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.
Prayer begets prayer. To guide and prompt our prayers we had the Psalm texts before us, as well as the names of many for whom we’d pray. But it was interesting to note how all we needed was one person’s prayers to elicit something similar but unique from others. As we kept each of our prayers short so as not to have any one of us dominate the time, or to make length some arbitrary measure of a prayer, the time passed quickly with prayers of all sorts and subjects coming from every corner of the room.
Corporate prayer is but one potent expression of all aspects of our vision. We’re present to Him by asking of Him many things. We’re present to our world as we ask Him to work through us for the world’s good. And we find ourselves drawn together–present to each other–as we pray for one another. Something about the time together authenticates our reason for being. We were made to find our rest in Him, a rest reaffirmed by our communion with each other, a rest we find strangely warmed to share with others the more convinced we become of it.
We’ll gather again March 9th, back at the Kull’s. We hope you’ll join us.
Earlier last Sunday we wondered if the repentance that leads to reconciliation were possible following sin, both acute and chronic. One step King David took in that direction was to recognize both the nature and depth of his own sin. But in our more disenchanted day, before one might be convinced of either, one must first be convinced of the fact of sin–whether it is valid to admit the idea that there are acts and dispositions incongruous with some transcendent order. Two items that came my way last week, but for which I could make no room in the sermon, take up that question.
One is an excerpt of a dialogue between two psychologists–Dr Stephen Pinker of Harvard and Dr William Hurlbut of Stanford–on the issue of forgiveness: what is it and what fuels it? Since Pinker brooks no concept of transcendence he views the act of refraining from vengeance as merely a strategy for ordering and sustaining a society.
Hurlbut operates from a Christian perspective and thus appeals to transcendent categories as both justification and motivation for deep forbearance. Psalm 51 documented one man’s search for no less than God’s forgiveness. This exchange examines the nature and need for it. The excerpt is part of a larger conversation you can find here.
The second item dabbles in the same interface (or clash depending on whom you ask) between the material and spiritual world–this time between neuroscience and spirituality, a topic of increasing interest in recent decades. This article, written humbly by a self-professed agnostic, asks if what has been previously described as “evil” ought better be construed as purely psychological aberrations. Evidence from a new application of imaging technology called fMRI analysis has revealed striking commonalities of brain structure and function among violent offenders, implying that certain individuals are incapable of acting otherwise given their neurological condition. But for reasons you’ll see, the author is humble enough to recognize the leap of faith one must make to arrive at that conclusion; deriving causation from correlation is only the first inclination a statistics class tries to disabuse you of. By the end of the piece even the researchers find themselves far more guarded about letting the data reduce horrific behaviors to mere aberrant brain function–and even less comfortable with deeming it exculpatory.
Descending from the lofty heights of neuroscience, there’s one domain of study worth consulting when looking for the wider significance of a particular sermon’s theme and application–namely, church history. As I listened to the oral examination of some of our presbytery’s ordination candidates last weekend, one question on the history portion of the exam involved the Donatist Controversy that arose during the early 4th century.
Bowing to the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian many in the church handed over their copies of the Scriptures as an act of public renunciation of their faith. When the spectre of persecution has passed, some who had refused to recant looked upon those who did as unworthy of both communion with the church or leadership of it. Under the leadership of Donatus Magnus, the Donatists, as they came to be known, adopted a far harder line on those seeking to be restored to the church. Donatist churches persevered for the better part of a century, with even Augustine marshaling his theological acumen to oppose its underlying premises.
That controversy confirms how every era grapples with its own cultural moment on how best to remain faithful to the witness of Christ.
(Culture watch: Japanese Roman Catholic author, Shushaku Endo, wrote about faith’s struggle amid persecution in a short novel in the 1960s entitled Silence. It turns out Martin Scorcese is in pre-production of a film of the novel to be released next year.)
We’ve been in a series on praying the Psalms improvisationally for several weeks now. This week we’ll turn to another Psalmist in turmoil, at first with the world and then with himself. We’re in Psalm 73, a believer struggling with this question:
Why walk by faith when the faithless seem to flourish?
You’ll find this Psalmist humble in even his weakest moments of faith, which is part of the Psalm’s lesson for us. Robert Duvall’s rendition of Sonny Dewey in 1997’s The Apostle is a far cry from the Psalmist’s humility; and what we know of Sonny’s life parts company in large measure with the Psalmist’s integrity. But this clip of his anguished prayer to God may echo the tone of the Psalmist’s angst even if Sonny lacks the same piety.
All those who believe in God will struggle with bouts of doubt of God. What Psalm 73 has to teach us about “how” to doubt will be its message for us.
It may seem like we just completed a season of preparing and ordaining officers, but for the sake of regularly adding fresh insight (and permitting those who’ve served for lengthy periods a chance to rest) recruiting and training for office will always be an annual occurrence. As you may remember, those ordained to the office of elder and deacons are required:
1) to demonstrate the raw aptitudes for those roles (as per Titus 2 and 1 Timothy 3) and,
2) be examined for their knowledge of bible, our denominational standards (the Westminster Confession), and our church polity (the Book of Church Order), as mandated by the PCA
Well, the training will begin again come late March, with bible and theology being the first order of business. But since those subjects are relevant for all kinds of leadership and service in the church, the training will be available to our entire community.
So beginning March 30th during 2nd hour, we’ll spend several weeks in a series entitled Storyline. It means to survey the foundations of our faith in the narrative arc of the bible with direction from the Westminster Confession of Faith. The elders and I, as well as our pastoral intern Kevin Gladding, will all share in giving us what will be a whirlwind tour through the essentials of our faith. We plan to make it a time of both hearing and discussing.
Some of you will have been steeped since birth in the topics we’ll cover. For others this may be the first time through a brief survey of theology. We hope you’ll all plan to attend irrespective of your role, present or future.
Our lives are a story; our faith tells a Story. Why not summarize our faith in a mode consonant with its nature? Again, Storyline begins March 30th during 2nd hour.
Finally, we’d invite you to pray:
- for Jim and Sue Akovenko traveling to North Carolina for meeting concerning translation work in Asia
- for Neal Peterson’s first of two hip replacement surgeries earlier today
- for Tony Barnes’ emergency surgery for a severe tooth abscess earlier this morning
- for all the ways the Lord might help us to be faithfully present to Him, one another, and wherever we find ourselves
See you Sunday at 9:30,
For those who may have been as curious as I was about the enigmatic archival photo of an abandoned confessional in a cathedral in Verdun–the one I used on the front cover of last week’s worship bulletin–our fact-finder in residence, Hugh Comer, offered this little backstory:
“Verdun is a city in northern France which was on the front line during World War I. A battle was fought with the Germans lasting most of the year 1916 with each side moving no more than a couple of miles. It is estimated that over 40 million shells were fired between the two sides during the battle and almost 400,000 soldiers were killed. If you visit today, there is a massive forest where the battle once raged. The ground on the forest floor is still pocked with craters from the mortar shells and criss-crossed with the lines of trenches dug by the soldiers. No tree is more than 100 years old because the entire area was deforested by the artillery fire. Verdun cathedral was severely damaged during the war, with the bell towers never rebuilt. I suspect the confessional pictured on last weeks bulletin was in the rubble of the cathedral. The priests probably had little time to hear confessions.”