Friday, January 30, 2009


1. Untamed Hospitality by Newman
2. Martin Bucer: Unsung Hero of the Reformation by Lawrence


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Teaching Me Life

My son is on his knees in his seat at the dinner table, rocking back and forth, looking at me intently. He motions a little as he explains, "It's just funny that we worship a King that we can't see, dad. We don't really know what he looks like." I point out that we know he is a man, and probably he looks like a Jewish man. But I also admit that he is right; we can't see our King.

Where is Jesus? I ask him. "In heaven, and dad? If you went up into space, you would have to go waaay up to get to heaven." Yeah, I don't know if you could get there or not, I nod. "What is Jesus doing in heaven?" I ask him. "Fighting sin and bad guys," he explains. "But dad, we love him better than everything else, dad, better than toys or moms or dads or anything." I nod my head. "But when Jesus raises us up, dad, where will we be?" Maybe in Idaho, I suggest. "Will there be velociraptors?" Probably, I nod. "But they'll be good ones, dad. I'll probably like ride on one." Our conversation lingers for a minute on how Adam might have done that in the garden.

I proceed to read the passage for the evening. It's from the gospel of Luke, and it's about Jesus healing on the sabbath day. This time it was a man with a withered hand. Jesus asks the Pharisees if it is lawful to do good on the sabbath or evil, is it lawful to give life or kill on the sabbath. The Pharisees refuse to explicitly label themselves. Jesus heals the man, and the Pharisees immediately enact their implicit answer to Jesus' question. They begin plotting what they will do to Jesus. They begin planning to do evil and to kill on the sabbath. But Jesus heals on the sabbath; Jesus gives life on the sabbath.

We celebrate the sabbath every Sunday. We usually begin Saturday night, and the meal begins with "cheers." The kids have their little wine glasses and we toast our King, our mom, and frequently River offers simple toasts to his sisters. There's chocolate, mom's best meal of the week, candles, and probably more sweets after dinner.

It's Tuesday. My daughter has a lunch box. It was a gift from her cousin. And of course it is pink, and let there be no mistake, there is a cat on the cover of this lunch box. I believe the text above the cat actually reads "Hello Kitty," but my daughter is much too deft for that. She knows that the inscription is far deeper than something so trifling as that. Try to tell her differently, and she will not be persuaded. Those runes actually say "Happy Sabbath." And so she proceeds to tell us, repeatedly. "Dad, look my lunch box. Dad, look my lunch box. Happy... Sabbath!" I nod cheerfully. It's only Tuesday, but I trust her instincts on pink lunch boxes with kittens on them. She certainly knows that field far better than I. "Dad, look my lunch box. My have pink lunch box, dad," she points with her finger and opens her eyes wide up into mine, "Happy... Sabbath!" She proceeds to pull off the lid of the miniature lunch box and exclaims, "Happy Sabbath!" Inside there is a plastic corn on the cob and matching plastic banana. Yellow food inside the pink lunch box. I express my enthusiasm, and she proceeds to replace the lid and begin the liturgy again. She will tell me about her lunch box and the inscription on its lid and display its contents to me another dozen times or so before she is distracted.

I ask my daughter, "Who made you?" She smiles. It's exciting when dad asks her questions during family devotions. She keeps smiling until I tell her the answer. "God made you." "God made me." How many Gods are there? "Two!" she blurts out excitedly and holds up two fingers. She's two years old of course, and we obviously haven't gone over this enough. You can tell which liturgy we have practiced more. River corrects his sister, and there's a momentary controversy over how many gods there are. We are wavering between monotheism and polytheism. The whistles are blown, and we come down on the side of orthodoxy. Heresy is averted for the time being. We move on to the next question. "What is God's name?" She smiles. I begin, "Father..." And she picks up "Father, Son, and Spirit!"

My third descendant loves her older siblings. She watches them with admiration, and laughs at them and with them with next to no provocation. Her mother and I are mundane compared to them. We are old and boring. We are practically dead already. We can elicit little squeals and chuckles with great effort, but she looks at her brother and sister and erupts with delight, dancing in her high chair. She's alive and she's attracted to the life bursting from her older siblings. Her participation in evening prayers is already noticeable. She's our charismatic influence in the home, leading us in clapping during our singing of Psalm 47 most nights. Of course that's just what it says to do, and she at 10 months is what we must become like in order to enter the Kingdom. But she really wants us to clap to all of our songs, and we're still a little too presbyterian for that.

Felicity is standing in her high chair. She holds very strictly to that little known decree of Nicaea which forbade sitting or kneeling in worship, since that would symbolically deny the resurrection. Christ is risen, and therefore all Christians must worship standing, the fathers declared. So my daughter stands in her chair. Sometimes she stands on the arms of the chair. She wobbles and bounces and gesticulates while standing on the arms of her chair. Of course we've seen her fall before. Several times. And sometimes we strap her into the chair, but she's standing tonight. She's standing and looking around at the food on the table. We're having ham tonight. There's ham and potato salad and cole slaw, that sort of thing. "Dad, my have pink chicken?" she asks. Glancing at the contents of the table, I'm forced to conclude that the ham must be "pink chicken." This is understandable since she would notice the fact that the meat is pink first before anything else. That scores several points automatically.

"Jesus is God, dad," my son explains. That's right, I say. "But how does Jesus obey himself, dad?" He obeys the Father, I explain. "But Jesus is God." Right, but God is three persons, I remind him. "Oh." He seems satisfied for the moment. He's like the early church, getting his trinitarian theology all straight. I fully expect that next year we'll be working on Christology, and we'll just make our way through the ecumenical councils, I suppose.

We finish prayers, and the evening routine continues. Usually at least a half an hour of which consists of me on the bottom of a pile of kicking, giggling, squirming little bodies.

Maybe a bath, always books, then blessings, and lights out. And the house quiets down for a few hours.

I realize more and more that the gift of children is the gift of life. Children, my children, are sabbath life to and for the tired and weary. How easy would it be to come home and collapse on the couch and do nothing? How tempting would it be to sit in silence after a long day? But my children teach me to live. They teach me to laugh. They teach me to dance, to move my body, to sing, to pray, to ask questions, to read between the lines, to demand more from the world, more from my time, more from life. They won't just leave me alone. They won't let me miss life; they love me too much for that.

We do worship a King that we cannot see, but perhaps that's so we aren't distracted from the task he's given us at present, the task of living well, loving well. And my children lead me. They teach me to focus on them, to focus on their mother, my wife, they tell me the same things again and again. They ask me the same questions again and again. They call my name, "Dad, Dad," again and again, all as if to keep reminding me that I'm alive and to remind me to live. "Dad, my have pink lunch box. Happy... Sabbath!"



I use google for my homepage, and I have several feeds that I peruse throughout the day. One is the Drudge Report, and several of the headlines this morning are particularly colorful:

Swiss Police Spy Marijuana Field Using Google Earth
Man tries to reclaim breast implants from ex...
Video: Pelosi Defends STD Money

I don't know why you'd need a tabloid when you have the real world.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Gettting Rid of the Fire

In Mark 7, Jesus says that it is not what goes into a man that defiles him but what comes out. The problem is that we have an Old Testament cleanliness code that appears to say otherwise. Is Jesus just overturning the cleanliness code?

It seems more reasonable to look more closely at what Jesus actually says. He actually says that it's not was goes into a man that is able to defile a man, but what comes out of the heart. The point that Jesus is making, I think, is not particularly about what does or does not make someone unclean but more directly why certain things do or do not make a man unclean. The reason why people are susceptible to uncleanness is because there is something inside them that is wrong. The heart of man produces all kinds of uncleanness. That's the fundamental problem. And that's why making stricter washing rules (e.g. the Pharisees) really misses the point.

If being unclean is like being on fire, the Pharisees want to build a big fence around the yard to keep the fire from getting in. But Jesus says the problem is that the Pharisees are already on fire. You can build the fence as high as you like, but you're just taking the fire with you wherever you go, incinerating everything you touch. You don't need a bigger fence, you need a swimming pool.


Still Untamed: Hospitality, Monasticism, Empire, and You

A few other comments based on a conversation I had with my brother the other day:

In the friendly/constructive criticism department, I would point out that in some ways Newman's book stopped a little short. It was great in everything it covered, but if I had a suggestion, it would be to connect the dots a little more for the average layman. The final chapter dwells on these two church communities that have made decisions to make mercy ministry front and center in their church life. Members make commitments financially as well as with their time to put their energy and resources into serving the outcasts of their community. And that's all great and wonderful, but a couple of thoughts occurred to me.

First, the thought crossed my mind that these two communities (I have no idea what their denominational affiliation is) seemed reminiscent of the monastic movement in some ways. These communities are made up of people who are dedicating everything to these ministries in an "extreme" way, above and beyond what most Christians normally do. And Newman recognizes this herself, asking what someone in her situation, in a little 25 member church in Virginia can possibly do that compares with those full-time ministry churches. Her conclusion is that she/we need to have faith that even our little efforts at hospitality and community and mercy in our contexts are just as significant and effective as these other communities. But this call to faith seems a little weak given how much time is spent dwelling on these other communities. She doesn't really develop her thoughts for an average but faithful family in the local church. What about all of the "normal" Christians who are braving the current of of an increasingly post-Christian West?

Our context is in many ways parallel to the beginning of the monastic movement. While there were some rumblings earlier, the real birth of monasticism is at the beginning of the fourth century when Christianity is legalized and goes mainstream. When Constantine comes on the scene, the church struggles to know what to do with the lack of persecution. Catacombs and Roman arenas ask horrific yet simple questions. But out in the broad daylight the antithesis is not so easy. The monastic movement is in part one answer to the difficult questions facing Christians who are trying to sort out where the City of God begins and ends, especially when the City of Man seems to be all wound up with it. Extreme communities like the ones Newman cites are wonderful avenues of service and ministry, and I don't mean to discredit the individuals involved in the slightest, but if we're not careful, there can be a subtext that discredits other more 'average' attempts at mercy ministry.

As a side note: Our situation on the surface feels a bit like the inversion of 4th century Europe with the mores of Christian civilization crumbling around us. But on second thought, we may actually be in the very same situation as Augustine and Ambrose and Jerome. We struggle with the fact that our City of Man is quickly disengaging the City of God. Our Rome is blaming Christianity and evangelical fundamentalism (of various stripes) for their threat to the peace of the Empire, just as the Polytheistic Romans did as Rome began to crumble. And of course it is important to remember that Rome did not "fall" like a skyscraper collapsing, churning its way down into the ground. Rome's "fall" was more like a drawn out Autumn, with leaves turning colorful somersaults in a cool breeze for a while until someone looked up and noticed that it was all over. Who knows if what we are seeing is actually something along those lines in our own day.

But the monastic comparison is still there nevertheless. While I'd be fine granting that some men and women may be called to something like monastic vows (the gift of celibacy would probably be included here as well), that's just not the norm for most Christians. Most Christians are called to marry, raise a family, have a job, and live in the community God has placed them in. And that means that there are certain God-given limitations/opportunities in their lives.

And this leads to my second point (yes, all of that had a point) which is that it is dangerously easy to look at "extreme" mercy ministries as icons of faithfulness and sacrifice and at the same to overlook the strangers in our own midst. And these strangers are frequently members of our own family. Another way of putting this is that however mercy ministry is done, it must include the commitment to not increasing the problem. Caring for widows and orphans includes mercy ministry to our own wives and children so that we do not create new victims of neglect, abuse, and abandonment. It is not a victory for the Kingdom to serve homeless people in a soup kitchen while neglecting your 10 year old son at home, effectively creating a new homelessness in your own family. In other words, the call to hospitality must include serving our own family. Husbands and wive are called to minister mercy and friendship to one another, and they are called to minister grace and peace to their children. And of course it cannot stop with the family, but it can't forget it either. And of course by "family" I don't merely mean the biological unit either. Jesus came and redefined the family around himself, and while this doesn't obliterate the biological family, it reorients how we view each other within the family. We are first of all brothers and sisters in Christ called to serve one another. And that's "untamed hospitality" too.

And the last point is just that discussing hospitality is a little like preaching a sermon on sins of the tongue or prayer. It definitely needs to be done, but it can be very easy to give people guilt trips without actually helping them make progress in the work of repentance and sanctification. I don't think Newman is doing that on purpose, it's just with all the emphasis on these mercy-communities, she even seems to feel a bit inadequate herself and not exactly sure what that means for her in her context. And that's why, if I were to ask for anything it would be another chapter or an appendix fleshing out how normal Christians practice hospitality when they eat dinner together every night, how ordinary believers practice hospitality when they befriend their neighbors, take them plates of cookies, and look for opportunities to serve others in their church and community.

Again, all that said, I really liked the book.


A New Past and A New Future

“When your son asks you in a time to come, saying, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies, the statutes, and the judgments which the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son: ‘We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.” (Dt. 6:20-21)

“Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ So He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with.’ (Mt. 20:22-23)

This passage in Deuteronomy is really very striking. We know that nearly 40 years have elapsed since the Exodus and a new generation has arisen, and yet Moses says that this new generation must own the events of the exodus as their own. They must tell their children, ‘we were slaves in Egypt and God brought us up and commanded us to keep these statutes and commandments.’ Moses says that they are all responsible to live as though they have lived through it all. And the first person plural includes their children. The parents must teach their sons and daughters that they were slaves in Egypt, even though were only born a couple of years ago. And the implication is that this is an ongoing requirement of all subsequent generations. A significant part of the faithfulness of every generation is this act claiming the story of the Exodus as their own and then teaching their children that it belongs to them too. The covenant means that God identifies his people together. And of course this is precisely what God first promised Abraham. Wound through the covenant that God made with Abraham were promises to Abraham’s children, promises of land, of inheritance, of blessing, of rule in the earth. And this is why the covenant is made not only with Abraham but also with his descendents even before there were any (Gen. 17:10).

And so we see covenant identification going in both ways. God can make covenants with people and their descendents who are not yet alive, and God likewise instructs parents to teach their children that their story, their own lives in important ways stretch back before they were born. In other words, God instructs his people to teach their children that they have a past and a future that does not necessarily correspond to the appearances of reality. The righteousness that is credited to Abraham is for faith. He believed God. He didn’t know how it was all going to work, and all the indicators were actually quite the opposite of the promises of God. He was old and his wife was barren, and he was far from home and family. But he believed the promises of God. He trusted and obeyed, despite all the appearances.
But this is what grace always does. God’s grace interrupts our lives; God’s grace changes our stories. God comes to families, to individuals and gives them a new history, a new future. And this is why we baptize our covenant children. We baptize them because God has given them a new past. Most Christians affirm that the past for all people is that they are descended from Adam. We have common ancestry, and that ancestry is fallen. Our common history is one of sin and death. But when claims families, he changes that past. He changes their history, and gives them new stories. They were once slaves in Egypt, but God brought them out with a mighty hand. They were once in darkness, but they have been brought into the light. They were once dead in trespasses and sins, but God has made them alive. The story of salvation is their story, and Moses instructs us to tell them that.

When Jesus asks James and John if they are able to be baptized with the baptism that he will be baptized with, he is of course speaking of his impending death. And that is why Paul associates baptism with death in his letters. “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3) “[B]uried with him in baptism, in which you were raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Col. 2:2) Jesus tells James and John that they will be baptized with his baptism, and he appears to be speaking about how they will literally die, but the point remains true for the baptism of all Christians. Baptism signifies the death of Christ. Baptism makes present for us an event that took place two thousand years ago. In other words, when our children ask us what does baptism mean, Dad? Why was I baptized? You ought to say to them, we were slaves in Egypt, son, and God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. We were all dead, son, we were crucified and buried with the Lord Jesus because of our sins, but God brought us up out of the grave and made us alive. The story of Israel is our story; the story of Christ is also our story.

And then we see a little baby, a child who is descended from Adam. And we don’t see much evidence of faith. He can’t articulate very clearly his thoughts on the matter, and he may even give us a squawk of disapproval before it’s all said and done. But the bottom line is always the word of God, the promises of God, and what will we do with them. The Lord comes to us, and he says you are mine, and I want all of you. I claim your past, I claim your future, I claim your family, I claim your job, I claim your children. I claim everything. And I am going to tell a new story. Patrick is no longer descended from Adam, he is now a child and heir of the Lord Jesus. And because this is true, I promise to make Patrick an heir of the world. I promise Patrick life and forgiveness; I promise him an inheritance that is too good to be true. I promise joy and gladness that will never fade. And the only question remaining for us is: how will we respond. Will we believe? Will we trust?

Daniel and Amy, you have already made a significant step of faith coming to this point. But the exhortation to you is this: believe the promises of God. Believe the Word of God. God comes to you today and declares that he has brought Patrick out of Egypt with a mighty hand. He has delivered him from slavery and bondage and brought him into the land of promise. God renews his covenant with you in Christ and says that this covenant is not only with you but with your descendents. And the charge is to keep believing this, and to teach your son with this faith. Teach your son that God brought him out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Teach Patrick that he was once a slave in Egypt, but he has been delivered. He was once dead, and God has made him alive. He once had a different story, but God is retelling it for good.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!


How God Lights Us On Fire

“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for so you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the LORD will reward you.” (Pr. 25:22, Rom. 12:20)

Frequently, we consider this exhortation only in terms of our dealings with other people. Paul in Romans applies this in a passage which is all concerned with our relationships and interaction with others. But the basis for our love and grace toward others is always the love and grace that God has first shown toward us. This passage says that we should be hospitable toward our enemies. Literally, it says that we should give bread and water to the one who hates us. The proverb says that the result of this sort of hospitality will be burning coals on the head of your enemy and that Yahweh will reward you. Literally, the text actually says that Yahweh will make peace for you or make a covenant of peace with you.

Of course Paul says earlier in Romans 5 that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. He says that when we were enemies of God, he reconciled us to himself through the death of his Son (Rom. 5:8-10). That is the cup of wrath and judgment that Christ drank for us. In the cross, Jesus took into himself, into his sufferings our hatred, our violence, our enmity so that he might bring peace. This means that on a foundational level it is God who has first bestowed this hospitality on us. He has fed us, who were once his enemies, with bread and given us living water. And he has done this in order to create peace, in order that a covenant of peace might prevail.

Are you able to drink the cup that Christ drank? Of course of ourselves, we cannot, but in the cross, Jesus has transformed suffering and death. And he offers us this cup, and says, ‘You will indeed drink my cup.’ And so we drink the suffering and death of Christ, and in that suffering, in that serving, in this great act of hospitality, God gives us His life. He turns enemies into friends. This is what the body and blood of Christ are all about. It’s all about giving bread to enemies, giving life to the dead.


Real Community without Gestapo Deacons

As we grow as a congregation one of the things we have to work on is growing as a community, as a body, as a family. Paul says in Romans 12 that we who are many are “one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” We are already at a size which allows you to slip in and out without everyone noticing. You may even miss a week or two, and many of us may not realize it. And of course this doesn’t mean that we want to take attendance and send Gestapo-deacons out to check on where you were and what you were doing. But we are called to be members of one another. Paul says that there should be no schism in the body, but “members should have the same care for one another, and if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” If we are not involving ourselves in one another’s lives, if we are not acting as though we are “members of one another” then we will not be able to suffer when one us suffers, we will not be able to rejoice when one of us is honored. In the coming weeks and months and years, that is what we are working toward. We want to do that as neighborhoods and parishes, as families and friends, and broadly as a church and in community with the city we’ve been called to. This is what it means to be in Christ; you are in Christ with a pile of other people. You have been baptized into a new family, a new kingdom, a new world, and believing this means living like this is true. In your own homes, you don’t just show up for dinner and leave. Being a family, being a body, means cultivating life together, becoming members of one another so that we can rejoice together and so that we can suffer together. Some of you are already working at this and this is not meant to overlook that; well done and keep up the good work. Others of you would like more community life and aren’t sure what to do. Well here’s your encouragement to get started. Jesus invites us to his house, to his table week after week, and he sends you out into the world and says go and do likewise. You have houses, you have tables, you have food and fellowship to share. Don’t hold back; get busy. And some of you don’t practice hospitality and are not cultivating community, but God has invited you in. He saw you in all your misery, all your sin, all your failures, and he said, come in and welcome. Jesus serves you at his table, and Jesus calls you to greatness. And he says that greatness in the kingdom is serving. Greatness is serving at a table.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Untamed Hospitality

Just finished Elizabeth Newman's book Untamed Hospitality and enjoyed it very much.

Beginning with various distortions of hospitality, she points out various modern attempts to push hospitality into sentimental, individualistic, and even market driven categories. She goes on to insist that hospitality has its roots and real identity in the hospitality of God, in the Triune Fellowship which is shared in Christian Worship, in the sacrament of communion. She points out that if God's presence and communion is the basis of all true hospitality then hospitality is not merely a matter of being nice, but ultimately a matter of being good to one another.

One of the great passages toward the beginning of the book was the illustration drawn from O'Conner's famous story A Good Man is Hard to Find. There, she lifts the grandmother up as a symbol of the stark difference between being nice and being good, between superficial friendliness and hospitality committed to seeking the good and bestowing goodness. The grandmother is famously a polite, genteel woman who ultimately watches the Misfit murder her family. Her manners, her niceties all finally vanish in a moment when she reaches out and touches the shoulder of the murderer and says that he is one of her own children. At this, the Misfit jumps back and shoots the old woman in the chest three times. O'Conner's narrative explains that "She would have been a good woman... if it had been someone there to shoot her every minute of her life." (25) Goodness is an act of hospitality that includes some level of threat to the status quo. It also includes identification and it tells the truth in love.

Beginning with Christian worship, Newman insists that hospitality is not merely a private and relatively insignificant act of love and kindness. Rather, hospitality is the embodiment of a specific politics, economics, and ethics. Newman insightfully points out that the Darwinian narrative is perhaps most insidious in its underlying principles of scarcity and competition. Whereas the narrative of the gospel is one of abundance and overflow and provision. These dramatically different assumptions drive certain economic visions of life.

Douglas Wilson makes a premiere in Newman's discussion of The McDonaldization of Society for his discussion of the American Empire in its devotion to godmoney.

A significant part of Newman's point has to do with the role-playing of true hospitality. In the communion of God, God becomes and acts as Giver (Host), Gift, and Receiver (Guest), and in all true forms of hospitality these roles should be revolving. Hosts give to guests, but guests ought also to be givers and therefore hosts in a certain sense. And thus hosts learn to be guests in their own homes. This doesn't relieve anyone of certain duties or manners, but rather heightens the calling of all human interaction.

Newman also stresses the element of the "strange" in hospitality. If God comes to us as in a burning bush evoking fear and trembling, and if entertaining strangers is sometimes communion with angels, there ought to be some level of expectation that God is frequently found under unusual guises and circumstances. Newman says that this should create in us an "openness" to the good in the people and places we might not first consider. And far from this being a call to pluralism, Newman dismantles modern liberal notions of diversity and pluralism, showing clearly how hallow these attempts are and how ideologically driven they are.

There is a great chapter on "The Politics of Higher Education" that should make any educator's reading list, if only for the footnotes and bibliography that she accumulates. Her point is ultimately that love is the foundation of education, and that anything less than the love of the Triune God pushes educational pursuits toward the voids of skepticism, deception, and apathy.

Newman reminds us that the Lord's Supper not only symbolizes existent unity, but argues that the Eucharist is also one of the ways unity is constituted. She points out that Anabaptist and Roman Catholic Eucharistic Theologies agree at least in their opposition to this fact. While we generally put them on different ends of the spectrum, the fact that both insist upon prior unity before partaking makes them bedfellows on this point. Whereas a more fully biblical understanding of the Eucharist would at least leave some room for allowing unity to be established. And she does not deny the validity of church discipline and excommunication, she merely points out that each in their own way do not leave room for the sacrament to be part of the action of creating unity.

Her concluding chapter is a challenging consideration of how the Christian Church ought to more conscientiously live out the hospitality of God. She cites two church communities who have made a certain communal living and mercy ministry the core of their membership requirements. She chronicles some of their challenges, triumphs, and evolution along the way, but ultimately wonders how we can take seriously the call to hospitality and caring for the strangers, widows, and orphans, if we do not make it front and center. She dwells particularly on how strangers, and particularly those individuals who are in some ways permanent strangers in human society, those with significant mental and physical disabilities, how these strangers impact us, how they minister and give to the "normal." Newman points out that our calling as Christians is holiness not normality. Our calling is to love one another and seek to love God more, and the thrust of the biblical teaching is that God expects us to be ministered to as we minister to those around us. And in particular, Christ says that we will find him in those people around us and frequently in the strangers around us, in the outcasts, in the disabled, in the elderly, in the weak, in the widows and orphans in our midst.

And if that is the case, if Christ is to be found, if his love and grace is to ministered most potently to us through the strangers, the fatherless, and the widows, this makes our call to serve them more serious. The call is always to follow Jesus, and the his call seems to direct us more and more toward the weak, the helpless, the insignificant, the broken, the disabled. Jesus said that if you knew there was a field with a great treasure in it, you would sell everything in order to buy the field and find the treasure. Likewise, if Christ has said that clothing the naked, befriending the lonely, offering food and drink to the hungry and thirsty, if in doing these things, we minister to him, doesn't that impress the call all the more? Shouldn't we be seeking these weak people, seeking the broken, the maimed, the lame, the disabled, just as we would seek after Christ?


Life in the Vineyard

In the sermon text today, Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who hired laborers for his vineyard. This isn’t just a detail added for color or to make the parables more realistic or concrete. The word first shows up in the Septuagint after the Flood when Noah plants a vineyard. It’s not only Noah’s vocation, but it becomes a symbol for renewed humanity. Noah and his family have come through the flood and are God’s new covenant people. And that symbolism carries through Scripture. Moses points out repeatedly that the Israelites are going into the Promised Land, and it is full of vineyards that they did not plant. The blessings of God are pictured in terms of vineyards, and remember it was enormous clusters of grapes that the spies had brought back from the land of Canaan. Vineyards are full of vines that grow grapes, and usually a significant portion of those grapes are used for making wine. Vineyards are not merely a culturally unique part of middle eastern life. Vineyards are the birthplace of wine, and wine is universally received as a drink of joy, relaxation, rest, and celebration. For Noah to plant a vineyard and drink wine is for him to rest in the provision of God. For Israel to be ushered into a land full of vineyards, is to be ushered into a land of wine. A land flowing with God’s rest, refreshment, and joy. Later, when the prophets come to preach against Israel’s idolatries, they proclaim judgments on Israel and her vines, her vineyards. The judgment of God will mean no more vineyards, no more wine, nor more rest and joy. In Isaiah 5, God sings a song of his beloved Israel who is pictured as a vineyard with a tower in its midst with a winepress in it. And of course this meal continues this theme. The Lord invites us to his table to taste the fruit of the vineyard. And yet in an important sense, we find ourselves still laboring in the vineyard. We are still looking forward to the resurrection, to the fullness of the kingdom, to the restoration of all things. And that makes us a good bit like the Israelites in the wilderness tasting the grapes from the promised land. Here we do participate in the new life, in the kingdom of heaven, and we are called to work towards this peace and joy in our lives. But this is the call of faith. Here are the grapes, here is proof that you are workers in the vineyard, and that fruit is good. Here is proof that you have a good landowner. He is not stingy; he is good. So come and taste the fruit of the vineyard. Come rest and rejoice in the goodness of God.


Lifting Holy Hands

As we worship week after week, it is important that we stop and consider what we are doing. One of the commands of Scripture is to worship with understanding (Ps. 47:7), and this means that we are not only to understand why we worship, but also why we worship the way we do. One of the actions that we perform every week is the action of raising our hands. The men who lead in prayer are encouraged to raise their hands, we all raise our hands together in song following the declaration of forgiveness, and the minister raises his hands, symbolically laying his hands upon the congregation to give you a blessing. Throughout the Psalms there are repeated commands to lift up hands in prayer, to stretch out hands in worship and supplication seeking the blessing of God. Jeremiah exhorts the exiles to lift up their hands and cry aloud to God for mercy. Isaiah assumes that when you pray, you pray with lifted hands because he condemns the people for raising up hands with blood on them, and James seems to have this in mind when he exhorts his readers to draw near to God with cleansed hands and hearts. Likewise Paul exhorts Timothy to have men who lead their congregations in prayer lifting up holy hands without wrath or doubting. We’re here to plead with God, to stretch out our hands to heaven, to give him all that we are, and to plead with him to be gracious to us. When Solomon prays the prayer of dedication for the temple he prays, “whatever prayer, whatever supplication is made by anyone, or by all Your people Israel, when each one knows the plague of his own heart, and spreads out his hands toward this temple: then hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive, and act” (1 Kgs. 8:37-39). Likewise in Nehemiah, the people were gathered together to renew covenant, and the text tells us that men and women and all those who could understand were gathered together to hear the Word of the Lord read, and when the reading was finished all of the people responded by shouting “Amen! Amen!” with lifted hands and then they bowed themselves to the ground and worshipped. So don’t just put your hands in the air. Don’t just perform this action as though it’s just the next thing we do. As we raise our hands, we are saying ‘Amen!’ to the action of God’s forgiveness. We are lifting them toward one who is greater than the temple. We lift them to the one who hears our prayers and sees our hands. So cleanse your hands now as you prepare to draw near the Most Holy Place. Cleanse your hands that you might lift up your hands and hearts to the God of heaven and earth.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Proverbs 25:16-22

The entire chapter is thematically related by the repeated themes of the court, kings, and rule. If vv. 2-5 are the introductory material 6-15 seem to be related to God and kings while 16-27 perhaps are more concerned with the broader court and kingdom and particularly the relationship to wickedness and righteousness (cf. v. 5). But the entire chapter still has to do with “rule” (25:28). The end of the chapter is also a return to the theme of “glory” (25:27, cf. 25:2).

Vv. 16-27 are structured by the inclusio related to eating honey. While the first exhortation seems to have more to do with temperance and moderation, v. 27 is clearly concerned with selfishness and vainglory. This final form of overeating is parallel to the first exhortation not to exalt yourself in the presence of the king (25:6).

Waltke cites a commentator who notes the inclusio between eating-hating (v. 16-17) and hating-feeding (v. 21). “In verses 16-17 ‘eating’ runs the risk of creating a ‘hater,’ while in verses 21-22 the problem of the ‘hater’ is positively resolved by giving him something ‘to eat.’” (325)

16-17 are tied together in a couple of ways. First, the principle is one of moderation as opposed to excess. Too much of a good thing can have negative consequences. The Hebrew bears this out by using the same verb twice. “Lest you be filled and vomit it” and “lest he be filled and hate you.” Literally the exhortation is to make your foot precious and valuable to your neighbor. And value is frequently related to scarcity. Not “setting foot” in your neighbor’s house is the second geographical exhortation in the chapter, perhaps parallel with the idea not to go to court swiftly (v. 8). And the following verse is again related to how we treat our “neighbor” (cf. 25:8-9). The overarching principle is one of self control.

18 continues the theme of treatment of “neighbors” which is parallel to vv. 8-11. Verses 18-20 are all negative proberbs with a similar structure and syntax. First, structurally there is a simple comparison taking place in all three, and in the Hebrew, the image comes first followed by the concrete situation being considered. Second, there are at least three puns running through these proverbs. Neighbor, bad, and heavy; sharp, tooth; unfaithful man in a time of… , garment on a day of… are all echoes of each other in the Hebrew.

The three proverbs also seem to be running in a sort of descending order. Beginning with the false witness, it moves on to the unfaithful man in a day of trouble, and it finally descends to someone who is just thoughtless or rude. The comparisons descend accordingly: from images of assault violence and inflicted pain, to more passive pain as a rotting tooth and unstable/shaking foot. While the former pictures the false witness as a more active enemy, the latter is simply untrustworthy and painful especially in a day of trouble. Waltke points out that the three weapons listed in the arsenal of the false witness are the basic weapons of a warrior and ascend from close range to long range. On the other hand, the untrustworthy man is passively treacherous by leaving his friend wounded on the battlefield.

The final proverb in this series returns to weather imagery (cf. 13-14), but here the “cold” is uncomfortable and bothersome. The one who sings songs to a “bad heart” is being unseasonable. Again, the pain and discomfort is related to timing, singing songs on a “day of cold” like the untrustworthy man on a “day of trouble.”

vv. 21-22
As noted previously, this proverb is the answer to eating too much (v. 16); rather than eating too much, the son/prince ought to give food to the one who “hates” him. Literally, the text says to give your “enemy” bread if he is hungry, water if he is thirsty. This action, will “snatch up” burning coals onto his head and Yahweh will make a covenant of peace with you.

A number of possibilities here: First there may be something sacrificial being implied here. Coals were used for burning the incense that was burned in the tabernacle (Lev. 16:12). The result that Yahweh makes peace with you is an idea that is bound up in the sacrificial system. The same root is of course used for the “peace offering,” but the verb to “make peace” is used in the context of restitution (Lev. 5:16, 24, 24:18, 21). Previously, Proverbs has exhorted the son not to say “I will repay [make peace] with evil” (20:22).

The Psalmist prays for something like this to happen as more of a straightforward judgment from God (Ps. 140:11). But given the context of neighbors and being at peace, the implication seems to be that “snatching coals” is actually a way of bringing reconciliation, a way of removing the cause of contention (cf. Pr. 26:21). Ezekiel watches the man in linen who is called by God take colas from “between the cherubim” and scatter them over the city of Jerusalem (Ez. 10:2ff). This is part of the process of God’s glory leaving the city. But of course the judgments of God are usually include elements of punishment and deliverance so it does not seem that we must choose.

Heaping coals of fire on the head is at least vaguely reminiscent of a crown and thereby kingly. Not only is the command to treat an enemy as a neighbor, but perhaps the implication is that doing so is an act of bestowing glory, one which God honors by bringing peace. But this act of friendship and glory combined with food means that hospitality has far more potency than we might think. Hospitality is one of the instruments that God uses to bring his judgments to bear in the world. We leave room for God’s wrath, but that does not mean that we are not involved in overcoming evil (Rom. 12:19-21).

If the cross is God’s greatest act of hospitality, laying his life down for his enemies in order to make them friends, Pentecost is the completion of that hospitality. Christ pours out gifts on his enemies, crowning them with coals of fire which is for the peace of the world. And we ought not to forget that the Eucharist is related here as well. God is pleased to feed those who disobey, betray, and misuse him. We are the false witnesses, the untrustworthy friends, and the rude neighbors, and God invites us in our hunger and thirst to his table. And God is pleased to heap burning coals on our heads, and we confess our sins, we are forgiven, and we are crowned with peace.

Structurally, it looks as if many of the themes of vv. 6-15 are being repeated in vv. 16-22, and the implication seems to be that the lives of individuals and their neighbors and friends has a great deal to do with how a kingdom goes. The son being trained to be a king must see the day to day interactions of his subjects as directly related to the wellbeing of his kingdom. The final proverb of the chapter finally makes this plain: self-rule is likened to the security of a city (25:28).


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Joachim on the Eucharistic Words

Joachim Jeremias says that a better translation of "Do this in remembrance of me" would be "This do, that God may remember me." (The Eucharistic Words Of Jesus, 251ff)


Passover, the Present Tense, Church Calendar, and Eucharist

Famously, the Passover is celebrated by faithful Jews in the present tense.

The youngest child is taught to ask the question, every Passover night, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" The implication is that in an important sense, the celebration of Passover enters into the original Passover. It participates in God's act of salvation.

Deuteronomy teaches parents this very thing as well. When your child asks you, 'what is the meaning of these statutes and the judgments?' The response is supposed to be, "We were slaves in Egypt, and He brought us out from there, and he commanded us to keep these commands..." (Dt. 6:20ff) These instructions are given by Moses to the generation after the forty years in the wilderness, some of whom would not have actually been alive during the enslavement in Egypt and the subsequent Exodus. But covenant identity means that in a more important sense they were there. The covenant that God made was with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their seed.

This makes the great redemptive acts of God part the memory of the covenant people. Israel is still Israel in the conquest is still Israel with kings is still Israel in exile is still Israel in Christ.

We, like that first generation entering the land of Canaan, must teach our children using the same words. We were slaves in Egypt. We were brought out with a strong arm. We were commanded to keep all these commands. We...

And that seems to reinforce the church's instinct to celebrate the Christian Calendar. Covenant identification means that the life of Christ is our story, the history of redemption is our memory, the history of the church is our history. We were slaves in Egypt, we were despised, mocked, and spat upon, we were crucified, we were raised from the dead. We were persecuted and scattered from Jerusalem. We gathered together at Nicaea and proclaimed the glorious doctrine of the Trinity. We overran Europe with the gospel. The last 6000 years of God's people is our story. And (re)enacting these events is one of the ways we assume them as our own, take them into our stories, and affirm in faith that we were slaves in Egypt and that God has delivered us out of bondage and made covenant with us.

Centrally, this is the action of the Eucharist, the great memorial of God's greatest act of salvation, the Great Exodus, the High Passover in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Eucharist makes the death and resurrection of Jesus present tense. And partaking of the sacrament means communing in the body and blood of the Lord. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, we become that event. We participate in the Passover, the Exodus becomes our story, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday become days that we have lived through and experienced. This is at least part of what the covenant means.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Sharing Peace

When the Angels appear to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem they declare “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” Later, when Jesus has risen from the dead, he repeatedly declares peace to his disciples. Peace be with you! Peace be with you, Jesus repeats to his stunned disciples in the upper room. Later when Peter is preaching in Acts, he preaches peace through Jesus Christ. And Paul quotes the prophets saying, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, the glad tidings of good things!’ The gospel is fundamentally a declaration of peace. And that is what we have just done together. The Passing of the Peace is not an intermission, it is not half time, it is not a bathroom break, or a chance to check the scores. Greeting one another in the Peace of the Lord is a declaration of the gospel. We are the angels telling one another that Christ has been born, we are Christ to one another saying, Christ is risen from the dead. We are apostles and prophets declaring the good news of peace between God and man. And we do this in response to the preached Word. When the gospel has been declared to us, when the peace of the Lord has been declared to us, we cannot help but get up and talk about it. In the sermon, the Lord declares his peace to us, in the Passing of the Peace, we declare that peace to one another in faith, believing what we’ve heard. And then we sit down at this table together to feast on peace. In the Old Covenant, it was the Peace Offering, which was principally a feast in the presence of God, and Paul says that we have been brought near to the Holy Place through the blood and Christ, for he himself is our peace. So we have heard the Peace of the Lord, we have declared the Peace of the Lord, and now we will together consume the Peace of the Lord. I would remind you as you pass the elements to one another, remember to speak to each other as you pass them. Don’t worry about losing your place in the psalm or the hymn. Look your brother or sister in the eye, look your mom, your dad, your son, your daughter and tell them this is the body of the Lord for you, this is the blood of the Lord for you, this is the peace of the Lord for you. And receive the bread and wine with thankfulness, declaring thanks be to God. This is peace, this is Christmas, this is Easter, this is the gospel. Believe and rejoice.


Hard Hearts

In the sermon text this morning, Jesus will discuss biblical teaching on marriage and divorce, and he insists that Moses permitted divorce because the people of Israel had “hard hearts.” This same description is given by the Lord in Mark’s gospel, and the word is used only once more in the New Testament in Mark 16 where Jesus rebukes the disciples after the resurrection because they refused to believe the testimony of others who had seen Jesus raised from the dead. The most famous episode of hard heartedness is in the story of the Exodus where Pharaoh repeatedly hardens his heart against the repeated pleas of Moses and Aaron to let God’s people go. Given the story of Pharaoh and the rebuke of Jesus in Mark 16, a pattern emerges that suggests that hardness of heart has to do particularly with refusing to listen to witnesses of the truth. Hardness of heart is fundamentally a refusal to listen, and it is the refusal to listen to God’s appointed messengers. And these messengers come in many forms. They are parents, they are spouses, they are teachers, they are elders, pastors, employers, friends, neighbors, and even children. And ultimately it is the Scriptures, the infallible record of God’s Word to you. Today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts. Because to refuse to listen when God is speaking to you is to invite the judgments of God, and frequently the judgment of God is more of the same. The judgment is often God giving us the very thing we’ve asked for. You may be pretending not to hear right now when your mother has asked you to do something, but don’t be surprised when your make-believe becomes reality and you end up completely deaf, completely blind, and your hard heart becomes a heart of stone. If you’ve been neglecting the counsel of God through his appointed messengers, repent now. Stop hardening your heart. Hard hearts only lead to sorrow, suffering, and death. Let go of your pride; let go of your sin. Come to Christ.


Calvinism in NYT

Mark Driscoll is in the New York Times here. As the postscript notes, Molly Worthen, the article's author, last contributed an article on New St. Andrews College in NYT.

I don't think she pointed out that this year is the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birthday.

Leon Podles has a short comment here on the Touchstone Blog.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, RIP

Father Richard John Neuhaus passed away today. There's a great essay by him posted here on the First Things site.


An Environmental Parable

The Kingdom of God is like water on concrete. At first glance it seems that concrete and asphalt ought to have the upper hand. Water, at least in small portions, cannot overcome the pavement. But water does it's work quietly. It runs along casually finding the cracks and crevices and weak spots in cement, and the Spirit of God blows his fierce frosty air over the waters causing them to freeze and expand, and the concrete cannot withstand the pressure. Asphalt crumbles, pavement cracks and breaks apart, potholes appear, and hard heart after hard heart is burst into pieces by the water and the Spirit.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Funeral Meditation: 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:9

The words from 2 Corinthians come from a letter, one of several, where St. Paul is defending himself to Christians who were converted under his preaching but who now have various doubts, concerns, and questions. While the specific questions and concerns that Paul faced leading up to the writing of 2 Corinthians are no doubt different than the situation we face today, there is an important parallel.

Faithful ministers ought to frequently find it necessary to defend themselves. And this is because Christian ministers are called to declare good news in the face of a world full of bad news. Pastors and ministers are tasked to tell people what Isaiah foretold has begun to come to pass. The one upon who the Spirit rested has come. He did preach good news, he did free the captives, he did bring healing and restoration to the world. And we must solemnly read and proclaim that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and anyone who believes in him will never die.

And then people die. Children get sick and die. Diseases and deformities and disorders wreak their havoc on the bodies of men, women, and children, and the question that ought to occur to us once in a while is, how is this possible? How can it be that in a world where Jesus has come to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord that we have so many who are slaves to wheel chairs and oxygen tanks? How is it possible that Jesus has come to heal the brokenhearted, to comfort those who mourn, and yet we are pummeled by heartache and hardship? And we really only have two options. We either turn the gospel into a fairytale, we moralize it, and we gently wave it away as a nice idea, a symbol of human hope; or the only other option is to turn on the people who keep saying this stuff. If we take these words seriously, if we take the gospel seriously, then Christian ministers should have a lot of answering to do.

Paul was a missionary who went from town to town convincing people of the gospel, and as life went on, as people suffered from sickness and persecution and death, they had questions for Paul. Wait who are you again? Can we see some proof of your apostleship? How do we know you’re really from God? Are you just trying to make a buck? Are you on some kind of power trip? Are you after glory and fame? And Paul has to respond to these questions and ultimately defend how he can keep preaching the gospel in spite of all appearances. How can he preach that the resurrection of Jesus has changed human history in the face of the way human history seems to be going?

And really every Christian has to do deal with these questions too. If you say you believe this gospel, someone ought to ask that simple question why? Cause it makes you feel good? Well there are all kinds of other options out there for that. Because it makes sense? What about all this death? What about wars? What about tragedy? What about disease and natural disasters? It should not be too difficult to identify with Paul’s need to defend himself.

And this is why earlier in 2 Corinthians Paul says that ministers (and really all Christians) are the aroma of life leading to life for those being saved, and they are the aroma of death leading to death for those who are perishing (2:15-16). Either this gospel is profoundly true and can answer these questions and it is the aroma of life or it’s a pack of lies and deception, piling on with more death and tragedy.

And Paul realizes this, and sets out to answer the questions, the doubts, the frustrations of the Corinthians. And to their request for some references for his apostleship, he says he doesn’t need a letter of commendation because the Corinthians are his letter, his epistle written by the Spirit of God (3:1-3). Paul turns the question around and says that the Corinthian church is proof that his gospel was authentic and true and without a doubt. The suffering, doubting, questioning church is Paul’s proof, his qualification for ministry.

Paul goes on to explain that the Old Covenant under Moses was in the form of letters and a ministry of death, and its glory was rendered ineffective as illustrated by Moses’ veil. Moses covered his face so that the people could not see the glory radiating off his face. But Paul says that the Spirit gives life, and the Spirit is a ministry of righteousness. He says that the glory of the Spirit is greater because we all with unveiled face behold the glory of the Lord as in a mirror. And through that glory, we are being transformed into the same image of Jesus Christ, from glory to glory (3:7ff). And Paul says that this light of the gospel of Christ, this image of God, this glory shines through preaching (4:3-4).

When Jesus is preached, the face of Jesus shines the glory of God into the darkness of human life (4:6). And this treasure is in earthen vessels so that we might carry around the life of Jesus in our bodies for one another (e.g. the apostles are doing this for the Corinthians) (4:12).

And this is where Paul says that this is why we don’t lose hope. We don’t lose hope because these afflictions are working in us “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” What is that weight of glory? Paul says it’s the Spirit working the life of Jesus into our bodies.

And then Paul starts talking about houses: earthly houses compared to eternal houses not made with hands. Then he changes the metaphor and starts talking about clothes and being clothed. Paul starts talking about resurrection, the need for our bodies to be renewed. Paul says that we groan in these bodies looking forward to new ones. These ones are weak, mortal, and breakable. They die, and we need new ones.

And that’s the point. The fact that we live and experience constantly the need for new bodies is Paul’s proof that his ministry is valid, that the gospel is true. If we didn’t need resurrection then why would we need Jesus? Even in perfection there is glory that yields itself to further glory. Even God goes from glory to glory. And so must we.

The point seems to be this: When the gospel is declared and believed, God makes light shine into our situations, our circumstances, and we catch glimpses of Christ. And the mind blowing thing is that Paul says by the power of the Spirit, it’s actually like looking into a mirror and somehow seeing glory in our own faces. It’s the life of Jesus being manifested in our bodies through the working of the Spirit. And Paul says we have this treasure, the glory of Jesus, in earthen vessels. In our questions, in our doubts, in our heartache, the gospel comes to us and says this is why Jesus came, this is why Jesus was mocked, this is why Jesus suffered, this is why Jesus died. And in our weakness, in our suffering, and even in our death, we find the life of Jesus being worked out in us. And we come to know the need for Jesus, we taste the suffering, and the death, and we look for the resurrection. We groan with Jesus for new bodies, for new glory, for resurrection.

This is how God manifests his glory in us: by making us partakers of his glory, by making us partakers of the life of Jesus. He gives us the same Spirit who led Jesus into trial, into challenges, into Gethsemane, and finally into Jerusalem where he was crucified. We have been given that Spirit, and therefore the proof of the gospel is in us. When we know that we need deliverance. When we know that we need resurrection, then we know that we have the Spirit working the life of Jesus into us, and we can be fully assured that the end of his story will be the end our ours. His death yielded resurrection and glory. And there can be no doubt that our lives and the lives of all who trust in Him will result in the same. And so we do not lost hope, but we see this glory, this eternal weight of glory, hid in earthen vessels, awaiting the resurrection of the body. This is our garment of praise for our spirit of heaviness.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!


Monday, January 05, 2009

Second Sunday in Christmas: Calendar, Community, and Mission: Acts 2:42-47

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you for sending your Son to reveal yourself to us. We thank you that in Christ we have seen your life, your glory, and experienced your love and grace. We thank you for that, and we ask that you would teach us now by your Word and Spirit that we might faithfully live that Life that you have given us that we might also be faithful in living out your kingdom here on earth even as it is in heaven. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!

This is the last sermon in this series on the Church Calendar. The point of this series has been to lay out a case for keeping time in a distinctively Christ-centered way in order to worship more faithfully.

From the Center
In an important sense, the calling of God’s people is very simple. The early Church pattern of gathering together for prayers, teaching, and breaking bread is what we are all about. The Church Calendar can become (and has been in the past) a means of distracting from this central calling, but what it ought to be is a general guide to our devotional life which teaches us to remember, give thanks, and believe, gathered around this table, reading the Scriptures, offering our prayers, and rejoicing before the Lord who is remaking this world. But we are also called to be steadfast in these habits, in continual prayer, daily dwelling together in gladness and praising God. While we tend to chalk up the early church pattern to enthusiasm, there is a rich biblical tradition for the pattern of daily prayer we see in the early church (Acts 2:42, 46-47).

Continual Worship
The worship of the tabernacle included a continual offering of bread (Ex. 25:30), a burning lamp (27:20), reminding Yahweh of the names of Israel and the judgments (28:29-30), atonement (28:38), incense (30:8), and a continual offering of lambs daily (29:38-42). These continual offerings are defined specifically as morning and evening sacrifices (Ex. 29:39, Lev. 6:6, 6:20, Num. 28:3-4), and the sacrifices of the festival calendar were to be offered in addition to these continual offerings (Num. 28:10, 23, 31, 29:6ff). Later, the Psalmist takes up this language in his own prayers and worship (Ps. 34:2, 40:17, 70:5, 71:3, 6, 14, 73:23, 105:4, 119:117), and he specifies several times that he does this morning and evening (Ps.1:2, 55:17, 88:1) and sometimes more (119:164). The New Testament insists that this continual prayer has not ceased but continues to be our practice (Lk. 18:5, Acts 2:42, 46, 6:4). Jesus, our High Priest, is the one who now serves continually (Heb. 7:3), and his single sacrifice is the continual sacrifice for all time (Heb. 10:12-14). Paul describes his own prayer life as one that is continual (Rom. 1:9, 1 Th. 1:3, 2:13), and he urges believers to do the same (1 Th. 5:17). And Paul explicitly defines this service of prayer without ceasing as prayers night and day (2 Tim. 1:3, cf. 1 Thess. 3:10, 1 Tim. 5:5). And the reason for all of this is that it reflects the continual service of God before his throne in heaven (Rev. 4:8, 7:15). Joining the continual prayers of heaven is nothing less than participating in the life of God now.

Remembering Together
We want to encourage these continual sacrifices at Trinity in at least three ways. First, we want to encourage you to be in prayer in your homes around your tables. Family devotions are a rich heritage of the Reformed tradition, and they ought not to be neglected (Dt. 6:7, 20ff, Eph. 6:4). Second, we want to encourage parish life that includes both prayer and breaking bread from house to house (Acts 2:46). And third, we want to gather together as a congregation somewhat more regularly for prayer, service, and celebration (e.g. Morning Prayer, Open Houses, Feasts, Lenten services, Holy Week, etc.).

Remembering for the World
In an important sense, what we do here is for the world. We pray for the world, but we are also called to be the righteous in the city that causes God to spare it (e.g. Gen. 18:23-33). But our continual remembering in word and in deed is also missional and evangelistic. The pattern in Acts is that the Lord adds to their number as they are steadfast in prayers, breaking bread house to house, and in the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:47). In all of this we seek the blessing and peace of our city (Jer. 29:7)

Our goal is to continually offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), praising God (Heb. 13:15), doing good and sharing with our neighbors (Heb. 13:16). This is the life which God has bestowed upon us, and it is the Life which is for the world (Jn. 1).

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Almighty God we thank you that you have called us into your fellowship, into your life and light, and we ask that as you have bestowed this life upon us that we would be faithful to manifest this life in all that we do and say. We pray for this city that you have called us to. We pray for the university, for the farmers, the businesses, the families, the schools, the hospital, the police force, and all of those we come in contact with in our neighborhoods and business. We pray that your light would be evident in our lives, that your glory would be shared, that your life would bring healing, and that your kingdom would come and your will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. Through Jesus who has given us life and who taught us to pray, singing…


Saturday, January 03, 2009

Proverbs 25:8-15

The overall section seems to run from vv. 2-27 with the inclusio pertaining to inquiry and glory. Within this broad chiastic structure there are two sections after an introduction setting forth the theme (2-3, 4-5). The introduction’s first theme is the relationship between God and kings, and the second theme is concerned with the central conflict between the righteous and wicked. The introduction establishes the courtly, political, and regal context of this section of Proverbs. Waltke suggests that verses 6-15 treat the first theme while verses 16-27 treat the second.

vv. 8-10
This proverb concerns making a dispute known prematurely. Sometimes disputes must be appealed to court, to authorities, but we should generally be slow and reluctant to do so unless compelled of necessity. The proverb discourages “haste,” and twice warns against being shamed and finally warns against losing reputation.
This is the wisdom of Jesus as well: Matthew 18 says to first appeal to our brother privately before going before the church. Likewise, Mt. 5:25-26, instructs us to agree quickly with our adversaries so that we can avoid litigation.

This proverb also seems to assume the likelihood that we are wrong. When everyone sees how you’ve blown it, you’ll be sorry, and then you’ll become known for it. The presumption that you’re wrong comes from “hastily” going to court, being sloppy with information (25:9), and not being careful about your brother’s reputation.
This is also important for the state: It pushes against a highly litigious culture, and in the context of a king’s court, a reputation of dealing with disputes discretely is one likely to recommend one to higher positions.

v. 9
This verse emphasizes the need for secrecy when working tangles out. Bringing more people into the conflict has a high likelihood of furthering the conflict. It also emphasizes the principle of Jesus “to go to your brother.” Conflict resolution is best done face to face or in the most “live” fashion possible. We need to remember this in a day and age of email and text messaging.

And remember that this ‘concealing’ of matters is Godlike (25:2).

vv. 11-12
Waltke points out that this proverb is structured to represent the very point that is being stated. Saying something well is beautiful, and taking beauty into consideration is part of wisdom and obedience. The proverb opens and closes with imagery and syntax that is parallel, “gold in settings of silver” runs parallel to “erring of gold and ornament of fine gold,” and finally, there is movement from personal to impersonal back to personal.

There are two situations in view in the general principle being taught by the proverb. The first is more general concerning a “word fitly spoken,” and the second concerns a more specific application of this point, concerning a “wise rebuker.” Notice that the first concerns the word spoken, the second concers the word received/heard. The first is gold, and the second bestows gold on the obedient. The ‘value’ and beauty of beautiful words is not only what they say and how they say it, but it also resides in the effect and results of the words. Obedience and faithfulness is the desired beautiful effect.

In the context of the king, this may apply in a couple of directions. First, a word fitly spoken by a servant of the king creates gold for the king. Speaking well is a blessing to the king and his realm; wise words are wealth. Second, the proverb implies that the wise king who gives wise counsel and rebuke is building the wealth and beauty of his kingdom through faithful counsel. Conversely, the opposite of both points is true. Foolish counsel is like theft and disobedience is ugly theft.

v. 13
We should note that this and the following proverb are related by the imagery of weather, the first positively, the second negatively. Here in 13, the idea is that of a refreshing cold in the heat of summer harvest. The faithful messenger is the promise and delivery of refreshment. Literally, he restores the soul of his master. This suggests that faithful service in communication (the messenger is an envoy/representative) is a ministry not merely a job. It ministers life to the master and presumable to others. Given the royal context, this “master” is most likely the king or another prominent ruler.

v. 14
This weather imagery contrasts with the previous proverb. Here the promise of refreshment (rain) is promised but never delivered.

There’s also a contrast between humility and pride undergirding these two proverbs: the first is the humble execution of service on behalf of a master while the latter is literally boasting in a gift. But the irony is that this is a gift that is not actually ever given. The contrast is between simple obedience and showy disobedience. Jesus tells the parable about the two sons (Mt. 21:28-31). Neither is completely faithful, but the son who obeys is better than the son who says he will but doesn’t.

Falsely boasting of giving is also obviously exemplified in the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10). The proverb says that falsely boasting of giving is lie clouds and wind with no rain. It’s all the signs of a storm with no benefit of water. This could also be dangerous: thunder, lightening, and wind with no rain is a recipe for fire and disaster.

The implication seems to be that boasting and empty promises is also draining and disappointing for people (if not destructive). Rather than restoring souls, it actually leaves them dry and thirsty. And this is in the context of the court of a king. Empty promises are not little trifles, but have the effect of threatening the kingdom with drought.

v. 15
This stand alone proverb reminds us of the royal context for these proverbs as we are told specifically how one may persuade a ruler. This method also contrasts with the previous method of empty boasting which only results in disappointment. Gentle words, on the other hand, are able to accomplish much. What’s striking is the adjective “gentle” associated with the effect of “breaking in pieces.” This also contrasts with the previous “storm” that effects no refreshment and only destruction and disappointment. But a patient, gentle tongue can restructure the most fundamental structures (even bones).

This proverb reminds us of what Hebrews tells us about the Word of God: it is living and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12).

We should also think about what Jesus says regarding prayer and mountains (Mt. 17 and anything two or three agree on (Mt. 18:19, cf. Jn. 14:14). If we ask anything, according to his will, he hears us, and if he hears us, we know that we have whatever petitions we has asked of him (1 Jn. 5:14-15). In this sense, God is the ruler who may be persuaded by forbearance and a gentle tongue (e.g. Lk. 18:1-7).
Noticing this Christological angle on this passage suggests that there is some typology going on back in the previous verses.

In vv. 8-10, perhaps part of the presumption of guilt may be related to a divine or heavenly courtroom. Who stands before God guiltless? In vv. 11-12, the “the word fitly spoken” is fundamentally Christ, the Word who was with God, the Word is God. This Word is the glory of God, the beauty of God. And through this Word, the worlds were created, bestowing glory and wealth and honor. In v. 13 the messenger who “restores souls” is ultimately the evangelist, the ambassador who brings the gospel of peace.

In verses 2-3 something similar seems to be going on. There’s something parallel between God and kings: they seem to have a dance-like relationship of hide-and-seek-and-hide. God conceals matters, kings search them out ((25:2), and then Solomon says that the heart of kings is unsearchable like the heavens and earth (25:3). The king’s heart mirrors the glory of God on some level; there’s something godlike in the king’s heart. Even the fact that kings may search out the things that God has concealed suggests a complementary relationship. Remember that it is the Spirit that searches everything, even the deep things of God (1 Cor. 2:10). The king is one who has been anointed, and anointing always points to the Spirit who enables one to search out matters, to join the dance of the Father, Son, and Spirit. The original play of hide and seek and glory. And of Christ is the Anointed One.


Friday, January 02, 2009

Obedience is Beautiful

Sometimes we forget that obedience is beautiful. Obedience looks good.

Proverbs says "Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise rebuker to an obedient ear." (25:12)

A wise counselor bestows beauty on his or her recipients. The words finely spoken are themselves lovely and glorious, but the receptive ear is adorned. The life corrected is not only morally benefited but aesthetically blessed. Repentance, obedience, faith, and forgiveness are lovely. They are graces that adorn the lives of the faithful.

This is why, as my wife says, people who don't look right probably aren't.

Sin is ugly, and it breeds ugliness. Obedience is lovely and bestows glory and beauty.

Wisdom is justified by her children, and folly is damned by hers.


Love Means Space 2

It occurs to me that roommate and boarding situations should have also been mentioned in my lists of most-likely-to-offend scenarios in the previous post.

So there. Now I've said it.

In these situations there is already a certain proximity that requires careful delineation, love, and grace on a number of levels, but the principle still stands: giving and creating space within an already close environment is important for cultivating peace and hospitality as well as the art of being a good guest.


Love Means Space

"Seldom set foot in your neighbor's house, lest he become weary of you and hate you." (Pr. 25:17)

While our culture generally runs enthusiastically toward the individualistic-decentered-homelessness of modernity, it is the temptation of some block-headed Christians attempting to live out biblical covenant community to create strife through their ideological commitments to the opposite.

If it's the opposite of our culture it must be good, goes the thinking, and so people decide to live together, on top of each other, and what seems like a good idea for about six months blows up into some of the most divisive kind of hatred imaginable. Son gets married and moves into the downstairs apartment. In-laws have the kids and grandkids over 3 times a week, and the kids don't know how to say 'no thanks.' Of course nothing wrong in and of themselves, kind of like playing with matches at a gas station.

One of the ways we love one another is by having our own homes and not being in each other's hair too frequently. Generally, we need encouragement the other way, but while we're recovering true community, this point needs to be made periodically so that our recovering of faithful fellowship does not result in worse splintering and distance.

In-laws, parents, children, and siblings are probably some of the most likely candidates for this kind of disaster, but you probably know some one who thought it would be a good idea to buy a house with another couple and have some kind of upstairs/downstairs deal worked out. The reason we should generally avoid that kind of intimacy is because we like our friends and family, and we'd rather have them keep liking us.