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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“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

“Everlasting Father”: A Guest Post for Lemonade International


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A year and a half ago, I had the honor of going on a Blogger’s Trip to Guatemala with Lemonade International, a nonprofit that works on the slum community of La Limonada, in Guatemala City. The task for us bloggers from around the country was to spend the week seeing the work they do, living life with the people, hearing their stories, and writing about it on our respective blogs. It was an experience like no other I’ve ever had, and I left it with new eyes for justice, love, community, and what God’s Kingdom looks like in this world of brokenness.

I once again have the privilege of writing for them, and this time it’s for their Advent series. Today, they’ve posted on their blog some of my reflections on the divine name “Everlasting Father”. Here’s a taste:

Imagine a tiny nation in fear. Their leaders have failed them and have abandoned all principles of dignity and justice for the sake of securing the place of the powerful. Their political alliances have ravaged their economy, autonomy, and national security. They still live in the shadows and aftermath of civil war and the meddling of other larger, more powerful nations looking to take advantage of this one, it’s resources, and it’s people–with no consideration of the long-term effects. Most in this nation live in apathy and ignorance of the injustice in their midst. The powerful do not care, the privileged do not see, and the rest just try to survive.

What would this nation do? Where would be its hope? To whom would it lift its eyes?

This is Guatemala. This is La Limonada. But it was also the nation of Judah.

Also, if you’re looking for an incredible organizations for your year-end giving, I cannot recommend Lemonade International highly enough. Nonprofits bring a lot of extra scrutiny and can often bring about their fair share of skepticism (as they should). Is the money being used wisely? Are they simply perpetuating power dynamics and deep injustices? Are they exploiting others’ pain for their own gain?

These are all legitimate questions to have for nonprofits and the work they do, and I am hesitant to wholly trust an organization or suggest them to others.

Lemonade International, however, is one that I completely trust. Their resources, people, mission, and methods are all done with such thoughtful care and attention paid to the web of systemic, spiritual, practical, communal, familial, and economic issues that arise in these environments.

So please consider giving to the incredible work of this amazing organization!

Advent, Angst, & Ferguson


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When my phone started blowing up with notifications about the Ferguson grand jury decision, I was in a daze. I grabbed my pipe, poured the biggest single glass of whiskey I’ve ever had, and sat in my backyard in tears, alternating between retweeting others’ comments on the case and just staring at the sky. I watched and heard the helicopters above as they watched the Philadelphia protests below, mere blocks from my house.

I think part of my response was because of where my mind had been in the days leading up to the decision.

I recently pored over Cornel West’s biography and watched 12 Years a Slave. As the weather has gotten colder, the city’s marginalized and homeless have become more noticeable. An organization whose heart is in the right place, and who I otherwise love, put out some promotional materials that unintentionally showcased the degree to which racism and power structures are so ingrained and so unconscious. Last Sunday, I watched as Rudy Giuliani went shockingly racist on Meet The Press (what he said is wrong, by the way). For school, I watched a presentation on the Civil Right’s movement, and also read King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail. 

And then the grand jury came back. No indictment.
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John, the Holy Spirit, & Prenatal Worship| Luke 1.12-15, 41-45


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.
Luke 1.12-15

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.”
–vv.41-45

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.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Where on Earth is Jesus’ Bethlehem? | Luke 2.1-5


In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2.1-5

Recent archaeological evidence suggests that this Bethlehem is not the traditional site, but “Bethlehem of the Galilee” (which would make sense). The traditional site is 150km from Jerusalem, whereas this other, newer proposed site is only 7km. A lot easier for Mary. Although some dispute this, pointing out that Justin Martyr in the 2nd-century identified the traditional site as the correct site. Who knows?

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Welcome to Epiphany. (And a free Mixtape to celebrate!)


epiphany-mixtape-coverIf you’re just looking for the mixtape, click here for the official Epiphany Mixtape page.

From now until Lent, the Church Calendar is in the season of Epiphany.

Basically, this season seems like it’s sort of a Church Calendar “junk drawer” to meditate and celebrate on all the other parts of Jesus’ life that happened between his Advent/Birth and his Death.

And don’t misread that. In describing it that way, I hope that doesn’t diminish this season for anyone.

Perhaps the most precious doctrine of the Christian faith for me is that of the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness. That’s a fancy way of saying that Jesus lived out a righteous life, and his very own righteousness is given to me as my own. And so, with a complete and perfect righteousness in hand, I don’t have to bear the weight of shame or condemnation. This is so beautiful to me.

But this Righteousness in which I am dressed was not created out of thin air, nor was it created by Christ at the Cross, or even at his Resurrection. It was built throughout his life of obedience to His Father, as the light of his character and life grew brighter and brighter in the midst of our darkened world. It’s this part of his life that we celebrate and meditate upon in this season.

And this is amazing. As I’ve written before, if Herod had been successful in killing the infant Jesus, there would be an essential aspect of our salvation that’s missing. This is why Epiphany is so important.

And so, to try and help me spend some time meditating on this season, the best way I knew to think deeply about all this was to re-post Epiphany mixtape I first posted last year.

To read more about the specifics of Epiphany, the mixtape, and to listen/download it yourself, you can either read below or just go to the official Epiphany Mixtape page.

[cover image credit: the photo on the mixtape cover is used with the gracious permission of photographer and friend of the blog, David Schrott]

Advent & Hoping for God to be With Us


icon-Nativity-christmasThis is the meditation I wrote that appeared in this weekend’s reading and reflection in Liberti Church’s Advent 2013 Prayerbook, which can be downloaded for free.

The Reading:

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

If you’ve been keeping up with this Prayerbook (or any Advent guide), then congratulations! I hope it’s spoken to you and you have experienced God in its readings and meditations.

That being said, you might be wondering: why is this Prayerbook continuing after Christmas Day?

It was only a couple of years ago I found out that in the Church Calendar, Christmas is not just a day—it’s an entire season! Advent Season leads into Christmas Season. Why is this? Advent has a similar relationship to Christmas that Lent does to Easter: it’s meant to be the time of reflection, preparation, and repentance that prepares us for the unbridled, no limits, over-the-top celebration and joy of Christmas. Our spiritual ancestors knew that celebration takes time and preparation. That’s what Advent has been.

But now we’re in the Christmas Season—the time of complete unfettered celebration. But why?
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A Biblical Critical Advent: Luke’s Cosmic Christmas


Charles-le-Brun-Adoration-of-ShepherdsFor Advent this year, I wanted to put up a few posts looking at Matthew and Luke’s Nativity stories as they were meant to be read: as two separate stories with their own purposes and themes. We often just mush them together, and I think we lose something in that process. Last week, we sat with Matthew’s Nativity story. Today, we turn to Luke’s Christmas.

Matthew’s Nativity focuses on how Christmas plays right into Israel’s own story; how this is exactly how the Jewish Messiah should be expected to have come into the world. Luke’s Gospel, on the other hand, emphasizes Jesus’ significance to the entire world, all parts of society, and the entire cosmic order.

In other words, Jesus’ mission in Luke is much larger than simply Israel. These and other Lukan themes are brought out quite strongly and explicitly in his Nativity narratives. Today we’ll see how he does this through signs of the universal mission of Jesus, the story’s emphasis on the lowly and powerless, and his stories of Spirit-filled joy.

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Advent & Longing for Home


Sandorfi-MadeleineThis is the meditation I wrote that appears in a reading and reflection in Liberti Church’s Advent 2013 Prayerbook, which can be downloaded for free.

There is an incredibly profound way in which we don’t feel at Home in our own humanity.

Too often, Christians see their own personal spiritual growth as a loss, a lessening, or an abandoning of their own humanity. This can lead us to subtly use people and things to try and find our soul’s Home. And so we awake to find anxiety, manipulation, doubt, guilt, and self-loathing ruling and reigning so many parts of our lives and relationships. (Am I alone in this?)

We can sometimes think of Christianity as a process of our souls leaving the “Home” of their weakened humanity and finding a “new, spiritual Home” in Jesus. The logic goes that you were originally one way, then Jesus “saved” you, and now you are able (and are commanded) to be something else, now that you are His.

But Advent radically flies in the face of this.
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A Biblical Critical Advent: Matthew’s Old Testament Christmas


root-jesse-matthew-icon

For Advent this year, I wanted to put up a few posts looking at Matthew and Luke’s Nativity stories as they weren’t meant to be read: as two separate stories with their own purposes and themes. We often just mush them together, and I think we lose something in that process. Today, we look at Matthew’s Christmas Story.

It’s well-known that the Gospel of Matthew portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of Jewish messianic expectations. But the path Matthew takes in doing this moves against the way most messianic expectations played themselves out at time. Matthew recalibrates these expectations to show how even in Jesus’ infancy and birth, his “Messiah-ness” includes a retelling of Israel’s own history, both good and bad.

You can see this especially clearly in the way Matthew crafts his version of the Nativity story. Today, we’ll look at three particular aspects of this story that show his unique thematic and purposeful crafting of the birth story: his use of people and names, geography, and the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
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Have yourself a biblical critical Christmas


Nativity-logosSorry, this post isn’t about the pessimism and critical irony that can sometimes mark how we engage in this time of year. When I use the phrase “biblical criticism”, I’m referring to (as Wikipedia says) the  “[scholarly] study and investigation of biblical writings that seeks to make discerning judgments about these writings”.

Last year, I wrote about how the story of the Wise Men can inform our doctrine of the Bible. This Advent, I want to do a brief series where we use the tools of scholarly observation to look at each of the two Nativity compositions (yeah, only two out of four gospels have them) and see each of them on their own terms.

For millennia, the birth narratives of Jesus Christ in the Gospels have captivated readers both within and without the Christian faith. Their reading and meditation form the beginning of the Christian Church calendar, and their theological implications of Incarnation form the foundation of nearly all of the distinctives of the Christian faith.
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A night so holy and silent | Carols in Prose


winter-snow-trees-bwFor my Advent series this year, I am going through Christmas Carols and unpacking them, re-writing them in prose, hoping to pull out more of their meaning, theology, significance, and beauty. Here’s today’s source material.

As holy as that night was–as anointed, blessed, prophesied, and sacred as it was–it was just as silent. You know in winter when find yourself in the midst of falling snow, and it almost has a loud silence? It was like that.

Who knew that this utter holiness and cosmic in-breaking would be so quiet? So…uneventful? Yes, there were angels and such, but they were far away with us. There at the manger? Silence.
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May God give rest to you weary, happy souls | Carols in Prose


flinks-angels-anouncing-the-birth-of-christ-to-the-shepherds

For my Advent series this year, I am going through Christmas Carols and unpacking them, re-writing them in prose, hoping to pull out more of their meaning, theology, significance, and beauty.  Here’s today’s source material.

I pray that God may give rest to all of you. Those of you that are tired and in need of rest, and yet you doggedly hold on to a soul-merriment and joy that cannot be taken from you. I pray he grants you rest and lets nothing steal your soul’s joy.

Especially in this season, I pray he strengthens that joy as you remember that he has come among us in Christ, our Savior, whose birth we celebrate during this time. We remember that he came as a human–but not just that. We remember he came as the weakest and most frail of human forms: one who is born.

But we don’t jut remember that he came, or even just how he came–but also, why.

This Advent season precedes Christmas as Lent precedes Easter–it’s a time to meditate on the darkness, weight, and tension of this world. The darkness and power that drew us away from God as Home; the darkness from which we were saved. And in this, we are given that rest, comfort and joy.

Oh, that we might experience God’s good news of comfort and joy proclaimed from the rooftops of our lives! Just think of that: Comfort. And Joy.

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Advent & Hoping for Justice


Massacre-of-innocentsThis is the meditation I wrote that appears in today’s reading and reflection in Liberti Church’s Advent 2013 Prayerbook, which can be downloaded for free.

First, a question.

Think back on the Christmas story. After Jesus is born, when he’s about three-years old, King Herod puts out a decree calling for the death of all infants, trying to kill Jesus. An angel comes to Joseph in a dream and tells him to flee to Egypt to prevent Jesus from dying in this slaughter.

Here’s the question: why flee to Egypt?

If they stayed and Herod killed the child Jesus, wouldn’t that still be the Son of God dying unjustly at the hands of a Roman provincial governor? Why go to all that effort to wait 30 years later for the same thing to happen on a cross?
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