Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Meaning of Liturgy


   What happens when we “go to church”? 

   We are the Church and when we go into the place we have built as a worship space, we go as the Church to be among the people of God, the Body of Christ, to worship the one living God.

   We are a liturgical church.  That is, we follow the form of worship used by Jesus and by the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived and are now living.

   “Liturgy” means “the work of the people”.  Worship is our work, not God’s.  We don’t implore God to show up.  God commands us to show up.

   We come into God’s

presence and worship

 God.

   Worship is like a drama.  The  “leaders” are the prompters, the people are the actors, and God is the audience.

   The question at the end of a liturgical worship service, it’s been said, is therefore not “What did I get out of that?”, but “How did I do?”

 

Instagram


   I saw a story on the news the other day about an artist in New York who was copying and enlarging other people’s Instagram photos to what looked like foam board, putting them on display in a gallery with some of the online comments, and selling them.  For $90,000.00.

   I suppose the art is in

knowing which ones to choose, and in the display of an art form probably unique to our day.  But still…

   How does one value art?  How does one value anything. 

   And, how do we value human life?  It’s uniqueness?  It’s importance?  It’s importance to us?

   Christians have, from

the beginning placed a high value on all human life.

   We are created in God’s image, we are where God dwells, we are a people who have been ransomed by the death of Jesus Christ!

   We are worth everything, to God.

 

Not On Its Own Way


   It’s been said, perhaps with a touch of cynicism, that in a marriage you can be happy or you can be right.  Take your pick.

   Yet, how is that different from Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13, where he says of love, “It does not insist on its own way;” (vs. 5)?

   The word that Paul uses is agape, Greek for selfless love.  It is the name of the kind of love with which God loves us.

   The Christian life, like a marriage, is based on this kind of love. 

   There are many ways to live a counterfeit Christian life.  But, there is only one way to live an authentic one.  That is to live in God’s selfless love: by faith alone, through grace alone, informed by the inspired Word of God, the Bible, alone.

   There are many ways to feel good about what we do as Christians.  But, there is only one way to be made good, and that is through the cross of our gracious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Christ Is Alive


   Spring has crept up, unbidden this year.  We didn’t have enough of a winter to long for it.  It just appeared.

   Contrast that with many other parts of our country that had a horrible winter, and are now experiencing floods, or had a horrible winter and are still experiencing a horrible winter.

   They will know a Spring when they see one.

   Easter is never like that.  It only comes after lots of horrible things happen.

   Experiencing Holy Week, a week of human darkness, prepares us for a real experience of Easter, the gift of God’s joy and gladness.

   Christ is alive!  That statement of stunned awareness still makes its impact.

   We know death, and so Resurrection comes with great force and meaning.

   We die with Christ in our Baptism, and are so we will rise with him in a Resurrection like his.

   Amen.  Alleluia!

 

The Most Generous Organization


   What is the most generous organization on our block?

   In terms of what we give to the community and beyond, in both dollars and time, as a sum and as an amount per-person, I think it would have to be Faith Lutheran Church.

   What is the most generous organization in our neighborhood?  Holy Name of Mary might give more, but as a per-person amount, I believe it would still be us on top. 

   How about on our side of town?  I think it would be HNM and us.

   What about in all of San Dimas?  CCV is likely giving more but, again, I think we could hold our own with nearly any organization on a per-person basis.

   We are a generous church.

   But did you notice that all of these groups are churches?

   We are blessed, to be a blessing!  

 

Attraction


   What is attractive about Faith Lutheran Church?

   What is it that make, or would make you, want to invite more people to come to church with you?

   Study after study for the past 3 decades has shown that between 81% and 86%, depending on the study, come to Christ and join a church through the influence of a friend or a relative.

   Eighty-two percent of the those who do not go to church today say they would go if they were invited.

   Many things attract people to churches, but only one thing gives them something worth coming back to and worth staying for, and that is meeting and growing in Jesus.

   How can you express the love of God in Jesus Christ in such a way that the unchurched around you will understand?  Invite them to come in our Christian community and see for themselves!

 

The Light Shines in the Darkness


   One of the things Sally and I did on our “stay-cation” after Christmas was to visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

   In one of the “exhibits” we were led into a room where we put booties on our feet.  We then ascended a flight of stairs, into a completely white environment which soon began to slowly change colors. 

   An orange-ish band of light around the entryway to the room framed a back wall that changed colors as well.

   When we were about half-way through our time there, we were told that that wall behind the entryway was in fact gray, that our minds were only “seeing” it in color.

   Epiphany is about the true light that is Jesus shining in the darkness.  (John 1:1-9)

   Epiphany reminds us that seeing is not believing.  Believing is a way of seeing.

 

The Wonder of Christmas


   This is the time of year when I take a deep sigh and wonder how Christmas got to be such a mess.

   We have barely pushed ourselves away from the Thanksgiving table when, like a starter’s pistol, we are instructed to buy!

   The demands pile up, the expectations become more impossible, and we wonder whose idea this was in the first place.

   We wonder how we will ever finish everything we have to do.

   Wonder is a big part of Christmas, the wrong kind of wonder.

   Instead, I propose a focus on renewed wonder this year.  The wonder of the love of God.  The wonder of the Word made flesh.  The wonder of the second chances, of unearned grace, of God’s meeting our sin with the cross.

   Why?  And why for me?  This is the wonder of Christmas!

  

 

We Are All In Management


   We are all in management.  We are stewards.

   A steward is someone who cares for something that is not their own.

   God provided everything that exists and made us managers of it.

    That stewardship includes how we use our money.

   When the Bible calls on believers to tithe, or give a tenth of their income to God’s work on earth, it is not because God needs the money.

   It is because the work we do together to manage what we have been given needs the money or it won’t happen.

   We have been entrusted with the good news of Jesus Christ.  No one will hear it unless it comes from us.

   This fall, I encourage you to consider your stewardship and join Sally and I in tithing, and even going beyond.

   We love because He first loved us.  We give our best, because He first gave His best for us all.

  

 

Holy Living and The Arts


   Near the end of his book, Bad Religion, Ross Douthat notes that during the four times in history that Christianity itself seems to have been threatened with (temporary) extinction, two things have brought it back: holy living and the arts.

   One Mother Theresa speaks volumes more than all the books written answering the new atheists.

   One Pope Francis or one Dr. Kent Brantly, or one of you does more for the church than all the programs directed at the “spiritual but not religious”.

   We are the Church.  We are the Body of Christ.  How we live is the message of Christ to the world.

   The arts can communicate the voice of God in a way that touches people through a common culture.

   What can you bring to the proclamation of Christ, and him crucified?

   You are the light of the world.  Be you!

 

We Thank God


   There are many ways someone could describe our congregation but “boring” is not one of them.

   Our activities and innovations never stopped over the summer.

   Now, with fall upon us and the first anxious days of school settling into a frantic routine, we are looking forward with excitement to what God will do through us next.

   We thank God for God’s generous grace, and we seek to be a generous people in response.

   We thank God for God’s gift of faith and seek to embody that faith through love in response.

   We thank God for God’s Word, the Bible, and we seek to be God’s people in response.

   Fall finds us full of God’s gifts.  Let’s use them to introduce people to new life in Jesus Christ that grows into enthusiastic Christian living!

 

Why Evil?


   The ebola virus epidemic is no longer an item in the news, it has become our reality as one of our members, Clarice Henry, finds her term as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone truncated, waiting to begin again.

   The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, conflict in Syria, Lebanon, and Libya, hostilities between Israel and Gaza, Russia and Ukraine, tensions in  Nigeria and Egypt, and “hotspots” all over the globe remind us that the world is not what it’s supposed to be.

   The world was created to live in harmony, first with God and, as a result, among people and with all creation. 

   Evil enters the world when humanity puts itself in the place of God.

   Let us pray for harmony and peace.  Let us pray for a restoration of the relationship with God for which we were created.  And, let is seek reconciliation in the world in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.   

 

The Golden Circle


   I watched a brief TED talk online called The Golden Circle, or something like that, the other day.

   It was not memorable for saying anything new, and the assumptions and worldview were somewhat vague.

   What was interesting, and important, however, was the central point.  That was that most organizations present themselves by telling you what they do, how they do it, and then why.

   Movements, however, of the kind that will grow in our current environment, must operate in reverse.

   The first thing people want to know about us is “why” we do what we do, then “how” and then “what”.

   When you share your faith, or talk about your church, or seek to describe the Christian movement, what inspires people is your answer to the “why” question.  The rest will follow.

 

Maya Angelou


   I prayed for Maya Angelou, and I believe she prayed for me.

   When I served as pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Compton, my first call, I was asked to deliver the invocation at a Compton Community College Commencement ceremony where Maya Angelou was the guest speaker.  I had been serving on the Community Council for the president of the college, Dr. Abel Sykes (father of KABC newsperson Leslie Sykes).

   We stood next to each other as we waited for the ceremony to begin.  Many people wanted to meet her and exchange a few words.  But, there were a few minutes where she spoke with me.  She was just like she seemed in the media: genuine, gracious and filled with gravitas.  I thanked her for her poetry and her challenging and powerful influence for good.  She asked about the church I was serving and what we were doing together.  Then, shortly before the procession began to move she said, “Would you pray for me?”  I answered, “Yes, of course I will.”  She answered, “And I will pray for you.  And I mean that very seriously.”

   I believe she did, as did I.

 

What Would It Take?


   What would it take to keep you from worship?  Jail?  Sports?  Threat of losing your job?  Your personal religion?  Loss of your friends and family?  Your personal pleasure?

   Worship is a community activity.  It draws us from all our relationships into God’s presence.  From our connections into the relationship with the living God for which we were created.

   It’s not about you.  It’s about us.  God has made of a bunch imperfect people into the Body of Christ. 

   Worship is a time set-apart for Word and Sacraments, to gather with other imperfect people and experience the promise of Jesus that, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Matthew 18:20

   We are not alone.  We are a worshiping community formed by the living God.

 

Real True Life


   What kind of life does Jesus have in mind for you?

   It is a good one, but I wonder how many people prefer to hang onto parts of their old lives than to living the wonderful life Jesus is calling us to live.

   I heard a woman on the news the other day saying that she had a right to drink alcohol while watching her children free of judgment.

   It made me wonder if that is really the life Jesus has in mind for us?

   Is it possible that, even we who have walked with Jesus for awhile, can still find areas of our lives that we do not want to give up, but instead try to justify?

   Do we ever confuse freedom with indulgence?

   Do we ever confuse accountability with judgment?

   We most certainly do.  But, Jesus died and rose for us, and calls us to follow him in the way that leads to a real, true life.

 

Nature Reveals


   When you look at the foothills north of us, what do you see?

   What does your interior sight tell you?  That is, what do you feel, sense, encounter when you see something grand?

   Psalm 121, in the Bible, begins,

I lift up my eyes to the hills—

from where will my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.”

   Nature reveals God.  Nature can give us a sense of majesty, an incomprehensible mix of things that seem to us both good and bad, a wave-length, a resonance.

   But, nature itself is not God.

   Our help comes from God, who made Nature.

   Our help comes from the crucified one who redeems a fallen Creation.

   Our Help tells us this story in Lent.

 

Fishing


   Have you ever gone fishing?  What kind?

   It takes discipline, and hard work, and patience, and for some a strong stomach.

   Sometimes your efforts are rewarded, sometimes they’re not.

   How do you fish for people?  It’s pretty much the same.

   We learn, sometimes by trial and error, what is effective, to go to where the people are, and to use whatever technology we can.

   Sometimes, though, it’s just “instinct”, or the voice of the Holy Spirit.

   Some fishers for people are commercial fishers, some use a net, and some go looking one-on-one.

   One thing that rarely works, however, as has been said, is waiting for the occasional fish to jump into the boat.

   We, as disciples of Christ, are all fishers of people.  The only question is, “What kind?”

 

Religion as Relationship


   Of all the things said about recent statements made by Duck Dynasty’s Phil Roberson, a little-commented-upon remark made by a Public Relations expert on TV annoyed me the most.

   He said, “he used religion as a weapon, and not the tool it’s meant to be”. 

   This is not a kind thing to say about religion.  It says that true religious behavior is something we use to serve us., like a useful tool we can pick up or put away, depending on what serves us best.

   It is why some Christians describe their faith as not a religion, but as a God-centered relationship.

   Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.  That’s the good news.

   We serve others in his Name.  We do not use it to get what we want.

   We do not celebrate slavery to ourselves, but the freedom we have been given in Jesus Christ. 

 

Consumer Holiday?


   Sally and I saw our first Christmas display in a store in May (!).

   More stores will be open on Thanksgiving Day this year than last year.

   Store employees are expected to be at their stations to offer sales.

   Christmas sales have been going on for months, and now everyone seems to be first to offer even deeper discounts out of fear that shoppers will have spent all their
Christmas cash before December.

   More and more I hear people saying that Thanksgiving if their favorite holiday because it isn’t such a drain in every way.

   How did the Birth of Christ, the Savior, come to this?

   Whatever the reason, each of us has the power to say no, to instead bring our faith into focus.

   We can not consume  the Christmas story of the love of God this year, but instead live it.

 

What The World Thinks About Us


   What do people think about Lutherans?

   A recent totally unscientific, but interesting, study sought to discover what people thought about American Christian denominations.  Their method was to Google the words, “Why are [fill in the blank]…”

   Among the results for Anglicans were the words, “so liberal”, “converting to Catholicism”, “important”, and “wrong.”  For Evangelicals they were, “so judgmental”, “so annoying”, “republicans”, and “so crazy.”

   For Lutherans the words were, “on notice” (a Colbert Nation thing), “not Christians”, “wrong”, and “different.”

   Looks like some people were looking for reasons to disagree with us, and others.

   Do we care what the world thinks?  Only so we can understand and reach it for Jesus.

 

Missionary Lift


   I heard a missionary speak many years ago about a phenomenon called “missionary lift”.

   When Christian missionaries go to pre-developed countries and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the nature of the Church and of the Christian life has certain consequences.

   A culture defined by such values as deferred gratification, humility and sacrificing for others, of self-control in matters of sexuality and personal health, have a positive economic result.

   Leadership responsibilities help develop entrepreneurial and marketable skills.

  A recent study of 100 countries found that the more Christians in a country, the more robust the economy.

   What does this mean?

   Among other things, I think it means that we are blessed to be a blessing.  What do you think?

 

Miley & Sarah


   Two women drew a lot of attention recently.

   Miley Cyrus (yes, I’m tired of hearing about her, too.), with Robin Thicke who seems at least as blameworthy, gained notoriety for a narcissistic dance of the moment at end of the VMA show.

   Sarah Horn was called out of the audience during a Kristin Chenoweth concert at the Hollywood Bowl.  Ms. Chenoweth regularly asks people who know her songs to come on stage and sing with her, in this case “For Good”.

   Sarah Horn, a voice teacher at California Baptist University in Riverside  blew everybody away with her humility and her talent.  The footage from her friend’s video has been viewed over 2.5 million times.

   We have come to Miley via 1,000 small compromises.

  We view Sarah as a teacher.

 

Jesus: Still Controversial


   A recent Cornell University study of the most controversial subjects on the publicly editable online encyclopedia Wikipedia showed that Jesus is still in the top 10!  :-)

    A currently controversial book claims that Jesus was centrally a Zealot, a political revolutionary, which has been a familiar academic position.

   In an interview the author says, “What I say is that if you know nothing else about Jesus except that he was crucified, you know enough to understand what a troublemaker this guy must have been.”  That may be true.

   Jesus, however, stated and lived the words “my Kingdom is not of this world”.  John 18:36

   If you know nothing about Jesus except that he rose from the dead, then you have the Christian faith, a living faith in the living LORD. 

   

 

World's End


   A feature at the end of The Atlantic magazine is called, “The Big Question”.

   In this month’s issue the question is, “How and when will the world end?”

   Notable authors, scientists, and personalities offer various bleak scenarios for the world’s demise.

   We answer that question each week with the words “I believe in Jesus Christ...and he will come to judge the living and the dead.” (Apostles Creed) or “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”  (Nicene Creed)

   We believe that history has meaning, that it is headed toward a planned end.  God’s already-but-not-quite-yet kingdom has already broken into history and “will have no end”.

   This was at the core of Jesus’ preaching, and offers a word of hope to us and to our times.