Today’s Contemplation

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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.

How Are You Today? Tired…

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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.

A Lesson from Sacramental Theology by Kurt Stasiak, OSB

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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!

lk

P.S. – You can find the books to which I refer at Amazon.com

Sacramental Theology: Means of Grace, Way of Life

and

A Confessor’s Handbook

Unhailed Grace

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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.”

Reclaiming the Priesthood (A Coming Series)

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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?

Segment from “Holy Longing” by Ron Rolheiser

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Rolheiser, Ron. Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality. Doubleday, NY. 1999.

“What does God’s power look like? How does it feel to feel as God in this world?

If you have ever been overpowered physically and been helpless in that, if you have ever been hit or slapped by someone and been powerless to defend yourself or fight back, then you have felt how God feels in this world.

If you have ever dreamed a dream and found that every effort you made was hopeless and that your dream could never be realized, if you have cried tears and felt shame at your own inadequacy, then you have felt how God feels in this world.

If you have ever been shamed in your enthusiasm and not given a chance to explain yourself, if you have ever been cursed for your goodness by people who misunderstood you and were powerless to make them see things in your way, then you have felt how God feels in this world.

If you have ever tried to make yourself attractive to someone and were incapable of it, if you have ever loved someone and wanted desperately to somehow make him or her notice you and found yourself hopelessly unable to do so, then you have felt how God feels in this world.

If you have ever felt yourself aging and losing both the health and tautness of a young body and the opportunities that come with that and been powerless to turn back the clock, if you have ever felt the world slipping away from you as you grow older and ever more marginalized, then you have felt how God feels in this world.

If you have ever felt like a minority of one before the group hysteria of a crowd gone mad, if you have ever felt, firsthand, the sick evil of gang rape, then you have felt how God feels in this world . . . and how Jesus felt on Good Friday.

God never overpowers. God’s power in this world is never the power of muscle, a speed, a physical attractiveness, a brilliance, or a grace which (as the contemporary expression has it) blows you away and makes you shout: “Yes! Yes! There is a God!” The world’s power tries to work that way. God’s power though is more muted, more helpless, more shamed, and more marginalized. But it lies at a deeper level, at the ultimate base of things, and will, in the end, gently have the final say.

To work for justice and peace in this world is not to move from being Mother Teresa to being Rambo or Batman. The God who undergirds justice and peace beats up no one and His or Her cause is not furthered when we do.”

Weekend In Arlington

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So I had opportunity to drive down to Arlington, TX this weekend. Got news that my Granny is in hospice care. She’s 91 years old and… well… how should I say it, still giving people hell after all these years! I say that tongue in cheek… mostly because if my Granny ever heard me (or read me) use the word “Hell” like that, she’d literally put soap in my mouth to “wash it out.”

I love my Granny. When I was a very small child, it was a treat to get to sleep in Granny’s room, because you got to be and feel very special for a magnificent moment in time. Granny would either read (with her very animated voice) “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” or she’d make up her own story, which often began with “a fat lady in a bird-bath.” Not sure why, but it always got a giggle out of me. That’s probably why.

Trips to her farm near Lingleville, TX were highlights of my youth. The two hour trip felt like an eternity until we finally hit the gravel road that ended with her small farmhouse. I still recall feeling lit up inside to be on that farm with granny. Remember the smell of her famous yeast rolls. The smell and sound of a roaring fire in her fireplace around Christmas time. The dim lamp light in her living room as we sat around the tree opening presents for what seemed like hours on Christmas Eve.

She would chase us around the house. Tickle us until we nearly peed ourselves. May have in some cases, I can’t remember for sure. Encourage an adventurous spirit within us. Arm us with a 410 shotgun and set us free to eliminate (if possible) the worlds rabbit, possum and armadillo populations. Specifically because they were always ruining her vegetable garden. She was rambunctious, full of spirit, and alive to God, people, and to the world. She survived an abusive alcoholic husband (who quite probably loved her best he could in that condition). She survived a divorce, a serious car accident, many years of living alone on a farm, and truly God knows what else. Tenacity, vibrancy, joy, humor, love. All words I would use to describe my Granny. Sometimes affectionately known as Granny Grunt.

Not too long ago, Granny was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. A disease that effects the brain, and therefore, the personality. Granny really left us long ago. In the nursing home, she has been difficult for her family, and even for her nursing staff to help. But that’s not the Granny I remember, nor eulogize here.

Tonight, she lies fragile and weak in a nursing home bed in East Fort Worth. She is in the last of a series of nursing homes. The last one that would accept responsibility to care for her.

My Granny Grunt is moments, hours, could be a couple of days (no one really knows) from moving out of her earthly body and into the next place. In some ways, I envy her. Wish I was going.

What I wish and pray for her is that God has a sense of humor. That the first thing she’ll see is a “fat lady in a birdbath.” Maybe then she’ll think of me, return to her old self, and long for the day when I get to join her there.

I love you Granny. But you know that already.