Friday, January 13, 2006

New Essay up at The Foundation and other thoughts

There is a new essay up at The Foundation. Other than that I fell down a flight of stairs yesterday and hurt my ribs so I've been taking it kind of easy.
Here are some stuff I've been thinking about:
  • I read "Paul" by E. P. Sanders. Two big things struck me:
  1. "A doctrine of the work of Christ was never achieved and one can only speak in theories of the atonement." This was a bit of a relief, I always kind of wondered if I just missed a specific explaination of how Christ saved us.
  2. The French destroyed the Anglo-American understanding of Paul (I'm sure Dan will be pleased to know this). As most of us know when the French conqued England English vocabulary changed. For example the "swine" is what the English peasant in the field tended, whereas "Pork" is what the Norman French ate at the table. For the most part this just made our language more descriptive, but in some cases the old Anglo-Saxon words were removed completely. This is especially true with legal words. Sanders contends that we translate Paul's "dikaioun" and "pistis" were improperly translated with the French "Justify" and "believe" instead of the Anglo-Saxon "rightwisian" (aka "to make right") and "to have faith." This makes us assume that when Jesus died for us he Justified us in a court sense, that is he kind of made an excuse for us, for our opinion of him, instead of that Jesus actual makes us right by our faith in him.
  • Also I've been reading some exestantialists and have concluded that they are bookish elitists who have gotten so caught up in studying truth and life that they have lost sight of both. Their only out is to find a worldly woman who pulls them out of the world of the book they are trapped in (no! This post is NOT autobiographical!!!), or fall asleep and be transported to a world that pays ultimate homage and ultimately manifest their ideas about utopia (again, not autobiographical)...or at least thats what they write about. Not entirely sure what to make of them other than they have a lot of angst.

That's actually about it. Right now I'm reading "The Pain That Heals" which is a very mystical look at suffering from a Hinduish Anglican Priest/psycologist... Very weird. I'm also reading Rumpole Of the Bailey, a very British, and very comical collection of short stories about Rumpole, a lawyer who would just as soon quote poetry as defend his client.



Tuesday, January 10, 2006

My dog isn't doing well

Baby, my old dog from long ago and far away, a little blond mutt that looks like a 6 pound sheepdog isn't doing well. She's not eating in days and is sluggish, now my parents took her in to the vet and it turnes out she's got a bum heart (just like her master), she also has an enlarged liver, spots on one lung, and a small kidney stone. Doesn't sound too good.
This dog is really quite amazing. If I believed salvation was works based she'd be way ahead of me. She's visited the sick and elderly for most of her life, she's been signed up to listen to children read, when I had my seizure she first lept upon me ready to defend me from the Fireman with tooth and claw for her life, then when my mom told her it was okay she allowed the fire man to pass. In short she's a damn good dog, and as pittiful as it may sound one of the best friends I've had. We've walked countless miles together connected by leash and heart. She sat on my lap, listening to me read allowed whatever poetry moved me, Yeats and Aeschylus, are the one's I most remember reading to her, and of course Robert Service.


Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Children's Sermon

Basicly I brought the kids up to the front to examine a basin full of water. I had them describe what it felt like, and describe a time in thier life involving water (one kid saw the sea in Greece). Then I talked about Tubing down the Willamet river and my tube popping. Apparently they don't tube in England... When I explained the process I could visibly see the parent's eyes getting bigger, thinking "Bloody Hell don't give our children any ideas." Then in finished off by talking about the Chaotic Waters of Genesis 1 and the waters of Baptism!

The service

Today I not only preached, but also led the service. I think I did a pretty good job, though I felt awkward at the transition points that didn't include a hymn. Still, I think it went rather well. Below is my order of worship:

Notice-not by me
Opening sentences:
The scripture sentence and Prayer of Approach is found on page 4 of the blue book.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord
For his love endures for ever.
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden:
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
That we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
In the mercy of Almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all of our sins. To those who believe in Jesus Christ he gives the power to become Children of God and bestows on them the Holy Spirit. Amen
Hymn "Into a World of Darkness" 325 (1)
Holy God, Holy and mighty, Holy and immortal,
Hear our prayers and let us cry before you.
Gracious God, we pray today that the light of your presence and your sustaining grace may be known by those for whom these are dark times.
We pray for those who are bereaved and struggling with the question why
Who are having problems with relationships and family life,
Who are having to come to terms with a life-threatening disease,
Who are coping with mental health problems.
We pray especially for those in Darfur, and Iraq, Niger and Afghanistan and all places of conflict and famine. We pray that within the chaos and death that envelops our world you may be the light of life.
Individual prayers and petitions may be made aloud or in silence.
Gracious God, may all for whom we pray know the power and strength of your presence
May your love fill their lives and may you be the light that enters their darkness, turning despair into hope and praise. Amen
And now we pray as Jesus taught us to pray:
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, they kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever and ever.Amen.

Talk to children: (water experiences)
Eternal God,
We come with these gifts to offer the praise of our lips and the service of our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Hymn "Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove 299 (2)X
O.T. Lesson- Gen1:1-5 (other person reads)
N.T. Lesson- Mark 1:4-11 (I read)
Hymn "At the Dawn of Creation" 424 (3) X
(Children Leave)
Address (sermon)
Hymn "Breathe on me Breath of God" 295 (4)
(please respond Thank you Almighty God)
Almighty God, you entered the chaotic waters of the world, your Spirit skirting the deep and your Word bringing light.
Thank you Almighty God
Almighty God, you revealed the Word made Flesh to us through the waters of John’s Baptism and the Spirit like a dove.
Thank you Almighty God
Almighty God, you make us Children of God and allow us to address you as our abba.
Thank you Almighty God
Hymn "All Creatures of Our God and King" 39 (5)
The LORD almighty order our days and our deeds.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

The sermon

Today I preached at the United Reformed Church at Abbey Lane. The biggest thing I've learned, and continue to learn is that "speed kills" that is I need to slow down when I preach.
Here is the sermon:

Though we are in the Wilderness and the Darkness of the Deep, through Baptism the Spirit proclaims us Children of God.
This morning we are faced with beginnings. The beginning of Creation where God enters into the formless void, and hovers over the deep black waters of primordial chaos. The beginning of the Redemption, where God enters into a fallen world overrun by surging tides and watery white caps of destruction.
This morning we are faced with a loving, yet realistic message. +Though we are in the wilderness and the darkness of the deep, through Baptism the Spirit calls us Children of God.+
We are in the wilderness. We find ourselves out here alone in a dry unnourishing place. Out here we are embroiled in our personal sins, and see that we have been delivered up to our passions, greed, and despair, we are found guilty. We are fools that, as was wrote in the book of Proverbs so long ago "return to our own vomit." In short, we "can not not sin."
Out here in the wilderness we are totally annihilated by this confrontation with our own sinfulness, and feel a total alienation from both God and our fellow man. I don’t know why, maybe it is out of spite, though more likely out of shame, we try to justify ourselves. We look out into the lonely desert and decide that we are a definitive oasis of truth in a desert of lies. We fall into that same sinful trap as Adam did, our own hubris. We become, as Luther put it, "bellybutton gazers." We are like a snake eating its own tail. In this selfishness we see our brothers, mothers, fathers, sisters, sons, daughters, friends as simply an appendage of our self. By ignoring our broken relationship with God and others we are folding in on ourselves.
We are also in the darkness of the deep. All this personal sin and alienation that each one of us experiences is not ours alone. As theologian Rudolf Bultmann writes, "The evil for which every man is responsible for individually has become a power which enslaves the whole human race."
All of humanity, each and every last one of us, is a card within a house of cards. We were all stacked carefully and precariously atop one another. Even the slightest breath, a slight jarring of the table, would cause the whole house to fall down. And that deck of cards has fallen down a long time ago, and we are constantly attaining toward a return to our original placement. Every personal sin is a card falling, knocking down the whole deck. This deck is in a constant flurry of motion, Jacks falling atop crazy eights, and twos upon Kings. Every time a wall of a house is reconstructed two more fall down. The interactions of these cards grow in intensity until they become a splashing, bubbling sea of black, red, and white, the primordial chaos the Spirit hovers over in Genesis one. Whole legions of belly button gazers ignore the fact that 30,000 people dies of preventable diseases each day and the famished cries of those dying of hunger. Brigades of tail eating snakes grasp continually for real or imagined slivers in their neighbor’s eye while ignoring the planks hanging from their own, and they forget to forgive.
Yet, despite our sorry state there is good news this day, there is light to split the darkness, there is a spirit upon the dark waters. For +though we are in the wilderness and the darkness of the deep through Baptism the Spirit calls us Children of God.+ Today John the Baptist, a charismatic wild man, mysteriously "appears" in the wilderness near the river Jordon. John the Baptist is cloaked as the great old testament prophet Elijah the Tishbite was, wearing a camel hair tunic and a leather belt. The prophet Elijah was an amazing figure, known for speaking truth to the powers that be in Israel and facing down the priests of Ba’al. John likewise spoke out against King Herod and faced down the Pharisees and Sad’ducees. For Elijah’s steadfast devotion he is said to have been taken up to heaven by God by means of a fiery chariot, greater still was John, the greatest and last of the prophets, for his devotion in proclaiming God coming down in water and Spirit.
Now it says that John was Baptizing with a Baptism of repentance and forgiveness. Being Christians of the 21st century, having heard this story countless times, "preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" rings as tin in our ears and does not strike us as odd. Yet, at the time of John’s actions the average Jew on the street would be wondering what had got into "all the country of Judea and all the people of Jerusalem." It would be like us hearing a cat screeching and yowling in the bathroom and we went inside and found a child Baptizing a very wet, confused, and bedraggled, cat in the toilet. Or it would be like seeing a man running down High Street on a particularly rainy day shouting "God’s Baptizing the world!" We’d get the sentiments of what was going on, but we’d still have a lot of questions. What were these people doing out there? Why were they doing it? What exactly was this new thing John was doing? What is this Baptism thing?
This was a new thing. Sure the Jews had Mikvot, that is purity baths, but Mikvot were used to ensure a ceremonial cleanliness, not a moral one. Further, this Baptism thing John preached and performed was a one time event, not unlike the conversion rights non-Jews would go through to become Jewish. Yet John’s Baptism was for Jews!
What then was this thing going on in the desert? I believe John’s Baptism was nothing short of an eschatological act! John was waiting expectantly for the Great and Terrible day of the LORD. He was preparing the Path of the LORD so that God could come and implant a New Heart and New Spirit within humanity. For John there is not time for elaborate ritual, only time to say I’m sorry in a very public and symbolic way.
Then comes that Spirit wielder, that "one who is mightier." Here comes Jesus. He comes and submits himself to the Baptism of John. The Baptism of John, a Baptism of repentance. Some people try to explain this by saying that Jesus was repenting for the collective sins of Israel/ and they might be right, but I think that what happens next points to a much more profound meaning of this Baptism. The heavens are ripped open. (The only other time this verb is used is during Christ’s death when the curtains of the temple are torn in two.) Then the Holy Spirit, like a Dove, descends, proclaiming to Jesus "Though art my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased."
This tearing apart of the blankets of sky separating God from man is the greatest shift of relationship in human history. God did more than blow his breath upon the waters and speak words of creation, but he en-fleshed this Word and enlivened it with Spirit. God’s son, Jesus, the Christ, has entered into the chaotic mush of human existence. This God of ours is in the world in the human form of Jesus. Karl Barth describes the relationship between God and man as that of an hourglass, and in this metaphor Jesus is the smallest point at which the two halves, God and man, meet! In Jesus we meet God in a man anointed in Baptism by the Holy Spirit to be the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior. In Jesus we meet God bringing good news to the poor, healing the lame and sick, and preaching a radicalized law of love. In Jesus we meet God betrayed, beaten, buried, and abandoned on our behalf. In Jesus we meet God resurrected, defeating the unholy trinity of sin, death, and the devil.
As miraculous as God entering the world is there is still more! +Though we are in the wilderness, and the darkness of the deep, through Baptism the Spirit calls us Children of God.+ This change in relationship brought about by the Christ’s humanity in Jesus is a two way street; it is also a change for us. In Baptism God changes the very character of who we are. The same Spirit that was with Jesus at his Baptism is with us.
How does this change come about? What is it that Baptism precisely is?
Now as I stand here I note the dangerous place I am at. I am an outsider from the traditions of the URC coming to preach about Baptism to a congregation that was once split over this very issue. Yet I will be so bold, as well as brief.
The earliest Christians, Jews themselves, seemed to have as hard of a time defining Baptism as John’s contemporaries had understanding what he was doing out there in the waters. After all how do you attach words to a movement of the Spirit? The early church developed many metaphors. In 1st Corinthians 6 the old language of Baptism as washing can be found, in John 3:5 Baptism is described as a New Birth, in Ephesians it is described as "Enlightenment by Christ" in Galatians it is described as putting on new clothing. In Titus Baptism is a renewal of Spirit, and in Romans and Colossians Baptism is seen as uniting with Christ’s dying and rising. In all of these cases something new is happening! Christ is entering into our life.
From these passages came arguments about immersion, infusion, aspersion, or even Baptism without water. And questions of Infant Baptism or Believer Baptism. But I think these arguments miss the mark. The point that all these arguments are vouching for is the importance of Baptism. For those who emphasize believer Baptism they are saying Baptism is too important to not have a full understanding and commitment by the believer. For those who emphasize Infant Baptism they see Baptism as too important and God as too powerful to wait for any human reason to Baptize.
Baptism is important, and life changing. Through Baptism the desert of sin is saturated, the chaotic deep is drained of its deadly power. Through Baptism we may open our eyes and see God in Jesus. Through Baptism we have a new beginning. +Though we are in the wilderness, and the darkness of the deep, through Baptism the Spirit calls us Children of God.+