Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Box Store Addendum

This is my fourth attempt to wind up this discussion. I've scrapped all the other attempts as they became too involved in theology and doctrines. It has been a struggle. So here's my final try.

"Liturgy which becomes ritual is dead religion." Have you ever heard that or similar statements? I have because I've said it. My past four blogs have attempted to build a case for a return to the core of our worship and for our churches to reflect that core. What is that core. Liturgy of the word and bread. Scripture and Communion or Eucharist if you please. I'm going to use the word Eucharist for purposes of this blog. Primarily because it is a good word and it fits with my overall study of Todah. Eucharist means thanksgiving, which is the focus of the Todah.

Now, I know the main objections. We can all give examples of liturgical churches filled with people who listen to the word Sunday after Sunday and partake in the communion/Eucharist on a regular basis and still are as sin ridden as anyone else. There is no passion for Christ or his church. It's just what they do to fill out a duty. There is a reason why 75 percent of Catholics don't go to mass on Sundays or weekday mass. There is something missing. All their talk about having "the fullness of faith" is empty talk when you look at the results.

But I can point to thousands of Protestants, evangelical or otherwise, who forget the sermon of the day the moment they walk out the front door of their churches. Their Bibles will often get as dusty as a Catholic's Bible during the week. We Protestants are notorious for pounding the Bible on the truths of the need to be born again, but are woefully ignorant of peace and justice issues, which, by the way, Jesus harped on more than anything else. And the Catholics are champions on peace and justice issues which put us to shame.

I just erased half of my fourth try and am now going on my fifth. Let's go back to scripture. What makes the Eucharist come alive for us? What gives life to the Liturgy of the Word? How come you can walk into one liturgical assembly and experience deadness and walk into another and sense a holy presence? I think the answer goes back to Scripture. Go to Acts Chapter 2. Stop right now and go to that link or open your own Bible and read the scripture there. Read it and re-read it until it really sinks in. Put yourself in the middle of that upper room with the disciples. Oh by the way, I'd include Mary in that picture as well as a few women. I highly suspect she was there too. And when you get to the end of the chapter read again vss. 42 and following. Go ahead...I'll wait while you read. I'll sit and decide if I need to start all over again. READ and MEDITATE on it.

There is the difference. Here were these Jewish men and women meeting daily for prayer and wondering what in the world was going to happen to them. In case you are wondering where I got the idea that Mary and the women were there, just go back to Chapter 1. And then...AND THEN...a wind, a MIGHTY RUSHING WIND and TONGUES OF FIRE. Jesus fulfilled his promise and the Holy Spirit came. And at that moment, the disciples went from head knowledge to heart knowledge. They knew that they knew that they knew. Their eyes were opened and understanding came and love and power poured forth.

Folks, the difference between dead liturgy (ritual) and liturgy alive is the Holy Spirit. The power does not come with knowledge or correctness. The power of the liturgy is from the Holy Spirit. And so down through the centuries, we've had the liturgy of the word which is pre-imminent, in my view, and the sacrament of the Eucharist displayed in our churches and practices. Where it failed was when the practice became a form of religion without the power of the Holy Spirit. And so we have eras when liturgy was practiced but the hearts of the people were dead. But where the heart was made alive by the power of the Holy Spirit, the liturgy became a window to heaven. But don't forget, the liturgy of the word always stayed. And I think that is a God thing. He didn't want us to forget.

I haven't mentioned Baptism because that is not the focus of this long article. But it also is important. I'll leave that for another discussion some time.

Let's see what happens in a Holy Spirit Liturgy. When the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples, a profound change occurred. Did they stop their liturgical services? No, of course not. Scripture has abundant evidence that they met for... watch it... the reading, teaching and singing of the word. I believe that is important. It's the scriptures that gave them understanding of what Christ did. He fulfilled the Old Testament scriptures they used. And the Holy Spirit gave power to the word they read and taught and thousands came to Christ.

And they broke the bread. They took the traditions they were familiar with and coupled that with what Christ told them to do in order to remember him. They broke the bread and drank the wine in remembrance of Him. And they loved.
Loved?
Loved! For you see, in the teaching of the word and the breaking of the bread, we show love. And because the Holy Spirit was now present, love became a verb. Huh...love became a verb? Yep...Andy Stanley opened my eyes on this one in a sermon I heard recently on a totally different subject. The Trinity is a fellowship of love. God is love. That love is a noun. God is a noun. God is love. Jesus is the expression of that noun, that love. He is the spoken (Word) of the Love of God. When he came to us he came as a verb. His life on earth was love in action. God went from noun to verb. Jesus left his glory behind, he left the noun behind and became a verb. He is love in action.
And when he sent the Holy Spirit, that action, that verb came to us so that we might be verbs to the world. We are to remember what Jesus did on the cross because it was the path for us to become his instruments of action, his verb of love to a needy world. The Eucharist is a reminder of thanksgiving but also a commission to love. So when we celebrate the ministry of the word, which is foremost, and take the bread and cup (todah) of thanksgiving we feed on the body of Christ by his Spirit and become instruments of love. There is no other calling that defines our mission in life as much as the word and sacrament.

And when we go to church, that is what we should be reminded of as soon as we walk in the doors. Why do we call our meeting places a sanctuary? It is a place set apart so that in the spirit of Passover, the general call of the congregation to give thanks for the deliverance from sin by our Lord as well as the individual call of the Todah to give thanks as an individual for our personal deliverance through the sacrifice of Christ. And the word is love to teach us our call is only effective when we are filled with the Holy Spirit resulting in a love of action, a living verb of love to a needy world. The teaching of scripture gives us the reason, the sacrament gives us Christ and the Holy Spirit ties the knot giving us the love to share.

So whether we sing hymns, psalms or spiritual songs, (hymns, gospel songs, and choruses) we do it in a spirit of love knowing that to love is to love God, one another and the world.

So I ask, what does your sanctuary express? Is it designed to entertain you or draw you into God through his word and presence in order to send you out as instruments of love to a broken world. Your answer could end worship wars.

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