Pushing the “Easy” Button

3 03 2017

1st Sunday in Lent – Matthew 4:1-11

Let’s be honest, you and I live in a time and place that unleashes all of its resources for the sole purpose of persuading us to give in to our temptations.  But, it’s actually worse, we are told that the most healthy lifestyle choice we can make is to identify with our deepest temptations and to embrace them as the truest picture of who we really are.  We are told that the most unhealthy choice is to deny our temptations and wants.  In fact, if we publicly voice our opposition to these lifestyle choices, the social media powers will descend upon us like the very fury of hell (and here, I’m speaking literally).  Businesses have been destroyed, good paying positions taken away, friendships undone, reputations left in ashes from this demonic fury.

Ivan Kramskoy's 1872 Christ in the Wilderness

So, it ought to be a fearful thing that the one we call Lord and Savior is seen here so obviously standing against the temptations thrown at him.  And not only resisting, but coming out very much the winner.  But it is all too easy to go with the flow and think:  Wouldn’t we all be a lot better off simply giving in to some of our temptations, or at most, maybe very, VERY quietly resisting them in the privacy of our prayer closets?  Anything more public may make us look like intolerant holy religious people who are always mean and judgmental!

 

But I suspect that most of you want to beat back your temptations, at least most days, and wouldn’t mind having some help and assistance.  So, let’s look at how Jesus handled it.

 

Now first, Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus has been tempted in every way that you and I have ever been tempted (but did not give in!!).  So, what we see in the Gospel in Satan’s three temptations, only shows us some of what Jesus had to resist– although, perhaps these three were the most difficult ones he had to overcome. We also know from the Gospels (Matthew 16:23) that Jesus was also tempted by Satan to avoid the Way of the Cross– and he used Peter’s mouth to do the tempting.  So, I think we can safely assume that the ‘ole Serpent rarely let up on his attacks on Jesus, especially during his ministry years leading up to his crucifixion.  I’m sure you have all felt there are many times when you’ve yelled to heaven, “Can I just have a break for a while from all these constant, never-ending temptations!!”  I’ve done that, multiple times.

 

Second, look at what Satan is wanting Jesus to do– hit the EASY button!!  “Hey, Jesus, you are the Son of God, the 2nd person of the Trinity– so use your ‘God’ power and make yourself some bread from rocks, or make yourself look like a super-hero by jumping down from the high-point of the temple and landing safely on the street with thousands of onlookers–they’ll call you Messiah and make you king!  OR… skip the whole cross-thing by bowing before me (I mean, really, it doesn’t really mean anything does it?!  It’s surely just an empty gesture) and I’ll give you what you really want– to be the loving King of the world that everyone will adore.”

Ary Scheffer's The Temptation of Christ

Ary Scheffer’s The Temptation of Christ

Jesus knew he was taking the very, very hard road to save the world, and the Great Liar was trying to get him to cheat and take the easy road to accomplish his mission.  NOTE:  Jesus uses Holy Scripture, God’s Word to crush every temptation.  And guess what?  You have access to that same mighty weapon.  But do you take daily advantage of it?  Do you really know it well enough to use it effectively?  A weapon’s no good to you if you don’t know it well and practice with it constantly.

 

Third, Jesus accomplishes the Great Reversal.  Do you recall another time that the Deceiver, Satan, made a famous temptation and succeeded?  Yup, in the Garden, with our original parents, Adam & Eve.  He convinced them to distrust God, to take matters into their own hands, to become like God.  He got them to believe that God was holding out on them by forbidding them to eat from just one tree in the Garden.  Satan sowed seeds of doubt, and they fell for it and the rest of world history records the sad, tragic consequences of their decision.  One of the details we often miss is the in-action of the man, Adam.  Genesis 3:6 makes clear that Adam was “with her”, Eve, and yet he said and did nothing to defend his wife from the lies and deceits of the Serpent.  He could have told the Serpent to “shut up”, or even crushed the serpent to keep it from 071714_0240_TheTablethe2.jpgtalking any more. But he failed, utterly.  Note that Jesus undoes this most horrible of failures, by standing up to and defeating Satan’s lies and temptations.  Now, if Jesus has undone Adam’s failures, he has surely undone all of yours as well.  Paul calls Jesus the second Adam– giving us the ultimate and perfect “do-over.”

 

If you choose to buck the system, and break the pre-programmed code of our current cultural Matrix, and resist temptation, sin and selfishness and fight the Big Fat Liar of hell, you must needs know the dirty little secret that the Enemy of your soul does NOT want you to know:  The same Jesus who handed Satan his lunch in the desert two-thousand years ago is in you, with you, surrounding you.  You are never, ever alone when facing temptations of all kinds.  The mighty Warrior-King who has put-down and crushed every single temptation you have faced, are facing or will face is in you–your heart, mind, soul and body.  And he’s itching for a big win!

 

Will you say yes to Jesus so you can experience that victory?  That’s the only question you need to answer.

 

Items to remember– because there will be a test, every day of your life!!

 

  1. Jesus knows exactly what you are feeling and thinking when you are being tempted– he’s been there.  He is not shocked and surprised that certain things are a huge temptation to you.  He does not think less of you.  But he does offer hope!
  2. Satan plays dirty and will use your friends, (even Christian ones!051714_2225_ThingsAreNo1.jpg!) and family to tempt and discourage you.  Remember, he used Peter’s big mouth against Jesus.  You must always be on guard.
  3. Don’t hit the easy button and take the easy way out!  Man-up, Woman-up, and get your nose into Scripture often.  A true warrior sleeps with his sword, or bow & arrows, or fire-arm because he could be attacked at any time, day or night.  Do you see the Bible as that crucial in your life?
  4. Jesus has already undone your past failures.  Don’t live there for it is a life of defeat and misery.  Live only in the present, and recognize that the victorious Jesus is with you, right inside you.  Say yes to him, and no to evil and sin.   You can and you must– so many are depending on you!  Never stop fighting and never give up, because Jesus never gives up on you!




Wanting the Impossible

12 02 2017

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”

(Matthew 5:21-22)

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany –  Deuteronomy 30:15-20;   Psalm 119:1-8;   Matthew 5:21-37

 

If you did not squirm in your seat, at least a little bit, when these words of Jesus were read, then you are either holy, on the level of Mother Teresa or have allowed yourself to be made numb by our post-modern age— where personal expression– whether in strong emotions, human sexuality or political action and speech, has arisen as the inviolable law of the land.  Indeed, any attempt to restrict personal expression and self-definition is met with a ferocity that would make the most ardent Nazi and Fascist slack-jawed with awe and admiration.  Make no mistake, if you were to share these words of Jesus with your unchurched co-workers, friends and neighbors, it would fall upon their ears as incomprehensible nonsense.  For they have drunk deeply from the wells of our day– a generation (or two or three) convinced that to be truly happy and fulfilled, one must surrender completely to the strong desires that well up within.  Even if that desire is to be a woman, despite being born a man, and vice versa.

 

So, can these crucial words of Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount be of any use in our day– so overthrown with self-worship, so awash with re-definitions of foundational and fundamental concepts– male-female, marriage, family, right-wrong, good-evil?

 

First, you and I must embrace these words as true and crucial for you and me.  I suspect that most of us immediately put these words of Jesus into the category of  the “thou shall not…” list of items to avoid.  However, this list adds the seeming impossibility to check, not only our outward actions (murder, adultery, etc),  but our inward motivations as well.  It is not unreasonable for us to respond, “Jesus, I MIGHT be able to avoid open murder, divorce and adultery, but you have established an unrealistic expectation when you insist that I keep my angry and lustful thoughts in check as well!”

 

It’s not unlike when the undeterred Yoda asks the petulant, immature Luke Skywalker to use the force to lift his X-wing out of the bog and place it on firm ground.  After Luke failed in his efforts, he angrily turns on Yoda and declares, “You want the impossible!”   Yoda then proceeds to accomplish what young Luke could not.  In exuberance, Luke shouts, “I don’t believe it!”  To which Yoda, with sad expression, says, “That is why you fail.”

 

The wise words of Jesus are much more than a moral check-list we need to tick-off on a daily basis.  Instead, they are words that cut to the very heart of our inner motivations– the secret movements of our thoughts.  They are words of great hope and good news– we do not have to be held captive by every selfish, angry, lustful, prideful thought!  These bonds are meant to be broken by the power of the risen Christ and the strong wind of the Holy Spirit.  The only question is, do you believe Jesus’ instructions to be true and achievable?

 

Second, the church as a whole must hold steadfast to these words as life itself and live them out visibly in community.  It seems most church leaders and preachers avoid teaching with authority on these words of Jesus– for a multitude of seemingly sensible reasons.  It’s too controversial, too hard, no one believes it possible anyway, too offensive to seekers, etc.  So we turn to other more socially acceptable topics– how to handle finances, grow our ministry, fill our churches, retain visitors, acclimate new folk to our particular church culture, etc.  But in our day and time, what could be more important than the difficult and messy work of helping one another to live out these hard instructions of Jesus?  Within our own churches, how many marriages, families, confused teens, shattered homes, dysfunctional neighborhoods could be made new  if the redeemed of the Lord were to visibly, and with joy, live out these words and lovingly help one another to do so?  We fear being viewed as legalists, prudes and “holier-than-thou” Christians.  And that fear prevents us from being a beacon of light, freedom and true, lasting joy.

 

Third, all believers in Christ must proclaim these  words, in speech and action,  as breath, life and true joy to a world under the dominion of merciless false gods.  In short, the church must be an Ark  in a flooded, tempest-tossed world.  The jetsam and flotsam of the ruined lives that surround us due to the false-god and false-promise that sexual free expression will bring happiness to life are reaching such overwhelming numbers that we should clearly see the “fields white unto harvest”.   In other words, the church is like the Avengers or the Justice League who look around and see a super-abundance of imperiled folk who need rescuing by super-natural powers.   But if we see fellow human beings caught up in sexual addiction, divorce or emotional dysfunction as just another “normal” member of society, then instead of a rescue effort, we will simply attempt to use marketing techniques to win them to our local church “club” so that our numbers may swell and budgets increase.

 

These words of Jesus should be a bucket of ice-water dumped on our heads, church.  Either because we need to cease and desist from being wrathful, lustful, selfish, promise-breaking people; or because in stead of offering life and freedom to the dying, enslaved folks around us, we have done little more that invite them to “club Christian”– where real, lasting, internal transformation is assiduously avoided because it is messy and unpredictable and may derail us from our vision and plans for our church.

 

Let us be careful to not get caught up in playing “church”– to confuse our agendas, visions, and hopes for the clarion call of the one true Gospel.

 

Let us choose life.  Let us offer life.  Glory to God— Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And blessed be His Kingdom, now and forever, and to the ages of ages.   Amen.





Spiritual in the Flesh

10 02 2017

If our view of heaven and the afterlife has become white-washed intangibility with clouds and harps and bodiless spirits, it is largely because we have stopped believing in the Sacraments.   —  C.S. Lewis, from “Transposition” in The Weight of Glory

30378-heaven-clouds-light-1200w-tn

It is rather frightening to watch how consistently Hollywood depicts Heaven and the after-life:  a bright light, sky and clouds, figures dressed in pure white togas.  The lack of creativity is stunning.  Because this vision of Heaven is so monochromatic and bland, Hollywood must make movies about other worlds, dimensions, and galaxies that display in digital HD the stunning beauty we all long and hope for.

Recently, upon watching Rogue One:  A Star Wars Story, I departed the theater haunted by Eden.  Why?  While the plot and heroics were mildly inspiring, I could not get over the painfully beautiful  planetary landscapes.  Now, I realize our own planet has breathtaking beauty, but for some reason we want to see and experience that beauty in an entirely different, even mythical context.  We long for the other-worldly– somehow innately sensing that this world is not our true and final home.  All of it’s beauty and adventure just leave us increasingly homesick.

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So, why do I have to go to the movie theater to have this experience.  Shouldn’t I be having a glimpse of the other-worldly at church?  Sadly, no.  At least, not in the tradition in which I was raised.  My honest confession is that I am weary to the point of being angry to have to attend Sunday morning services in my current context (which is overall good and necessary).  Songs and a sermon (with announcements and a few VERY brief prayers and Scriptures).  My particular ecclesiastical tradition seems to be terribly allergic to the tactile and aesthetic .  We are fearful where that may lead, so we keep to purely “spiritual” practices in our worship– like songs and sermons.  I arrived at home after the morning service and attempted to watch the Divine Liturgy on YouTube just to have some taste of what I longed for (alas!  The quality of the video was poor, and I found I was a mere observer and no real participant!).

For you churches in this stream of the Christian tradition related to Worship practices, hear me:  I would rather watch a movie or drive into the mountains than sit through your worship services.  And if I, a committed believer raised in the church, have this opinion, how much more so do the unbelievers who sleep in on Sunday morning.  Good grief!  Even the early church suffering under heavy persecution took the time and effort to make beautiful mosaics that decorated the floors and walls of their worship spaces which tended to be in the large homes of the wealthy.

Would it really kill our churches to make our worship spaces beautiful, rather than merely utilitarian?!

praiseteam

There is a good deal of irony being in a Holiness tradition– our walls are all white (or the same colors as the local Starbucks), with no art-work to be found (except for the occasional banner with a bible verse), our pulpits and communion tables have been removed to make room for the praise band and casually dressed preacher, but in many cases we still have the “altar”, which is actually the altar rail, where communicants, once upon a forgotten time, would kneel to receive the consecrated elements of the Lord’s Supper.   All furniture our forebears used in worship have disappeared except for a piece that is not used as originally intended!

Holiness churches, if we really want to be more spiritual, we need to become more physical in our worship services.  Christians have always done so until the Anabaptists.  It is the natural human inclination across time and cultures.  But sadly, being more spiritual does not seem toholy-communion-cross-in-cup be the goal.  Rather the aim is to be more appealing to visitors and outsiders so that attendance averages and budgets increase.  I know our leaders voice the belief that all such efforts are a means to the end of saving souls– getting people to Heaven and away from the wide highways to Hell.  But in all our efforts to be relevant and cool, we’ve forgotten the body of Christ who have been assembling with us all these years, and how they and we need the vision of Heaven constantly and consistently renewed before our five senses.   Maybe, just maybe, with the bright beauty of Eternity shinning out clear and true from our eyes, hearts and mouths we would all be more effective evangelists, a hundred-fold.  Then such scheming, marketing and contemporizing would not seem so necessary and we can return worship to the center and heart of Christian life as much more than a tool to attract and keep the new and hip.





Repetition & Beauty

3 01 2016

For two relatively short years my family and I lived less than a mile from the shores of Lake Erie.   Naturally, we greatly enjoyed spending time on the beaches nearby. We loved the sand, shallow waters, and smooth, black slate rock– not to mention the frozen waves in winter which formed large mounds we could climb. During the warmer days of summer, one of the favorite activities for my wife and kids was to carefuseaglasslly comb the beach for “sea glass”. I realize it’s a bit of misnomer given the fact that we were on the shores of a lake, not a sea. Nevertheless, the finds that were made was akin to finding sparkling gems of great price. Often very small, coming in a multitude of colors with smooth rounded edges, the sea glass embodied an amazing icon of redemption.

 

Broken, useless glass, which was formerly a useful vessel of some sort, cast into merciless, cold waves.   A tragedy to be sure, but not the end of the story. Those same waves that initially appeared so menacing become an instrument of transformation for the jagged glass. Waves plus time plus rocks and sand eventually round off the sharp edges of the discarded glass. And at the last the waves wash the glass ashore, now a glittering jewel to be discovered and treasured.

 

Please forgive me if I have lead you astray to believe that I am making an analogy between the elements that create sea glass and our redemption and Jesus’ work on our behalf. I’m not intending to make an overly simplistic and cheesy sermon illustration. What the sea glass gave me was yet another glimpse into a world where our heavenly Father seems utterly obsessed with making all things new and glorious. He has made sure that our encounters like this are plethora.

 

The one point I want to make is much more pedestrian and dull than the grand scope of human salvation. The broken glass cannot become rounded and beautiful without the repetitive pounding of the waves.

 

We live in a time and place that seems to despise repetition of any kind (except commercials, of course!). We are hopelessly addicted to the “new”. New versions of our favorite books, comic-books and movies (note the endless string of re-makes and re-boots!). New news, new tweets, new tech (like the latest i-phone), new kitchen and bath, new relationships— on and on it goes in an endless parade. Now, let me be clear. I am the chief of sinners in the cult of “new”. If I had my way, I’d live in a new-construction home and drive a new car wearing my new favorite shirt.   But it’s worse: in this I’m also a terrible hypocrite! I want everything to be new, except in worship at church where I want all things old. And part of my love for the old worship is that it is relentlessly repetitive like those cold Lake Erie waves.   And being a creature of great forgetfulness and many sharp, broken edges, I cannot overstate my desperate need for the steady, reliable repetition that the waves of the old liturgies provide.

 

Such repetition is not fun, entertaining, tweet-worthy, or in any way “new”. It’s quite the opposite, in fact, and a much needed antidote for our “new” obsessed land.

 

What I’m currently trying to figure out is how it is that the same churches who constantly labor to produce new and exciting elements in their worship services give me the feeling that it’s the same-ole, same-ole. While the “boring”, repetitive liturgies of the old days seem always fresh and rejuvenating to me. A mystery and a paradox to be sure, but there are explanations that I will not go into here. (But I will confess that I’m not sure how many more liturgically un-rooted and disjointed worship services I can endure– heaven help me!!)

 

Despite my digression, the point is that as disciples of Jesus repetition is indispensible and unavoidable if we are to be made nemarthamchurchstainedglasswindoww. The repeating of prayers, Scriptures and Sacrament will be irreplaceable elements in our redemption and renewal if we willing submit ourselves to them. Just like the broken glass in the waves of the sea.

O you afflicted one, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, And lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal, And all your walls of precious stones. (Isaiah 54:11-12)





Kingdom Gospel

3 06 2015

Thanks Ben Sternke.

http://bensternke.com/cant-make-disciples/

http://bensternke.com/proclaim-the-gospel/





Worship as Prayer

27 10 2014

The first “contemporary” worship service I attended was at Willow Creek in the early 1990’s. I was in college and, in fact, attendance was part of a class assignment for a course on church growth. And even in those days when I possessed extensive ignorance in the areas of ecclesiology and liturgy, I noticed the distinct lack of prayer in the service. When discussing this in the classroom, it was argued this was intentional because it was a “seeker” service. The more intensive “praying” took place in small groups throughout the week. There were just too many non-Christians in the Sunday services to warrant the use of the very Christian act of prayer.

 

Setting aside, for now, the pros and cons of using Sunday “worship” services as the main evangelistic tool of the church, it must be pointed out that churches like Willow Creek influenced the way thousands of churches conducted their worship services in North America (and now, the world). Which means this lack of prayer in the main service has now become common-place in “contemporary” worship services in country, small town, suburban and urban congregations. When I sit through these sort of services (and sitting is about all that the “audience” gets to do, except standing to sing) I increasingly feel like I have been to some kind of a show that may be distantly related to Christian worship, but does not quite pull-off the real deal.

 

The truth is painful (and controversial) but it must be said and repeated: most of our Evangelical “contemporary” worship services would be unrecognizable to believers from Justin Martyr to John Wesley. The lack of a distinct and unified prayer of the people of God is an immense contributor to this very lamentable reality.

 

This lack of prayer in our “worship” services has, I believe, been a major impetus for the many prayer movements that have experienced dynamic growth in the last 20 years (The International House of Prayer, IHOP, comes immediately to mind– and while, on the one hand, IHOP takes “contemporary” worship forms to a new extreme with 24/7 worship music lead by a band; on the other hand, IHOP conceives of every facet of their services as prayer which is much closer to Biblical and historic perspectives of worship).

 

My concern and anger are piqued because most of Evangelicalism’s fastest growing churches are training Christians that prayer is either a minor component of Christian practice or it is something best left to the paid professionals. There may be a prayer here and there, and the pastor may pray, but when do God’s people learn how to pray as individuals, much less as a cohesive whole?

 

Hence my preference for ancient liturgies, East and West, and the emphasis on the worship service as the unified prayer of God’s people– a service that is prayer from start to finish. But Evangelicals, by and large, dismiss these prayers as wrote and unreal because they are not prayed from the heart. How can they be since they are just printed words mouthed in unison? But my rebuttal is based on the didactic importance of prayer: how can the heart, or mind, pray well when it has never been invited into the Church’s prayer life that has been going on for 3,000 plus years (going back to the Psalms)? Old and New Testament followers of God prayed written prayers as one. And so did Christians for the vast majority of Church history. How is it that some of us now know better or have graduated to a higher level than the giants of the faith who have gone before us?

 

I’m afraid we place too much emphasis on “heart-felt” emotional prayers and not enough on serious corporate prayer that forms and shapes those who join their voices to it into Christ-like, living sculptures. In fact, if our extemporaneous, “heart-felt” prayers too often seem inane, shallow and self-focused, we need not look far for one of the main culprits. Written, corporate prayers are not meant to replace other forms of prayer, but to breath life, vibrancy and depth into them. Our own time tends to pit written and extemporaneous forms prayer against one another– making them mutually exclusive. But they are meant, and have been used as such down through the millennia, to be the right and left lungs of the prayer life of God’s people. We dare not keep the Holy Spirit on a short leash by using only one prayer form to the utter neglect of the other.


Please take these following paragraphs from the late Robert Webber with the weight and seriousness they deserve. If we are no longer praying God’s story for the sake of the world, we are no longer Christ’s body or bride. We’re just another association with faded semblances to a vibrant Christian heritage. (What follows is from his final book: Ancient-Future Worship)

 

The first crisis of public prayer is its neglect. By neglect I do not mean to suggest that congregational worship has no prayer within it. Indeed, most if not all churches will do prayers. They may begin and end with prayer. A prayer may be said before a sermon or at its ending; intercessory prayers may be made for the sick, for shutins, for the needs of the congregation, local city, country, and even for the world (however, many contemporary churches do not have a place for intercessory prayer). What I speak of here as the neglect of prayer is the failure to conduct all of worship as the prayer of the church for the life of the world.

This failure to grasp all of worship as a cosmic prayer has several underlying causes. The first and, I believe, most fundamental reason why worship is not seen as prayer is the failure to grasp that corporate prayer arises from the story of God. We think of corporate prayers as arising within ourselves. Yet the story of God . . .is the story of the world and of human existence. Worship prays this story. But this thought and the application of this thought for the content and structure of worship is neglected simply because it is unheard of by many.

A second reason why worship is not seen as the prayer of God’s people for the world is because worship has been turned into a program. Worship, influenced by broadcast communication theories of the media revolution, has become an entertaining presentation. The commitment to worship “programming” has been intensified by the contemporary Christian music industry. Because people are drawn by entertainment, showmanship, and celebrity, many local churches have turned to a presentational worship to attract the masses.

Consequently, the nature of worship has shifted from corporate prayer to platform presentational performance. Worship, instead of being a rehearsal of God’s saving actions in the world and for the world, is exchanged for making people feel comfortable, happy, and affirmed. Worship, no longer the public prayer of God’s people, becomes a private and individual experience. Beneath the privatization of worship is the ever-present individualism of our culture. This focus on the self results in prayers that are concerned with my life, my needs, my desires–prayers that seem indifferent to the needs of the poor and the problem of violence and war that devours nations and societies and ignore the works of God in Christ to bring to an end all evil, death, and sin. . . .

Worship as public prayer may be described as follows: “Public prayer lifts up all creation to the Father through Jesus Christ by the Spirit in praise and thanksgiving for the work of the Son, who has reconciled creatures and creation to God.” Because this is what the public prayer of the church does, the story of God is the substance of the inner content that shapes the outer form of public prayer. Worship prays God’s story.

 

 

Paul instructs the churches in Philippi, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The “your” here is second person plural. This is a corporate activity flowing from and resting on the accomplished work of Christ Jesus. The prayers we pray when we gather for worship need to more intentionally unite us into the true story of Jesus. Written, responsorial, and Eucharistic prayers are indispensible for this task.





The Sacramental Universe

23 08 2014

082414_0157_TheSacramen1.pngEveryone eats. Not everyone gives thanks for the food consumed.

The Greek New Testament word for “giving thanks” is eucharisteo, which by the second century quickly became shorthand for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper itself– the Eucharist.

Perhaps one reason the Eucharist is such a low priority for many churches today is because giving thanks to our creator for all His good gifts is hard to come by in a time when many, in North America, are seemingly self-sufficient. We work to earn money to buy food. What did God have to do with it?

Simultaneously, the very presence of God in our daily lives is ignored or belittled. God has become, at best, a mysterious force quite removed from the morning commute and the paying of bills. Most now believe, in behavior if not in thought, that the commerce between heaven and earth dried up long, long ago– if it ever really existed in the first place.

For those who lift thankful hearts to the Lord for every good gift, however, the Eucharist is the culmination of a thank-filled week. The Lord’s Table and the sacramental food shared there bring life and meaning and understanding to everything else.

 

My own “mental furniture” is arranged within a home whose architecture has been largely influenced by the cosmology of a little book by Alexander Schmemann, entitled, For the Life of the World. What follows comes from the early pages of the first chapter. If we would think and live as Biblical Christians–disciples of Jesus the Messiah–the worldview espoused and described in what follows ought to inform our own presuppositions about God, the universe, and the human race.

 

In the Bible the food that man eats, the world of which he must partake in order to live, is given to him by God, and it is given as communion with God. The world as man’s food is not something “material” and limited to material functions, thus different from, and opposed to, the specifically “spiritual” functions by which man is related to God. All that exits is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God know to man, to make man’s life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man. God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation: “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” . . .

 

And in the Bible to bless God is not a “religious” or a “cultic” act, but the very way of life. God blessed the world, blessed man, blessed the seventh day (that is, time), and this means that He filled all that exists with His love and goodness– made all this “very good.” So the only natural (and not “supernatural”) reaction of man, to whom God gave this blessed and sanct082414_0202_TheSacramen2.pngified world, is to bless God in return, to thank Him, to see the world as God sees it and–in this act of gratitude and adoration –to know, name and possess the world. All rational, spiritual and other qualities of man, distinguishing him from other creatures, have their focus and ultimate fulfillment in this capacity to bless God, to know, so to speak, the meaning of the thirst and hunger that constitutes his life. “Homo sapiens,” “homo faber” . . . yes, but, first of all, “homo adorans.” The first, the basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God–and by filling the world with this eucharist, he transforms his life, the one that he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with Him. The world was created as the “matter,” the material of one all-embracing eucharist, and man was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament.

 

Men understand all this instinctively if not rationally. Centuries of secularization have failed to transform eating into something strictly utilitarian. Food is still treated with reverence. A meal is still a rite–the last “natural sacrament” of family and friendship, of life that is more than “eating” and “drinking.” To eat is still something more than to maintain bodily functions. People may not understand what that “something more” is, but they nonetheless desire to celebrate it. They are still hungry and thirsty for sacramental life.  

 

By “sacramental life”, Schmemann does not mean that everyone is secretly pining to attend church services that celebrate communion. Rather, human beings are innately desirous to have deep meaning and purpose even in and through mundane necessities like eating and drinking. To put it more plainly, we humans need to find connections to our Creator in and through his creation.

 

Andrew Peterson’s song, Don’t You Want to Thank Someone, is a great poetic expression of Schmemann’s philosophical framework:

 

Can’t you feel it in your bones

Something isn’t right here

Something that you’ve always known

But you don’t know why

 

‘Cause every time the sun goes down

We face another night here

Waiting for the world to spin around

Just to survive

 

But when you see the morning sun

Burning through a silver mist

Don’t you want to thank someone?

Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

 

Don’t you ever wonder why

In spite of all that’s wrong here

There’s still so much that goes so right

And beauty abounds?

 

‘Cause sometimes when you walk outside

The air is full of song here

The thunder rolls and the baby sighs

And the rain comes down

 

And when you see that spring has come

And it warms you like a mother’s kiss

Don’t you want to thank someone?

Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

 

I used to be a little boy

As golden as a sunrise

Breaking over Illinois

When the corn was tall

 

Yeah, but every little boy grows up

And he’s haunted by the heart that died

Longing for the world that was

Before the Fall

 

Oh, but then forgiveness comes

A grace that I cannot resist

And I just want to thank someone

I just want to thank someone for this

 

Now I can see the world is charged

It’s glimmering with promises

Written in a script of stars

Dripping from prophets’ lips

 

But still, my thirst is never slaked

I am hounded by a restlessness

Eaten by this endless ache

But still I will give thanks for this

 

‘Cause I can see it in the seas of wheat

I can feel it when the horses run

It’s howling in the snowy peaks

It’s blazing in the midnight sun

 

Just behind a veil of wind

A million angels waiting in the wings

A swirling storm of cherubim

Making ready for the Reckoning

 

Oh, how long, how long?

Oh, sing on, sing on

 

And when the world is new again

And the children of the King

Are ancient in their youth again

Maybe it’s a better thing

A better thing

 

To be more than merely innocent

But to be broken then redeemed by love

Maybe this old world is bent

But it’s waking up

And I’m waking up

 

‘Cause I can hear the voice of one

He’s crying in the wilderness

“Make ready for the Kingdom Come”

Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

 

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Hallalujah! Hallelujah!

Come back soon

Come back soon

 

082414_0202_TheSacramen3.pngThis eschatological longing for the “Kingdom Come” makes all our thanksgivings here and now bitter-sweet. We have the joy of experiencing God’s love in and through all that He has made. But our hunger and thirst is not satisfied even by this. Indeed, much of the power of the Eucharistic celebration in the liturgy is its anticipation of the day when we will eat and drink with Jesus face-to-face. For only God can truly satisfy what all of our appetites are really after:

 

“Man is a hungry being. But he is hungry for God. Behind all the hunger of our life is God. All desire is finally a desire for Him.”