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

Posts tagged ‘Gospel’

Receive the Holy Spirit

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.

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.

Tradition and Tongues

I’m a church planter by practice and pretense (depending on the day, as few of us pull off wearing that hat non-stop). Church planting is by nature an interesting animal. It has that “new car” or “new book” smell all over it. And it’s tempting, because of that, for folks to walk into a church planting effort and expect that everything will be brand new–a church as fresh as the day of Pentecost.

Well, sort of. New works involve lots of Pentecost-type things: reaching out, sharing Jesus, baptizing everybody, and figuring out what it looks like to disciple and to gather for worship. They have a lot of the same growing pains that the book of Acts and the epistles of Paul bear witness to, as well. There are leadership questions, and cultural challenges, and discipleship gaps and experiments.

But that’s not all. Church plants have DNA–they have parents, friends, and bickering cousins who all have an opinion on the shape of things. In other words, there is tradition to take note of. For Pentecostals ministering in the Anglican Church or others in the catholic tradition, this isn’t a negative thing at all. As it’s been noted many times, tradition is a life-giving thing in Pentecostal discipleship.

But what does that look like in church planting? Tradition is what we are passing on in discipleship. Tradition maps out how we follow Jesus together. So, for an Anglican like myself, what that looks like includes:

  • When sharing stories and other texts from Scripture, the point of every single one is to reveal Jesus (Christological reading)
  • We pray together corporately, even the kids outreach has us reciting corporate prayer.
  • We make use of liturgical prayer. For example, baptism candidates will receive a small booklet including daily prayers derived from the family offices from the prayerbook.
  • We value the church year–Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter are especially highlighted in our children’s outreach, and I hope they will be an influence in our small groups as well.

So, yes, tradition provides hands-on discipleship for life in the Spirit as we are all attempting to follow Jesus together. Practice it personally and embrace it’s application in ministry–especially in new ministry like church planting.

The Uninvited Word

Reading Scripture with my background is interesting. Reformed, Pentecostal, Anglican, all coming together.

From the Reformed of my high school & college years, I assume that we all come to Scripture thru lenses and external measures foreign to it (“Reading Scripture in its original historical and grammatical context”).

From the Pentecostal of my youth and adulthood, I assume that Scripture is addressed to me directly as a member of Christ–immediate, making me an original recipient and hearer.

From the Anglican of my life since college, I assume that Emmaus is ultimate–that Scripture is canonically and forever bearing witness to Jesus and His Gospel.

They have different contributions but they are all grounded in the conviction that I did not deserve or choose this revelation but that Jesus Christ–the same yesterday, today and for ever–graciously delights to send the Word to human flesh and blood.

So reading Scripture is, in some ways, an echo of the mystery of the Incarnation, and its work is like the promise to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” –bringing forth Christ in us, the hope of glory. (Dave Ketter, Facebook/Twitter–July 2 2016)

But like I said, it’s not a revelation that I deserved, chose, or earned. It’s not a revelation I even invited. It’s a revelation God has sent into the world, into the darkness, into the primal depths of my fallen life. It calls out and speaks “Let there be!”

Let there be. Just like the beginning. The primordial chaos starts to take shape with new visions: light, division, gathering, separating, hardness, softness, new sounds, new life, new company, new sights. New earth. A new way to be. “It’s good!”

Oh, good. So, so very good. That’s the message of the Word. But wait, the night is still there. The Sea is still there. The decay is still there. The fear is still there. Death is still there. It’s here, near, and I can still taste it. I hear its rumbling hunger deep within me. The yawning hunger for the things that lead to death. I’m hungering for anything but the Word.

But still God sends it. Still the Word is pours into my ears. Still it gets poured down into the depths of my throat. The abyss of my heart begins to fill up. The chasms of desire and death start breaking in new directions aligned with the Deity. The demons, so frequently buzzing and swarming, begin to scatter and howl away in every direction expect in mine. Because the Word has more to say:

Open your hand.

Receive your sight.

Stand up. Take up your mat. Walk.

Come to Me.

Your sins are forgiven.

It. Is. Finished.

Oh, it’s so uninvited. So unlooked for. So undeserved. So unchosen.

But it makes me the Invited. It makes me the Looked-For. It makes me the Deserved. It makes me the Chosen. It makes me Someone Else–a Son. Beloved. Royal. Spirit-Burdened. Incarnated.

All because of the Word-made-flesh, who keeps sending His Word.

Legacy: Martha

This post is long overdue and I’ve been thinking about it for most of a month. I didn’t know where to begin, or end…so, instead of something comprehensive, I’m posting just a sliver of remembrance and reflection of her legacy.

A woman’s voice cut through the silence of the day: “Well isn’t this a fine row of bishops?” I looked up to see her smiling at me and some friends, sitting by the fire. “God forbid,” I retorted. (more…)

Jesus Died for Your Body

So American evangelicalism and its caricatures have a huge emphasis on the salvation of the human soul. It’s not without reason. The soul, is, after all, in bondage to sin and unable to free itself. But there’s an on-going problem with contemporary gnosticism in American Christian theology when the soul (or mind/heart, or spirit) is elevated above the body. Whether it’s in preaching, teaching, Bible studies, or prioritizing day-to-day values, the message is clear: “That’s just the body. What really matters is your soul.” Friends, that’s a lie from the pit of hell. The story of Jesus–which becomes our story as the Spirit gives it to us in baptism–from when the Word took on flesh (John 1:14-16) to the return for which we so eagerly long for is a great rescue for our bodies. (more…)

Hands-On Christianity

The laying on of hands may seem like sentimentalism to the non-Christian outsider, or superstition to the modern thinker, or Roman foolishness to the fundamentalist. But for those who are in the Church catholic–Western, Eastern, Reformational, and Pentecostal–the laying on of hands is a deeply Scriptural, communally significant practice. It is not merely the presence of physical touch in the worship of the community, but an expression of Spirit-empowered anointing intended for the life of the Body of Christ. While many in American evangelicalism happily place hands on those they pray for, and many have even considered that what they are doing is beneficial and biblical, this is quite different from the laying on of hands as practiced by historic Christianity or by Pentecostals. (more…)