Tag Archives: church

Daily Lectionary Podcast – 1 Samuel 13:1-18 and Acts 23:12-35

1 Samuel 13:1-18
Acts 23:12-35
Christ & The Apostles – no wedge allowed, God’s time vs. our time

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Proverbs 31:10-31 and John 21:1-25

Proverbs 31:10-31
John 21:1-25
Applying the final proverb to the church, the many and various ways of the gospel, a gospel post-script

Stanley Hauerwas – Paragraph Worth Pondering

From an interview here

Mohler: I get the impression that when you look at American Christianity in general, and American Evangelicalism in particular, you appear to see a church that is looking less and less like the church.

Hauerwas: I have great admiration for evangelicals for no other reason than they just bring such great energy to the faith and I admire that. But one of the great problems of Evangelical life in America is evangelicals think they have a relationship with God that they go to church to have expressed but church is a secondary phenomenon to their personal relationship and I think that’s to get it exactly backwards: that the Christian faith is meditated faith. It only comes through the witness of others as embodied in the church. So I should never trust my presumption that I know what my relationship with God is separate from how that is expressed through words and sacrament in the church. So evangelicals, I’m afraid, often times, with what appears to be very conservative religious convictions, make the church a secondary phenomenon to their assumed faith and I think that’s making it very hard to maintain disciplined congregations.

Some thoughts on church meditating on Bonhoeffer…


“How would you expect to find community while you intentionally withdraw from it at some point? The disobedient cannot believe; only the obedient believe.” …The Cost of Discipleship

This is the hard starting place for this generation. We hear lots of talk and angst and desire for community but rarely find it. We rarely find it because we are rarely obedient. There is a parallel within marriages or should I say our couplings. We withdraw. They can have our bodies, but not our hearts. They can have our presence, but not our attention. They can have our acts, but not our being. We have committed adultery before even opening our eyes. Likewise we are weak in faith and unbelieving because we will not be obedient to the Word. We do not keep the Sabbath, yet expect the Word to be present on demand. We keep a Sabbath mentally, but harden our hearts to our neighbors. Or keep it with our hearts, but stay our hands. We will not have a true husband or wife withdrawing a part of ourselves, likewise we will not have an ecclesia, a church, withdrawing ourselves. Thanksgiving precedes the miracle, obedience precedes the blessing. To those who have more will be given, but to those who have not, even what they have will be taken away.

“The community of the saints is not an “ideal” community consisting of perfect and sinless men and women, where there is no need of further repentance. No, it is a community which proves that it is worthy of the gospel of forgiveness by constantly and sincerely proclaiming God’s forgiveness…Sanctification means driving out the world from the Church as well as separating the Church from the world. But the purpose of such discipline is not to establish a community of the perfect, but a community consisting of men who really live under the forgiving mercy of God.” ..The Cost of Discipleship

“It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!” …Life Together

If the devil cannot convince you to withdraw from the church before ever really being part of her, he will try the opposite course, to push you through to the other side. The quickest way to accomplish this is to convince you that this group of people you have turned yourself over too isn’t worthy of that offering. This works as one of those brilliant almost truths because the church and that specific church in and of itself is not worthy. They are not worthy because those gathered are sinners. The church will break your heart. It might even rip you limb from limb. It might even put you on a cross. That is what it did to the one you follow. The chief priests and the leaders of the people handed him over to be crucified. The lie that resides in the midst of the devil’s truth is that he has stolen the mirror. When you see a bunch of sinners, we should see our own reflection. Our churches have become devoid of the mirror. Which leads many of us to react like Bonhoeffer’s horrified righteous. We remain alone either because we leave that gathering of sinners, or because we become expert at helping our enemy hide the mirror.

The authentic community is a gathering of lepers who have come for the cure. “You sins are forgiven, go and sin no more”. Yes we will sin again. And we return again and hear the same words – 70 x 7. The authentic church gathers to hear both the healing and the charge. In the healing she finds her strength. In the charge she finds her hope. It will not always be this way, because hope will give way to fulfillment. The perishable will put on the imperishable. The corrupt will receive the incorruptible.

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.” …Life Together

Bonhoeffer here captures some of the shallow and rocky points to which the devil can drive us where faith can be shipwrecked. We can see four of these shallow points prominent in the American church of today. We are afraid of being alone or of solitude so regardless of confession or creed gather together under “non-denominational” banners. These gatherings often happen to be the largest because we are afraid of solitude. Not that the smaller church is truly solitude, but because we have no firm words to stand up we need the mass of feeling. The feeling provided by amplified music, lightshows, choreography and well-honed rhetoric often devoid of actual substance. That is the typical mood affiliation of the modern right(eous). Likewise there is a mood affiliation of the modern left that also rejects words for the warm fellow feeling of those who truly “love”. Because of being afraid of being alone the definition of “love” is so broad as to encompass those outside of the church as if they were members of the body. There also exist those who afraid of solitude conjure up the communion of saints through words. Not that the words are wrong or that the communion of saints is false, but we are not after the real content of the words, just the fellowship with an entity we invoke with words we do not understand. Those are the three shallows of the modern church, but a fourth exists on its periphery – in the narthex and the site of baptism but not in communion. The forth shallow are those who refuse the fellowship opting for the vanity of personal spirituality. The sole purpose of such an unconnected faith is to substitute the true body of Christ with a body that looks more and more like ourselves every passing day. Such a love affair can go on for a long time, but meets a rude end when on the death bed this body proves unable to save.

These are the shallows we are called to recognize and avoid. The life of the church is one of feast and fast, of fellowship and of solitude. We believe with the heart and confess with the tongue. We do not neglect to gather, yet we also ensure that we have our own oil and examine ourselves.

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” …Life Together

The last peril is actually believing that such a place deserving of our love exists this side of the Kingdom. Even Ephesus was recalled to their first love. Philadelphia kept the word but had little strength. This is one part of what it means to be Christlike. Seeing the manifold faults of the church that separate her from our dream community, we love her as Christ loved her. As long as we are with-holding ourselves for our dream community we will continue to persecute the church as she actually is. It is only love, which covers a multitude of sins, that knows fully. Christ has fully loved the church and knows her fully. Can we say to the member that Christ has washed “I have no need of you”? There is a still more excellent way that everyday creates and abides forever.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Genesis 44:1-18, 32-34 and Mark 12:28-44

Genesis 44:1-18, 32-34
Mark 12:28-44
Toward a definition of love, it isn’t love if is doesn’t cost, The Community of Love and the Resurrection
The Temple Rang with Golden Coins – Lutheran Service Book 787

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Joel 2:18-32 and Romans 11:25-12:13

Joel 2:18-32
Romans 11:25-12:13
Church as a body, The Church’s One Foundation (LSB 644)

Don Draper & Church Aesthetics

Jantzen-Swimsuits- Actual
One of those things that has been occupying my spare brain cycles has been Mad Men. For some reason I watched season 6 on the TV this year.

Tangent Warning: I know. Everybody who watched it from the beginning of time complained about this year. Well, I didn’t know anything when I watched this season. I was a complete blank slate or in some ways against it. Being a contrarian, since ‘all the smart people’ were watching Mad Men, I concluded it must be a complete suck-up and stayed far away. Also I’m like James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams, as soon as someone starts talking about “the ’60s” I want to get my can of pest spray. Season 6 was some of the best TV I’d watched, so I’ve been catching up now half way through season 4. My general take is that season 1 was so good that people were still talking about that during season 2 and 3. The Kodak scene is worth the entire show, and its a great book end to season 6 scene where Don tells the real story and “s***s all over the table”. In reading the bible you’d call that an inclusio. But overall the experience at the end of season 3 was something like the Hunger Games books. You read Hunger Games over-night because you can’t put it down. It reads that well. Then you read the next two on the vapors of book one. You’d put it down half-way through book three if not just for the “how does it end?” question. Season 4 while not reaching the emotional toll of season 1 is better than 2 and 3. The tough thing to keep in mind is that even “bad” seasons are better than most television, but the nostalgia for season 1 is almost painful. /End Tangent

OK, back to main point. Don Draper as the head of creative, and Peggy Olsen the understudy in an interesting sequence with a priest, basically hold “the customer” in contempt. It is not really contempt, but “I know what will sell widgets and connect emotionally, and you don’t”. That is the hubris, in Don & Peggy’s cases earned, of the professional. Peggy expresses this with the priest after the CYA council has savaged her beautiful flyers. “Your job is to make them accept the idea, not split the difference” – or something to that effect after the priest with the older ladies kills the entire creative flyer by watering it down. Don expresses this multiple times, but when he “fires” Jantzen swimwear is the essence. The client is selling bikinis, but they don’t want to be “too sexy”. The add that Don actually creates meets the letter, but rubs the spirit in their face.DraperJantzen (The pictures are the ad from the show and a real ad from the era. Notice how Don has a girl in pig-tails and doesn’t actually show anything, but the entire ad is a mild tease at least by today’s standards.) When they don’t like it, Don tells them to leave, he doesn’t want their account. And he is right from a business stand point. Don knows their business better than they do. There are times when the customer is just flat wrong, sometimes embarrassingly wrong. As Steve Jobs would say, the customer doesn’t know what they want.

Now Don and Peggy’s purpose is to increase sales. The church’s purpose is to make disciples (Matt 28:19-20). There is a bottom line sales portion there, but only concentrating on that is a big mistake. The purpose is not to goose attendance but to create disciples who persevere even in the hard times. You can take a customer-is-always-right approach, but that approach is never really good creative. It is always lukewarm mush. Those who are left behind in the old “Sterling Cooper” at the end of season 3 in season 4 express just that. The better account man, Ken Cosgrove, who is also an published artist, complains about the idiocy of the merged entity enough that he is willing to subordinate himself to Pete Campbell to reclaim some integrity. Now think about what that means in church. What kind of church do you want? One that takes a “customer is always right” approach and that is always trying to find out what that is and serve it? Or one that acts like Don & Peggy – we have a better way. Which church is expressing confidence? Which church would make disciples?

Now ask the next question, is the low-church praise band the warmed over mush or Don & Peggy? Can you see Don or Peggy in the typical suburban mega-church? (FYI, one of the funniest if sacrilegious tweaks of the show was Peggy creating a “Mom Icon” to sell popsicles.sterling-coopers-popsicle-sacrament Here is an article that is trying to express some of the same things I’ve been thinking about while watching Mad Men. The funniest point is the “serve yourself” communion. That would be the essence of the mush, the customer is always right, church. When you feel like it, please come take the body of Christ that we’ve left out on the table along with the grape juice to wash it down. The church has (or should have) better taste.

Boomers & Stickers

That title is a reference to Wendell Berry. A rough translation: Boomers = people who go where ever the opportunity is greatest regardless of the mess they leave behind. Stickers = people who stay in one place because the community is greater than the individual. As with all dualities it is immediately true and false at the same time. Berry’s deeper point I have taken to be that the rules of American society have become too tilted toward Boomers. Even if you were a sticker, the price is individually too high. But a society of all boomers lacks the social capital and cohesion to exist for any length of time.

There are a lot of Christians who have resonated with Wendell Berry. My guess is that many have read him on “place” and sticking and heard echoes of “running the race” and seen his virtues of “place” in the community called the church, which in most Americans experience is a local thing. Yes, in episcopal churches there are far away hierarchies, but even in the Roman Catholic Church in America, the religion of daily life is played out in the local parish. Nobody fears the coming of the inquisition. Coming from a Lutheran standpoint, and I would say Confessional Lutheran based on the Treatise of the Power and Primacy of the Pope (TPPP), that local nature of the church is a correct understanding. The church is found where the word is preached and the sacraments administered correctly. The entire church is present in that local congregation, or maybe said better that congregation is the church in that place. Anything “above” or outside of the congregation is not church although we might call it that. The church above or outside of the congregation is fine, but we should recognize it for what it is – de jure humano – a human construct. The reformers where fine with the Pope so long as he would admit his office was by human law.

Alan Jacobs questions if this resonance is misplaced or even reconcilable with Christianity. His primary evidence is Jesus and Paul who were clearly not “stickers” but in Paul’s case traveled “to the ends of the earth”. To make place a primary commitment is as Berry does is a form of idolatry.

I’d agree with Jacobs in so far as I think Berry’s place is a secularized form of the church. Christians who read Berry and make an equation of church and place are making a jump that Berry doesn’t. But Christians who make that jump are reading the deeper truth that Berry can’t or won’t make. The church is a place. The church is the proleptic or out of time appearance of the Kingdom of God in this dying age. In so far as the Christian is a sticker to the place of the Kingdom, the virtues of place in Berry are applicable. The deepest of those virtues in my understanding is simple the ability to stop coveting the greener grass on the other side of the fence and to recognize our vocations where we are. Some are called to be apostles which would mean a bunch of travel. But wherever they go they are still in the place of the Kingdom living out their vocation. They did not leave because of covetousness but because of call. And to do so is not to leave at all. Likewise the pastor called to the same place for a lifetime, or the layman who works quietly in the vineyard where they have been placed, are also living out their vocations. The world would say to them -”Boom, you are not getting the most out of life, you must go elsewhere.” The church and God instead would say no. There is honor and fulfillment in living your life in place, “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)” Berry’s form of place is idolatry because his place is literally a physical place in this dying world. But Berry, unlike many other forms of secularism, is sanctifiable with a better understanding of place. The Christian’s home is not here, but the Kingdom. And that Kingdom is in every place. One can go and never leave. Likewise one can never leave, but have everywhere in the communion of saints.

Individualism and The Church

In our Thursday morning Bible Study for a while at least we are going to be looking at the non-gospel readings for the following Sunday. For the season after Easter that means instead of an old testament lesson we have a reading from Acts, and the epistle lesson comes from Revelation. This week is the introduction to the letters to the church in Revelation 1:4-18. We strayed a little past there is look at the letters themselves. One of the points that gets brought out is that the letters are written to the churches. They are actually written to the angel (messenger) of the church at _____, but what I would assert that means is that they are addressed as a collective. A congregation or a church is a communion. The strengths and problems of an individual are shared by all. The only place in those letters where I see an individual appeal is in Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22). The call to repent for the church that is being spit out is to individuals to hear Christ knocking at the door. Otherwise the call is to the collective.

That is a hard message for American individuals. We are so used to me and my personal Jesus, or me and Jesus in my heart. But as I was walking through this something became clearer to me. What I would call it would be the “guru-ification of Christianity”. Rob Bell is out on the speaking trail with a new book and he now runs small gatherings of people who will pay interact with him and spend some time surfing. He has freed himself of the responsibilities and accountability of a church. Likewise John Spong has another book and is available for speaking. He will come an pitch heresy to whoever pays the bills. Both of their tacts are toward helping you become all you can be. Jesus is important because he is the prop as the ultimate “true man”. If you follow Jesus then you too will emerge into being a truly enlightened human being. And now I get it. In that stuffy church you are forced to deal with left feet and little fingers. In the guru-church it is just you and finding your inner Jesus. And of course that inner Jesus can look like almost anything, but probably not left feet or little fingers.

When I noted yesterday in my not all together coherent thought on what to expect because of the changing picture of marriage, one of the things I mentioned a Hindu thought of Brahman and Atman. When you look at the various Christian-Gurus running around, that is what they are pushing for – a Christianity freed of the church. Free yourself from the tangible and the grubby and head toward enlightenment. Cut yourself free from that body that is holding you back. And the church, poor church, just kinda takes it. You know, like Jesus. The church isn’t hip enough for the emergents. The church isn’t pure enough for the schismatics of various stripes. The church isn’t radical enough for the super-christians. You name it there is some group of guru’s whipping the church. And they think they want the church to change in their direction, but I now wonder. If it did change why would you need their brand of guru anymore? It is easier having the church as whipping boy. All the while, suffering the abuse hurled at it, the church week in and week out calls left feet and little fingers to gather. It calls the glory parts – the right hands, the eyes – to take care and look at the rest. She gathers and instructs and points not to some Jesus inside but to the Jesus outside. The one on a cross. To the gritty reality of sin and blood and crosses. Instead of cutting off parts and freeing yourself, she invites you to join the body, to incarnate, to pick up the cross and join the pilgrim band.

Yes, I know, joining stuff isn’t popular. Bodies are messy. Especially a place full of left feet and little fingers. (And even the occasional middle finger.) But here is the thing. Christ didn’t found a philosophy, he’s building a church or a people. The Kingdom is not a celestial realm of the mind to which we ascend. The new heavens and the new earth come down. We get resurrected bodies. The gurus are leading you away from the gritty reality. The reality that the church resides in. The reality that the church incarnates as the body of Christ in this dark realm.

Of Vestments, Parishes, Truth, Love and Ecumenical Ties

We at St. Mark’s have been blessed with some beautiful new paraments for the altar. The problem with new articles made “for holy use” is that there are old articles made for the same purpose. You are caught in the bind of thinking a) we didn’t find them “good enough” for our use so why would we expect someone else to use them and b) they don’t really belong in places of common use after being on the altar for decades. So what happens is that you store them waiting for that opportunity to use them or gift them. That opportunity came along for us.

One of the sons of a family at St. Mark’s is part of an Anglican Ordinariate church just getting started. While we would have been very happy to have his family here at St. Mark’s, we are a Lutheran Church that believes, teaches and confesses according to the Book of Concord. That was not where this son was at. One of the to-do’s about starting a “high church” congregation is dressing the altar. Knowing that we had some in reserve so to speak, his mom asked if they might be available. The rest is history. Here are some pictures of St. Mark’s old paraments being put to holy use in a new home.

ST. Alban 3

St. Alban 2

St. Alban 1

Now, I’d like to share a different picture. This the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. Probably the former church home of many of those now part of the ordinariate.PresidingBishopRainbow This is the woman at the head of the church pursuing a “scorched earth policy” against any Anglicans/Episcopalians who disagree with the new theology adopted and seek to separate from the communion (news stories one, two) Which pictures better represent a the humble piety called for from the “poor who have the good news proclaimed to them (Luke 4:18)?”

Here is something that I’ve found to be true of any orthodox body I’ve ever been around. First, they are not shy about saying what they actually believe. They believe it because they have received it as from the Lord. Second, they will invite your to “come and see” or journey along to see that truth. They do that largely because they themselves are on such a journey. We are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God. Third, because they know who they are, they are able to truly interact in love with others. It is not a false love that is constantly just desiring approval from the other, but a love that bears all things (1 Cor 13:7). Even a separation when there is no longer a true communion. Eventually we will be able to see clearly.