Thursday, November 17, 2011

thankfulness

For the most part, I'd prefer the Church not celebrate secular holidays. I suppose it’s okay to mention them in passing, but I really don’t see what the Church is doing celebrating civil holidays as if they had much of anything to do with God or creation or salvation history or any of those things. I was even in a Church recently (a liturgical setting, believe it or not), that sang some strange hymn about concrete and steel to celebrate Labor Day.

Hallmark holidays are even worse. Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are just distractions. Give the mothers a flower and the dads some kind of cigar substitute like a pen or a book, but don’t build the whole gathering around it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to celebrate them with your family or community, but in churches, they can be, at least, distracting and, at most, idolatry.  

Check out my July posts to read about my stance on Independence Day.
I'm still not sure about Thanksgiving. Even though its origins had religious overtones, it’s little more than secular in our culture today. And even though the pilgrims were probably pretty thankful for those natives they ran across, the sentiment didn’t last too long, did it?

That reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite TV shows, FOX’s King of the Hill.
Bobby Hill: You mean Indians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving?
John Redcorn: We did. Once. 

On the one hand, if we're being honest, most of us like the holiday because it gives us a chance to eat ourselves silly and not feel bad about it. 

On the other hand, Thanksgiving comes at a good time to practice thankfulness, which is a discipline most of us need to work on.  But in the Church, giving thanks for the symbolic harvest we enjoy should always be done in light of God’s mercy and grace that over-abounds in our lives.  Further, it should be a time that reminds us as Americans, and especially as American Christians, of the injustices that continue to pervade and persist in our culture and around the world.  

May we skip out on the sap and sentimentality and fully consider how to respond to God's grace and provision in our own lives.  And that is the point where true worship begins.

Monday, November 7, 2011

look at Jesus


This has quickly become one of my favorite quotes, because there is so much packed into it. 

Jesus is absolutely in the middle.  If you want to know who God is, look at Jesus.  If you want to know what it means to be human, look at Jesus.  If you want to know what love is, look at Jesus.  If you want to know what grief is, look at Jesus.  And go on looking until you’re not just a spectator, but you’re actually part of the drama which has him as the central character.
- N.T. Wright

And if we want to know how to worship, look at Jesus.

where to begin

I enjoy reading Zac Hicks' blog often.  I don't always agree with him, but I appreciate that he is a contemporary church musician that understands the theology of worship.

Today, he reminds us that "worship songs should say far more about God’s love for us and far less about our love for God."

As I repeat so often, "response" is a key toward biblical worship, but it's the last step in corporate worship.  We must always start with what is true about God, for instance, God's love for us, before we can respond.  I would argue, however, that we must go back further beyond this point.  Something, of course, proceeds God's love for us.  His character is and has always been, apart from us.  We must begin with God's transcendence; his "otherness," and then recount His hand in salvation history and, further, into our own lives as individuals. 

Though I like to refrain from being cliche' with my hymn choices, "Holy, Holy, Holy" is one of the better and most accessible texts emphasizing God's otherness.

Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy!  All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy!  Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in power, in love and purity.

Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity. 

In this great text, we are over and over drawn to acknowledge the transcendence, the "otherness" of God (Lord God Almighty, song shall rise, which wert and art and evermore shalt be, though darkness hide Thee, perfect in power, in love and purity...).

From this point, we move to God's immanence; his work in human history. Here is a fabulous text:

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit,
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit;
Let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its Beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

In this great hymn, Wesley immediately recognizes that the all-powerful, transcendent God has made himself immanent, working in human history (Joy of heaven to earth come down). 

The last element of congregational worship is our response.  It's extremely important, but it cannot happen without a clear understanding of why we should worship the Living God in the first place.  Here is one of my favorite examples of response: 

Out of my bondage, sorrow, and night,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy freedom, gladness, and light,
Jesus, I come to Thee;
Out of my sickness, into Thy health,
Out of my want and into Thy wealth,
Out of my sin and into Thyself,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of my shameful failure and loss,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into the glorious gain of Thy cross,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of earth’s sorrows into Thy balm,
Out of life’s storms and into Thy calm,
Out of distress to jubilant psalm,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of unrest and arrogant pride,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy bless├Ęd will to abide,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of myself to dwell in Thy love,
Out of despair into raptures above,
Upward for aye on wings like a dove,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of the fear and dread of the tomb,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into the joy and light of Thy throne,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of the depths of ruin untold,
Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold,
Ever Thy glorious face to behold,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

In this text, the congregants are prompted to respond to the truth of God's transcendence and immanence.  The only proper response is one of complete surrender to the Almighty Creator and Savior.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

complete

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
-W.W. How
These are beautiful words that describe my grandpa, Garret Herbert Aigner, who joined the Church triumphant last summer at the age of 90.  He was a wonderful man who had a way of living the gospel in even the most mundane circumstances. 

Today on All Saints Day, it struck me in a new way that this man who was such a loving presence in my life is at this very moment in the presence of the Creator and Savior of the world.  As the pastor said this morning, he is "more alive than ever."


What a fantastic reality.  May we be more alive with every passing day we join those who have gone before.