Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The "Wow" Factor in Worship

     Last week I heard a presentation by a pastor of a large church who does consulting with large churches on, among other things, how to put “Wow” in worship. I found this presentation to be rather disconcerting. It was disconcerting to me because the entire premise of the presentation is that worship is all about us. It is a commodity to be consumed. It is a performance to entertain an audience. The “Wow factor” is intended to elicit a particular response from the audience. The gist of the argument, it seems to me, is that if you can “wow” people enough, they’ll keep coming back for more “wow.” And they’ll bring their friends and neighbors with them so that they can experience the “wow.”
     My problem with this presentation is its distortion of the nature and purpose of Christian worship. The presenter assumes that worship is all about us. All that matters is that people are properly “wow-ed.” The subject of worship, therefore, is the people who attend. This is not worship. It is idolatry. It is a distortion of the gospel and a dishonor to God. It also dishonors the people who participate in it because it does not form them as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. They become, rather, disciples of their own desire to be entertained and comforted. Which makes such “worship” not very far removed from paganism.
     Christian worship is our response to God and all that God has given to the world in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God is the audience. The congregation comes, as a body, into the presence of God to give themselves as “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1b). Worship is the “people’s work” in the presence of the living God. This, after all, is the definition of liturgy. John Burkhart puts it this way: “Whatever junction worship has, it is a response to God’s work and is inextricably related to the Christian’s work in the world” (Worship: A Searching Examination of the Liturgical Experience).
     Worship, therefore, is not ultimately about “what I get out of it” but rather what I, and we, can give to God. What I, and we, can give to God is ourselves through loving, self-giving service to God and those whom God loves. We are helped to rehears this self-giving to God and neighbor by the liturgy of the Church. The liturgy is our basic pattern of worship (see The United Methodist Hymnal, pages 3-5). It helps us to keep our focus where it belongs, upon God and God’s good news for the world in Jesus Christ.
     There’s nothing wrong with people experiencing “Wow” in worship. But it’s important that our “Wow” is in response to God and that it sends us into the world to serve God and our neighbors with joy and thanksgiving. Our worship must not be self-centered but should be centered in the Triune God who is indeed worthy of our praise, thanksgiving, and service. When we gather we ought not gather as an audience expecting a performance but rather as a congregation desiring to open and give ourselves completely to the Trinity. Genuine “Wow” is in the experience of the Triune God who calls us out of our self-centeredness to Christ-like self-giving love.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

An Easter Meditation

Easter is an appropriate time to meditate on the idea that God knows we are a mixture of good and evil, but loves us anyway, says Jane Williams

Check out this meditation at the Guardian.

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the
crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and
rested on this holy Sabbath, so may we await with him the
coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life;
who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one
God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 6:3-11 (NRSV)

We live in a sin-denying culture. Worse yet, we United Methodists, are all too often part of a sin-denying church. I know that in the worship and teaching of the congregation I am part of the reality and destructive power of sin is never mentioned. We are told in worship that we are forgiven but we don’t pray a prayer of confession. I recall a time in an adult Sunday School class when I remarked that all of us, because we are human, are sinners the response was as though all the air had been sucked out of the room. One of my classmates angrily replied, “How dare you call me a sinner.” Most of the class too great exception to my simple declaration of truth.

Which leads me to conclude that we should not be surprised at the state of constant decline of our church. A people who deny the reality of sin have no need of a savior. It’s therefore, no surprise that people flock to Palm Sunday and Easter services and can’t be inconvenienced to walk with Christ through Holy Thursday and Good Friday. People who insist on their inherent goodness and deny on the corruption of sin are essentially telling Christ that he was a fool. That the blood he shed for them on the cross was a tragic waste.

If the crucifixion tell us anything it reveals the magnitude of sin. When we deny this reality we deceive ourselves into eternal death. We remain enslaved to sin through our pride. If we deny our sin we are easily deluded into believing that we are not slaves. We are like the Hebrews who preferred the security of the life they knew in Egypt than the uncertainty of new life as a free people in the wilderness on the way to the promised land.
God defeated the powers of sin and death through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our denial of their reality are a delusion. Only grace can awaken us to who and whose we are (sinners who can become children of the living God).

The good news is that God will not abandon us. His grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is available to all, even to those who are deluded into denying their need of God’s gift of forgiveness and new life. However, this reveals another unfortunate reality of the contemporary United Methodist Church, which all too often is a dispenser of cheap grace.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday

Good Friday

Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your
family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be
betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer
death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and
the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

O Love divine! What hast thou done!
Th'immortal God hath died for me!
The Father's co-eternal Son
Bore all my sins upon the tree:
Th'immortal God for me hath died,
My Lord, my Love is crucified.

Behold him, all ye that pass by,
The bleeding Prince of life and peace!
Come see, ye worms, your Maker die,
And say, was ever grief like his?
Come, feel with me his blood applied:
My Lord, my Love is crucified.

Is crucified for me and you,
To bring us rebels back to God;
Believe, believe the record true,
Ye all are bought with Jesu's blood:
Pardon for all flows from his side:
My Lord, my Love is crucified.

Then let us sit beneath his cross,
And gladly catch the healing stream,
All things for him account but loss,
And give up all our hearts to him;
Of nothing think or speak beside,
'My Lord, my Love is crucified'.

(Charles Wesley)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he
suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood:
Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in
remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy
mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever.  Amen.

… all who desire an increase of the grace of God are to wait for it in partaking of the Lord's Supper. For this also is a direction himself hath given: 'The same night in which he was betrayed, he took bread, and brake it, and said, Take, eat; this is my body' (that is, the sacred sign of my body). 'This do in remembrance of me. Likewise he took the cup, saying, This cup is the New Testament' (or covenant) 'in my blood' (the sacred sign of that covenant): 'this do ye . . . in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show forth the Lord's death till he come'—ye openly exhibit the same by these visible signs, before God, and angels, and men; ye manifest your solemn remembrance of his death, till he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

Only 'let a man (first) examine himself,' whether he understand the nature and design of this holy institution, and whether he really desire to be himself made conformable to the death of Christ; 'and so (nothing doubting) let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup.'

Here then the direction first given by our Lord is expressly repeated by the Apostle: 'Let him eat,' 'let him drink' (both in the imperative mood); words not implying a bare permission only, but a clear explicit command; a command to all those either who already are filled with peace and joy in believing, or who can truly say, 'The remembrance of our sins is grievous unto us; the burden of them is intolerable.'

And that this is also an ordinary stated means of receiving the grace of God is evident from those words of the Apostle which occur in the preceding chapter: 'The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion (or communication) of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?' Is not the eating of that bread, and the drinking of that cup, the outward, visible means whereby God conveys into our souls all that spiritual grace, that righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, which were purchased by the body of Christ once broken and the blood of Christ once shed for us? Let all, therefore, who truly desire the grace of God, eat of that bread and drink of that cup.

from The Works of John Wesley,  
Sermon 16: “The Means of Grace,” § III.11 & 12

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Wednesday in Holy Week

Wednesday in Holy Week

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be
whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept
joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the
glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our
Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one
God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Is your congregation Christ-centered? Or, would you say that it is Church-centered, program-centered, or pastor-centered?

One way you can tell is to look at the total ministry of your congregation and then ask, “Is discipleship an expectation an option?”

When congregations focus their resources and energy into faithful discipleship they become Christ-centered, sign-communities for the coming reign of God. Such congregations are interested in forming members into faithful disciples of Jesus Christ who witness to him in the world and follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

As we remember what God has done for the world in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in this Holy Week, let’s think about what kind of church we are and are becoming? Are we Christ-centered sign-communities of the coming reign of God? Or are we a church-centered social club with a veneer of religion? Or are we a program-centered congregation that offers lots of great Bible studies, discussion groups, etc. in which discipleship is one option among many?

As we reflect upon the cross of Christ this week, ask, “Is all that we do and value in my congregation worth the death of God’s son?”

Steve Manskar

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Tuesday in Holy Week

Tuesday in Holy Week

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an
instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life:
Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly
suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior
Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, NRSV).

The message of the cross is the unconditional, self-giving love of God for the world. This is indeed foolishness in a world that worships power, wealth, and security. The cross to which God calls those “who are being saved” is obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ. He summarized his teachings in Mark 12:29-31

“The first is, ‘Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

In these few lines Jesus describes the cross-shaped life of Christian faith. He makes clear that being his follower means much more than simply believing. Our believing must be lived out in loving God with all that we are and have and in loving those whom God loves, as God loves them. This is the cross that each Christian must learn to carry. The good news is that we don’t bear the cross alone and God provides the strength and the means for living this life of self-denial.

We don’t bear the cross alone because Christ calls us into community for mutual support and accountability. The means for living this cruciform life are the works of piety and works of mercy. These means of grace are the places where God promises to meet us. They are where we open ourselves to grace that has the power to heal our brokenness and form us into the persons God created us to be.

Steve Manskar