Thursday, January 26, 2006


I recently had a conversation about the nature of preaching with my Sr. Pastor. The essence of the conversation related to the growing trend in preaching (especially in the mega church) of speaking to people's needs--e.g. fear, self-esteem, relationships, vocational choice etc.

I do not think the gospel speaks to people's needs in this way. Instead the preacher proclaims the gospel in a "midrashic" way. This approach helps people connect and understand the text in their setting. It speaks to their needs but more importantly it reminds them of their claimed story-- of "the things of baptism"-- as we have been talking about.

Our perceived needs are not ignored in this kind of preaching. What takes place is a re-centering (conversion, transformation) of our lives that allows for all of our lives to be changed. Through the peeling of the layers of scripture we find ourselves, we identify ourserlves and we are faced with our need for God and for God's community called the church.

So, Josh , what's your take?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Activity redux

The point I actually lost in my previous post "activity" was that baptism in particular (and sacraments in general) gives us the essential clue to how God works. God is not a tyrant, judge, sadist...nor is God aloof, disinterested, or vaguely curious.

In The Purpose-Driven Life, which is quite popular on both sides of the Atlantic at the moment, human beings are "made for God's pleasure." The image this conjures up is of a whimsical, let's-try-this-today, bored deity who is interested in us only because of the momentary happiness we can bring him. I don't think this describes Rick Warren's intention, but in trying to come up with a pithy encapsulating slogan, this petty image for God is perpetuated.

God is passionately interested in human life. Moreover, God made human beings and all creation not because it was an elective pursuit which brings pleasure (hedonistic or otherwise)--God makes because that is God's nature to do so. God so overflows with love, care, and creativity that it would be a travesty NOT to create. Out of the rich abundance of the inner divine life (the community of the Trinity, if you will), space is made by the omnipotent, omnipresent God for something uniquely Other to take shape. Out of this unfolding of divine activity and love can we begin to see how all life is grace--God's active love.

The creation, human beings--we are not divine playthings, to be toyed with momentarily and then abandoned or destroyed when the fit of creativity ends. We are ends in ourselves, created with an integrity and vibrance and dignity that pays homage to the Creator. And the creative environment in which we find ourselves is all love.

Baptism vindicates this way of seeing God. God pours out love in the form of water and the Spirit, without respect to achievement or awareness or ability, potential or purpose or proclivity. If you are a child, you receive--if an adult, you receive; if you are guilty of horrible atrocities, you receive--if you have lived a saintly life until now, you receive; if you have doctoral degrees in philosophy, you receive--if you are mentally limited by genetics or biology, you receive. We can all receive God's free gift of grace. What we do afterwords, in response, that is conditioned by our human situation, of course. But the receiving begins before we are aware even of the possibilities.

In baptism, we experience an ordinary channel of God's grace; but ordinary doesn't necessarily mean lesser or plain. Baptism is ordinary because God orders it for the good of human life. It is ordinary because it is meant to be accessible to all. And because of that, it is perhaps the greatest. A fellow Candler student once asked me why baptism was looked down on by the church (vis a vis Eucharist): even deacons (and laypersons!?!) can preside. I responded that I thought that meant baptism is more highly valued, not less--we need to make sure it can happen anytime and anyplace, for the benefit of anyone.

Monday, January 16, 2006


Baptism is a beggining. Here the image of being "born again" becomes helpful. Although misunderstood and misinterpreted by many it has some important connotations to the present discussion. Just like a child is born and needs nurture and care to mature and grow; Christians need the same care following their baptism. They are claimed by God and through that claim comes salvation -- wholeness -- but not as a static moment in time but as a dynamic movement that reaches from Christ's death and resurrection to the present and into the future.

Our being sealed with the Spirit at baptism has an effect. The efficacy of baptism in our lives has its basis in God's initiative and humanity's response. Here we have a sort of anamnesis of God's action in the past. For we, like Luther, need to constantly "re-member." In the act of remembering we re-claim and God once again reminds of of God's promise to us.

In baptism promises are kept and made. Those who come to the waters as adults make a profession to the Lordship of Christ. Those who come as infants claim what could be a greater gift: never knowing that they are outside of God's grace. They certainly will need to be reminded. That's the responsibility of the faith community. Just like a family tells its story we tell ours. This is why for both the adult and the child is important to hear the words "remember your baptism and be thankful."

I believe Baptism to be central on what it means to be church. The words of Jesus were not about just proclamation but action. In baptism humanity takes on, claims for themselves, the good news of Christ. The good news here are unlike any other good news. For in baptism we die to our old self, the self centered, egotistical, I can do it self. In baptism we claim that God loves us in spite of who we are. In return Christ indwells in humanity in the person of the Spirit. This indwelling is a new life, no longer centered in self but on Christ, no longer individual but a new communal identity as part of the covenant community of the baptized.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Juan's identified baptism as something which is central to being church. I think that baptism challenges most modern Christians. We too often think of it as a past event, not as something which brings forward or shapes our future.

I had an interesting conversation with my district chair today regarding this exact question. Is baptism something which is a one-time-only event, or is it the beginning of a journey which needs to be recalled so that we can remember which way we are going? Perhaps the analogy is a bit strained, but I think it is the latter.

This is why Lathrop emphasizes, along with classical Christian theologians, the necessity of re-presenting the "things of baptism" in the sermon/homily/message. Baptism is not just a public affirmation of our faith, and/or a cleansing from sin: it is a powerful moment of God-given grace; a joining to the body of Christ; a transformation into a cruciform life-pattern; the initiation of our ministry.

None of these, even the washing or affirmation, are momentary in their significance. These are lifelong events, which may begin or have a watershed moment (if you'll excuse the pun) at the actual time of baptism. Perhaps even a lifetime is too short for the full import of baptism to be unfolded. As I explore in deeper ways (as I grow older) the life of God as it is lived in our world, I can only imagine what is in store for the future. But I know that it begins--not ends--with baptism.

Nature of the Church

What is the nature of the church? In a workshop I attended today we explored the different possibilities for what kind of church our congregations were living in as well as what kind of leadership was needed. The conversation brought out a variety of possibilities for what it means to be church. Part of the struggle was to differentiate what the presenter called the “secular” vision for the church versus “God’s” vision for the church. The presenter wanted to challenge us to look at the nature of the church in theological ways.

Looking at the church theologically forces all of us to place God at its center. There is no theology without God for it is God who is the focus of our theological reflection. We can look theologically at many different things meaning that we are looking at all those things through the lens of God and our specific faith.

Lathrop uses baptism as a way to identify “church” in both broad and specific ways. He then makes “the things related to baptism” the subject of leadership and communication in a faith community. The catholicity of the church and the locality of the church are both dependent on the things related to baptism. Each local faith community lives out their baptism in particular ways and yet they are connected for baptism is the entrance into the church catholic.

I believe the church to be a transformative community. In it God’s grace empowers us to be agents of God love in the world. I see my work as a pastor to be rooted in this transformative community. I as one of its leaders remind the community of our shared story and through the Holy Spirit call the community to personal transformation, and service in the world.

The nature of this transformative community is God-self. God is the initiator. Through the person of Christ God showed humanity a way to restored relationship and through the Holy Spirit we are able to be continually renewed. This Trinitarian emphasis makes community the initial sign of identity for the church.

This is all for now. I will expand on community as the church’s identity later. I look forward to your comments.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

On the Quotes

Part of what started this conversation is a desire to re-define the pastoral office for this generation and for the future. As "Liturgical Nerds" that we are we believe that a redifinition does not necessarily need to look to the future but can look to the ancient tradition to help ground us today. What does it mean to be a pastor? How is does a pastor live his/her vocation? These are only two of the questions that seem to be important to the current discussion.

I agree with Lathrop that somehow the pastor's task is rooted in worship. Worship is the center of the Christian community reminding us of who we are and empowering us for Christian living in the world. Yet it seems that few churches see themselves in these ways so I wonder if we need to begin this question not with the pastor or with a theology of the clergy instead we might begin with ecclesiology and go from there.

I am writing as a United Methodist, male, hispanic, serving in a predominately anglo congregation in Louisiana. These influences and environment shape my understanding and are important for you to understand where I am coming from.


Here are two quotes that form the basis of our thinking so far. They are both from Gordon Lathrop's work, and the concern some of our major categories: worship, the church, ministry.

"Three clear tasks are attributed to the presider, probably the bishop, in the ancient Roman church: preaching on the texts that have been read by the reader; giving thanks at the table; and overseeing the collection and distribution for the poor. One might add to these a phrase that comes from the beginning of Justin's report:'We continually remind each other of these things' -- the things that belong to baptism. The presider joins this discussion, helping the assembly both enact and remember the holy bath. These tasks remain the central touchstones of presiding to this day. They can form the basis of a pastoral spirituality, the heart of the practice of presiding, the central vocation of bishops, priests, elders, or pastors: recalling Baptism, opening the Scriptures, gathering a community in prayer around the table, urging and enabling the connection to the surrounding world."
From Gordon Lathrop, Holy People pp 97-98
"In any case, whether employed full- or part-time or non-stipendiary, the presiders will try, in all of their lives, not to betray the vision of the meeting. They will, however, in their own need, listen to the "and also with you" and believe in the church. They will understand themselves as coming with strangers and outsiders, holding out their own hands for the signs of grace. They will walk the streets of their town, not as holy persons in themselves but remembring the resonances of the meeting. They will see pastoral care and blessings spoken at life-passages, especially at weddings and funerals, as extensions of the meeting. They will think of themselves as priests or pastors because the meeting in which they preside is the church's sacrifice that is not a sacrifice, or because the word and sacrament in the community where they preside is God's 'shepherding,' which is not pushing the sheep around but giving away holiness. They will treasure that presiding as their life task. They will wear vestments in the assembly both as the community's clothing, a sign of local appointment, and as the ancient traveling garments of the ones who arrive with apostolic authority.... The leaders of the meeting are for the meeting."
From Gordon Lathrop, Holy Things
These have already gotten our juices flowing...more coming soon.


Welcome to "Liturgical Nerds." We're two recent seminary grads who are now in our first pastorates--one in the US, one in England. We'll be posting our thoughts on life, theology, and practice here on this page.

Hopefully, this will be an exercise in open theology and dialogue; please feel free to comment on anything that's up. We'd love to hear what you think.