Sunday, November 17, 2013

Wedding Homily for Peter & Emily Davis

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."
(Rev 21:1-4 ESV)

Peter and Emily,

What we heard today from the Book of Revelation was an amazing description of John’s vision of the consummation of time and history and the joining of Christ with his Church in eternity.  And in the midst of his description of this vision he presents to us a picture of a wedding.

Your wedding today, Peter and Emily, is an act of witness-bearing to the hope and faith that Christ’s people all share. This is the hope and faith that one day our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will return to raise us from our graves and join us in an eternal celebration of joy and happiness.

In the so-called fairy tales of Western children’s literature, we often read at the conclusion of these stories that a handsome young prince has rescued his beautiful princess and together they are finally joined in marriage where we are told they live “happily ever after.”

Occasionally, well-meaning people point to this sort of ending as though it were a flaw in the narrative. They will rightly point out that marriage can often be full of real difficulties, immense challenges, and even genuine heartache.  However well-meaning they might be, they are certainly wrong in their claim that these fairy-tale endings are a flaw. Indeed, by concluding the story with a blissful wedding, such stories bear witness to the larger story in which our own lives and for that matter, the entire world participate.

The Bible begins with the union of a man and a woman and the tragic fall of our first parents. But from this fall comes the promise of redemption through the seed of the woman. Thus the whole story of the Bible embraces this promise and reveals the unfolding fulfillment of this promise. The climax of this story is, of course, the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through this life of faithful obedience which resulted in his death, glorious resurrection, and ascension to his heavenly throne; Jesus Christ has not only restored us in him to the integrity of our first parents, but in him we now participate in glorious new creation of which he is the fountain-head.

So our lives now are lived by faith in and obedience to our Lord and Savior who has left us with the promise of his glorious return. However, in this loving care he has not left us without a helper. Upon us he has showered the Holy Spirit to gift, guide and equip us in our time of waiting.

Now at first blush it may sound like I’ve sort of left the subject of marriage far afield; but I have not. Peter and Emily, by means of the way you live together as husband and wife; submitting yourselves to one another in the Lord, learning the hard lessons of patience, self-renunciation, and forgiveness; through all of this and more, your marriage proclaims the grand story of God’s gracious, self-giving love in the rescue of his bride, the Church.

Peter, as husband you are called to a humble, self-sacrificial love of your bride that she may flourish in beauty and godliness. Emily, as wife you are called to an honoring submission to your groom, that he too may flourish in his calling to be the head and servant of this newly formed household. As both of you serve the Lord in your callings as husband and wife, your lives will show forth a picture of our life in Christ before a lost and needy world.

So Peter and Emily, while we recognize that the so-called fairy-tale wedding of children’s literature is not something we naively anticipate; as if it were to unfold immediately in the short history of your life; we rightly embrace the fairy-tale for it, like your life together in Christ bears witness to the consummation of time and history when our heavenly Bridegroom will join his glorious bride for the marriage supper of the Lamb.

So with this picture of eternal joy before us, Peter and Emily I have one thing to say to you:

May you live happily ever after.

Pastor Wayne Larson
November 16, 2013

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Prince George, A Joy To Us All

People go nuts about the British royal family - Britons, Americans, and probably a bunch of other folks.  What's up with that?

Serendipitously, the daily readings in The Business of Heaven (a collection of selections from C. S. Lewis's writings posthumously arranged by biographer, Walter Hooper) for the eve and day of the public revelation of Prince George's name happen to be selections touching on the subject of monarchy.
July 23rd
We Britons should rejoice that we have contrived to reach much legal democracy (we still need more of the economic) without losing our ceremonial monarchy. For there, right in the midst of our lives, is that which satisfies the craving for inequality, and acts as a permanent reminder that medicine is not food. Hence a man's reaction to monarchy is a kind of test. Monarchy can easily be 'debunked'; but watch the faces, mark well the accents, of the debunkers. These are the men whose taproot in Eden has been cut: whom no rumour of the polyphony, the dance, can reach - men to whom pebbles laid in a row are more beautiful than an arch. Yet even if they desire mere equality they cannot reach it. Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour rnillionaires, athletes or film stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.
A desire for monarchy, even ceremonial monarchy across the ocean, is a desire basic to our humanity.  Man was created as subject. Kingship, stewardship, servanthood, these are natural to creation.  We champion democracy, and for many good reasons, but we never succeed in being fully democratic (thankfully).  Lewis points out how we raise up kings wherever we can, denying it all the while.  A ceremonial monarchy is a gift that gives proper shape to our God given need for hierarchy.

In the second selection he uses a critique of Christianity as an introduction to speak more on the significance of monarchy.
July 24th
Corineus compared modern Christianity with the modern English monarchy: the forms of kingship have been retained, but the reality has been abandoned.... 'Why not cut the cord?' asks Corineus. 'Everything would be much easier if you would free your thought from this vestigial mythology.' To be sure: far easier. Life would be far easier for the mother of an invalid child if she put it into an Institution and adopted someone else's healthy baby instead. Life would be far easier to many a man if he abandoned the woman he has actually fallen in love with and married someone else because she is more suitable. The only defect of the healthy baby and the suitable woman is that they leave out the patient's only reason for bothering about a child or wife at all. 'Would not conversation be much more rational than dancing?' said Jane Austen's Miss Bingley. 'Much more rational,' replied Mr Bingley, 'but much less like a ball.' In the same way, it would be much more rational to abolish the English monarchy. But how if, by doing so, you leave out the one element in our State which matters most? How if the monarchy is the channel through which all the vital elements of citizenship - loyalty, the consecration of secular life, the hierarchical principle, splendour, ceremony, continuity - still trickle down to irrigate the dustbowl of modem economic Statecraft?
I think the implication here for Christianity, and especially the cold, dying, high church of England of Lewis's day (and today), is that even in its present state God still preserves the world through the church.  And to toss the stateliness that remains for the sake of internal consistency would be tossing the last vital part.

But for today's purpose I include it as another comment of validation to those out there who are excited about royal weddings and royal babies, and great names like George.  Don't let the de-bunkers get you down.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Clear Voice Along the Beam

Michael Ward, in Planet Narnia (pg. 17 and 18), remarks on C.S. Lewis's great interest in Samuel Alexander's antithesis between "enjoyment" and "contemplation."  One of Lewis's biographers, Walter Hooper, writes that the influence of Alexander's book, 'Space, Time, and Deity' (in which the concept is explained) upon Lewis was "overwhelming."

The difference between enjoyment and contemplation is perhaps best described by Lewis in a short essay he wrote called Meditation in a Toolshed (link).  Here are the opening paragraphs for those who don't care to be bothered by the whole thing.
I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it. 
Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences. 
But this is only a very simple example of the difference between looking at and looking along. A young man meets a girl. The whole world looks different when he sees her. Her voice reminds him of something he has been trying to remember all his life, and ten minutes casual chat with her is more precious than all the favours that all other women in the world could grant. lie is, as they say, “in love”. Now comes a scientist and describes this young man's experience from the outside. For him it is all an affair of the young man's genes and a recognised biological stimulus. That is the difference between looking along the sexual impulse and looking at it. 
When you have got into the habit of making this distinction you will find examples of it all day long. 
Looking at versus looking along (or within).  Lewis goes on to explain how both looking at and looking along, contemplating and enjoying, are not only necessary but also inescapable.  His main point, I think, is to criticize the modern thinking that is almost exclusively contemplative - a perspective that is often quite negative toward actions, statements, and values.  He says, "The people who look at things have had it all their own way; the people who look along things have simply been brow-beaten... but the period of brow-beating has got to end."

A few years ago I wrote out some similar frustrations.  I did not have a great illustrative picture to go with it.  Nor were my words nearly so coherent judging by the lack of response I got from the people I shared it with.  I took issue with "case-making," the way in which we respond to questions or criticism toward our faith by making a case for our positions or values.  I suggested that this case-making frame of mind, and the response that it engenders, often works to invalidate the object of the case we are trying to make by justifying the context the questions or attacks come from.  In other words, to make a case is fundamentally grounded in playing by their rules.  Or, to use  Lewis's terms, if someone questions by "looking at the beam," and we respond with a "looking at" response, the whole enterprise will never be anything but "looking at" - from outside the beam.  If we concede the toolshed as the proving ground from the get-go then the trees and sun are forever out of reach.

I agree with Lewis that the period of brow-beating has to end, but I would also add that we need to concede that we have bought into it ourselves, and leave it behind. Much of how the Protestant world speaks seems to be contemplative in its language and strategy, at least the part of the Protestant world that fancies itself intelligent and relevant.   I believe that this is, in large part, because the Protestant churches have been about making cases since their beginning, against the RC church, and against themselves.  And it is no help that our Western education and academic system is thoroughly one that is about looking at the beam.  It is what we are trained in.  It is the air we breath.  And it has become a smog that has choked out enjoyment.

The hard part isn't so much about recognizing the great imbalance between contemplative vs. enjoyment.  Or recognizing the dangers of that imbalance.  The hard part is learning how to be people that can speak clearly and confidently from a place along the beam.  How do we enjoy better, and communicate our enjoyment with delight and gravitas?  I know that in my own case, in the rare times I succeed, I quickly step all over it with at-the-beam talk.

Approaching Paul

I am listening to Luke Timothy Johnson's lectures on The Apostle Paul.  In the first lecture he sets up his lecture series by detailing the problems and apparent contradictions within Paul's canon and within the person of Paul himself.  He ends the lecture by explaining his approach to the subject of Paul and his writings.

He says,

  1. Paul is a primarily to be understood a moral teacher.  Meaning he isn't writing theology, he is writing with concern for the moral behavior of his recipients.  This doesn't mean he isn't theological, just that his writing isn't meant as pure theology and ought to be read accordingly.
  2. Paul's letters are written to communities.  His concern for the moral behavior of his recipients is a concern for the well-being and direction of communities.
  3. Paul's writing style must be understood as expressions of rhetoric into individual contexts.  This is counter to a tendency to read him as moderns tend to read authors, as expressers of ego, universal and consistent across all letters. 

These strike me as sound angles of approach to Paul.  It also strikes me as being virtually opposite to the approach of many Paul enthusiasts.  We tend to read Paul as the theologian of the early Church.  And we tend to read him as almost exclusively speaking of and about individual faith.   The last one is less of an issue.  Paul does refer to himself a lot.  A lot.  So reading personality and biography into the his expression makes sense.  But understanding his rhetorical style, the rhetorical style of the age, and the context into which he was writing for each letter and situation is essential to understanding Paul's thought.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Passing of the Peace

The habit of “Passing the Peace” predates early Christian worship going all the way back at least to the time of King David. In Psalm 122, David writes, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” Later in that same psalm he writes, “For my brothers and companions’ sake I will say, ‘Peace be within you!’”

Jesus greeted his disciples with the words, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36; John 20:19, 26) and the Apostle Paul frequently opened his letters with the words “Grace and peace be with you” (Rom. 1:7; 1Cor. 1:3; 2Cor. 1:2).  In imitation of this habit, the Christian Church from its earliest days has adopted this custom during their worship together. Most commonly one speaker would say, “The peace of Christ be with you” and receive the words in turn, “And also with you” or “And with your spirit.” Variations on this may be “Christ be with you,” or simply “Peace be with you.”

This greeting is simple, yet profound. By extending our hands and exchanging “Peace” we acknowledge to one another that Jesus Christ is at the heart of our coming together. We express our solidarity in Christ with each other. Further, the cumulative impact of passing the peace week after week shapes our hearts that our lives together conform more perfectly to the words themselves. Finally, when we regularly pass the peace we practice God’s call “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3)

As we pass the peace, take a moment to turn to those around you and share in the blessing of peace given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. Rather than an opportunity to merely chat or catch up, use this time to build one another up with these simple words.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Lessons and Carols Homily Notes

Lessons and Carols Homily Notes

Feelings of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty can seem ever present.  In several places in the Christmas stories we see God's people being encouraged “not to fear” or “to take courage.”

One such place is in Matthew 1:18-25

the Angel of the Lord says to Joseph, “Do not fear.”

What is it that Joseph fears?

Apart from fearing the angel, we see from the text that Joseph is “considering these things (what to do about Mary) in his heart.”

He was betrothed to Mary, Mary is pregnant, and it is not his child.  Joseph is trying to figure out how to navigate a bad situation. His life had taken a significant turn with betrothal, now it takes another turn.  Joseph's recent dreams of his future were not supposed to look this way.  At this point none of his possible futures seem ideal.  Joseph is lost, fear comes from uncertainty.

It is here in a new dream that the angel appears to him and tells him to go forward with the least ideal of his plans. And the angel says, “Do not fear.” Or if we invert it, “Take courage.”

This fear, this uncertainty, the weight of the decisions we have to make, or the decisions that are made for us, can give us great anxiety. Our future is unknown and often feels hopeless and lonely.

The word of God through the angel tells Joseph not to be afraid, to have courage.

His message contains several points of encouragement. But the first thing the Angel says to him is that he calls him by his name, “Joseph, Son of David.”

His word against fear begins with a naming, a statement about Joseph's identity. In this moment of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear, The Lord names Joseph - “Joseph, Son of David.”

How does this identification help Joseph to take courage?

By naming Joseph, “son of David.” God is orienting Joseph to reality, like finding north on a compass.

Joseph name comes with the history and reputation of his line. Joseph is of the Kingly line. His ancestor was, David, the greatest king of Israel.  

It emboldens Joseph with the responsibilities and mission that comes with the name. A Son of David has the mission of David. Joseph can take courage, in David's name, and proceed without fear knowing he goes forth as his ancestor did before. It is a path with purpose, a goal, and it is a worn path.  Joseph is not lost, he is on the path of kings.

The history and mission of his name, are part of how naming Joseph gives courage to him by communicating Joseph's relationship to God.

The kingly legacy was a covenantal legacy. The anointing and establishing of David as king was a union between God and man. It was, “God with us.”

The history and mission of the King is the the history and mission of the LORD. The Angel showing up and encouraging Joseph, Son of David, to go forward without fear would have resonated deeply, not as the abandonment of God, but as the presence of God.

But Joseph's identity is not our identity. We are not Judah-ites.

How does our name encourage to go forward into uncertainty and trials without fear?
The beauty of Christmas, is in the incarnation. In Christ, all of the “God with us” s come together in their fullness. God is with us. The 2nd person of the trinity took on humanity to be with us as only he could make happen himself.

And because of Christ you have a name. It is not Son of David. It is “Christian.”

Christian” is our identity. We are baptized into the name. We are in Christ, united to him.

And with this identity before us we can see things in light of a who we are: Do not fear, you are a brother or sister of Christ, you are sons and daughters of God, you are those free from sin.  

And we with the name “Christian” walk the path he has gone down. Trials, temptations, suffering, joy, peace, boredom, we need not fear for in our very name we have encouragement that Christ is with us.  We are not lost, we are on the path of the King.

What you face is part of your calling and mission. In Christ we share his mission. The uncertainties before you come with a stamp of divine purpose. The future may be ominous and unknown, but it is not without the guiding hand and purpose of God. Our paths are foremost his paths.  We are not lost, we are on the path of the King.

The coming of Christ, the incarnation of the 2nd person of the trinity, brings a message to you every day. It is deep within your new name.  And that message is, “Do not fear. Take courage.”

You are united to Christ. His name is your name. "And they shall call his name Immanuel, which means, God with us."