The Practice of Repentance: Repentance from Idolatry...
(What is the Backstory and why?) March 6th, 2014 [caption id="attachment_3046" align="alignleft" width="160"] Frederica Math...
[caption id="attachment_3024" align="alignright" width="300"] "Peace through Proximity," Aaron Collier[/caption] Holy Improvisation: Unti...
(What is the Backstory and why?) February 27th, 2014 [caption id="attachment_2988" align="alignleft" width="252"] (Credit: F...
March 6th, 2014
I know I’ve shared with you the conversion story of Frederica Matthewes-Green, a brilliantly insightful writer and member of the Orthodox Church. But as it relates to something we said last Sunday about sifting our passions, I wanted to highlight another story of her’s that’s stuck with me ever since I heard it over a decade ago. You can read the entire account of it here in her own words.
Though her conversion to Christ led her to repudiate a version of feminism she’d once embraced, Frederica retained both affinity and aptitude in speaking into a wide swath of issues related to women’s dignity and value. For her clear-minded commentary on everything from vocation, motherhood, pregnancy, and entering into constructive dialogue with the pro-choice constituency, she was invited to a conference on women’s issues which would represent a wide spectrum of perspectives.
Sitting on the front row of the auditorium, Frederica waited to hear from perhaps the most famous speaker on the docket. In the course of that speaker’s comments though, words of great animosity toward religious convictions spilled from the dais like boiling oil. It wasn’t as if Frederica was shocked to hear this person’s characterization of Christian faith, or even how the speaker profaned certain elements of worship. But the sound and fury of the speech could not have assailed more the heart of this Orthodox pastor’s wife.
Following the speech Frederica composed herself in the ladies room, a sympathetic friend offering her support. Then in a great irony, as everyone left the building at the conclusion of that evening’s program, Frederica ended up sharing a cab ride, not just with another friend, but with the very speaker who’d just succeeded in besmirching all things Christian!
Among the cab-sharers was a colleague who’d come to appreciate some of Frederica’s insights. Seeing the opportunity to provoke a fascinating, if brief, exchange, she invited Frederica to summarize the perspective alternative to her cab-mate’s. Conditions for dialogue were sub-optimal in the jostling, swerving, cramped cab, but even in the abbreviated conversation, the heralded speaker came to understand both the offense she’d given–an offense for which she later apologized–and a different way of seeing.
I reference Frederica’s experience because I think it provides us a potent example of what a heart rightly incensed by another’s hostility toward God might look like. We acknowledged Sunday the all-too familiar examples of religious indignation that often do more to defame God than honor Him. But with C.S. Lewis’ help we also were alerted to the opposite response–cool, cynical indifference–that has as much reprehensible about it as unbridled aggression in God’s name. Frederica’s response to this person’s mockery of Christian faith was neither stifled nor unhinged. And it was her tears, not her harangues, that was most prophetic in character and tone.
Last week, Wesley Hill, whom we’ve referenced previously, spoke at a conference for single adults hosted by a church in New York City. A single man himself, Hill was tasked with speaking to the notion of chastity. (You can see the whole conference here; Hill’s comments begin about the 40 minute mark.) To begin his talk he referenced two sources that defined chastity, each of which cast the word in terms of what it refrained from. Notwithstanding the typical associations with the term, Hill nevertheless suggested that chastity is as much about what it calls one to as it what it calls one away from. In other words he argued chastity isn’t primarily about negation–about what one does not do–but about redirection of investment–what one is thereby freed to do.
Yesterday began the season of Lent according to the Christian calendar. While typically associated with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, and not uncommonly scorned among some Protestants, Lenten observance has seen something of a resurgence in recent years among those previously suspicious of its ostensible burden-laying ritualism. There may not have been a wholesale embrace of the myriad rules for fasting found in the more ancient expressions of the Church, but the idea of a communal practice of reflection on the days leading to Jesus’ passion, crucifixion, and resurrection has found wider currency.
I reference Wesley Hill’s talk on chastity if only to make a parallel point with respect to Lent. The caricatured version of the season is portrayed as primarily a time of abstinence, of what to divert yourself from. So people reduce the season almost exclusively to self-denial, giving up something they’d otherwise enjoy as an act of sacrifice parallel to Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. It goes without saying that walking in the selfless steps of Jesus, the steps that forsook what He was entitled to, is the way of discipleship. But the act of sacrifice was not for the sake of the sacrifice itself, but for the greater thing for which the sacrifice was made. The disciples left behind the predictability of their nets to become fishers of men. They forsook much to gain more. It was for the joy set before Him that Jesus forsook comfort and endured the cross. Every relinquishment was for the sake of embracing something else.
So what if we were to consider Lent as an opportunity to give ourselves back to something–something perhaps life and habit have squeezed out of our lives but which have been replaced by something else less than life-giving? Your pastor found a resource that invites him to read the entire New Testament over the forty days of Lent. Sally Lloyd-Jones composed a children’s version of the Bible that can be covered in the same time frame. Other churches have compiled devotional readings for the season you might follow. Any endeavor will mean forsaking a part of what we might otherwise do. But the Lenten journey will be properly followed as a way of pursuit, not merely abstention.
While salvation surely implies what we’ve been rescued from, does not the glory of salvation center more on what we’ve been rescued unto? A true gospel-shaped Lent lets what we’re seeking to embrace be what dictates what we release.
To end this section, let me quote famed English poet George Herbert, whose influence resonates still today. He composed an ode to Lent, which I’ll excerpt here.(But you can read it in its entirety here.)
Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authority,
But is composed of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to your Mother, what you would allow
To every Corporation.
* * *
It ‘s true, we cannot reach Christ’s fortieth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Savior’s purity;
Yet are bid, Be holy ev’n as he.
In both let ‘s do our best.
So during Lent we as a community will look more deeply at the Practice of Repentance.
This Sunday we’ll turn to the too-familiar story of Zaccheus in Luke 19:1-10. Zaccheus reminds us that all true repentance is a matter not primarily of doctrine but desire. We’ll see desire transformed in that short episode and try to identify how repentance works.
To set up the sermon let me post a clip here that’s already blanketed the world. It’s from a young actress named Lupita Nyong’o, who recently starred in the film awarded Best Picture this year, 12 Years a Slave. Here she speaks of her own struggle to believe she was beautiful, during which she references a potent phrase: “the seduction of inadequacy.” She does not take time to explain that phrase’s precise sense, but suffice it to say it has something to do with how we are deeply–often maniacally–motivated to compensate for whatever we find lacking in us.
Zaccheus struggled with that. We struggle with that. We’ll let Lupita here speak to it. And then we’ll ask her help to finish the sermon Sunday perhaps.
Don’t shoot the messenger, but as we warned you last week, set your clocks forward one hour this Saturday night.
If you missed our first night of corporate prayer earlier this month, we’ll gather again at the home of Mark and Rachel Kull (923 Zeb) this Sunday night, March 9th, from 6-8pm. If you’d like to know what to expect, we recapped the evening a couple weeks back. ”Unless the Lord builds it, the laborers labor in vain,” Psalm 127 says. We know we’re out to be building for the Kingdom through our faithful presence to God, to one another, and to our world(s). We suppose our time of prayer is out to ensure we remember Who the builder really is. Come along.
Finally, we’d invite you to pray:
- for Ron and Diane Morren who will be teaching in Peru for the next 10 weeks
- for Margarita Harris recovering from a fall
- for Imelda Ottmers as she continues to recover from a car accident
- for Ryan Garman and Anna Tanksley as they wed this weekend
- for Wanda Williams’ father recovering from major surgery
- for Jocelyn Quinn Raikes the newest daughter of Jonathan and Liesl Raikes
- for for the church in hostile places like Syria, N Korea, the Ukraine, and elsewhere
See you Sunday at 9:30,
Perhaps the central point of Psalm 139 is that, as we said, “God is there.”
Here’s one voice we’ve come to love that makes the same point in a slightly different way
February 27th, 2014
In Matthew 12 Jesus tells a parable that likens the expulsion of an unclean spirit to the cleaning of a house:
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
One might draw out several implications from this foreboding passage. One stands out: a heart expunged of a dark influence is none the better unless something else is established in its place. Dismissing a sinful tendency is not the same as displacing it. Only a new desire can effectively cancel out the interest in the former.
The Scottish pastor of the early 19th century, Thomas Chalmers, may have made that point the clearest in his perhaps most famous sermon “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” As the preface to the linked document will warn, sermons written by churchmen of that day often require a perseverance to which we are not accustomed (perhaps I have prepared you in some way). But for all the sermon’s pithiness there is a corresponding intuitiveness to his argument. Why do we stop desiring any particular thing? Isn’t it because something else came to be more desirable to us? Didn’t we lose our affections for picture books only after we came to savor books with words that could evoke far more than just images as we read? Wasn’t it the blessedness of learning what another might say that helped us forsake the tendency to always be interrupting or commandeering the conversation?
February 20th, 2014
It was with some fear and trembling last Sunday that we took up the matter of doubt. Would we end up repressing that sense of inscrutability we sometimes feel in our pilgrimage toward and with Jesus; or would we end up glorying in our uncertainties in such a way that we yielded to conventional wisdom that all discussion of faith should remain private? The psalm we considered walked a middle road between those pitfalls. Would we?
The ensuing Q&A was, as always, a thoughtful and sincere exchange. How facing doubt is both a personal and public matter centered our discussion. We all recognized how the church, while its calling is to promote and practice faith, must likewise create a space for expressing doubt, just as the psalmist did in his psalm, but with a view to reflecting His character even when we can’t comprehend His ways.
We gleaned from the psalm that we best take to God our doubts of God. The psalmist engaged his doubts to God by vocalizing them in prayer. Given the relational nature of our communion with God, and the nature of doubt as a tentative not final conclusion, praying doubts, we argued, was no oxymoron, but the only humble and intellectually-honest approach to doubt. So pray we shall and pray we must. If only to keep track of the conversation we might even journal it, not in a documentary but epistolary mode–addressing Him as we address our struggles to believe Him.
February 13th, 2014
CtK has prayed corporately in the past, but last Sunday we spent an extended time together expressly for the sake of praying–practicing what it means to pray the Psalms and praying for the number of needs and people we’ve become aware of in recent months.
What did we learn from our time of prayer? Why might you plan to come for our next time the 2nd Sunday of March (9th) at the Kull’s?
Orare est laborare. It was St Benedict who ennobled the godliness of work by coining the phrase, laborare est orare: “work is prayer.” But our experience Sunday night confirmed the converse of Benedict’s adage: prayer is work. All came ready and willing to pray, but the idea of prayer can sometimes sound more inviting than its actual practice. Hugh Comer gave us some welcome direction to our time, but in the end prayer required a measure of attention and focus we’re perhaps unaccustomed to sustaining. The themes we considered did not demand high-sounding eloquence, but neither did they admit haphazard thought. Just as you would not speak too casually to someone endeared to you or admired by you, so our praying invited sincere, thoughtful, but not artificial expression.
February 6th, 2014
Last Saturday about a couple dozen of us spent the morning discussing the privileges and pitfalls of being public with our faith in witness. We were able to have a frank conversation in a safe setting about a topic we know is central to our identity, yet too often finds its way drifting to the periphery, if not off the reservation entirely.
One idea that resonated with many of us was this idea of placing ourselves in contexts where interactions with those who don’t identify with Christ become more possible and natural. Mike Rasmussen shared his varied experiences as a church planter who lived out that role by simply being a neighbor–and neighborly wherever he found himself (at the gym, the library, the grocery store).
Well, an account of another recent experience like that came across our online desk this week–and from some of our own, Mark and Rachel Kull. I asked them to elaborate for us on a conversation with a young woman in another state which began somewhat awkwardly but developed into a mutually-encouraging moment. The interaction offers, I think, a window into the nature of both our cultural moment and being present to our world in witness. Read on:
We were in Boise, ID last weekend. “So what do the two of you do?” I asked the 20-something couple sitting across the table from me. We were at a family dinner following the funeral of the young man’s grandfather. His grandfather had been instrumental in founding several Baptist churches in Boise, as well as a Bible school, and is known to all as a man of deep faith. At the funeral his grandson had given a loving speech memorializing his grandfather.