In the Christian Church Calendar, we are currently in a season that is numbered according to the Holy Day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit falling on the apostles fifty days after Jesus’ death (hence the name Penta-cost).
Jesus had told the disciples to go out into the world ministering this Gospel to the world, but first, to wait. What would be so important as to put the brakes on the mission of God in the world?
The Holy Spirit.
Well, I’m finally coming off a whirlwind month of preaching three out of four weeks while our lead pastor is on vacation…and while I keep doing my full-time day job. So now, hopefully I’ll be able to post more here again. I do want to share with you these sermons though.
This summer, my church is going through different key texts in the book of Acts, chronicling the opening years of the Christian movement in the world. In the first of these sermons I’ve done during the past month, I got to preach on the Christian holiday of Trinity Sunday and my text was the very first Christian sermon ever preached–Peter’s Pentecost message. I tried to weave these together best I could.
The text is Acts 2.22-39, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:
Yes, I graduated from seminary, and yet I still have a couple more classes I’m finishing up. One of them is going through the documents, Creeds, Confessions that define the theology of my denomination, the Reformed Church in America. I’m having to write a bunch of reflections on differents aspects of these writings, and I offer them here.
Every way of understanding the world involves creeds and confessions. “Creed” comes from the Latin word meaning “I believe”, and a Confession from the Latin for “acknowledge”. A Creed or Confession, then, is simply a distillation of what you acknowledge and believe. There’s nothing weird or particularly “Catholic” about it.
From Creeds to Trinity
If you are a Christian, no matter which part of the family you call home, your beliefs almost certainly fall in line with what have been called the “Ecumenical Creeds”, which are the oldest and simplest articulations of the Christian essentials. They include the Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds.
Now, if you were going to start writing out the core of what you believe, where would you begin? The interesting thing about these Ecumenical Creeds is that they are built entirely, both in foundation and structure, around the doctrine of the Trinity. Why?
Today is the Church Holy Day called Corpus Christi (Wiki), Latin for “the Body of Christ”, in which the Church takes a few moments to reflect and meditate upon the gift that is the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist, or Communion). In honor of this, I thought I’d share a recent essay I wrote articulating what I believe is happening in the Sacraments. Let me know what you think!
A sacrament is any material thing that God uses to communicate himself within Creation. Yes, this is quite the broad definition for “sacrament” (little “s”). Every single way that God has ever revealed himself in this world has always been in a mediated sense. God has never been revealed in his full “Godness”. It is always through a material means, and mostly clearly in Jesus Christ.
In this sense, I can accept things like marriage and confirmation as sacraments; but I can also see a good beer, TV show, conversation, or even suffering (like the Cross) as a sacrament. Any material means by which God communicates any part of who he is a sacrament. It has also been quite freeing for me to see all of life as inherently sacramental.
In this sense, sacramentalism becomes a primary filter through which to understand and describe reality as it is and the nature of the Creator/Creation distinction. This collapses the old unhelpfully-gnostic “transcendence/imminence” dichotomies.
Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.
Wow, here’s the whole Trinity at work in leading God’s church! Would that we give more attention to this Trinitarian nature to the sustaining of our churches. Also, notice how Jesus’ blood “obtained” the Church. He didn’t merely create the space of possibility. He went out and got it. It is is his.
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
I love this. Because they were so in tune with God and his Spirit, even after the Holy Spirit tells them something, they still feel they need to fast and pray before doing it. Those early Christians weren’t just willy-nilly following whatever spiritual whim and inspiration they got. They were careful and made sure they were hearing God rightly. May we do the same.
When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
The angel’s prophecy might be a foreshadow of John’s leaping in Jesus’ presence before he is born. If that’s the case, then being “filled with the Holy Spirit” being overjoyed in the presence of God. This is surely a theme throughout the Gospel and Acts: who has the Holy spirit and what that causes in those people, namely joy.
Secondly, this is such a beautiful passage and an evidence that children can experience spiritual things before their born. David says elsewhere that he loved God even while in the womb. This should (hopefully) mess with the heads of those that deny the place on infant baptism in God’s Church.
For my preaching class, we’ve been trying to get at what this weird thing called “preaching” really is. It’s not a lecture, it’s a not a conversation, it’s not a debate. So what is it? Here are some of my random thinking on this. But I’d love to hear yours.
As much as I want something far more profound and original, I have not been able to find anything simpler and clearer than Alan of Lille‘s definition: “Preaching is an open and public instruction in faith and behavior, whose purpose is the forming of men [sic].”
At my work, we recently had a training on mindfulness. Now, before you roll your eyes, it was maybe my favorite work training I’ve ever done. It was engaging, practical, and participatory like few trainings are.
Anyway, “mindfulness” is the fancy word used to describe a “non-judgmental awareness of the present”. It’s heightening your senses and calming yourself in order to fully inhabit the present without analyzing it, mulling it, or needing to evaluate it. For those of us with anxiety issues, it really is an amazing way of centering and calming oneself, as well as separating oneself from the internal busyness–at least for a moment.
Another way of putting it is that it is radical present-ness. It is letting this very moment not be merely something you’re passing through as a bridge from the moment that has passed and into the moment that is not yet here. It is to fully inhabit the moment you find yourself in, and let the future come to you rather than anxiously trying to run towards it.
Not gonna lie. It was very spiritual to me. I felt more in tune to God and it got me thinking about how we mystically experience Him in our everyday lives.
When an Atheist talks about this hard-wired human sense to feel the “Numinous”, it often carries with it the sense that it rises from within us. When a lot of Christians talk about meeting the Divine, it often sounds like a presence that comes pointedly at us from outside of us. I’m starting to think that neither of these is right.