November 21st, 2013
Earlier this week three fifths of my family entered an Asian store in N. Dallas in search of a snack they’ve come to savor: seaweed. (I know you frequently share a similar urge). Before departing though they succumbed to the siren call of those strategically-placed bubble-gum machines full of trinkets and chintzy toys you find at the checkout counter. Both petitioned their mother for a quarter and summarily plunked down the oblation to the Deity of Cheap Plastic, waiting breathlessly to see what wonder would emerge.
Buckled in for the drive home my eldest was first to unpack his gift, and therein found a small stone with a simple note of instruction:
“This stone is believed to reduce guilt and fear.”
Provoked as if by a Pavlovian bell my eldest’s younger sister immediately chimed in, “that’s what I need; I struggle with that the most.” Their mother, never to miss the teachable moment (now as if served up on a platter), explained that there is no better remedy for guilt and fear than our faith in Christ.
But there ensued a pregnant pause, a silence that grew more unsettling with each passing second. And then, my daughter’s quiet concession: “But the rock is easier.”
She exemplified our tendency to look for short-cuts in order to solve our deepest problems. Given that fear and guilt apprehend us so easily and cling to us so tightly we scramble to find whatever will blunt their pain, usually through escape. But, as we quoted Flannery O’Connor last week, prayer helps us “get down under things” to find where God is, and there to find how God answers our guilt and fear.
We ended our series on a vision for faithful presence last Sunday with an invitation to the forge that Jesus intimates prayer to be. The prayer he taught his disciples to pray was not intended to be a script, we argued, so much as a context for God to drive fear, guilt, and temptation from us and hammer hope, holiness, and compassion into us. That more substantive work of conforming–of forging–us into the image of His Son (cf. Rom 8:29) requires more than merely reciting the prayer. It demands a kind of attention, perseverance, and vocalized struggle that prayer prompts us to engage in.
But we need help to pray like that.
So did Martin Luther’s barber who, while giving a trim to the erstwhile monk, asked his pastor for something of a primer on praying. Luther happily obliged him by retiring to his study, freshly shaven, and composed a nearly 8,000 word document that explained his way of praying. His barber might’ve been thankful, but perhaps also sorry he asked.
You won’t be sorry when you read what Luther penned for the man that kept his sideburns even. You’ll see how he used the Lord’s Prayer (and the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles’ Creed) as a series of headings for his own prayers, small prompts to elicit his own words. Sometimes friends sit securely in silence, while at other times their friendship provokes more and more words. Luther demonstrates how the word of God to him made him more effusive with his words to God. The talking points, to be grossly anachronistic, became confirming points, as if to draw out our true heart and inviting God to shower it with reassuring grace.
While we have the objective work of God in Christ that pardons us of our guilt and removes the basis for fear on many fronts, we need that objective work subjectively wrought in us by the influence of the Holy Spirit. This mode of praying provides that kind of space for the Spirit to work. Otherwise we’ll go looking to assuage our pain from something we think more substantial but no more effective than a stone.
You cannot run away from a weakness; you must sometimes fight it out or perish. And if that be so, why not now, and where you stand? –Robert Louis Stevenson
What we’re all striving for is authenticity, a spirit-to-spirit connection. –Oprah Winfrey
We’ve spent the last three months outlining what faithful presence is. This Sunday Kevin Gladding, CtK’s pastoral intern, will sketch a vivid picture of presence in practice as he preaches from Philippians 1:27-30.
- We stand together
- We strive together
- We suffer together
Our world is not unfamiliar with that experience, but it tends to regard as foolishness (cf. 1 Cor 1:18) both the manner in and the premises upon which we choose to enter into that experience. If it hasn’t already, life will impose that experience upon us. Better to be prepared in advance for how to respond than be shocked when it comes. So allow the sermon to do its greater work by sitting with the Philippians text, if not reading it in its entirety, in advance of Sunday.
Pastoral Backstory will take a break for Thanksgiving but allow us to give a preview of what awaits us in Advent.
Have you ever wondered why music is a nearly universal phenomenon across time and culture? It’s in part what happens when we couple ideas or images with pitch, tempo, and timbre. Dressing truths and experiences in poetic or melodic form sets them apart and ennobles them. It underscores their significance in ways mere propositional statements sometimes cannot. (As the saying goes, politicians “govern in prose but campaign in poetry.”) But the true impetus to write songs, as but one example of ideas couched in an art-form, is that the outcome resonates with our story and evokes our memories–of hopes and hurts, triumphs and tragedies. Songs amplify over the din of the mundane the way we see (and saw) the world and ourselves. We seek to capture the core of the idea by placing it in a more memorable and mysteriously powerful form.
During Advent we’ll consider the Canticles in the Gospel according to Luke–three songs from Mary, Zechariah, and the Angelic Host that tell both Israel’s history and its future. But since those songs center on Israel’s savior, the Son who came in weakness, then they are the song of all those who take refuge in Him. So each week we’ll ask two questions:
- Why are they singing? That is, what’s prompted them to adorn what they’ve heard with the nobility of poetry?
- And why is their song our song? Why might the joy that’s elicited lyrical language become the ground of our own?
The Advent series begins December 1st. They’re Singing our Song: The Canticles of Advent
Community quick hits:
On December 1st during 2nd hour we’ll have a vote, not for a crazed politician but we hope for men of integrity who have been qualified to serve as elders. Refreshments will be served. All are warmly encouraged to come.
- Those interested in coming for membership in CtK should save the date, January 10-11 (Fri-Sat) for our next membership class. A time to dig deeper into what membership means and how we plan to live out the vision of CtK. It’s also a time to ask questions about faith, community, and our leadership.
- This Sunday during 2nd hour, elementary aged kids will decorate donation boxes (one for kids toys and the other for women’s winter clothing) for the shelter Wanda Williams serves. We’ll be ready for donations on the 1st week of Advent. Gloves, scarves, and hats are especially needed.
Finally, would you pray:
- for those weeping with those who weep in the Philippines
- for Kyria Johnson as she continues in her itineration
- for our times of reunion with family and friends at Thanksgiving
- and for our perseverance to discover what Jesus knew and taught about the refuge of prayer
See you Sunday at 9:30,