Monday, August 24, 2015

Atonement - Ponder the Mystery

Here at Campbell, we are in a worship series about the atonement. Each week, we’ve been preaching on one of the various ideas about how the atonement happens.

Having discussed three atonement theories (ransom, recapitulation, and satisfaction), and with two more to go (substitution and moral example), a few people have asked me if I’m going to share which theory is the “right one.”

Or they’ve asked me which of the theories does the church affirm as orthodox, or which one do United Methodists believe, or some variation thereof.

One of the goals of doing this worship series was to show that “the church” believes a diverse array of things, and that’s okay. Even when it comes to a pretty important doctrine like the atonement, there is room for discussion, room to ponder, room to think.

That’s because God is ultimately mysterious. I ought never dare to claim that I understand fully and exactly just how God works. To do so would border on blasphemy, in my opinion.

The atonement, the belief that humanity is reconciled to God through Christ Jesus, is a foundational Christian belief. These various theories we have been discussing are different answers to the question of “how” this reconciliation happens. The fact that it happens is not in question; how exactly God does it, is.

Nor do I want anyone to think that we are supposed to be figuring out an answer once-and-for-all to this “how” question. This series isn’t supposed to be a multiple choice quiz and at the end the correct answer will be given. The journey into the mystery of God is a life-long endeavor, so be comfortable in the ambiguity.

So we will take up another atonement theory on Sunday, the “Substitution” theory. I’ll be honest with you - this is my least favorite of all of them. But it is a part of our faith, so we’ll think, we’ll discuss, we’ll ponder the mystery together. See y’all in church!

Monday, August 10, 2015

I'm Back, And (Part 2) Something I Learned While I Was Away

Last February, when the Church Council approved my six-week long Spiritual Renewal Leave, I felt an immediate sense of relief. Just knowing that this mini-sabbatical was on the horizon was enough to give a little boost to my soul.

And now that leave is done and I’m back in the office, feeling rested, renewed, and grateful. I am so thankful to have a District Superintendent who insisted that I take some time away. I am thankful for congregational leaders who “get it” and gave me this time with their blessing. And I am inexpressibly thankful for a church staff that is so good at what they do that I didn’t have to worry about spending six weeks out of the loop.

So to everyone who made the last six weeks possible, “Thank you. I am deeply, deeply grateful.”

What did I do? Well, I rested. I spent time with my family. And I wrote.

The visible products of these six weeks are a book outline and the book’s first two chapters. I decided to write about what I have learned about following Jesus from being a foster dad. I hope to keep working and maybe have the book done by the end of this year.

The invisible product of these six weeks are a mind and heart that have been rested and renewed. I spent time with my family. I spent time alone. I camped. I read books. I floated down a river in a canoe with a dear friend. I skipped stones. I walked in the woods. I prayed. I thought about stuff. And the accumulative effect of this time away has been a tangible lightening of my spirit.

Walter Brueggemann introduced me to the idea of “the gods of insatiable productivity” in his book Sabbath as Resistance. Put in theological perspective, my Spiritual Renewal Leave vanquished the “gods of insatiable productivity” as I became reaquainted with the living God who builds sabbath rest into the act of creation itself.

It was good to be away - And now it is good to be back.

PART 2: Worship
I worshiped in five different churches during my leave. Some very different places: a big, established, traditional church; a “second site” location; a relatively new, contemporary congregation; a larger than large high-tech extravaganza experience; and a small, urban, guitar and piano, worshiping community ministry center.

And I learned something in these five worship experiences. But … I’m not sure if I really want to tell you what it was. See, it’s kind of heretical. If you only skim this post, you may misunderstand my point.

So I’m trusting you not to just skim this, but to really understand what I’m trying to say here. Okay? Deal? Then here it is:

Worship is ridiculous.

That’s about it, then. Somewhere in these last six weeks, I realized that the act of worship is the most ridiculous thing people do. Yes, that’s what I mean - “Deserving of or inviting mockery or derision.” And if your worship isn’t ridiculous, well then maybe it should be.

How would a worship service invite derision? A group of people shows up at a given time at a given place for a given purpose. And this group hasn’t gathered to watch something, like a show or a sporting event. This group has gathered to do something together. It is not an audience; it is a flash mob.

But unlike a flash mob, this worshiping group is not performing for other people. This group has the ridiculous notion that the audience for their performance is none other than the Creator of the cosmos. The groups actions are oriented toward God – the prayers, the singing, the praises are offered together to the One who formed life itself and exists beyond any human concept of time and space.

See what I mean? Ridiculous!

If you actually believe in a divine presence that knows all and sees all and is everywhere all the time, why in the world would One like that be listening in as your tiny collection of mortals stumbled through your rendition of “Amazing Grace?” As if your particular version of that song is any different from any of the other forty-seven thousand versions of it God hears on any given Sunday.

Whey would that all-powerful One who carves mountains and breathes gale force winds be watching your little puny arms lifting your inconsequential hands up in surrender? Why in God’s green earth would the Supreme Sovereign Force of the Universe think your organist’s prelude was worth anything or your on-screen announcements were especially meaningful or your little bite of bread and sip of juice had any power in it whatsoever or those people who came forward for prayer would get theirs answered because they were just that much closer or … ?

It’s actually quite ridiculous, when you really think about it.

It is ridiculous. And miraculous. And amazing and meaningful and transformative. In fact, worship is the single most significant event in the life of a local congregation.

The worship service forms the identity of the people by reminding us of who God is and who God wants us to be. You, as a member of the community, are a part of something that is greater than you, and greater than the sum of its parts. You dare to say out loud, “We are here! We are one! And the Spirit that unites us as one is here with us, all around us, all over us; we are in that Spirit’s midst.”

And not only you in that little place and time; you are a part of everyone else who is gathering in their own places and times for the purpose of worship, too. Wherever, whenever, however – you are one with the Body of Christ in all of its infuriatingly diverse incarnations.

To intentionally gather together in community, plan it, prepare for it, adjust your schedule for it, show up and engage it, not just watch it happen but be a part of it, and actually entertain the absurd notion that God is there with you, to remember who God is and then dare to say it out loud, to remember who God has called you to be and confess that you aren’t yet, and then to leave that place different than you were when you got there, hopeful, energized, ready … this is worship.

It’s pretty ridiculous, really. And I don’t know about you, but I for one am going to continue to be ridiculous as I worship God with every last breath I have in my body.