This Epiphany reflection is the final meditation from the Liberti Church 2019 Advent and Christmas Prayerbook.
The Transfiguration has always bothered me deeply. Jesus takes his closest friends to a mountain and is “transfigured”: his clothes turn white, he talks with some Old Testament prophets, God says nice things about him; everything then calms and they walk down the mountain like nothing happened.
But… what is a “transfiguration”? Translators use that word because no one knows what this moment is or was. “Transfigure” doesn’t mean just a change in appearance, but an actual change in substance and form. There’s simply no word in language that can communicate it. “
Transfigure”, then, is an almost nonsensical word. It’s merely a placeholder for something whose meaning we can’t ever know. So even though the words sit there in black-and-white before us, we will never know nor have access to what this actually means or is saying.
This Advent meditation is part of the Liberti Church 2019 Advent and Christmas Prayerbook, and it is by Liberti member Jordan Cupo.
As a child, the joy of Christmas morning was unmatched. Wide awake in my bed with anticipation, I would watch the clock count down. I was raised to believe that Santa might not come to kids who wake their parents up before 7am on Christmas morning. Once that magical hour struck, it was a flurry of shouts and laughter as a tornado of flying bows, ribbon, and wrapping paper unfurled in the living room beneath the Christmas tree.
Proclamations of joy aren’t hard to find this time of year, even outside of the church. And there are many reasons to be joyful in this season. There is something special about the smell of freshly baked cookies, gatherings of family and friends, gift-giving, candles, evergreens, and hot chocolate.
Yet, the joy of the Christmas season stands in stark contrast to the broken circumstances of our world. We see others who gather at Christmas, and it reminds us of our own loneliness. We see tables filled with plenty, and it reminds us of our own hunger. We see the gifts of others, and it reminds us of our own financial stress.
This Advent meditation is part of the Liberti Church 2019 Advent and Christmas Prayerbook, and it is by Liberti member Jessa Stevens.
I started a company six years ago and I truly felt I was following God’s plan for my life. I saw him leading me through challenges, making connections, providing financially. I was filled with hope and motivation. I felt like what I was doing was helping people, healing friends and family. I was doing something I loved that connected me to God and his vision for my life.
If you’ve spoken to me in the last year, however, the road has been more bumpy and more challenging. And surprisingly, though at times I’ve been angry, confused, and discontent with the struggles of this company, I’ve been relying more on God daily than I had when I was praising him for all the ease and fun of this job.
This Advent meditation is part of the Liberti Church 2019 Advent and Christmas Prayerbook, and it is by Amanda Mahnke.
Growing up, I was always intrigued by the story of Rahab. As a tween and teen, it was somewhat perplexing to me that the Bible celebrated this woman as righteous for lying to protect the Israelite spies. Given Rahab’s less-than-reputable profession —and a wealth of biblical heroes who did far worse than she — I’m not sure why the deceit was my biggest hangup. I do know, though, that ruminating on Rahab’s story was an important step in my journey toward a less black-and-white, judgmental kind of faith.
The story of Rahab begins as Joshua and his army are preparing to destroy the Canaanite city of Jericho as an offering to the Lord. In an act of treason, Rahab hides the enemy spies and lies to her own government officials regarding their whereabouts. We have no real way of knowing why she does this. What we do know is that, somehow, this Canaanite prostitute has heard about the miracles of the Israelite God, and she has believed.
This Advent meditation is part of the Liberti Church 2019 Advent and Christmas Prayerbook, and it is by Liberti seminary intern Tara Ann Wooward.
The first time the phrase “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” meant something was when my beloved brother returned home from college—and the second time was when I moved away to seminary. Home takes on a new meaning once it’s been left behind.
Yet, home can also be elusive and painful. For anyone who has experienced exile or homelessness, job or school relocation, the question “where are you from?” can provoke painful memories of loss and loneliness. In a time of unprecedented transience, we might wonder where and when we will ever truly feel at home again.
This Advent meditation is part of the Liberti Church 2019 Advent and Christmas Prayerbook, and it is by Liberti member Maria Lipkin.
When I read some of the episodes of David’s story I often think, “what a coward! How did God let him get away with so much?!” I feel this way especially when I read the story of David and Bathsheba. Here is a king who was supposed to be fighting with his men but is instead lounging around his palace. At the first sight of a naked woman, he makes her have sex with him even though she is married to one of his own valiant soldiers! They conceive a child and David kills her husband to cover up his act. The child dies because of David’s sin.
Yesterday marked the beginning of Advent 2019, a period of time which the Christian Church has historically set aside to meditate on Jesus’ coming into the world at Christmas. It’s usually a time of reflection, meditation, and preparation, leading up to the full-on celebration that is Christmas.
To help focus us in this time, people at my church designed a prayerbook built around the women named in the genealogies of Jesus in the gospels: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.
You can find downloadable and and web versions of the prayerbook here. Or, if a direct link is easier: PDF / EPUB / MOBI (Kindle) / Web.
Different people put together the daily prayer liturgies, reflections, art, poetry, and seasonal meditations, so there’s variety and depth for those that appreciate and connect with such things. Though it is a product of a particular church congregation, it is put together in such away that anyone, anywhere could engage with it and benefit from it. So download and share it widely and sit with it deeply. We all hope it will be a useful way to stop, reflect, and connect during this season.
Reading through the story of Jesus healing the man by the pool of Bethesda, I was struck by a series of things I wanted to share with you all today, in no particular order. (But first, read the story in John 5.1-9):
First, the man doesn’t go to Jesus or ask him anything–he doesn’t even request the healing himself! Jesus just goes to him and heals him.
For each preaching series at my church, we take time in choosing a piece of art to reflect the content. This is a reflection I wrote for our series going through the Gospel of Mark.
Of all the Gospels, the Gospel of Mark is the most stripped-down, earthy, human depiction of Jesus. It is spare and humble, with an earnest pace, and ironic wink. Yet it may seem odd that we’ve decided on Tomasso Laureti’s 1585 fresco Triumph of Christianity as its thematic image—a painting that hangs in one of the most opulent, larger-than-life halls of power in all the world.
Laureti’s piece lives on the ceiling of the Hall of Constantine, the largest room in the Vatican’s Papal Palace. It is not part of the original design: it replaced the original wooden ceiling in 1585, six decades after the room was finished. This being the case, there is an odd tension between this art and the garish displays on the walls below; and this tension embodies much what we will be explore in our sermon series through Mark.
Not of flesh nor will of man
But of heart by will of Him.
Deep within a shot was cast and burrowed in the bow
The fine line of ecstasy and horror homoousion‘d among
Obedience was found on worthy lips, blessing bestowed for ages come.
Yet the blessing’s joy was found as a bell in the mist,
Meaning: it was not.
Until the rocks came.
This book is nearly a decade old now. It ages well, though now what it says may not seem as immediately new and fresh as it once was. Still, I believe its diagnosis and treatment are just as relevant today as it was then.
Ultimately, as laid out in its introduction, this book (and the series of subsequent books which follow it), seek to lay out a fourth way (“third” ways are soooo 2008) “beyond a reductionistic secularism, beyond a reactive and intransigent fundamentalism, and beyond a vague, consumerist spirituality”. In this sense, this book is a great success.
Implicit in its prescribed antidote, this book offers the same diagnosis for each of the three problematic ways of existing in the world, despite their radically different orientations–a fundamental disembodying of the human person, as exemplified by their anemic relationship to practices, both communal and private.
To that end, the book outlines ancient historical and theological foundations to spiritual practices. A refreshing aspect of this is that his list goes well beyond the typical Evangelical “pray-and-read-your-Bible quiet time” approach to spiritual practices. There are treatments given to Christian mystical traditions often overlooked by contemporary American Evangelicals, especially when it comes to contemplative, apophatic, and negative theological traditions, wherein one experiences connection through the divine by stopping activity and cogitation to experiencing an emptying rather than a filling.
When looking through old seminary research, I ran across some quotes I pulled out from Karl Barth, my favorite theologian (hands down), and got to soak in the beauty of his words. I wanted to share them. Now, for people that don’t read academic theology, this is it. It’s circular, it repeats itself, and it’s unnecessarily complicated and unclear. I know. I get that. But I promise, if you can spend a few minutes, quiet yourself, and focus, the pay-off is huge. This guy stands as a tower over all of modern theology and deserves more mainstream attention than he gets. I’ve done slight edits to some of the wording and paragraph breaks for clarity. Enjoy.
* * * * * * * *
God’s direction is an all-powerful decision, His own divine act of lordship. By this means, too, God vindicates His honor and maintains His glory. By this means, too, He exercises authority….
God’s direction is the directing of humans into the freedom of His children. It is this which has taken place in Jesus Christ no less uniquely than the once-for-all fulfillment of the divine sentence on all humanity. In suffering in our stead the death of the old nature, and bringing in by His resurrection the life of the new, He has made room for the being of all humanity to be at peace with God.
On the basis of what we are and is not by virtue of the divine sentence passed and revealed in Jesus Christ… we have no other place but this—the kingdom in which God can be at peace with us and us at peace with God. Jesus Christ…is the all-powerful direction of God to us to occupy this place, to live in this kingdom. If we are told in Him who we are and are not, we are also told in Him where we belong, where we have to be and live.
I know it’s a little long for a quote, but I promise, it’s very worth your time:
Within Christianity, the masculine image of God is often defined in these terms of control, power and dominion. Much of the Christian faith, though, requires that men recognize their limitations and depend on God. We accept salvation through his son and sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a faith where the last shall be first (Mk 10:31), marked by a life of service to others….
Consider the definition offered by John Piper: “At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships” ([Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood] Piper and Grudem, 2006, p. 35). It is a definition that emphasizes leading, providing for and protecting women. But it offers no insight on how men relate to one another. Depending on your reading of this definition, it either smacks of male chauvinism or places greater value on women’s needs. No doubt well intentioned, it offers little guidance for men who are already confused, wounded and lost about their masculinity….
This is an incredibly hard post to write, but an important one, I think.
A couple of years ago, I started (and never really finished–but I will!) a blog series which outlined a systematic way that as a male, I can incorporate feminist perspectives on theology into the way I think about God and life.
I call it “Male Feminist Theology” because there’s something about truly being a “feminist” that requires having embodied the experience of being a woman–which I have not. (Similarly, I could not call myself a “Black Activist” with any kind of integrity.)
I started this series with a bunch of posts about using feminine language for God. There was a lot of blowback from that, most of it entirely unexpected. I still hold to that belief that God is gender–ful (not gender-less) and so the full range of human language, both masculine and feminine, ought to be applied to God.
And yet, in my actual-lived out spiritual life, this hasn’t seeped into my engagement with God as much as one would expect, considering how strongly I intellectually believe these things. Maybe an occasional substitute of “Mother” for “Father” in the Lord’s prayer or a Creed recitation, but I do it quietly under my breath. Only occasionally do I find myself remembering to pray to God in such terms. My unconscious reflexive depiction of God in my imagination is still fundamentally male. I have to actually exert energy and thought to try and conceive of something different.
I grew up in a pretty stereotypical Evangelical setting, which led to a pretty stereotypical back-and-forth between guilt and self-righteousness. That is, until I really heard the Gospel of radical Grace.
Many of us have this same story, where it has been so healing to hear that how God relates to us is not, in fact, based on our performance. Instead, everything necessary for God to be pleased with us has been accomplished on our behalf by his Son.
In response to this, we fall in love with God’s Grace. We pray for it, long for it, and cry for it. We read books about it, write about it, and talk about it. We try and speak it into others’ lives while trying to figure out why we don’t apply it to our own. We joyfully build our relationship with God on the glorious foundation of His Grace. It is fundamental, primary, and essential.
In short: we love Grace.
Imagine my surprise, then, as I fell in love with liturgy and ancient forms of worship, to notice the utter lack of “grace” from the prayers and worship of the earliest saints. Continue reading