Thursday, October 27, 2016

Beyond the Familiar

This may be a bit overwhelming and perhaps difficult to absorb all at once. However, I would like to challenge you (and myself) to jump in with boldness and hope and consider what follows. I mentioned in last week's gathering that this coming Sunday we would discuss the Nairobi Statement. I don't expect that you have ever heard about it. It does, though, provide an interesting framework for our ongoing discussion.

The Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture, from the Department for Theology and Studies of the Lutheran World Federation and completed in 1996, provides for us a rich description of the dynamic relationship between worship and culture and gives us lenses to help frame our conversations. 

A lens alters how we perceive what is in front of us—shading when the light is too bright, magnifying what is near or too far away. In a similar way, the Nairobi Statement alters our vision by showing us four ways worship relates to culture: trans-cultural, counter-cultural, contextual and cross-cultural. 

The product of the Lutheran World Federation Worship and Culture Study in the 1990s, the Nairobi Statement arose from the face-to-face discussions of Lutherans from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the Central African Republic, Chile, China, Germany, India, Japan, Kenya, New Guinea, Norway, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden, and the USA, as these participants urgently talked together about faithful worship in Lutheran churches in our time. They were helped in this discussion by ecumenical partners who came from the Philippines, Kenya and the USA. They were convened by the Rev. S. Anita Stauffer, and it was she who created the draft which, at a meeting in Kenya in 1996, became the whole group’s Nairobi Statement.

Contemporary Challenges and Opportunities 

1. Introduction 
1.1. Worship is the heart and pulse of the Christian Church. In worship we celebrate together God's gracious gifts of creation and salvation, and are strengthened to live in response to God's grace. Worship always involves actions, not merely words. To consider worship is to consider music, art, and architecture, as well as liturgy and preaching.

1.2. The reality that Christian worship is always celebrated in a given local cultural setting draws our attention to the dynamics between worship and the world's many local cultures.

1.3 Christian worship relates dynamically to culture in at least four ways. 

  • First, it is trans-cultural, the same substance for everyone everywhere, beyond culture. 
  • Second, it is contextual, varying according to the local situation (both nature and culture).
  • Third, it is counter-cultural, challenging what is contrary to the Gospel in a given culture. 
  • Fourth, it is cross-cultural, making possible sharing between different local cultures. 

In all four dynamics, there are helpful principles which can be identified.

Read More

We face a significant challenge. We are less than whole when entire segments of our faith community (and potential faith community) are largely absent from our assembly. If worship is indeed the heart and pulse of the Christian Church, than we may be in need of a spiritual cardiologist or at least an honest appraisal of our current heart health. Our mission requires us to move beyond the familiar.

Please prayerfully consider this Nairobi Statement and anticipate a lively exchange on Sunday morning.

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Reformation Sunday
October 30, 2016

Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, gracious Lord, 
we thank you that your Holy Spirit renews the church in every age. 
Pour out your Holy Spirit on your faithful people. 
Keep them steadfast in your word, 
protect and comfort them in times of trial, 
defend them against all enemies of the gospel, 
and bestow on the church your saving peace, 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and forever.  Amen

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 46
Romans 3:19-28
Luke 8:31-36

Friday, October 21, 2016

Who is Welcome?

An Australian pineapple farmer out, standing in his field
Tropical Pineapples, Yeppoon, on the tropic of Capricorn in Central Queensland

When you consider who should be on the guest list for the meal we share each week, are there any restrictions? Holy Communion, one of the sacraments of the church, is the meal of Christ's Body and Blood. It is by Christ's invitation that we come to the table. No one is coerced. But are there limits?

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is considering this question in discussions like the one we are initiating in this series of Faith Formation classes this month. 

Included in the introductory material for this emphasis are the following paragraphs:
For most Christians  through many centuries, Holy Baptism has been considered the sacrament of initiation or entrance into the church, while Holy Communion is the sacrament that nourishes and sustains Christians week by week. This remains the recommended practice in the ELCA. Our church's statement on the practice of word and sacrament, The Use of the Means of Grace states: 
         Principle 37
Admission to the Sacrament is by invitation of the Lord, presented through the Church to those who are baptized. 
Increasingly, in many congregations of this church and our ecumenical partners, the invitation to receive communion is for everyone, not only for those who have been baptized. For some, this is a simple matter of hospitality. If this is Christ's table, then all are welcome. Period. For others, the initiatory nature of baptism into the body of Christ is critical. Becoming a baptized and communing Christian involves serious commitment and even risk. The invitation, therefore, must be gracious yet clear: Holy Communion is for the baptized; the call to Holy Baptism is for all. Still others find some middle ground in this important conversation.
Like much of the material that comes to us from the churchwide expression of the ELCA, these paragraphs are long on explanation and short on direction. In other words, we are invited to acknowledge and embrace the need for conversation while wrestling with the matter together. Luckily, for this wrestling match we have rich theological and confessional resources as well as the witness of scripture. 

On Sunday morning during our class session, following an introductory presentation, I will attempt to facilitate such a conversation with and among you. Together we will reflect on past experiences that we have shared and ones that we may have had individually when we visited other congregations. Questions we will entertain include these:

  • What does "hospitality" mean? 
  • When and where have you experienced hospitality? 
  • When did you begin to receive Holy Communion?
  • How have you extended the invitation to others?

The Lamb of God (detail)
15th century "Ghent Altarpiece"

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Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
October 23, 2016

Prayer of the Day
Holy God, our righteous judge,
daily your mercy surprises us with everlasting forgiveness. 

Strengthen our hope in you, 
and grant that all the peoples of the earth 
may find their glory in you, 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22
Psalm 84:1-7
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Form Follows Function

The American architect Louis Sullivan coined the phrase, Form Follows Function. Certainly this could be applied to the general design of the furnishings that we use in our worship space. The baptismal font and the altar are intended to be the two most central furnishings. It could be said of them that their form follows their function.

Like most furniture, the font and table need to function well, or they become obstacles.

Over the next four weeks in our Faith Formation time, we will spend some time exploring the function and form of font and table in our experience. We will also look beyond the furniture towards the meaning and mystery of the two sacraments that are associated with these furnishings. 

The sacrament of Holy Baptism and the sacrament of Holy Communion are means of God's grace. They define, form, and sustain us as a community of faith. Individually we return to them for reminders of who we are as children of God. Collectively we are strengthened and empowered by Christ's presence in them as they equip us for mission beyond ourselves and into the world that God so loves.

I invite you to take the time over the next four weeks to explore this with me and your brothers and sisters in Christ. This would be an excellent opportunity to review and renew your faith and invite others to come and see the gifts of God full of grace, purpose and hope.

A cross-shaped Byzantine baptismal font 
Avdat, Israel

Baptismal Font, St. Luke Lutheran Church
Chambersburg, PA

A Picture of a Baptismal Font 
found on Google

St. Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church
Chambersburg, PA

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Washington DC

Christ the King Lutheran Church
Houston, Texas

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Is More More?

In tomorrow's reading from Luke's gospel, the apostles say to the Lord: Increase our faith. 

Have you ever felt stalled in your faith? Do you wonder how you get faith, how you attain it? How much is enough? Is more more?

Take a few moments before tomorrow to read ahead.  While the appointed gospel text is Luke 17:5-10, begin with the first verse of that chapter and read about forgiveness. Allow the text to agitate you. Permit questions to come to the surface of your heart and mind. In so doing, may we all remain open to hearing the Word tomorrow with desire and openness. Remember, don't be afraid. As the apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 3, the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
October 2, 2016

Prayer of the Day
Benevolent, merciful God: When we are empty, fill us. When we are weak in faith, strengthen us. When we are cold in love, warm us, that with fervor we may love our neighbors and serve them for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Habakkuk 1:1-14, 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-9
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

1Jesus said to his disciples, "Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! 2It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive."

5The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" 6The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

7Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'? 8Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"

(Luke 17:1-10 NRSV)