Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sermon Notes - Faith Needs An Object

This may or may not be the beginning of another wildly irregular series. I've intended to do this for a while, but we all know how that goes.

I often take notes during sermons. Our brains are wired to better retain information that we process in multiple ways. Hearing, seeing, repeating, writing down - these are all different methods of processing, and each one that we apply helps us better retain the information.

This is not by any means to claim that I normally remember many details of any given sermon after a few weeks (or sometimes hours). That's OK. That's how it works, and everyone, even the pastors who pour their spirit into presenting the Word, know and accept that.

Some say that means that a sermon is a waste of time. If the listeners don't remember the three points afterward, then what good did it do?

To that I respond, what did you have for lunch on August 23, 2002? Oh, you don't remember? Then that meal couldn't have provided you with any nourishment.

That point (hopefully) addressed, I would like to retain more of the preaching that I hear. So note-taking it is, both for the mental processing factor and the fact that I can refer to them later to refresh my weak memory.

Sidebar to pastors: if it's at all feasible, hand out sermon outlines with blanks to be filled in. Make your sermon a congregation participation exercise. I know you want those sheep fed as well as possible - get them to chew on the Word a bit so it'll stay with them longer.

Wow, that metaphor took an ugly turn. Let's put a stop to this sidebar and move on.

I've intended for a while to start posting these sermon notes on here. That way I get to process them one more time, refreshing the lesson, and I get them recorded somewhere where I can refer to them in the future. I also dare hope that maybe something I write will strike a chord for a reader or two.

Full disclosure time - getting people to think about matters of importance, specifically matters of ultimate importance, is my actual Big Picture reason for writing this blog. Yes, I also use it as an outlet for all sorts of silliness, self-indulgence, and irrelevancy, but what I really want is to get wheels turning inside people's heads.

My sermon notes usually aren't substantial. Often just a sentence or two, enough to (hopefully) jog my memory when I look at them later on. Time to put the psych degree to use again: these "triggers" work as a mnemonic device because our recognition memory is better than our recall memory. A key word will often spark up the neurons that store the rest of the idea, when we never could have pulled it out of storage otherwise.

This is all background that I hopefully won't go over again. After this time, "Sermon Notes" entries should be short, sweet, and straight to the point (at least by my standards). Assuming I write any more of them, the little bit of material appearing after this bloated intro is more like what they should look like.

Note also that some of what I say below comes from my own reflection on the sermon, not necessarily from what the pastor explicitly said. If that's an issue anywhere along the line, questions are welcomed.

My pastor recently preached a sermon on the topic of "faith" as a word and a concept. I took away one key point: faith is only as good as its object.

Many, probably a large majority, will say that they "have faith". The question must always be asked: faith in what? Faith must have an object. Without an object, the word is meaningless. If a person's faith is in anything but the one true God, then it is tragically misplaced.

The pastor cited Augustine: "If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself." That quotation can be found here, in the midst of lots of other powerful thoughts. Go take a look - any one sentence on that page is worth hours of grappling. I've got a new bookmark.

I'd like to have a primary source citation on the Augustine quote, but I'm not a scholar of his works by any stretch and two minutes with Google didn't turn it up, so we're out of luck. If you can remedy that, please do so in the comments.

My pastor then expounded on the obvious ramifications and extended meaning of what Augustine said: if you pick and choose which parts of the Bible you believe, then you are not treating it seriously as the Word of God. That's your free choice to make, but it's hypocritical to cling to some teachings (like forgiveness for your sins) but reject others (like the Virgin Birth) that come from the same source.

There's what I retain from that sermon, a couple of months or so later. It may not seem like much, but I'm actually quite pleased with it. If each listener retained that much from each sermon, then a single small congregation could transform their entire community.

Enough rambling. Here's another picture from our our recent church-sponsored afternoon of trap shooting. This is the manual launcher for the clay "pigeons" we saw last time. We used a gas-powered launcher for most of our shots, but this was an alternatve.

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