(Check back tomorrow for what songs we’ll sing Sunday)
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October 30th, 2014
Notwithstanding the apostle Paul’s warning about ritualized observances as an assumed mark of authentic belief, there’s quite a convergence of commemorations on the Christian calendar over the next several days. Our piety before God does not hang in the balance depending on how (or whether) we mark those celebrations, but what these ancient patterns bring attention to is still worth noting.
Mostly overshadowed by the annual costumed pursuit of confections is Reformation Day, when Martin Luther first published his prime grievances–his 95 Theses–with the excesses and distortions of then Roman Catholic teaching and practice.
It shares that day with a far more ancient observance thought to have originated during the 8th century papacy of Gregory III, the feast of All Saints Day. Otherwise known as All Hallows Day, Gregory sought to ennoble, and thereby encourage the imitation of, “the holy apostles and. . . all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world.”
On the day following–and less familiar to Protestant communions–is the feast of All Souls. It, too, is day of remembrance for all those who’ve died in the Lord. But the day aligns itself so tightly with the doctrine of purgatory–the belief in a preparatory state of further refinement prior to entering into the full presence of God. So Protestants have preferred to merge the basic theme of All Saints and All Souls into a single remembrance of, as we call it, the “Church Triumphant”: those who’ve met their last enemy, death, and by the grace of Christ now live victoriously over it.
I enumerate those several feasts not to add to your knowledge of venerable calendrical practice, but because I want to go back to Lesslie Newbigin, whom we referenced last week (and previously)–and particularly in wake of my recent, unplanned, conversation with “Eric” I shared with you last Sunday.
In that same book we mentioned, The Good Shepherd, Newbigin devotes two of his chapters to the church’s evangelistic mission. He both concedes and laments how the call to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom has too often devolved into an exploitative work motivated by naked self-aggrandizement, in which evangelists practically prey upon the weakest for the sheer sake of expanding influence. Even where the effort has assumed a more humble demeanor, Newbigin finds still more to be despondent about when he notes the remoteness with which many undertook the task of taking the News afield:
We do not really become involved with the people. We do not sit down beside them and listen to their thoughts, their problems, their hopes . . . . Our model is not the incarnation of the Word of God, but the methods of a modern commercial or political advertiser.
He directs his criticisms mainly at the clergy of his day who, for various reasons, had come to see the believers in their parishes as their sole responsibility. He vehemently disagrees with that narrower scope of pastoral responsibility, arguing not only that pastors must lead their people in the work of evangelism, but also that one does not really know the Gospel until one has communicated it to someone who receives it, not as reminder, but as real news.
Charting a way forward, Newbigin introduces a phrase meant to recover the essence of evangelism: “Christian presence” (and you thought it was a term of more recent heritage):
This phrase has both a negative and positive reference. Negatively, it draws attention to the fact . . . that in much of our . . . evangelism we have not really been fully present to those to whom we spoke. We have addressed them, perhaps shouted at them, but have not been with them. We have not sat where they sat. We have not become part of the situation as Jesus has become part of our human situation. Positively . . .when we read the Gospels we see the presence of Jesus was itself the presence of the Kingdom of God. . . . If, then, the Church is truly faithful, then the Church’s presence in any situation will be itself good news.
We may concede his former point; if we have spoken with anyone at all it may have been more in passing and without much true engagement with the person as a person. But because we may be tempted to apply his latter point by becoming present in a wordless way, Newbigin nuances his phrase, saying,
. . . presence alone is not enough. None of us is so like Jesus that our presence can be a substitute for the naming of his name. . . . evangelism will be futile if it is mere words not authenticated by deeds. But our deeds will be futile if they do not eventually find their full meaning in the message of the Gospel which has to be proclaimed by words.
My conversation with Eric began with hearing part of his story until it led to a discussion of his vocation, which then invited me into some of his most animating principles. In the course of our dialogue I was able to identify resonances between some of his deepest convictions and what I knew of Jesus’ convictions.
I reference Newbigin and retell my recent story not to commend myself. I did not drop into that espresso bar with the slightest intention of striking up any conversation (Sunday’s coming, don’t you know?). And any evangelistic fervor in me tends to be more sporadic than sustained; though I will say the conversation was the most enlivening thing about my week. Rather I re-present his case and my experience to encourage you in something, here in this season that takes note of those who bear witness and those who’ve passed from this life. May you seize the opportunities that avail to linger, listen, and learn (and hopefully on occasion–laugh) among some whom you did not plan to engage but find yourself strangely drawn to. This is one more call to be present to those you encounter so that you might establish a context of mutual respect, in which something more than story-telling might emerge.
While we still have breath, while our body and soul remain in an as yet imperfect but no less wondrous conjunction, we are meant to be martyrs–witnesses to the faith once delivered–that more may know Him who is Love. That’s a task fit for any day of the calendar.
We come to the Table this Sunday as we consider Paul elaborate on his discussion of the freedom that comes in the gospel. We’re in Galatians 5:16-25.
The Table asks us to make preparation for its participation, to “examine” ourselves and to “consider” that to which the Table points (1 Cor 11:27ff). Preparation is personal; it’s also communal, as the meal is communal. So take a few of these verbal morsels from those who’ve come before.
Christ held Himself in His hands when He gave His Body to His disciples saying: ‘This is My Body.’ No one partakes of this Flesh before he has adored it. (St. Augustine)
A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: indeed, he certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it. (C.S. Lewis)
How many of you say: I should like to see His face, His garments, His shoes. You do see Him, you touch Him, you eat Him. He gives Himself to you, not only that you may see Him, but also to be your food and nourishment. (St. John Chrysostom)
Community Quick Hits:
Few things make people soar like knowing they get an extra hour of sleep. It makes you feel like….well like this:
So set your clocks back Saturday night! And then feel free to swim in your jeans on whatever dinner table you prefer.
But also don’t forget our First Sunday Potluck is this Sunday, directly after worship (so, you young family types, stick around and eat with us.) Click on the calendar event for details about what you can bring.
Finally, the women are gathering at the home of Don and Sandi Holzwarth, Saturday, November 15th, 9:30-11:30 for a time of just being together. Come down to the edge of the lake and enjoy each other’s company. Click here on the calendar page for details.
What you can pray for
- for your prospective officer candidates as they continue in training
- for your session in its plans for 2015
- for our covenant children, far and wide, young and old
- for those longing for new mercies, and swift justice
- for the students among us (and away from us) laboring to be faithful
And it wouldn’t be a right and meet celebration of what is also known as Reformation Sunday unless we trotted back out that (in)famous little doctrinal ditty, the Reformation Polka. Just try to get this out of your head.