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

Posts tagged ‘Grace’

[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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[Worship Practice] 11th Sunday after Pentecost

Liturgical Leadership

  • Officiant: Cn. Dave (me)
  • Preacher: Stevan
  • Music: Stevan leading a team (vocals, guitars, drums)
  • Scripture: Michael (Revelation 2:18-29 and Psalm 78:1-13), Dcn. Laura (John 6:24-35)

Set List

Songs of Praise

  • Indescribable
  • He is Exalted
  • All Creatures of our God and King
  • Agnus Dei

Offertory

  • More than Conquerors

Communion

  • Glorify Thy Name
  • King of Glory

Dismissal

  • Glorious Day

Collect for the Day

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your grace that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

I must announce that I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that Church of the Savior will always start 5-10 minutes after the hour. Always. What is one to do? Lead as well as we can anyway, seems to be the answer.

“Tired” seemed to be a characteristic for our leadership coming in yesterday morning. In the group was a number of people who certainly have good reasons (new baby, or “flexible schedule” job, or a lot of recent travel or out-of-town people visiting). So, as we prayed before the service, I was conscious of our need for God and grateful for the opportunity for us to acknowledge that He’s the one who does the heavy lifting in our worship anyway. So, we clung to his promises.

I welcomed the congregation with “It is good to be together in the house of the Lord.” I spoke of expectations and, responding to some reading I’ve done recently, rather than speaking of inviting God into what we were doing, I felt it was more truthful to affirm that God has already been present, and had been preparing both the space and us for what He would do in revealing Himself in our midst. We began the service with the usual acclamation, the summary of the Law, confession, absolution and the Comfortable Words before responding with songs of praise.

The Songs of Praise thematically focused on the exaltation and glory of Jesus the King. The awareness of God’s presence that we began with intensified as we declared His kingship, glory, worthiness, power, and grace. Some of us were driven to our knees in adoration of Jesus. It concluded with silence–stillness and worship at the glorious, gracious God we have been delivered by. That silence was only broken to pray our collect for the day, acknowledging again our need for God to act in us in order for anything to happen through us.

The reading of the Scriptures was similarly oriented to acknowledging God’s glory and judgment, and the Gospel story of Jesus’ rebuke of selfish pursuits of God, with the gracious invitation to take of the Bread of Heaven, Jesus Himself, translated that encounter of God’s presence into terms of Law and Gospel. This was a preparation for Stevan’s preaching from the the letter to the Church in Thyatira, a congregation filled with compromise of the heart, but exhortation for the faithful. The Law was heavy for those who were following false teaching, but the Gospel (“I lay no other burden on you!”) was gentle and comforting. Jesus is coming, and thank God, our call to faithfulness is to hold on.

It was difficult to just continue with the Creed at that point. I sometimes feel we need to sit with God’s Word, and allow some kind of spontaneous response, but the nature of the sermon itself, which so effectively communicated Law and Gospel to the individuals and community in our parish, would have had us sitting in silence. Maybe that’s the right response. We continued with the Prayers of the People, announcements (very briefly), and entered offertory and the ministry of the Table. We were blessed to have many of our seminarians returned, and to welcome them at the Table was a joyful occasion.

At the benediction, I felt prompted to give a Scriptural exhortation from 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” The assurance of God’s presence among us as we went out felt needful as we departed, so I delivered this Scripture promise and pronounced God’s blessing on the people. “One day He’s coming, oh Glorious Day!”

 

 

 

PS: All this, and we concluded 15 minutes earlier than the congregation is accustomed…God only knows how, because we didn’t cut anything. AND a number of the congregation stayed longer to fellowship and talk following the service.

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.

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.

The Fast and the Fury

One thing that the Pentecostal and catholic traditions have in common is an undistracted devotion to the spiritual discipline of fasting. The catholic tradition’s practice of regular fasting–days from the early church for each week, each season of the year, and guidelines for the faithful– and the Pentecostal’s warlike ethos of fasting for the sake of spiritual breakthrough come together in some unique ways in my life. As someone raised in the Pentecostal tradition, I do believe fasting is an act of war–not only against the indwelling sinner, but also against the powers and principalities who are arrayed against the people of God and His Christ. It’s a heritage that has taken the words of Jesus to heart: “this kind can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29).

Much has been written by pastors and practitioners over the years of the impact of fasting. The practical results, the typical psychological and physical effects, and the “pro tips” for holding up your commitment. Those may well have their place, but if the Pentecostal experience–and the stories of great ascetics like St. Antony of Egypt, St. John Climacus, or St. Colum Cille– bears out, then the spiritual battle that we enter in fasting is of far greater import and impact than any of the practical tips offered by these leaders.

Tradition tells of St. Antony being attacked by demons when he retreated to the desert for prayer and fasting, and how the Lord strengthened him in the face of those assaults. St. Patrick recounts an assault by the devil while fasting in the wilderness of Gaul that prevented him from moving, and how he cried out to the Lord, and the weight was lifted. St. Moses the Ethiopian, St. John Damascus, St. John of the Cross, and many others throughout our history have other testimonies. Fasting puts a target on your back–but the Lord Jesus already has the victory, and communicates that grace to us through the Holy Spirit at work within us.

So, when you fast, fast in full confidence that God is already present, already speaking, and already giving grace to you. But also fast in the full knowledge that you have personally declared war on the world, the flesh, and the devil, and their wrath will be focused on you. But as Martin Luther wrote so many years ago: “The Prince of darkness grim; we tremble not for him! His rage we can endure for, lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.”

Review: Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense

I ordered this book at the recommendation of a dear friend. And started it twice. When I was too busy with ordination process details to even think about reading. But somehow an immersion experience in mission here in Germany has opened doors for time to finish it.

All I can say is: wow. Wow, such raw honesty about the absence and presence of God. Wow, such clarity about the questions we get from friends and acquaintances every day about faith and Christianity. Wow, such effective truth-telling about how much we as human beings suck (with our “Human Propensity to F*** things Up” as Spufford puts it). Wow, such compassion and tenderness for fellow human beings in our suffering and being weighed down by the realities of the world.

But above all, WOW. WOW, SUCH GRACE. Such an impressive grasp of the overwhelming, constant, annoying, enjoying, transforming and failure-ignoring forgiveness and love of God brought to us by Jesus. We can breathe fresh Gospel air reading Unapologetic.

But Spufford’s purpose isn’t immediately obvious from the title. So, Christians these days sometimes engage in apologetics: defending the faith. It’s a noble and necessary task. Most apologetics, however, is aimed at the teaching and ideas that we as Christians confess in creeds and affirm in other statements that we hopefully receive from the Scriptures. This book, uniquely, is a defense of Christian sanity–that we are not wrong to feel as we do about God, the world, Jesus and the Church. And he does it masterfully.

Definitely give this one a read.