|Catonsville Presbyterian Church|
Reverend Kenneth E. Kovacs' Sermon's for 2005Maybe you missed a worship service, maybe you want to review a favorite sermon, maybe you're looking for a little inspiration today, or maybe you would like to visit our church and you wonder what to expect. Whatever your reason is for stopping here in your web travels, you have found the right place.
May 1, 2005
In 1915, the Anglican priest G. A. Studdert-Kennedy (1883-1929) left the shores of England, crossed the channel to bring the assurance of the Gospel to men fighting in the trenches of northern France. He was in France for about two months without hearing a gun fired or seeing the horror of the trenches when he made his way to a base hospital to visit with an officer recovering from serious wounds. The conversation eventually turned to religion. “What I want to know, Padre,” he said to Studdert-Kennedy, “is, what is God like?”
April 17, 2005
The Easter morning accounts of women at the empty tomb, Mary mistaking Jesus for the gardener, or the Easter evening meal in Emmaus with Jesus breaking bread – these are remarkable experiences. That’s why we sing “Alleluias!” and proclaim, “He is risen!” But equally remarkable, maybe (maybe) more so are all the other post-resurrection accounts. On Easter Jesus appears and then leaves. But in the days that follow Jesus actually spends time with his disciples – the very ones who betrayed and denied him.
March 27, 2005
One of the most meaningful experiences of my life occurred one Easter evening more than twenty-five years ago. It took place in the chancel of the sanctuary in the church of my youth, the First Presbyterian Church of North Arlington, NJ. The sanctuary is cruciform in design, with a split chancel, meaning the lectern is on the left and the pulpit on the right. Behind them both is the organ console (on the left) and several pews for the choir (on the right). Between the organ and pews is a space for the communion table. The table is placed below a large, shiny, gold-plated cross. And above the cross and table is a sizable, round, stained-glass window of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, a copy of the famous painting “Christ at Gethsemane” by Johann Heinrich Hofmann (1824-1911). It was the focal point of the sanctuary. ..
March 20, 2005
My friend, Lawson Brown brought his camera to worship this morning at Holy Trinity Church in St. Andrews, Scotland. They are commemorating Palm Sunday with a live donkey processing down its medieval aisle in a church where John Knox (1514-1572) felt the call to ministry and from which he later called for the destruction of the cathedral during the Reformation. I wonder what Knox would say about a donkey in his church? Before I arrived at my previous church in Mendham, the church had a donkey on Palm Sunday one year – they covered the red carpet in the aisles with plastic in case there was a mess. I’ve always felt this was a bit ironic because Palm Sunday is a mess – it’s the beginning of a messy week. There’s nothing tidy about it!
March 13, 2005
The image and importance of sacrifice were endemic to ancient, primitive religion. Often associated with the offering or slaughter of a human being in order to appease a god or cleanse a community from disease or protect from harm. This was prevalent in Mayan culture, we know, and to some degree in Greek culture. Curiously, human sacrifice does not emerge in Israel’s experience with Yahweh. The demand to sacrifice Isaac is one possible exception, but a substitute was provided at the last moment. Instead, what we find in the Jewish experience is the slaughter of animals or the gift of inanimate objects, like grain. We often think of sacrifice as an offering to curtail the wrath of angry deity, to protect us from punishment, or harm, or sacrifice as a substitute – instead of punishing people for their sins, let’s kill a lamb instead. But not all offerings were design to ward off God’s wrath or punishment, such as grain offerings. It is difficult to blame barley for anything. “You can’t punish a cupful of barley.” When we turn to the Jewish scriptures we discover that there are many types of sacrifices made for different purposes: there were offerings for sin, but also for the sealing of the covenant, for thanksgiving, for the remembrance of historic moments of liberation, for communion with God, or simply as a gift in response to God’s goodness. There are many kinds of sacrifices, with many different interpretations, not one. But they all center on the centrality of humanity’s relationship with Yahweh.
March 6, 2005
On Easter morning churches are full of Christians singing hymns of triumph and glory. “Alleluias” fill our sanctuary, the “empty cross stands empty to the sky,” as one hymn says. There are no hymns in minor keys. I remember singing in my home church the Easter hymn, “Up From the Grave He Arose.” The refrain goes, with its triumphalist tune:
from the grave he arose with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
In the church office we receive all kinds of catalogs in the mail, like you do at home. A few weeks ago Dorothy Boulton called me into her study to show me the latest Christian toy catalog, full of all kinds of novelty items, what I like to call Christian schlock, such as Jesus night-lights to remind us he is the “Light of the world,” or Jesus pencil erasers that remind us that he has rubbed out our sin. There on the page before us – we couldn’t believe our eyes – were cross-shaped water pistols for sale. Funny, maybe, if it weren’t so sad. The cross used as a toy, the cross used as a toy weapon! Harmless? Two ministers who need to lighten up? Maybe. Or maybe not.
“Reformed and always being reformed.” This banner emerged in the 16th and 17th centuries during and after the Protestants Reformation, but it wasn’t the standard for all Protestants, such as Luther, but only for the heirs of John John Calvin (1509-1564), Ülrich Zwingli (1504-5175), and John Knox (c.1514-1572). This morning we finish up this mini-series on what makes us ‘tick’ as Presbyterians. We started three weeks ago looking at the way Presbyterians interpret scripture, then we looked at the centrality of worship, followed by a consideration how we see ourselves relating to culture and society. Today we look at what it means to be reformed.
For almost two thousand years the church has continued to pray, “Maranantha!” meaning, “Come, Lord Jesus.” We pray this in Advent when we’re expecting the birth of Jesus. But we find these words not part of the birth narratives of the gospels, but at the end of the Bible, in Revelation 22:30 to be exact. The church waits for Jesus’ return. But the return of Jesus, according to scripture, marks not the end of the world, but the healing or the restoration of the world. As I have tried to stress on many occasions, the final vision we’re given in Revelation is not of annihilation, of total destruction, of a God so angry with humanity that its destiny can be severed from God’s will. In fact, from the opening pages of Genesis right through to the end of Revelation the witness of scripture makes it very clear that human destiny and the purpose of God will not be severed; they are intertwined, because as we saw last week, Yahweh is a God of the covenant whose faithfulness to humanity and to creation will not change. What we’re given at the end of Revelation is a glorious vision of people reformed by God’s grace. John tells us, “Behold, I saw a new heaven and a new earth!” He sees a new city, a new place to call home, a place where people live in peace with one another and with God. And it is striking that the Bible, while beginning in a garden ends in a city.
If there is any psalm that captures the theology and heart of Reformed-Presbyterian worship, it is, I believe, Psalm 100. The arrangement we just sang of this text is one of my favorites. “Shout for joy to God all the earth – Alleluia! Praise the Lord! Serve the LORD with gladness and come before God singing for joy. Enter God’s gates giving thanks, and the courts with praise. Give thanks to the Lord, give thanks and bless God’s name.” Why? “The Lord is good; God’s mercy endures forever. God is faithful; God is faithful from age to age." The same spirit is captured in Psalm 95, “O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!” What a theology! What a spirit of jubilation! What an affirmation of whom God is and who God is towards us! These psalms are visceral; they find their origins deep within the heart and spirit, in the gut of the believer who has come to know the goodness of God. They are existential, beating with the pulse of life. To recite these psalms, to sing them, to make them our songs of praise to God is to find ourselves coming alive, coming alive through the worship of God.
Years ago at the General Assembly, I heard the story of a missionary serving deep in the jungles of South America who invited several villagers to attend a Bible study. They gathered in a circle around a fire reading from John’s gospel. The minister led them through the text and when he was done speaking, turned to the villagers and asked them in Spanish, “So what do you think?” There was silence and then one man began to cry. Thinking that he offended the villager, the minister apologized and asked what was wrong, to which the villager said, “That was the first time anyone had ever asked me what I thought about anything.” Raised under the influence of Roman Catholicism, he was told only the church had the authority to interpret scripture, not the individual. Only the church could tell him what scripture means and therefore what to believe.
Today we together embark on a journey – of remembrance and anticipation. Remembering the rich and faithful past of Catonsville Presbyterian Church, as we anticipate a future that even now, I believe, God is preparing for us. Back in 1880, Presbyterians here in Baltimore trusted in God’s call to form a new church and stepped out into the unknown, but trusted that God would be faithful. That venture of faith brought forth a new Presbyterian church in Paradise and Catonsville to provide for the needs of people moving with the westward expansion of Baltimore. Such a proposal for a new church – which is always, even today, a very risky venture – was received by Baltimore presbytery at its spring meeting. Permission was granted with a classically Presbyterian response, to organize “when the way should be clear, so to do.” God cleared the way and within the year, 1881, Catonsville Presbyterian was an official “ecclesiastical organization” (which is the date the presbytery prefers for our anniversary, but we use 1880). So with the start of 2005 we start our celebration – a year of remembrance and celebration.
"In Celebrating the Grace of God, and Sharing the Love of Jesus, We Grow Together"
Catonsville Presbyterian Church Vision Statement