Discussion Thought of the Day:
14 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, 15 this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. 16 I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— 17 that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18 you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19 Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (MSG)
I have already referred to contemplation as one of the two realities of the spiritual life, the other being participation. I have identified Christian contemplation with Mary who “pondered … in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Christian contemplation ponders, reflects, gazes, and delights in the wonders and the mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). In Christian contemplation God is the subject who acts in history; contemplation enters God’s vision of the world and is stunned, filled with wonder, amazed, full of inner delight and joy. This contemplation is, in sum, an experience of God’s presence. The realization of his presence in the world, creation, incarnation, death, and resurrection and the ultimate presence of God in the fulfillment of history in the new heavens and the new earth is the subject of our contemplation.
But the theme of the suffering God can thrive only when it is anchored in love for God and in a prayerful recourse to his love. According to the encyclical Haurietis aquas, the passions of Jesus, which are depicted as united and uniting in the Heart, are a justification and a reason for the fact that even in the relationship between God and man the heart—that is, the capacity for feeling, the emotional aspect of love—must be included. Incarnational spirituality must be a spirituality of the passions, a heart-to-heart spirituality. Precisely in that way is it an Easter spirituality, for the mystery of Easter is, by its very nature, a mystery of suffering, a mystery of the heart.
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.
The last quote above, the short one, is my favorite from the Lutheran Confessions. It forms the basis for most of my ministry, and how I teach others to serve the people of God and their communities.
Yet over the sixteen years since I realized the truth of this, my understanding of it has shifted, it has changed.
All because I have asked, what do people really need to know about Jesus. What does it mean to give them what they need to know about Jesus? What do they need to know? How will the way I minister give to them what they need to know?
Let me explain, using the examples of Preaching and Liturgy.
When I was trained in Homiletics, the emphasis was on what is called expository preaching. That is, you take the passage apart, using Greek/Hebrew, studying the individual words, the grammar, the style of literature, and what it meant to those who heard it first. Pretty in-depth stuff, pretty powerful as the ancient languages were full of marvelous word pictures.
So I preached exegetically, revealing to people the wonder of this treasure we had in scripture. Like many of my peers, we could take apart the passage with great skill and find application, without ever bringing Jesus into the picture.
With hymnody, many have taken words like those from the Augsburg Confession and concluded that our hymns must primarily teach. They love the old hymns that are rich in doctrine, that are more like a lecture put to music, that communicate on a horizontal plane, as we share in the wonderful teachings of the faith.
In both cases we talk about Jesus from the position of an observer, somewhat distant, somewhat disconnected. We think about God’s work and urge people to accept it based on our logic and reason, and the wonder of the system that we have been able to describe. And we teach them all about the system, and the church service becomes the primary place of such teaching.
It is all good stuff and beneficial. However, it is not what they need to know about Jesus Christ.
It can accentuate that, but it is not the main thing our church services, our sermons, our worship is to communicate, to teach, to reveal.
I think the other three readings that head this discussion talk about it in depth. First, from Dr. Robert Webber, the words in blue about contemplation, a lost art among us. He gets to the heart of the matter when talking about pondering “the wonders and mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to Himself.” It fills us with wonder, amazement and inner delight and joy because we are experiencing the presence of God. To contemplate this means we realize we are part of the story, we are the ones reconciled, we are the ones who God loves,
This is what Pope Benedict XVI was writing about (back when he was Joseph Ratzineger) as to our including the capacity for feeling, the emotional aspect of love, it must be a “heart to heart spirituality” This is what we so need to know. That we are not alone, that God is here, present, sharing in our lives.
This is what Paul urges for the people in Ephesus as well. Not just to know the theology, but to experience the extravagant dimensions of God’s love. The vivid picture Petersen’s “The Message” uses gives us an idea of the power of this, to realize the depth of God’s love, His great passion for us, the passion that causes God not only to be patient, but to endure the suffering it takes. With one goal in mind, that we would be His people, that He would be our God.
Our preaching must reveal this love, it must help us explore its dimensions, even as our sacramental ministry must help our people participate in it. Our prayers, our liturgy, our hymnody and praise music must help us contemplate it, experience it, respond to it.
We need to give them what they need to know about Jesus Christ, true God, true man. That in realizing His love for us, we begin to see the Father’s love for us, and God draws us to Himself.
This is what we need to teach, this is the gospel, and without it, our meetings our empty and vain.
Lord have mercy on us, and help us to draw people into communion with you, revealing the love you have for them, even as we celebrate that love together! AMEN!