August 18, 2014

Merciful God,

Giver of all joy, salvation and freedom:

Be our refuge and shelter, keeping
The deeds of the Adversary at bay
And arming us with all the
Weapons of the Kingdom:
Love, joy, peace,
Patience, selflessness, neighborliness,
Hospitality, turning-the-other-cheek,
Forgiveness, mercy, service, grace,
And hope.

With these the Kingdom will
Never be defeated, but
Death and sin will.


August 14, 2014

In the introduction to this five-part series, I noted that I’m adopting Charles Van Engen’s ‘reinterpreted’ historical marks of the Church – Unifying, Sanctifying, Reconciling, and Proclaiming – to discuss them under the banner of liturgy. I’d like to concentrate in this piece on the first of those marks – unifying – and answer questions like, “What is unity? Is it uniformity? Does unity degrade tradition? Can unity-yet-diversity actually exist? What is the role of reconciliation in unifying liturgies? And how is the community of faith unified?”

Is unity uniformity?

Before I begin, let me be clear about the difference between the words unifying and uniform.  After doing the hard work of historical research of the Christian liturgy, some liturgists may have the tendency to prescribe a uniform liturgy that all Christians can all understand and participate in. This, I believe, misrepresents the Christian faith and its diversity-bound-up-in-unity.

A push for uniformity degrades the identity of one’s tradition-ness. If we were to hypothetically create a uniform liturgy, this would nullify both the rich history and robust traditions of those communities. We would in essence be creating an ahistorical and atraditioned liturgy. In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we find a passionate Israelite trying to show why and how Gentiles and Jews can worship this Jesus, who “reconciled [Jew and Gentile] both to God in one body through the cross” (Eph. 2:16).

Like Paul and many, many before me, I am after unifying liturgies, not a uniform liturgy. I’m making a plea for Christian communities to embrace their tradition-ness and celebrate that diversity-in-unity found ultimately in Christ, his Word, and the Eucharist.

Unity assumes Reconciliation
Within the scriptural narrative, the theological theme of unity assumes reconciliation. And thus, where disunity abounds, reconciliation cannot be found. Hear the words of Jesus in the fifth chapter of Matthew: “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” According to Levitical law, the worshipper can only approach the altar because reconciliatory grace has already been offered. Hence, reconciliation brings about unity, and unity manifests the gift of reconciliation.

The Church is gathered in unity because of the reconciliation through the God-Man. Notice three of Paul’s metaphors when speaking about the Church: She is the Bride; She is the Body of Christ; She is a Family. A Bride cannot be a bride without the unifying relationship between Her and the Groom. The Body cannot be a body without the other members and Head unified and working together. The Family of Christ cannot be a family without the saintly fathers, pure daughters, wise elders, and gentle mothers united in Christ the Son.

Unity in the Eternal Word by His Word

Next, as we gather around the eternal Word made flesh, we are also gathered around the Holy Word. This is given from the One God who speaks to unify a people into one Bride, one Flesh, and one Family. For when we are called from the world, we are revealed to and thus know this three-in-one God (Jn. 17:6); for Jesus tells us that eternal life is wrapped up in acknowledging the presence of the revealing God (Jn. 17:3). So, when the Church gathers around the Word who reveals His words, we are made holy (Jn. 17:17-19). Remember: things that are holy are complete and whole, and things that are whole are unified.

Eucharistic Unity

Lastly, one of the ways the holy community celebrates this unity-amidst-diversity is through her participation in the Eucharist. The Corinthian church greatly struggled with unity. Favorited brothers and sisters overlooked weaker brothers and sisters, and wealthier brothers and sisters disassociated from poorer brothers and sisters (1 Cor. 11:17-22). After storying the Eucharist meal and how it is to be taken, Paul offers these wise words to all of our dysfunctional and conflicted churches: “So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another – if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home – so that when you come together it will not be for judgment” (1 Cor. 11:33-34).

“Wait for one another,” says Paul. In other words, Christian love (agape) leads to Christian service (leitourgia) which reconciles with and unifies the body.

I can only imagine the setting at the next Eucharist meal after this letter was delivered. With Jesus’ words “the last will be first, and the first will be last” echoing in their heads, I see the lavished aristocrats and pedigree patricians leaned against walls patiently “waiting for” the dirty slaves, peasants, and farmhands to first eat of the Bread of Life and drink from the Cup of Salvation.

A Eucharistic meal participating in the reconciliation that unifies broken bodies.

August 13, 2014

God of Light,
Who shines in the murky night
of unbridled evil and sends it
running like prey into the shadows;

Who burns away the chaff of sin
and calls us onto the narrow,
yet easy and level path of righteousness;

Who withholds none of your brilliance
but allows your Spirit and Our Redeemer
to dwell within us as divine light:

Be our unbounded salvation,
our unending light,
our unshakeable foundation,
our unrelenting fire.


July 31, 2014

Marty: Hey, Doc, we better back up. We don’t have enough road to get up to 88.

Doc. Brown: Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

Probably due to the fact that you watched it thousands of times in the past two decades, the lines from Back to the Future are forever branded into your memory.

This 1985 classic flick depicts the story of a teenager, Marty McFly, who travels into the year 1955 with his time-leaping scientist-friend, Dr. Emmett Brown. Marty and Doc’s mission is to make sure the past manifests itself as it was meant to be. Marty must “hook up” his teenage parents-to-be, Lorraine and George, to meet and to fall in love. This is important, because it’s only with Marty’s presence in the past that “history is gonna change.”

In his work, Renewing the Center, Stanley Grenz states that Charles Van Engen, missiologist at Fuller Theological Seminary, has suggested that the four historical marks – One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic – be read not as adjectives but interpreted and manifested as adverbs: Unifying, Sanctifying, Reconciling, and Proclaiming. “Seen from this perspective,” writes Grenz, “the four creedal marks paint a picture of a church active in mission” (328).

As a student of liturgical studies, I thought: “What do certain liturgies look like in light of these four adverbial marks? Liturgies that unify, liturgies that sanctify, liturgies that reconcile, and liturgies that proclaim?” And also, “How can we capture the church’s missional identity and telos in this conversation?”

Within my own Christian tradition, we have historically had a rather low view of certain liturgical acts such as the proclaimed Word and the Eucharist. In fact, they’ve been (generally) interpreted as ‘static’ activities we do. For instance, the proclaimed Gospel is just the pastor’s interpretation of the Word we can comfortably critique from the pew. And the Bread and the Cup have been so over-memorialized that they have become banal memories existing intangibly in our heads like an idea – we just “think” about Jesus when we take of the Bread and Cup.

But what if these two liturgical elements – among many others – were interpreted as ‘dynamic’ and ‘pneumatological’ activities we participate in? Participation assumes invitation into something already in play, like the Spirit’s always already activity in and through the sacraments of Word and Eucharist.

Heralding the ‘dynamic’ character of liturgy, I believe, equips us to better answer the questions above about liturgies that unify, sanctify, reconcile, and proclaim. Why? Because if we believe that liturgical acts and liturgical things are ‘static’ (read: stagnant, dormant, lifeless), then we can’t and likely won’t see the value in those spiritually-charged uniting, sanctifying, reconciling, and proclaiming liturgies.

I think this discussion accomplishes four goals: (1) it properly cherishes the Church’s historical creedal marks with the purpose of (2) experiencing them in our present-day liturgies, while (3) reclaiming our missional existence in (4) participation with the Spirit’s cosmic-redemptive work.

Like Marty McFly, we have to – in some sense – visit our past, reclaim it, and participate in it in order to more fully appreciate our identity in the present.

I’ve told you what this discussion I believe accomplishes, but I’d like to put the proposed argument(s) to the test. In the next four articles, I will look one-by-one at each of the liturgies introduced above: unifying, sanctifying, proclaiming, and reconciling liturgies. Then in each article, I’ll also consider how unifying liturgies unify, sanctify liturgies sanctify, proclaiming liturgies proclaim, and reconciling liturgies reconcile. The first part in each article will examine a liturgy’s “nature” or “internal genius,” whereas the second part deals with its “mechanics.”

July 29, 2014

Our hope is in God,
The ruler of dry ground
And the deepest trenches of the sea;
His presence is in all places!
No one can run from the mighty God
Of all creation!

So we place our hope in you,
For in who else should we trust?
Kings and presidents rise and fall.
Warplanes rust.
Battleships are scrapped.
Cars and trains and modern devices become obsolete.
Rivers wear down the mightiest of rock.
But God is an immovable foundation,
And the Kingdom announced by Christ will last forever.

What else may we do but set all our hope in the power of the Spirit,
And trust that our work, our toil, our very breath
is a pattern of worship that brings the Kingdom closer?

For us.
For our neighbors.
For everyone.


July 23, 2014

This week I am in Faithvillage‘s Contributor Spotlight. They asked me several questions about the blog and about the work I do at IJM. Here’s a sample:

If someone is just beginning to introduce liturgy into their worship, what books or resources would you point them to?

I think the best primer on liturgy and the church calendar is Kimberlee Conway Ireton’sThe Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year. Bobby Gross’s Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God is also helpful. The Ancient Practices Series that Thomas Nelson put out a few years ago is also a great resource (especially Scot McKnight’s book, Fasting). I think participation is the best way to introduce yourself to liturgy in personal devotion, so grabbing a copy of the Book of Common Prayer or The Glenstal Book of Prayer is the best way. There are great resources for whatever faith stream or tradition you are in, and I would encourage wide reading across denominational boundaries. Because really, that’s the best part of starting to bring liturgy into your worship: liturgy is the foundation of every shoot and branch of the Christian faith, and once you start internalizing the rhythm of a thousand plus year old Christian spirituality you can start seeing how the unique aspects of a denomination’s way of doing prayer or Communion is connected to the core liturgy that makes up the Christian faith.

You can read more contributor spotlights here.

July 21, 2014

Gracious and Loving God,
slow to anger and abundant in mercy:

Give to us this day your Word
as nourishment, that we may be
enlightened and energized
through the Holy Spirit
to build the kingdom
on earth as it is in heaven.

Give strength to our minds,
fortitude to our souls,
and hope to our hands,
as we turn your daily bread
into good work and a harvest
worthy of the Coming King.


July 16, 2014

RV FireYour heart is still before God. You are meditating, in prayer, focused on your Creator. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see it. People are running on the highway, cars are stopped. Smoke rises from an RV stalled out in the middle of the road. Then, the smoke turns black and flames engulf the whole vehicle, smoldering metal and bending to the fire’s will. The RV is in an all consuming fire.

There is one secret I have learned about communing with God at times like this. You cannot.

Life outside—on the highways, in the cubicles, in the family room—does not conform to the rhythms of our spiritual lives. We cannot prevent RVs from catching on fire during our time of stillness. We cannot remove the chatter of children during prayer or their need to go to the bathroom during our favorite song at church. We cannot foresee the important phone call or the traffic jam or the burnt dinner. We can only be ready to be present with God as long as we are able, and as long or as deep as life allows.

The real secret to communing with God during the stuff of life is to just show up. That’s really all that is required of us. Yes, there are disciplines like fasting or prayer walks or meditation that help us show up well, but the crux of our spiritual life will be to always show up. No matter what. God is ever present, waiting and yearning for us to be in relationship, and even present in the times when we are so focused on our daily tasks. God is there, inviting us to just show up and be ready to participate in a beautiful relationship that transcends the stuff of this world. God is there before the RV catches on fire. God is present after that same vehicle is a smoldering and spent pile of ash and shriveled metal. All we need to do is keep coming back into our Creator’s presence, and we will be on the right path.

July 14, 2014

Faithful One,
Who pulls the sun above the horizon
And sets the stars in the sky;
Who adorns the flowers with their fragrance
And blooms the fruit of the earth;
Who stills the onslaught of the storm
And repairs the broken walls:
To you be unending hallelujahs and unceasing praise.

Let the music of our hands at work,
the joy of our families,
the bonds of friendship
and the blessings of our corporate life
together as your Body
be a sign of your salvation
and a proclamation of your goodness
now and forevermore.


July 7, 2014

Holy One of God,
Our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who ransoms the souls of the faithful,
Sets the captives free,
Brings sight to the blind and
Gives life to those who are perishing:
Death has no victory over you
Or your kingdom.
Evil slinks away from your presence.
Rejoice all you nations!
Celebrate all you peoples!
Christ is Lord forever—
His reign is unending!