Sunday, February 28, 2010

Believing in the Three Persons, Saying They are One

March is upon us!

The month of March seems to be when everyone turns Irish. Here in Champaign Urbana it comes early with University students celebrating unofficial St. Patrick's Day one week from now. For me March is a time to remember just how much of a Geek that I am. While everyone else turns Irish by throwing on a green shirt and drinking darker beer, I'm pulling out my documentary on the real St. Patrick and re-reading his Confession.

The truth is that Patrick has become one of my favorite historical characters. Many people do not realize that he was the first missionary to venture beyond the borders of the Roman Empire without a Roman army preceding him. He most likely never chased any snakes from the island, but did introduce the Gospel in a way that would change the people of Ireland and the rest of Christianity forever.

One thing I find myself doing repeatedly at this time is reading the hymn that has come to be known as St. Patrick's Breastplate. I will admit that there is some doubt as to whether or not Patrick himself actually wrote the hymn, but by comparing it to his Confession I think that if Patrick did not write it, he would have surely loved it.

Something that struck me as I read the hymn this week is how overtly Trinitarian it is.

           I arise today
           in a mighty strength,
           calling upon the Trinity
           believing in the Three Persons
           saying they are One
           thanking my Creator.

So often I fall into the habit of thinking that I only deal with one part of the Trinity at a time. When I pray I am speaking to the Father. When a Pastor reminds me of how I am forgiven I hear the words of the Son. When I am comforted in difficult times I feel the warmth of the Holy Spirit. This isn't inherently wrong. Scripture makes it apparent that the members of the Trinity take on specific roles. However the more I learn of God, the more apparent it becomes that I am never really interacting with just one member.

In my reading of Luke this week I saw a beautiful picture of the Trinity.

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Luke 10:21-22
There is so much that could be unpacked here but I simply want to revel in the joy and beauty of this moment. Father and Son are worshipping together, celebrating the children that will be made a part of their family, and the whole celebration is enveloped in the joy of the Holy Spirit.

We do not worship some solitary being, but an entity whose very existence is defined by a loving relationship. The same God that awed Patrick still saves us, sustains us, and makes us into His children.

I encourage anyone who reads this to take time to read old hymns and prayers. Feel free to start with the Lorica of St. Patrick, also known as his Breastplate and the Deer's Cry.

Monday, February 22, 2010

New Wineskins – Part 2

First off, yes, I know that this post is over a week late. I have no excuses!

Anyway, last time I was taking a look at the often quoted passage from Luke dealing with "new wine". Check the previous post to read the passage in its entirety. I will however, repeat my question.

If we make this passage about comparing new and old practices in the church, are we in fact missing the point completely?

My answer to this question would be yes, here's why.

I think it is important to note that Jesus does not actually call for any change in practice here. He does not say, "fasting is something attached to the old ways, I'm doing away with it." In fact He acknowledges that fasting will continue.

"The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in     those days."

So if the practice of fasting will continue, why the talk about new wine? What is so new? First let's look at fasting in the Old Testament. It is interesting to note that many of the fasts performed by the Pharisees that confronted Jesus were not prescribed in the books of Moses, but had rather been added on top of God's law. One of the few times when the Bible does call for a fast is in association with the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the LORD. And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God. For whoever is not afflicted on that very day shall be cut off from his people. And whoever does any work on that very day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall not do any work. It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath." Leviticus 23:26-32

A key component of "afflicting" oneself was fasting. This passage makes it very clear that fasting was required to properly prepare oneself for the Day of Atonement. It goes so far as to say that anyone who does not fast is cut off from God's people! Therefore we can see that in the minds of the Pharisees fasting was born of the law; it was something a person must do to receive God's Atonement.

The fasting Jesus suggests is much different. He puts fasting into the context of a wedding celebration. If this were like the fasting associated with Yom Kippur, then it would occur before the wedding celebration as a cleansing action to prepare for the feast. However Jesus has the feast happening first followed by a time of fasting.

This fasting seems to be less about preparing oneself and more about longing for another. The fast does not earn the love of the Bridegroom but flows from a love and longing for a gracious Bridegroom that has brought a great feast to His bride. This fasting is borne of Grace.

The more I read this passage the more I see it has nothing to do with guitars versus pianos, or ecstatic hand waving versus quiet reverence. Rather it compares the way of the law with the way of the Gospel. The question this passage asks us is, "why do we do what we do?"

I think this is a very relevant question this time of year. We have entered the season of Lent, a season often marked by fasting. If you choose to fast in some way, whether it be an elimination of food or perhaps some form of entertainment or anything else, why are you doing it? Are you fasting in the hope that God will provide you something, such as physical possessions or a spiritual experience, or are you fasting out of gratitude for what Christ has already given you?

God provides us our daily bread, but we do not live on bread alone. We live in the freedom of the forgiveness won for us on the cross. We feast in the righteousness that has been imputed to us by Christ. When we fast, let it be borne out of a longing for our great God and Savior, who has so richly blessed us. May we, the bride of Christ, remember the feast of victory provided by the Lamb of God, and anticipate his return.

Compared to the rat race in which we so often find ourselves, this is truly new wine.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

New Wineskins - Part 1

So if you have read many of the other posts on this blog you’ve probably developed a sense of my style.  I start with a story, it leads to a passage of scripture, and I then try to faithfully exposit that scripture. 
This week is going to be a little bit different.  In my reading this week I came across Luke 5:33-39.
And they said to him, "The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink." And Jesus said to them,  "Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?  The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days." He also told them a parable: "No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good.'"
I have been wrestling with this passage a bit this week.  In a number of settings I have heard this passage used to justify any change that a leader may want to bring to the Church.  The procession would usually go something like this:
1.      Leader gets a new idea.
2.      Leader decides this idea is a “move of the spirit” based on some sort of subjective confirmation like a warm fuzzy feeling during prayer.
3.      Leader presents this change as a “new wineskin” to hold the “move of the spirit” that has been delivered to him.
For someone my age watching this progression is honestly getting a little amusing.  I grew up in a traditional congregation, and was first introduced to contemporary worship when I was eighteen.  I encountered a new level of excitement and emotion that I had never before experienced.  As far as I was concerned this was the new wineskin for the new wine of God’s spirit, and the old skins of hymns, liturgy, and men in robes needed to be trashed like an old garment.
Flash forward a few years and I re-discovered traditional Christian worship.   I found a depth and richness that seven line choruses simply couldn’t match.  I saw the contemporary songs that I sang in college quickly fall out of style and become “so three years ago.”  I realized that I will have about as much interest in passing these along to my children as I do the M.C. Hammer album I listened to as a kid (yes, I admit it!).  As far as I was concerned this re-discovery was a new move of the spirit, so the new skins of old traditions must be used to hold this move while the old skins of new music were trashed like an old garment.
Are you starting to see why I find this amusing?
The question I have to ask is, if we make this passage about comparing new and old practices in the church, are we in fact missing the point completely?
I’m going to stop with that question.  My next post will give my explanation of what I think this passage is actually getting at, but before you read it, take some time to consider how you have read this passage in the past, and what you have heard others take away from it.  If you have any thoughts to share I am happy to hear them!