CCC Blog

Only One Sermon??

Only One Sermon???

About a month before I moved to Decatur to begin serving as senior minister at Central Christian, I attended a clergy leadership seminar in Louisville.  One of the speakers, a long-time congregational pastor, shared this thought.  “It has been said,” he noted, “that all preachers preach only three sermons.  That is, each sermon is some version or variety of the same three.”  As he spoke, I found myself replaying the hundreds of sermons I had preached in my career and nodding my head.  Yes, I admitted to myself.  I suppose that is true.  The scriptures on which the sermons were based, the illustrations I used and the details of each Sunday’s context were certainly different from week to week.  But if I’m honest, I probably do preach some version of the same few sermons over and over again. 


The keynote speaker pushed on.  “So it happened,” he continued, “that I shared this thought with the congregation I was serving at the time.  After I said this, one of the elders raised his hand.  ‘So…’ he asked, ‘you’re saying you have 2 more???’”  I loved that story then, and I do now.  Though this was clearly meant as a good-willed jab at the preacher, there is a deeper idea to be examined; the thought that the congregation keeps hearing the same thing week after week. 

With this thought in mind, I find myself reflecting on this during our current context – day ??? of being quarantined by the Coronavirus pandemic.  As we turn on the news, read our social media feed, talk with friends by phones, skype, face time or zoom, we may find ourselves asking, “What is there to say that hasn’t been said?  What hopeful or thought-provoking statement can be said that hasn’t been offered already?  Aren’t we saying and hearing the same things over and over again?” 


But I wonder if that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  When Jesus said the greatest commandment from God was “to love God and love neighbor” (Matthew 22:34-40) he also said, “On this, hangs all the Law and all the Prophets.”  Everything else depends on understanding this fact.  If we fail to grasp the importance of this simple truth, nothing else in scripture will make sense.  It is as though Jesus is telling us that the entire bible can be reduced to a single dictum – love God and love neighbor – and the rest of the 65 books, 27 chapters and 33 verses in the entire scripture is just details. 


In our current situation, when we find ourselves looking for something new to say, or longing for something new to hear, which will help make sense of our very uncertain situation, it is perhaps the simplest explanation that is the best (a la Occam’s razor).  Love God.  Don’t give up on God just because the earthly circumstances in which we find ourselves are confusing at best and painful at worst.  And Love neighbor.  Be kind to those around you.  Treat with grace those closest to you.  It is a simple message for sure.  But it never gets old and it always bears repeating. 

Posted by Michael Karunas with

Obstacle or Opportunity

At the recommendation of a friend toward the end of 2019, I requested (and subsequently received) Jordan Peterson’s best-selling book 12 Rules for Life for Christmas.  Peterson is a Canadian psychologist and his book is mixture of theological history and philosophy as well as behavioral psychology.  Each chapter is dedicated to one of the 12 rules which, themselves, are pretty straightforward (always tell the truth, measure yourself against yourself and not others, etc.).  However, their explanation and treatment is quite dense and each chapter therefore long.  I say all of that because I just got around to finishing the book this past week.  This I found ironic, as the last chapter was titled “Pet a Cat When You Encounter One.”


Peterson suggests that petting a dog is easy, predictable and therefore uninteresting.  We know what we’re getting with dogs – a human’s best friend.  Dogs will always approach us with interest, will wag their tails, offer sniffs and licks, and enjoy being scratched and petted.  Nothing surprising.  With cats, however, we don’t know what we’re getting.  A cat might run away from us or arch its back and hiss.  It might be completely aloof and not deign to notice our presence.  But it might also curl up on our lap, nuzzle into us deeply and purr loudly.  Precisely because we don’t know what we’re getting with cats, there is the possibility for great disappointment but also for great joy and gratitude. 


Peterson compares this to the limited nature of being human.  To be human is to have limitations – of knowledge, of ability, longevity, etc.  To be human is not to know or do everything.  It is to suffer grief, brokenness, injury and death.  This limitedness causes us great stress.  We agonize over what we can’t understand or control.  But it is precisely limitation that allows us to experience transcendence.  Only because I have limits, for example, can I ever rise above them.  Only because I am not perfect can I experience and recognize glimpses of perfection.  Only because there is a goal I have never before accomplished is there the possibility of that goal one day being attained. 


Earlier, I mentioned it was “ironic” that I completed this book last week because of how the emergence of the Cornonavirus has invaded our lives.  If anything reveals to us our human limitation, this is it.  There is so much beyond our control right now – from an ability to guarantee our own safety and non-exposure, to assuming that the items I want are on the shelves when I want to purchase them.  Situations like these remind us that we cannot control how the next few days will unfold, let alone the trajectory of the rest of our lives.


Which brings us back to cats.  For whether you are a “dog person” or “cat person” we have a choice.  We can view COVID-19 as an obstacle or an opportunity.  Focusing on it as an obstacle is easy.  It’s the predictable way we usually view disruptions to our schedule, feeling disappointment and aggravation at best or fear and grief at worst along the way.  Or we can be surprised by what this time in our  history allows us to do; asking “What is the unique opportunity ‘social distancing’ gives us the chance to explore?”  Is a time of self-quarantine an opportunity to do something at home we’ve been neglecting?  Does it invite us to to reach out and connect with someone we’ve been putting off because we’ve been “too busy.”  Is  it giving us a chance to be more “still” – as Psalm 46:10 instructs – and see God in stillness and rest? 


I don’t know how you may answer this question, but I do pray we think of cats this week.  Life is indeed unpredictable, and in its unpredictability reveals obstacles that bring to light our limited and finite nature.  But at the same time, and often in the very same events and circumstances, there are opportunities to be amazed, joyful and grateful in ways which, because of our limited nature, we may have never before considered. 

Posted by Michael Karunas with

Talk Less… Listen More!

Can you hear me now?”  We know exactly what those words imply.  Someone is talking on their cell phone and there is a disruption in the conversation.  Desperate to reconnect, one caller asks the other “can you hear me now,” knowing there is no point in continuing the conversation unless the other one is fully tuned in.  A generation (or two) ago, something similar could be said with a T.V.’s antenna.  “Can you see me now?” the television set seemed mockingly to ask as someone in their living room or dorm room would frantically manipulate the antenna’s long arms – even wrapping wadded up aluminum over the ends – in the attempt to see the picture clearer and receive a stronger signal.

Believe it or not, these everyday examples teach us an important aspect of prayer.  In both, the disruption in communication comes not from the sender but the receiver.  The one sending the message is talking away and sending all kinds of information over the airwaves.  The problem lies not with them.  They are communicating just fine.  But if the receiver is actually to receive the message, the receiver has to do something – move, adjust something, take on some activity until the signal is reconnected.  Similarly, when it comes to faith, God is continually and constantly communicating to us - through revelation in the natural world; through our conscience and instincts; through our lived experiences; and certainly through the Holy Word.  The question is “Are we receiving the message God is sending?”

Enter prayer… where prayer is as much about listening as talking.  It is removing the clutter, distractions and noise from our lives so that we can hear a God who is always speaking.  It is making adjustments in our daily lives and creating the kind of environment where the signals God sends can be received. 

In our Christian walk and certainly in our worship, we rush to fill voids with words.  When it comes to prayer, we discuss techniques and methods for how to pray.  These usually involve what kind of words we are speaking to God and in what order.  There is clearly value in such things.  The words we speak matter.  They should include things like praise, adoration, confession, thanksgiving and a concern for others.  Yet, I like to think of prayer first and foremost as listening.  “Be still and know that I am God” says Psalm 46:10.  So it is that when we allow moments of stillness to permeate our lives, listening is much more likely to follow.

The first commandment God gave to Moses in Exodus 20 is given in another way in Deuteronomy 6:4-5.  “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.”  These two verses have a name.  It is “Shema” in Hebrew, which literally means “hear” and is taken from the first word of the commandment.  Our ancient ancestors have been calling this “The Shema” for millennia, as though they understood that for there to be any kind of action involving heart, soul and might, listening was required. 

So this week, as you are taking time to devote your attention to God, give yourself a break and worry not about your words – whether they are sophisticated enough; theologically proper enough; even whether they are pleasing to God.  Rather, consider taking a few moments to just “be still” and listen.  After all, God gave us mouths that close and ears that don’t.  Maybe that is for a reason?? 

Posted by Michael Karunas with

The Season of Lent

Face. F-a-c-e. A four letter word with at least that many meanings and connotations. As a noun, “face” represents our identifying mark. Like snowflakes or stripes on a zebra, no two faces are alike. Our face is uniquely and  singularly us! Now, there may be things about our face that we don’t like.  Things we wish we could change or that we try to cover up, but our face bears the imprint of God – who created each of us with a loving touch and delights in our individuality. 

As a plural noun – faces – we may think of crowds. Faces in the crowd. Faces that make up the crowd.  Faces (plural) shows that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Each of us is one part of many; each face shares a common humanity with all the others, yet faces in the crowd can sometimes get lost in the crowd, like a stadium full of spectators. The sea of humanity is so large that it becomes easy to lose the individuality of any one, particular face.

As a verb, “face” can refer to our posture and position; how and in which direction we are standing. To face is to look at; to see; to gaze upon – as when we face the mirror and see our reflection in it, but “face,” as a verb can also mean “to confront;” to “call things for what they are;” not to deny the truth but to admit and accept it, no matter how difficult that might be.

The season of Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday this week (February 26), is the period of time in the church year that encompasses the seven weeks   prior to Easter. The word “Lent” comes from a word that means the “lengthening of days,” which happens in the Springtime. Lent is an opportunity for us to walk with Jesus as he made his journey to the cross- to listen to him; watch him; pay attention to him. It is the goal of every Lenten season that we, through this intensified and intentional focus, grow in our ability to let go of our will and trust more in God’s.

The season of Lent is therefore all about the word “face.” It’s about facing the cross – seeing and gazing upon the sacrifice of Christ; his death and resurrection. It’s about confronting our own sin – from which Jesus died to save us. Sin is about “missing the mark” of perfection; failing to adequately live by God’s Word and Will. The vast majority of sins are committed not because we mean to, but rather in spite of that fact that we don’t. We certainly don’t try to miss the mark, but even in spite of our best efforts, we fall short of the glory of God.

Lent is about confronting this reality; accepting that we are part of a crowd – a common humanity, whose nature it is to do the very thing we shouldn’t do and to fail to do the very thing we should. Lent is about not hiding our face in the crowd and hoping we don’t have to admit this truth. Rather it is about accepting the responsibility that we all have – as unique individuals – to examine ourselves and admit our need for Christ; his forgiveness; his grace. No one can do that work for us but us, and Lent is God’s invitation to accept this important and saving work. 

I hope it will be a priority for you to make worship and the activities at Central taking place between now and Easter (April 12) a priority in your life. This season of the year reminds us like no other of our brokenness; our need for Christ; and our desire to keep facing the cross throughout our life of faith. For as the old hymn tells us, it is “In the cross, in the cross,” that our individual souls will find their true home and ultimate rest.      

Blessings… Michael

Posted by Michael Karunas with

12...6789101112131415 ... 2223