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Can We Lament? Will We Recognize its Cause?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

1  Our glittering gold has grown dull; the stones of the Temple lie scattered in the streets. 2  Zion’s young people were as precious to us as gold, but now they are treated like common clay pots. 3  Even a mother wolf will nurse her cubs, but my people are like ostriches, cruel to their young. 4  They let their babies die of hunger and thirst; children are begging for food that no one will give them. 5  People who once ate the finest foods die starving in the streets; those raised in luxury are pawing through garbage for food. 6  My people have been punished even more than the inhabitants of Sodom, which met a sudden downfall at the hands of God.
Lamentations 4:1-6 (TEV)

Our inner life should not be less important to us than outward performance, than sports, or technical ability. The “growth of the interior person” is deserving of our whole commitment: the world needs those who have become interiorly mature and rich.

There are a lot of people “remembering” today. A lot of people saying “never forget”.

But what have they remembered? The heroes, of whom we have so little information and background? Are they remembering the pain, the shock, the hurt, and dare I say the hatred towards those that look like, or sound like those who hijacked planes?

Or are they fondly looking back at 9/12 and the “revival” of patriotism that swept America?

As I came across these two readings this morning, I wondered the unthinkable. How many of those people in the twin towers walked with God that day? How many of them didn’t?

As I read Jeremiah’s lament, I wonder if we’ve lost the ability to lament of the present, and only remember the past? Do we see the trauma today, as we look out on the homeless, those who are abused, those who are traumatized by their health, their finances, the relationships that are shadows, dark shadows of what they should be, that they are in? Do we see those who might let their babies die. Do we see those who are suffering the punishment due for their sin… or sadly… ours?

We need to lament of the present! We need to be able to see the brokenness that surrounds us, and be there, bringing the comfort that only God can give them, but gives to them through His people.

Many of those situations don’t have easy fixes. But lament, in the presence of God, reminds us that He is with us, that has a plan, His presence brings a peace that is beyond understanding, which is why a Christian makes a difference when they bear Jesus into that room, into that situation. Into that moment of despair.

But to do that, we have to be connected to God ourselves. We have to have the awareness of His presence that comes from wrestling with our own lament, and being comforted by Him. It comes from spending time communing with God, and finding the rich strength that comes to us as we take and eat, and take and drink the Body and Blood of the Lord. As we cry out with our heart, and know His response. As we find rest at the end of our tears, knowing He is our fortress and sanctuary, that He is our “safe place”

God is with us, and will be.

Not just as we remember on 9/11, but as we struggle every day amid trauma and strife, amid anxiety and pain, for He has sent us into these places, to reflect His light in darkness.

Lord, help us see that in our lives which we need to lament. Help us be there for those who do not know they can, help us hold the hands, dry the tears, weeop and laugh. Lord, help us to realize your presence, and do those things, not for their own sake, or even ours, but to walk with you. In Jesus name, AMEN!

Joseph Ratzinger, Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year, ed. Irene Grassl, trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 292.

The Theological Hymn the Entire Church Needs Today.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

22
 All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. 23  These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. 24  That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. 25  But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. 26  Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. 27  He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. 28  That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
Romans 8:22-28 (MSG)

But I pressed towards Thee, and was thrust from Thee, that I might taste of death: for thou resistest the proud. But what prouder, than for me with a strange madness to maintain myself to be that by nature which Thou art? For whereas I was subject to change (so much being manifest to me, my very desire to become wise, being the wish, of worse to become better), yet chose I rather to imagine Thee subject to change, and myself not to be that which Thou art.  (1)

139 Nothing less than Christ’s power is needed for our conflict with the devil. We know that for Christ’s sake we have a gracious God and his promise. And therefore, we pray that the Holy Spirit may govern and defend us, so that we may not be deceived and err, nor be driven to do anything against God’s will.  (2)

The congregation gathered around, absolutely devasted by the events they had endured.  They humbly gathered, downcast, not know what to do or say.  Heartbroken, unaware of how they will continue on, a simple, profound, wondrous hymn breaks out among them…

A hymn maligned, denigrated, and used as an example of poor hymnody, poor theology, poor worship by countless experts.  I will contend that if we learn this hymn if we sing it as it was meant to be sung, there are few that express the theological depth it does.

It doesn’t matter to those singing it, for it is a lament that expresses the only hope they have… the gentle words pleading for that which is promised.  A prayer expressed in words so significant that they must resonate in the church today.

“Kumbaya my Lord, Kumbaya, Kumbaya my Lord, Kumbaya, Kumbaya my Lord, Kumbaya, O Lord, Kumbaya;”

O Lord, be with us…” 

These words express the same sentiment that Augustine reveals he needed.  The attitude that is found in brokenness, the attitude of facing death, and dying to self.  St. Paul’s  words echo this, comparing this life’s brokenness to labor pains, as we await the recreation, the rebirth of all things.  It speaks of those moments when our hearts are too broken to know what to pray, and the Holy Spirit must be our intercessor, the translator of the groans too deep for words.

This song speaks of the eschatological hope we have in Christ, which St Peter begs us to be ready to do.

This song is an expression of the Theology of the Cross, the simple hope found in our brokenness and the healing promised and delivered in word and sacrament.

This song speaks of the incarnation, as we count on Christ’s presence in our lives

This song speaks of vocation, as it asks God to be there in every situation we encounter.

This song talks of the Omnipresence of God, who incarnates Himself into our lives, who draws us into Himself.

It speaks of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, our comforter-paraclete, who teaches us of God’s love.

Amazingly, this song speaks of the sacraments, as we know He has come to us as we are united to Him in the waters of baptism, as we hear His words, you are forgiven, as we are fed with His body and Blood.

It does all this in a humble way, not with glorious melodies, not with perfect 4 part harmony, not with a worship that seeks to impress both  God and those who are spectators. Rather, it is sung by voices barely able to create an audible noise.  It resonates with the depth of the hearts aid open.  It can capture the heart of all, growing in fervor, moving us from darkness to the glory found in His presence.

It is sung with hearts who realize their only hope, the only way to find peace, to receive mercy, is to encounter Almighty God in all His glory and plead for mercy, to cry the Kyrie Eleison, to plead, O Lord, be with us…

This must become again the cry of a church, in a broken world, for it points us to what is necessary, what we need to desire more than all, the presence of God.  Here, now, in our lives. 

May we be able to cry such words in faith, together, knowing that He who has promised is faithful….

Amen!

(1)   Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

(2)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 126). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Worship for Barren and Empty Souls

Flatiron from Brown's Peak Saddle - Four Peaks...

Flatiron from Brown’s Peak Saddle – Four Peaks Wilderness (Photo credit: Al_HikesAZ)

Discussion thought of the Day:

“The wilderness is still the place of worship. (as it was for Israel)   But for you and me ist is a matter of dunes and dry ground.  In fact, it may be deceptively gree.  Our Hunger and thirst are more spiritual realities than physical ones.  The desolation we often experience involves our yearning for a more palpable feeling of the Presence of God.  We need spiritual bread every it as much as they needed the manna in the wilderness.  Our deep need for Living Water is as intense as any thirst their parch throats ever knew.
As so we look to the One whose coming incranated for us the Manna, the Living Waterand the presence of God.  Jesus has entered into the wilderness of our wilderness and found us…. ” (1)

In a few hours I will be mentioning this passage in class.  This morning – as most morning goes – the revelation that Michael Card mentions above was why we gathered for church.  And even there, as I preached about the bondage caused by sin, and talked about our helplessness and need for Christ, I could “see” those who were burdened for others or by their own problems.  We are, in many ways – so similar to Israel wandering in the desert – awaiting a promised land.

I wonder how many of us realize the fertile ground that exists in the desert – just a little water – and it blossoms with plants and flowers, incredible beauty – in the midst of what was thought to be barren.  It just takes the touch of heaven to bring it forth.

So to in our lives….I’ve seen it too many many times to count.  There is great beauty in the wilderness – there is a dance that comes from mourning, there is always life and reconciliation where we thought there was only darkness and despair.  The key… simply is worship – worshipping the One who invades our wilderness, who brings light into the darkness. Who comes with compassion and comfort.

And in that darkness, in that solitude – as we find Christ finding us… we find life – and a life that praises – that glories – that begins to recognize the healing brought to us. …

And oh – how we need it.  O how I need it – even though I know it is there…

If I can help you find it – this hope, this incredible mercy, this love and the presence of God, I would love to….

For as I see you find it – I am reminded it is there for me as well.

Lord Have mercy on us, and help us realize Jesus, that you have!

 

(1) Michael Card, The Sacred Sorrow – page 24

Anne Hathaway, Les Mis, and….Liturgy

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Disclaimer – I am not a fan of musicals, or even stage theatre.  I did like Phantom and Wicked because of the plots – but.. I would much rather see a great concert (Kansas, Styx) or the LOTR if I am sitting in theatre seats.

Having said that, my wife and I saw the movie Les Mis the other night.  ( Did I say I hate musicals?)  Those acting in the movie intrigued me, and I went, preparing to make a sacrifice to see the movie.

From the first, I was stunned by Anne Hathaway.  Not the cutest role ever for her, not by a long shot.  But perhaps the most breathtaking performance of her life. As she goes from purest despair and lament over her situation, as hopeless as any can be… her voice sings a song that is normally one that is supposedly, “inspiriational”.  You hear it on shows like American’s Got Talent, when someone wants to impress the judges with their voice – range, power all of it.  Anne’s performance rises up against all of them, and confronts them all- for the song is one of lament, of pain, of anguish – and she sings it that way.

One of the reasons I don’t like stage musicals – is that they are, for many, simple performances.  They are directed and choreographed in such a way… that the power of voices overcomes and drowns out the power of the story, the pathos of the charachter, as they throw themselves into singing the song – for the song’s sake.  The play simply becomes the vehicle for solo performance after solo performance, with some group pieces tossed into the mix.  Not so with this one – the music and singing served the play – and I have to admit – not even begrudgingly, that it was incredible.  Because everything served the story – because the actors and actresses – Anne especially, seemed driven to live the role.

Sometimes I think we treat church like that – the liturgy serves to set up this hymn or that choir or praise team piece.  We sit and yes, we sing, but for some reason, we forget the story line – we don’t throw ourselves – whether pastor, musicians, or congregation into the story that is being revealed.   When we say AMEN! after we have been told we have been cleansed of the guilt and shame of our multitude of sins – we react – that’s nice… oh yeah Amen!.  When we sing the Kyrie, our heart doesn’t plead for the Lord’s mercy and presence…and love as we hear our needs – our desperate need for God’s presence… realized.

One of my dreams – one of my goals, has been for a long time – to help people not just be involved in the liturgy – but to live it – just as Anne does the role.  To sing with the passion appropriate – as we sing the Gloria to do so with the awe of those who have realized – He has had mercy! He is here!  The Church, His Bride, He has come for!   As we sing the Sanctus, the great Holy Holy Holy – we hear the angels and archangels and all the host of heaven joining in with us…. as we pass the peace – to share the joy of realizing that God has not only reconciled us to Him, but to each other…that ALL is forgiven.

And when we sing the Agnus Dei – as the Lamb of God – who takes away the sins of the world… as He shares His body, His blood, with us, the awe… the majesty, the raw love – there for us… and the joy of Simeon’s Song – as we walk away from the feast – knowing that God is with us, that we have seen, we have tasted salvation…. oh the joy that should be evident from our voices.

I am not saying we should act, but you get the feeling that Anne somehow wasn’t acting – she was the role – she was in the story.   Not really sure how she did that – for Les Mis is a work of fiction – though it touches us all at a deep emotional level.  SO much more should the real story of the Liturgy – of the need for God, of His coming and teaching and healing and feeding and loving and cleansing and….bringing us into His presence… that story should sweep us all off our feet… and into the story in which we live.

For liturgy is not just a way to “do church”.  It is our story, intertwined with that of Christ, that runs the gamut of every emotion… that leaves us… in His peace….

I pray this helps you….become the church…not just be there……

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