SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Scripture (Page 1 of 3)

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.

Reading, Writing, & Listening

The aim of church leaders should be to balance active ministry and compassion for our neighbors with prayer and a life of study and contemplation, so that our hearts dwell constantly with God and at the same time are mindful of the needs of others.

Christopher A. Beeley in Leading God’s People: Wisdom from the Early Church for Today

2012-10-20 13.21.14I have heard it again and again. At the core of pastoral life is a life of prayer, study, solitude, and active listening. These are key postures of the Christian life, of our discipleship. If pastoral leaders are to lead the Christian community into a deeper relationship to God and neighbor, then it makes sense that we are leading the way by example.

Life happens though. Our plates get filled up with meetings, “emergencies,” and general “busyness.” I am not sure what my “busyness” was exactly in 2012 but I found myself in busy mode often. Then there are our other responsibilities in our home and in relationships, the “stuff of life.”

Some years ago I wrote a short New Year’s post called The Yearly Examen. There I called on all of us to look back at the year as part of our “examination of life” and begin to see the places and times where God seemed fully present and the places and times where God seemed absent. It has been an exercise that has produced much fruit in my life through the years.

This year as I began this exercise some weeks ago I began to notice a hunger in my soul for more prayer, more study, more contemplation. I recognize how little writing I had done outside of my weekly sermons and church communication, how little reading I had done outside of the “required” stuff, how little listening I had done in meetings, gatherings, and in daily life.

Now that I knew the places where I could shine a light on God’s work in me I had to do something about it. These are not resolutions, these are goals for the year. I am thankful that I have found some companions to share this journey with in 2013.

With my brother Joshua Hale (@expatminister) I plan to read four books this year and blog some reflections on them at Liturgical Nerds. We are beginning with Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life by Scott Cairns, followed by  Isabel Best’s The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, D. Stephen Long’s Keeping Faith: An Ecumenical Commentary on the Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith of The United Methodist Church, and James K.A. Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works. I look forward to this journey with Josh as we read, write, and listen to what God is up to in us through these texts.

On January 2011 I embarked on a Bible in 90 journey that included daily blogging on the portion of scripture that spoke to me that day. This year I embark again on a Bible in 90 adventure but this time I do so with a group of friends and colleagues. Some of us will probably post some reflections along the way. Reading the bible in this way has given me a renewed appreciation for the great narrative of scripture.

I am sure that along the way I’ll find a few more books to read, reflections to write, and conversations to listen to. My prayer is to be fully present to what God’s up to in my life and in the life of the congregation by prioritizing the life of study and contemplation that is at the core of pastoral life.

Thank you for being part of the journey!

Amazing Things! – Gospels in 90

The people saw the mute speaking, the lame walking, the maimed made whole, the crippled dancing, and the blind seeing; and the people were amazed, and they praised the God of Israel.

Matthew 15:31 (The Voice NT)

There is a little chorus that I learned as child called “When the People of the Lord” it says: “When God’s people worship, amazing things happen! There’s healing, liberation, blessing, there’s healing, liberation, God’s presence made known!”

So far in our journey through the gospel according to Matthew we have seen some amazing things! Angels bring “messages” from God, a “savior” born like the rest of us, strangers recognizing what community of promise does not, a baby who is a threat to the powers of the day, a prophet of the Lord after years of silence, a showdown between a savior and the evil one, everyday people (including sinners!!) being called to follow a great teacher, healings, exorcisms, restorations, feedings, liberations . . .

Sometimes in our reason-oriented society we might be convinced that no amazing things like this could happen today. We’ve reduced the presence of Jesus as a catalyst to becoming nice, happy, comfortable, and “feeling good.”

Today I am reminded how powerful and life changing the presence of Jesus is!

I often remind the congregation to expect something when we gather, that the creator of the universe will indeed be present in our worship, that the presence of Christ proclaimed in prayer, song, and homily will be made real in Eucharist. That grace abundant will outpour and amazing things will indeed take place in and through our gathering.

So what would it look like for us to recover a sense of joyful expectation for God’s presence in our worship and in our everyday life?

If discipleship is about our participation in divine life through our surrendering to the Lordship of Christ, what are the effects of that discipleship in our community of believers, in our homes, and in the marketplaces we inhabit?

Exciting journey indeed . . .

Joseph the Dreamer – Gospels in 90

After the wise men left, a messenger of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.

Messenger of the Lord (to Joseph): Get up, take the child and His mother, and head to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you it is safe to leave. For Herod understands that Jesus threatens him and all he stands for. He is planning to search for the child and kill Him. But you will be safe in Egypt.

So Joseph got up in the middle of the night; he bundled up Mary and Jesus, and they left for Egypt.

Matthew 2:13-14 (The Voice)

I’m so thankful that Joseph is attentive to dreams. He obviously is familiar with this way of communication with God. This time his dream was of utmost importance and he took action immediately.

I’m sure he had many questions, concerns, and fears. Imagine being woken up by a dream that told you that your family was in mortal danger. You had to get up immediately in order to save their life. I can feel my heart trembling, my gut wrenching, my eyes wide open in the middle of the night. Without delay he woke them up and got them on their way.

Once again we have evidence of how dangerous this birth was to the powers that be. The ruler wanted this child eliminated so that there would be no threats to his power. It turns out that Jesus was indeed dangerous, he was going to question the structures of power and the ways of life all around him. Jesus would also threaten the religious authorities of his day, pushing them to remember the core of their tradition, their reason for being God’s people. All this is truly dangerous work, haven’t you heard not to engage in conversations about religion and politics?

I wonder what it would mean for us to ponder how life transforming and dangerous to the “status quo” Jesus still is? What would it mean for us to follow this savior? What difference does this savior make to those of us who claim him as Lord today?

I am thankful for dreams. Time and time again they are used to speak, show, and make clear. I am also thankful for dreamers . . .

The Gospels in 90 Days

As readers of this space know I am a believer in systematic reading of scripture. I have used different reading plans throughout the years from the fast and furious bible in 90 to the two year daily office lectionary. For me is about having a method to my engagement with the narrative of faith. Last year I began 2011 with the Bible in 90 days, this year I have invited my staff and leadership team at the church to join me in reading the gospels in 90 days (actually 89 days, one chapter a day).

My prayer is that we’ll have a common narrative as we engage our leadership this year. Each time I engage the story of faith I am amazed at what I hear, learn, and struggle with, I am sure this time it will not be any different. I am not promising a daily blog on the chapter of the day but I can guarantee that I will have things to say along the way. I am excited to be reading the gospels in The Voice New Testament translation, a different translation forces us to hear the story in a different way, and this one is truly different.

Jacob was the father of Joseph, who married a woman named Mary. It was Mary who gave birth to Jesus, and it is Jesus who is the Savior, the Anointed One, the Liberating King.

Matthew 1:16 (The Voice)

Jesus is the savior, the anointed one, the one who frees us from sin and death. I tell this to myself often as I engage in ministry everyday. It is difficult to recognize our need for a savior, our need for an anointed one, it is even more difficult to recognize our need to be freed. This is why we need this story so desperately, this is also why we need the community of faith to remind us of our common need for God.

In my own life I am still trying to understand what this savior means in my everyday life. And as a father of three children I also struggle with what it means to raise our children in the way that leads to life. Then we read the narrative and recognize that we are not alone, that many others have struggled with it too.

In the end a savior is needed, we need to be made whole, need to be freed. I am thankful that a way forward was provided for, that the way of redemption has been provided. It is amazing to hear, read, and experience how God provided for this way.

I know that this story will be transformational, it always is! Let the journey begin . . .

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

20111228-142159.jpgThis season I’ve been doing some serious reflection on what it might look like to recover the season of Christmas in my life and in the life of my family. What if Christmas Day was truly the beginning? What if our feasting and merry making built up to Epiphany?

As a family we are actually seriously considering this. As a Puerto Rican with a rich tradition of Epiphany we have been gift giving at this time since our first child was born. But we are now thinking about a serious realignment of our practice to match our theological and liturgical understanding.

Christmas Day would be our first day of feasting, gathering, service, and celebration with prayers, songs, and a daily lectionary helping us mark the days. On Epiphany we would exchange simple gifts to remind us of the gifts that the wise men shared that manifested who Jesus was, that would remind us of who Jesus is for us today.

I wonder how all of this would connect to a community of faith? Daily prayer at the church? Twelve days of service in the community? Twelve days of making the kingdom physically evident in our local communities? I am still thinking how this would look like in the congregation I pastor and if it is even possible to change our long North American practices.

I know that Shannon and I want something different for ourselves and our family. We want our children to be filled with mystery and awe but not from a folk hero but from the Word made flesh (and yes, no matter what anyone says I do believe and have observed our over emphasis of Santa Claus in the church). We want our children to receive the gift of Jesus but not from a saturated tree bottom. We want to remember the story not for nostalgia but for it’s power to still change the world.

I know that we are not alone so we hope to find conversation partners to join us in our desire to make Christmas an important part of our formation in the way of the kingdom.

I wonder if any of you would want to join us in this journey?

Advent: No End to His Kingdom

"Annunciation" by Lawrence OP

We have been waiting, we’ve been preparing, and we’ve been counting the days. Now we are drawing near, salvation around the corner, I wonder if we are ready.

I don’t mean to be a cynic but I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. I guess to be more specific I struggle with our cultural celebration of Christmas and how, in the lives and practices of Christian people, it has taken over our religious commemoration. I know I am not alone in all of this, and I don’t want to be another religious leader complaining about our cultural Christmas celebration. But I do struggle and I approach these Sundays of Advent with much reverence and care, hoping to hold the space for preparation, reflection, and realization.

Now we enter a final week. After hearing about an end that becomes a beginning, about one who prepares the way, about us not being the light, now we hear how salvation will be made possible:

‘Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.’ Luke 1:31-33 (CEB)

Salvation made possible by one like us and unlike us. By one holy, promised, and whose kingdom will have not end. I needed to hear that this season. God’s kingdom still unfolding, Christ still making all things new, the Spirit . . .

. . . who made Christ’s body in Mary’s womb and keeps re-making the church…is a Spirit that is hovering – in the words of Genesis – over a new creation. –Archbishop Romero

A new creation is dawning: justice, peace, reconciliation, and love still unfolding, still available in the world, no matter how difficult, how distant it seems. Year after year, season after season, celebration after celebration, it keeps on dawning.

And it just so happens that this new creation is birthed through each of us. Each of us transformed by the Spirit, each of us ready to become agents of Christ’s in-braking in the world as we become the incarnation of Christ to our struggling world.

As I prepare for this last week of Advent I recognize more than ever our need for a savior. I am more thankful than ever for Jesus Christ and for Christ’s body the church. I am also deeply aware that there is little that I can do with the cultural celebration, but that I can continue to hold the space in my congregation, in my family, and in my own heart, for the return of the one who will make all things right.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Till then I’ll continue to proclaim God’s kingdom, to call God’s people to the way of Jesus, and will remind myself of the words of Archbishop Romero,  that God’s Spirit is still “re-making the Church . . . hovering over a new creation.”

“No end to his kingdom” indeed!

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!

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!

______________________________________________

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 89: On Translations

Translation is difficult work. The translator is really and interpreter of both the original language and the receiving language. Because of this interpretation the translator must know both the definition of the word but also how a particular culture uses the word in speech, sentences, and phrases. This is the reason why there is no “perfect” translation and all contain a subjective level where decisions about punctuation, work choice, and structure had to be made.

When I embarked in this Bible in 90 adventure I knew that I wanted to do it in a different translation than the one I was accustomed to using. I wanted to be “surprised” and “stirred” to see the biblical story in a new way. I chose these two translations because I was not very familiar with them, the TANAKH had been assigned in seminary and I could not really remember how it read, and the Common English Bible was a brand new translation.

I can say after 90 days with them that they accomplished what I wanted them to! Reading the bible in through them pushed me, prodded me, and helped me see so many things, little nuances of the text, that I had never paid attention to before. Take, for example Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me to water in places of repose;
He renews my life;
He guides me in right paths
as befits His name.

Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkeness,
I fear no harm, for you are with me;
Your rod and Your staff — they comfort me.

You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my drink is abundant.
Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
for many long years.

Psalm 23 (TANAKH)

Now take a familiar reading from the Gospel according to Matthew:

‘When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. You shouldn’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask. Pray like this:
Our Father who is in heaven,
uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom
so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you,
just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:7-13 (CEB)

These are just a few examples of extremely formative and key parts of scripture that I was able to see “anew” because I chose to read them in a different translation. There are too many to name but I will have to admit that many of the passages that I chose to write on during this Bible in 90 Adventure came from parts of scripture that had a different read because of the translations I chose.

Today none of us need to have all of these translations in our homes. At the touch of a button we can find most translations online. One of my favorite sites is Bible Gateway (for most English translations, including the CEB, and many foreign languages) and Oremus Bible Browser for the NRSV, RSV, and KJV.

Don’t wait another minute . . . find a bible, take up, and read!

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