In the Spotlight
Continuing the current sermon series, “How To Be Human (Again),” this week we expand on the concept of lasting character change, by addressing the uniqueness of God's way of change. This sermon highlights the foundation for change, the fight for change, and the freedom of change and explores how Jesus gives us the resources to fight knowing that the victory is ours, not in ourselves, but in him.
June 27, 2021 | Watch
November 28, 2021 | Watch
In our final message of our sermon series on 1 Corinthians, we explore the model, mode, and motivation for Christian mentorship.
November 21, 2021 | Watch
In 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 Paul is attempting to reign in the striving, self-promotion, and backbiting that plagued the Corinthian church and hindered its ability to embody the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we have seen throughout Paul’s letter, Paul is addressing believers, fellow Christians, and not those outside of the church. He is calling them to embrace the power of the cross of Jesus and let the implications of Jesus’ death shape who they are as individuals and how they relate to one another. They are called to be a unified witness of the power of the gospel, yet sadly they are caught up in factions and divisions that further divide the church. Paul, here, begins to speak of God’s judgment as a judgment we need. For Paul, God’s judgment offers us the hope and courage necessary to be the community of God’s people, because it means Christians need not be the primary and ultimate judge of one another as was evident in Paul’s time and ours. Purpose To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships To participate in God’s mission to the world Opening Prayer God of righteousness, hear our prayer. We come before you with zeal in our hearts seeking justice for the wronged, hope for the downhearted, and healing for the afflicted. We strain to see your face and to behold the glory of your salvation. Transform us in your image that your grace and mercy may visit us this day. Amen. Responsive Prayer—Psalm 146 1Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!. 2I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. 3Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. 4When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. 5Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God. 6Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; 7Who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; 8The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. 9The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. 10The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord! Discussion Questions 1. Looking at the Bible: What does the text say? Read each text twice. Each time listen carefully and notice what grabs your attention. In your reading and hearing of this passage, does it remind you of any other part of Scripture? How does Paul’s talk of judgement in v.1-5 serve as a culmination of all that he has talked about up to this point? What does it mean to be stewards? What are the ‘mysteries’ Paul refers to in v.1? 2. Looking at Jesus: Paul has spent much of his time and energy in the first three chapters of Corinthians grounding his identity and encouraging the Corinthians to ground their identity in Christ. Here, because Paul’s identity is in Christ. He can rest not in the judgment that others levy against him, but in the hope that the Lord will one day come and judge him and the world. Why is Jesus the judge that Paul needs and wants? Why should Jesus be the judge that we need and want? Why do we tend to avoid the promise that Jesus is our judge? How might his death on the cross shape our understanding of God’s judgment? 3. Looking at our Hearts: One of the primary reasons we don’t like the idea of a God who judges is because we think we are fit to judge others. We think we know better than God how to put the world back to the way it should be, including our own lives. Certainly the Corinthains felt they had been given the right to judge others. But Paul knows the human heart and knows that only God is equipped to judge our world because only he has the power to defeat evil and make all things new. Being a servant of Christ (v.1) is an expression of deep humility. How does Paul model humility for us? If we are not in the position to ultimately judge others, what place and responsibility do we have to make judgments on others and our world? How might the condition of our own hearts, modeled by the Corinthians, give us caution as we make judgments about others and the world? 4. Looking at our World: What are we to hope for? How does the Bible hold God's promise of future judgment and our hope together? Oftentimes we place our hope in our ability to judge and fix. the problems of the world. How does the gosepl compell us to place our future hope in Christ and his judgment? Sending Go forth, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not according to our works, but to God's purpose and grace.
November 7, 2021 | Read
Just the Help
One of the primary issues Paul has been addressing in a variety of ways to this point in his letter is how Christians ought to be relating to one another as they seek to expand the mis- sion of the church. Paul had started this church in Corinth, but others had come after him to lead and expand the ministry. Unfortunately, instead of partnership and unity among the leaders of the church, there was competition and division. Paul resumes his theme of unity by redirecting the ambition and hopes of the Corinthian church away from the results of their own labors and toward the promise that God is at work in building his church. While we all have a role to play in the church, ultimately the growth and health of the church rests on God’s work. After all, as Paul says, you are God’s field and God’s building. Purpose To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships To participate in God’s mission to the world Opening Prayer Bless your servants, O God, and favor us with your steadfast love. May your love flow through us like springs of living water, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days of our lives. Amen. Responsive Prayer—Psalm 34:1-8 1I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 2My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. 3Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! 4I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. 5Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. 6This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. 7The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. 8Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Discussion Questions 1. Looking at the Bible: What does the text say? Read each text twice. Each time listen carefully and notice what grabs your attention. In your reading and hearing of this passage, does it remind you of any other part of Scripture? How does Paul use the image of a field and a building to clarify his main point? What or who specifically is God's field and God's building? In what ways are these metaphors the same and in what ways are they different? 2. Looking at Jesus: In v.11 Paul is modeling for us what ambition looks like when viewed through the cross of Christ. The foundation of which Paul speaks is the cross. Paul refers to himself as the "master builder" who built a foundation on top of an even greater foundation: Jesus. How does Paul view his own gifts and work in light of Jesus, Apollos and others? How does seeing himself as a fellow servant reshape his ambition and model it for the Corinthians? How did Jesus' own ministry model this for Paul and for us? 3. Looking at our Hearts: The Corinthians wanted desperately to pick a side, or a person for that matter, to place their hopes for the future of the church. Some wanted to follow Paul, others Apollos, some wanted to follow Peter and others would come later who would captivate the hearts and minds of the Christians in Corinth. But Paul wants them not only to redirect their ambition but also their allegiance away from any one person and onto Jesus. What was driving the Corinthians to need to back Paul, Apollos, or others? How does Paul's opening statement in v.15 recast their understanding of leadership? How do our own ambitions oftentimes blind us from the work that God is doing in our lives? Application question: Ambition and pride are the enemy of community. How do these presiding metaphors that Paul uses help us live together within our church as a family, but also work alongside other Christians and other churches? What are some times, in big or small ways, where this common unity and hope that God is the builder who gives growth has been modeled for you? 4. Looking at our World: What are we to hope for? What do you think Paul's hope was for the Corinthians? How might his hope have allowed him to continue on in his ministry even when things were a mess?' How did Paul's hope shape his relationships with other leaders, both those he knew and those he didn't? Share a story of hope from your own experience where someone planted a seed of the gospel in your life, and someone else watered maybe without even realizing it. Sending May the God who hears our needs and answers the cries of our hearts be with you today and always, a sure and certain strength, throughout all the ages. Amen.
October 24, 2021 | Read
Mission in a Secular Age: Follow the Pain
Mission in a Secular Age is a lecture series exploring the intersection between Christ, church, and culture. Listen to Jason Harris discuss the unique features of our cultural moment and how they affect the way in which we should approach a Christ-centered mission to the world around us.
November 18, 2020 | Listen
Mission in a Secular Age
Mission in a Secular Age is a lecture series exploring the intersection between Christ, church, and culture. Listen to Jason Harris discuss the unique features of our cultural moment and how they affect the way in which we should approach a Christ-centered mission to the world around us.
October 15, 2020 | Listen
A Christian Denunciation of Racism
Central Presbyterian Church and the denomination to which we belong, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, denounce in the strongest terms the tragic and wrongful killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor as well as the persistent evil of racism and racial injustice. It grieves us that we should have to write the following words because they should be embraced without having to be expressed. But in light of the urgency of the moment, let us state clearly that the idea that one race is superior to another is directly opposed by God who created all men and women in his image and has imbued each one with equal worth and dignity (Genesis 1.27-28). All people possess a basic human right, given by God, to be treated with respect (Psalm 82.3). Racism in all its forms is an abomination to God because it distorts, diminishes, defames, and destroys those whom God has created in his image (Psalm 8.5). Racism is not only a blight upon our society, but antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus ushered into existence the kingdom of God in order to establish true justice, righteousness, and peace (Romans 14.17). By his work on the cross, Jesus has torn down the dividing wall of hostility and hatred that may have once existed between peoples of different races and ethnicities. Through Jesus Christ, we are no longer enemies of God or of one another (Ephesians 2.11-18). In Christ, we are one family (Galatians 3.27-28). As a result, the church and all its members are tasked with a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5.11-20). We are called not only to receive God’s grace in Jesus Christ but to join Jesus in his mission to proclaim good news to the poor and to set at liberty those who are oppressed (Luke 4.18). The God of the Bible is committed to setting things right, and God likewise commands his people to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God (Micah 6.8). We, therefore, affirm the right to peaceful protest, and we support those calling out for change that will bring an end to the unequal treatment of African Americans and all people of color within our society. How long, O Lord, must this evil persist? We call all individuals, groups, and institutions that endorse and perpetuate racism to repent and make amends (Galatians 2.14). Each one of us must also examine our own hearts in order to root out and confess all forms of implicit and explicit racial bias and ask God for forgiveness and deliverance from this heinous sin (Psalm 139.23-24). We likewise denounce all forms of violence and vengeance (Matthew 5.38-39). Some may advocate the use of violence because they believe that all non-violent attempts to eradicate systemic racism have stumbled or failed. We realize others may take advantage of the present crisis in order to sow seeds of discord or to steal, kill, and destroy with impunity. Regardless of the motivation or purpose, we lament the death, injury, and destruction of property that has been carried out in recent days, and the asymmetrical toll it places on disadvantaged communities. We call for an end to brutality and violence, no matter who the perpetrator may be, and we affirm that the only way to overcome evil is with good (Romans 12.17-21). Lament is a form of Christian prayer that is often overlooked, but it is perhaps greatly needed during this time of crisis. Through prayers of lament, which are in ample supply in the Psalms, we express not only our frustration and sorrow but also our sheer inability to understand the suffering and pain we experience in a deeply broken and divided world. We direct our lament to the God who knows and loves us in the sure and certain hope that he will heal us and renew our world. We take comfort in the fact that God is not immune to our pain but joins us in our grief (Genesis 6.6; John 11.35), and we praise God that he is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or think (Ephesians 3.20). Prayer can only represent a beginning, but let it serve as a beginning rather than an end. Let us use this time as an opportunity to grow and learn from one another. God’s chosen instrument for bringing his kingdom to bear on earth as it is in heaven is the church. The church is meant to be a model to the world of how people from different races and ethnicities can learn to love and serve one another for Jesus’ sake. The church must lead during this time of crisis. Speaking personally, I wrote this message with some fear and trepidation. At times, I struggle to find the right words to express my thoughts, feelings and questions as it relates to issues of race. But a friend reminded me that home is the place where one should be able to speak freely, and Central is our home. Within our community, we can speak and listen to one another on sensitive topics knowing that we have the power to extend grace and forgive one another for any words that do not come out quite right. I hope that you will offer that gift to me in this instance, if required. As we seek to live together as a church family with all the differences of race, ethnicity, and culture that exist among us, we have the opportunity to learn from one another in a context of mutual love and care. We may make some mistakes along the way, but any effort we put towards the goal of racial reconciliation should inspire us and fill us with hope. As brothers and sisters living together in New York City, we have been granted a rare gift to be able to celebrate and enjoy our differences. It is only together that we reflect the fullness of God’s image in us. It is only together that we grow into the fullness of Christ. For my part, I had previously developed a summer reading list of African American authors to help me better understand the African American experience and to learn how these authors used their words to express themselves. I’m all the more committed to this personal reading plan in light of recent events. In addition, I have initiated a new sermon series focused on the Life of Moses. One of the many reasons why I chose this theme for the summer is that the Exodus story has long provided the African American church with a framework for understanding how God would lead them out of their own Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the land of promise. My hope is that we will all gain new insight about what it means to be the children of God and the objects of his love and deliverance. It should go without saying, but let me add that I would heartily welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters with you more personally. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me or any of our staff members or officers if you would like to further the conversation. Let us give voice to our lament. Let us humble ourselves and pray that God would heal the divisions in our country, lead us to repent of the sin of racism, and establish justice for all people without exception. Let us make a start.
June 16, 2020 | Read
Meaning or Absurdity During the Plague
In the midst of all this disruption to our normal lives, we may find ourselves feeling a bit aimless. What meaning can we find in the face of all this devastation? This was the very question that Albert Camus sought to answer in 1947 when he published a novel entitled The Plague. Camus intended this book to be read on multiple levels. If you read it, you will see it’s a bit uncanny how much this novel resonates with our own experience today. The story takes place in the port city of Oran in Algeria, and the main character is a doctor named Bernard Rieux who notices that rats—oddly enough—are dying openly in the streets all over the city. After the concierge of his building dies of a strange fever, he consults with his friend, Dr. Castel, who has come to the conclusion that a plague is sweeping through the town. Together they must convince the authorities to take decisive steps instead of denying that there is a problem or wasting any more precious time. Once the daily death toll spikes the whole city is quarantined. The gates are shut. Travel is prohibited. All communications are restricted. Camus describes the effect of this shutdown on the general public. It felt like living in exile. He writes: “Once the town gates were shut, every one of us realized that all, the narrator included, were, so to speak, in the same boat, and each would have to adapt himself to the new conditions of life.” They reluctantly conclude that they were “all in this together.” Previously each person might have thought that his or her own struggle was unique compared to the common suffering of others, but now they realize that they are all experiencing the same intense longing for loved ones. “All these people found themselves, without the least warning, hopelessly cut off, prevented from seeing one another again.” During the epidemic, Camus seeks to show the various ways in which people respond to their feelings of exile. Some devise plans to try to escape the city. Others find ways to get rich by making money on the black market during the crisis. But Camus reserves perhaps one of his sharpest critiques for the local priest. At the onset of the health threat, the priest delivers a sermon to a packed-out church in which he tries to provide a straightforward explanation for why this is happening. What does the priest do? He blames the residents of Oran for the epidemic. Rather than lamenting the fact that we live in a broken world where we may experience otherwise inexplicable sickness and suffering, the priest tries to rationalize the outbreak. The priest reaches for the most tired and simplistic explanation for any tragedy. Why did this calamity come upon them? Because they deserved it. The priest calls the plague a punishment for their sins—but, of course, it’s not a punishment for any of his own. In contrast to these negative and inadequate responses to the epidemic, Camus lifts up the example of Dr. Rieux and a few of his friends who focus on treating patients and creating a volunteer team to assist in the city’s sanitation efforts. As the months go by, the situation worsens. People begin to view one another with suspicion. Everyone is at risk of infection, and everyone is a potential carrier. Eventually, the authorities must declare martial law and impose a curfew to prevent people from trying to escape the city. As the number of people succumbing to the disease increases, the emergency rooms are filled to capacity. Houses and hotels are turned into make-shift hospitals and isolation wards. The number of people dying becomes so great that funerals are conducted with less ceremony and greater speed. Little concern is shown for the feelings of the surviving family members. What makes matters worse is that, in time, it becomes abundantly clear that the anti-plague efforts of Dr. Rieux and his friends do not seem to make much of a difference at all. All their efforts are futile. People keep dying all the same and there is no rhyme or reason to it. The plague is said to deliver “impartial justice” because its victims occupy all levels of the social ladder. It doesn’t matter if you're rich or poor, young or old. Everyone faces the same threat. Some die from the plague, and some die from other causes. Dr. Rieux and his colleagues know that the plague is an airborne contagion, and therefore they increase their chances of infection by fighting against it. But they also know that they could die by doing nothing at all. They choose action in the face of death. After several months have passed, the epidemic finally begins to break. The gates are reopened. The city is filled with joy, and everyone tries to return to normal life. Towards the end of the novel, Dr. Rieux begins to reflect on what could be learned from this epidemic and what meaning could be found during this long period of exile—which he refers to as a cruel leisure. “Yes, they had suffered together, in body no less than in soul, from a cruel leisure, exile without redress, thirst that was never slaked. Among the heaps of corpses, the clanging bells of ambulances…among unremitting waves of fear…always a great voice had been ringing in the ears of these forlorn, panicked people, a voice calling them back…And it was to this…toward happiness, they longed to return…As to what that exile and that longing for reunion meant, Rieux had no idea. But…he was thinking it has no importance whether such things have or have not a meaning; all we need consider is the answer given to men's hope. Henceforth he knew the answer…If there is one thing one can always yearn for and sometimes attain, it is human love. But for those others who aspired beyond and above the human individual toward something they could not even imagine, there had been no answer…” In other words, the best that we can ever hope for and sometimes attain in the midst of an epidemic is an experience of human love, but beyond that, there is no answer to the question of whether our life means anything. In the final pages, Dr. Rieux reveals he is the narrator of this story, and this is how Camus concludes the novel: “Dr. Rieux resolved to compile this chronicle…to state quite simply what we learn in a time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise. Nonetheless, he knew that the tale he had to tell could not be one of a final victory…As he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled. He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague…never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when…it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.” The Plague is meant to serve as an allegory for the human condition. Camus rejected belief in God and held that human life was absurd because we all live under the sentence of death. Whether we die during an epidemic or from some other cause doesn’t really matter. Sooner or later, one way or another, we are all going to die—and all our attempts to resist death are ultimately futile. Our life is one prolonged period of exile in which we feel cut off from the possibility of lasting happiness. In the end, everything that matters to us—ourselves included—will be obliterated. Therefore, for Camus, life is utterly irrational and absurd. There is no meaning to our existence. But even if death renders our lives meaningless, Camus believed that it is more noble to fight against suffering and death than to simply give in and resign ourselves to it. There’s something to that, of course. We have seen for ourselves how an epidemic can draw out the best in people. This is what leads Camus to say: “in a time of pestilence…there are more things to admire in men than to despise.” In the final analysis, however, Camus believes that the most that you can hope for in this life is an experience of human love. That is our only shot at happiness. Camus will admit that even that is still nothing more than a consolation prize because eventually, death will strip you of the ones you care for the most. That’s why Camus concludes the novel by saying that our JOY is always imperiled because the plague – representing the ultimate nothingness of death—never dies or disappears for good. It can lie dormant for years and years—but eventually, it will resurface and take away everything you love. I admit that’s a little depressing, but that’s French philosophy for you. And as far as atheist philosophers go, Camus is probably a bit more upbeat than most. But let’s be honest, that’s about as good as it gets without God. As a contemporary philosopher puts it: “In the absence of God, all there is left to human life is human action and interaction…and the only meaning any of it has is the meaning we manage to give it. Our existence is thus one long walk on a tightrope over a yawning abyss and there is nothing to catch us should we fall into meaninglessness or isolation or even mere ordinariness” (Anthony Simon Laden, Philosophers Without Gods). The only meaning in life is the meaning we manage to give it. That might sound exhilarating or inspiring to some. But to me, it seems like little more than a game of pretend. It reminds me of people who struggle with being on time so they deliberately set their watch fast by five minutes. I actually tried doing this once, but it didn't work because I knew that even if the watch said 11:00 am, I knew it was really 10:55am. In other words, I knew I was lying to myself. And here's the point, we can't just imagine that our life means something if it doesn’t. Let’s confront the brutal facts: either life has meaning that death can’t take away or it doesn’t. And that is why Christianity offers us something far better. It’s so easy to assume that Jesus’ death was nothing more than a senseless tragedy. Yet another young man sent to an untimely grave. And if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then Camus is right. Our life is absurd and there isn’t any meaning to it all. But if Jesus has been raised, then it means that death does not get the last word. Therefore, this life is not absurd, but everything takes on new meaning because this life does not come to a pointless end but lasts into God’s promised future. If the only meaning to our existence is the meaning we create for ourselves then that is like building sandcastles on the seashore. Everything we are, everything we have ever accomplished, and everyone we have ever loved will be washed away by the waves of time. But if, on the other hand, God is bringing about a new creation, then everything we do now based on the hope we have in Jesus matters. Everything from the most trivial and mundane tasks to the most important and monumental achievements will be preserved if nothing else in the memory of God and become part of the building blocks of the new creation. Christians do the good that they can with the time that they have because they know that God will take whatever we have to offer and weave it all together into the tapestry of the new world he is bringing about. That’s why at the end of his famous chapter about the resurrection of Jesus in his letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul does not conclude by telling us to sit back and relax because Jesus has been raised from the dead. No, he tells us to get to work! He writes: “Therefore, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding the in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” If Jesus has been raised from the dead, then nothing you ever do for Jesus will ever be in vain. Nothing will be lost. Nothing will be wasted. Everything counts. Everything matters because everything will last. Your life is not irrational or absurd. Because of Jesus, it matters far more than you even know. This blog post is an excerpt from the sermon preached on April 19, 2020. Cilck here to view the full sermon.
April 21, 2020 | Read