12 November 2011

Decline and Fall

Techno Mass in Swedish Lutheran Church

It is so predictable, I hesitate to comment on it. But this article encapsulates it, inadvertently, but concisely, toward the middle.
Over the past 10 years, membership in Sweden's Lutheran church has fallen 13 percent and attendance at regular Sunday services plunged 50 percent to 4.6 million visits last year, worrying the clergy.

The church in Sweden has become increasingly progressive.

In 1958, it allowed its first female priests, and two years ago ordained its first openly gay bishop, Eva Brunne, and gave priests the right to wed same-sex couples.

Idestrom says his modern Mass is a further development on the road of progress.

You will note, "progressive." Is a key word. "Happening or developing gradually or in stages." "A group favoring or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas." These are two of the definitions my dictionary gives, and they are using it in these senses. "Progress" is defined as "movement toward a destination." Well, they certainly are making progress....are they going anyplace worth going?, that is the important question that no one seems to be asking.

Let me fill in the rest of the sequence of events on how this happens.
  • We want to be "smart" like all the other academics at the university.
  • We start accepting ideas of "higher textual criticism" and other theological innovations.
  • Because of this, we make the subtle (at first) shift from allowing scripture to be our judge to being the judge of scripture.
  • Once we're the judge, we start to question (condem) the parts we don't like.
  • Once we start editing, truth becomes subjective and we become the source of all authority.
  • Once we lose hold on the revealed truth, we have become just like the world. (Now we are just like most of the people at the university).
  • Once we are just like the world, there is nothing to attract anyone to us, because we are just like everywhere else.
  • Then we have start turning to the ways of the world--flash and sensationalism--to attract people to us.
All of this is progress. The same way there was "progress" in Israel and Judah in the Old Testament. Way to be biblical! I suppose as long as we are ignoring great chunks of scripture, we can assume God's reaction won't be the same this time....

03 November 2011

Words Mean Things

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth....And God said, "Let there be...and there was." This pretty well summarizes Genesis chapter 1. Have you considered the impact of it?

God spoke, and things came into being. Sure, on one level, this is a blinding flash of the obvious. But when is the last time you spoke and something sprang into existence? Well of course not, you're not God, right? True, but keep reading....

"Because....you have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'you shall not eat of it,'....By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground." (Genesis 3:17-19)

Question: How did Adam work in the garden without sweating before the fall or the curse?

Possible answer: jump ahead to Matthew 21:19 "And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he [Jesus] went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. and he said to it, 'May no fruit ever come from you again!' And the fig tree withered at once." Jesus goes on to explain to the disciples that this is nothing unusual, if they have faith, they can even tell mountains to get up and jump in the ocean, and they will.

Okay, I've never told a mountain to get out of the way. You? I've certainly talked to a few traffic jams lately, but not much luck there, either.

What's the point?

In the spiritual realm (God is spirit) words have obvious power. Consider the miracles of Jesus, the manner we generally see (with some exceptions) is he speaks, and something happens. The Centurion counted on that cause and effect in Matthew 8.

God works, at least as far as we have recorded in the scriptures, through speaking. With God, his words literally mean things. He speaks, and there is some thing where before he spoke there was no thing.

What's the implication for you and I as disciples of Jesus?

We are spiritual beings, too. We inhabit the flesh. We are used to doing things through the flesh in a very literal sense. We touch things and they move. We use tools to create things. But, as hinted at in the above verses, our words are much more powerful than we (and certainly the world) gives them credit for.

God created the heavens and the earth by speaking, and he will re-create it all again by speaking. Jesus healed the blind, lame and leprous by speaking to them. He cast out demons and raised the dead by speaking.

We are given some indications that our words have heavy significance as well. Consider Jesus' words to Peter, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:19)

If we take that seriously, there is some serious power. If we take Jesus' earlier words about trees and mountains seriously, it is hardly trivial.

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and redeemer." (Psalm 19:14) Because, apparently, there is more to it than we realize....

01 November 2011

All Saints Day 2011

The first of November is, traditionally, the feast of All Saints. I take a "reformed" view of the day, and, I think, the biblical one as well, that saint means Christian. Paul addresses us as such in his letters. Just look at the opening of most of his epistles and you will see him using the term to address those he is writing to.

The readings for the lectionary (of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer at least) for All Saint's Day includes the beatitudes from Matthew's Gospel.

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12 ESV)

Jesus' words at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount are appropriate to reflect upon on All Saint's Day because in them, Jesus illustrates that the Kingdom of Heaven--that is, "sainthood"--is open to all.

Often we hear these qualities lifted up as things to attain to, and this has a long tradition in the church. I think there is also validity in the view offered by Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy. Namely that as Jesus sat down to teach, he looked at the crowds, and reassured them. He was not in an Ivy-League lecture hall. He was not sitting in a great cathedral. He was sitting on a Judean hillside surrounded by the common people, and a lot of the outcasts of society.

Jesus speaks to their unspoken concern, "Is this for me? Sure, he healed me, or my friend--he's got my attention--but can I afford what he's selling?" Jesus turns the world's pecking order upside down, as he so often did, with the beatitudes. Those the world looks down on, marginalizes and even persecutes, those are the people my good news is for. Not so much for the all-together up-and-comers. No, this is good news for the down-and-out and the bent-and-broken.

Jesus, continues to live up to his name given by Gabriel--Immanuel. God with us. He is with us, so that we can be with him. He opens the Kingdom to all of us, so we can all become saints, and more importantly, children of God the Father. We celebrate our membership in the fellowship of the saints on this day, we are a part of the great cloud of witnesses of Hebrews 12:1. They have gone before, and we are following after. One day, each of us will be one of those who has "gone before."

May we leave a heritage that is worth celebrating by future generations on this historic feast day of the church.