Sunday Musings

I’ve been attending a local Anglican Church for the past couple of months. I really appreciate the liturgy and weekly communion. But, this particular church doesn’t seem like it would be a good match for me. A bit of history…

I first went to this church while in Seminary. I had an assignment that required that I interview local pastors about how they handle pastoral care. I met with the Rector of the church and we had a good chat. I soon attended a few times to check them out.

They are a conservative Evangelical group. At the time I met them they were in the middle of a lawsuit over their continued use of the building they were in. You see, they had split from the main Anglican Church in the U.S. mostly over the ordination of a gay bishop. Like I said, they are conservative evangelicals. They lost the suit and have been somewhat nomadic for the intervening years. They finally landed in a building that’s about a 2 minute walk from my house. So, it is convenient for me. Especially, since any other church I’ve attended has been at least a 30 minute drive.

Anyway, like I said this church is an odd one for me. I’m a progressive who is staunchly pro-LGBT. I don’t hold to an inerrant view of Scripture. That includes things like the 7 day creation and the flood of Noah. The Rector believes all of this. (At least as far as I can glean from what he has said from the pulpit.)

So, the question that begs asking is “Why”?

To be quite honest, I don’t know for sure. I have spent the last couple of years searching for a community of Christ followers that I could be a part of. And, for someone like me, the pickin’s are slim. The choices are usually between liberal main line denominations and evangelical mega-church wannabes. Neither of those fit. My wife even told my that the only church I would be happy in would be my own. (That thought has crossed my mind.)

I continued to pray and reflect and meditate searching for something, anything, that might help.

This small Anglican church kept coming up. So, I started to attend some evening prayer meetings and Sunday services. I found myself comfortable with the traditional style of worship. I even find myself smiling during parts of the liturgy. But, the overtly conservative vibe struck dissonant chords in my mind. The sermons, which I find to be a distraction, are definitely drawn from a neo-Calvinist point of view. Anyone who knows me knows that I am NO flavor of Calvinist. Yet, I have kept going.

Today, God shined a bit of light on things for me. (Thanx be to God!)

The Rector is preaching a series on what Christians believe. He is using the Apostles’ Creed as the outline for the series. Today he used the text from Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus. The second chapter of the letter has a portion that deals with the way that Jews and Gentiles should relate. For those who aren’t familiar with this, these two groups did not play together well. The Jews considered themselves the only true people of the only true God. Gentiles were everyone else. In the nascent Church, these two groups found themselves thrown together under one roof. Both sides claiming worship the same God, but in vastly different ways. The example given today showed a potluck in which the Jewish group brought only Kosher foods. No pork, no shellfish, no meat from pagan sacrifices. The Gentiles showed up with their BBQ pork and lobster. You get the picture. Not on the same page at all. So, here comes Paul. The Jewish theologian and the Apostle to the Gentiles. Weird.

He wrote:

“For he himself, (Jesus), is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”  (Eph. 2:14-16, NIV, 2011.)

The point the priest today wanted to make was that the walls that separate people from God and one another have been broken down. He went to great lengths to show that we are all in this thing called ‘life’ together. And, that none of us are perfect. We all need God, for sure. But, we also need each other.

As I left today, I stopped to great him at the door. I said, “And, the walls that separate conservative evangelicals from progressives have also been broke down by Jesus.”

That’s how I can continue to worship with this group of sinners saved by grace. Cuz, I’m one of them.

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

If you know anyone who might find these ramblings helpful, (or entertaining), please invite them to come over and chat.

Enter: Holy Spirit

From my last post, you can glean that I’m currently searching for somewhere to fit in. This morning I visited a local Anglican church. This is a church I’ve visited in the past. The rector was gracious to me while I was in seminary by granting an interview that was required in one of my pastoral care classes. Today’s service was a confirmation service. There were new confirmands welcomed into membership as well as other new members being received. The diocesan bishop was there officiating. Now, I’m not usually a high-church kinda guy. Yes, I appreciate the liturgy. But, all the pomp and stuff sometimes gets in the way.
As the bishop spoke and gave the sermon, I was impressed with his attitude. He seemed to really enjoy what he was doing. Unlike some of the ‘messages’ that I had experienced at other churches, you know, the ones where the speaker cries or has some kind of ‘hard word,’ this bishop was actually happy. That was good, but I was not prepared for what came next. As the folks who were being welcomed into church membership came forward, the bishop prayed a short, pre-written prayer asking for God’s blessing. This kind of thing is typical with churches that have written worship forms, like the Book of Common Prayer. After he spoke these ‘proper’ prayers, as he laid his hands on each person or couple, he prophesied over each. HE PROPHESIED OVER EACH PERSON!! I was not ready for a charismatic experience in this Anglican church. To make it even better, as communion was about to begin, the bishop’s wife stood up and shared what most charismatics would consider a word of knowledge about healing. As the service concluded I watched the platform. Because of the special service there were several clergy present. Besides the rector and his 2 assistants, there was a minister from Kenya and and another priest that I did not hear from whence he came. They were all on the platform singing the final hymn, hands upraised, the too-big sleeves of their gowns giving one the idea of several rather large white birds getting ready for flight. The rector was swaying with song, “Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise.” The only word that came to me was Celebration. The entire service had been a celebration in the presence of Yahweh. I was blessed.
Does this mean that I am leaning toward this church? No, not really. I don’t know enough about the Anglican tradition. I am going to visit more. As I think back on the other times that I have visited this church I have to say that each time was celebratory. Whether I find a home in this environment or not, I have seen what a Sunday gathering should be. It should be a time to raise hands, voices and hearts to the Creator/Yahweh who lives within us. We should express the joy and thanksgiving that is natural for people who have been freed from sin and death by the faithfulness of Christ. We should share in the remembrance of Christ in the koinonia of the ecclesia. It’s not too far off to say that we should have fun and enjoy one another in God’s presence.

Church: why don’t I fit in?

One of my favorite Christmas television programs is “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Yeah, the animation is crude, but it’s a good story. I mean, who doesn’t love Yukon Cornelius? Anyway, one of the themes in the story is how so-called misfits find fulfillment and a place to fit in. The songs of Herbie and Rudolph touch the hearts of many people, including me.

Herbie: Why am I such a misfit?
I am not just a nitwit.
You can’t fire me I quit,
since I don’t fit in.

Rudolph: Why am I such a misfit?
I am not just a nitwit.
Just because my nose glows,
why don’t I fit in?

I feel this way…Why don’t I fit in? I used to think that I could belong with people who were anti-everything except rock-n-roll and peace. (Ok, I’m dating myself here.) But, I found that I did not fit in with the reality of society and economics. So, I joined with those who call themselves conservative. I even had a sign in 1980 that read, “Vote Republican for a change.” I set myself within the evangelical church and gave myself wholeheartedly to the white, middle-class conservative chase for the American dream. Again, I did not fit in. I led worship for many years in a church that embraced a personal relationship with God through Christ and a literal approach to the scriptures. Our Reformed theology informed our understanding of life in the Body of Christ. Don’t fit there, either. I have attended liturgical churches. I really like them! The liturgies speak volumes that a church that sings some songs then has a lecture cannot. But, here again, I can’t seem to fit the Creator/Yahweh who walked among us into these ecclesial boxes. And, I don’t really fit all that well.
So, I have brought this to Yahweh in prayer. Where do I fit?!?! Well, God has not said, “Mike! Go there! You will fit in nicely.” What I have begun to sense, however, is a need to re-imagine church. There is a lot of material in the scriptures to feed the imagination. There is also quite a lot of church history that can inform reflection. What I have been considering so far has to do with living ‘abundantly.’ John the Evangelist wrote in chapter 10 about Jesus, the good shepherd, coming in order to bring ‘abundant life’ in contrast to those who came to destroy life. There has been a lot of discussion about what this ‘abundant life’ looks like. Most of the talk has to do with trying to live a morally exemplary life in which God is able to bestow blessings on those practitioners. God can pour out abundance on those who follow God’s law. Sorry, too much like self-works to me. This appears to be some humanly induced means to an end.
I was reading Taliesin, by Shephen Lawhead and stumbled across something that caused a spark of understanding. In the story, Elphin, the king of a tribe of Britons, has just returned with his warband from service to Rome for the last time. A great feast and celebration was ordered. In it, the

meat began to sizzle…Beer, foamy and dark, and sweet, golden mead flowed in gushing fountains from barrela and butt to horn and jar. Whole carcasses of beef, pork and mutton roasted on massive iron spits. The caer rang end to end in song, strong Celtic voices soaring like birds in wild, joyous flight.

Eventually, Hafgan the bard, stood to sing a song of might and victory. This, to me, sounded like abundant life! It was a full-blown community celebration complete with pigs & beer; stories & songs; food, fun and koinonia.
I also think of the early gatherings of the saints for meals with wine & song & Word. I think of Jesus at Cana; the Son of Man eating and drinking. I think of Boaz and the community gathered at the harvest. I imagine their joy in that culture deeply connected to God’s good Earth. I remember gathering with brothers and sisters to watch a football game on the tube with chili and beer. I imagine people who live hard and love hard. I imagine Church. What would this look like fleshed out? How can people live abundantly in koinonia? I’m not sure there is a method that can be gleaned from this. No institutionalizing of this kind of living faith. But, I will continue to ruminate on it. I will continue to seek Yahweh’s desires in this.