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

One of the practices I have observed in a number of pastors is taking the time to intentionally reflect on the worship experience each Sunday. While I will not do so for every service, it seems to me that corporate worship is where the rubber meets the road for catholic Pentecostalism. So, for services then I officiate, I will endeavor to reflect and report. My hope here is to better understand what the Holy Spirit is doing. I hope others will benefit as well.

Liturgical Leadership

  • Officiant: Fr. Dave (me)
  • Preacher: Fr. Dennett
  • Music: Ben leading a team of 4 (3 vocals, 1 acoustic guitar, 1 electric guitar, 1 drummer)
  • Scripture: Martha (Romans 12:1-8), Dcn. Andrea (Matthew 16:13-20), Dcn. Laura leading J and D (gospel reenactment).

Set List

Songs of Praise

  • Hosanna (Praise is Rising)
  • 10,000 Reasons
  • Behold our God
  • Be Thou My Vision

Offertory

  • In Christ Alone

Communion

  • Here in Your Presence
  • Revelation Song

Dismissal

  • On Christ the Solid Rock

Collect for the Day

O Lord, we pray that your grace may always both precede and follow after us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

I welcomed people into the service time with a more expanded introduction than usual. I’ve been sensing that it would be beneficial for me as an officiant to encourage people to expect to encounter God, and to know that God is at work in our midst. We followed our usual liturgy with the Opening Acclamation, Summary of the Law, Confession of Sin and Absolution, and Comfortable Words before moving into Songs of Praise.

Encounter became the word for the day. As we moved through our singing, we were proclaiming a God who is present, saving, powerful, and holy. As we waited on the Lord in the silence, the Holy Spirit was ministering to people. No prophetic words or tongues were brought forward–just the gift of silence. Just God in the still small voice.

The Scripture readings continued to express that encounter. The epistle reading highlighted the renewal of our minds by the Holy Spirit. The Gospel story of Peter’s confession was read and acted out by two of the children of the parish. This has been a regular activity for our Gospel readings this summer. While it seems on the surface to be a “cute” way to break the surface up for kids who otherwise have a children’s lesson and activities during the school year, this is actually an essential part of discipleship and knowing Scripture. We see stories of Jesus played out before us, and know how we can tell the stories for others. Reenactment invites us to imagine, to meditate, and to let the stories becomes our own. We all imagined being in Peter’s shoes there: to declare to Jesus “You are the Christ” –and now we can. The sermon, drawing from the Romans passage, further invited us to encounter the Jesus proclaimed by Peter and to be transformed by Him. We were challenged to pursue God’s Word and to have confidence that our encounter with the Word will lead to renewal by the Spirit. “Renewal” follows “new birth.”

The question that came to mind for me, listening to the sermon: What does it look like to make a practice of modeling your life on the example of the age to come instead of the present age?

The answer to that question really was answered by what followed: the Creed, hearing a testimony of the power of God in response to prayer, singing “In Christ Alone”, celebrating and receiving the Lord’s Supper, and finally declaring that “all other ground is sinking sand” with “On Christ the Solid Rock.” One of my greatest joys as a priest is celebrating the Eucharist–leading God’s people in encountering Christ in the feast that He hosts, that He is present in, feeding us. I also get to be an eyewitness to the intimacy of Christ’s encounter with these individual disciples–and to bless those who don’t receive. Following Communion, I was weighed with the awareness of this encounter, so after everyone had received and we finished singing “Revelation Song”, I prayed for us–for more encounter of God’s presence, the revelation of His holiness–and then we prayed the Post-Communion Prayer together.

On the whole, I was moved by where God is taking us. Discipleship is rooted in encounter with God, and as we go forward to disciple others, we know who we are inviting people to follow together with us, to be renewed by the Spirit together with us, so that our whole selves–practices, thoughts, and all–are modeling the age to come, and not the present age.

 

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My little sister was baptized on Sunday. A child who has been anointed since before she could form full sentences was united with Christ and joined to the Church in the waters of Baptism. After the service, I had the distinct joy of anointing the sign of the cross with chrism on her forehead and praying the ancient prayer: “Receive the sign of the Cross as a token of your new life in Christ, in which you shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, to fight bravely under his banner against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and to continue as his faithful servant to the end of your days. Amen.” The chrism oil smells of incense, which received multiple comments. One exchange in particular stands out– at lunch, my dad said she smelled good. Her response was “Yeah. The aroma of Christ is strong.”

It really is. We don’t think about it, but we ought to consider the impact of the sacraments on us in the world–and in relationship to the spiritual forces in the world. For those who receive the increase of grace through Baptism, or the sustaining grace of the Bread and Cup at Communion, do we imagine that those have no impact on our relationship to the rest of creation? The aroma of Christ is strong–and we are commissioned and empowered as His presence in the world, the signs of His Kingdom. Surely, the Holy Spirit at work in the sacraments, is making that presence felt and known and announced to the powers of the world.

Another joy of that day was the sermon by my family’s pastor. He preached from the book of Acts of the ministries of Stephen and Philip, which were ministries in the power of the Holy Spirit–where the witness of martyrdom and baptism were fully present. He made a point, however, that in the early Church–and among Muslims coming to faith in Jesus now–salvation and Baptism were inseparably linked. Specifically, he pointed out that people did not regard themselves as having become part of Christ and the Church apart from Baptism. He’s right–that’s the history, and that’s the experience of our brothers and sisters who are coming to faith out of Islam or Druze or Yazidi religions. Of course God’s grace is greater than the sacrament itself, and can work in its despite, but for us as Christians to embrace and teach the ordinary working of the sacraments: that God is doing some powerful and gracious, life-transforming work through Baptism should be the heart and soul of our Pentecostal preaching and call to discipleship. Jesus is here.The Spirit is here. The Father is here. And by grace, so are we.

One of the insights of Daniel Castelo’s book is that Pentecostalism does not offer a tradition of “the dark night of the soul.” It’s just not something we’ve produced. Implicit in that, I think, is probably a call for Pentecostals to do so. So it was with great interest that I read my friend Daniel McGregor’s book, Holy Dark Places: Wilderness and Exile in the Christian Experience. I got to know McGregor while he was writing and preparing for this work at Trinity School for Ministry. Published this year, it’s still a fresh work waiting more exploration.

Holy Dark Places introduces contemporary Christians to the “problem” of spiritual suffering–of the experience of God’s absence in the midst of brokenness. It calls the bluff of the facades and veneers that American Christianity is insistent upon. Instead, McGregor invites us to journey into the biblical metaphors of wilderness and exile. Both of these are deeply rooted in the history of the people of God, but also find expression in their worship (Psalms) and future hopes (prophets).

As we identify more deeply with the ancient people of God in Israel, McGregor sets us up to walk through Church history–Augustine, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, John Newton, and Henri Nouwen. These theologians, mystics, and pastors engaged deeply with the wilderness and exile of God’s people within their own interior lives and in caring for the communities of which they were part. By their example and wisdom, McGregor crafts a way for us to understand our own experience of God’s absence.

On the whole, this is a solid introduction to the exploration of spiritual suffering. McGregor’s biblical rootedness and overview of historic Christian tradition, even up to the modern era will equip a generation of Christians who are otherwise lost in the midst of brokenness to continue pursuing God and receiving His love.

Specifically as a catholic in the Pentecostal tradition, the one place where I part paths with McGregor is in the separation between the individual’s interior journey and the community’s pilgrimage. In his conclusion, there is an acceptance of the separation of the experience of individual and community that Pentecostal tradition, as well as the monastic tradition of the Church catholic, would challenge. A community experience of interior wilderness and exile is not only possible, but was enjoined upon us by the Desert Fathers and Mothers (as Nouwen sketches in The Way of the Heart). That said, the exploration of such is something that would go beyond the parameters of Holy Dark Places itself. It is well worth your careful consideration and engagement, and as Pentecostals seek to articulate more about the “dark night of the soul,” this provides an invaluable beginning point for us.

There’s something in the air in the Pentecostal movement these days–theologians, pastor-scholars, and others, within the classical Pentecostal organizations (Church of God, Church of God in Christ, Assemblies of God, and others) and others like myself in other traditions (Anglican, non-denominational, Baptist, and others) are working out the conviction that in birthing the Pentecostal movement, God intended something for the Church catholic. Daniel Castelo’s Pentecostalism as a Christian Mystical Tradition is yet another fruit of that conviction.

The book is (appropriately) scholarly and technical in its delivery and orientation. Castelo engages current scholarship in Pentecostalism, as well as the historic mystical tradition of Christianity. He also deals with the challenge of Pentecostalism’s relationship to the evangelical movement in both historical and philosophical senses, and the challenges and gifts of that connection (so you’ll read about Charles Hodge and Carl F. H. Henry, in addition to Charles Parham).

But Castelo’s book is not committed to the “problems” of Pentecostalism as much as it is a prophetic call to recognize the gift of our movement. There are resources in the mystical tradition of the Church the we would greatly benefit from (Gregory of Nyssa, St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila).* And our doctrine and experience of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit leads us even intuitively towards this direction. But we also have a role in the Church catholic, commending encounter with God in a way that His love is able to transform our community for the sake of the world. Castelo owns that this is a “working proposal” for the Pentecostal movement, but I would take it a step further: this is a path to global encounter with Christ for the whole Church.

In recent weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to engage the monastic tradition, and the ascetically tradition of the Church, and as I’ve talked with Protestant and evangelical friends about their experiences of it together with me, there is an intense desire to translate those experiences and disciplines into the 21st century context. As I look at the timing (kairos and chronos) of the Pentecostal movement, and of the move in our teaching, preaching, and theologizing as a movement, I am convinced that the Holy Spirit is answering that desire for the Protestant movement: Pentecostalism provides a path toward present day, contextualized ascetic life in the Spirit. So, for all you would-be monastics, ascetics, and those who hunger for encounter with God, press in to receive the Baptism of the Spirit, to be a community that experiences and hungers for Christ–taste and see that the Lord is good. For Pentecostals, press in to the resources of the Church catholic.

And for those who want to study and consider this issue more intellectually, read this book. I highly recommend it.

Since the Welsh Revival, the Asuza Street Revival, and several others at the roots of the Pentecostal tradition at the turn of the 20th century, the formation of Pentecostals has always been in community: in the people of God gathering. There is very little of the strangely-warmed heart experiencing God’s love under the gate, or the voice of a child over the wall encouraging you to read Scripture.

Sure, evangelical influence has encouraged individual devotion through Scripture and prayer, but that’s a good adjustment. But our greatest moments of formation and catechesis and growth as disciples of Jesus in the Pentecostal movement is when we get together. It’s where we heard the Gospel. Where we got baptized. Where we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Where we washed each other’s feet. Where we were healed, prophesied over, delivered, released into ministry, and witness to so many works of the Holy Spirit.

As a brother of the Charismatic Fraternity of Sacred Ministers, we’re at a place of recovering this aspect of our tradition in order to enable us to engage and grow in the Great Tradition. Pentecostal ministers in any number of traditions– Pentecostal, Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, Methodist, you name I–can read up and learn from the Tradition, but we don’t really get it until we’ve moved into it together, and we’ve let the Holy Spirit set it on fire. So with our churches…unless we do ancient Christian formation as a congregation, it will never be our own.

So commit to it in community. If you’re a minister or seminarian, join the CFSM and be part of our upcoming weekly conversations. If you’re an intercessor or pastor, gather a small group around you. There’s a simple rule of life that will enable you to step together into the wealth of what our Christian forefathers and foremothers brought together for us. Just leave a comment or contact me and I’ll get that over to you. If you’re independent, get in relationship with the Church catholic. We all need each other and Jesus prayed, died, rose, and now always intercedes to make us one.

On February 4, the Feast of St. Cornelius the Centurion, Bishop Hobby of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh ordained me a Priest in the Church. The worship of God’s people in the liturgy of Ordination and Eucharist was a holy moment– filled with praise, intercession, Scripture, a tender and bold word from my friend Jonathan Martin, and so much more. Dear friends and family, coaches and mentors, and colleagues in ministry gathered to participate in this sacred moment. There is a great deal about this day that is worthy and fruitful for reflection. But as a catholic Pentecostal, I want to hone in on a particular moment: the consecration of the priest.

In the plot of this liturgy (because every liturgy tells a story), this moment comes beyond the presentation and the ministry of the Word. It follows an exhortation by the bishop and the examination of the ordinand, ensuring their commitment to this calling. Then the congregation calls upon the Holy Spirit to come upon the ordinand by praying the ancient hymn Veni Creator Spiritus. Following that, the bishop prays. Then he– and other priests present– lay hands on the one to be ordained and says the following:

Receive the Holy Spirit for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed to you by the Imposition of our Hands. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld. Be a faithful minister of God’s holy Word and Sacraments; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

He continues with more prayers for blessing and for effective preaching and teaching. It is a solemn moment, with the Spirit hovering over the people of God to do what the Spirit always does: to give “comfort, life and fire of love.”  The anointing of Priests going all the way back to the apostles, with the imposition of hands calls all the exhortations of the Apostle Paul to Timothy to mind. The charge to announce God’s forgiveness calls to mind John’s picture of the disciples receiving the Spirit after the Resurrection. The Prince of Peace appoints an ambassador.

What mission and ministry look like for this Priest, only God knows, but the need for the ability and willingness given by God alone is evident. Lord, have mercy.

Advent began on Sunday for most Western Christians (Eastern Christians have already gotten there, but they have a longer Advent). It’s an incredible season–the start of the Church’s calendar. It begins with the end. We come into Advent remembering the Day of Doom–the Lord’s Day, the Day of Judgment, Armageddon. We come remembering that on the heels of our declaration of Christ’s Kingship the week before, that every one of us in the world will have to give an account before the throne of God and His Christ. It’s a portrait of blinding darkness and pitched light. And we are called by the Spirit of Christ to wait in faithfulness and hope, confident that faith in Christ shall stand in the day of judgment.

But we also look back to the season when Christ first came–to the waiting of God’s people, longing for redemption, groaning under oppression and the ignorance of the Gentiles waiting to be enlightened. We prime ourselves for the announcement of Christ’s birth by heeding the call of John the Baptist to repentance, to be ready, and to know for certain that our rescue is close at hand, and when the Savior comes, we will find rest and solace.

It’s a beautiful season. And the Church has its calendar from ancient times as a way of framing our lives, remembering the story of Jesus, and seeing our stories transformed by that grace. But it’s not the only calendar. There are secular calendars that reinforce what James K.A. Smith has referred to as “cultural liturgies.” The day-to-day of American life has its own messages and warnings that it offers, which we could spend a fair amount of time discussing, but what I’m interested in right now, is what has just occurred in the secular calendar. In the past week, the American public has celebrated to one degree or another: Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday.

We began Thursday with the expectation of feasting with family or close friends, in a cadre of delightful culinary traditions. We have some vague notion that we are commemorating the first Thanksgiving held by Non-conformist Christian settlers at Plymouth Colony and indigenous American tribes who helped them to survive. The more learned and attentive might even be able to say how “abundance” was not really the thing that was being celebrated by the community so much as “survival.” But, whatever. We’re Americans. We’ll supersize it to something worth eating. At any rate, it’s supposed to be a happy time, filled with sentimental traditions and our favorite nostalgic games and memories. The media even plays along by replaying old holiday movies in marathon format to be carried throughout the weekend.

But early or not, Black Friday comes quickly on the heels of the tryptophan engorgement. The idea of extreme savings in a consumer mob across stories that mythically places companies from being in the “red” of loss into the “black” of profit has driven a number of experiments and loud arguments that would embarrass most liturgists and worship leaders. But the fanfare of buying things for loved ones (including oneself) at heavily discounted prices has motivated a nationwide pastime and the creation of “traditions” for families. Even those who refuse to participate in the rush are defined by it, as they intentionally determine to not shop on Black Friday.

Newer additions in recent years have joined Black Friday’s corporate bailout by the American people. One is Small Business Saturday–where we are encouraged to remember our local sellers, crafters, artisans, and others, and to offer them our patronage. The other is Cyber Monday, where we are reminded that no matter the deals of Friday, the internet always has a better offer (and one wonders how many spent money on Friday to repent of not waiting for Monday…). These activities are certainly more “minor” by comparison to Thanksgiving and Black Friday but they still consume a great deal of attention and investment, and they will probably grow in importance. The American people, after all, have little to say about themselves that doesn’t involve the purchase and consumption of goods to be enjoyed. If you want to read more on that, I’ll refer you to James K.A. Smith’s description of “the liturgy of the mall” in Desiring the Kingdom.

Finally, the parade of secular feasts ends with “Giving Tuesday.” With the rise of social media, this one has gotten very big, very fast. Yesterday, I saw some dozen or so charities and non-profit fundraisers being hosted by personal friends. Philanthropic organizations were giving out matching grants like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Colleges and seminaries, social service groups and advocacy agencies, and more, were raising money. More than that, they were getting it (and as a church planter trying to find funds and grants, let me tell you it burned a bit!).

But now it’s over. Today is Wednesday. Just Wednesday after Thanksgiving on the secular calendar. But what story have we heard? What does it compare to Advent?

Oddly enough, gratitude, judgment, hope, and repentance are themes in both stories. But the way they play out is very different. In Thanksgiving, we demonstrate gratitude with incredible consumption. In Black Friday, we demonstrate hope in continued luxury by encouraging all income brackets to join in the American dream’s promise that we can all have good, enjoyable and often unnecessary things. In Small Business Saturday, we offer some repentance to our local businesses by doing penance and purchasing their goods and services. Because while we may have sold our soul to Wal-mart, there’s still just enough left to benefit them. And in Cyber Monday, we are reminded that the physical constraints of our geography and schedules do not overcome our fundamental identity as consumers. The barriers will and must be overcome.  Finally, we have Giving Tuesday, because at the end of the day, we do realize it’s not only about us, and that others should be empowered, enabled, and embraced as part of this great American vision to consume. That we should be so privileged to give excesses in order for the do-gooders to have some resources with which to be a part of the community.

So, this American Thanksgiving season is very powerfully insistent as Advent breaks. Because it declares a different kingdom: where consumption is king, and our identity and rights are oriented around the hope for the things we have yet to get. It stands, silently enough, in defiance of the announcement of the Kingdom of God in Advent: where the waiting are blessed, the ready are repentant, and the haughty establishment is cast down. This is no condemnation of our various family traditions in and of themselves, but let’s be wise and make sure that story of our feasts and fasts is the story of Jesus, to whom we give thanks, and who is always present to us in the gift of Himself– in waters of baptism, in the Spirit’s outpouring, in the common meal of bread and wine (Eucharist–the true Thanksgiving feast), and in the loving fellowship of Jesus’ people in all times and all places.