“The First Christian Sermon” [a sermon, ironically]


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:

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

Advertisements

Developing Ancient Creeds & The Trinity


monica-ben-wedding-rings-trinity-tattoo-arm

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?
Continue reading

Jung, Whitman, & Aquinas Walk into a Bar – Thoughts on Divine Suffering [GUEST POST]


Hans-Hartung-CompositionT-50-5

As I’ve been outlining a Male Feminist Theology, I have said there is an aspect of Suffering-Unto Life in the very nature of God. This started some conversation on Facebook. Today, along this vein, we have a guest post by one of my dearest friends (and blog contributor), Austin Ricketts.  Years ago, he wrote in favor of God’s Suffering. Years later, he took it back in a little debate we had. Today, he offers a sophisticated sort of “middle way”. It’s more dense than most things I post here, so I’ve linked to relevant articles elsewhere to help you follow along.

_________________________________

If I were to set my doctrine of God down as a scene from a play, you would see the Cappadocian fathers meeting Thomas Aquinas at table, somewhere in Tuscany, while Charles Hartshorne comes in out of the Spring air from some bird watching. Thomas eats a large chicken, all by himself, while the fathers drink wine; their arms around him. Hartshorne is taken aback by the size and quiddity of the meal—how could he eat a bird, after all—so he orders a salad and sparkling water. Soon after, the fair Charles is assaulted by a paper airplane from the end of the table, and he looks up to see Augustine, who had up to that point been cloaked and hooded. After all this, the set goes dim, stage props move to reveal a completely different mise-en-scene.

The lights brighten to reveal one, Carl Jung, waking from a dream, saying “Hmm. How bout that?”

The curtains quickly close, all goes quiet, and a voice—preferably that of James Earl Jones—says, “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Then, this Quaker Poet with a long gray beard and large hat comes streaking—that is to say naked, except for the hat—across the stage shouting, “I sing the Body electric. Eidolons! Eidolons everywhere!”

_________________________________

Continue reading

God in Her Glory {1b}: A Good Facebook Debate (for a change)


wwii-woman-we-can-do-it-feminismWow. I’ve actually been surprised at the response to the last post in this little mini-series on using feminine language to talk of God. I thought I was addressing one simple thing in the life of churches, but I misjudged the degree to which people would feel like this touched on everything from their thoughts on the Bible to the nature of Jesus himself. One of the best sets of exchanges was on Facebook in response to yesterday’s post. Below, I’ve reproduced a lightly edited version of the conversation. I hope you find it interesting as well. And let me know what you think!

DEBATER: Your post says, “The model of God as Father may be profound and true; but it is not the only model, and it does not render other models less true or profound.”  It’s Jesus’ own self-disclosure and revelation of God. It’s more important than any other ‘model’ and it isn’t really a model. “Father” is not a metaphor. Its a reality for Jesus. And I’m not talking about Jesus’ physicality like his weight or hair color. Jesus revelation is of God as Father. That’s the particularity. He said pray to God as father. And he’s the Son. That’s ontological. The feminine is redeemed in Jesus, but its redeemed not by Jesus taking on the sign of the feminine, but by taking on the sign of the masculine redeemer of the oppressed and abused feminine.

ME: Your last line especially uses terms and ideas entirely foreign to the Scriptures. I’m actually shocked that you saw no issue in writing that. Women need a male redeemer to be redeemed? Even if you point to the ancient cultural idea of the male kinsman-redeemer, surely you aren’t saying that this (clearly) cultural accommodation is some revelation of the essentially gendered nature of God and redemption? The Old Testament also had lambs being sacrificed, and not people. Does that mean that Jesus in some sense had to partly be an “actual” lamb rather than a metaphorical one?
Continue reading

Universal Intimacy: The Beautiful Transition | Matthew 11:25-39


At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:25-39

What a beautiful transition; from words of exclusivity to words of rest and invitation. It is precisely into the intensely exclusive intimacy between the Son and the Father into which we are invited to come and find rest. This is true Christian “Universalism”: the whole cosmos is brought into the exclusive, fiery love of the Trinity.

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

Love: The Beginning & End of Divine Suffering | Lent {7b} [GUEST POST]


[Yesterday, my good friend Austin Ricketts kicked off this two-part post, part of my own Lent series, talking about how the “disposition” or “intention” of God is Love, firstly exercised towards God’s own Self in the Trinity. And this Love moves away from the lover toward the loved as it is given. Therefore….]

Update II: In an interesting twist, Austin has since recanted these comments, though I still entirely agree with these original ones. So….I’m going to keep them up, but with this comment.

death & distinction in God

The reason why death is an appropriate notion by which to understand this relation, then, is that death entails separation or distinction between two or more things that otherwise belong together.

Death is not an end of life, necessarily, but rather a limit and transition.  For humans, the Bible points out that there is a limit and transition that occurs at material death.  At that time, humans exist as a bodiless soul, at least until the final resurrection.

Death is a separation or distinction between two or more things that naturally belong together; in the case of humans—a body and a soul.

Considering God again, “separation” can’t really be the right word.  Distinction is more orthodox.  I mentioned earlier that it is incorrect to see a “lessening” of the Father’s being when transitioning to the Son.  That’s because there isn’t a lessening of being at all.  Quite the opposite.
Continue reading

Love: The Beginning & End of Divine Suffering | Lent {7a} [GUEST POST]


[Note: Today, we have another post by my good friend Austin Ricketts. I asked for him to write some of his thoughts on the current Lent series I’m doing and this is what he came up with. He’s written other things for my blogs before, and each time, I end up with my mind blown. This post certainly follows in that tradition. This piece is a bit longer (even after breaking it up into two posts), but I encourage you to read it in its entirety. Really, you will not be disappointed.]

Update: Part 2 of this post is up.

Update II: In an interesting twist, Austin has since recanted these comments, though I still entirely agree with these original ones. So….I’m going to keep them up, but with this comment.

When delving into the mystery of the Trinity, it is inevitable that one approaches Light too bright to see through, a mountain too high to climb, a cave too deep to spelunk.  That this is the case does not mean that one shouldn’t move into any light, climb as highly as she can, spelunk as deeply as he may.  That would be an unbiblical quietism, and unhealthy for the soul.  The soul needs exercise.

Here I attempt to exercise my soul by exorcizing the ancient demons called simplicity and impassiblity.  I pray that I do this while abiding in love.  But I do it nonetheless.
Continue reading

Please help me give my money away! [UPDATED]


As I said the other day while introducing Lent this year, the Lenten season has historically been marked by three practices of those that participate in it. Prayer and fasting tend to get most of the attention, but almsgiving is another component of a Lent-historically-done-well. Almsgiving is the ancient term for giving materially of your resources for the purpose of charity, love, and grace.

I have never been good at giving my money away. Tithing has always been difficult for me to practice; giving to the homeless has been hard; and I always have a good excuse why I’m not able to give to some cause greater than myself. Sure, I’ll talk about the organization or even write a blog post in support of it, but it’s hard for me to part ways with my money.

This season, however, I wanted to try an experiment to fight against this and hope and pray that God meets me in it and grows me in deep, lasting ways.

This Lent, I want to give away some of my money everyday. For Monday through Saturday (the Church considers Sundays Lent “mini-breaks”), I want to give some amount of money to a non-profit or charity that can use it to help others.

But I need help.

If you have a non-profit or charity or social justice organization that you particularly like, could you leave a comment below telling me what it is?
Continue reading

Of Liturgy, Communion, and Relationship [a liturgy]


[This weekend, I had the privilege of helping lead the prayers and liturgy at my church. I thought I would post my manuscript up for all to read and take part in as well. I hope this blesses you to read as it blessed me to write.]

Greeting and Preparation

Leader: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.

Hello, my name is Paul, and welcome to Liberti: South Philly. We are a community of people–people with struggles, doubts, addictions, and frustrations–who are still in the process of figuring out what it means to believe in this God we believe in, and relate to Him and others in a way that reflects that belief. This may be your first time here or your hundredth, but either way we want to welcome you all and we hope that your time here today is meaningful.

The part of the Christian faith we will be talking about today is that of community and relationships. Most likely all of us in here have our own sets of insecurities, uncertainties, and baggage concerning this topic. Our relationships seem to be the area that can frustrate us like no other; the area that it appears no amount of mere intellectual knowledge can change. It is often the source of our greatest joys, our deepest sorrows, and our most profound change.

Continue reading

The Triune God is Beauty{3}


Caravaggio - The Conversion of Saint Paul 3bThis is the third part in what will end up being a fairly long and comprehensive series on Beauty. It’s based on a recent message I gave on the topic. You can find the full audio and full manuscript below. [Bold: things I had time to say // Regular: things I didn’t have time for] So far, we’ve seen why we long for Beauty, we’ve discussed what it is, now let’s apply this definition.

What is beautiful?

First and foremost, the Triune God is beautiful.

He is Three Persons (complexity) existing in One Deity (simplicity). Just think of that word God. That is the human term that he has chosen to be acceptable for us to call him. Those three letters contain the simplest expression of the Sovereign Creator God of the Universe. Most old school systematic theologies are structured the same basic way: the first actual section of theology is reserved for “the Doctrine of God”, and the first thing you learn about God is his “unknowability”. This is the fact that God is infinite, inexhaustible, holy, and completely separate from all things we could ever conceive or understand. We cannot know him. Any pursuit we go on to know him will always be futile. Just the fact that the Infinite God has revealed anything to us in a way that we can actually understand is beauty itself. He is the perfect and complete tapestry within which all things are woven together in the first place. He is peace. He is shalom. He is Beauty. But let’s look at His distinct persons as well.

God the Father is beautiful.

In Exodus 3, Moses is talking to this God who is showing Himself through a burning bush and he asks this God “Who are you?” The huge transcendent God simply says “I am that I am”. So, in the Bible and in the creation, God the Father reveals Himself clearly enough that we can know who we should worship. Think about it. The infinite God who is outside of time and space uses finite things within time and space to communicate himself. This Infinite Head of the Godhead reveals the Infinite strands of who He is in one of the simplest of tapestries: “I AM”. This is beautiful.

God the Holy Spirit is beautiful.

1 Corinthians 2 says, “As it is written, ‘what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’” We often stop there. We talk about all those infinite promises God has made that no one has seen and no one can know. But this isn’t the case. Read on. Paul writes that all these things that no one has seen, all these infinite and glorious promises that would blow our minds “God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” The Infinite complex Spirit of the Infinite complex God dwells within finite simple believers and what’s more, he communicates the previously unspoken thoughts of God Himself. So through the mediator of the Holy Spirit, God weaves his thoughts into the tapestry of our souls.

God the Son is beautiful.

Of course, we go to John 1 for this: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” He is the ultimate earthly reflection of beauty. He is the living word of God. He is God of God in the flesh of man. The ultimate, infinite, precious, all-consuming, King of Kings and Lord of Lords takes on the form of a child born in a manger. Oh the humility. Oh the beauty in this act we call the Incarnation, where the infinite God takes on finite humanity.

Though much more could be said (and maybe should be) I feel I’ll stop there. This is an all too-brief picture of why/how God is beautiful, but this is because most people acknowledge that if there is a God, He is in fact what we would think of as beautiful. Otherwise He wouldn’t be worthy to worship. Most would agree with what I’ve written if in fact this was the God that existed. We’ll discuss that more next week. On Wednesday, though, we’ll talk about worship, nature, science and how all those things connect. It’s one of my favorite sections. Here are the links I mentioned earlier:

Click for Manuscript Pdf

Manucscript

Click here for sermon audio

Audio