Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fear Itself, Early Reflections

Having read the first issue of the limited series "Fear Itself" and the one-shot "Fear Itself: Sin's Past" I posted an early reflection on the series over at The Other Journal's blog, Mediation, titled "Gods, Sin, and Fear Itself."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Unvirtuous Abbey and Unicorn Theology

Here is a great guest post by Unvirtuous Abbey (on Twitter @UnvirtuousAbbey ) over at Two Friars and a Fool, "Unicorn Theology and Unplugging Your Head" They deal with the problems the Church deals with on both the left and the right ends of the spectrum.

As I prepare a sermon series on 1 Peter, I appreciated greatly the author's response to folks who would ask what he did for a job. "Advance scout to the alien fleet."

Friday, April 08, 2011

Them bones, them bones, them dry bones...

Preparing for the sermon on Sunday, and preaching on the Ezekiel 37 text, and I read Jenson's commentary on the passage.

For it has come to this: Israel as a whole and as such (37:11) is--as Ezekiel so often threatened--well and truly dead, a strewing of remains no longer even skeletal, so definitely of the past that the bones have separated and preserve no personal identities--no one can even point and say, "Alas, poor... I knew him well." The word of Gen. 2:17 has finally been fulfilled: the clash between God's will and human will for his human creatures, by which alone they live, and their refusal to follow that will, has been worked out in the history of Israel and has come to its inevitable conclusion.
Is then what the Lord here shows Ezekiel what it appears to be, the irreversible end of Israel's history with the Lord? And that is, of the bearer of the Lord's history with all humanity? Can Israel rise again? Indeed, can humanity, dependent for its specific being on the Lord's presence in history, live as what it was created to be? The Lord puts the question to Ezekiel: "Son of a man, what do you think? Can the dead live again?"
Ezekiel has no answer; this knowledge is beyond a son of man. But Ezekiel does know that the Lord is the giver of life; our passage is pervaded by a reminiscence of the Lord's first vivification of humankind (Gen. 2:7). And he knows that therefore the Lord can answer the question yes or no as he chooses. So he throws the question back.
For answer he receives an implicit yes: a command to prophesy life to the dead. Even in the nonbeing of death bones can hear him, because the word given the prophet is the same word that gives being and life in the first place, that addresses precisely "things that are not" (1Cor. 1:28). Thus Ezekiel is to do nothing less that speak the dead back to life (Exek. 37:4-6): we arrive at the extreme possibility of the prophets' general assignment "to pluck up and to pull down... to build and to plant" (Jer. 1:9-10). In this vision, Ezekiel speaks as commanded and the dead are raised (Ezek. 37:7-10).
Ezekiel, Robert Jenson, Brazos Press, pp. 281-282, 2009

The question for us preachers is the same addressed to Ezekiel, I think. As we address our congregations the question resonates, "Can these bones lives?" Can the people tired out and worn down by competing messages that seek to divide our loyalty and drive us from the source of life, can they find the true life promised by God, even if it is a penulitmate life now, but to be ultimately fulfilled in Jesus "I am the resurrection and the life" for the resurrection on the last day.

When we prophesy or preach, do we bring God's Word, the word that vivifies ( I love that word), or just hot air that dries us out even more?

Can we help people see God's Word as life giving in a dry and desert land? Can we see Lent as the oasis that brings God's life-giving will to us that we are raised to new life now and ultimately at the end of time?

Monday, April 04, 2011

A Church for All People

I love the liturgy. I love that it has been the primary locus not just of our worship but our theology as well. Lex Orandi Lex Credendi after all. The form of our worship has been around long enough that I am not a fan of muddling around with it. Innovation is not a positive term in my vocabulary when it comes to the liturgy. If someone feels the need to alter the form of the liturgy, I think there better be a very good reason. All too often, it has been my experience that when pastors and lay leaders want to change up the liturgy they have no guiding vision except that they want to try something new. To me simply being "new" is not good enough. Chasing "new" leads us down the rabbit hole always chasing the newest white rabbit that crosses our path.

In addition, there are far too many times when it seems that those who want to change the liturgy have agendas, are weak in preaching, and prefer style over substance. This statement is not meant to be overly general. It is not true in all cases, but I have seen few instances to the contrary.

But I continue to seek out what others are doing. I do think there are ways and models of worship that don't fit my vision. So when my wife and I were in Milwaukee recently, I looked around for a church that was fairly close. When I looked over my options, I decided that we would go and worship with the folks at All Peoples' Church. Their website simply promoted their Hip Hop Easter Vigil. But their worship tab also talked about what their worship was like. Now THIS was intriguing, even though it departed from the traditional liturgy (sort of). All Peoples' was clearly defined and I loved that they let folks who might come visit what to expect.

The service did look fairly typical in many respects. We gathered with some singing, and fantastic singing it was. There was praying. People freely shared joys and concerns which were all then lifted up by worship leader in extemporaneous prayer at its best. The prayer leader managed to lift up what people had shared (he had been LISTENING!) and his prayer included appropriate imagery and avoided the downfall of many who pray off the cuff. There was not any numerous repetitions of "Lord" nor the dreaded word "just." Unless we are describing God the word "just" just doesn't belong. I cringe when I hear "Lord, we just want to thank you Lord for just being with us Lord through all things Lord..." I know we are given the Lord's name to call upon at all times, but quantity of invocation does not make our prayers any stronger.

Nonetheless that was NOT at all an issue here. The leader did a phenomenal job even though I would not have classified him as a great speaker. He did however do a great job in praying. Praying is not about eloquence. I believe when we are praying corporately the one who wraps the prayers up should have first and foremost been listening. It was clear the leader had done that.

The service then moved into a testimonial. Being an urban congregation there was a wonderful mix of African Americans and whites gathered together. The African American tradition was strong in this congregation and the testimonial spoke to that. A large man stood up and spoke about a transforming event, namely the sermon of the previous week. And he talked about how he experienced God moving in his life to raise him up to new life (my take on his words, I do not want to put words in his mouth). But I was also intrigued then to hear the sermon since he referenced the previous sermon being a piercing word to him.

So then we did move to the reading and the sermon. The pastor had deviated from the lectionary and instead of hearing the woman at the well text appointed for the day, we heard 1 Kings 24, a dry passage to be sure. But Pastor Steve brought it to life as he unpacked the theme of exile and the cross. It was a rousing and energetic sermon that was full of the gospel. There was no choice here of style over substance. Clearly everything here was rooted in the substance of the gospel.

Then after a sermon whose length many congregations would have balked at, the whole church broke for education. The kids went to Sunday School and the adults all moved to a section of the sanctuary for bible study. Well that day they were hearing of their fruits of their partnership with a mission congregation in El Salvador. That congregation was celebrating its fifteenth anniversary that very day and All Peoples' was celebrating with it. What was interesting was that not one adult left the church. No one sneaked away. They all stayed. The presenter was seemingly more concerned with the time she was taking than the congregation was. When we had finished up with the study, everyone came together again to celebrate Communion.

All in all we were there over two hours. And despite the non-traditional flavor of the service, it all felt right in that place. It all felt genuine. It felt faithful to the gospel as it reflected the people gathered there. It lived up to its name. It was a church for All People.