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

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[Worship Practice] 6th Sunday of Easter

Liturgical Leadership

  • Officiant: Cn. Dave (me)
  • Preacher: Stevan
  • Music: Stevan leading a small team (vocals, acoustic guitar)
  • Scripture: Martha (1 John 4:7-21 and Psalm 33), Cn. Dave (John 15:9-17)

Set List

Songs of Praise

  • Open Up the Heavens
  • You Never Let Go
  • Power of Your Love
  • Tis So Sweet (To Trust in Jesus)

Offertory

  • Show Me Your Ways

Communion

  • The More I Seek You
  • Word of God Speak

Dismissal

  • Great Are You Lord

Collect for the Day

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Rogation Sunday is one of those bits about the liturgical year I confess I don’t fully understand. At least it’s still Easter–THAT I understand. We continued to worship according the to the use of the Kenyan liturgy.  I gathered the congregation with a few things from my Pentecostal background–expecting congregational responses to “Good morning” and, what finally worked, “This is the day that the Lord has made!” responded to with “Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” I invited us to acknowledge God’s presence, and to be confident that He was at work among us and to break barriers and bring renewal. We moved through the opening acclamation and songs of praise with ease–with a building awareness of the Holy Spirit’s brooding presence. Following the songs of praise, we had silence for an extended period when Pastor Joe (our founding pastor) offered thanks to God for His work.  By the time I approached the lectern again, most of the congregation was seated. Recognizing the Presence, I opted not to tell them to stand for the collect. Many of them stood when we began praying the collect for the day.

The kids were invited up and prayed for and dismissed to their class. Martha read the epistle reading from 1 John, prefacing it with a testimony of how God had been moving in her life in the week before to remind her of His loving presence and the providential circumstances that she would be reading about God’s love for the worship. We prayed Psalm 33 responsively. Since our deacons were otherwise occupied (children and nursery), I read the Gospel. Stevan came up to teach on barriers to hearing from God. He began with a confession and asking the congregation’s forgiveness for not keeping a commitment he had made. And when he started to continue, Pastor Joe stood up, and asked that we receive Stevan’s apology and demonstrate our forgiveness as a congregation. It was a beautiful moment. Stevan continued and it was evident that he wasn’t quite teaching in the way he had prepared to (as it didn’t match the outline provided, strictly) but it was an anointed teaching that called us to recognize that God’s silence often stems from (1) not asking, or asking with wrong motivations (James 4:-3), (2) presumption (Numbers 14:39-45), and not listening to the last thing God told us (Isaiah 1:15-16; Isaiah 30:15).

To conclude, Stevan invited us to take some time to listen–to repent of where we did not obey God’s call and to ask “What’s next?” The music team returned to the stage and sang “The More I Seek You” as the congregation engaged in that time. If I thought the Spirit’s presence couldn’t be heavier, I was proved wrong. I was reticent to approach and continue with the Creed, and the Prayers of the People, but it needed to happen. There was an energy to those acts of faith.

At announcements, Fr. Dennett interviewed a parishioner about a music ministry time she had initiated with others at a local assisted living facility that had drawn over 40 residents. We then celebrated Pastor Joe’s birthday, and prayed for him as he continues in ministry. The legacy of Pastor Joe’s vision to reach people who are so often forgotten has shaped the ministry and heart of Church of the Savior in an indelible way. When we finished the offertory, I addressed the congregation with the reminder of the invitation we had received from Stevan to ask God “What’s next?” and further encouraged us to remember that God does not call us to what He won’t enable–and that what we receive at the Table is strength for whatever is next. My experience of celebrating that Holy Communion was a keen awareness of our congregation being caught up in the presence of the heavenly worship.

As we sang “Great Are You Lord” at the conclusion, I could see the Spirit working, and I think Stevan caught it, as well, because he drew the song out as much as could be done reasonably. The Pentecostal pastor in me would have loved nothing better than to invite people forward to pray and spend time in God’s presence at “the altar” but the way “coffee hour” is done in the rear of the sanctuary makes that quite impossible. It’s something to wrestle with–attending to the move of the Spirit, and honoring the liturgy and freedom of those who are released from what is going on. How do we as Anglicans disciple into that kind of space? How can we make room for it in our churches?

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[Worship Project] 4th Sunday of Easter

Liturgical Leadership

  • Officiant: Cn. Dave (me)
  • Preacher: Stevan
  • Music: Tom leading a small team (vocals, keys or drums, acoustic guitar)
  • Scripture: Stevan (Habbakuk 2:15-20 and Psalm 62), Dcn. Andrea (John 10:11-16)

Set List

Songs of Praise

  • Praise is Rising
  • Oh How I Need You
  • All Creatures of our God and King
  • Something About that Name

Offertory

  • Give Me Jesus

Communion

  • Christ Be All Around Me

Dismissal

  • Oh How I Need You

Collect for the Day

O God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice, we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

One of the fascinating things about leading worship in this community is the way that time is not our primary consideration. We are gathered to be the people of God. Despite my best efforts as an officiant, it’s a challenge to gather, and pray before 10 and start by 10. But I continue to press it–and as I tell the team–if we start at 10, people will show up at 10. The worship is that important. But there’s also another contradiction in that: I take my watch off. It’s a recent thing, but it’s an intentional thing that I need to step away from the worldly concerns and the worship of the clock/schedule to be part of leading God’s people in something that’s eternal and timeless.

There was something reflective of the cosmos in this day of worship. We gave our praise, invited all creation into that praise, asked for God’s help to sustain our lives…and at the end of it all was just…silence. Silence. It’s what Stevan taught and invited us into. He gave voice to that time of simply being in God’s presence waiting to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. It was a powerful teaching, and at the end of it, he led the congregation into two minutes of silence and waiting, and the invitation to bring that into our own day to day lives. There’s an anointing on this season of teaching and the worship that has everything running in sync, and it’s a gift to us from the Lord.

[Worship Practice] Great Vigil of Easter

Liturgical Leadership

  • Officiant: Fr. Dave (me)
  • Preacher: Fr. Dave
  • Music: Joe providing vocals and guitar
  • Scripture: Micah, Anna, Sarah, Jason, Joe (Vigil lessons), Cesiah (Epistle/Psalm), Fr. Dave (Gospel)

Set List

Song of Praise

  • Christ the Lord is Risen Today

Communion

  • Jesus Messiah

Dismissal

  • Because He Lives (Amen)

Collect for the Day

O God, you made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord’s resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This was, as far as I’m aware, the first celebration of the Great Vigil of Easter at Church of the Savior. We started a bit late (owing to explanation and welcome and getting everyone in the door) and were worshipping in another room in the church generally reserved for smaller gatherings. Following the welcome, I led the congregation outside to the parking lot, where we started the “new fire” of Easter for the Service of Light. After praying the blessing, we lit a paschal candle, and (after some unsuccessful attempts owing to the wind), began to light vigil candles for our procession back into the building.

Once assembled, with the paschal candle in place, I said (note: not sang) the Exsultet, and we began the Service of Lessons. Five readers (including a young child and a teenager) read the six lessons (Creation, Fall, Abraham Sacrifice of Isaac, Israel’s Deliverance at the Red Sea, Salvation offered freely to all, and the Valley of dry bones) and we prayed the psalms (and canticle) in response to them by the light of the candles. The room was otherwise dark. The sense of anticipation and meditation on our history as God’s people was building throughout. Traditionally, there are 9 Vigil lessons read, but given the experimental nature of our service, I decided to restrict it to those 6 (The ACNA liturgy actually allows as many as 12).

At the conclusion of the Vigil lessons, I led the group in the renewal of our baptismal vows. The renunciation of the world, the flesh and the devil and submission to Jesus in the fellowship of His Church is a powerful, punctuating ritual in the conclusion of Lent. Following the renewal of vows, we shouted the Easter Acclamation (and it sounded much larger than our gathering of 12!), and the lights came on as we welcomed the Easter Day with the classic hymn, Christ the Lord is Risen Today. We proceeded to the collect, and Cesiah read the Epistle (Romans 6:3-11) and led us in praying Psalm 114. Hearing the first reading of Easter by a woman was an important aspect that I wanted us to experience as a community. Given more time to plan, I would have arranged for the message to spoken by a woman as well.  After sharing the Gospel reading (in the way our Archdeacon, the Ven. Mark Stevenson taught by example–from memorized delivery of the story), I shared a message of the way that Jesus’ resurrection turns everything upside down, and ends the tyranny of sin and death and oppression. Mary Magdalene is sent to bring news of new life and being with God to the men, reversing Eve’s sharing of the fruit in Genesis 3. I called on the men to hear and receive the words God gives our sisters in Christ, and to take the message of Jesus’ resurrection into the world: because for us in the Kingdom of God, the “Upside Down” world we live in is on notice, and we can bring words of life and newness to set things to rights. It seemed that the message was empowering/healing for those present and I pray it produces more good fruit.

We concluded with Holy Communion (Ancient Rite), singing “Jesus, Messiah” during the distribution of Communion. The service closed with the fourfold Blessing of Easter and singing “Because He Lives (Amen).” The resurrection joy was real, and we were dismissed in the joy of our salvation.

Why How We Worship Matters

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.

Promise and Power

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.

Resting in the Spirit

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.

Reading Scripture and the Hope of the Poor

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.