Friday, March 14, 2008

a little thesis excerpt

Here's a bit of what I've been working on lately, though it's definitely not a finished product yet. So, read it as such and if you have any suggestions, comments, corrections or whatever, I'd love to hear them.
(The proper footnotes in the word document do not translate to blog form, so I included links to the books on Amazon along with the page numbers).

My vows to thee I must perform, O God;
I will render thank offerings to thee.
For thou has delivered my soul from death,
Yea, my feet from falling,
That I may walk before God in the light of life (Psalm 56:12-13)

The psalmist illustrates in Psalm 56 the reciprocal nature of the relationship between God and his people: God initiates a relationship with us, we respond to God in faith and by following his commandments. The very basic component of our life with God as well as worship is this dialogue between God’s initiation and our response to God. “The starting point for authentic participation is the individual Christian’s own heartfelt and genuine response of praise and thanksgiving before the presence of God.” (Craig Douglas Erickson, Participating in Worship, 3) Worship as dialogue requires participation, as the word ‘response’ implies an action. Emily Brink suggests that this principle of worship as dialogue “provides a useful corrective to the conviction that worship is a purely human activity and that worshipers are merely passive spectators rather than vital participants in an active engagement with God.” (Emily Brink, Authentic Worship in a Changing Culture, 6)

Harold Best expands on the understanding that worship is not merely a human activity. He defines worship as “the continuous outpouring of all that I am and all that I do and all that I can ever become in the light of a chosen or choosing god.” (Harold Best, Unceasing Worship, 18) It is not that we were created for worship or made to worship but simply that we worship. Worship is an inherent trait as beings created in the image of God. A trait that is built into our very DNA as the way we were created undermines the idea of worship as a human act. Whether we worship God or an idol, we worship. Not only do we worship, but in Best’s definition, the phrase ‘continuous outpouring’ gives a specific quality to that worship. Continuous outpouring conveys a sense intense activity on the part of the worshiper. Notice that Best’s definition does not specify that this continuous outpouring is automatically and always directed to God, the rightful recipient of our worship. Instead, we are always bowing down either to God who is always choosing us and whom we in turn choose, or we bow down to something else which may in fact hold us completely captive. We would do well to examine where we find continuous outpouring in our lives. Is our worship directed to God or to some idol? What might our worship look like if it were directed toward God?

Defining participation in corporate worship is an elusive task. Worshipers can outwardly appear to be participating in an action. In one congregation, this may take the shape of raised hands, robust singing, dancing, and an outward expression of emotion. In another congregation, this may take the shape of kneeling, genuflecting, crossing oneself. Worshipers can also outwardly appear to be not participating. Perhaps they sit quietly, choose not to sing the songs or hymns, and maintain a reserved air about themselves. It is possible, however, that those who are outwardly demonstrative in their worship may just be ‘going through the motions’ or joining with the crowd. Outward-only worship is the very thing God cries out against in Isaiah 29:13-14: “The Lord said: because these people draw near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship is of a human commandment learned by rote; so I will again do amazing things with this people, shocking and amazing. The wisdom of their wise shall perish, and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.”

It is also possible to be highly engaged in worship, though not visibly so. Take for instance the person who sits with eyes closed during a congregational song. Perhaps they are choosing to disengage from the action, or perhaps they are worshiping deep in their hearts, moved to silence and stillness. “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!” Habakkuk 2:20

To some extent, we can dismiss any discussion of participation as purely conjectural. No one knows what happens in one person’s heart except for that person and God. But, in our very humanness we are more than mere thoughts or spirits. We are physical beings who experience our world in a physical reality. We know each other in physical ways, and survive in the world in a physical body; a physical body that was created by God. Not only are we physical and experience the world in a physical reality, worship involves more than just the individual and God. The dialogic nature of worship, of our response to God’s initiation, happens within the context of community. We do not dialogue with God in a vacuum, but with each other.
Participation, according to Constance Cherry means to take part in; to share in; to partner in. She goes on further to look at what it means to be a partner. To be a partner, one shares or takes part in with another. A partner is also one who dances with another, or can be a player on the same side in a game. Participation, from this perspective, is clearly not an individual activity. “What would happen if we came in and decided that God has called us to be a partner to one another in the community of faith to assist them in their experience of worship that day?” (Constance Cherry, From Passive to Participative Worship, audio [at about 17:20] from Calvin Symposium on Worship 2006)

Simon Chan, in Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community affirms the thin ice one walks on when trying to define participation in worship. “The complexity of trying to determine what constitutes active participation should make us wary of simplistic solutions to the worship crisis affecting the church.”(Simon Chan, Liturgical Theology, 151) He proposes, however, a few broad principles that can lead to [better?] active participation in worship. First, within the various elements of liturgy, including prayers, acclamations, physical postures, music, psalmody, and liturgical space and decoration, there are many opportunities for active participation. Second, whatever choices are made for the liturgy, such as what hymns or melodies, what types of physical postures, or the amount of silence in a given service, the people’s understanding, their preparation, their specific sets of gifts and abilities and their particular needs must be taken into account. “In other words, active participation is possible if the people understand what is going on, are inwardly prepared and are able to use their gifts in the worship service.” (Chan, 152)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My first sermon

Ok, here's my very first sermon. It's just a short homily - about 8 min. in length. Tomorrow at 12:15 I'll be leading the 5th Lenten worship Service. These 6 Wednesdays throughout Lent and Good Friday are all on the theme of the 7 Last Words of Christ. "Hope in Troubled Times: Contemporary Reflection on the Last Words of Christ." My title is: "I Thirst: Hope for Social Justice in the Face of Human Privation"

More than half of her body is made of it, approximately 55%. She needs about a gallon of it a day. If she were to go more than 5 days without it, she would die. Her name is Kelemwa. She’s a mother of 4 children, and lives in rural Ethiopia. She and her children walk over an hour a day to carry this precious cargo - water. You need just as much water as she, but there’s a big difference in her life. Her water comes from a river, the closest water source to her home. The river is also used by cattle and wild animals that contaminate the river. During the dry season, the river dries up to barely a trickle, or completely disappears. Her family often becomes sick with diarrhea from the dirty water and there is never enough water to use for sanitation and personal hygiene.

There are a billion other stories like hers. That is not an exaggeration. One in six people in the world do not have access to an adequate water supply.

Water – it surrounds us, it is a building block of life. Without it, we die. Human suffering around the world is profoundly connected to a lack of good, clean and sufficient amounts of water. Clearly, you need it, I need it, Kelemwa needs it, Jesus needed it.

In the last moments of his life here on earth, Jesus thirsted. He cried out for a drink. Why did he cry out for thirst? This was God! God, who makes the rain to fall on the earth, who created the great and small rivers of the world, who covered this planet with life giving water. God, who formed the earth with his hands from the deep, from the waters. God was thirsty! If Jesus had asked for it, the angels would have supplied him with the most satisfying cup of cold water.

But, this was also Man. Jesus was fully God and perhaps most at this moment in time, most fully Man. And he knew it. He knew that for the scriptures to be fulfilled, he must suffer this life ending thirst. Jesus experienced to the depth what it is to be human. He knew what it was like to be homeless, to be a refugee, to be hungry and tired, to be rejected, to be whipped and scorned, to be misunderstood, to be overcome with grief, to be thirsty.

Do we, in our comfortable, North American lives know what it’s like to be thirsty? Perhaps we need to learn what it is to be thirsty, the way Jesus was thirsty, the way more than 1 billion people – men, women and children, are thirsty. Jesus walks along side these people. Are we walking along with them?

Jesus was thirsty, parched and dry in his mouth. He was also thirsty, parched and dry in his soul, for Jesus was separated from God. Jesus descended into hell – what is hell but total separation from God. Jesus was thirsty for the very living water that he offered one day to a woman at a well in Samaria. Not only did Jesus experience the deepest physical thirst that a human can experience, Jesus gave himself up in death, and became separated from God for us.

We are not truly separated from God, the way that Jesus was at that moment. Because of what Jesus suffered on our behalf that day, we have been ushered into the very presence of God, through Jesus Christ. Certainly, each of us has longed for and thirsted for the presence of the Lord. But if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we’ll recognize that when we feel far from God, it is because we have turned away from God.

Jesus’ life was about social justice, about healing, feeding, teaching and loving the rejected and discarded. Jesus also felt first hand the reality of poverty and lack of water to drink. Jesus felt first hand on the cross what it is like to be separated from God. That last drink he took was vinegar. He knew it was vinegar – he drank it anyway, to be obedient to death, even death on the cross. He drank it for us. So that we could drink from the fountain that doesn’t ever run dry. So that our lives are overflowing with the love of Jesus Christ. When we drink from that fountain, our hearts overflow with living water that directs our lives and actions. We cannot but help to share living water, drinking water, food, clothing, shelter with those around us and those far away from us.

Jesus calls us to social justice – not out of obligation, not out of a sense of doing good, or to get some warm and fuzzy feeling in return. No, Jesus fills us to overflowing so that we joyfully and hope-fully share with the least of these. When our joy fills up our cup to overflowing, when our lips can speak no words other than true, when we know that love for simple things is better, then we know that God still goes that road with us, then we know that God still goes that road with us.

Let us pray,
Heavenly Father, giver of life who fills our cups to overflowing, reveal yourself to us as you walk down the road with us. Show us how when we offer a drink of cool refreshing water to one of the least of these, we offer cool refreshing water to thee, Lord God. And just as we offer bitter vinegar to drink to the least of these, we stand with the men at the cross and offer our Lord a sponge soaked with vinegar. Fill our cups to overflowing Lord so that out of our abundance we may share your love, your light, your water with the world, for your glory. In Jesus name, Amen.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Adios March 1st

Well, March 1st has come and gone. That was the date that I had proposed sending my final draft to my adviser so that I could send the final approved version to my thesis director. I'm not even close to that possibility. But, I'm ok with that. It kinda hit me at about 11:45 pm on Friday night. But, I'm over it now and working at a steady, if slow, pace. I will graduate next summer, and in fact plan to be done with this before the School year starts in September.

Next week, I get to preach for the first time. Not on Sunday, obviously, but we're having mid-week lenten services and I'm preaching for one of them. The theme for these services which will lead up to Good Friday is "Hope in Troubled Times: A Contemporary Reflection on the Seven Last Words of Christ." My word is "I thirst"; Hope for Social Justice in the Face of Human Privation. I'll be talking about Jesus thirsting for water, but also thirsting for the very water that he offered to the woman at the well. He understands our physical and spiritual thirst because he has felt those thirsts first hand. Jesus has walked this way before. And, so, out of our own baptismal waters, the water that Jesus gives us that springs eternal, we are moved to make choices that lead to social justice and not human privation. The need for water is a life making-or -breaking factor in our lives. Motivated by our new life in Christ, how do we act to help others gain access to clean and abundant water - both H2O and spiritual water?

Meanwhile, the writing for the thesis chugs along... slowly but surely.