Sunday, August 27, 2006

Proper 16B

Psalm 16
Joshua 24:1-2, 14-25
Ephesians 5:21-33
John 6:60-69

God of the WORDS OF ETERNAL LIFE, where, indeed, shall we go? Today's many desires threaten your stabiity, for we are always bombarded with forgetfulness. We make you complex and a burden when all you have done is come and smiled upon us in your justice and mercy. And yet, somehow even we, your people, leave Jerusalem to frequently visit Egypt, to drink from beyond the river of life, where nothingness is given a place. Train us through the gifts of your body and blood to confess again, "You are my Lord, I have not good besides You (Ps. 16:2)." AMEN.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Love of the Beautiful

So, as my last post indicates, I picked up the Philokalia again this morning. I put it down a few months ago so that I could finish some reading for the Fall semester and I got a little sidetracked. Plus, I was in the middle of a section that I had left and come back to many times and it was getting difficult to push through to the end. I’ll have to revisit it because I know that I didn’t read it well.

But, I did make it to the next section where I was pleasantly surprised with Mr. Diadochos of Photiki. You can call him St. Diadochos if you prefer. Amazing! The section is titled On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination: One Hundred Texts. Here are a few to consider:

7. “Spiritual discourse fully satisfies our intellectual perception, because it comes from God through the energy of love. It is on account of this that the intellect continues undisturbed in its concentration on theology. It does not suffer then from the emptiness which produces a state of anxiety, since in its contemplation it is filled to the degree that the energy of love desires. So it is right always to wait, with a faith energized by love, for the illumination which will enable us to speak. For nothing is so destitute as a mind philosophizing about God when it is without Him.”

21. “He who loves God both believes truly and performs the works of faith reverently. But he who only believes and does not love, lacks even the faith he thinks he has; for he believes merely with a certain superficiality of intellect and is not energized by the full force of love’s glory. The chief part of virtue, then, if faith energized by love.”

66. God is not prepared to grant the gift of theology to anyone who has not first prepared himself by giving away all his possessions for the glory of the gospel; then in godly poverty he can proclaim the riches of the divine kingdom. This is made clear in the Psalm, for after the words ‘O Lord, in Thy love Thou hast provided for the poor’, it continues, ‘The Lord shall give speech to those who proclaim the gospel with great power (Ps. 68:10-11. LXX).”

90. “[…] for no one can acquire the perfection of love while still in the flesh except those saints who suffer to the point of martyrdom, and confess their faith despite all persecution. Whoever has reached this state is completely transformed, and does not feel desire even for material sustenance. For what desire will someone nourished by divine love feel for such things? It is for this real that St. Paul proclaims to us that future joy of the saints when he says: ‘For the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17), which are the fruits of perfect love. Those who have advanced to perfection are able to taste this love continually, but no one can experience it completely until ‘what is mortal in us is swallowed up by life’ (2 Cor. 5:4)”

This is some good stuff for us Wesleyans to chew on plus, it’s interesting to read the body/soul dualism so prevalent in his 100 texts. For example, he says, “everything longs for what is akin to itself: the soul, since it is bodiless, desires heavenly goods (text 24). Ouch, what was the purpose of the incarnation then? Couldn’t God find a better way than entering this filth we call the flesh? – That’s sarcasm for those missed it – But Diadochos goes on to say, “the joy which then fills both soul and body is a true recalling of the life without corruption (text 25). He does not correct the dualism but he is much more positive towards the body, even including it in heavenly things! Yea! What a huge resource for us today. Fearful of any social gospel na├»ve enough to think that the world is “getting better” and that it is the task of the Church to help it get better, we can approach the goodness of creation with an eye towards the end as the Spirit ushers in the kingdom. I would ask an open-ended (not a rhetorical) question: What is the task of the Church if we are not to make the world a better place?

Friday, August 25, 2006

"All I wanted was a simple kind of life"

So... you need to read the Philokalia. I know, I don't care. You need to read it!

"We should remain, then, within the limits imposed by our basic needs and strive with all our power not to exceed them. For once we are carried a little beyond these limits in our desire for the pleasure of this life, there is then no criterion by which to check our onward movement, since no bounds can be set to that which exceeds the necessary. Pointless effort and endless labour wasted on what is unnecessary only serve to increase out longing for it, adding more fuel to the flames. Once a man has passed beyond the limits of his natural needs, as he grows more materialistic he wants to put jam on his bread; and to water he adds to first modicum of wine required for his health, and then the most expensive vintages. He does not rest content with essential clothing, but starts to purchase clothes made from brightly-coloured wool of the very best quality; next he demands clothes made from a mixture of linen and wool; next he searches for silken clothes – at first just for plain silk, and then for silk embroidered with scenes of battles and hunting and the like. He acquires vessels of silver and hold, not just for banqueting but for animals to feed from and for use as chamber-pots. What need is there to say more about such absurd ostentation, extending as it does to the basest needs, so that even chamber-pots must be made of nothing less than silver? Such is the nature of sensual pleasure: it embraces even the lowliest things and leads us to invest the meanest of functions with material luxury.”

St. Neilos The Ascetic

P.S. This affirms as well my thinking that we have lost the ancient art of theological name calling. I mean who today do we refer to as "the ascetic?" Think of the greats. Thomas Aquinas was referred to as "the dumb ox" because he was quiet as a student (and huge!). But guess what happened when the Summa hit the scene. Boo yaa. And Athanasius, my favorite, was called "the black dwarf." Awesome!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Proper 15B

Psalm 34:9-14
Proverbs 8:1-6
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:53-59

GOD OF WISDOM, what is wisdom? Everyone has the answer and product that is the end-all to all we have ever hoped and dreamed. What is wisdom? Oh, how it is that we are to know your wisdom at the table, for you are GOD OF THE EUCHARIST. All those who seek truth and wisdom are to find it at your table. It is at the table the we learn to see you in each other for it is at the table that we learn that our adoration of your wonders and glory that so fill our minds and the outer reaches of all we can imagine has no other place to go but in our love for one another. You are the God that that did not teach us things of another world but rather taught in our synagogues in the city of Capernaum. Very real, very local, and very material is the call of faithfulness to be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. God, we have nothing to offer but two empty hands that we may receive Christ hoping that Your Spirit makes us Christ. AMEN.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Board of General Superintendants Call for Prayer and Peace

Note this statement by the General Superintendants:

"The Board of General Superintendents joins all people who are deeply disturbed by the violence and bloodshed in our world. The number of militaristic hot spots has grown to include millions of our planet's citizens. We deplore the loss of human life, the destruction of property, and the enormous toll in human suffering exacted by the intransigence of warring parties.

With specific regard to the conflict between Hezbollah and Israeli military, we wish to express our concerns as well as our grief over the suffering resulting from both the events leading up to the conflagration and the current conflict. We wish to commend the community of nations for its efforts in working toward a God-honoring peace. The issues must be addressed in ways that ensure basic human rights, which all individuals and nations deserve.

We offer our prayers for peace and encourage Nazarenes around the world to intercede for world peace. We continue to affirm the message of Jesus, the Hope. Our prayer remains steadfast that all will come to know the Christ who is our Peace."

Sacred Space (Part Two)

Our worship service at Trinity (warning, this site has not been updated recently) is broken down into four movements: God calls, we gather; God speaks, we listen; God acts, we give thanks; God sends, we go.

God Calls, We Gather

We begin with a song. This song is usually according to the time of the season, but we are very flexible. If it is lent, we might begin with a little more contemplative song or a maybe a song about suffering. The band will usually begin the song as the congregation is gathering and still talking. This indicates that we are beginning the worship service.

The invocation follows the first song. The pastor will walk out to the space just in front of the table with their arms wide open saying, “Welcome in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” This is very purposeful and intentional time. Usually the pastor will have a brief word for us, may something that we had talked about in the class time before or maybe the Psalm designated for that Sunday. The pastor then leads us in an opening prayer.

We end this first movement by singing two more songs.

God Speaks, We Listen

After the two songs following the invocation we move into the reading of the Word. We always read the Old Testament and the Epistle readings back to back. Upon finishing the reader will say, “The Word of the Lord” to which the congregation responds, “thanks be to God.”

Following this we sing another song. It has been our custom at this point of the service to sing something from the Taize community but that is not set in stone. It’s usually a verse we sing three or four times in a little more focused and contemplative attitude.

Following this verse we read the Gospel reading. The same reader as before will, say “please stand for our gospel reading” or “please stand for the reading of the gospel,” something like that. However, instead of returning to the podium, the Gospel is read from amidst the congregation. This is symbolic for us as we are reminded that the Logos (Jesus) is among us. Following this reading the reader will say, “the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” to which we will respond, “Praise to you, Lord Christ.” Following the gospel reading is the sermon.

After the sermon, someone will come up and lead us in the prayers of the people. This is a time when we pray aloud together. Following a spoken prayer that one will say, “Lord, this is my prayer” to which the congregation will embrace that prayer as if it was their own, “Lord, here our prayer.” At an appropriate time, the one leading the prayers of the people will end by leading us all in the Lords prayer.

God Acts, we Give Thanks

After the prayers of the people the pastor will walk to the front of the table, initiating the passing of the peace, and say, “the peace of Christ be with you.” The congregation then responds, “and also with you.” The pastor will then say, “great one another in Christ’s peace.”

After this time we will be gathered again by a song which will move us towards the time of the Eucharist. The pastor will approach the table and prepare it with the words of institution. The Church of the Nazarene has a ritual for the table but it is nothing like more high church traditions (Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheren, etc.) Our church has been very flexible in sticking to the exact words (I will develop this thought more in a later post). Once the table has been prepared the congregation approaches to take a piece of bread and dip it in the cup. Following this we sing another song.

God Sends, We Go

This is time for any announcements to be said. Following the announcements we sing a song. The pastor will move to the back of the room in preparation for our sending (the benediction). When we have finished the song the pastor will raise their hands saying, “brothers and sisters, go forth into the world to love and serve the Lord.” We are to respond by turning hands so that our palms face upward, as if we are literally receiving the benediction, and saying, “thanks be to God, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.” The pastor will then say, “go in peace.”

Thus ends the summary of a pretty normal Sunday gathering. In my next post I want to draw out some of these implications particularly as they pertain to non-liturgical churches. If you are reading and you are from a high church tradition you will find many things absent or different. But, if you are part of a standard evangelical mainline kind of church then you might find Trinity’s contemporary liturgy to be intriguing. It is my goal in drawing on some of these implications to raise questions concerning spiritual formation (discipleship, catechism, etc.).

Sorry this post was longer than usual.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Weekly Bresee Article

My dad has raised here one of the longest standing issues in the existence of the church which is the question of our (humanities) knowledge of God after the fall. Many people have taken the reigns to provide an answer between the dichotomy of nature and grace. I don't have anything more to say on that right now because I don't have time. But, I did find helpful his asking what Christians mean when we say we "believe" in God. For more on the kinds of things I think about when I ask this question check out this conversation on Radical [Financial] Trust and Obedience going on at Charlie's blog. Otherise click read more and enjoy the post.

From My Heart
Rick Savage

Believing in God seems to be a natural condition for mankind. Except for a few people who call themselves atheists, most people believe in God. They may not believe in God the same way, and may not ever worship God as God. They may not believe God is personal or involved in the human situation. They may not believe God is making claims upon their lives. They may not even once in their lifetime work their way through their thoughts and feelings about God. However, most people are content with the premise that behind everything there is a God, a Supreme Being.

All this leads me to ask what we Christians mean when we say we believe in God. I am prompted in my question by an intriguing little verse in James (2:19) that reminds us believing in God is not a big spiritual issue. The Biblical writer indicates that even demons believe in God. So what do we mean when we Christians say we believe in God?

Do we not mean by it that we are responding to Him with the "Yes" of our obedience? Does it not mean that we are committed to His claims, yielded to His purposes, open to His involvement in our lives and in our world? Does it not mean we are acknowledging history was no accident of chance but that the world exists by design and that man reflects the creative capacities of God? Does it not mean we are committed to the premise that God is good, that love is best defined by what we see when we see Him, that justice is a universal standard and that in Jesus the Good News of God, the love of God and the justice of God are fleshed out before our eyes leading us to see that God is so involved in the human situation that He bleeds?

Based on what I see in the Bible I must contend that real belief means we embrace God with all it means for us to be who we are, and call Him "Lord of all."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sacred Space

I have been thinking about this since the first time I participated in worship with Trinity Church of the Nazarene. I really love the space we have created in which to worship. I hope to draw on some of the implications of our setting as it pertains to our contemporary liturgy in later posts.

Walking through the doors of the sanctuary one might not feel like they are in a setting much different from most mainline Protestant Evangelical worship services. On the furthest wall from the door sits the band and above them on either corner are screens to help us sing. The room itself is not a “sanctuary” per say. However, immediately one is drawn to what is different about this gathering. The congregation sits around the four walls of the room. We found that it was good to give the band a wall so that they could have room to set up and play their instruments with creativity and talent and help us all sing. They sit on the wall farthest from the doors entering the sanctuary. On the two walls to left and right of the entry doors hangs artwork according to the season of the Church calendar to help draw us into God’s presence. On each of these walls sits a candle on a stand symbolizing and reminding us of the Holy Spirit’s presence. On the wall behind the band hangs a large wood design of the Trinity. Out of the Trinity flows a creative movement of hundreds of paper dove’s that go out to the center of the room intertwining with the cross that hangs down 7 inches, parallel with the ceiling. Below the cross sits the pastor’s podium and in the front of the podium, in the center of the room, is the table upon which another candle sits in the middle and the bread and the cup await preparation.

Friday, August 11, 2006

I laughed out loud today

I laughed out loud today. That actually isn’t very unusual, I enjoy laughing. The occasion of my laughter, however, is what intrigues me. I laughed while reading Pelikan’s second volume of The Christian Tradition. I know, hilarious right. What made me laugh was a particular paragraph in his section on the filioque. In this section he is talking about the Trinity and how the West was saying that the procession of the Spirit is a matter of the divine essence (ousia) and not of the persons (hypostases). Please read the paragraphy:

"Yet when they came to the procession of the Holy Spirit, many Western theologians, arguing that the actions of the trinity ‘to the outside’ were undivided, insisted that the procession was a matter of the divine nature as a whole, hence of the ousia not of the hypostases. And so, ‘when the Holy Spirit is said to proceed from the Father, it is necessary that he proceed also from the Son, because Father and Son are undoubtedly of the same ousia.’ In an effort to circumvent the problem, some attempted to locate the procession ‘neither in the ousia, which is common {to all three persons}, nor in the person, which is spoken of in itself, but in the relation {between persons},’ which really did not clarify the issue or meet the basic Greek objection.”


Can you see the humor yet? Probably not. It just made me laugh. I sort of stopped taking myself so seriously. Studying theology is kind of like a game of Jenga with a few new rules. The Scripture is like the pieces stacked neatly and we are given the task to build upon it. So, we pull pieces and attempt a great task. Inevitably, the tower will fall because are aren’t that good at it. But, the more we do it the better we get and so we learn different way’s to stack pieces that are helpful and avoid those that are not. But still, we take ourselves too seriously. Sometimes, though, I think it’s good to just knock the building down, like most kids tend to do because then the game never ends. We always have the Scripture and we always have the task. Perhaps it is better (thanks Chuck) to maintain our catholicity in playing Jenga as opposed to unenjoyably clinging to our orthodoxy. Perhaps it is a both/and situation. We strive for catholicity in our quest for orthodoxy. I personally love knocking down the tower and rebuilding it in order to play the game again. It's fun and it makes me laugh.

Peace,
Scott

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Please!?


I can’t pretend to be an expert on the fighting going on in the Middle East. My ignorance and silence is too telling. However, I do believe that the bombing of woman and children needs to stop. With the U.S. losing allies daily the Church must be concerned that more 9/11 like events could be brewing in the near future both here and around the world. We should not long for the death of any human being let alone those trapped in the middle of a conflict out of their control. I pray for those who suffer in the Middle East from the poor foreign policies of outside nations and inability of the locals to find a relative “peace” in their struggles to share what is only a gift from God, the earth. I have no solutions.

For a better assessment of the situation see Juan Cole’s sight. If you agree with me then consider this.

For a better take on how I feel see the urban monks post tears from heaven (July 31, 2006).

Peace,

Scott