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The Posture of Love

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

The disciples gather around Jesus in the upper room. Before the meal begins, Jesus surprises and disturbs his followers by laying aside his garments, kneeling down, and washing their feet. Peter is shocked. In spite of his objections, Peter still submits to Jesus. All the disciples yield to the washing, blessing, cleansing act of Jesus.

Then he gets up, restores his clothes, looks at them and says, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life” (John 13: 12-17, The Message).

Let’s pause this story for a moment while I tell another story. A love story. Not a typical love story. At least, not the typical love story we’ve grown up hearing. It’s a story about a people living outside of love, outside the community of the faithful, outside the city. A people living by the dump, Gehenna. A people used to breathing the toxic fumes of society’s waste. It’s a people who have completely forgotten that they are beloved.

God comes to these tax collectors, prostitutes, demoniacs, and he eats with them. He drinks with them. He loves them. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God comes to His people to love and heal and embrace them. But they are so far in the dark that their initial response is not to turn toward Him but away from Him. He comes into the lives of the dark people, the forsaken people, the abandoned people, the lost people, and loves them fully, completely.

His love is unpredictable and everyone misunderstands. Jesus keeps loving, confronting, and immersing them in the surprising shape of His love. He is loving this mixed community into family. He pursues His people like a groom running toward His bride. Eventually, they behold the complete form of His love, and much to their surprise it looks like suffering and death.
People tell stories about the pain of lost love, forsaken love, unrequited love, but the most painful love story is the complete unveiling of true love. It is the deepest sorrow and the deepest joy. In the mystery of the Love of Jesus, death and life are intertwined and reversed. Sorrow becomes singing. And by the Spirit of Resurrection, death gives way to Life Unconquerable. This is the love story that gives birth to all true love stories.

We return to the twelve, sitting around Jesus, yielding to His service. Before His death, before His crucifixion, He gathers the twelve together. And he kneels before them. If not for the revelation of this action in John’s Gospel, the horror of this act seems almost unspeakable. Consider for a moment the implications of such an act.

An immoral woman kneels before Jesus and washes His feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, kisses them with her lips, and anoints them with her perform. Jesus acknowledges her act of adoration and blesses her, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” He speaks as the true king. He speaks as the Son of God. He speaks as the Creator and Redeemer of the World. “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

The posture of kneeling is the posture of submission before a ruler, and adoration before a god. Kneeling, bowing is a significant act of humility and worship. The second command warns against bowing down before false images of any kind.

Jesus kneels before the disciples.

What could this mean? How could the Creator of the World kneel before His created? How can we even begin conceive of the humiliation? We may miss the deep humiliation of the cross if we cannot see the unspeakable humiliation of Jesus kneeling to wash His disciples feet. He assumes the posture of the supplicant.

At first, the disciples are distraught and confused with Peter speaking as usual on behalf of the rest, “No Lord!” But Jesus says, “Yes and Amen.” There is no choice. Peter must submit. The Lord of Creation kneels before Peter and washes His feet.

Jesus does not violate the second commandment because these are not false images, they are true images. Created in His image, they’ve been disfigured by sin, but they are still imaging the Lord. He gathers, cleans, restores, heals the images of God. He begins in love, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son.” And now He ends in love, “Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end.”

He loves them completely. This kneeling is but a foretaste of the deeper humiliation to come that will also express His love, His Father’s love. Jesus reveals the love of the Father in His every word, His every action. He also reveals the pattern, the shape, the form of love in His complete person. Love is Word, Body, Act. His whole person patterns, images love.

As He restores these broken images, He tells them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.”

He also says, “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”

Jesus enfleshes the shape of love, in Word, in Deed. In serving, in humbling Himself, in honoring His people. In life, in death, and in life eternal. Just as he gathered those twelve unto Himself, He is still gathering, still comforting, still healing, still cleansing, still loving. He invites us into His action.

From the vantage of kneeling, we see the other person in a whole new light. The light of Jesus cleansing, glorifying, beautifying love.  In Him, the world is made new. In Him, the broken is made whole. In Him the abandoned is welcomed. In Him, the mournful finds joy. In Him, the image is restored.

So we serve and wash and even kneel in Him by the power of His Spirit. We are becoming lovers His love. And His love is sending out into all the world to love, and embrace and reconcile all things to Him.

* – All Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright (c) 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Categories: Christianity, Jesus, love

Encountering Jesus Christ

January 20, 2011 3 comments

Encountering Jesus Christ
Doug Floyd
January 20, 2011 @ Knox Academy

To study Christ, to hear Christ, to learn Christ, begins with Christ coming, speaking, acting. Let us listen to the teachers who taught us to follow Christ. Let us look to the people whose lives and words are witnesses to Jesus Christ. Let us look back and listen to the first disciples.

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
(Luke 5:1-11 ESV)

Listen to the opening words of our passage, “On one occasion.”

On one occasion, Jesus climbed a mountain.

On one occasion, he gave water to the woman at the well.

On one occasion, he ate with Zacchaeus.

On one occasion, he stepped onto Peter’s boat.

In the life of Jesus, we behold God entering and transforming people on each occasion.

Tonight is one occasion. And Christ has stepped into our lives to change them forever.

Our story opens with a sense of contingency. In other words, this story didn’t have to happen. Jesus freely chooses to step onto boat. Jesus freely speaks the Word of God. Jesus freely breaks in to Peter’s world.

The crowds are pressing in on Jesus. He’s standing by the lake. He sees two boats. He gets in one boat. Did he have to get in that boat? The text doesn’t indicate that. Were the disciples begging him to climb in the boat? Were the disciples holding a prayer meeting, seeking for Jesus to climb on their boat?

No. They’ve finished a fruitless night of fishing. They’re cleaning their nets. And on one occasion Jesus steps onto one boat. He didn’t have to step onto that boat. But he did.

On one occasion, he entered the life of Simon. And Peter was forever changed.

Now before we continue, let’s go back to the first line of our story. The passage opens, “On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God…” Jesus is preaching. Jesus is teaching. Jesus is surrounded.

They press in to hear the Word of God.

….man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
(Deuteronomy 8:3 ESV)

Israel is literally in the desert. The children of the children who wandered across the wilderness, are wandering across the wilderness. They live under subjection to Rome. The once glorious kingdom, the hope of the nations, lies in a desert.

These tired, thirsty people press in to hear the Word of God.

the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst, (Isaiah 41:17 ESV)

The world was created, ordered and is sustained through the Word of God.

All creation is pressing in to hear the Word of God.

Humans were created in the image of God. His Word is the Breath that enlivens our clay forms.

All humanity is pressing in to hear the Word of God.

Even in our rebellion, we cannot live outside the Life giving Word of God. In His lovingkindess, our Father sustains all living things. He gives Breath even to the human who curse Him with that very breath.

Once we’ve tasted the sweetness of that Living Water. We thirst. We thirst. We thirst.

So we press in to hear the Word of God.

Even now, even hear, we are pressing in to hear the Word of God.

In our story, we see the Lord answer His people. The God of Israel does not forsake them. Jesus speaks, and when he speaks, they hear “the Word of God.” This is the first time Luke uses, the phrase “Word of God.” He uses the phrase in the way of the prophets, in the way of Moses. Moses speaks the “Word of God” to the people. In speaking, he creates the nation.

His creating and sustaining Word calls them out of Egypt. He calls them out of death. He calls them out of slavery. He speaks the “Word of God” and the nation of Israel is formed. The land, the people, and the heart are created and sustained by the Word of God.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
(Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)

Jesus speaks the Word of God, and it does not return void. The people hear water for their thirsty souls. They press in for more. Pressed in by an ocean of thirsty people, Jesus steps onto the boat, finishes speaking to the crowd and then turns to Simon Peter,

“Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

It’s the light of day. His command makes no sense. You cannot catch fish in the light day. And yet, he turns to Simon Peter,

“Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

They’ve fished all night. They’re cleaning the nets. They’re getting ready to go home. And yet he turns to Simon Peter and says,

“Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

The fish are not biting. Peter explains the situation to Jesus, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! And yet, he turns to Simon Peter and says,

“Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

The only response to the command of Christ is obedience.

Jesus speaks. Peter obeys. The nets burst. The boats almost sink.

Peter falls to his knees.

The weight of God’s glory breaks forth in Peter’s life. In his humiliation, he hears the word of consolation.

“Fear not!”

Like Isaiah, like Zechariah, like the Shepherds, like Mary, like Joseph, like a long history of saints before and after, he hears, “Fear not!” from the Lord.

This encounter with the Lord, with Jesus is sheer surprise. One moment Peter is cleaning his nets, the next moment he is falling before the face of Christ. He does not grasp this mystery. But in this mystery Christ grasps him.

Christ gathers Peter, James and John to himself. Our Lord is a gatherer. He gathered Abraham to himself, calling him to leave everything behind and follow. He gathers the Hebrews slaves to himself. He promises to gather all nations to himself.

The church, the ekklesia literally means the “called out ones” or the gathered ones. We are here tonight because Christ has gathered us. He has called us. He is present.

How do we study Jesus Christ? By His Grace alone. We cannot grasp our Lord. But he can grasp us. He can teach us. And like the disciples we can respond.

Peter, James and John leave everything behind and follow him.

Tonight is one occasion.

Even as we proclaim Christ, He is breaking in to our lives.

Let us press in to hear the Word of God.

Let us obey the call of Christ.

Let us, “Leave everything behind and follow him.”

Categories: Christianity

Catechism and the Power to Speak

May 3, 2010 8 comments

I’ve been lingering in Telford Work’s Brazos Commentary on Deuteronomy. His midrashic style invites slow rumination. He introduced the term “apochesis” when discussing Deuteronomy 4:25. He says,

“The apostasy is not just a failure of parent to catechize their children (cf. 6:7). It is a life of ‘apo-chesis’ in which parents train their children away from purity. Apochesis is endemic in our day when tradition is mistrusted, cultural revolution exalted, experimentation treated as expression, and youth glorified for its own sake.”

Work has adapted the term catachesis. This word comes from an ancient Greek term, katēcheō, meaning “to sound from above”(Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 3, Page 637) or to “teach by word of mouth” (Encyclopedia of Christianity, Vol 1, p 360). Two Greek words from this word, “kata” meaning according to, after, against, in, down (Strongs, 2596) and “echos” meaning sound and sometimes used to speak about the roar of the waves (Strongs, 2279).

This word was originally used as a dramatic term. The actors spoke down from the stage to the audience. The Scripture uses the word to mean instruction in the word or way of Jesus. So the idea of sounding from above captures the sense of an echo the resounds both in our instruction and in our reflection. The Word of Jesus resounds through His people and in His people. This word is instructing, guiding, opening our eyes to the Gospel and the way of the Jesus.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy says the speech is the power to create the future. Using his understanding of speech, we might see catechism as the way resound the Gospel and thus create the future. We remember, we rehearse, we resound the Gospel. The Gospel is a past historical event in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a present encounter in the Living Person of Jesus Christ we meet in and through the Spirit, and a future kingdom will be fully unveiled in the days to come. It seems to me that catechism capture all three tense: past, present and future. Thus we speak, proclaim, declare Christ is King even in the midst of corrupt and ruling powers.

With this in mind, I return to Work’s use of the word “apothesis.” Work is talking about a generation that choose not to speak, has forgotten to speak, has abandoned the power of speech. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote in the 1940s that he feared we were entering a “speechless future” (The Christian Future). We live in a world where the prevailing norm is a loss of real speech, words that create the future.

Apothesis seems an apt description to me of a people who have abandoned the future by abandoning the past. They have no power to resound the Word of God and thus they simply make sounds, or as Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy said somewhere, we use words for chatter (from one of his lectures). We are surrounded by chattering voices, sounding off bits of data stripped of vital life. Now more than ever, let us relearn to speak by listening to the Word made Flesh and resounding the Word made Flesh.

What is a Christian?

August 28, 2009 Leave a comment
they smile with their love (uploaded by t3xtures)

they smile with their love (uploaded by t3xtures)

“The Christian religion consists in becoming inebriated with love.”
Richard Wurmbrand

Modern Sickness, Disintegration and Nostalgia

June 17, 2008 Leave a comment

While searching for articles and books on Giambattista Vico yesterday, I ran across a great 1997 interview with Lois Dupre from Christian Century on “Seeking Christian Interiority.” Dupre laments the loss of a metanarrative in this late modern world: “We experience culture as fragmented; we live on bits of meaning and lack the overall vision that holds them together in a whole.”

This “absence of a defining unity” cause us to feel “lost in a disconnected universe.” While some “postmodern” writers rejoice in the loss of an overall narrative, most of us struggle with the need for some meaning that brings coherence to our lives. Christendom offered such a coherence, but that integrated world died with the middle ages and the modern world has moved farther and farther from looking to Christianity as a source of integration.

Dupre suggests that as the awareness of what the modern project has realized, people struggle with a yearning for something from yesterday.

“They feel the fragments present to us must somehow be united in a manner that modern culture fails to accomplish. Hence they turn to models from the past. Some join ultraconservative religious or political movements, or they lose themselves in mystics of earlier times as if no cultural distance separated us from the past. Such complete reversals that attempt to abolish modern life are, I think, inauthentic ways for trying to achieve the integration our time needs.”

While we may have some nostalgia for the Christian past, Dupre warns against trying to “reinvent a Christian ‘tradition’ (mostly intended for the masses) for social or political purposes.” So how do we respond to the crying need for an integrated vision of the world?

In this world between worlds, Dupre finds inspiration from another time between times: the age of Augustine. The Classical world was ending and the Medieval world was beginning. Augustine finds personal integration through faith in Christ rooted in the Christian Community. This integration works outward and finds ways to synthesize the pieces of his fragmented world such as Roman civic morality and Neoplatonic philosophy.

Dupre sees this integration as working outward from personal to local to cultural. This is a slow process and in one sense comes to define the new world. I think we see a similar attempt in integration in the shift between the Medieval world and the Modern world in the Reformation and Renaissance.

As we find ourselves in a world between worlds again, Dupre offers humbled approach to transformation. Instead of triumphalist declarations of restoring Christendom, he suggests our best steps forward in for true personal integration based on faith rooted in the Christian community. We must begin with a deep and profound personal integration. This is simply an individualistic interpretation of Christian faith, but a an experiential Christian faith that springs from the Scripture and community of believers. It is deeply relational.

Working outward, we must learn and cultivate an inner integration of the pieces of the modern world. Instead of reaching backward, we trust the Providence of God and work from our current estate forward. Only then, can we begin to think about community and cultural transformation. More on that later.

Living Amid the Ruins

April 9, 2008 Leave a comment

Almost four years ago I wrote about the fall of modern structures, suggesting that gatekeepers like government, media, church, and education were crumbling due to their reliance on a modern worldview that had collapsed. Later I was to discover that 30 years earlier, Ivan Illich had been thinking and writing in a far more comprehensive way on a similar theme.

As some people proclaim they are tired of church, others proclaim they are tired of voting. In fact, there is a great deal of disappointment and distrust of church, government, science, universities, and more. Whenever frustrations move from personal, localized distrust to mass distrust then something is not working in the society. I think this is a sign of breakdown of the Western world

Today while I was driving over to eat dinner with our little community, I started thinking of ways to better explain what I mean by the end of the Western world.

When we speak of the Western world, we generally refer to the commonality of cultures between people of Western Europe (including US and Canada). While the local languages may differ, there are certain common symbols that guide our way communicating, impacting the way we think and act. These symbols are rooted in a common core that reaches back to the forces that shaped our modern Western world: Christianity and Greek philosophy.

Even though many people reject Christianity and have never studied Greek philosophy, these symbols still shape the way they see the world. If we look backward into an earlier era such as the Medieval world, we are looking back to a time/place when people shared a different symbol set. The symbols may include a certain set of rituals such as the Latin Mass and a set of Holy Days. While there where local variations, the common mass and the common calendar defined a way of experiencing life and communicating life.

Each local area may express and develop the symbols uniquely through particular types of clothing, speech pattern, songs, dances and so on. In other words, the stuff of life that connects people: family, dress, home, language, worship, etc. When we speak of a world, we are suggesting that there is a commonality of symbols that caused people to see the world/understand the world in similar ways. While each person viewed and experienced the world slightly differently, a common set of boundaries for defining the world was shared by most of the people.

When I speak of the Western world, I am speaking in a similar way. The Western World might in one sense be a combination of eras that stretch back to ancient Rome up through today. In that sense, the Western world contains many worlds such as the Classical, the Medieval, the Renaissance and so on. The controlling group of people in any given era share some common core of meaning that allow them to communicate and build a society together. Every world is always fragile and never independent of the people within it.

As the Western world passed through the Enlightenment and moved toward the modern world, there was a great anticipation among many people that the world was going to get better. We could understand the world around us through disciplined reason. We could observe the world around and find the real. A sense of hope in progress propelled many of family and individual to expect a better world tomorrow. (This is a super simplistic reduction.)

While a sense of hope and anticipation led the charge, a certain pessimism also begin to grow. The multiple tensions within this world stretching for tomorrow might show up in the arts through artisits like Charles Dickens who kept reminding the “civil” world of an underclass with struggles and pains.

Charles Darwin exemplifies this expectancy of the progress just like many revivalist preachers did. Their zeal and hope were expressed in vastly different ways but a common threat still held them in a one world. Some people saw beneath the fabric and knew it was unraveling. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche both identified a rotton apple within their world even if one moved deeper into faith while the other move away from it.

As the nineteenth century waned and the twentieth century waxed, a growing denizen of thinkers, writers and artist began to question the fundamental symbol sets that held the Western World together. Then Einstein rocked the science world with his theories. WW1 resulted in over 40 million deaths (Wikipedia). From 1918 to 1919, influenza killed off between 2.5% and 5% of the world’s population (see Wikipedia). These strains kept building and pressuring a world view that was already starting to crumble. As Yeats proclaimed, “The center cannot hold.”

Within ten years, nations around the world descended into a Great Depression and then another devastating war (WW2), which demonstrated that even science could prove the demise of the world through atomic warfare. These external strains were only coupled within internal strain that questioned the core symbol sets that pointed to a hopeful future, that trusted our reason, that believed in what we could see, smell, hear and taste.

Gradually more and more groups of people began to notice the problems of the Western world. It’s wasn’t as rosy as we had believed. The institutions made of people (like government and education and church) could act destructive. And collectively people could really be destructive. The stories and symbols and ideas that held this world together seemed questionable. They also allowed for slavery, prejudice, destruction of native American lands and families, sexual injustice.

The 60s was not a surprise blip on the map of the 20th century. It was when masses of young people finally abandoned the common symbols that bound the West together. The death that impacted many thinkers at the end of WW1 had now spread to young people. Some suggested the world would be so much better if we did away with all the trappings of Western civilization like religion and nations and conflicts.

The symbols that were cracking in earlier centuries completely collapsed in the twentieth century. Even the basic symbols sets of common language were questioned. Could we really even find a common meaning? RD Laing suggested that we could and would never know anoyone elses experience beyond our own. The meaning of words and even the trustworthiness of our own observations were questioned. We saw a man land on the moon, but did he really land on the moon? We saw a plane crash into the two towers, but did we really?

While the late 70s to the present have tried to turn the clock back before the 60s, it cannot happen. The 60s were an explosion of mass doubt and disbelief in the Western World that was a long time in coming. And yet the contradiction of the 60s (as well as the contradication of many would-be messiahs today) is that the people before screwed everything up but this modern project really does work and if we just make a few tweeks, through out a few behavoirs and add a few new gadgets, we can still make the world a better place. Using some vague modernist idea of progress, people continued to rely on a world view that was busted and broken.

We’ve watched over the last 40 years, the collapse of this world view played out in our institutions (made up of people who are losing their common symbol set). From the government corruption to the shootings at the schools, we see a world where we no longer trust institutions (and no longer want to go to church).

This disintegration is being played out all around the Western world, including the fighting in Iraq. While most people will point at someone or something else as the problem, they fail to see that the whole ship is sinking. We can never go back to 1950 (or the garden for the matter). Now we go forward to a new creation, a new world.

When I say that the Western World is dead, I mean that the symbols expressed in ritual and language and ideas no longer bind us together. So we abandon this civilization and revert to a tribe of like-minded people for comfort and security (liberal, green, conservative, libertarian and so on). We are living at the edge of chaos even if we try to convince ourselves otherwise.

We chaos will not prevail. The West will move forward. A new articulation of the future will eventually speak a vision of the world that will draw the masses together and we’ll move forward beyond this interim period. We will probably not even realize when that happens. But it will. And as I Christian, I believe that we will move forward learning and living out the radical implications of our confession in even more fuller ways. We are moving from glory to glory.

What will it look like to move forward? Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy suggested we move look back to move ahead. And many have begun to look back. The challenge of the church is to articulate through the voice of humility the way forward that leads to the resurrected Christ Jesus who calls us from glory to glory.

Blessed Resurrection Day

March 23, 2008 1 comment

Today all things have become new. The old world has passed away. The old powers have fallen aside. The old ways have come to an end.

The heavens and the earth came crashing down as Jesus of Nazareth hung upon the cross. The darkness crushed the light and thought it had won. The darkness crushed the light and evil triumphed over good. The darkness consumed the light like a lion devours its prey. By consuming the light, the darkness is itself consumed.

Jesus enters into the heart of darkness but it cannot hold Him. Light conquers darkness. Life conquers death. Jesus conquers evil and the old world passes away.

Behold in Jesus Christ, the new heavens and the new earth, full of love and glory. Today is a day for rejoicing. Just as Adam and Eve play in the Garden of Eden, let us rejoice in the garden of this new creation. Let us play and dance and sing and joy—for evil has lost.

Even now it is passing. It is passing. It is passing away. Don’t cling to the world that passes. But dance in the new creation. Rejoice in the love made manifest. Sing before Jesus our Savoir.

Blessings to you all my dear friends! This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Every year I love to revisit this Resurrection Day sermon from St. John Chrysostom (c.349-407), one of the greatest preachers of all time; his name, in fact, means “Golden Mouth.”

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Categories: Christianity

What’s Wrong With Church I (Organized Church)

March 17, 2008 4 comments

Longing for a Holiday wrote a post yesterday about why staying home and reading the Scripture was more appealing than attending Palm Sunday services. She got me to thinking about why I left organized church in 1991. After immersing myself in ministry during the late 80s, I resigned in spring of 91 and walked away from organized churches with no plans to ever return.

In fall of 92, I went to graduate school and studied relationships. At the beginning, I railed against all the problems of organized church. Eventually the anger left, and I learned to love the church in all its human messiness. Over the last 15 years, I’ve grown to listen and learn from various streams within the body of Christ, but I still haven’t returned to organized church.

As I’ve thought about replying to yesterday’s post, I decided to break this “What’s Wrong with Church” into three posts, considering problems with organized church, problems with disorganized church (home church), and how might we respond. This reflects the struggles a sinner still learning to love through the cross, so it’s still filled with lots of my human flaws. I sketch out these ideas, knowing that God in His grace blesses many lives through large, organized churches (and even TV ministries).

Here are three key problems I have with organized church (specifically large organized churches).

1. The Illusion of Success
To walk through the land of Egypt still inspires countless visitors. Impressive, stunning structures such as pyramids fill the visitor with wonder. In its prime, the civilization of Egypt looked likes an amazing success. But, of course, it enslaved people. Herod, following the wisdom of Egypt, also built a pretty impressive kingdom: a great Temple and many stunning buildings. But at the expense of the people. When Jesus came Judah looked pretty successful with passionaite worshippers, intensive discipleship programs, a glorious building project, and expectations of soon return of the Messiah.

It looked successful (both physically and spiritually) and it was a complete failure, standing under the curse of God. Now the reality is that we as sinners stand under judgment and live and move and have our being by the gracious love of our Father. It’s not wrong to dream big and build big, but the danger is always that trust will transfer from the grace of God to the wisdom of our buildings, best-selling books, discipleship programs and more.

I fear many big, organized churches are in danger of believing their own press (just many of our big time evangelists). This illusion can mean that relationships with God and one another can be sacrificed in order to keep the project moving forward. Watching this pattern play out again and again drove me from organized church in 1991.

2. Sacrifice Relationships
The last point leads into this second point. Relationships become secondary to buildings, structures, org charts, and so forth.

The responsibilities of a Puritan pastor reached beyond simply delivering a great sermon on Sundays. He was in the ministry of the “cure of souls.” This required time spent with every family in the church, including nurturing the spiritual formation of the children. The bigger we grow our churches, the less relational a pastor can be. Many churches have layers of staff with some lower level folks (and often non-staff) involved in the lives of the families (if that post even exists at all).

In Paul’s Idea of Community, Robert Banks argues that Paul’s primary metaphor for the church (though implicit) is the family. His language is of brothers and sisters and our Father. Jesus also uses family language to speak of the growing community. He actually redefines the Mediterranean understanding of family as the burgeoning family of disciples.

Unfortunately, many Christian friends that I know who attend large churches, explain that their “real relationships” are outside the church. Some have told me that they would be hesitant to share their real struggles with anyone in the church where they attend. This a huge problem and seems to mock the whole idea of “forsake not the assembling of yourselves together.”

3. Superficiality
Some big churches also fall prey to the “trend of the moment.” I had one “very successful” pastor (both in planting and publishing books) tell me he questioned the church creeds and thought we might need some new creeds. I almost fell down. Whatever hot, exciting trend in culture (with its church variation) can easily become the temporary fad.

Even relationships has become a temporary trend. Instead of a long-term commitment to love through the suffering of the cross, words like “relationality” are easily tossed around to indicate the importance of a growing trend. Of course, I wonder what happens to that relationality with the trend grows boring and everyone moves on to the next big thing.

Part two coming
These comments were primarily directed to large churches but I realize these faults can show up in any size churches. While I’ve chosen to spend the past 15 years in simple churches that were focused on home-style meetings (with a bit of liturgy), I also see some fundamental problems with the home church movement. I’ll share that in part two.

Redemption Songs

March 14, 2008 Leave a comment

Bob Marley sings:

Wont you help to sing
These songs of freedom? –
cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs.

If you listen to Marley, Dizzy Gilespie, Stevie Wonder or a host of other musicians, you’ll get the sense that song is at the heart of everything. They may not be so far off. Both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien envision the Creator calling all things into being through a song. The Bible reveals this as a Creation song (six days of creating, one day of rest). The song can be broken down six separate stanzas with a Sabbath bridge, or two sets of three (three days forming, three days filling, one day of rest/celebration).

But we live out of sync with this creation song. Instead of forming, filling and celebrating, we tear, break apart and criticize. Our choices and actions reveal chaotic dissonance that hurts ourselves, the people around us and the creation. Celebration turns into lamentation.

In the Silmarillion , Tolkien reveals this dissonant strain that threatens to unravel the stunning harmony of the creation song. Enter Bob Marley and the redemption song. The Bible reveals YHWH singing a new song after Adam’s calamity in the garden: the redemption song. I’m still trying to think through the structure of the song, but at a high level the song is about death, burial, and resurrection. YHWH sings an incarnational song where He enters into the suffering that echoes through humanity’s dissonant strains.

Bringing the dissonant strains of suffering into Himself, He heals the breach and ushers in new creation. Both the creation song and redemption song reverberate through all creation. particularly in the human heart. The redemption song tunes the whole human person to the glory of the creation song.* But the redemption song doesn’t stop. Both songs move from counterpoint to resolution, revealing a stunning polyphony.

So keep singing Bob and Dizzy and Coltrane. By YHWH’s grace, the Holy Spirit will “stir us up” and reveal the glory and wonder of these two loving songs in us, in our relationships, and in all creation.

*I remember some of the Christians Celt speaking of spiritual formation as the tuning the five-stringed human instrument (taste, touch, sight, hearing, smell) to the song of God’s glory.

Spring of Light Community

February 14, 2008 7 comments


After a church fire last week, the Spring of Light community will be spending lent on pilgrimage. We’re a small family of friends who are learning to enter into relationship with one another and with whoever comes across our path. Following the simple rule of St. Francis, we seek to bless those who cross our path with the peace of God. We eat together, sing together, watch movies together, and are gradually learning what it looks like to spend our lives together. Along the way, we’ve met many friends who join us for various parts of the journey. After mourning the loss of our building, we’ve chosen to mark the time there with a slideshow celebrating the seasons of life that we have shared.

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