood and my heart, the reason behind my tears, and the intense encouragement to face another day with nothing but sheer gratitude.”[2]

The world is never going to be an easy place for the genuine Christian. For those of us who understand that there is death in living, we are baptized and the old man is put to death, we are reborn in the Holy Spirit and become true sons and daughters of God the Father, He is our Father, He is the Father of Jesus Christ, God the Son and from the Father proceeds the Holy Spirit. To be His son or daughter means to be a part of the sacrifice of the Son. It also means to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit as Christians have been since the Holy Spirit became part of the disciples and then guided them to build the church of Jesus Christ and has been guiding Christians since then to build the catholic and apostolic church. Without the church who will reach out to the lost, who will serve a hurting world, who will be there when you need guidance? There is no one else who will be there to show you true salvation and eternal life in Jesus. You can come to this church, you can call me, and I will talk to you, I will listen to you, and sometimes, yes, that might be at a difficult hour of the day or day of the week. I would hope that in times of crisis, tragedy, genuine struggle that you would call me and want me to help you. That is what the church is there for and not just from me, but other brothers and sisters in Jesus. Tell me, where else are you going to be served like that? Who else will come out and minister to you in times of genuine need? Christ’s church is to be there in times of genuine need. There is no one else who will be there for you when you face times of doubt, desperation and tragedy. That is why, among other vital things, that Jesus established His church. That is why the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and led them into the world to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus and to be a beacon of light and hope in a desperate and sin filled world.

Dr Martin Luther gives us the best way to reconcile Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the establishment of Christian discipleship in the world and the mess of sin and tragedy in the world: “It is not enough simply that Christ be preached; the Word must be believed. Therefore, God sends the Holy Spirit to impress the preaching upon the heart—to make it in here and live therein. Unquestionably, Christ accomplished all—took away our sins and overcame every obstacle, enabling us to become, through him, lord over all things. But the treasure lies in a heap; it is not everywhere distributed and applied. Before we can enjoy it, the Holy Spirit comes and communicates it to the heart, enabling us to believe and say, ‘I too, am one who shall have the blessing.'” [3]

Finally I ask you to remember fellow Coast Guardsman Petty Officer Nathan Bruckenthal who was killed in action and made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq on April 24, 2004.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom.

[1] Brinsfield, Davis, Maryniak and Robertson  Faith in the Fight quoting Charles J Oliver pp 103-104

[2] Emily Thompson  Face Book post May 22, 2015

[3] Martin Luther, about Pentecost, from his 1523 church postil