September 17, 2014

Back in the Day

A month ago I had the opportunity to participate in my church’s Back In The Day sermon series. I preached on the life of Joseph and how it is a foreshadowing of Christ, and more urgently, a call for us to prepare to provide sacrificially to others.

Click the link to play “Prepared to Provide”.

 

September 16, 2014

God of Assurance,
Fountain of unfailing love,
well of wisdom and grace,
a mountain of mercy and
stream of salvation,
planter of peace and harvester of hope:
speak to us, that we may flourish;
nurture us, that we may grow;
rescue us, that we in turn may deliver;
and bless us, that we may prosper
in the ways of the Kingdom
and cling to the promise of everlasting life.

Amen

September 8, 2014

God of earnest goodness
And ever faithful love,
Who shines forth his radiant blessings
Upon all creation, and having
Blessed the earth, calls us
To take care of all the world:
Humankind and every living thing
And every resource above or below.

For who should squander the gifts of God?

Instead, let our hearts be fixed
On how the complex web of evil, decay
and destruction will be overturned
(And is even now being overturned!)
By the powers of Christ and the Holy Spirit,
As the world is renewed and set to rights,
That the whole created order may flourish
And take part in the worship
Of Christ’s Kingdom come.

Amen

September 3, 2014

God of first fruits,
Who sows the seed and waters it from the heavens,
who loves the soil and tills it,
making it ready to support crops of all kinds,
who keeps pest amd frost at bay,
and protects the harvest and the workers:
Be our light, our life, our salvation,
for there is no one else like you,
no one as faithful, no one as gracious,
no one as merciful.
You and you alone are worthy of all honor amd praise.

Amen

August 25, 2014

God of all Wisdom,
You are a fountain of discernment
And a sower of peace. You are the
Author of a good and better way,
One that cultivates an ambition
To spur our fellow sojourners on
To good deeds and the proclamation
Of the Good News.

As your Spirit renews our minds,
Heals our souls, and attune sour bodies
To the worship of our Savior,
May we harvest righteousness
Through the good works
You have called us to perform
As stewards of your creation
And citizens of your coming Kingdom.

Amen

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.

Amen

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.

Amen

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.

Amen