From a sermon by N. T. Wright, preached at Cathedral Church of Durham on Christmas Morning 2007:
Because what we are promised, in that strange phrase at the heart of John’s prologue, is a new kind of power: to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. Power to become children! There’s a paradox for you: power to become powerless, authority to be under authority. Ah, people will say, but children of God; yes, but the meaning of the word ‘God’ is now being redefined, in this very paragraph, so that we only really discover who God is when we look at Jesus, Jesus the helpless baby, Jesus the one who reveals God’s glory when he dies on the cross, Jesus the only begotten Son who has revealed the invisible God. And when we hear that gospel word, and discover that something new is happening within us, something is stirring which feels very like faith, and hope, and love, we know that a new kind of life has taken hold on us, meaning that we have indeed been born again, whether a moment before or a lifetime before, have been made new with a life which death cannot touch, a life which will lighten our path through whatever darkness lies ahead, a life which doesn’t spring from mere human possibilities – born, says John, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. Power to become children: that’s the promise of new birth, full of grace and truth.
“Part of the art of listening to scripture is learning to hear the multiple overtones in a single, simple phrase. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, says John: and we learn, and learn again, every Christmas, to hear in that great and simple statement all the glory of the new world, with its new possibilities: new life in Mary’s womb, new life within the increasingly dangerous public world which does its best to squash the rumour, and new life, please God, in our own hearts and lives and families and work. And the Word became flesh and lived among us. That is what we celebrate today: the new reality which leaves us no longer at ease in the old dispensation, but determined to live and rejoice and be part of his transforming work of new creation, so that though the world declares that it can’t see God and doesn’t know who he is we may declare, in what we are as well as what we say, that God the only Son, the Word made flesh, close to the Father’s heart, has made him known and will make him known. May that be true in us and through us this Christmas time and always.
The rest of the sermon can be found here: Power to Become Children.
This was posted on my old blog on March of 2013. I have resisted the temptation to tone down the sentiments expressed here.
Right around the time I formally retired from the United Methodist ministry, I surprised myself. I recognized that I was still a Christian. In a way, nothing had changed. Yet, somehow it had.
And, that’s how it still is. I still hunger for worship. I still interpret life by reference to the Bible and the historic beliefs of Christians. I still want to lead others to Christ. I still want to pray. I still love to preach. I still wish I could teach the Bible.
It’s all pretty weird in a way.
Things went bad in the last full time parish I served in the United Methodist Church. The issue had to do with my wife and my family. If it had had to do with me and my conduct of ministry that would have been bearable — but, the attack centered on my wife and family. And the Bishop of the Michigan Area of the United Methodist Church sided with the church against my wife and family. (more…)
When we approach Christmas time we naturally have to turn to the Gospel of Luke. It is Luke that tells us the familiar Christmas story that we remember at this time of the year. The Gospel of Mark begins its story with John the Baptist. The Gospel of John talks about creation and the Word and “the Word made flesh.” The Gospel of Matthew tells us a story that centers on Joseph. It is Luke alone that tell us the nativity story upon which the church Christmas pageants and celebrations are based.
So the Revised Common Lectionary — which tries to assign only one of the Synoptic Gospels to a particular year — nonetheless has to draw from the Gospel of Luke as Christmas rolls around again. So, recommended for this coming Sunday, is the story of the angel’s announcement to Mary of the birth of the savior. (more…)
Grieving that the human race was perishing
through the tempter’s power,without leaving the heights
you came to the depths in your loving kindness.
Readily taking our humanity by your own gracious will,
you saved all earthly creatures, long since lost,
restoring joy to the world.
Redeem our souls and bodies, O Christ,
and so possess us as your shining dwellings.
By your first coming, make us righteous;
at your second coming, set us free:
so that, when the world is filled with light
and you judge all things,
we may be clad in spotless robes
and follow in your steps, O King,
into the heavenly hall.
— Author unknown, 10th Century, found here.
The Ministerial Association had one program which was very successful and that was the Annual Community Good Friday Service. Because the local Roman Catholic Church had the largest sanctuary of all the churches in town, it was always the location of the service. Years before I came to town, one of the Roman Catholic priests who had been there had written a liturgy for this service. It involved recruiting young people to carry in certain symbols associated with the crucifixion. There was a large wooden cross standing at the end of the center aisle, for all the people to see. The young people would carry the symbols of the crucifixion story up the center aisle, past the cross and place them in the chancel area. Then, there was a reading of the passion story, in which several of us pastors took part. There was a message (the newest pastor in town always got that). Then, there was something called The Veneration of the Cross. (more…)
1. O Love divine, what has thou done!
The immortal God hath died for me!
The Father’s co-eternal Son
bore all my sins upon the tree.
Th’ immortal God for me hath died:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified!
2. Is crucified for me and you,
to bring us rebels back to God.
Believe, believe the record true,
ye all are bought with Jesus’ blood.
Pardon for all flows from his side:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified! (more…)
“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two eons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me. Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.'” — Matthew 26:36-39 (NIV)
There is something mysterious about Jesus’ struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane. There was a depth of suffering there that is impossible to imagine. In the gospel of Luke we are told that while he prayed “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44 N1V). It is hard to conceive how one we know of as the Son of God could be in such emotional torment. He says to his closest followers: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” There is something incomprehensible about the sorrow of the Savior. Like the disciples, we observe the scene of Gethsemane, as it were, at a distance. There is something here into which we cannot enter. It is beyond us. (more…)
By G. K. Chesterton
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
It seems especially appropriate in the season of Lent to quote from John Wesley’s Sermon (# 48) on Self Denial:
The denying ourselves and the taking up our cross, in the full extent of the expression, is not a thing of small concern: It is not expedient only, as are some of the circumstantials of religion; but it is absolutely, indispensably necessary, either to our becoming or continuing his disciples. It is absolutely necessary, in the very nature of the thing, to our coming after Him and following Him; insomuch that, as far as we do not practice it, we are not his disciples. If we do not continually deny ourselves, we do not learn of Him, but of other masters. If we do not take up our cross daily, we do not come after Him, but after the world, or the prince of the world, or our own fleshly mind. If we are not walking in the way of the cross, we are not following Him; we are not treading in his steps; but going back from, or at least wide of, Him.
— Sermon #48 “Self Denial.”
It seems to me that Lent can be a training ground for the practice of self-denial throughout the year. (more…)
“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
“Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. ”
— Revelation 1:4-7 (NRSV)
These scripture passages remind me of the words of an old favorite Gospel chorus:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”
And, it is interesting to note that this is the message of the book of Revelation, also. Here, continually, Jesus Christ is held before us as Savior, Lord of history and the center of our hope. A study of the book of Revelation ought to bring to us a clearer vision of Jesus Christ. If it doesn’t, we have missed the point of it all. It is “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:1), and he appears in it continually. He is the Son of Pan, the Lamb, the White rider. He is always the central character. If we were to spend a lifetime studying this book (and you easily could) and miss the vision of Jesus Christ that lies at its heart, we would have wasted our time. John wrote this book to encourage people encountering persecution to “turn their eyes upon Jesus.” (more…)
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. This begins the important Church season of Lent. Robin & I will be getting up early tomorrow morning to participate in the 6:30 a.m. Ash Wednesday Service at the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville. They offer Ash Wednesday Services at 6:30 a.m. and at noon. I was asked to assist with the Imposition of the Ashes at the early service. I appreciate being asked.
You see, Ash Wednesday services are important to me — when I can attend. Some years, since my retirement, I’ve had to kind of search around for a nearby church that was holding such a service — this is not generally advertised on the church signs or on the church web sites.
I feel like something is missing if Ash Wednesday isn’t part of my Lent.
But, I haven’t always felt that way about it. (more…)
“Even now,’ declares the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your hearts and not Your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”
— Joel 2:12, 13
The season of Lent begins this week on Wednesday. It is Ash Wednesday that begins the season of the Church Year called Lent. Historically, the season of Lent is one of the most important seasons of the church year. The season of Lent moves toward Holy Week: the time when we remember the crucifixion. Lent looks toward the Cross — and then beyond it to the miracle of Easter and the resurrection of Jesus.
Ash Wednesday arrives this week: Wednesday March 5.
The history of the season of Lent is interesting for us today. Though we do not celebrate it as people did in the past, a look at the history of Lent can give meaning to this season of the Church year. (more…)