People of the Spirit, worshiping Jesus in all places, at all times

Note: It’s been forever since I’ve done one of these. I’m perfectionist enough that I want to have the set lists and I’ve had trouble getting them sent to me on a regular basis.

Liturgical Leadership

  • Officiant: Fr. Dave (me)
  • Preacher: Fr. Dennett
  • Music: Ben leading a team of 5 (3 vocals, 1 acoustic guitar, 1 keyboard, 1 drummer)
  • Scripture: Martha (Genesis 9:8-17 and Psalm 25), Dcn. Andrea (Mark 1:9-13),

Set List

Songs of Praise

  • Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer
  • Lord, I Need You
  • Your Love, O Lord
  • Exodus XV

Offertory

  • Trisagion

Communion

  • Behold the Lamb
  • Before the Throne of God Above

Dismissal

  • Nothing but the Blood of Jesus

Collect for the Day

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

I opened, welcoming everyone and reminding us of God’s promise to give us grace in the season of Lent. We continued with the liturgy for Lent 1 by following the opening acclamation and collect for purity with the responsive prayers of the Decalogue in place of the Summary of the Law. One of the effects of the Ten Commandments in prayer is that  we have admit that our hearts aren’t in the disposition for repentance and renewal, and by responding to these “ten words” with “Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law”, we do a radical work of self-examination that we follow up with the general confession (in Lent, drawn from the daily office).

One of the practices of Church of the Savior is that we use the “non-absolution absolution” for Lent. This extended statement instructs us about God’s desire for repentance, instruction that ministers declare God’s forgiveness, and expresses confidence in God’s pardon for all the repentant by the Gospel, and so concludes with a prayer that God “give us true repentance and his Holy Spirit, that our present deeds may please him, and the rest of our lives be pure and holy…” The teaching value of this statement of pardon (because it has no moment of absolution pronounced) highlights the importance of the Comfortable Words. In this case, the Comfortable Words themselves are not only the Scriptural basis for our forgiveness, but they enact that forgiveness by being announced.

After the Comfortable Words, our music team leader, Ben, invited us to entire a period of silence, to prepare our hearts and to attend to what the Holy Spirit was doing our midst. The songs that we sang were reflective, drawing us to trust in God’s righteousness and holiness, and to have confidence in the work of Christ as our sin was exposed. In the silence that followed, many sat or knelt–aware of the holiness of the moment and what God was doing in our midst. I concluded with the collect for the day.

I invited the kids forward to be prayed for and dismissed for Church School. I questioned them briefly about Lent, which garnered responses about me wearing purple and Jesus’ 40 day fast in the wilderness. Knowing they were going to be hearing about God’s covenant with Noah (just like the rest of the congregation), I challenged them to be ready to hear about God’s promises to us as we follow Jesus, and then prayed and dismissed them.

Martha read the account of God’s covenant with Noah and all creation. She helpfully prefaced the congregational prayer of Psalm 25 by offering testimony that in times of distress, she has seen God respond to this psalm and that it is a source of comfort and strength that God hears when we pray it. It is hard, sometimes, for us to remember that the psalms are placed in the Ministry of the Word as a responsive prayer to the Scriptures read, and not as “more content to hear.” Her introduction/invitation confronted that directly. Deacon Andrea’s reading of the Gospel lesson about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness highlighted that God was going before us in all of this.

Fr. Dennett’s sermon focused us into the season of Lent by looking at the basis for Jesus’ endurance and presence in the wilderness: relationship to God. The fast of Lent is not something we do to earn, to act, to win, but solely on the basis of a relationship that God has initiated with His creation. Jesus’ relationship with the Father–which is what the devil questions and seeks to disrupt–exists before the wilderness, and persists in the wilderness, and Jesus’ triumph is not ours to follow, but a gift which he gives us. So, when we fast (quoting the sermon on the mount), we can do so because of Jesus’ triumph. We will fail. We will continue to repent. We will continue to pray. But Jesus has won and that is the basis of our covenant relationship with God. He further invited us as a congregation to pray for more to recognize the relationship God is initiating in their lives as we minister in Ambridge.

We followed the sermon with the Creed, and then parish announcements. What I noticed in this time was we were inviting people into a lot of things in this service. In addition to all the things worship already had invited us to, the announcements extended several more invitations: to participate in providing for our monthly outreach meal on the last Sunday of the month, to give for the completion of our sanctuary (wall finishing, painting, molding, and flooring are all in need of work and look very much “work in progress” at the present time), to coffee hour, to receive prayer during Holy Communion, and then the offertory sentence to “resume” worship. Practically, this time often allows Church School and nursery workers to return to the worship before we begin the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, but as I reflect on all these invitations, I feel overwhelmed by them–and it was only my job to share most of them, not be responsible for them. The question for me, is when I’m leading the worship of God’s people, can there be freedom to discern what it is that God is inviting us to and silence all others while still providing logistical details where needed? I’m not positioned to change this parish’s practice in this, but it’s worth considering.

The Offertory and Holy Communion (we are continuing the trial draft of the ACNA Ancient Rite for Lent) did enable us to return to that state of simply being in the presence of our holy God, fully aware of our unworthiness, but equally aware of Jesus’ work on our behalf. The song “Before the Throne of God Above” expressed that confidence with power. Behind that awareness, however, was the buzz and expectation of action (I think prompted by the many, many invitations that had been presented in the service). What did we not hear for all that, I wonder? I’m blessed by the spiritual “activism” of this parish and their eagerness to respond to God and His Word. I’m just wondering what we might do to better “tarry” in the context of worship (to borrow from my Pentecostal heritage). If worship is a Trinitarian activity, there’s value in the beholding, and not being so quick to answer. God help us to answer, but to also wait for You.

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Pentecostal worship in the American context has historically emphasized spontaneity, freedom, and attentiveness to the Spirit’s leading.For all of that, there is a stunning level of continuity and family resemblance in classical Pentecostal liturgies. Over the years, the rise of the non-denominational movement, the ambivalence about denominational boundaries held by charismatics and third wave continuationists, and the influx of contemporary music and more expressive praise throughout evangelicalism has also allowed some of that congregationalist spirit to enter into Pentecostal worship. Now there’s a congregational liberty and emphasis on how “my” church does worship in many sectors of American Christianity, including Pentecostal churches.

There’s a lot of good that comes from this common hymnography and hymnology–and Pentecostals have had a hand in making it happen (Hillsong’s music, for example). But one of the things that is being lost in this is that the conversation we have about framing worship can very often focus on preference, taste, and things that more reflect our consumer culture than the passing on of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Liturgical scholar Lawrence Hoffman wrote in Beyond the Text about the nature of liturgy and its relationship to the life and identity of people. He published the following in 1987 (p. 69):

It might be said, then, that whatever worshipers presume to say to God, they are at the same time directing a message to themselves. The very act of worship takes on the function of identifying for the worshiper what it is that he or she stands for, what real life is like, what his or her aspirations are. The liturgical medium becomes the message.

As Calvin connects knowledge of God with knowledge of self in his Institutes, Hoffman suggests that awareness of our worship is awareness of our ecclesial identity. Why prophesy in worship? Why speak in tongues? Why heal? Why preach? Why receive the sacraments? These things tell us who we are. So how we do them matters.

There is a difference in identity between a congregation that prays for healing “up front” or “at the altar” and a congregation that has a team for healing prayer available in the back of the sanctuary. I won’t indict either practice, but healing is more plainly part of the identity of the former congregation than the latter. It says something about what they understand to be part and parcel of being the people of God.  How we worship matters. So, Pentecostal brothers and sisters, let us be self-critical and thoughtful of our liturgies and practices. Let’s not cater to what seems to offer the best consumer experience, but press into who we are, and who the Spirit of God wants to make us in the image of Christ.

It’s in vogue in Pentecostalism to fight back against the presumptions of Word of Faith, prosperity, and other tendentious heresies and heterodoxies in our midst by pushing back on the overreach of faith, spiritual power, or a believer’s authority in Christ. The Scriptural wars are focused on circumscribing the power of the faithful to just the right amount. But the fact is that in Luke 24:49, Jesus promises “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothedwithpower from on high.” Just before his ascension in Acts 1:8, he also promises, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Add this to the accounts throughout the Gospel and Acts that point to the kind of power capable of moving mountains, raising the dead, healing diseases, and being communicated by sitting in a shadow or touching a cloth. And, no matter the hermeneutic or demythologizing one allows, we still have to wrestle with Jesus’ declaration that we his followers will do greater works that He did in ministry.

I believe in Pentecostal power because I believe in the promises of God. I believe in Pentecostal power because it is impossible for God to lie, and the Triune God made an oath to the people of Jesus to empower us–to prophesy, to heal, to reconcile, to restore, to judge, and to be the inbreaking of a new reality. And for every baptized member of the Body of Christ–the saved, the sanctified, the filled with the Holy Ghost (because everyone baptized is just that by God’s own declaration)–that promise appoints and commissions us to walk in that power, and it’s a power that’s greater than what prosperity gospel or even the Word of Faith dare to imagine.

One of the Doctors of the Church (because it’s high time Pentecostals start recognizing our teachers when we have them) providentially spoke to this issue as I was writing and it bears mention. Here’s the word from Cheryl Bridges Johns:

I believe in the power of redemptive grace. A power so strong it breathes life into dusty ashes. A power so beautiful it causes barren wastelands to bloom. A power so loving it fills deep crevices of pain with rivers of joy.

So, let’s not be ashamed of the power of Pentecost. Let’s not be wary of overreach. Let’s declare the power of the gracious God who broods over Creation with love and direction to wake the dead.

Today, I finished a weeks-long reading and reflection of The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life, which has been on my to-read list since around 2013. I’ve greatly benefitted from the delay, since seminary and the 3 years following graduation gave me the opportunity to find a sense of home and peace about my theology and spirituality as a catholic Pentecostal who is ordained in the Anglican Church.  What I’ve found in these desert fathers, with their wisdom and the content of their prayers, is that Asuza didn’t come to the experience of God’s intimacy before Aleppo. Parham, Tomlinson, and McPherson had much to learn from Babbai, Isaac of Nineveh, and John the Elder.

But equally striking was the way their counsel on prayer affirmed this Pentecostal spirituality. The idea of waiting on God, on being fully focused on him in prayer, on letting the Holy Spirit guide your petitions, and the ecstatic joy of being known and loved by God while in prayer are present, and highly valued in the writings of our ancient brothers in the Syriac tradition. “What time is more holy and more appropriate for sanctification and for the receiving of divine gifts than the time of prayer, when a person is speaking with God?” -Mar Isaac of Nineveh (Discourse XXII on prayer). The very process of the Pentecostal movements origins are prophetically anticipated by the call to prayer in the desert.

But what captured my attention even further was the way that what Pentecostals have often referred to as being “slain in the Spirit” and less commonly, “resting in the Spirit” makes its appearance in the spirituality of the desert fathers. “But beyond the boundary, there exists wonder, not prayer. From that point onwards, the mind ceases from prayer; there is the capacity to see, but the mind is not praying at all.” -Mar Isaac of Nineveh (Discourse XXII on prayer). Isaac refers to what the ancient fathers called “spiritual prayer” (which he believes to be a misnomer) and “contemplation”–when the tongue, the mind, and the physical actions of the one who is praying cease because of entering the presence of the holiness of God. When the Christian ceases to do, but can only be with God. And, accurately, Isaac attributes this to the fullness of God’s grace.

The seed of this is a perpetual commitment to hearing the Scriptures and prayer before God. “Struggling in prayer” is a frequent call in the Syriac fathers–not as a striving of action, but wrestling against our fleshly desires to justify ourselves by action. Resting upon the justification declared over us by Christ in our baptism empowers all prayer. As we continue in that rest, we may come to experience the foretaste of the heavenly rest: resting in the Spirit–where, even for a few moments, we know the joy of justification without our doubts, without our personal efforts for holiness, and without the tempting condemnation of the devil.

As a Pentecostal, I grew up in a home that emphasized and practiced daily Bible reading–both individually and as a family. I was taught to read and study the Scriptures in a personal “quiet time with God.” Additionally, my mother read to us aloud from the Bible and taught us hymns, some small bits of catechism, and helped us memorize significant and sometimes extensive portions of Scripture. It was life-shaping and it has been effective in my life, as the Holy Spirit prompts remembrance and understanding from that past in my present day-to-day life. Christians are indeed people shaped by the Scriptures that bear witness to Jesus, the Word of God.

But I’ve overheard in various circles–Pentecostal, reformed, Anglican, Lutheran, and others–that the key to discipleship is daily Bible reading. Now, I understand where this comes from. I even understand that Willow Creek’s internal discipleship study some twenty-odd years ago reinforces the importance of the Scriptures in the Christian life. But I want to challenge the idea that it’s private daily Bible reading which is to be credited for deep roots in following Jesus.

First off, to borrow from something adapted from the Rev’d Dr. Amy Schifrin, STS, “Christianity is a deeply personal, but not private, faith.” It’s never been “me and Jesus”. It’s always been a Body, a nation, a community of saints and sinners gathered by the Holy Spirit and united in the blood of Jesus. We experience individual transformation in the midst of that, but we do so together. We cannot be disciples alone, and we are not intended to experience the grace of Christ alone. Even Saul’s conversion cannot happen apart from the Body. Jesus changed everything for this persecutor of the Church, but he sends Ananias to baptize and lay hands on Him–creating a community into which Saul is received.

Second, it’s never been reading. The Scriptures, all through the history of Israel were read aloud in order to be heard by God’s people. That continued in the synagogues, and the Church adopted the same practice in teaching the Old Testament, as well as reading the “memoirs of the apostles” and the apostolic epistles. The Apostle Paul goes so far as to say that faith comes by hearing in Romans 10. For the benefit of faith and the increase of grace, the Church gathers to hear the Word of God proclaimed by the Scriptures being read aloud, preached, and visible displayed in the Sacraments.

I know there’s going to be pushback, but I want you to consider–for 1500 years, before the invention of the printing press, there was little access to the Scriptures for the common Christian. Are we to suggest that the great saints and our forefathers and foremothers in the faith were weak, or malformed as followers of Jesus? Even if we allow that the medieval era had a great deal of this, the fact is that the Gospel spread throughout the world with people who were hearing Scriptures corporately, and deep discipleship came from that formation. The rich were the ones with access to Scriptures, even after the printing press was invented. And while that has shifted over the years, literacy and economics of owning a Bible continue to challenge.

So let’s return to the roots. As the Church, let’s gather together–in homes, in churches, in public–to hear the Scriptures together. Rich or poor, men and women, of every ethnicity, let’s attend to the proclamation of Jesus and hear Him revealed to us in the Scriptures. Let’s not be alone. Let’s not stifle the hope of the poor by telling them to get a Bible and keep it to reading alone. Let’s enter the community of people under the Scriptures, fro all to hear, and be changed as the Spirit stirs our remembrance of who we are as God’s beloved and sets our feet onto the way of Jesus.

When we say “Spirit” in relationship to Pentecost, there’s a one-track hive mind for that. Of course we’re referring to the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Triune Godhead. We’re speaking of the God who pours Herself out on the people of God, loosening their tongues in proclamation, their hearts in love, and their hands in generosity to one another and turning “the Other” into “another.” The Pentecostal Spirit brings forth the Church and reveals the Son of God in her midst.

By contrast, “the Spirit of Christmas” has a delightful ambiguity. Some people mean the core of the celebration: the incarnation of the Son of God. Then there’s those referring to some sense of spirit of generosity, charity, goodwill towards men, yada, yada, yada…and then there’s the lovely tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas (somewhat forgotten in the 21st century), or the three ghosts from A Christmas Carol. The point is, range of meaning here is wild and about as chaotic as your grandmother’s house at Christmas dinner.

But if you pay attention to the appointed readings (and I don’t know a church of any tradition that doesn’t have a liturgical commitment to the Nativity Gospels and the Isaiah predictions of the Son of God’s birth), the Holy Spirit is very much involved in Christmas. We hear the her voice all over the place, inspiring Joseph’s vision and commissioning angelic witnesses. We see the birth of the Son of God, whose conception was accomplished in Mary by the hovering Spirit of God. We see Mary pondering these things that happen in her heart, a gift of the Holy Spirit who causes God’s people to remember His mighty deeds. And, to this day, we see the Spirit of God bringing all these things to our remembrance–to reveal Jesus, to set us to proclaiming, loving, and sharing generously to one another (And making “the Other” into “another”). The Spirit of Pentecost is the Spirit of Christmas, grounded in the flesh and blood of the Christ child.

Liturgical Leadership

  • Officiant: Fr. Dave (me)
  • Preacher: Fr. Dennett
  • Music: Fr. Dennett leading a team of 6 (3 vocals, 1 acoustic guitar, 1 electric guitar, 1 drummer)
  • Scripture: Ben (Romans 13:8-14 and Psalm 25), Dcn. Laura (Matthew 21:28-32),

Set List

Songs of Praise

  • Hark a Thrilling Voice is Sounding
  • Hosanna
  • Be Unto Your Name
  • All Who are Thirsty

Offertory

  • Come as You Are

Communion

  • Here in Your Presence

Dismissal

  • The Lamb Has Overcome

Collect for the Day

Merciful Lord, grant to your faithful people pardon and peace; that by your grace we may be cleansed from all our sins and serve you with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

I opened (after the guitar’s accidental open chord gathered everyone’s attention) welcoming everyone and inviting us in to a time to receive from God’s free and abundant grace. We continued with the usual liturgy (Opening Acclamation, Summary of the Law, Confession of Sin and Absolution, and Comfortable Words) before moving into Songs of Praise.

One of the themes that emerged quickly in our worship was the reality of grace and God’s intentions to pardon–and the power of that pardon. Our worship was the expression of the Psalmist’s heart in Psalm 130, “If you, LORD, kept record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” In the midst of that awareness of our weakness, however, what I observed in myself and in the congregation was a confidence in God’s mercy and grace. This was the Lord whose nature is always to have mercy, and we knew it. We have been received by a God whose love and power and grace are extended on our behalf.

After the Songs of Praise, two or three spoke prayers of adoration and praise of God, summarizing what the Holy Spirit was doing in the midst of our worship. We concluded that time with the Collect for the Day. I invited the kids to come to the front to be prayed for. During the school year, they have “Church School” during the Ministry of the Word, and rejoin us at the Eucharist. After last week, where kids were nearly 1/3 of the congregation (and they were a sizable group), it was a bit interesting to have two children come forward (the others were already downstairs, awaiting their teachers).

This is one of two opportunities that priests at Church of the Savior have to bless children. Both the example of my first priest, Fr. Mike, and the explicit exhortation of a mission leader, Fr. Lawrence, challenged me to recognize that one of the highest privileges one has as a presbyter in God’s Church is to pronounce God’s blessing on children. That’s become all too real to me, and I would commend that to you presbyters out there–receive the children Jesus has called to himself and bless them in his Name.

Our seminarian, Ben, read the lesson and led us in praying Psalm 25. Coming from the time of humble adoration as we did, the call to walk in the light from Romans 13 was apt. It was further driven home by the Gospel reading by Deacon Laura, with the parable of the two sons–one who initially rebelled, but repented, and one who gave lip service to his father, but rebelled.

Fr. Dennett’s sermon from Romans 13 began with a telling of Augustine’s conversion (with the big reveal of it being Augustine not coming until later). It was a passionate and fiery sermon, expressing God’s Law and Gospel–that we know and must know and must not forget that we are helpless to achieve the righteousness of God, and that the grace of God has given us this incredible liberty to be the children of God–that we’ve been saved from the penalty and of sin, are being saved from the practices of sin, and will be saved from the presence of sin (an explanation credited to Deacon Laura). Hallelujah.

As we continued worship (Creed, Offering, and Eucharist), the Spirit’s leadership bringing us to humble adoration, led us to be recipients of God’s free grace, to be changed by our encounter with God–knowing full well that as we stand in the presence of God, casting off the works of darkness and putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, that it is HE who has overcome, and will overcome all that stands against him in our lives–sin, sickness, the devil and death itself. And we can walk in the peace of God among us, remaining with us through God’s blessing, as in the daytime, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Come, Lord Jesus.