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

Posts tagged ‘counter-culture’

[Worship Practice] 14th Sunday after Pentecost

Liturgical Leadership

  • Officiant: Cn. Dave (me)
  • Preacher: Fr. Dennett
  • Music: Dcn. Ben leading a team (vocals, guitar, drums, keyboard)
  • Scripture: Truth (Revelation 3:14-22 and Psalm 16), Dcn. Laura (John 6:56-69)

Set List

Songs of Praise

  • Everlasting God
  • We Will Feast in the House of Zion
  • Here in Your Presence
  • Before the Throne of God Above

Offertory

  • Lord, Enkindle Me

Communion

  • Refiner’s Fire
  • Lord, I Need You

Dismissal

  • Nothing But the Blood

Collect for the Day

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I read an article recently about things that small churches should do. #5 on that list was that they should start at time, and that waiting for a critical mass to gather to start doesn’t help. I fully believe and support that. I try–I really do–but it’s not something that happens despite all. I vested 10 minutes before service. The music team ceased rehearsal 5 minutes before service. I thought we’d pray and get done on time….but no. Folks scattered, dispersed, conversed, and then I find out that my dear rector has “sabotaged” my efforts by making the clock slow by a few minutes. What can a man do?

We prayed and took our respective places. I welcomed everyone and voiced expectation that we would encounter and hear the Word of God in our worship and invited everyone to engage in that expectation. We proceeded through the Acclamation, Summary of the Law, Confession, Absolution and Comfortable Words smoothly before entering our songs of praise. The worship was preparatory, acknowledging God’s presence, emphasizing the need for hearing God’s Word. Dcn. Ben’s leadership is often pastorally sensitive to the condition of the parish. In the silence afterward, a parishioner read from Colossians about the glory and kingship of Christ as He stands sovereign over all creation. I also had an impression to speak a word of assurance. So, addressing the fear of what might be exposed or brought to light in speaking boldly or giving testimony for Christ, I read from the first few verses of Romans 8, and then picked up the final flourish from “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” The Collect for the Day felt like a seal and response to the beginning of our worship.

As we listened to the reading of the Scriptures, prayed the Psalm, and stood hearing the Gospel, the juxtaposition of the letter to the church in Laodicea with the challenge of Jesus to the Twelve to forsake him because of hard teaching highlighted the words of Peter, “Where else will we go? You have the words of eternal life!” Even as Fr. Dennett preached on the realities of our life in America as very much like that in Laodicea–wealth, power, self-confidence, and ease of self-deception to detract us from the love of God in Christ. It was a powerful call to repentance–a reminder that repentance is the substance of our discipleship, and that the love of God to offer forgiveness and hope to all who repent remained constant.

What was experienced by the rest of the parish, I’m not sure of. For myself, I was keenly aware of the lack of holiness, and my presumption in the different ways I’ve tried to reflect holiness–the definite need for repentance. As we concluded the Ministry of the Word with the Creed and the Prayers of the People, that was my work. Fr. Dennett handled the announcements–which were extensive due to an appeal for participation in a healing care group that is starting in the parish and by an interview by one of our seminarians of two Kenyan seminarians about their summers at home, and where they are coming from, and what God is doing in their dioceses. Church of the Savior has long supported and welcomed students from across the globe into their community.

From the offertory into the Ministry of the Table, there was a restless quiet as some members of the parish had a ministry–a community lunch– to prepare for as the service was running long. My sense of responsibility in that is I will do my best, but the Sacrament is to be celebrated and received in reverence. So, there was no hurry in moving through the Holy Communion, and as the parish received, we went through two songs in worship (contrasting to our usual one). To me, the Table was an answer to my repentance, a Word for my hunger and desire for the holiness of God. It was not made or earned or taken by me. It was given freely, graciously, and fully by Christ. And that bread and cup were sufficient. I had no hunger–not even physical hunger–after that. That is the faithfulness of the Jesus who speaks to His Church so constantly and truthfully.

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Constrained by the Word

I had the privilege of preaching at Church of the Savior yesterday morning. We are spending Ordinary Time in an expository series through the Apocalypse (aka, the Revelation of Jesus to John). As we gathered in an area park shelter, the songs of the glory of God and the frailty of our humanity, echoed by the collect led into the letter to the Church in Philadelphia in Revelation 3, which was my assigned portion for the day.

Preparing for that text was difficult. In the wake of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Attorney General’s report about the horrors of child abuse, I was wishing I’d had one of the sterner letters in Revelation to preach and really let some fire out. My sense of justice was inflamed. Christ had been spit upon by men who claimed to minister in His name. These perpetrators had commenced an assault on the Church. Further, I wanted to offer a word of grace to all the hurting. I had already put something out on social media, but that’s not really the same significance as what is preached.

As I was sharing that with Bishop John Rodgers following worship, the comment I had was, “But I was rather constrained by the Scripture assigned.” Prophetic fire and inflamed passion for justice have their place in the words spoken by those called by God to preach. But they only have their place within the constraints of the revelation of God’s Word Incarnate–and because of His authority, in God’s Word written. Speaking to the “church of little power” like Philadelphia, and rebuking those of the synagogue of Satan, Jesus offers grace and comfort and glorious promises to those who were hurting, And he could reveal Himself as the one who gets the last word–who opens, and no one can shut and who shuts, and no one can open. Praise be to the King, forever blessed, who does not leave us to our passions, but guides us by His Spirit through the Word.

[Worship Practice] 9th Sunday after Pentecost

Liturgical Leadership

  • Officiant: Cn. Dave (me)
  • Preacher: Fr. Dennett
  • Music: Stevan leading a small team (vocals, guitar, drums)
  • Scripture: Martha (Revelation 2:1-11 and Psalm 22:22-31), Dcn. Laura (Mark 6:30-44)

Set List

Songs of Praise

  • O Worship the King
  • He Reigns
  • Reign in Me Again
  • It is Well (Through It All)

Offertory

  • Royal Blood

Communion

  • Jesus, All For Jesus

Dismissal

  • O Church Arise

Collect for the Day

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Note: I will have to keep this short as I am writing from my phone. My computer logic board is shorted out so I need to wait before I can get it repaired.

This Sunday marked an important development in the life of Church of the Savior. They have worshipped in the current building for 14 years–and through that time have been rehabbing the building. The work began to slow down after a decade of work and the sanctuary remained unfinished as we worshipped week after week. Through one of my recruits and leaders in the Village Church–now a member of the vestry–and through several prophetic words and praying Scripture (especially Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi), the parish set its sights on completing the work of the sanctuary. We raised some funds, had the drywall finished and prepped. This past week, the youth mission team from St. John’s, Franklin, painted the sanctuary walls, including an accent. It’s a tremendous difference and it was very encouraging for the parish to have a worship space that can welcome others more hospitable as we worship God.

Again, true to COTS tradition, we started our pre-worship prayers at 10:01 and began the service at 10:05. The opening dialogues and praise focused us on our unworthy state before the King, and the glorious Kingdom He is making of us anyway. When we finished “Through it All”, one of the music team spontaneously sparked singing the final two verses of “It is Well” (My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought… & And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight…). The reverent silence that followed was restful and confident. It enabled our hearts to be prepared for the collect–one of the Cranmer originals that declares that the primary demonstration of the King’s power is mercy and pity. That collect followed me through the rest of the service, and I wonder if it was on others’ minds as well.

The reading of the Scriptures proceeded as normal and Fr. Dennett preached through the first two letters to the churches in Revelation–highlighting the dangers of putting away our first love and of tribulation and suffering, but that in either case, looking to Jesus–to the King present with his Church and who holds authority over her and is sovereign over the world–is our rescue. There’s no room for legalism in these exhortations.

I offered the recitation or the Creed as a beginning point of repentance or as an anchor (whether you were listening from Ephesus or Smyrna) as we remembered the work of God. The prayers of the people were unusually brief, although there were a number of intercession offered. In announcements, our Junior Warden shared a summary of the mission work of St. John’s and upcoming projects for us.

Repentance and Renewal were both themes of “Royal Blood”, which allowed the sermon to continue through into the ministry of the Table. As we prayed and received the Holy Communion, it was definitely a time of submitting ourselves to the King–receiving from His Table and not trusting our own efforts and works, nor our ability to hang in there. The closing song’s marshaling call to mission was well-received as a result.

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.

The Spirit of Christmas is the Spirit of Pentecost

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.

[Worship Practice] 13th Sunday after Pentecost

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.

 

Sacred Time & the End of the World

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.