Protestants, Catholics, Communion–oh my! (Happy Corpus Christi!)


Today is a Christian Holy Day called “Corpus Christi” (Latin for “the body of Christ”). Today we meditate on the mystery of Communion/Eucharist/The Lord’s Supper.

I’ve mentioned some of my Communion views before and what I articulated is a synthesis and summary of the ideas of many theologians, both Protestant and Catholic. And so today, I want talk to all my fellow Protestant brothers and sisters out there.

In my opinion, the popular Evangelical idea of the Catholic view on the Eucharist is not really right or helpful (as is the popular conception of most of Catholic doctrine). Today I want to argue that Catholicism’s “Eucharist problem” is more historical and rhetorical than theological.

Some History

In the earliest decades and centuries of church history, people were able to simply maintain the simple doctrine that at Communion, they are receiving the true presence of Christ in the Bread and the Wine (source, albeit biased). In the middle ages, though, people starting asking themselves “Wait, what does that actually mean?” Differing answers started forming and a diversity of opinion about the Eucharist began taking place. The leaders of the Church tried to bring some commonality to this. In fact, the medieval Catholic church made a few “errant” teachers affirm these statements in 1078 and 1079:
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Ascension: Our glory & the Bible’s hinge


jesus-christ-ascension-iconYesterday in the Christian church calendar was Ascension Day, the day we celebrate Christ ascending into heaven 40 days after his resurrection and now sits at “the right hand of God the Father.”

The Useless Ascension

The idea of “Ascension” doesn’t seem to get a lot of play nowadays in the Church. This, in spite of the fact that it is an essential part of all the Church’s earliest doctrinal formulations, and the subject of the most-quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament:

The Lord says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Compared to other, non-creedal things like Hell, homosexuality, and “attacks on biblical authority”, the Ascension isn’t really talked about. Maybe this is because the Ascension isn’t really a “doctrine”–it’s an “event” and a “declaration”.

And we western Christians love our systematic “doctrines” that we can pick apart as nauseam and/or figure out how we can “apply it to our lives” in such a way that we can feel like we’re “good Christians.” But honestly, the Ascension doesn’t have many direct applications for today.
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Falling Off the Face of the World


I really debated on writing this post. Those most intimate of place between my soul and my Creator are too often converted in my mind into sermon, blog, or conversational thoughts. I tend to be quite promiscuous with the details of my relating to God.

Yes, for many, it is helpful, valuable, and “authentic” to be let in to the inner sanctum of one’s spiritual processing. But it comes at great cost to my own vibrancy. I recall a critique I heard once of the great mystic monk Thomas Merton that he “never had an unpublished thought or experience”.

I can relate.

So what am I talking about? When you read this, I will be on a bus from Holland, Michigan to Kalamazoo. A monk will meet me there and will take me to St Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers for a week-long silent retreat where I will disconnect from all electronics and means of communication. I won’t read anything but prayer books, poetry, and my Bible. No phone, email, texting, kindle, news, podcasts, or anything.
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After the Final “No”, There Comes a “Yes” [Good Friday Sermon 2017]


I’m really looking forward to doing a happy sermon sometime soon. But alas, I find myself preaching on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday this year–not the happiest of Church Holy Days.

And yet there is hope.

It’s fashionable to emphasize the narrative nature of God’s work in the world. And yes, it’s true–there is a progressive nature to Redemption, with a beginning, middle, and end.

But God’s work is also often cyclical, with certain rhythms and movements that return, repeat, and fold within one another.

I had this in mind as I went into this sermon. Yes, we ought to press into the darkness and doubt of the Cross without just quickly comforting ourselves with the Resurrection–we have to sit there for a bit–and yet the Church Calendar gets into our bones and souls to such an extent that it transforms the darkness. We can never sit in the Cross’ forsakenness without feeling the spiritual muscle memory of previous Easters gone by. And in that is hope.

This realization led me to largely do away with my notes (which you can find below) when giving this sermon and largely ad-lib, speaking from the heart as I wrestled with this stuff in real-time. The text selections came from Matthew 26-27, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here are my notes for your perusal. Continue reading

Churches & Theological Growth (on 1 Cor. 1)


peter-preaching-statue

“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1.21-24)

As finite creatures, we cannot fully conceive of an Infinite God in all his Truth. Even his revelation is but partial and enigmatic. His truth, then, exists less like the center of a target, and more like various spectrums and tensions in which we exist. On this side of eternity, we live and speak in dialectics where for every point of doctrine in one denomination there seems to exist a counterpoint in another. Truth is not the Lockean notion of our relating to an objective body of facts, but is the point at which two seemingly opposing or paradoxical ideas exist in tension and harmony (such as Jesus = God + Man).

Thinking of these “truth spectrums” while looking at 1 Corinthians, there seem to be two possible errors we can fall into when thinking about theological truth: “over-objectification” which makes this spectrum too narrow, and “over-subjectification” which makes it too broad.

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i am not my own (Abide with Me)





…fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens; Lord with me abide…

Both viruses and people get themselves into us, infect us, surprise us, and change us–both for good and ill. And when they depart we are left with that most complex simplicities of emotions, asking simply: what was that? The story, the episode, that previously seemed to exist with such continuity now seems so disjointed from all others that “the purpose” seems our only thought.

…When other helpers fail, and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, abide with me…

We wonder, we wander, seeking our Home, our Rest, our Selves. We recast our history in the eyes of this present trial, this present pain, this present darkness, and feel the twitch and fear that comes whenever we seriously consider all we’ve done before and all it represents within us–all the trials caused, the pains committed, and the darknesses within us.

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“Teach Us to Number Our Days” (Psalm 90) [a Lent sermon]


I had the privilege of preaching the Ash Wednesday service at one of my church’s campuses a few weeks ago. As is appropriate to that Holy Day and this Lenten season itself, we sat with words that drew us into a meditation on our mortality and death.

(I also talk about my grandfather’s death. For more about that, you can read my reflections.)

I help lead a Bible Study and sometimes, when I’m feeling artsy, to help us start a discussion on a certain text from Scripture, I’ll ask my group a question: what color is this text? As in, what’s the emotional tone? When you close your eyes, and let its words sit in you, what color are the images that come to mind? For me, sitting with this Psalm before preaching it, I felt it was a dull, pale blue–or maybe more like a burlap grey. And I have found that “hue” marking much of my time this Lent.

So even now, a few weeks in to season, I find myself returning to the themes of this Scripture text. I hope it might lead you to engage all the more deeply into this Holy Lent. The text is Psalm 90.1-12, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here is my manuscript for your perusal. Continue reading

“Darkest Before the Dawn” [a sermon]


church-philly-bw-cross-market-eastDuring the Advent and Christmas season, my church did a sermon series going through the key texts of Handel’s Messiah.

I got to preach during that series and only recently realized I never posted it here.

I’m beginning to see that light and darkness are constant themes through my preaching, and in this sermon, those themes are explicitly in the text. God’s people have returned from exile to their homeland, but it still hurts. Things aren’t the way they remembered, and they keep encountering difficulties and old temptations at every turn.

And so God acknowledged the darkness, but promises light. Is that enough, though? How do we not just sit back and say, “yeah, yeah yeah–I’ve heard this all before” and then continue on steeped in our cynicism? In this sermon (as with others I’ve preached), I try to press more deeply into the darkness to see what God might say. The text is Isaiah 60.1-3, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here are my notes for your perusal. Continue reading

“Damascus” (a poem for the Feast of Paul’s Conversion)


conversion_on_the_way_to_damascus-caravaggio_c-1600-1

A troubled heart troubled still as I walk in the valley of the shadow of death but Im the shadow of that valley as I strike them with one rod while another comforts them why wont they die as I strike them with My Left as your right upholds them all Ill kill them inhale Ill kill them exhale Ill kill them inhale so on and so forth I walk as the dust of My sandals covers their face while Mine is clean Mine is pristine following none but MySelf on this dusty Damascus road and
then—
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A Beginning, a Middle and an End


A beautiful reflection on the theological and poetical aspects of crafting a sermon.

Unknowing

If you don’t know where that comes from, read Aristotle’s Poetics. Aristotle was a great marine biologist who had an eye for the middle of anything. He was, as we Platonists know, not so great at epistemology, but he was a diligent observer and not altogether misleading in his remarks. He observed that dramatic works need a beginning, a middle and an end. This unilluminating observation turns out to be very necessary. It is good to start with the obvious before proceeding, and you can often count on Aristotle at least for the obvious.

I say it because it was brought to my attention in studying homiletic theory that there are at least three frames of reference for considering a sermon: the theological, the rhetorical and the poetical. In mainline circles, the theological is not always considered. The poetics, in the sense of the drama of your approach, a…

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christianity does not make me (or anyone) more moral.


thephonewasmadeofjelly


this is a great struggle for me. i am constantly comparing and elevating myself; most times without even thinking about it. it is the sin of the Pharisee – “I thank you, God, that I am not like he”. the further i walk the Christian path, the worse i get. The more moral I become the less I can be united to Christ. It is only through the shame of the cross and my utter lack of morality, that I can be saved.

without God, there is nothing to restrain my morality. it becomes force against force – my good vs your good.

God, help me.

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Demand a Miracle (Merry Christmas) [from W.H. Auden’s “For the Time Being”] 


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This is from the Advent portion of W. H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio, For the Time Being. The full text is under copyright, but it’s in this book, if you’re interested.

From Part I:

[T]ime never moves and nothing can ever happen:
I mean that although there’s a person we know all about
Still bearing our name and loving himself as before,
That person has become a fiction; our true existence
Is decided by no one and has no importance to love.

That is why we despair; that is why we would welcome
The nursery bogey or the winecellar ghost, why even
The violent howling of winter and war has become
Like a juke-box tune that we dare not stop. We are afraid
Of pain but more afraid of silence; for no nightmare
Of hostile objects could be as terrible as this Void.
This is the Abomination. This is the wrath of God.

Part II, Chorus:

Alone, alone, about a dreadful wood
Of conscious evil runs a lost mankind,
Dreading to find its Father lest it find
The Goodness it has dreaded is not good:
Alone, alone, about our dreadful wood.

Where is that Law for which we broke our own,
Where now that Justice for which Flesh resigned
Her hereditary right to passion, Mind
His will to absolute power? Gone. Gone.
Where is that Law for which we broke our own?

The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss.
Was it to meet such grinning evidence
We left our richly odoured ignorance?
Was the triumphant answer to be this?
The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss.

We who must die demand a miracle.
How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.

My Grandfather’s Passing (Hope in Death?)


peep-paul-dance-2Today is the sixth anniversary of my Grandfather’s death. I am reposting this reflection I wrote at the time.

This past Sunday, the day after Christmas, I watched my grandfather die. This is the first death I’ve experienced of someone very close to me. I’ve known people who had died, sure, but no one as close as this.

This man walked with me and I with him for my entire life. I sat on his knee and was tickled by his hands. I grew up hearing legends about him, and I walked in a general sense of awe and disbelief when in his presence.

His name was (is?) Lester Travis Williamson, or as I knew him for most my life: Peep (a mispronunciation due to the first grandchild’s toddler lisp).

Peep represented for me a tenacity and determinedness of love that great stories of tragedy and triumph are built upon. As their old pastor said during the funeral, he was a man that if you asked for a crumb would give you the entire loaf and then chase you out the door to give you another loaf for the road.

But this is not to be confused with the contemporary pictures of the sentimental, gratuitously giving man–cheerful, talkative, jocular, and always-optimistic. If Peep was anything, he was the quintessential man of his generation–America’s vision of a “real man”–quiet, determined, and strong. He spoke with intention in every syllable, meaning what he said and saying what he meant.

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