The gospel reading at my Monday mass was Luke 7:1-10, the story of the centurion whose servant is healed by Jesus without setting foot in his house. A line that the centurion says has become a key part of the weekly Eucharistic liturgy: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” There is something essential about that posture of humility for us to be able to encounter Christ authentically and receive the transformation that He wants to instill in us. I worry sometimes that Christians like me define ourselves so much against the overemphasis on human wickedness in fundamentalist Christianity that we end up having a blithe presumptuousness about Jesus’ grace in our lives which turns our prayer and worship life into a farce.
No, Will Smith and his family weren’t actually watching Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke grind it out during her Video Music Awards performance, but their expressions capture something priceless about what has happened to our entertainment industry. I’m not wanting to dis Miley Cyrus as a person or be a “slut-shamer” or anything like that. She is not the problem; Robin Thicke is not the problem; their choreographers are not the problem; the problem is the demonic worship system that I have often short-handed as “capitalism” (for lack of a better word), which has made eros into a consumer product that looks like a girl whose “branding” requires her public dehumanization and humiliation. [Trigger warning: some graphic written content] Continue reading
For the first 1500 years of Christianity, the high point of every worship gathering was Eucharist. The sermon served to prepare the hearts of the congregation to receive the body and blood of Christ. In today’s Protestantism, the sermon has replaced Eucharist as the focal point of our worship. And the individualistic altar call has replaced the communal table as the congregation’s standard response to the proclaimed word. I wonder if this change is the reason that the Protestant gospel became more about hell than the heavenly banquet that Eucharist proclaims. Continue reading
Hear me out; I’m not trying to be offensive. Several weeks ago, I listened to a podcast from Bruxy Cavey in which he said that we need to reclaim the phrase making love. We shouldn’t be offended by talking about sex; we should be offended by the desecration of sex. I preached one of the worst sermons I’ve ever preached this past Saturday because I couldn’t muster the courage to come out and say directly what I felt called to say: that Eucharist is to the church what sex is to a marriage. Living without either is about equally bearable. Continue reading
I’ve just started reading James KA Smith’s new book Imagining the Kingdom. Smith’s basic argument is that our actions are not really based on conscious rational choices but rather on how ritual behaviors have caused us to imagine the world around us. Most Christian thinkers from the beginning have unconsciously bought into a Platonic “rationalist” conception of human nature in which our behavior is supposed to be regulated by our conscious rationality, and the fact that it isn’t reflects our fallenness rather than a condition innate to our humanity. Continue reading
I was invited to share an occasion when I was surprised by mercy. It was August 2002. I had just rushed my ex-girlfriend to the emergency room because she slit her wrists in a bathtub. I was a severely depressed, chain-smoking mess. And I discovered the gospel of mercy that I proclaim today when I opened Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved in a small group gathering where everyone other than me was a lesbian. I only remember Tanya and Pat by name, but if that group of lesbians had not been spiritual mothers who embraced and nurtured me in a time of crisis, I would not be a pastor today. I realize that talking about this will probably cause my Board of Ordained Ministry to have some questions for me, but God has commanded me to testify about the train wreck experience by which I discovered the true gospel. Because it was only in the fellowship of the despised that I could learn mercy the way God wanted me to understand it. Continue reading
Every week at the Monday mass in the basilica during the Eucharist liturgy, the priest says, “It is indeed right and just, our duty and our salvation always and everywhere to give you thanks, God, our Father Almighty.” To the “I love Jesus but hate religion” crowd, this phrase is doubly scandalous. So you’re trying to save yourself with something that you do as a duty? Isn’t that the definition of works-righteousness? I’m sure the Roman Catholic Church has an official answer to this. I wanted to share what I have meditated upon as I’ve thought about it on this holiday in which we celebrate giving thanks, which by the way is what Eucharist means in Greek. Continue reading
In contemporary Christian worship, a distinction is often made between worship that is “really worship” versus “just a performance.” For example, does the music invite authentic congregational participation or is it filled with guitar solos, pyrotechnics, and fog machines that make the service a concert that gives people goose bumps for cheap manufactured reasons? I want to look at a different contrast between worship and performance that I see at the heart of the gospel. I believe we were created to worship every moment of every day. The purpose of gathering to sing and pray and learn each weekend is merely to retune ourselves for a week of worship. The problem is that we misunderstand what worship means: we think it’s performing for God, putting on a show to prove to Him that we really believe in Him so that He won’t throw us in hell. But performance is actually the greatest obstacle to true worship, the definition of which is summarized in a single verse — Psalm 37:4: “Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” It’s not hard to learn how to worship; my three year old son knows perfectly how. The impossible challenge that Jesus died on the cross to make possible is unlearning performance. Continue reading
I wonder how many Biblical literalists take John 6:53 literally. In it, Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” Jesus isn’t being “metaphorical” or “mystical.” He clarifies any confusion as to what He means by His flesh and blood in Luke 22:19-20 when He breaks the bread and passes the cup. For the first 1700 years of Christianity, communion was the centerpiece of our weekly worship (even for most of the Protestants who broke off in the 1500’s). The revival movements of the 1700’s and 1800’s effectively replaced the communion table with the altar call as the climax of worship in evangelical Protestantism at least (yes, that is an oversimplification). What I don’t understand is why communion and the altar call can’t be the same thing.