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Is there anything on earth…like heaven?

10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional Thought fo the Day:

“What God has planned for people who love him is more than eyes have seen or ears have heard. It has never even entered our minds!”  1 Cor. 2:9 CEV

When Gideon looked, the angel was gone. 22 Gideon realized that he had seen one of the LORD’s angels. “Oh!” he moaned. “Now I’m going to die.”  “Calm down!” the LORD told Gideon. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re not going to die.” Gideon built an altar for worshiping the LORD and called it “The LORD Calms Our Fears.”  Judges 6:21-24 CEV

Even the atheistic philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “There comes a time when you say even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?’ ” How can we understand anything of Heaven if there is nothing at all on earth to compare it to, nothing heavenly, nothing that never gets boring? Thus either Heaven is boring, or something on earth is not boring, or nothing on earth is like Heaven.
There are two parts to the answer: first, that everything on earth except agape is meant to be boring; and second, that agape is not.

So let us take up this problem: genuine art is “esoteric in the best sense”, say Rahner and Vorgrimler; liturgy is simple; it must be possible for everyone, particularly the simple, to participate. Can liturgy accommodate real church music? Does it in fact demand it, or does it exclude it? In looking for an answer to these questions, we will not find much help in our theological inheritance. It seems that relations between theology and church music have always been somewhat cool.

As I read Kreeft’s words in scripture today, I was amazed by their accuracy. We don’t understand heaven, we can’t conceive of it, even as the Apostle Paul says in the first quote.

I remember a professor quoting one of the early revivalists who said if he could give people a minute of hell, he would never have to convince them to repent.  My sarcastic comment was, “but what if we could give them a glance of heaven?”

Sarcastically said then, but I’ve thought of the wisdom of it – how can we give people a taste of heaven?  How can we help them know the joys of which we should sing?  That which is “beyond” theology, that which defies our explanation?

How can we show them the holiness, the glory, the pure love that we will experience in heaven? How can we help them experience love beyond love, as radical as the day is from the darkest, stormiest night?

The church’s liturgy aims to do so, revealing the love of God as we celebrate our forgiveness, the Lord dwelling among us, the actions He takes to bless and transform us into His holy people, and the feast of the broken bread and the wine, the Body and Blood of Jesus. The feast that celebrates the love, the feast that opens, for a few moments, a view for our souls of heaven.

I love the story of Gideon, especially the verses above. Here he is, somehow missing the miracles the Angel did, then realizing afterward the significance of being in the presence of a holy messenger.  He starts to freak out, the anxiety builds as he realizes his own sin and inadequacy. His glimpse of something holy, someone from heaven, causes enormous fear.

Then the Lord God tells him to chill.

Wait – where was he?

God does speak to us still, just as He did to Gideon.  One of the ways that should happen is in our church’s gathering.  Even as we receive the message we will struggle with, that kills oof our sinful self, and raises us to life with the crucified Christ.  Even as we struggle with that, the Lord comes to us in His feast and tells us, don’t fear, I am with you…

That is why we have a dilemma about the art of leading liturgy and the art of leading songs and hymns that accompany it. The use of the term “art” makes us think it is a showcase for the best o our talents. It isn’t!

What the art is, is not found in the musician’s talent, or the pastor, in the charisma. It is found in the communion, the communication of revealing to people they dwell in the presence of God, and helping them to hear His voice. Therein is the art, there is our target, the goal we strive for, there is our art.

There is our joy as well, for the connection is undeniable, and beautiful beyond words, as people come to know they are loved… as they feast with the Lord, knowing the joy that only comes from knowing you are loved.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 88.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 100.

Almost Tempted to…but I can’t…

Jesus Laughing

Devotional Thoughts of the Day:

After the LORD helps you wipe out these nations and conquer their land, don’t think he did it because you are such good people. You aren’t good—you are stubborn!  Deut 9:4-6 CEV

Liturgy does not come about through regulation. One of the weaknesses of the postconciliar liturgical reform can doubtless be traced to the armchair strategy of academics, drawing up things on paper which, in fact, would presuppose years of organic growth.

It ought to grow and become firmer amid good works as well as temptations and dangers, so that we become ever stronger in the conviction that God cares for us, forgives us, and hears us for Christ’s sake. No one learns this without many severe struggles. How often our aroused conscience tempts us to despair when it shows our old or new sins or the uncleanness of our nature! This handwriting is not erased without a great conflict in which experience testifies how difficlt a thing faith is.

Sigmund Freud is a good example. In Civilization and Its Discontents, he argues against altruistic love as the meaning of life and the key to happiness by saying simply, “But not all men are worthy of love.” No, indeed they are not. Agape is quite defenseless against this objection. The love we are talking about goes beyond reason, and a rationalist like Freud just does not see it. We who take agape for granted because of our Christian education should realize its precariousness. There is simply no effective rational answer to the challenge: “But give me a reason why I should love someone who does not deserve it.” Love is the highest thing. There can be no higher reason to justify it.

Fourth, some say, “I would indeed have confidence that my prayer would be answered if I were worthy and possessed merit.” I reply: If you refuse to pray until you know or feel yourself worthy and fit you need never pray any more. For as was said before, our prayer must not be based upon or depend upon our worthiness or that of our prayer, but on the unwavering truth of the divine promise

The People of the “poor”—those who, humble and meek, rely solely on their God’s mysterious plans, who await the justice, not of men but of the Messiah—are in the end the great achievement of the Holy Spirit’s hidden mission during the time of the promises that prepare for Christ’s coming.

It has never happened before. From every book I read a section of in my devotional reading, something struck me important enough to put down, to consider, and to process my thoughts all together. (Spurgeon will be a later blog…but His is impressive too)

Tempting to just leave the quotes here for you to read.

They are that significant, at least to me.

But I do this to process through these works of scripture, and of other believers who struggle with faith.  So I need to struggle, to let these words wrestle with my soul.

The reading from the Old Testament sets it all up and confirms what I (and probably one or two of you already know.

We aren’t good enough.

We sin, We screw up, we get hurt and contain the resentment inside us.

And if we expect God to be on our side because we are good American Christians who have better morals and values than the rest of the world, we are the most deceived people to ever live.

Kreeft and Luther tell us in following quotes that knowing this is okay.  We don’t have to justify God’s loving us. God isn’t unreasonable or illogical, but His ways are beyond ours, His ways are the purest, deepest, highest love. God listens to us, our needs, our groans, our pleas, not based on how worthy we are – in fact, that is the beauty of His logic.

That is where the Catholic Catechism and Lutheran Confessions come to play, noting our struggle, noting the need for humility, noting the Holy Spirit’s miracle in bringing us to depend on God, even when our minds are convinced we cannot. If I could add another 2000 words, I would explore that more.  We have got to understand that the struggle to have faith in God, when we know our brokenness, is part of the journey of faith, the journey to depend on God who is there, working in our lives. That faith isn’t some random intellectual decision that fires off, it is a miracle.  It happens because of an encounter with God that goes beyond our ability to explain.

That is why Liturgy cannot be drawn up or manipulated by those in ivory offices, those disconnected from the altar where Christ’s Body and Blood come to feed the people of God.  Pope Benedict is right on in that quote.  Or, as Pascal noted, “GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob! not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.” The worship service needs to see people encounter God, be in awe of Him, afraid, and yet comforted by His love and mercy.

That can’t be observed, that can’t be experienced in some far off place in St. Louis or Rome. It happens here, where the struggle is, where we need to know He loves us, even as we are not worthy of that love. That is the message our church services, our Liturgy needs to develop by resonating it deep into the souls of the people of God.

In your soul and mine. (gulp)

Yes, this is about us… and that should stagger you… for it does stagger me.

You may never consider yourself lovable by God. You may never think you are good or worthy or holy enough for Him to listen to your prayers, to laugh and cry with you…

That doesn’t matter… HE DOES.

 

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 81.

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 160–161.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 60–61.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 88–89.

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 189.

Does Worship/Liturgy have to change? The Question Isn’t “if” but “why!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought for the Day:
27  Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. Mark 2:27 (NLT2)

6  Dear brothers and sisters, if I should come to you speaking in an unknown language, how would that help you? But if I bring you a revelation or some special knowledge or prophecy or teaching, that will be helpful. 7  Even lifeless instruments like the flute or the harp must play the notes clearly, or no one will recognize the melody. 8  And if the bugler doesn’t sound a clear call, how will the soldiers know they are being called to battle? 9  It’s the same for you. If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space. 1 Corinthians 14:6-9 (NLT2)

For it is the existential presence of the celebrating, praying faithful which makes the liturgy into the worship of God; change is necessary so that their awareness of what is going on and of their part in it are not restricted by extraneous factors. Roman history reveals a most eloquent example of a form of worship which had become unintelligible. After three centuries no one any longer understood the ritual, the ceremonies or the meaning it was all meant to express, with the result that religion dried up and became an empty shell, although it was no less practiced than before. The lesson is that, if liturgy is to retain its vitality and have an influence on individuals and society, there must be a continual process of adaptation to the understanding of believers. For believers too, after all, are people of their time, people of their world.

Over the past 40 years, I have participated in just about every flavor of worship service and liturgy on could imagine. I have play pipe organs in my youth, and electric guitars and keyboards, done traditional non-denom worship, and straight out of the hymnal liturgy.

I have my preferences, and they would probably surprise most people who know me.

Preference laid aside, and it must be, there is only one reason to change the wording of the liturgy or the way a church worships.

Only one.

It is what Paul is the very pragmatic reason Paul is discussing, in relation to the very real gift of tongues, in 1 Corinthians 14. It echoes Jesus teaching about the Sabbath.

Does your liturgy,  your order of worship allow people to hear God, and does it allow them to respond to Him?

The Lutheran confessions talk of the mass’s chief purpose to give people what they need to know about Jesus. His love, His mercy, His presence in their life. What they need to know – not just with their mind, but with their heart, soul and strength.

Do the words said and sung communicate this in an understandable way?  If not, reset them.  Do the people have the opportunity to experience the awe of being in the presence of God and respond to Him with joy?  If not renew your service, focus it on the incarnate God who loves them.  Open up the lines of communication, ensure that they know God speaks to them in a way that anyone can understand.

Maintaining the liturgy that doesn’t communicate to people is a waste of time.  So is changing it for any other reason is just as much a waste of time.

Lord, help us to guide your people until with heart, soul, mind, and strength realize that You love them all.  And then, help us guide their discussion with you, their prayers and praises.  

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 79.

Does God Still Surprise Us?

Ponte sisto

Devotional Thought of the day

22 His answer surprised them so much that they walked away..…33 The crowds were surprised to hear what Jesus was teaching.  Matt 22:22, 33 CEV

 This development reflected the new liturgical awareness which had been growing in these years. At that time, young people were interested not so much in the inherited dogmatic problems of eucharistic doctrine as in the liturgical celebration as a living form [Gestalt]. They found that this form, or structure, was a theological and spiritual entity with an integrity of its own. What previously had been the rubricist’s sphere of operations, mere ceremonial, having no apparent connection with dogma, now seemed to be an integral part of the action. It was its actual manifestation, apart from which the reality itself would remain invisible. Some years later Joseph Pascher put it like this: as far as the structure is concerned, up to now people had only paid attention to the rubrics, to what was printed in red; now it was time to give equal attention to the red and the black print. “There is far more in the form and structure of the texts and the whole celebration than in the rubrics.”

Throughout scripture, I find God surprising people.

Sometimes it is with what they are taught, as in my readings from Matthew this morning. Sometimes it is with the call, the role He gives them in life, as they minister and try to lead the people who need to find themselves, by discovering their relationship with God.

So why does He keep surprising us? Or perhaps the question is “how” He keeps doing so.

The latter question is seen in the words from Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI)  We get so caught up in “how” we worship God, how we serve Him, that we don’t hear the words we read, that we sing, that we preach or hear in the sermon.  We get so caught up in the forms and directions for doing them right, (the rubrics – which were printed in red by the printers of worship hymnals, missals, and the agendas – the books that guide pastors/priests) Pascher talks about giving equal weight to form and matter, even realizing there is what is said.

We do that today as well, getting more focused on how we worship and how we live than in the glory of God that surrounds us, for we are His people. That is why some police morality and thoughts more than seek God’s face.  Why some think revival comes from people being corrected in thought, word and deed, rather than realizing that their errors in thought word and deed are forgiven, and the damage done by sin God will heal.  (That is what forgiveness really is, by the way, not just the removal of the punishment, but the healing of the damage done!)

That is why it is surprising when miracles happen, or when prodigals we gave up on come home. It is why we hide our sin and brokenness, rather than talking about it freely, we struggle to believe God will forgive what we cannot believe can be forgiven. It is why we have developed a culture that still is based on shame and guilt, rather than in the hope of restoration and the love that brings it about.

These things are taught in our liturgies, whether complex or simple. It should be heard in our sermons and our prayers celebrated and rejoice over in our songs sung in church and throughout the week.

And when we are surprised by what Jesus reveals to us in His word, then again give thanks, for the Holy Spirit is keeping us focused on Jesus… and the form will naturally follow.  As the ancients taught, as we worship, so we believe … and so we practice.

Lord Jesus, we ask that you keep surprising us, that you keep revealing to us the promises, and even more your presence and love which makes us sure of them.  Lord, help us never grow stale or dull in our dependence on You but keep us marveling at how You sustain and heal us.  AMEN!

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 33–34.

What Does Corporate Worship Matter?

Photo by MIXU on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of The Day:

23  But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 24  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” 25  The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26  Then Jesus told her, “I AM the Messiah!” John 4:23-26 (NLT2)

Faced with the political and social crises of the present time and the moral challenge they offer to Christians, the problems of liturgy and prayer could easily seem to be of second importance. But the question of the moral standards and spiritual resources that we need if we are to acquit ourselves in this situation cannot be separated from the question of worship. Only if man, every man, stands before the face of God and is answerable to him, can man be secure in his dignity as a human being. Concern for the proper form of worship, therefore, is not peripheral but central to our concern for man himself.

She knew so little, but enough to hold on to some hope… … …

This lady who had depend on a guy to live, and had to depend on him in the most desperate way, still had a little of her childhood religion to cling too, but often, she must have wondered.

Many of us, even us pastors, wonder at times. in the midst of all of the broken and shattered mess of ife, wonder if that 90 minutes on Sunday, and maybe another 60 on Tuesday or Wednesday night makes a difference.

We pin our hope on the return of Jesus, and that is appropriate, but it can seem so far away, and how do we endure this moment, and the next. Will we be able to stand up after the next one?

She was standing before him, and she realized who she was, and that changed everything. A far off dream became true hope, that is what it means to find yourself in the presence of God who tells you, “I AM”

This is what should happen in worship, as we come face to face with God, who looks at our life, and smiles, and says I AM here, even as He proceeds to clean us up, to heal our brokenness, . That is why we worship together, to witness this happen in each other’s lives, as God comes to us, and reveals Himself.

I was able to witness this Sunday, as my partner in ministry was able to commune his father for the first time. I have seen it as the women abandoned finds hope for her and her two daughters. I see it in the old man broken by health, who lives each week to take the Body of Christ in hand, to pass his own hand over and caress the baptismal font. I see it in the little child who doesn’t go to church, but in its preschool answers, “God takes care of us, He gives us our food, He is always with us,” and another preschooler who scribbled, “He took our sins away, and that makes us feel better”, because they learn these things in chapel together.

In those moments, the broken words seem to have faded away. Political and social crisis don’t matter at the font and the altar.

In those moments, we realize how precious these people’s lives are.

In these precious moments, we realize He is with us! AMEN!



Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 7.

Worship is more than a service!

Word, bread, wine, CHRIST IS WITH US!

Devotional Thought of the Day:

40 But God raised him from death three days later and caused him to appear, 41 not to everyone, but only to the witnesses that God had already chosen, that is, to us who ate and drank with him after he rose from death. 42 And he commanded us to preach the gospel to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God has appointed judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets spoke about him, saying that all who believe in him will have their sins forgiven through the power of his name.” Acts 10:40-43 GNT

Worship is not only submission, but also translates into the mystery of ‘communion’ and ‘union’.

A conversation I had this week touched on the idea of liturgical worship and its connection to evangelism. I thought it interesting that it wasn’t considered as a natural progression.

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be, given all the years of worship wars that have dominated churches, especially those who have a formal liturgy. Who defines worship and liturgy as what happens in a formal, even antiseptic manner as God blesses His people in a gathering and they respond back with canned prayers and hymns barely sung.

That isn’t worship – although it should be, too often we go about it so mechanically that it isn’t worship. It is simply a machine, a time where we keep everything highly organized and controlled. ( I am not sure if this is to stop our freedom, or to place God in a box!)

In the passage from Acts above, we see Peter describing a complete form of worship, the time where Jesus gathers His people around them and blessed them, and shares a meal with them. Here is our model for the mass, for the gathering on Sunday morning where we come to be taught and fed by God.

Worship includes that time of letting God provide for us, care for us. IN order to do that, we get at the heart of what submission is – not to bow in fear of getting beaten up or abused if we do not but submitting and letting someone else care for us. Think of Peter at the last supper, struggling to submit to Jesus washing his feet. Worship is realizing that we need God’s word, we need to hear of His promises and love, worship is letting Him feed us at the altar. This is the beginning of worship and it includes the prayers where we lay our entire lives before God, trusting Him to cleanse us, to heal our hearts, our minds and souls of the brokenness that is caused by our sin, and to allow Him to do whatever He finds pleasing with our lives.

It is that last part that is also communion, that is also the sweetest of unions. And yet it continues past the benediction, past the exit from the church, past the coffee and doughnuts.

That communion, that sweetest of unions occurs even as we reveal that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who judges His people as being righteous, as being Holy, as being worthy of being the children of God.

For that is what we learn, and re-learn in our church services, it is why our confession says “the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to give people what they need to know about Jesus Christ.”

And that is what our world needs to know… all about Jesus.

That is what our families, our friends, co-workers, and neighborhood needs to know… they need to know the love of Jesus…

The Jesus who died for us, and with whom we are risen to a new life, a life lived in communion. A life lived, being fed and feeding others.

Lord Jesus, help us to grow in our dependence on You, submitting ourselves to Your love and care. Thank You for inviting us to commune with You, to be united to You, and the Father and the Holy Spirit. AMEN!

Aguirre, J. I. M. D. (2012). Eucharistic Adoration and Sacred Scripture. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (p. 101). London; New York: Burns & Oates.

Is Worship Boring?

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:

14  When I think of the greatness of this great plan I fall on my knees before God the Father (from whom all fatherhood, earthly or heavenly, derives its name), and I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner re-inforcement – that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ – and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled though all your being with God himself!
20  Now to him who by his power within us is able to do far more than we ever dare to ask or imagine – to him be glory in the Church through Jesus Christ for ever and ever, amen! Ephesians 3:14-20 (Phillips NT)

77    You told me that to tie yourself to a plan of life, to a schedule, would be so monotonous! And I answered, “It is monotonous because you lack love.”

It is sometimes.  Ver much so more than I would like to admit.

It doesn’t matter if it is a high powered contemporary service, or a organ blasting traditional service, or a small intimate worship time on a retreat.

Church services can be boring, even monotonous,

And while the pastor and those who music facilitates our praises can impede or encourage worship, there is one key that absolutely makes the difference in whether you find a church and the worship service.

You.

I’ve seen couples where one is completely engaged in worship, one is actively engaged, and talks about church as the high point of their week.  The spouse, however, was so disengaged that they eventually fell asleep.

What makes the difference in perception is the person.

St Josemaria says it well, it is monotonous because of the truth of this, you lack love.

And if you lack love, there are two options, you are unable to love God and others, or what is necessary to love him, you haven’t been immersed in the reality of HIs love for you.  You haven’t had the opportunity, as St Paul desired for you, to explore the incredible dimensions of that love for you.

Not just know the love as a piece of data, because you can’t fully, it is so far beyond our comprehension, You need to be filled with that love, you need to be filled with God.

And that is the purpose of a church service, to help you explore that depth, and those who lead are simply guides on the journey.  Guides who hopefully are still in awe of the same journey, pointing out this treasured point, and that, how this explores the heights, and that explores the depths.

For if you know how incredible God’s love is for you,

And when you do, the hunger to more will help you engage, to enter the service as a participant as we dance with God, rather than being an observer.  For everyone has a part in worship, every voice has its role, a part in the service.  It’s not just about the guys up there in robes,   We are just there to point you to the love that God has for you, the incredible love that makes a difference in every aspect of your life.

So when you come into a church, expect something special, expect to hear you are loved, listen for it, rejoice in it, walk in it, even dance in it, and then love and adore the God who loves you.

The same service will never be the same.

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 339-340). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Our Life in the Christ: revealed in our Church’s liturgy, music, artwork..

Concordia Lutheran ChurchDevotional Thought of the Day:
10  And he gave these orders: “At the end of every seven years, the Year-All-Debts-Are-Canceled, during the pilgrim Festival of Booths 11  when everyone in Israel comes to appear in the Presence of GOD, your God, at the place he designates, read out this Revelation to all Israel, with everyone listening. 12  Gather the people together—men, women, children, and the foreigners living among you—so they can listen well, so they may learn to live in holy awe before GOD, your God, and diligently keep everything in this Revelation. 13  And do this so that their children, who don’t yet know all this, will also listen and learn to live in holy awe before GOD, your God, for as long as you live on the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.Deuteronomy 31:10-13 (MSG)

Christ has died.   
Christ has risen
Christ will come again
We were dead in our sins
Now we’re buried with Him
We are risen in Christ
We are given new life
And Christ will bring us home
Making us his own
Christ has died
Christ has risen
Christ will come again!

The Christian images, as we find them in the catacombs, simply take up and develop the canon of images already established by the synagogue, while giving it a new modality of presence. The individual events are now ordered toward the Christian sacraments and to Christ himself. Noah’s ark and the crossing of the Red Sea now point to Baptism. The sacrifice of Isaac and the meal of the three angels with Abraham speak of Christ’s Sacrifice and the Eucharist. Shining through the rescue of the three young men from the fiery furnace and of Daniel from the lions’ den we see Christ’s Resurrection and our own. Still more than in the synagogue, the point of the images is not to tell a story about something in the past, but to incorporate the events of history into the sacrament. In past history, Christ with his sacraments is on his way through the ages. We are taken into the events. The events themselves transcend the passing of time and become present in our midst through the sacramental action of the Church.
The centering of all history in Christ is both the liturgical transmission of that history and the expression of a new experience of time, in which past, present, and future make contact, because they have been inserted into the presence of the risen Lord. As we have seen already and now find confirmed anew, liturgical presence contains eschatological hope within it. All sacred images are, without exception, in a certain sense images of the Resurrection, history read in the light of the Resurrection, and for that very reason they are images of hope, giving us the assurance of the world to come, of the final coming of Christ.

324 Looking at his mercy, faith comforts and consoles us. Our opponents teach wrongly when they praise merits in such a way as to add nothing about this faith that takes hold of mercy

The readings this morning were just crammed full of thoughts that I needed to hear.  I could have doubled the amount I quoted, and foregone writing.  Except that I need to, for as I’ve said before, my devotions have to be thought through, meditated upon, and brought together in my writing.  It used to be called spiritual journaling, and someone once suggested i put it out there to be shared.

Today, it seemed like a lot of my readings were set up to talk about living within the story.  About faith is a life of dependence on God, living in harmony with Him, rather than a statement of what theological statements we hold to be true.

We see that in the words from the Lutheran confessions, as we take hold of mercy. That is faith, this incredible love of God that is revealed to us, that floods our lives so that we can hold onto it.  For faith is an engagement with God with not our mind at first, but our heart and soul.

Pope Benedict in the longest quote talks about this in the imagery in the early church and the synagogue, when visuals made our sacramental life part of the narrative poured out in visual representation.  And all of that representation is reflected in the resurrection, the very summit of our being made one with Christ.  For we are united to Him in His death, in order that we can rise to our new life with Him.

That is the reason for the reading of the entire community of Israel, over 2 million people, plus the foreigners that make their home among them.  (Note that part about the aliens!) They were to know the covenant, so that they could be in awe of God’s love and provision for them!  Even more than that, this awe was lived out before Him. In other words, not just in His are of vision, but right before Him, in His presence.

As I was reading all of this, I thought of my friend’s version of the liturgical hymn, the Memorial Acclamation.  Chris is not only an incredible musician and professor of worship but has a great understanding of sacramental covenant theology.   So when he recomposed this ancient part of Christian worship, he not only told Christ’s story, but he made clear what was inferred.  That we share in that death, and in that resurrection, and in Christ’s coming again.  What has become veiled and vaguely visible, Chris revealed in a glorious way. ( You can hear a rock version of it at the link!)

Every aspect of our ministry, from the music to the artwork and images, to the words we speak and lessons and liturgy are geared to help us make this transition.  We are not just people reading about history, we aren’t just witnesses to the story, we are the characters in the story, living and interacting in great awe with God.  Just as people have done since Adam and Eve walked through the garden.  Our people may not realize this, so we need, like Israel, to teach them more and more.  They need to know it, they need to experience His love. as do we, as do our communities.

May the Lord make this happen, opening our eyes more and more to His love!

AMEN!

 

The Memorial Acclimation by Rev. Dr. Christopher Gillette
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSOPkjcqfF4

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

Did Jesus Come For You?

nativityDevotional Thought of the Day:

15 While He was reclining at the table in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also guests with Jesus and His disciples, because there were many who were following Him. 16 When the scribes m of the Pharisees saw that He was eating p with sinners q and tax collectors, r they asked His disciples, “Why does He eat s with tax collectors and sinners?”
17 When Jesus heard this, He told them, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor,  but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Mark 2:15-17

In revising the Roman office, its ancient and venerable treasures are to be so adapted that all those to whom they are handed on may more extensively and easily draw profit from them.

It is one of the great paradoxes of Christianity, those who think Jesus wouldn’t associate with them are the very ones He came to unite to himself.  And those, who think they are spiritually adept often miss out on the blessing.

I dare say that our liturgies have for too long aided and abetted this problem.  The look and sound more like the pious Pharisee than the broken tax-collector.  The content of our services, from the mass to vespers and then compline need to be in the language that is profitable, that is beneficial for those broken by the weight of sin.  It needs to resonate with their soul and reveal to them the love and mercy of God, their God, who would have them dwell in peace.

I think those at Vatican II and those who influenced the council’s deliberations were starting to see this.  That the liturgy was for all the people of God, not just those who knew the right actions, the right words, and could repeat them without knowing the power of their meaning.  ( I wish my own small part of Christianity would follow suit, but I fear it is heading away from such thoughts)

We desperately need to be formed by the word of God in our prayers, in our liturgy.  And by we, I don’t mean those on the membership roster of our church and the churches we trust.  It means all the people of God, those He died for, those He is drawing to himself, those who may fight now, only to be baptized tomorrow.  The people of God include all who don’t believe God’s mercy is available to them, for in their humility, they will receive it. Those who think they are good enough already, why would they bother? The liturgy can cause us to really cry out for His mercy, and express praise and wonder at God’s love seen as Jesus was slaughtered like a lamb, that we might live.

If the word is to form us, we have to be able to understand it, simply and without a dictionary, lexicon, and thesaurus by our side.  This message is to needed, to precious, to amazing to conceal it with elaborate words, and movements that have no meaning because they are not know, not explained, not heard.

We all, from the youngest to the oldest, from every continent and country, from every economic group, language group, everyone, needs to know that Jesus came for us all.  It is really a simple concept, one spoken originally in simple Hebrew, Aramaic, and common Greek.  We can and show do the same today so that the people God draws to us will know Him, as the Spirit reveals Him to them through our words, our music, our liturgy.

As we finalize our words for the Christmas celebration, may we do so, and may all those the Spirit draws near profit from them.  AMEN!

Catholic Church. “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

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The Search for Real Worship

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:
21  “Believe me,” returned Jesus, “the time is coming when worshipping the Father will not be a matter of ‘on this hill-side’ or ‘in Jerusalem’. Nowadays you are worshipping with your eyes shut. We Jews are worshipping with our eyes open, for the salvation of mankind is to come from our race. Yet the time is coming, yes, and has already come, when true worshippers will worship in spirit and in reality. Indeed, the Father looks for men who will worship him like that. God is spirit, and those who worship him can only worship in spirit and in reality.” John 4:21 (Phillips NT)

17. In seminaries and houses of religious, clerics shall be given a liturgical formation in their spiritual life. For this they will need proper direction, so that they may be able to understand the sacred rites and take part in them wholeheartedly; and they will also need personally to celebrate the sacred mysteries, as well as popular devotions which are imbued with the spirit of the liturgy. In addition they must learn how to observe the liturgical laws, so that life in seminaries and houses of religious may be thoroughly influenced by the spirit of the liturgy.
18. Priests, both secular and religious, who are already working in the Lord’s vineyard are to be helped by every suitable means to understand ever more fully what it is that they are doing when they perform sacred rites; they are to be aided to live the liturgical life and to share it with the faithful entrusted to their care

The purpose of observing ceremonies is that men may learn the Scriptures and that those who have been touched by the Word may receive faith and fear and so may also pray.

When I was a child, my parents had a prayer meeting in our house, that lots of people attended.  It was not unusual for a few priests, a brother, a couple of Baptist pastors and an Assembly of God pastor to be present.  It was there I played guitar with Brother Michael, and there I learned to pray.

I also went to parochial school, and there we had masses and other services that were dedicated to God as well.  I would often serve as an altar boy and played the organ as well.  From those perspectives, I saw more of the mass and fell in love with the sacredness of it, even the parts I didn’t quite understand.

Since then, I’ve played and led praise bands, become a non-denomination pastor, then moved into the Lutheran Church where a form of the historic liturgy is our “style” of worship.  And yet the lessons from the prayer meetings and non-denom worship leading play into the planning of worship as well.

As I read Vatican II’s words in green this morning, I saw them trying to unify the two streams of worship I have known.  Starting with the pastoral training in seminaries, there must be part of that training that teaches the pastors and priests to worship God with all their heart, to understand and actively take part in the mysterion of God, to realize the Trinity is not just observing the mass, but participating in it.

Liturgy must be “lived” whether it is the historic liturgy or the common liturgy of prayer meetings and evangelical gathering.  Those facilitating it must get caught up in it themselves, so that while they are aware of the people’s participation, they first are praising God for all He is, in their life.

It’s not about being the best musician, the best singer, the perfect reader of scripture, the perfect liturgist. ( We can add ushers, altar guild members, sound techs, parishioners)  It is about knowing the presence of God in this place, of realizing the blessings He is pouring out, and responding with others, even helping them to do value this time with God.

These words we say, and in the liturgy they are all from scripture, are the words of God, scripture read and sang and breathed.  They are the words of life that kept Peter and the apostles bound to Jesus when everyone else ran away. They are the words, as the Apology of the Augsburg Confession states. that touch us. That the Spirit uses to draw us into Christ, to develop in us a dependence on Him, and in that dependence, to pour out all we are upon Him.

This isn’t something I think we teach people to do in a lecture, or even in a sermon.  It is something that is modeled and formed in them, and in order for that to happen, it must be modeled and formed in those who lead. Whether this is in a full liturgy, or in a back yard worship time that simply happens among friends.

God is with us, may we realize this, and help those who come to our churches, bible studies and prayer meetings realize it, and when they do, cry confidently, “Lord, have mercy on us”

 

Catholic Church. “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print

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