Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Redeemer Presbyterian Church Downtown, Manhattan

"We're not here to serve ourselves; we're here to serve the city." This phrase was used several times throughout the Sunday morning worship service.

If you've been keeping track of our monthly themes, you might notice that this church doesn't isn't exactly isn't in a small town or rural area, since the church is in Manhattan. But we were in New York City for our daughter's college graduation, so we appreciate your indulgence.
Redeemer Presbyterian would have fit nicely into last month's urban church month or with next month's theme, "I Haven't Been to the Church but I've Read the Book," since I've read several books by this church's pastor, Timothy Keller.

There are three congregations for Redeemer in Manhattan:  Eastside (meeting in the Hunter College auditorium), Westside (in the church's Ministry Center on West 83rd St.), and the location we attended, downtown at The Salvation Army. 

We were on the way out of the city and toting luggage, accompanied by our son and daughter (the recently graduated one). We were greeted by ushers; when we asked, three young men in suits showed us where we could store our luggage. I chatted with them and asked how long they had attended the church. They responded that they had worked there for the two years the church has been at that location. I asked them what they liked best about working there, and one said, "The coffee," making the other two guys laugh. Another of them said he appreciated meeting great new people every week.

I went downstairs to check out the children's ministry. A large room had multi-color cloth dividers marked in four sections marked for ages 1, 2, 3 & 4, and 5 & 6. Another room was for infants, and I assume the first through sixth graders were somewhere else. I talked with the director of the children's ministry, and she said that though a minority of attendees had kids, they still had as many as one hundred children to care for on a Sunday morning.


On the way back to the auditorium, I encountered Timothy Keller on his way as well. He had the familiar face of a pastor running through the morning details in his mind. I still took the opportunity to say good morning and shake his hand and he was quite pleasant.

The bottom section of the worship area was filling up nicely as the service started (a minute early by my watch). I talked to an usher after the service who told me the balcony (a larger area than downstairs) was about half full.

There were two large screens mounted high to the left and right of the stage, but neither was used in the service we attended. All the songs (with music) and readings were in the printed program (eleven pages of it, plus an insert with announcements and information which was about six pages). The music was led by a woman singing, a woman playing the piano, and a woman playing a trombone. The website identified the worship style as "Classical" while other services were listed as "Jazz," "Contemporary," or "Contemporary/Blended". For Pentecost we sang "Come, Holy Ghost" circa 800 A.D., and I had a hard time singing along. I was able to sing along heartily with "The Church's One Foundation."

The time of confession was introduced as a time of "coming to our senses." In the announcements, people were encouraged to update their personal profiles online to get information on ministries and community small groups. There was an announcement for the monthly prayer meeting to be held that day. Also that day, Downtown congregation Deacons and Deaconesses were to be installed (but there was no information about what those jobs entailed).

The Scripture reading was from 1 Samuel 26, the story of David sneaking into King Saul's camp. Keller is working through a series, "David: The Man of Prayer," with this sermon titled "David's Mercy."

I appreciated the clear verbal outline at the beginning of the sermon (it was not written in the program) on the theme of learning to love from the life of David. There were four main points:        1) Loving your neighbor
       2) Loving your enemy
       3) Loving a fool
       4) Loving God's Anointed

Keller said we must learn to love our neighbor by recognizing the Image of God in everyone we meet, and backed this up with quotes from John Calvin and C. S. Lewis. He spent some time on the need to love our "enemy" -- a person we believe has done us harm. He pointed out that we should never seek to return evil for evil because "only God has the wisdom to know what Saul (or anyone else) deserves and the right to give it."


He pointed to the need to forgive, citing Matthew 18, Mark 11, and a quote from an unidentified novel (which my son recognized from Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings"). He described forgiveness as a "commitment not to bring up the sin (issue) with the other person, with other people or with yourself."

He pointed out that David didn't harm Saul, who was trying to kill him. He snuck into Saul's camp and took his spear and water bottle to show he could have harmed Saul, but choose not to. This action allowed Saul to see his own foolishness.

Loving someone who sins against you might well include making sure they don't harm you or other people again; forgiveness doesn't necessarily include trust.

Finally he pointed to the source of power to show mercy, forgiveness and love: God's Anointed. He said that David as God's anointed points to the greater Anointed One, Jesus Christ. Jesus took our infinite debt and paid the infinite cost.

Concluding the sermon and introducing the time of offering, Keller urged the congregation to "think of what God is saying to you during the offertory. I know I say this every week, but it's something we need to do."
The Prayer of the People included a Memorial Day theme of praying for those in the armed services and a prayer for peace.

As a reader who has greatly appreciated many of Tim Keller's books (such as "The Reason of God: Belief in the Age of Skepticism," "Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just," and "Walking with God through Pain and Suffering"), I can't say that Keller's preaching adds much to the words he writes. He addresses the congregation rather like a professor addressing a class. But the words he writes are themselves are well worth hearing. I'm glad he and the good folks at Redeemer are serving the city and the God of the city.

Statistics:
Service Length: 1 hour 39 minutes
Sermon Length: 34 minutes
Visitor Treatment: greeting time during service ("passing the peace", but most people said good morning to those around them), part of the program was a card to be filled out with visitor or changed information
Our Rough Count: 1,050
Probable Ushers' Count: 1,200
Snacks: Coffee, water and cider after the worship service in basement room which was also used for Sunday school and had a bookstore table. Signs directed down a narrow staircase, and many people went.
Songs:  God of this City
             How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds
             All Creatures of our God and King
             Be Merciful to Me
             Come, Holy Ghost
             The Church's One Foundation
Miles to church: 3,028
Total California Miles: 8,049

-- Dean