Posts Tagged ‘sacrament’

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the quality of the preaching in the pulpits within the Church currently, and I am growing increasingly concerned about the Church moving further and further away from the unique strengths of Gospel preaching as we have received it from generations previous to ours. I’m going to frame my concerns by referring to temptations preachers face. I’m coming at this, of course, from my perspective and convictions as a Spirit-filled, confessing, orthodox Christian, committed to the Sacred Scriptures, having vowed to preach and teach the Word of God in conformity to the Word of God. This is no mere finger pointing exercise, this is a chance for me to reflect on how these temptations impact me when I preach.

The Therapeutic Temptation
The “Therapeutic Temptation” is one that would have preachers use their sermons to give what amounts to little more than a pep talk, often in the context of cute, touching, emotional or an otherwise manipulative story, either real, or made up. I’m referring to the infamous, “There was once a little boy who…” or the, “There was a man who said/did…” These sermons will be marked by a preaching of Law that is soft and squidgy around the edges, it’s not a preaching of God’s holy, righteous wrath against sin and a warning against it and a rebuking of sin and sinners. It is Law preached in such a way that bad things, bad people or bad situations are lamented in doleful tones. It sounds often like this, “Isn’t it sad when….” or “Have you ever…..” and the tone is one of sounding “oh, so sorry about that” and “shouldn’t we all feel bad” about this problem. Then the sermon goes on to offer encouragement and support for getting out of our bad and negative feelings and circumstances. The Law is soft, the Gospel therefore comes across as antidote to feeling sad and bad. I face this temptation when I preach. I want so much to make people feel better, to feel good, to leave feeling positive. That can get in the way of good Law/Gospel preaching. I would say this is what I’m hearing more and more in pulpits. Law becomes simply lament. Gospel becomes simply encouragement and reassurance.

Let Me Entertain You Temptation
Public speaking, once one becomes fairly good at it, is a place where one’s personal ego can really get in the way of God’s Word. It is so tempting to get wrapped up in the moment and begin to feel a need to amuse, delight and entertain the listeners. Now, granted, the use of the classic art of rhetoric is important, but it is tempting for preachers to work very hard to elicit a laugh, a chuckle, to amuse, to entertain. They mistake audience reaction with effective preaching and they mistake emotionally manipulating the congregation with preaching God’s Word effectively. The problem with the entertainment temptation is that often the effort to entertain and elicit a positive emotional reaction from the congregation causes the preacher to neglect the doctrine in the text he is preaching on, to neglect, frankly, the Scriptures, and to spend an inordinate amount of time developing his story that he just knows will get the kind of response he is looking for. Public speaking is heady stuff. I have been tempted to go for the cheap line, the little quip, the comment I know will get chuckle and spend too much time on that, than on preaching God’s Word. And here again, in this context, Law is neglected, or ignored, because, after all, the Law is not “upbeat” it is not “entertaining.” It will not delight and amuse people to hear that they, by nature, are poor, miserable sinners who have nothing but wicked, evil deeds to offer to the holy and righteous God. And when the Law is neglected, the Gospel then loses the force of its power to convert and regeneration. In such a context, the Gospel is watered down to be part of an entertaining experience for the listeners.

The Hurry Up Temptation
This is quite an insidious temptation that I think we all have fallen into, nearly totally. For many centuries, and even millennia, in the church’s history, sermons, where they were taken seriously, were thirty, forty or even sixty minutes long. The sermon was the opportunity for the pastor to preach and teach God’s Word carefully and thoroughly, from Sunday to Sunday, but then, sermons that were forty-five minutes long, became only thirty minutes, then they dropped to twenty minutes, and now it is often the case that sermons now are only twelve, or ten or even eight minutes long. Simply put, these are no longer sermons, they have become rather formulaic quick devotional thoughts. There is not enough time carefully to delve into the text, and open it up to hearers. A text become more a pretext for the sharing of what becomes quite repetitive themes: some talk of something bad, some talk of Jesus taking care of it all for us, and then there may be a reference to the Sacraments. Preachers are tempted to do this when they know that there is a full service with Holy Communion. It is tempting to skip lightly over the text and instead use the short time I have to make a couple devotional points and then get on to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. I love the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and love that we celebrate it every corporate gathering on Sundays. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper must never become an excuse to make our sermons shorter and less substantial. We are the Church, the Body of Christ, and the fellowship of Word and Sacrament. I think that we are forgetting this.

The Axe to Grind Temptation
This temptation is characterized by a preacher managing to “find” in any Biblical text, a pretext for him to yet, once more, grind his axe on his hobby-horse issue, or subject, or theme, no matter what it might be. The hobby-horse might be quite correct and what the preacher says about it is quite true, but it is a temptation preachers face to turn nearly every sermon they give into an opportunity once more to repeat the same issues, over and over again. Perhaps he will be wanting to talk always about the liturgical practices in the parish, to turn every sermon into a little discourse on some point of church history, or to keep referring to some particular event or trend in society. Every sermon manages to include a reference to the issue that is really “bugging” the preacher and it comes out in his sermon. I am tempted to do this when I find myself wanting to warn people against the “feel good/health and wealth” prosperity preachers. I find that I can easily find myself bashing this error in every sermon. And while I’m perfectly correct in my warning, it is not appropriate for me to hijack every sermon on every Biblical text, to interject my own particular agenda. The Lectionary is a good corrective, and if the preacher resolves actually to preach on the subjects, issues and topics that flow naturally from the Lectionary readings, there is much less of a chance that the preacher will fall victim to the “Axe to Grind” temptation.

How many more temptations could be added to this list?

~ Originally written by Rev. Paul McCain, edited by Rev. Gary DeSha

Lent2

Lent

How should I prepare myself for Pascha?

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”  2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV)

What is Lent?

Lent is a season of forty weekdays and six Sundays for the church to journey with Christ to Holy Week and Pascha. It is an opportunity for of self-examination, repentance, purgation, and spiritual renewal.

Why may we struggle with Lent?

  1. Thanksgiving and Christmas are so ensconced in secular American culture that a period of preparation during Advent makes sense to us. Most Christians are attracted to this season as a way to rise above the materialism and commercialization of Christmas.
  2. Pascha is so foreign to secular American culture that a period of preparation during Lent just seems weird, threatening, out of place.

I. Lent seems like a dark, foreboding ritualism to some Christians – candles, ashes, fasting, prayer, works, and pilgrimage. Haven’t we been saved from empty, meaningless religion?

  1. Perhaps we struggle with Lent in the same way we struggle with the Psalms of lament, which make up two-thirds of the Psalter. Grieving over our lives (i.e. Lenten repentance and Psalms of lamentation) is foreign from our American way of living and our spiritual experience. We often subconsciously screen out what is dark, awkward, and uncomfortable.
  2. We need a season to prepare for Pascha. Most people think of Pascha as a weekend event, and the main preparation is the purchase of new clothes and a carefully planned Pascha egg hunt. However, Pascha is a forty-day season of feasting and celebration in response to the resurrection and new creation. If we prepare for a wedding, an anniversary, a birthday, a graduation, a vacation, an athletic competition, or any other special occasion in our lives, how much more do we need to prepare for Pascha? The forty days of Lent gets us ready for the forty days of Pascha.

The journey to Paschal joy

  1. Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Pascha, “the Feast of feasts.”
  2. Pascha celebrates the death of Death, the annihilation of Hell, the beginning of new and everlasting life.
  3. Pascha celebrates Christ’s resurrection as something that happened to him, is happening, and will happen to us.
  4. God has granted us the gift of new life. The resurrection alters our attitude toward everything, including death. In his death, Christ changed the nature of death from the inside out, transforming the tragedy of tragedies into ultimate victory. “O death, where is thy sting?” God made us partakers of Christ’s resurrection.
  5. We live as if Christ never came, never died, never rose again from the dead, is not the Lord of the world, and will not come again to judge the living and the dead.
  6. This is the real sin, the sin of all sins, the bottomless sadness, and tragedy of our Christian life.
  7. We may acknowledge and confess our various sins, yet we fail to refer our life to that new life which Christ revealed and gave to us. We continually lose and betray the “new life” we received as a gift from God.
  8. We are weak. We forget, we get busy; we become immersed in our daily preoccupations. We focus our material possessions – on what we have or what we do not have. We focus on our experiences – on where we are or where we want to go. We think only of ourselves. We live as if Christ did not rise from the dead, as if that unique event in human history has no meaning for us, as if we will not also rise from the dead. We fail to live constantly by “faith, hope, and love.” We fail to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
  9. Through our failure and sin, our life becomes “old” again – petty, dark, meaningless – a meaningless journey to a meaningless end.

II. Lent is a journey of repentance and return to Pascha.

  1. Lent helps us recover the vision and taste of that new Pascha life which we so easily lose and betray.
  2. The aim of Lent is precisely the remembrance of Christ, a longing for a relationship with God that has been lost. Lent offers the time and place for lamentation of our alienation and the recovery of relationship with God.
  3. The mood of Lent is “bright sadness.” The darkness of Lent allows the flame of the Holy Spirit to burn within our hearts until we are led to the mysterious and radiant brilliance of the resurrection.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday

  1. The Service (Book of Common Prayer, 264-269)
  2. Prayer and invitation to repentance, both now and over the season of Lent
  3. Imposition of ashes
  4. Psalm 51: the prayer of the penitent
  5. Litany of penitence: a template for self-examination and confession during Lent
  6. The peace and Eucharist: Christ saves us from narcissistic self-absorption knowing that Good Friday means forgiveness and Pascha means joy.
  1. Why ashes?
  2. A sign of our Adamic identity, is that we are “of the earth”

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)

  1. A sign of our finitude, brokenness, and mortality

“Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)

“Abraham said, ‘I am nothing but dust and ashes.’” (Genesis 18)

  1. A sign of mourning and lamentation, often because of our or another’s rebellion and alienation from God

“But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up…When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head.” (2 Samuel 15:32-34)

“On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting, and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads.” (Nehemiah 9:1)

“Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6)

“When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly… In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.” (Esther 4:1-3)

  1. In the third century, the church began the custom of burning the branches used on Palm Sunday, saving the ashes for the following year, and marking notorious and penitent sinners, such as robbers and murderers, with these ashes. Out of sympathy and solidarity, family and friends of these “marked” persons began using the ashes also, which is consistent with the gospel message that all of us are in need of God’s grace and in need of repentance and restoration.
  2. A Christian vision of the world
  3. Dualism – The radical separation between matter and spirit, profane and sacred, earthly and heavenly.
  4. Sacramentalism – The whole creation is of a piece; physical elements signify deep spiritual realities (i.e. water, bread, and wine; also oil, candles, ashes, palm branches, laying on hands, rings, etc.). We do damage to ourselves, to Jesus, and to the Bible when we try to separate the physical and spiritual, the human and divine, the earthy and the heavenly.

Repent

“Repent, and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15)

  1. Repent: change, turn your life around, move in another direction.
  2. The first of Martin Luther’s 95 theses was, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite (Repent ye!), willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.”

III. Repentance is the beginning and continuation of a truly Christian life. Repentance, especially focused during Lent, is a long and sustained spiritual effort.

  1. Lent reminds us (in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer #88) that two things are involved in genuine repentance: “the dying of the old self and the coming to life of the new.” New life with Christ involves a daily surrendering of the old life.
  2. “It is not easy, indeed, to reject a petty ideal of life made up of daily cares, of search for material goods, security, and pleasure, for an ideal of life in which nothing short of perfection is the goal: ‘be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.’ This world through all its ‘media’ says: be happy, take it easy, and follow the broad way. Christ in the Gospel says: choose the narrow way, fight and suffer, for this is the road to the only genuine happiness. In addition, unless the Church helps, how can we make that awful choice, how can we repent and return to the glorious promise given us each year at Pascha? This is where Great Lent comes in. This is the help extended to us by the Church, the school of repentance, which alone will make it possible to receive Pascha not as a mere permission to eat, to drink, and to relax, but indeed as the end of the ‘old’ in us, as our entrance into the ‘new.’” (Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent: Journey to Pascha)

Turn from sin toward Jesus via remembering your baptism

“Live in your baptism.” (Martin Luther)

  1. Listen to the Father’s voice in baptism: “You are my child whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3)
  2. Review the baptismal vows and prayers before God (Book of Common Prayer, 302-307)

IV. Remember the practice of baptism in the early church

  1. The baptized turned their backs on the west (the symbolic direction of the evil one and sin), saying, “I renounce the devil and all his works,” and spitting in the face of Satan as a sign of ending that relationship.
  2. The main purpose of Lent was to prepare the catechumen (the newly converted Christian) for baptism, which was performed during the Pascha liturgy. Even though we are baptized, what we constantly lose and betray is precisely that which we received at baptism. Therefore, Lent and Pascha is our return every year to our own baptism, our identity in Christ, our death in him, our life in him. Pascha is the rediscovery and the recovery by us of what we were made through our own baptismal death and resurrection.

Turn from sin toward Jesus

  1. Remember that life with God is a loving, engaging, and demanding relationship. Sanctification (becoming increasingly righteous like God) is a subtle and gradual process rather than dramatic and instant moment.
  2. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses the three primary acts of Jewish piety: fasting, – prayer, and almsgiving. He did not reject these practices, but sought to correct and deepen them. Jesus promoted an embodied, lived out piety in order to establish, maintain, repair, and transform our relationship with God, neighbor, and self. Be sure to meditate on Matthew 6:1-18 before Lent.

Fasting: turning away from self

  1. A commemoration of the wilderness experiences of Israel and Jesus and a spiritual reminder that “People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).
  2. A reminder that your body is holy and belongs to God – made by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and filled by the Holy Spirit. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

V. We are a psychosomatic unity. Our souls affect our bodies; our bodies affect our souls (i.e. kneeling, folding, or lifting hands, bowing head, etc.).

  1. To what are we saying “no”?
  2. Food – Saying no to my hunger that is often disproportionate to my hunger for God; saying no to what I enjoy in order to enjoy God more; anticipating the Eucharist (i.e. single day fast, multi-day fast, or extended fast – sweets, meat, caffeine, alcohol, etc.).
  3. Time – Saying no to my busyness, distraction, and noise in order to have extended solitude and silence or time to listen to God through is Word or his people (i.e. limit your extracurricular

Activities and commitments, take a true Sabbath).

  1. Money – Saying no to my greed, my urge to acquire, accumulate, hoard, compare (i.e. no advertising, no new purchases for myself, pursue extravagant generosity).
  2. Words – Saying no to my pride, envy, jealousy, anger, dishonesty, my insecure ego that needs more power, attention, pity, gratitude, approval (i.e. not defending myself, not dominating conversation or talking about myself, not gossiping or slandering, using my tongue, my lips, my words to encourage and affirm).
  3. Sex – Saying no to lust, my unfulfilled desires for pleasure (i.e. look people in the eyes, recognize their personhood and dignity as the image of God, delight in their beauty, mourn for their brokenness).
  4. Are these things inherently evil? Does God not want us to enjoy food, time, money, words, and sex? God made all these things good. In addition, we often enjoy them in sacred and redemptive ways. However, we also have a tendency to forget that these are gifts from God. We may become overly comfortable or bored with them. We may become ungrateful. We may distort and pervert them to self-serving ends. We may use them to advantage ourselves and disadvantage others. We may use them for evil. So one way to sanctify or redeem them as God’s good gifts is to go without them for a time to recalibrate our relationship with God and our relationship with these material goods.
  5. The all-day fasts during Lent are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We do not fast on Sundays, the day of resurrection and Eucharist.

VI. When you fast you are vulnerable. Do not plan to turn away from self if you do not also have a plan in place to turn toward God (prayer) and toward your neighbor (almsgiving).

Prayer: turning toward God

“Evening, morning, and noon I cry out to the Lord” (Psalm 55:17).

  1. The prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian (306-373)
  2. “O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. Nevertheless, give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother; For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
  3. Pray it in the morning, afternoon, and evening. In the morning, meditate on the four powers from which you seek to be delivered – sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. In the afternoon, meditate on the four virtues you desire to experience in your daily life – chastity, humility, patience, and love. In the evening, review the events of the day, confessing where you failed, giving thanks where you have succeeded, and praising Jesus Christ for his righteousness and grace.
  4. “Faith… is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off’, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with your beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of your digestion. Consequently, one must train the habit of faith. The first step is to recognize the fact that your moods change. The next step is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, the sum of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious readings and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. Moreover, in fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?” (C.S. Lewis, The Business of Heaven)

Almsgiving: turning toward our neighbors

  1. Combine God-focused prayer and neighbor-focused almsgiving by praying for your apartment complex or your street or the block where you work.
  2. Serve via Project Peace.

VII. Brainstorm simple acts of compassion toward known and unknown neighbors.

  1. Save money during Lent to give to the Pascha diaconal offering, which goes to meet financial and other tangible needs within and beyond the community.

Personal reflection and group discussion

  1. Have you ever practiced Lent? If so, what was your experience? If not, what do you hope to gain from the Lenten journey?
  2. How would you apply the Lenten themes to your life and spiritual journey in the coming season?

What do you need to put off and what do you need to put on?

VIII. Fasting – Could we each commit to giving up something we enjoy on a daily or regular basis in order to deepen our desire for God? What? Could we all commit to fasting the entire day on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday? How about fasting from lunch on Wednesdays during Lent?

  1. Prayer – Could we each commit to at least morning or evening prayer each day during Lent?

Could we spend 15 extra minutes on Sundays praying for the life and mission of the church?

  1. Almsgiving – Could we give up a luxury item during the week (i.e. lunch on Wednesdays) and give the money to a friend in need or the diaconal fund or a social service provider? Could we donate a portion of our weekend to do extra volunteering?

Adapted from Lent at Christ Church, edited by Rev. Gary DeSha

baptism

1 Peter 3:20-21, “which aforetime were disobedient, when the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water: which also after a true likeness doth now save you, even baptism, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”

Baptism – the water of baptism, symbolizing the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, is the means of salvation to all those who receive the Holy Spirit in His quickening, cleansing efficacy. Now as the waters of the flood could not have saved Noah and his family, had they not made use of the ark; so the water of baptism saves no man, but as it is the means of his getting his heart purified by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ, and illustrates to him that purification.

John 3:5, “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless someone is born of water and spirit, he is not able to enter into the kingdom of God.”

Jesus asserted the obligation of (baptism) the outward rite, He asserted likewise, as its necessary complement, the presence and creating and informing energy of the Spirit with which John had promised that the coming one should baptize (Matthew 3:11). That as John’s baptism had been unto repentance, for the remission of sins, so the new life must include the real no less than the symbolic cleansing of the old, sinful life, and the infusion by the Spirit of a new and divine principle of life. Thus Jesus’ words included a prophetic reference to the complete ideal of Christian baptism – “the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Tit. 3:5; Eph. 5:26); according to which the two factors are inseparably blended (not the one swallowed up by the other), and the new life is inaugurated both symbolically in the baptism with water, and actually in the renewing by the Holy Spirit, yet so as that the rite, through its association with the Spirit’s energy, is more than a mere symbol: is a veritable vehicle of grace to the recipient, and acquires a substantial part in the inauguration of the new life. Baptism, considered merely as a rite, and apart from the operation of the Spirit, does not and cannot impart the new life. Without the Spirit it is a lie. It is a truthful sign only as the sign of an inward and spiritual grace. ~ M. R. Vincent

Titus 3:4-5, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…”

“The washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” literally means “the laver of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit.” It does not mean the act of bathing, but the bath, the laver. The phrase laver of regeneration distinctly refers to baptism, in connection with which and through which as a medium regeneration is conceived as taking place. It is true that nothing is said of faith; but baptism implies faith on the part of its recipient. It has no regenerating effect apart from faith; and the renewing of the Holy Spirit is not bestowed if faith be wanting. ~ M. R. Vincent

Ephesians 5:26, “having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word…”

“To be connected with having cleansed it by the laver of water: with the word describes that which accompanies the sacrament and which is the peculiar element of baptismal purification. Compare John 15:3, “You are already clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” St. Augustine says: “Take away the word, and what is the water but water?” ~ M. R. Vincent

When someone desires baptism, they are asked whether or not they have repented of their sins and placed their faith and trust in God through Jesus Christ. This is the “inquiry” spoken of in 1 Peter 3:21, and the answer is given, “I do repent of my sins, and I have placed my faith and trust in God through Jesus Christ…I believe that Jesus Christ is my Savior and Lord.”

Therefore, it is clarified of what St. Peter said in Acts 2:38-39, “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all those who are far away, as many as the Lord our God calls to himself.”