SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Sacraments (Page 1 of 2)

And With Your Spirit

Ritual is the way we (learn to) believe with our bodies.
James K.A. Smith in Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works

There were no announcements, no instructions, no words of welcome, and no introductions. We gathered, called by the melodious sounds of music. We settled into our places, hushed, by a few chords on the instrument. Before we knew it, we were worshipping.

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Abbey Church at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Benedict, Louisiana

I’ve been to mass many times. Parishioner’s family funeral, weddings, and the occasional “stop” to worship. I love the worship rhythms of this ancient tradition, its sensuality, earthiness, and aesthetic. I love how those around me know by heart the movements, gestures, and words. I love how you can “sneak in” and still feel part of what is happening, even if you don’t know the choreography.

I am not saying that it is perfect. Sitting in Mass reminded me how thankful I am that our tradition includes women as leaders. I also longed to partake of the Eucharist alongside my brothers and sisters. For the un-initiated it could be intimidating: with its movement, responses, and gesturing. And there are a series of other important theological differences that make Wesleyan Christianity my home.

In the end I’ll have to say that from the moment I entered the space — with its smell of incense, the baptismal waters, the gathered community kneeling as they prayed — I began to be transported into God’s presence.

I wish those of us in the protestant tradition would lean more towards this kind of kinetic aesthetic. I think at times we are too “chatty,” explaining too much, acknowledging too much, and moving too fast. We leave little room for silence and we certainly struggle with using our bodies.

It is our bodies that open the door for the holy to shape us into a sanctified people. It is our bodies that move us into a life of discipleship. Theologian James K.A. Smith tells us:

[P]ractices — communal, embodied rhythms, rituals, and routines that over time quietly and unconsciously prime and shape our desires and most fundamental longings.

We need these movements, silence, and common language to fully experience God’s transformative presence. Our ministry of hospitality should extend in worship as we “teach” each other what it means to worship in this place, at this time.

Our Christian tradition is rich with ritual, movement, and embodied practices. Our Wesleyan heritage is rooted in an experienced grace, through sacrament, through looking over one another in love, through study and reflection on God’s word, and through worship on the Lord’s Day.

My prayer is that we find ways to move, to bow, to kneel, to raise our hands, to pray together, to hear God in the silence, to allow the smells and sounds to call our bodies to a posture of prayer. Our bodies becoming visible temples of the Holy Spirit.

Becoming A Feeding People

“In short, the presider is a guardian to all those who are in need.”
(from Justin’s 1 Apology 67 in Gordon Lathrop’s The Pastor: A Spirituality)

It has been an exciting day! Tears came to my eyes as I observed all those who gathered this morning around food. Some gathered to serve, others gathered to receive. All shared stories, smiles, and difficulty. A vision, a vision from God, was becoming a reality in our midst.

I am amazed that we are here. It all started with conversation about God and about what God was doing in someone’s life. It all started with the realization that although a ministry had been ended, another one was emerging. It turns out that God was speaking, clearly, about our life together. Little by little opportunities came our way, partners appeared, others called came forth, and preparations got on their way.

A decision was made to become a community that fed people . . .

So I became the spokesperson for this call of God in our midst. Little did folks know at first how close this calling is to those of us who are set apart to be “gatherers of people.” It turns out that this incarnate call to “feed” is truly at the center of our identity as God’s own people. After all aren’t we at our core a people of table?

Time and time again I reminded the assembly that we were becoming a “feeding people.” And so as I headed to the pantry this morning, right before opening time, there were people gathered, waiting. Hungry people, people in need, people wandering what this “place” could provide.

So we said words of greeting, cut a huge yellow ribbon, and then invoked the holy into our space. It was amazing to hear those gathered praying along, giving thanks to God, praising the one that gathered us there. For a moment it was as if we were gathering around the great table, in that moment we knew that the presence of Christ self was there among us.

As I put my “apron” on for a few pictures and some greetings I was told that I was needed to help with the intake. So as I helped to  fill paperwork, ask questions, and help pave the way for food, I was encountered by stories. I was encountered with real life parables, struggles, blessings, and thanks. So my apron was an extension of the stole that I wear around my neck week after week as I lead the assembly into its sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

I am sure that there will be many stories to share in the years ahead. We are becoming a “feeding people,” I am becoming a more faithful “presider,” all of us growing together in our discipleship as we allow the Spirit to shape us in the way of Jesus.

Lent is About Discipleship: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

"Jesus in the French Quarter" © 2012 Todd Rossnagel

This past Sunday I had the great joy of baptizing three month old Jane. It is always an honor to gather people around these important times in their life. As she laid quietly in her mother’s arms I asked her mom to renew her own baptismal promises and to make a covenant to raise Jane into her baptism.

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races?

(The United Methodist Hymnal, p 34)

Living into these promises takes the community into which we have been initiated and it takes intentionality and a constant rehearsal of what these promises mean. After all renouncing, rejecting, and repenting takes the continued work of the Spirit in us, accepting, resisting and confessing requires the same.

So as I poured water upon her head I wondered if we ourselves recognized the magnitude of what was happening here? As we welcomed another into our community of the baptized, did we see it as an entrance into the community of those who have made covenant to the Lordship of Christ, to the way of sanctification?

Each time I begin ministry with a new congregation I am thankful for the season of Lent. Here in Louisiana it is common for many to give something up, chocolate, cokes, alcohol . . . As I enter these new spaces I remind the community of something that has transformed my own Lenten journey: Lent is not primarily about giving up instead, at its core, is about discipleship, about those who are preparing to make baptismal vows and our renewal of those vows in light of Easter.

This Lenten season I am thinking about Jane, about how we as a community of believers will model for her the meaning of what John Wesley called Christian perfection, our journey towards a fully sanctified life.  How do we help one another open ourselves to the work of God’s Spirit in sanctification? How do we allow our worship, our devotional life, our service to the world shape our souls into reconciling love? How do we grow into justice seeking, forgiveness, and radical hospitality?

So it begins today, with our recognition of our humanity and our need for divine grace. It begins with God’s invitation to change our hearts and life, to turn from sin and death, and believe the good news. It begins with our gathering as God’s people and the mark of our baptism being made visible.

Here we go again Jane, your family is about to begin a journey we’ll take together for the rest of our lives. A journey into the promise of our constant conversion, our perfection in love, our sanctification, the Risen Lord made evident in us, for the life of the world!

Let us observe our Lent thus, giving our sufferings, our bloodshed, our sorrow the same value that Christ gave to his own condition of poverty, oppression, abandonment, and injustice. Let us change all that into the cross of salvation that redeems the world and our people. And with hatred for none, let us be converted and share both joys and material aids, in our poverty, with those who may be even needier.

Archbishop Oscar Romero

Daddy’s “God” Book

We promised to raise them in the faith . . . I still remember each of them as infants receiving the waters of baptism. I will never forget the promises we made that we would teach them “the way that leads to life.” So from the moment that they were born we have gathered as part of what we now affectionately call our “evening ritual.”

Bath, pajamas, tooth brushing (when they were old enough), and prayer. At first it was a simple blessing as we rocked them in the middle of the night. In those early days the prayers were mostly for us, for strength, for wisdom, for rest! From the beginning we used the prayers of the church, we sang the psalms, said the Lord’s Prayer, and used the ancient antiphon “Guide us waking O Lord, and guard us sleeping . . .”

As our oldest reached pre-school age we began to use the full Night Prayer service (the office of Compline). It became our time together as a family, a powerful way to end our day together. I began to pray Compline as a college student and has been a part of the closing of my day on and off since then, but saying it together has been more transformative than I would have ever thought.

My prayer book sits on the side table in the living room, that way its available for our evening gathering. The other night as our two year old came into the living room with his pj’s on, with his blankie and his George (stuffed monkey) on one hand, he headed straight to the side table, picked up the prayer book and said: “daddy’s God book, pray daddy, pray.” He proceeded to crawl on my lap ready to begin our time with God.

We were surprised. Somehow the rhythms of prayer and gathering were actually forming, shaping, and calling our children. God’s Spirit called upon them at their baptism doing a work in them, reminding them of who they are in light of our story of faith. We made a promise but in the end what is blooming is God’s promise to them, that they belong to God, that sin and death do not have the last word.

It has not always been easy. We have been busy, tired, sick, or just not in the mood. At times we have allowed so many other things to get in the way. But now, over seven years into it, we are grateful that we have kept at it, that we have gathered, that we have rehearsed the prayers of our faith.

Through our children we are learning that our faith is learned. That the way of Jesus is not automatic, that it does not happen, it does not take root, unless it is modeled and practiced. It turns out that learning to love God and neighbor is a lifelong task but that it starts with the life of prayer.

So, we’ll continue to gather around “Daddy’s God Book” and pray that they will continue learning the way of Jesus!

Embodying the Practices

It seems like talk of “practices” is popular again. People and groups both inside and outside the church are re-discovering that our faith is not just about beliefs or intellectual affirmation but about a way of life, a way of living, that connects us to one another and to God. These are not in and of themselves “salvific.” In other words, practices for practices sake, for getting our own spiritual fix, are not transformative, are not converting. But if we engage them with the purpose of connecting with and being transformed by God, then we are living their purpose in our lives.

We have been blessed in our time here to have an opportunity to be grounded, rooted, and founded in the practices of life together. We have committed to creating spaces to explore vocation as a community, to ask self-awakening questions, to reflect theologically on ourselves and our community, and to envisioning and enacting the next faithful steps. These are deep and important commitments that we have made, commitments that if kept can change the face of the communities of faith that we are leading and will lead.

To embody these practices means to engage them to such an extent that they become part of who we are. They no longer serve as checklists in our life together, or requirements for faithful conversation, or program for a new way forward. Instead we become the space makers for faithful listening, intentional speaking, growing self-awareness, and passionate makers of the destiny that God is unfolding for ourselves, our congregations, and the community around us.

Embodying requires us to live actively. We can no longer make excuses, skirt responsibility, or blame other. We must become active participants of our own baptismal call to be about God’s kingdom in the world. To be “called” is to acknowledge that the divine is still creating, renewing, and transforming. To “practice” is to try again and again, no matter how many times we think we have failed.

As we have gathered in this city we have been forced to embody what we proclaim. We have entered with care into a space that groans with new life. We have been able to hear stories, to ask the questions, and to reflect on how our story, relates to the story of this city, and to God’s call for the renewal of all that is broken, all that misses the mark, all that necessitates renewal.

I pray that we carry this way of living and believing when we go from this place. Let’s embody, let us not fear, let us proceed boldly into the enacting of God’s kingdom through the people called the church.

_______________________________

Originally appeared in the Fund for Theological Education “Next Narrative” Blog.

Holy Saturday: Dressing the Church

A nod to my brother Josh Hale (expatminister) who has written a wonderful post about how pastors can observe Holy Saturday.

His post got me thinking about what I enjoy the most as a pastor on Holy Saturday. I especially enjoy sleeping late (by sleeping late we mean till around 7:30 am due to our living alarm clocks), spending time with the family listening to music, and taking extra time drinking my coffee with Shannon.

Yet, my favorite part of Holy Saturday is dressing the church for Easter. This started some 3 years ago when I was appointed here at Squyres UMC. In a small congregation we need all hands on deck and after a very busy Friday (which includes an amazing fish fry & Easter egg hunt) everyone in the church is exhausted. So my first Holy Week I volunteered to be the one to come in on Saturday evening and dress the church.

Maybe it reminds me of those wonderful days at Candler School of Theology where I served as the sacristan for the Office of Worship. There I prepared the space for worship every week. I would walk into that sacred space and take my time, almost as if each movement was a prayer, getting the space ready for the community to gather.

All these years later it is still a prayer. I walk into a bare space (it was “stripped” on Holy Thursday) and begin to bring back signs of celebration. Banners, paraments, fine linen, candles, the cross that will hold flowers, the book that holds the Great Thanksgiving.

Each detail reminds me of the events of the past season. I can remember my dirty hands on Ash Wednesday, what seemed like an endless set of Lenten Sundays, the Hosanna’s of Palm Sunday, our re-membrance of the Last Supper, and the blowing out of candles last night.

Now little by little it comes to life again.

I am thankful for this time in an empty sanctuary. A time to reflect and remember the great honor that it is to be a pastor. I am thankful that this time reminds me of these words from Gordon Lathrop:

The pastor lives among symbols. The pastor cares for symbols, sets out symbols for other people, hopes these symbols may hold people’s lives into meaning. Symbols are, as Gerard Manley Hopkins would say, the “gear and tackle and trim” of pastoral ministry. Or they ought to be. Words, stories, sacraments, images, gestures: pastors have really nothing else.

(from Pastor: A Spirituality, pg. 1)

As we continue on this journey to Easter, may we take the time to reflect, rest, and be thankful. And for those out there who will be walking into empty sanctuaries to prepare, may dressing the church become your prayer today!

“For I received from the Lord:” A Holy Thursday Reflection

“It would not have been God’s table
if they hadn’t all been gathered around it:
the betrayer and the friend
the power-hungry and the justice seeker
the faithful and the fickle.”

from “it would not have been God’s table” by Cheryl Lawrie

The Last Supper - Chartres Cathedral

We gather today to begin a journey again. We have been here before, for many it might seem like yesterday, for others it has been long forgotten. We gather around rehearsed texts, worn by their reading year after year. We gather around a table, full at first, but will end empty and plain. We gather to receive from the Lord again.

Cheryl Lawrie in her poem has forced me to consider what we have received. It is a meal, a re-membrance, a gathering. But it is the type of gathering and who it is that gathers that begins to give us clues, strong clues, as to the identity of this meeting, the reason for why it has been given for us to receive. It is people that gather, real people, who have lived real lives, saints and sinners, one and the same.

It is fitting that this becomes the beginning of a tragedy that becomes an epic drama of cosmic dimensions. God made human gathering with people in need of restoration, in need of hope. Like at many other meals, stories are shared and actions speak louder than words. The host becomes the meal, the master becomes the servant, the guests are called to follow the master’s lead, the filled called to share what will soon be out poured for all the world.

God’s Table becomes the perpetual re-ordering of our lives towards God-likeness. Those who gather are those who know that they needed most. So we receive and receive so that we can give and give, so that we can have the strength to carry on through the trials, disappointment, and surprises of the world. Love enacted in our outpouring, in our braking, in our giving.

We gather to receive so that in the midst of darkness, the light of love can shine for the life of the world. May we hear the call to gather, whoever we are, may we hear the call to walk the way of love, may we hear the call to die so that we can live again!

Bible in 90 – Day 90: New Heaven & New Earth

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, ‘Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ Then the one seated on the throne said, ‘Look! I’m making all things new.’

Revelation 21:1-5 (CEB)

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

This journey began with God’s spirit moving in the midst of chaos. Out of that chaos, disorder, and darkness God created. Soon the beautiful creation of God became broken due to our turning away. Since then God has been after the created order, after humanity, to restore us and all the created order to God’s original intention.

The beginning of the story becomes the end. Out of the brokenness of sin and death comes a new creation. This is no disembodied life. It is heaven come down, God come down, new earth, new body, renewed creation!

Many times along this journey I have been tempted to stop. Life has happened, plans have changed, surprises have come along the way. I am thankful that I did not stop. For at each turn of the journey this old story became my story and the story of God’s people.

Reading the bible always reminds me that it is a living story. We are Adam and Eve, we are Abraham and Sarah, we are Deborah and Gideon, we are Ruth and Boaz, we are Mary and Joseph, we are Paul and Phoebe. You get my drift, this ancient story is our story.

So now in Christ we have been empowered to be agents of restoration for all of creation. We were the ones that messed it up, we chose to turn away. Now we can choose to accept God’s grace and begin to live again in proper relationship with God and the created order.

New life can indeed begin today! This is not just a vision for some end time event. This is no vision of some kind of higher place. This is a vision of a God who comes down, just like God did in Jesus, and makes all things new again, reminding us, all of us, that we were God’s own beloved creation from the very beginning.

I am thankful for this biblical vision.  I am thankful that I went on this journey. I am thankful that the Spirit was with me along the way. I pray that I can live into the vision of those who collected these stories, I join them in their cry, Come, Lord Jesus!

Come in me, come in strangers along the way, come in the creation that you have given us, come in the community of faith, come in spilled waters, come in poured wine and broken bread, come and make new!

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There are so many that I would like to thank for being faithful companions along this journey.

I’m especially thankful to my readers, especially those that subscribe to this blog. I’m sure that at some point in this journey you were ready to stop receiving daily e-mails. Thank you for subscribing and thank you for reading.

I want to thank many of my clergy colleagues who cheered me on during this journey, my brother Josh Hale, colleague and sister Katie McKay-Simpson and her husband Taylor, Matt Rawle, and Taylor Burton Edwards.

A special thanks to Todd Rossnagel whose beautiful pictures adorned most of my blog post during this series. I was amazed at how perfect his pictures were to the post for the day.

Last but not least I want to thank my life partner and spouse Shannon Huertas who cheered me on, gave me the time, and read many of the post before publishing. She continues to inspire me to become the best person I can be!

Some have asked me, What now? Well Shannon and I have committed to reading through the bible together, this time in 180 days. I won’t be blogging about it (maybe sometimes) but we will be sharing what the Spirit is telling us over coffee every day.

Bible in 90 – Day 88: Spirit of Prophesy

Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said, ‘Don’t do that! I’m a servant just like you and your brothers and sisters who hold firmly to the witness of Jesus. Worship God! The witness of Jesus is the spirit of prophesy!’

Revelation 19:10 (CEB)

"Early Christians Worshipping" by William Hole

In his book Introduction to Liturgical Theology, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, speaks of worship as:

[T]he life of the Church, the public act which eternally actualizes the nature of the Church as the body of Christ, an act moreover, that is not partial, having reference only to one function of the Church (her ‘corporate prayer’) or expressing only one of her aspects, but which embraces, expresses, inspires and defines the whole Church, her whole essential nature, her whole life. (p. 14)

Worship is the act of identity. The proclamation of the word and the gathering around table, become the constant reminder that we are a baptized people for the life of the world. In this constant granting of identity we receive new eyes to see, the retelling of the story God’s story reminds us of our need for God and the availability of restoration through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Time and time again we are reminded that “once [we] weren’t a people, but now [we] are God’s people.” (1 Peter 2:10, CEB)

Now that we are a people we see the need, the brokenness, the strife, the necessity of God’s kingdom. Here is where the witness of Jesus becomes the “spirit of prophesy” in allowing us to see the necessity of God’s kingdom we are then able to become agents for the renewal of all of creation in the name of Jesus the Christ.

I wonder if we are being defined in these ways in our worship? Is our worship of almighty God faithfully witnessing to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? Is the result of our worship are a sent forth body, an empowered people, ready and able to announce that the kingdom of God is here?

It is my prayer that our life of worship re-claims its centrality as the public expression of our identity as the body of Christ. In order for this transformation to take place – and in doing so re-claiming Eucharistic worship as the subversive activity of the kingdom- we must stop superficial calls to meet perceived needs,  accommodation to consumerist demands, and a worship that demands nothing.

Bible in 90 – Day 85: Don’t Stop

Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing.

Hebrews 10:25

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

I sometimes wonder where we got the idea that attending the gathering of God’s people on the Lord’s Day (Sunday worship) was optional for Christians?

It is clear that the meeting is pivotal to our identity as God’s people. We gather to worship God, to hear the story of faith, to lift up the needs of the world, and to partake of spiritual food. We gather because we are the people called to gather for the life of the world.

The gathering is not optional because in baptism we were grafted into Christ and became a part of God’s own community. Becoming Christian means that we become many, no longer do we walk alone, we are now part of one body.

Our gathering should not be dependent on our “feelings.” Sometimes we don’t feel like going to work, but we do, like going to the grocery store, but we do, or like getting up in the morning, but we do. We do things because we recognize their importance in spite of our “feelings” about them. The discipline of attending the meeting is also about discipline, about our willingness to set aside a time in our lives each week to recognize the Lord of our lives.

As baptized people we need each other. We make covenant to live life together, to lift up each other, and to help each other grow in the way of Jesus. We together, empowered by the Spirit, become God’s people in the world. May our gathering propel us into living out our identity as God’s own in the world.

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