The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news, something you can count on — and definitely not fake news — say four pastors in Lynden, Wash., who were members of a Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) peer group that discussed incorporating aspects of modern culture into their sermons.
SPE grants are awarded by the CRC’s Pastor Church Resources office.
In order to craft Bible-rich sermons that are relevant in an age of individualism and social media, the pastors met several times to discuss elements that characterize society in the 21st century, said Kyle Kloostra, pastor of Sonlight Community Church in Lynden. Other members of the peer group were Marcus Roskamp, pastor of Faith Reformed Church, Lynden; Jonathan Young, pastor of Third CRC, Lynden; and Steve Van Noort, pastor of Bethel CRC, Lynden.
Through their peer group meetings, said Kloostra, they saw that in this secular age many of us tend to form our “identity by looking inside ourselves to find the thing that we think gives us a sense of self-worth, and then we take that thing and express it to the world with the expectation of acceptance.”
They also saw that ours is an age in which we “have removed the idea of the transcendent (heaven) and essentially have pushed it down into this world.”
In recent weeks, the four pastors have given the following sermons inspired by meeting with their peers.
Boasting in the Cross
Using Galatians 6:14 for a sermon, Kloostra asked people in the sanctuary to consider how we ignore these words from Paul: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
Stop and ask yourself, he said, what thing or things can cause you to boast. What makes you the most proud? Because whatever you boast in “at the end of the day is the thing that forms your identity,” said Kloostra.
Every single day of our lives, he said, “from movies to TV shows to popular songs,” culture constantly tells us to build our identity by looking at our own desires and dreams to find something that can give us confidence to face the world — “and then you are told to go forth in your life and express that.”
The reality is that God works in us and helps us to adopt a more faith-filled lifestyle and vocation. But it’s important to know that all the temporal things of this world will eventually be taken from you, he said.
What matters and what endures, said Kloostra, is “to find your identity and to boast in something that is quite outside you — namely, what Jesus did for you on the cross.”
Water into Wine
In a Jan. 20 sermon titled “Extravagance and Abundance,” based on John 2:1-11, Marcus Roskamp said that Christ’s first miracle of turning water into wine is a story that has made its way into the lexicon of contemporary culture.
But this doesn’t mean that people appreciate the depth and purpose of the miracle. “A lot more is happening here than Jesus’ making it a better party,” said Roskamp.
Running out of wine at the wedding at Cana in Galilee was a big deal for the hosts, said Roskamp, given theirs’ was a culture in which hospitality and providing for your guests was very important. When she realized the wine was gone, Christ’s mother, Mary, turned to her son and said: “They have no more wine.”
At first Jesus distanced himself from his mother, saying, “Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.”
But she tells the servants to follow Christ’s instructions and, said Roskamp, “he told them to fill six stone ceremonial-washing jars with water. . . . And they are filled with the best wine, 120 gallons of it, which would be about 600 bottles of wine to keep the party going.”
Jesus may have been reluctant to change the water into wine, but, when he did, an amazing thing happened, said Roskamp. “Do we understand the abundance and extravagance of Jesus’ first miracle? This is how Jesus announced his kingdom — a kingdom of excess, of blessing and grace that is over the top. . . .”
Psalm 107 in its entirety, along with references to a popular children’s story, were the subjects of the sermon “Living the Psalms,” which Jonathan Young gave on Jan. 27.
Young first spoke from the psalm text about people wandering “in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle” — but then God brought them to “a place of community and protection.”
Young also preached of the how people — and by extension that includes us — became rebels “and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. . . .”
Psalm 107 shows us, he added, that when “we live for ourselves . . . the consequences will be hard. . . . We hope to be someone new. . . . We want people to love us as we are and leave us there. . . . But this is a bankrupt view of love.”
Then Young mentioned the book Alligator Boy, written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Diane Goode, in which a boy “hoped to be someone else and so he became an alligator. . . . He wanted people to accept him as he was and not to challenge him to change.”
But this attitude of “live and let live” is not the Christian way. “We are called to love and not to let each other live in these alligator suits. . . . We need to turn to Jesus, who is everywhere.”
In a sermon titled “Love, the Greatest Gift,” Steve Van Noort focused on 1 Corinthians 13, which begins by saying, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Examining the text, he said, “We see here that the church was fighting over who was a better pastor or leader. We see the dynamics of superiority and inferiority over spiritual gifts. . . . Those who had incredible spiritual gifts looked down on those who didn’t” have those gifts, and the people who didn’t have them were jealous and wanted what the others had.
But in the end, Van Noort said, “Paul tells them the only gift that matters is love. . . . Without love, we are nothing. Feel the weight of these words. . . . You can preach like Billy Graham, but without love you are nothing. . . . We need to submit to God and love other people.
“You might give more than 10 percent of your income to the church — and that is awesome — but it doesn’t get you closer to heaven. . . . When we are showing love, we are demonstrating the very heart of God who gave us a new heart. . . .”