Posts Tagged ‘liturgy’

The Great Reversal (Program and Recap)

// January 26th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff


Good conversation last Sunday.  Bonus points to Sarah for saying that transformation starts with hope.  I’m always blessed by the wisdom of the gathering.  I did want to comment on one part of the conversation.

In talking about a larger, cosmic battleground in Luke, we stumbled upon questions of interreligious dialogue.  It’s a question that bedevils those who are interested in building bridges across faiths.  Some, like Karen Armstrong, suggest that all religions are ultimately pointing at the same thing, that all paths lead up the same mountain.  For her, compassion is the common value and insight for all religions.  All other values and practices are particular instantiations of those values at best and distractions at worst.  Others, like Stephen Prothero, argue that there are actually many mountains.  More importantly, it is chauvinistic to explain to a person of another faith “what it is really about.”

I must admit that I am torn on this.  I just took World Religions last semester.  Although my professor kept things somewhat close to the vest, I suspect he agreed, in principle, with the Karen Armstrongs of the world.  At the least, he saw enough common ground to create opportunities for fruitful dialogue.  This contrasted with a course I took in undergrad from a professor and mentor who had a tremendous influence on my thinking.  He seemed to agree more with Stephen Prothero.  His argument is that the way we think is so inescapably structured by culture that it is hard to even know what the other is talking about, much less shift our thinking to find common ground.  For him, the child of Baptist missionaries in China whose first language was Chinese, language itself constrains our thinking too much to even know if we are talking about the same things.  He was able to negotiate between cultures because he was fluent in multiple languages from an early age, but that is a rare gift.

I’ll continue to wrestle with this, but I have a tentative standing.  Perhaps it is not appropriate to think that all religions have a common root value or that we even mean the same thing when we use words like “love” and “compassion.”  However, maybe Armstrong is right that there should be, that compassion is ultimately the value that can unite us, whether it currently does or not.  And maybe the task of the person of faith is to steadfastly and earnestly seek that value by engaging others of all faiths or no faith to discover the meaning and the possibility of compassion.  Maybe compassion as I understand it is not where we have all ultimately been directed, but maybe our conversation can and should reorient us to that.  Maybe in that process of inclusive dialogue, we find God.

The Baptism of Jesus (Program)

// January 19th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

A little behind, as always, but here is the program from last Sunday.  For our response, we did a remembrance of baptism with the blessing: “May the Holy Spirit work within you.”


// January 8th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Again, catching up, so this was the e-mail that went out last week for Ephiphany:

Merry Christmas!  Did you think that was over?  Not quite.  As the lyrical evidence clearly shows, there are twelve of them.  They culminate on January 6, this Sunday, in the Epiphany.  Technically, the Epiphany is the account the visitation of the Magi provided by Matthew.  However, popular piety likes to mash the Gospels together.  I often regard this mash as a flavorless paste that dulls the spice and texture of each author, but there are times when it can be a tasty gumbo, where all the ingredients are distinct, but speak to one another in interesting ways.  In this case, all the characters of the Gospels show up in the manger, in our nativities: Mary, Joseph, the angels, shepherds – and their sheep! – the Magi and the camels they rode in on.  Everyone is there to witness the manifestation of God in the form of the baby Jesus.

This, of course, is not what the Epiphany has always been.  It has been, in the past, the celebration of Jesus’ Baptism, when he was presented to the world as God’s child.  It has been a celebration of Jesus first miracle recorded in the Gospel of John, turning water to wine at the wedding in Cana.  And now the Magi and the angels and the shepherds.  In all cases, it is the celebration of the revelation of the identity of Jesus as God’s Anointed and the presence of that One in our lives.

This week, we’ll look at the visitation accounts of the shepherds found in Luke 2:8-20 and of the Magi found in Matthew 2:1-12.  Here we have the very lowest of society and the very highest of society coming to see the baby Jesus.  They come for different reasons and they leave with different understandings, but they all know that they have encountered God With Us and they all must respond.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about who Jesus is and how we might respond to that Epiphany.

Grace and Peace,


One thing I’m enjoying in being off of school for the month is that I get to spend some time developing experiential responses for our topics.  This week was easy, taking off on the gifts of the Magi: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I think we have become so used to this trio of gifts that we no longer consider their symbolic resonance.  I wanted to give people a chance to rediscover that.

Gold was, for the Magi, a symbol of power just as it is for us today.  As the Golden Rule says: “The one who has the gold makes the rules.”  The Magi were claiming power for this little helpless baby.  In response, I asked people to take a coin (Mardi Gras coins!) and consider their own experience of power in their lives.  Do you have power over the world?  Or does the world have power over you?  What is the source of that power?  Who wins and who loses in the exercise of that power?

Frankincense was used in sacred rituals all over the ancient world.  No other incense was allowed on the altar of the Jewish Temple and secular use was restricted in Jewish law.  The Magi are claiming a sacred character for Jesus, that he is set apart.  How are you set apart?  What makes you you?  That is the image of God.

Myrrh was a perfume, but it was particularly used in embalming.  This points us forward to the end of our story.  Jesus is certainly divine, but he is also human.  He will die and he will die in a horrible and humiliating way.  He will give his life for those he loves.  What do you have to give?  Who would you give it for?  What is worth living for or dying for?  I asked people to anoint themselves with myrrh oil as gifts to the world.

Because that is what you are.  Each of us contains the image of God, a source of power that sets us apart and prepares us as gifts to the world.  If each of us can see that, then surely the dreams of God are at hand.

Advent Programs

// January 8th, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Got a little behind in the end-of-school/Christmas rush.  Ready to get back to my normal level of disorganization.

Advent Week 1

Advent Week 2

Advent Week 3

Advent Week 4

Christmas Eve

Mark: The Ministry of Mystery (Program and Sermon)

// November 13th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff


Sermon Outline (loosely followed)

I.        Who is Jesus?

a.       Son of God

Used in opening and not again until the crucifixion.

b.      Son of Man

Jesus’ preferred way of referring to himself in Mark.  “Son of man” initially just means “human” in the Hebrew Bible, but becomes the title of an eschatological judge in Daniel.  This develops into the messianic hope in the Intertestamental Period.

c.       Messiah/Christ

The Anointed One, initially used to denote priests and kings in the ancient world, it becomes a figure of Jewish eschatological hope.  Only Peter correctly identifies Jesus as the Messiah.

II.     Ministry

a.       Works of power

1.      healing

2.      feeding the hungry

3.      casting out demons

b.      Teaching

1.      public

Speaks in parables to the masses, not to make them understand, but to keep them from repentance.

2.      private

Explains things to disciples (not just the apostles) in private, but chastises them for misunderstanding.

c.       Messianic Secret

1.      Disciples

Correctly identify Jesus as the Messiah, but Jesus tells them to keep quiet.  They also seem to misunderstand everything else, especially parables.

a)      Mark 8:14-21

Fulfilling Isaiah 6:9-10

b)      Mark 8:27-30

2.      Outsiders

Often correctly identify Jesus as the Son of God, though never using that precise wording.

3.      Explanations

a)      when?

One solution to these complex twists and turns is scheduling.  Events need to happen in a certain order and on a certain timetable.  We cannot understand Jesus as Messiah and Son of God until we see him suffer and die.

b)      to whom?

Often, Gentiles are allowed to tell their people about Jesus, but not Jews.  This could also be a practical concern to timing, that having Gentiles among his disciples could hasten the animosity of the Jews.

c)      what?

The apostles are specifically charged with proclaiming the good news (10:7).  However, they are specifically prohibited from telling anyone that he is the Messiah (16:20).  Perhaps Jesus position as the Anointed One is not the good news.  Perhaps the good news is that people are being healed and fed and given peace of mind.

III.   Discipleship

a.       Authority

b.      Power

c.       Planting seeds

William Placher points out that farming is a mysterious business.  A farmer sows the seeds and waits.  Something is happening under the soil, but you don’t know what until something shoots up out of the ground.  The works of power and the teaching in parables might work like that.  People don’t know the right titles, but they know they are fed and healed and given peace of mind.  They are also told that the kingdom of God is near at hand.  Perhaps that is the seed that is planted, the small realization that there is alternative to the oppression and poverty of the current rule.

d.      Suffering

When you preach that alternative and reach for it, when those seeds begin to grow, you will probably suffer.  You may even die.  Some things are worth it.

Mark: The Beginning (Program and Sermon Outline

// November 8th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff


Sermon Outline (loosely followed)

I.        Background

a.       Author

1.      Traditionally Mark, associated with Peter

2.      Unknown

b.      Occasion

1.      Fall of Temple

2.      Sack of Jerusalem

3.      Resolving relationship to two communities

a)      Jews

(1)   Rejection by priests and scribes
(2)   New temple

b)      Rome

c.       Community

1.      Greek speaking

2.      Gentile

3.      Persecuted

d.      Style

1.      Crude

2.      Clumsy

3.      Sense of immediacy

II.     What is the beginning?

III.   What is the good news?

a.       Challenge to dominant culture

1.      Religious authorities

2.      Government

3.      Social mores

b.      Alternative vision

IV.  Who is Jesus?

a.       Titles

1.      Son of God

2.      Son of Man

3.      Son of David

4.      Messiah

5.      Christ

6.      Anointed One

7.      Son of the Beloved One

b.      One having authority

c.       Messianic Secret

1.      Disciples

2.      Outsiders

Bread for the World Sunday (Program and Homily)

// October 23rd, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff



If it’s alright with you, I’m going to preach a little today.  There’s a lot on the program today, so I just wanted to share some things I have on my mind, things that came up while working on this service.  I’d also like, instead of having the immediate feedback of a conversation, to have folks go home and think about it, meditate on it a bit, and continue the conversation over the next few weeks or months.  Let’s call it an “introvert defensive move.”

This week I asked you to fast.  Did anybody do that?  As I wrote this, I guessed that most did not.  I’m guessing most lead lives where fasting is, at best, inconvenient if not downright impossible.  If you did, you probably found it difficult.  I missed a couple of meals, but it was easier for me.  I didn’t have class this week, so I reverted to my normal, unhealthy sleeping schedule.  And my normal breakfast is small, just some juice and a cereal bar.  When you sleep through half the day and then eat only slightly less than you normally would, it’s not a big deal.  I claim no particular merit.  But, much worse, I didn’t think about it.  I spent no time contemplating what I was doing or reflecting on the plight of the poor and hungry of the world.  In the end, what I couldn’t give up was not food, but time and attention.

We’ve talked about Sophia here a lot, though probably never enough.  Sophia, for those who don’t know is the embodiment of God’s wisdom, the feminine divine, the ordering principle of the world.  In Proverbs chapter 1, Sophia stands on a street corner shouting at passersby.  I’ve looked at that part of the book a lot.  It’s fun.  She’s bold and insulting.  She calls everyone idiots.  But I’ve never really looked closely at the end of that chapter.  There, she promises the people that, if they will listen, they will have a life of ease. Proverbs 1:32-33: “For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”

What Sophia wants for us is the good life.  The good life is not a life of idleness, a life of accepting the way the world is.  It’s active.  It’s focused.  It’s focused on God and God’s way.  The good life is life in God and God’s justice.  The good life is secure, free from worry.  The good life is peaceful.  The good life does not include the threat of destruction.  I want to think about these things on three levels: the personal, in the church, and in politics.

First, the personal.  I don’t get the feeling that many of us are at ease.  We’re all busy.  Some are busy trying to survive.  Just going to work and having a family is enough.  And some are going to school or volunteering through other organizations.  Some are overwhelmed by new jobs, old jobs, changing relationships, finding a safe, stable place to live.  When people aren’t busy, they’re trying to forget about all the stuff that makes them busy.  They want a break.  They want some fun.  They want a drink.  They want a nap.  Is this the good life?  Is this life in God?  Struggling to survive and then struggling to forget?

I don’t know if I have the solution to this.  Clearly, I don’t.  But I can offer a way of thinking about it, a way to be mindful of how we spend our time and attention.  See, fasting is not about food.  It’s about becoming conscious of a basic drive and how we fulfill it.  I’d like to suggest that we fast with our time and attention.  Try this week to ask a few questions.  Where is this activity coming from?  Who am I when I’m doing it?  And where does it take me?  I’m not asking you to change anything, but just to ask these questions.  Commit a little time and attention to your time and attention.

Second, the church.  It’s hard to get people in this church together in any organized way.  We spend a lot of time together, for many of us a couple times a week.  That time is precious to me and I think to others.  But then, when we ask for more, when we ask for service or study, it seems to cross a line beyond which the demand is too much.  This is not a judgment, but concern.  My fear is that I’m just adding to the problem.  My first semester at school, every professor in every single class started by exhorting us to some variation of “go slow and pay attention.”  Then they each assigned a hundred pages of reading.  I don’t want to do that.  Some, by personality, will keep taking on more.  Some, by personality, will disappear.  We risk burning people out and driving people away.  I don’t want that.  If you can’t find the good life, life in God, the life of ease that God promises is God’s way, in the church, where can we find it?

Again, I don’t have the solution, but I want us to become mindful of the problem.  As a church, how can we make each other’s lives easier instead of harder?  What models exist in our tradition?  As a church, we are supposed to take care of each other, support one another.  Acts 2:44 tells us that “All who believed were together and had all things in common.”  Some of the greatest advances in culture and science in the West came out of monastic communities where people kept a rule of life, simple lives held in common.  Or consider the Beguines.  The Beguines were women who had no dowry and, so, little prospects for marriage.  They banded together in communities, shared housing, worked, saved, and focused on God.  Sometimes they were able to save enough for their own dowries and moved on to marriage and family.  But sometimes they found that they liked the life they had, working for their own money, sharing it with people they cared about, studying and meditating and working for justice.  They had found the good life and wanted nothing else.  Maybe Sophia is on to something.

Finally, government.  In a few minutes, we are going to write letters to Congress asking them to support programs for the hungry and the less fortunate.  Take a moment to think about how these programs impact the lives that people actually live, how they might move someone toward the good life.  When I worked in an office, I was usually there late.  I got to know the cleaning people a little bit.  One woman told me that this was one of three part-time jobs she held down.  Her oldest kid, 21, was unemployed and getting in trouble with the law.  Her 16-year-old was struggling in school.  She couldn’t go to the parent-teacher conference because she couldn’t afford to take off work.  Even if she could, she would probably be fired if she missed a shift.  There’s always someone else to take her place.  She struggled.  To put food on the table, to keep a roof over her head, and to try to give her kids a chance at something better.  The schools were underfunded, the teachers overworked, and if something went wrong, there was no net to catch her and her family.  Is that the good life?  Is that life in God?  A lot of activity – she wasn’t lazy by any stretch; she worked a lot harder than I did – but not much came of it.  There was no security, no peace, and disaster loomed every moment of every day.  How do you find God in that, even expect the possibility of God in the middle of that?  Where can her time and attention go?

Now, imagine a world in which her children were guaranteed to have something to eat, guaranteed to have a roof over their heads, guaranteed to have healthcare.  How would she be spending her time?  How would they grow up?  Instead of watching their mother struggle in futility, maybe they see her finish her education, fulfill her dreams, and maybe they think they can have dreams, too.  In a democracy, we get to make choices about the lives we create for the people in our world.  We don’t just have to imagine what if.  Remember that when you vote and remember that as you ask your representatives to care for the poor and the hungry in our community.

The essence of worship, of study, and of relationship is time and attention.  Where is yours?  Where is ours as a church?  Where is ours as a nation?  What kind of world are we building in our personal lives, in our spiritual lives, and in our lives as citizens that allows our time and attention to be spent on the things of God, that allows life in God to flourish?  Isaiah tells us that life in God is a life of justice.  Let’s begin to think about how we can structure our lives together so that we might share our bread with the hungry, house the homeless, and clothe the naked so that our light breaks forth like the dawn.  That is the good life.

How to Read the Bible (Program and Sermon)

// October 16th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff


Sermon Outline (loosely followed)

I.        Introduction

a.       Review

1.      Literal

2.      Allegorical

3.      Moral

4.      Anagogical

b.      Read out loud

1.      Jonah

2.      God

3.      Captain

4.      Sailors

5.      Narrator

6.      Newsreader for the King of Ninevah

II.     Literal

a.       What does it say?

b.      What doesn’t it say?

c.       What voices are left out?

d.      Who wins and loses?

e.       Is it true?

III.   Allegorical

a.       What does this tell us about Christ?

b.      What patterns do you see?

c.       How does this connect to your own life?

IV.  Moral

a.       What should you do?

b.      What happens if you do or don’t?

c.       Can this guidance be trusted?

d.      Are there alternatives?

V.     Anagogical

a.       What does this say about the End?

b.      How are we to live now in light of that end?

c.       What does this say about destiny and fate?

d.      Ignatian Method and discussion.

How to Read the Bible: The Anagogical (Program and Sermon)

// October 11th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff


Sermon Outline

I.        Review

a.       Literal

b.      Allegorical

c.       Moral

d.      Anagogical

II.     Classical

a.       Anagogical

b.      Destiny

c.       Prophecy

III.   Modern

a.       Dispensationalism

b.      Process theology

c.       Speaking prophetically

IV.  Post-modern

Finally, we come to the anagogical sense, which interprets the things related in Holy Scripture “as they signify what relates to eternal glory.” This meaning is not restricted to the state of glory in Heaven, but also pertains to the contemplative participation in the heavenly realities here and now. (Brother Andre Marie)

a.       Intertextuality

b.      Reader-response

c.       Lectio Divina

1.      Read

Read slowly, multiple times, shifting focus each time

2.      Meditate

If a particular word or phrase stood out, focus on that word, repeated over and over to enter into the word

3.      Pray

Talk to God

4.      Contemplate

Silently listen for God

d.      Ignatian Method

1.      Center yourself

2.      Read the passage twice

3.      Reconstruct the scene

4.      Place yourself in the scene

5.      Converse with God

e.       Bibliodrama

How to Read the Bible: The Moral (Program and Sermon)

// October 2nd, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff


Sermon Outline

I.        Ancient

a.       Do good, get good

b.      Do good, suffer, get good later

II.     Classical

a.       Bible as guidebook

b.      Problems with literal truth

1.      Transmission

2.      Translation

3.      Interpretation

4.      Application

c.       Problems with allegorical truth

1.      Interpretation

2.      Application

d.      Both create problems with moral truth

III.   Modern

a.       The Bible speaks authoritatively on everything about which it speaks

b.      The Bible speaks authoritatively on everything

IV.  Questions

a.       Does the Bible guide you?

b.      If so, how?  If not, why not?

V.     Post-modern

a.       Ethical interpretation

Everyone comes to Scripture with existing ethical commitments and Scripture is interpreted in terms of those commitments.  For example, the Bible never speaks of abortion, but verses like Psalm 139:13-15 and Jeremiah 1:4-5 are regularly used to support a pro-life position.  These are interpretive moves.  Post-modern commentators simply acknowledge their moral commitments that guide their interpretation.  For example, the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is frequently thought to be homosexuality, but their faults are never really explained.  A queer commentator comes to the text with an ethical commitment that would lead to an alternative explanation.

b.      Not-so-post-modern

“Thus Augustine, for example, teaches that any interpretation of scripture that does not promote the love of God and neighbor cannot be a correct meaning of scripture even if it is thought to coincide with the intentions of the human author.” – Dale Martin

VI.  Morality of the meal

Jesus frequently dined with all kinds of sinners, including the much-maligned Pharisees.  There’s something about sharing a meal with someone, regardless of difference, that dissipates anger, fear, and malice.  Hand to hand and face to face, we break down the boundaries that divide us against one another, the barriers that hide the image of God.