Month: January 2013
I think pretty much everybody has the same story. Oh sure, in one story the good guy wins, in the next the bad guy, but the plot is the same. I’m always me. You’re always you. God is always God. Sin is always sin. And grace is always grace.
It began with the world.
Just as you and I were born into this world… parents hovering over us ready to grab at us and love us the moment our lungs first struck air. So God hovered over the face of the deep by his Holy Spirit, ready to embrace the creation as it sprung forth from its own watery womb.
Just as we were born infants in this world: screaming selfishly and demanding our own needs be met, careless of the thoughts or needs of parents, depriving them of sleep and money and peace. So the mankind came in the bodies of Adam and Eve who recklessly abandoned God’s commands and desires and put thir own desire for wisdom above their care for God. In them, Adam and Eve, the whole world violated the greatest command: Love God. They failed. So do we.
Just as we, in our selfishness, hurt our siblings, made fun of them, crushed their spirit, laughed at them at their own expense. So Cain despised his brother and killed him. In Cain, the world violated the second greatest command… love your brother (or neighbor). They failed. So do we.
Just as we pursue our own goals and dreams thoughtless of bringing God into the equation. Money, success, bigger, faster, stronger, more prestigious, more recognized, more … more… more. Our thirst for self exaltation brings us to build kingdoms for ourselves that are devoid of God. So mankind, through the tower of Babel, left their God in the dust and chose, rather than to trust God or exalt him, to exalt themselves in the plains of Shinar. They built their tower of Babel, and so we build ours. Neglegent of our God. Forgetting our own maker.
And finally, we realize and acknowledge our sin. . . or we don’t.
If we do, then we know that what we deserve is death. Destruction. To be wiped off the face of the planet. We may even wonder if there is anything in us that is worth saving at all. Even our very best thoughts, our very best deeds, our very best efforts fall short of perfection. We are, alas. Sinners. But calls us to believe that if we put our faith in Christ, if we confess his name and are immersed in his authority, then there is something within us worth saving. And God, by his grace, saves us by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So the world… In all this sin, because man’s heart was only evil all the time, God was ready for a “do over” and so he created one by calling for a deluge. Yes, there was one man who was worth saving. But even Noah’s family had a measure of dysfunction. But the fleshly minded people of the world had to go. The flesh had to be destroyed. And so God baptized the world.
After God baptized the world, he made the world a promise. It was a promise of grace. That he would never again destroy the world by water as he had done. One baptism. That was it. No more. He put a rainbow in the clouds to seal the promise.
As we are baptized into Christ, God makes us a promise too. He sets the rainbow of his Holy Spirit over our hearts as a seal. A promise of salvation. A promise of grace.
Have you put your flesh to death? Have you let the deluge of baptism wash away the old so that the spirit may be alive in Christ?
Sin is not unique to you. You are not worse than anyone else. You see, the story of the world… it’s your story… It’s my story. It’s our story. It’s a story of sin, death, tragic loss, grace and redemption.
Where are you in the story?
I was thinking today on the idea of “contemplation” which means literally to “align temples.”
Think about how your inner temple… the dwelling of the Spirit of God within you is aligned with the heavenly tabernacle, where Jesus dwells at the right hand of God. Take a few moments just to meditate on the following contemplations:
Jesus is at the center of the temple, both heavenly and inward.
The Spirit ministers to God on our behalf, and to us on God’s behalf.
The commandments of God lie underneath the mercy seat. Especially the greatest commands… Love God and Love Others. Embodied in the presence of Christ both in heaven and in our hearts.
The Father is worshiped above all in this place. All sacrifices, all gifts, all thanksgiving is given to him both by the angels in heaven, and in our hearts as well.
It is through these and thoughts like these that we truly “contemplate” and align our inner temple with the heavenly one.
I’ve noticed an increasing change in the traditional way that we answer the question: “How are you?” It makes me wonder if it might not lead to a time when we just stop asking people how they are doing. But my observation is that I usually hear one of three responses…
1) Fine. This is the tradition. When people ask us how we are doing, for most of us, we know that the unwritten rule is that we are supposed to say “fine.” This is especially true when we don’t really intend to go into a discussion about our well-being with whoever has offered the greeting. We often deflect the question by this longer response: “Fine, thanks. And how are you?” That immediately tells the other person that we are both polite and that we have no intention of really talking about how we are doing?
2) Busy. I’ve heard this more and more in recent years. I’m not sure what motives us to tell people that we are busy, but it does get a little bit more personal than “fine.” We are, by and large, a busy people. We stay busy and we feel that being busy is a good quality of character to have. I ask Brent, “How are you?” He Brent says, “I”m busy.” What I hear that, I think… to myself… Brent is a busy guy…. he has a lot of work to do… a lot of kids to take care of… a lot of projects he’s working on… whatever. And so I nod my head and say, “I hear ya!” Which is another way of saying, “I can relate to that, I”m busy too!” Because I want Brent to know that I’m a hard worker and I have lots of stuff to do. Imagine someone saying, “Really? Busy? Imagine that! I don’t know what its like to be busy.” Translation: I’m a lazy bum and I have no idea what it’s like to have lots of stuff to do.” Ridiculous.
3) Tired. I’m getting this more and more. Because we are such a busy people, the result is, we are also a very tired people. It’s almost become the “norm” to be living on some kind of “caffiene” buzz. And if we’re not high on caffiene or even worse… then we’re “tired.” This has made me wonder a couple of things..
First, are we more “busy” than we really need to be? Can we not calm down and slow the pace of life enough so that we get back to answering, “fine” and actually mean it.
Second, are we really tried? Or are we so used to being “high” or “buzzed” on caffeine or hyperactive or busy… that what used to be a normal pace is now regarded as “tried.”
I don’t know. I do have five children. Maybe I really am busy and tired. Maybe that’s just life.
I was recently reading “Sacramental Theology” a book by Kurt Stasiak who is, I think, the prior of St. Meinrad Archabbey’s school of theology. I knew I would thoroughly enjoy his thoughts on both the Eucharist and Baptism, but what surprised me was the chapter on the other 5 Catholic sacraments.
I especially appreciated how these sacraments have “evolved” within the Catholic church in recent years. Particularly the sacrament of Confession, now called Reconciliation and the sacrament of Extreme Unction, now called the Anointing of the Sick. For some time, I had thought Extreme Unction was essentially a “Last Rite” or “Final Sacrament” offered to a sick person who was likely in hospice, or at the point of death. Now it seems they are offering the Anointing to any who seek the sacrament and are sick for any reason… whether physically or spiritually.
And they have turned to what I believe to be a biblical understanding of the anointing, which is not to prepare a person to get to heaven, but rather a recommissioning of the person for Christ in the face of their suffering, illness, or malady. It has been interesting, in light of these things to begin reading portions of another of his writings called “The Confessor’s Handbook” which is a practical guide for those who would hear confession. Written for Catholic priests, it also holds value for Protestants who hold to the priesthood of all believers and desire to return to a solid biblical and Christian use for the blessing that confession of sin truly is.
I another post, I hope to address sacraments from the standpoint of the grace received in them. What differentiates the grace received at Baptism from that of the Lord’s Supper? And what is different in the blessing received from confession and accountability (which I wonder if accountability might not be a sacrament itself? or an extension of confession?) By the way… for those who are reading my recent posts and wondering if Mr. Keele might be going Catholic. The answer is no. I am however doing two things that have me following this line of thought…
1) Attending a retreat at the Archabbey of St. Meinrad this spring lead by Kurt Stasiak, OSB.
2) Studying the idea of reclaiming the priesthood for all believers and preparing a sermon series on it.
‘Til next time!
P.S. – You can find the books to which I refer at Amazon.com
Acapella churches of Christ, and Christian Churches (instrumental) hold to a fairly sacramental view of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. While we don’t hold to the Orthodox and Catholic view of “transubstantiation” per se, we would agree that one finds the very real presence of Christ in both the supper and in baptism itself.
We have a high and healthy, I believe, view of both of these sacraments, and might not be at all uncomfortable calling them such. (Though some in the restoration movement would be hesitant to use the term merely out of a fear of being associated with the Catholic church).
What folks in my church may not know is that the Catholic church participates in another sacrament that is both biblical and very very spiritually healthy if not entirely necessary to get one “into heaven” as it were. That is the sacrament of “Confession” or as it is often called now – “Reconciliation.” I say that with some hesitation because we do practice confession, we just don’t do much in terms of practicing the whole POINT of confession, which is absolution or more simply put… forgiveness.
My experience is that there is a great deal of “confessing” going on to some degree but not much in terms of the priesthood (understanding here that I believe in the priesthood of all believers) offering forgiveness in the name of Christ. Nor do we often direct the one confessing sin to make any kind of restitution (or penance). I would understand a protestants hesitancy in offering some form of work as “penance” since there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation or the grace from which our salvation comes. But it is my understanding that both restitution and penance is not done for God’s sake, but for the sake of the sinner and the other person (human) against whom a sin has been committed.
Let me summarize my experience with confession, and then share how we might learn to do it better… or at least in a way that brings greater blessing upon the one offering his or her confession.
My experience is that true confession … specific sin to a specific person acting on behalf of Christ as “priest” is extremely rare. Many, as I have observed, prefer to keep their sins between themselves and God. If one does come to me as a pastor or minister to confess a sin, it is often to get “advice” on how to do better, or how to feel saved again, or someone just “getting something off their chest.” The failure is not theirs, it is mine.
What I have never really done is to consider myself serving in a priestly capacity here. I have never really considered that it is my duty and privilege to humbly serve in as the presence of Christ in giving people the words they so desperately need to hear: “Friend, your sins are forgiven you! Go in peace… sin no more!” After all, what authority have I to forgive sins? And of course, the answer is… none outside the name of Jesus Christ. Sins can only be forgiven in his name. But has he not left the right and authority to forgive sins in the hands of his church… his Presence in the world today?
My prayer is that we can reclaim the priesthood. Partially this will mean reclaiming the sacrament of Reconciliation or “Confession.” A sinner confessing to a believer (priest) the true nature of their sin. The priest offering forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ and directing the other to offer up restitution and give penance for their own sake. To give, through these graces, the very grace of God in Christ … the gift of forgiveness.
So, my protestant friends, lets keep confessing our sins, one to another. And when someone comes to us to confess, let’s put on our clerical garb (figuratively speaking) and act the Priest that God by his Holy Spirit has ordained us to be. May we boldly forgive in his name … and continue to preach the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus Christ.
Surely our world needs to hear the words more often, “Friend, your sins are forgiven. Go in peace, and sin no more.”
Disclaimer: I don’t know much about Catholic theology. What I address here deals more with perception than historical veracity. So keep in mind, what I am about to share is more of a personal application than broad.
I wonder if may be when we “protested” the Catholic church, we really knew what we were doing. I mean, I wasn’t there and all, and I have learned all the Catholic theologies that are “misguided” (as I understand them). I know to avoid Mary worship, or to think that the saints can intercede for us (that being dead saints) in lieu of the Christ, I know to believe in the priesthood of all believers as opposed to having a special “class” of priests, etc. etc.
I won’t address all these things here, though that would probably be a worthy endeavor. However, where it concerns the priesthood, I have wondered this: When we adopted the Biblical perspective of the “priesthood” of all believers… did we perhaps throw the baby out with the bathwater? It seems to me that since we believe in the priesthood of all believers, this has translated into the priesthood of no one.
One of my favorite moves: The Incredibles. Watch this:
Okay. There at the end. “Everyone is special Dash…” And he responds, “Which is another way of saying, ‘No one is.’
I think I get his point. I get hers, too. Yes, everyone is special in their own way. But to throw a blanket on someone’s gift in the name of conformity is to remove a large portion of their calling.
I wonder… since we have said, “Everyone is priest” that has become “another way of saying, no one is.”
In an upcoming sermon series, I hope to address this very thing. The idea that we are indeed a priesthood of believers. However, within that priesthood there are various functions, roles, and realities to be lived out under the heading “priest.” I think we have done the church a disservice by relieving it of the title and practical function of the”priesthood.”
Should the priesthood be a “special” class? Elevated above others? Venerated in unbiblical ways? Of course not on all counts. But how many of us who believe that we are a nation of priests can say when the last time we did something “priestly?” What is our priestly function? Can we serve it? Can we articulate it? Can we describe to others what our roles are in serving as Christ’s priests on the earth?
I say we study it. I say we reclaim it. I say that if we’re going to claim to be a priesthood of believers, that we start functioning like priests in this world. I wonder if we did, what our Catholic friends might think?