Wednesday, October 08, 2008

New Wine in New Wineskins

I've been thinking about Liturgy. It is the work of the people, God's people, in a particular place and a particular time. Liturgy connects us with each other and with the church throughout the ages. The work of liturgy has a particular shape, one that has been worked out for two millenia. This shape is what we call the "ordo" of Christian worship.

In the gospel of Matthew 9:14-17 the disciples of John have an argument with Jesus. How come his disciples did not fast like the pharisees did? Jesus answer is that although fasting is important the time was not appropriate for it. In other words context does matter not merely a practice.

I've been thinking about the Liturgy in my context and in the context of other churches. I am reminded that for close to a thousand years different regions of the Christian church had different liturgies and different lectionaries. It was only when Rome was trying to centralize their authority that the movement began for both universal texts and universal practice. It is true that the written liturgies followed a similar pattern - the ordo was the same. But the way that is was lived out was different in each community, different in ways that reflected their context (mozarabic in Spain, Gallican in what would become France, etc.).

In United Methodism we have the opportunity to have common prayer that reflects both our catholicity and our locality. Our rubrics are flexible and our ritual text rich theologically and poetically. Yet we still seem to be stuck in three camps: those who ignore the ritual of our church all together, those who use the ritual stiffly and coldly, and those who use what they can find when convenient.

The ones that do not use the ritual claim that using it is archaic and will not attract or form people in the way of Jesus. Many want to have freedom to worship in ways that are not bound to the ways of the past. "New wine in new wineskins" they say.

Those that use the ritual coldly claim that it is the doing of it that matters and that people need to stop worrying about themselves and focus on God. If they did that then they will realize what a big favor the ritual is doing to them.

Then there are the ones who want to be "liturgical" and "creative." They seem to pick and use whatever seems most convenient, exciting, different. Sometimes there is little connection between one aspect of worship and another. At other times there is so much newness that one becomes confused and distracted.

I want us to have a fourth way. A way that takes seriously the needs of our community. I want us to worship in ways that are formative and that reflect both our catholicity and our locality. Ways that represent the best of the past and the best of today. Ways of preaching, praying, singing, and silence that connect with current generations. Ways of worship that are both doxological and evangelistic.

I want new wines in new wineskins but I still want wine and I still want to hold that wine in wineskins. Am I making any sense?

Peace, Juan+

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Who knows?

A fascinating reflection on Frederick Buechner's life and work. I love the description of the sermon which he heard at Madison Avenue. And I concur with Tom Long about one of his favorite quotes, it's one of the first I ever heard about preaching (from Telling the Truth, which I highly recommend).

Minister sees divine in everyday struggles (from the Boston Globe)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Entering Ministry

Pastors sometime make it hard to understand why anyone would want to enter ministry. For instance, there's the habitual b...complaining that many of my colleagues engage in (and even I do from time to time). Which, let's be honest, is not surprising--there's many frustrating, even maddening things about church people. I understand God in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New much better now that I'm a pastor myself, what with all the frustrations and dealing with complaining and people missing the point and all.

But the real joy of pastoral work is something that pastors ought to know about and communicate better. And resources designed, written, produced for people thinking about the possibility of going into ministry ought to bear that in mind. United Methodism's The Christian As Minister is a great example of the way in which we suck all the life, joy, grace, and gratitude right out of the pastoral vocation in exchange for limp descriptions of different career paths and the next steps in a highly bureaucratized discernment process.

So let's do something different. There are a lot of great writers who describe the glorious calling to be a pastor. What's your favorite passage or paragraph on the pastoral vocation? What is it like to be a priest, a prophet, a preacher, a pastor, a parson? Who excites your imagination, fires your passion, immerses your intellect in God's incredible calling? Email me, or post a comment here on the blog.

Here's mine--the one I can't stop thinking about. Something to chew on while you're thinking what to post here or send me:

They will think of themselves as priests or pastors...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.
Gordon Lathrop, Holy Things

Thursday, July 10, 2008

On Pomp & Circumstance

In a recent post on his blog Mike Slaughter, pastor of Ginghamsburg Church (A United Methodist Congregation), said in reference to the pope's visit:
I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable with all the pomp and circumstance that surrounded the Pope’s visit. What does Jesus think of the waste of money that goes on in the pageantry of the church? No wonder so much of the world looks at the church as irrelevant when our leaders march in medieval robes and pointed hats? . . .
I was saddened a bit . . . after all I am a lover of the liturgy of the church. I believe that there is a place for all the pomp and circumstance in the worship of almighty God. After all we give pomp and circumstance to other things: heads of state, sports teams, movie stars, reality television personalities, politicians, and even to national symbols. Why not God?

Mike later says:
In regard to the pageantry and meetings, many of you will remind me that this is tradition and we have always done it this way. Those are the famous last words of a dying church. Jesus reminds us that you can’t put God’s new wine in old wineskins.

I am not sure that the problem in the American church is pomp, I think the problem is indifference. The problem is not that in the pageantry we have lost the meaning but that in making God so accessible we have made God another commodity: something that we can own, control, and turn off when we no longer need it.

I say more pomp is needed. More signs and symbols that the God we serve is the creator of the universe and that it is that God that wants to meet each of us in the person of Jesus Christ.

We can worship in this way without being snobbish, cold, and patriarchal. I agree with Mike when he grieves that in Roman Catholicism "women are excluded from the parade." I also agree that more representation is needed by the lay faithful in the governance of the church. These issues are issues of polity and theology not issues of worship. As a United Methodist pastor I believe that this makes it more important for us to recover our liturgical and sacramental theology and practice.

The pointed hats, the long robes, the long processionals, the incense, candles, and other signs are reminders, and powerful sign-acts that what we do in worship is no casual matter; that the one that calls us together is worthy of Glory, Honor, and Praise. In this rehearsal of the great wedding banquet we are most alive as people of God and better empowered to be the church in the world.

This encounter with the holy, week after week, is indeed new wine in new wine skins. Thanks be to God!

Peace, Juan+

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Choose Life

Please stop whatever it is you're doing and read the address to the British Methodist Conference by their new Vice-President. In addition to its hopefulness, clarity, and inspiration, it also contains my new favorite pastor joke.

Congratulations to Mindy Bell and Beth McDowell on their ordination Sunday as presbyters in the Methodist Church of Great Britain!


You know that Mortimer Arias' book on evangelization (not evangelism) is focused around the reign of God. Interesting that Christianity Today's most recent article on the Christian Vision Project describes an evangelism tool which incorporates the Kingdom of God into its 4 step plan.

At the Fourth of July parade there were a number of people (including 1 sitting close to us) handing out water in the name of Jesus & their church, with a sticky label on it giving a brief rundown of how to come to Jesus. Aside from the lack of reference to water until the 3rd & final prooftext, it just struck me as more of the same. If you're handing out bottles of water to people you don't know, why not ramp up the creativity? Connect the mission of Jesus--living water--to what is going on when you hand out a bottle of water. Why not connect it to a mission/justice project involving water?

All I'm saying is that we ought to be about getting creative in our evangelism--Scripture usage, metaphors & cultural connections, missions & social justice all need to play a part. Let's get out and do it.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Born on the 4th of July

The Christian Century has a great article up right now (happens to be from a former prof of mine...way to go, Ted!) about being American and Christian. So read away.

I sympathize with where Ted has been and is now. It's at this point I envy my father who manages to preserve his hope, faith, and joy while not ignoring or explaining away the sizable dark side. (Read this post, for instance.) And I sympathize with Ted's description of taking himself too seriously...if you knew how often over the past 6 or 7 years I've wanted to preach a sermon about being humbled to be an American...well, if I don't stop now then I'll be on my soapbox in 2.5 seconds. It's hard to know what to believe and think, much less do on this venerable holiday.

So here's what I'll be doing for this year's Fourth. We'll take the kids back to my hometown for one of the longest-running, continuous parades in the country. We'll have watermelon at the end, go home and grill some burgers, possibly take a nap, and watch the firework display. I know that won't be enough for some, and too much for others. But at the end of the day, salvation--my own as well as our collective--is not dependent on celebrating this holiday, nor on shunning it. It's about honestly and earnestly pursuing salvation in the midst of it. The ways we respond are just that--they come as a result of faith, not to cause it.

And I'll save the sermon for another year, perhaps.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Both Frederick Buechner and Rob Bell can't be wrong, can they?

I've been frustrated and downhearted about certain turns of events recently, even as recently as last week, having to do both with how we do administration (those things that enable ministry) as well as the actual ministry itself. What kind of messages do we communicate to youth & young adults? Why do we exert so much energy on spiritual arrogance? When do we let things go for a bigger reason, when do we stand up and shout "Enough!!"?

I've been reading both of Rob Bell's books, and he reminds me that the point is to engage, even if we don't understand or don't like the answers or can't figure the answer out (Velvet Elvis, "Movement 1: Jump"). Buechner is an old friend on my shelves, and I was flipping through when another statement caught my eye - that becoming disheartened is normal, but it isn't going to last, because our experience and relationship with God doesn't let despair linger (Listening to Your Life, 9/26). Instead, the deepest part of ourselves compel us to get up and struggle again, like Jacob with the angel/God.

So, behind the exhaustion and the frustration and the disappointment, I'm learning slowly to find the reason I'm in this gig to begin with. That the words and signs and experiences are just that--pointers to God, but not the real thing. "I believe; help my unbelief."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Blog Recommendation

Not that anyone is reading this since we haven't posted since February, but if you're looking for something different in the blogosphere, check out my dad's blog:

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Violence and Salvation

As I write this article, the shootings at Northern Illinois University, outside Chicago, happened just a few days ago. It breaks my heart that this is not the first time this has happened since I entered campus ministry just 18 short months ago. In the wake of horrifying violence yet again, a few things need to be said.

Violence will never heal our wounds or salve our conscience. Whatever our pain, it will not go away by making others suffer, too. The only effective antidote to suffering is healing that comes from God. It may be physical healing, or there may be peace in our hearts and souls. It may mean taking the long road of forgiveness towards someone who has wronged us—or of asking for forgiveness of those we have wronged. Only in Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant, can we find peace and wholeness again.

I know that a new round of public-policy debate has already begun. Is it too easy for someone to have a concealable weapon? Could such tragedies be prevented if concealed gun permits extended to school campuses?

I don’t know what the answer to the problem is here in the US. But I do know that no amount of weaponry, no personal armory will be sufficient to make us completely secure. We can establish reasonable safeguards, but if someone wants to commit violence against us, they will find a way. How can we be saved from such tragedy?

We are not saved by our own laws; we are not saved by our own guns; we are not saved by our own security plans. We are saved through the grace of Jesus Christ. Grounded in baptismal faith, nothing can change the ending of our story. “For if we have been united with [Christ] in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). May God grace us with the ability to turn from our violent past and embrace a just and peaceful future with him.

[written for this week's Wesley UMC Circuit Rider.]

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lunar Eclipse Feb 20-21

A total lunar eclipse, visible from the USA, will happen Wednesday night thru Thursday morning. For more information, check out NASA's page for the eclipse.