Sermon prep: A Face-to-Face God

On the front page of Saturday’s Washington Post is a nice piece about a local Boy Scout troop
that recently had eleven of its members earn the rank of Eagle Scout.
Such a feat is unprecedented, scouting leaders say.  I know from my
experience in working with youth that Eagle Scouts are few and far
between.  One reason is that achieving the rank of Eagle Scout requires
a ton of work.  And another reason is that, well, scouting really does
not have a strong appeal to today’s teens.  From the article:

Scouting has rarely been cool. But in a world of iPods, traveling
soccer clubs, 24-hour cable television and Wii, Boy Scout oaths and
three-finger salutes seem more than a little dated.

love the contrast between the "cool" of contemporary culture and the
"not-so-cool" of scouting – it is the kind of contrast that we in the
church face as well.  In my experience
the church too often complains about its declining cultural stature
while responding in two counterproductive ways:

  • becoming inflexibly entrenched in "traditions" that are nothing more than cultural legacies from the 1950’s, or
  • poorly appropriating the coolness of culture – marketing glitz and multimedia – in hopeless
    attempts to appeal to a new generation. 

Neither strategy will get us anywhere.  But
perhaps we can learn from this troop of Boy Scouts.  Why did these eleven teens choose to make time
for anachronistic scouting oaths and three-finger salutes at the expense of Wii and
soccer clubs? 

As you read the article you sense that these eleven boys – whose
misbehavior and tantrums when they first entered Boy Scouts gave
leaders little hope that they’d achieve anything – formed a shared
identity and built a bond that kept them together and helped them
achieve what would have seemed impossible a few years ago.  This group
stuck together not because of the appeal and entertainment value of
video games, iPods, or any other wizbang technology gadget.  No.  It
was much more simple than that.  They had scouting, and they had each

The meat of any group endeavor – be it religious, civic, or of a hobby interest – is in the face-to-face sharing and meaning making that happens when people come together around a common interest. What makes a scrapbooking event memorable and meaningful is not necessarily the completion of a project, but the sharing and interaction that took place during the evening.  The baseball games that I love to attend are much more meaningful and memorable if I go with someone, someone with whom I can share in the ups and downs of a dramatic game.  Experienced alone the game is just not the same.

So too with faith.  Faith is best shared and experienced in the simple face-to-face encounter with others and with God.  The glitz of websites and videos, or the intentional shape of curricular and devotional materials can be helpful tools, but they are no substitute for the personal encounter with God and each other (see my recent post My First Nooma Video).  Perhaps we need to focus less on the tools and the techniques of our ministries, and more on the meat itself – the face-to-face encounter we share when we gather as the Body of Christ, and the Face of God that is revealed to us in those encounters.

In this Sunday’s Psalm (Psalm 27:1, 4-9) we read:

"Come," my heart says, "seek his face!"
Your face, LORD, do I seek.

In the Gospel text for Sunday (Matthew 4:12-23) Jesus comes face-to-face with Peter, Andrew, James, and John, calling them to be disciples.

In the Epistle (1 Corinthians 1:10-18), Paul contrasts the eloquent wisdom of the world with the foolishness of the cross.  We are not in the business of worldly eloquence, he says, but in a calling of Christian foolishness.

Face-to-face, personal, authentic encounters with God and with each other might run counter to the wisdom of technology and multimedia marketing tools.  But it was to a simple invitation, offered face-to-face, that Peter, Andrew, James and John responded.  And it is with just a morsel of bread and a splash of wine that we encounter God, face-to-face, at the Table. 

The simple stuff of a face-to-face God.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

2 thoughts on “Sermon prep: A Face-to-Face God

  1. Not to be forgotten is the interaction with the scout leader(s). Most likely, there has been strong consistent leadership with few, if any, changes in personnel.
    Our town also has a disproportional share of Eagle Scouts. This has been under the leadership of a particular scout leader who has been with the boys since grade school, so probably going on 12 years by now. He works hard, gives a lot, and gets the parents involved, along with his wife.
    The girl scouts here have recently had similar success with their Gold Award, equivalent to the Eagle. Again, the same leaders were there for a significant period of time and they are more actively involved than most.
    Now to church matters: When I read Rick Warren’s book on the Purpose Driven Life, I was struck by the differences in philosophy from what I am used to in my denomination. Apparently he studied trends and found that churches with a pastor staying for a long time were more “successful.” He prayed, if I remember correctly, about founding a church and staying there a long time, which has happened. Of course, you don’t get anywhere without hard work. But relationships are built with longevity. Of course, if you really annoy somebody, they stay away for a long time too.
    I’m not advocating this as a church model, just stating that there are other ways to do things than having pastors move every few years, for whatever reason.
    I attended an ordination one time where the speaker encouraged the newby pastor to learn to work past problems that might be in the way at first. He said that otherwise you might have a pastor move every three years, in other words, someone might be a pastor for 20 years, but only have “three year’s experience.”

  2. This is so true. I do love the Nooma videos (and the one you critiqued is my favorite), but you’re spot on about why they can’t be the genuine article of faith: there’s no authentic relationship with a television.
    Bonhoeffer said that the church is only the church when it exists “mit einander fur einander/with one another for one another.” Face to face is uncomfortable, messy and often uncontrollable – but it also intimate, genuine and authentic, and that, I think, is what God is after.
    You’ve spurred my own sermon prep with this – thanks much!

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