Easter Wings

George Herbert (3 April 1593 – 1 March 1633) wrote the classic manual on pastoral ministry, The Country Parson.  He is more famous as a poet.  “Easter Wings”, is a celebration of the resurrection, formatted and printed vertically to appear as two pairs of wings.


Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poore:
With thee
Oh let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne:
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Most thinne.
With thee
Let me combine
And feel this day thy victorie:
For, if I imp my wing on thine
Affliction shall advance the flight in me

Preaching Goofs

The Gospel Coalition has a great video with Matt Chandler, Mark Dever, and James MacDonald sharing some preaching blunders.  It reminded me of a few years back close to December 6 when I tried explaining to children that Santa Claus was St. Nicholas, a Christian Pastor.  After telling them about his life I told them that some churches remember St. Nicholas on Dec 6 since that was the day he died.  It dawned on me as I began praying that I had just told our children that Santa was dead.  Fortunately I don’t think anyone paid enough attention to connect the dots.  Here’s the video:

Preaching Goofs from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.


Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. – Luke 24:50-51

The year I graduated from University a fellow student, Heather Whitestone, won Miss America. Many of us who had little or no interest in the competition before watched that year. It was exciting to watch someone who ate in the cafeteria with us competing in a national competition. And of course we were proud when she won. My roommate at the time had asked her out and been told that she was dating someone – I still tease him about being able to say that he was turned down by Miss America.
There is something in us that takes pride in sharing something in common with someone given an honor. I was proud of a fellow University student. We feel a sense of honor when they play the “Star Spangled Banner” at the Olympics. I’ve heard folks tell me with pride that Mt. Carmel and friends and family are in the movie Walk the Line. We share in the honor given to someone we have a bond.
The Sunday before Pentecost is Ascension Sunday, when we remember that Jesus, having finished his earthly ministry was “carried up to heaven” to be seated, as the Apostles’ Creed puts it, “at the right hand of God the Father Almighty”. Consider what it means for Jesus to have ascended to heaven. Jesus is the Word become flesh, God incarnate. Yet after he had paid the penalty for our sin by dying on the cross, and after he was resurrected from the dead, he didn’t throw off the human body and become pure spirit. Nor did he become un-incarnate, dumping off His human nature now that the “dirty work” was finished. The flesh he had taken was not disposed of as though it had no use. It was taken into glory. Jesus remains incarnate, that is, he continues to be fully Human (mind, body, and spirit) as well as fully Divine.
How all this works in incomprehensible, but what we can understand is the God values His good creation, including the physical world of dirt and water, flesh and blood. We receive an amazing honor in having one who is fully human “seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 8:1). Therefore, the way we view and treat ourselves and our neighbor should bear in mind that Lord did not despise the flesh or his humanity, but has glorified it and promises to glorify us as well.

The Easter Homily of St. John Chrysostom

In seminary we were shown a video of an Eastern Orthodox liturgy. It included St. John Chysostom’s Easter Homily, which, we were told, is read every year as part of the Easter liturgy. I love the exuberant invitation of Chrysostom’s sermon and like to use it on Easter as the invitation to the Lord’s Supper.

If any man be devout and loveth God,
Let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast!
If any man be a wise servant,
Let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.

If any have laboured long in fasting,
Let him how receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour,
Let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour,
Let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour,
Let him have no misgivings;
Because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour,
Let him draw near, fearing nothing.
And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour,
Let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.

For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour,
Will accept the last even as the first.
He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour,
Even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour.
And He showeth mercy upon the last,
And careth for the first;
And to the one He giveth,
And upon the other He bestoweth gifts.
And He both accepteth the deeds,
And welcometh the intention,
And honoureth the acts and praises the offering.

Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord;
Receive your reward,
Both the first, and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival!
You sober and you heedless, honour the day!
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted
And you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith:
Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one bewail his poverty,
For the universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities,
For pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death,
For the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.

By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:
Hell, said he, was embittered
When it encountered Thee in the lower regions.

It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
Is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion
Unto ages of ages.


Moving into the Neighborhood

The Advent season draws our thoughts to the miracle of the Incarnation, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) – or as the Message colorfully paraphrases it “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood”.  Our salvation was not wrought by Jesus swooping down from Heaven in a single day to fix our troubles and then ride off into the sunset. He was “born of a woman”. He was made like us “in every way”.  As a child he “grew and became strong”.  As an adult he went to synagogue, got hungry, slept, cried and celebrated weddings. In every way he lived the day to day realities of a first century Jewish peasant.  As Christians, we are called to proclaim the good news of what Jesus did and to serve as he served, but we are not simply to do the things Jesus did – feed the hungry and proclaim the gospel, welcome the stranger and pray for the sick – but to do things in the way that he did. The Incarnation is a model of ministry.  This is particularly apparent to our family.  We have packed boxes and moved to a new ZIP code.  We have sent our change of address notifications and I’ve updated my computer’s weather notification.  We’re moving into the neighborhood to minister as part of a new congregation and community.  As a pastor becoming part of a particular community and serving a particular congregation is the way my vocation is exercised.  What is true here for pastoral ministry is also true for the “ministry of reconciliation” given to all Christians.  The ministry of all the baptized is done as part of a particular culture, place, and time.  Ministry is not “Us” helping “Them”.  Christians are not to be sequestered from the world; that is we are still “in” the world though not “of” it.  We all follow Christ among our friends and neighbors, classmates and co-workers, and amid the funerals, ballgames and PTO meetings we point to Christ.

As one early disciple explained:

The Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. … inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners.

All Hallow’s Eve

Every year around Halloween I hear brothers and sisters raising concerns about Christians participating in Halloween events.  Generally they point to the pagan origins of Samhain and the “unscriptural” feast of All Saints Day as an invention of the Roman Catholic Church and therefore unwarranted.  This year like several before our congregation had a Halloween party with kids wearing costumes; we gave out candy, roasted marshmallows and had a hay ride.  I know many churches have similar festivities but rename it “Fall Festival”.  It seems to be disingenuous to me to happen to have a party around October 31 were you encourage kids to wear costumes, but act like it’s not a Halloween party because you have used a different name.  Besides, Halloween (All Hallows Eve) is the Christian term for the day.
Again this year a friend shared with me an explanation of why Halloween is evil and Christians should not participate.  As I thought about it I didn’t think I could or even should try to convince another believer that Halloween is good and should be embraced.  At the same time I don’t think it is appropriate to be dismissive of concerns by fellow believers.  So in an attempt to explain why my children will dress up this evening and go trick-or-treating I offer the following points.

  1. In I Corinthians 10 Paul deals with concerns among Christians about eating meat that had previously been offered as sacrifices to pagan gods.  Meat from sacrificial victims was butchered and sold in the markets.  Some Christians believed it was wrong to eat it since it had been used for worship of false gods, others believed that there was nothing wrong with it, probably since a non-existent god could have no effect on the good gift of the true God.  Paul does not forbid eating the meat unless it offends someone’s conscience.  Paul recognises the liberty of Christians to choose different actions, indeed with a relation to paganism, based on individual conscience, respect and love for fellow believers, and of course with the stipulation that “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God”.  Of course Paul is warning not to use our liberty to offend fellow believers, but at the same time he is not giving permission to those with “weaker” consciences to direct others actions.
  2. One point that is made by many who think that it is wrong from Christians to trick-or-treat is that while they might think it is innocent fun, the pagan origins means that they are unwittingly participating in actions connected with witchcraft or idol worship.  I think that intention has to be taken much more serious than this.  Worship cannot be unintentional.  By trick-or-treating our intention is to visit friends and family, enjoy dressing up, and showing hospitality to neighbours. I can’t imagine anyone who makes this argument accepting the same for Christian worship – we simply don’t believe that a someone who is not part of the Church partaking of the Lord’s Supper has truly worshipped the Living God or received the benefits of the sacrament.
  3. Some Christians seem to be concerned with the pagan associations Christian Holidays have.  Generally the argument made is that the Roman Catholic Church, without Biblical warrant, introduced Christian Holidays to compete with the pagan festival and many pagan practices became part of the Christian celebration which is therefore tainted.  First, it is incredibly anachronistic to say that the Roman Church introduced these days, they are the heritage of all Christians pre-dating both the Reformation and the schism between the East and West.  Second, while some Christians believe that no day should be observed other than those explicitly commanded in the scriptures, I find good warrant to observe Holidays that have developed by tradition.  In John 10:22-23 we read, “Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.”  The Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah, which Jesus is apparently observing, was not mandated in the Torah.  It developed in the period after the Old Testament and commemorates the rededication of the temple during the Maccabean Revolt.  Finally, I think it’s good for us to remember the differences in our own times and culture with our predecessors.  For most of us Religion and Society are separated, for ancients everything was religious.  For us pagan seems to imply a minority group of evil primitives.  It is helpful to remember that in the early part of our history pagans were the dominant culture in a society that did not separate religion from politics, the marketplace or sports.  The early Christians had to struggle with how to be faithful within such a culture.  The  Church might have established Holy Days to coincide with pagan festivals.  Rather than a scheme to “Christianize” these days, it might have simply been the case that as the minority who did not get to set the calendar, observing Christian feasts at times they would already have free was simply a practical measure.  (This is admittedly simply personal speculation.)  On the other hand there is evidence that the Church chose days without reference to the dominant pagan calendar and the copying was the other way around.

Happy Christmas!

Two poems by Herbert:

Christmas (I)

After all pleasures as I rid one day,
My horse and I, both tired, body and mind,
With full cry of affections, quite astray;
I took up the next inn I could find.

There when I came, whom found I but my dear,
My dearest Lord, expecting till the grief
Of pleasures brought me to Him, ready there
To be all passengers’ most sweet relief?

Oh Thou, whose glorious, yet contracted light,
Wrapt in night’s mantle, stole into a manger;
Since my dark soul and brutish is Thy right,
To man of all beasts be not Thou a stranger:

Furnish and deck my soul, that Thou mayst have
A better lodging, than a rack, or grave.

Christmas (II)

The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be?
My God, no hymn for Thee?
My soul’s a shepherd too; a flock it feeds
Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.
The pasture is Thy word: the streams, Thy grace
Enriching all the place.
Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
Outsing the daylight hours.
Then will we chide the sun for letting night
Take up his place and right:
We sing one common Lord; wherefore he should
Himself the candle hold.
I will go searching, till I find a sun
Shall stay, till we have done;
A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly,
As frost-nipped suns look sadly.
Then will we sing, and shine all our own day,
And one another pay:
His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine,
Till ev’n His beams sing, and my music shine.

Quote for the Day:

The Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

(Open Bible by: DrGBB)

Ordinary Time

They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”… Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Jesus’ work as Prophet, Priest and King is now continued on the earth by the power of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s Body, the Church. The Church is to proclaim the Gospel of the Prophet, She is a royal priesthood under the High Priest of Jesus and She is an Ambassador for Christ, Citizens of the Kingdom of God. The ministry of all the Baptized is the continuation of these offices as Christ’s Body to the World, so we pray in the Great Thanksgiving, “As this bread is Christ’s body for us, may we be Christ’s body to the world.” (Great Thanksgiving from the Book of Common Worship) As those charged with the prophetic task of proclaiming the Gospel, we share the story of Christ to the World and preach the mystery to the powers and principalities. As a royal priesthood we continually offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. We intercede for the world around us. We remind the world of God’s Law. As servants of the King we live a life of obedience that is different from those around us. We work to build the imminent Kingdom of the prince of peace by doing the work Christ did, teaching, healing and serving. We walk in this life through prayer, scripture reading and corporate worship.

In addition to the ministry of all the Baptized, the Church is given the gift of leaders for her well being. Although the church has ordered Her ministry differently in various traditions, the basic ministry, roughly parallel to prophet, priest and king, is that of Word, Sacrament and Order.

Ministers are entrusted to guard the Revelation that was preached by the Apostles and handed down through the ages. Ministers are to proclaim the Gospel message in a way that is relevant to each age, though without adding to or taking away from the Words of Life. Ministers also administer the sacraments to God’s people. They distribute the gifts of God to His people in His name. Additionally, so that all things may be done “decently and in order,” the Church is given officers who keep order and discipline within the bounds of the community. The tasks of ministry are not merely human endeavors, for in proclaiming the gospel, in celebrating the sacraments and exercising the power of the keys it is Christ Himself who is ministering. Christ Himself speaks to the Church, is present in the covenant signs and in the decisions of rule. “Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God.” (I Peter 4:11) “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” (I Corinthians 10:16) And in Matthew 18, Jesus teaches on Church discipline with the promise that “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

The Church’s foundational service to God is regular corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. In this gathering we again meet the risen Christ on our way, He shares again with us Scripture and is seen in the breaking of bread. The Church is wherever the presence of Christ is. It is the Living Word spoken by the Father and empowered by the Spirit that calls the Church into existence. “Wherever we see the word of God sincerely preached and heard, wherever we see the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ”, in other words, we find the Church when Emmaus is relived. (Calvin’s Institutes, 4.1.9)

The Lord’s Supper is the defining aspect of Christian worship. Although the table is never separated from the pulpit, the acts of Taking, Blessing, Breaking and Giving order the Church’s Liturgy and gives shape to Her whole life. In the Eucharist we render our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” (Hebrews 13:15) In the Feast of Holy Communion we are united with the Christ who is truly present and all who are baptized in His name. At the Lord’s Supper we “do this in remembrance of the Lord” who paid the sacrifice for us and called us into Covenant. This sacred meal brings time into eternity, we look back in remembrance of the Lord’s earthly life, and we share union with Christ in the present and look forward to the future “when we shall feast with Him in glory.” (Great Thanksgiving from the Book of Common Worship)

This brings us back to Advent when we remember and long for our coming Savior. The Christian life is about what Christ has done and continues to do in and through us. Christ continually forms us through the gifts of the Church. He calls us deeper into union with Him through His Covenant. As we are gathered into Christ, we are taken into the whole of the Holy Trinity. The part we play is small. It is not passive, it is prayer, hope, rest, study, eat, and work. But it is God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who creates, redeems and sanctifies us. We are brought into this Life simply by receiving this amazing Grace through an active faith, which itself is a gracious gift from the One who saves.