2008-04-22

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE TRUTH

[A.K.A. Nate's Theology in a Nutshell]
A Sermon For Year A, Fifth Easter
Copyright © 2008 Nathan L. Bostian
Based on John 14.1-14

ONE PERENNIAL QUESTION, TWO TROUBLING ANSWERS: Some sermons challenge the heart to feel something new, whether new compassion for people, or new passion for God. Other sermons challenge the imagination to see ourselves and our Reality in a new way. Still other sermons challenge our will to act, to stand boldly for Christ, or to reach out to those in need.

But this sermon is here to challenge your mind, your way of thinking, your understanding of the Reality we live in.

And the mental challenge is the question that Jesus ANSWERS in this passage. Yet, this question isn't ASKED for another four chapters, by a very practical Roman governor named Pilate.

In asking this question, Pilate was in fact, the first "American" we find in the Gospels. Like many of us Americans, Pilate was a very busy, very active, very important person. Pilate had to get deals done, and make people happy.

Like many of us, Pilate had no time for the abstract pie-in-the-sky questioning that the nerdy Greek philosophers liked so much. Nor did he have a taste for the endless religious disputes of the legalistic Jewish scribes.

Like many Americans, Pilate only had time for one thing: Doing what works. Doing what accomplished what he needed when he needed it. Doing what benefited himself most directly.

So, like many Americans today, he summed up his pragmatic disdain for philosophy and religion in one, handy, three-word, sneering question: "What IS Truth?" [John 18.38]

This is, of course, the question that Jesus answered for his disciples in our Gospel for today: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father if not through me."

Now, unless we suffer the same fate of pragmatic Pilate, and crucify Jesus in our minds by misunderstanding what he said, we need to listen afresh to this saying of Jesus.

This text is at the top of the list for being misunderstood. And there seems to be two basic ways this text is misunderstood in our culture today. And, in fact, it is not two ways, but rather mirror images of the same misunderstanding.

On one side of the mirror is this common-sense reading: "Of course, Jesus is setting himself up as THE litmus test to get into heaven. Jesus is quite clear about it. He does not say I am A way, and A truth, and A lie. He says I am THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life. NO ONE gets to God if not THROUGH me."

And, of course, the subtext of this view is: If you do not know Jesus as MY sect knows him, approve OUR doctrines about him, and follow him on OUR path, then you are going to Hell. Period.

And we know what happens all too often to people and churches who hold this view: They start with compassion on all the poor ignorant people who do not know Jesus as they know Him. They patronizingly try to go out and save the heathen.

THEN they begin to look with disdain on others who do not know their jesus. They begin to use their jesus as a huge religious club to beat people into submission, and exclude them from their club. Finally, Jesus becomes the mascot for their view of "the good society", and they raise him up only to validate their political party.

They raise him up just like a man being crucified all over again.

The other unhealthy view of this passage is merely the inverted mirror image of the exclusionary Jesus I just spoke of. This view understands the text in almost the same way, and does the complete opposite with Jesus.

They RIGHTLY assume that the Love of God could not be as narrow as the exclusionary jesus preached by modern day Pharisees. BUT they WRONGLY assume that the ONLY way to view Jesus' exclusivity is to see him as exclusionary. So, they feel they must abandon the text altogether.

Soon, you have people finding ways to cut out the parts of the Bible they consider exclusionary, and only listening to parts of the Bible they consider inclusive. This eventually leads to ignoring whole chunks of Church tradition and Christian history to construct a Jesus we can agree with.

Soon people abandon Jesus and Scripture altogether, just like his own disciples abandoned him when he was crucified, because they were ALSO ashamed of his exclusivity.

THEORIES OF TRUTH: But does Jesus' exclusivity HAVE TO MEAN that Jesus is exclusionary? Does the fact that Jesus is the Truth Incarnate, mean that everyone is going to hell, who does not agree with MY version of Jesus?

I think the reason why many of us assume this is because we often hold unhealthy views of what Truth is. Now, this is kind of wading in deep water. And if what I am about to say confuses you, I want you to chunk it. Get rid of it.

Because the MAIN POINT I want you to get today is that God IS present in Jesus in an exclusive way, beyond how God has ever been present in any other person. Yet, we do not have to be exclusionary, because God is exclusively present in Jesus. In fact, just the opposite is true.

Because God emptied Himself, and entered into human history exclusively in Jesus, we have a reason to INCLUDE every person in God's Love. God included ALL of humanity in His Love, when He included Himself in humanity as Jesus. It is only on the basis of Jesus' exclusivity that we have a concrete, real, definite reason to say that God Loves everyone.

Now comes the DEEP water of WHY this is so. Ready to dive in?

There are several versions of Truth popular today, which are implicit in the way people think, and which cause many of our misunderstandings of what Jesus says in Scripture.

The first vision of the Truth is what is called "SET-BOUNDED" Truth. In this vision, Truth consists in a SET of factual statements about Reality, such as: Nate is almost 6 feet tall. Nate shaves his head. Nate is married to Kim.

Now, in this vision of reality, to know ALL of the Truth, one must collect the complete SET of factual statements about someone. If you could collect all of the right facts about Nate, you would know the full truth about Nate... Yeah, right.

When an entire church accepts this theory of Truth, they begin to have a very curious relationship with Jesus. Knowing Jesus becomes merely collecting, and proving, all of the right facts about Jesus. These facts are then expressed in precise doctrinal statements.

Once an absolutely air tight set of doctrinal statements are defined, then they are erected into a kind of fence around the community. Like any fence, this set of truth statements is used to define who is IN and who is OUT, who is INCLUDED and who is EXCLUDED.

Jesus ceases to be a living Lord, and becomes reduced to a dead definition. People must memorize and assent this definition, or else they are out of the club.

But, Jesus Himself does not seem to believe in this theory of Truth at all. In fact, when He speaks of Truth, he speaks of Truth being a PERSON not a set of PROPOSITIONS. He does not say "This doctrinal statement is the Truth", or even "This Book of Scripture is the Truth".

He says "I am the Truth". "I", the person speaking. "I", who am the Great "I AM" in human form. "I", the Lord who you have a relationship with. "I am the Truth".

So, it seems to miss the boat to codify this living PERSON into a set of dead PROPOSITIONS, and then to make those propositions the litmus test of true Christianity. And this is precisely what those who create an exclusionary Jesus do.

But, those who run screaming from the exclusionary Jesus also suffer from their own peculiar delusion of Truth as well:

They rightly refuse the set-bounded, fenced-off version of Truth as exclusionary, so they often embrace what I call a SELF BOUNDED version of Truth instead.

Self-bounded Truth is very hip, very cool, and very postmodern. Self-bounded Truth takes the insight that Truth is ultimately personal, and runs with it.

In Self-Bounded Truth, the boundary for what is True and what is false is your SELF. Those persons, situations, and ideas that you experience as true are the Truth. Those persons, situations, and ideas that you experience as hypocritical or deficient or distasteful are simply not Truth.

Self-Bounded Truth is exactly how the internet works. It is relational. It is web-like. Think about the web of interconnections generated on your facebook profile.

You are connected to some folks and organizations on facebook. I am connected to other folks and organizations on facebook. And when we connect together, you have access to all I have, and I have access to all you have.

Self-Bounded Truth creates a web of knowledge much like that.

Some see this as a major improvement from all of the bickering over doctrines and boundaries that have characterized Christian history. We replace "fences" of propositions with "webs" of people.

But, at least two problems arise from this view. First, where is Jesus? Is He just another friend on your facebook page? Is Jesus just another string in our web of knowledge?

If I say God is cheese, and you say God is Jesus, and another person says there is no God, is there any arbitration available?

Or is it all just relative? It seems like Self-Bounded Truth can ultimately be nothing more than believing what feels good to me. The Lordship of Jesus is left out entirely.

The other problem is that, despite all the talk of "webs" and "inclusivity", this view is ultimately just as exclusive as the Set-Bounded view.

It is exclusive for the same reason that a high school lunch room is exclusive: People only sit with the people hey feel good sitting with. They only listen to the ideas that make them feel included. They ultimately despise those who are outside of their little web of inclusivity.

And this is perhaps why so many of those who run screaming from the exclusionary Jesus often become so intolerant and exclusionary themselves.

A NEW-OLD VISION OF TRUTH: So, if Jesus is not speaking in Set-Bounded or Self-Bounded terms when He says "I am THE Truth", how is He talking? What does He mean?

I think the vision of Truth that best gets at what Jesus means is a "CENTER-BOUNDED" theory of Truth. Center-Bounded Truth tries to maintain the objectivity and realism of Set-Bounded Truth, WHILE ALSO maintaining the subjectivity and creativity of Self-Bounded Truth.

It does this by seeing Truth as a Person, not merely a set of propositions. It also does this by seeing this Person as the Core, the Center, the Purpose, and the Meaning of what it means to be a Person. In fact, to learn how to really be a person means to participate in, and revolve around, this Person who is at the Center of Reality.

When speaking to the Colossians, St. Paul spoke of this Person by saying: "[Christ] is the image of the invisible God... In him all things in heaven and on earth were created... All things have been created through him and for him... He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together." [Col 1:15-17]

In Center-Bounded Truth, Truth does not have an outer boundary, but an inner Core. Knowing Truth is not found memorizing propositions, but in remembering a Person. Encountering Truth is found in building a relationship, not building a "fence" or a "web".

In fact, Center-Bounded Truth is a lot like planets orbiting the Sun. Our lives are set in orbit around the Son of God. He is our Center of Gravity. The closer we orbit around Him, the more we are filled with His Light, and His Power, and His Divine Energy, just like a planet in close orbit to the Sun.

In fact, one analogy of the Holy Trinity is to see God like the Sun. Now every analogy falls apart somewhere, and so does this one, so only pay attention to it where it is helpful:

But God the Father is the inner Core, the inner Reality of a star. He is the fuel, the Divine Life, that gives the star the energy to shine.

Jesus is the outer surface of the Star. Jesus is God's inner reality made visible. Through Jesus we DIRECTLY feel the Light, the Heat, and the Love of the Divine Life.

He, in fact, is the only surface through which we can truly see, feel, know, and experience God. If anyone shines with God's Love and Light, it is only because they are reflecting Jesus (even if they are not aware that it is Jesus they are reflecting!).

And the Holy Spirit is the pull of gravity that draws all planets- all people, all created things- toward the Love of God that is visible in Jesus Christ. In fact, the Love of Christ's Spirit IS the spiritual gravity of the Universe. Think about that for a while...

And just as ONE star never exists without the THREE aspects of its inner reality, its outer surface, and its radiating gravity, light, and heat: So also God never exists without being ONE Reality existing forever in THREE persons of Father, Son, and Spirit.


FREESTYLE OBJECT LESSON:
  • The Purpose of Life is to be in as tight an orbit/relationship as possible with the Source of Life: Christ
  • Doctrines are helpful as signs that point to Truth. They are NOT the Truth they point to.
  • Relational webs are important as tools to draw us into Truth, but they are NOT the Truth either.
  • Some are way out of orbit, in the frozen deep-space of sin: We need to bring them closer.
  • Some are in close orbit in knowing Christ, but far away in living as Christ: We need to bring them closer.
  • Some are in close orbit in living as Christ, bat far away in knowing Christ: We need to bring them closer.
  • We can be in the same close orbit with Christ, but separate trajectories on X, Y, Z, axis (Sacramental, Evangelical, Mystical)
  • CHALLENGE: We can learn from each other's trajectory, and help each other grow closer and closer to Christ.

2008-04-21

Storm Damage Next Door

This blog is up to help us sort out some storm damage with neighbors. Simply click on an image to enlarge the picture.




2008-04-18

Campus Minister Receives Evangelism Award [Sat 19-Apr 11am]

The Late +Donis Patterson, Bishop of Dallas

Our Campus Minister, Nate Bostian, has received the "Bishop Donis Patterson" award for excellence in Evangelistic preaching. Part of his reward for the award is to preach Saturday at 11am at the Stanton School for Ministry, located at St. Matthew's Cathedral near downtown Dallas.

So, to come hear Nate preach at the Eucharist for the Stanton Center, show up at St. Matthew's Cathedral at 11am, Saturday April 19th. Lunch will follow. To find the Cathedral, go here:
http://www.episcopalcathedral.org

When contacted for comment, Nate said "Huh? I won what? You're kidding, right?"

Just joking. I am very grateful for the award, and hope that this award will be an encouragement for Episcopal Seminarians and Clergy to actively engage in evangelism, so that all those who come in contact with us and our ministries may come to know, love, and follow Jesus Christ as Lord.

The task of preaching, week-in and week-out, can be a daunting task for anyone. And the biggest temptations are to get in a comfort zone, and roll through our little hamster wheel of favorite topics in preaching. But, when we do that, we do not challenge ourselves nor our congregations.

For me, evangelistic preaching is essentially a challenge: A challenge to deeper conversion to Christ, and a challenge to more fervent love for the Lord Jesus. I think, in our culture, evangelism is often too tied with that one, big, initial decision to follow Christ, and too disconnected from the process of Christian formation and discipleship.

On one hand, I believe there is a moment in everyone's life- perhaps at baptism, or perhaps at a decisive conversion- when we cross from death-apart-from-Christ into eternal-life-in-Christ. On the other hand, I know from my own conversion, as well as ministry in several different "flavors" of Church, that no convert is fully "converted" at the moment of conversion. They may have crossed from death to life, but there is an ever deepening process of growing into that life, and converting every part of ourselves over to that new way of living.

While salvation happens in an instant, conversion is a lifetime process. It doesn't happen over night.

So, with that said, I see little difference between the "first" conversion that puts someone on the Road with Christ, and the hundreds or thousands of deeper conversions that happen in a person's Journey with Christ. All are conversions. All result in a greater surrender of one's entire being to the Risen Lord Jesus. All are challenges.

For me, evangelistic preaching challenges the hearer to deeper conversion. It may be the first conversion. It may be the five hundredth deeper conversion that happens after that first conversion. It may be a conversion of mind (how we think), a conversion of will (how we live), or a conversion of heart (how we feel). It may be a conversion of how we treat others (which in turn will influence how we see God), or a conversion of how we see God (which in turn will influence how we treat others).

For some, a challenge of worldview and mindset may trigger initial conversion to Christ (in a manner like CS Lewis). For others, a challenge of the emotions- such as guilt over sin and the existential need to have burdens lifted- may trigger initial conversion to Christ (in a manner like Martin Luther). And yet for others, the conversion may be a mixture of mental, emotional, and social factors (in a manner like Augustine).

And you never know which kind of "challenge" might "do the trick" of awakening the hearer's conscience and converting to Christ. Some put evangelistic preaching in the "formula" box, and say that it must always follow "four spiritual laws" or "five stages" or whatever. Others make it a kind of recipe: Take one funny story, follow it with a tear-jerker story, add in three ways we have sinned and are under God's judgment, put in a dash of guilt, and top it with a sentimental song and an altar call, and there you have it. Others think it must always be some kind of logical dissertation, where we take a false worldview, systematically refute it, show how only Christ is adequate, then push for a decision.

And, I think good evangelistic preaching can learn from each of these methods. Because, each of these methods (or some mixture of them with other methods) COULD be the tool that the Holy Spirit uses to bring about conversion. But not always, and not uniformly. So, to put evangelistic preaching in a box and say "It must always be done this way" is to both oversimplify it, and to ensure that your preaching is going to miss different types of people.

Instead, here is what I see as THE THREEFOLD CORE of Evangelistic Preaching:

FIRST, good evangelistic preaching should connect with felt needs of your congregation. This requires creativity. It is not enough to proclaim the Risen Christ if your people have no felt awareness of their need for Christ. It is not enough to urge conversion of our minds, our hearts, our relationships, or our work life to Christ if the congregation really feels OK with where they are at in these areas. So, you have got to dig and know your congregation. You have to know where they are feeling the struggles and the pains. Then you have to find a way to connect those problems to solutions in Christ.

SECOND, good evangelistic preaching should find ultimate resolution in personally knowing, loving, and following Jesus Christ. It is easy for sermons to degenerate into abstract ideas, a laundry list of ten things to do better this week, or a political party to vote for. It is easy for preaching to become merely academic, merely moralistic, or merely political and entirely miss connecting with the Person of Jesus Christ. Now, preaching cannot help but introducing new ideas, moral principals, and even political ramifications. Following Jesus means that ALL of these areas of life will be impacted. But, it is so very easy to think that following Jesus means JUST ideas, morals, and politics. We have to aim for a personal conversion to a personal relationship with Jesus who we personally know, love, and follow (just as we personally know and love our friend, spouse, or child). Without this dimension of personal relationship, all of these other things become meaningless and dispensable. So, aim to connect people personally with Jesus.

THIRD, good evangelistic preaching issues a challenge to do something definite with Jesus Christ. We can connect with people's felt needs, and then talk about how those felt needs find personal resolution in Jesus Christ. But, if we do not challenge people to DO SOMETHING with that knowledge, it profits no one. Good evangelistic sermons should leave us with the equivalent of: "Now that you have heard all of this stuff, here is what you can do about it". It may be something for people to sit and pray about right at the end of the sermon. It might be something to do upon leaving. It might even be a good old fashioned "altar call" like you would find at a Baptist Church. But, I think our Eucharistic liturgy provides more opportunities than you might think for evangelistic commitment.

Most "evangelicals" I know see liturgy as an impediment to evangelism. And, if you are only talking about evangelism of the tear-jerking kind, perhaps they are right. But, if you are talking about the evangelism I am speaking of, I think our liturgy actually gives us an "evangelical edge". Consider the following:
  • After every sermon we have an opportunity to affirm our faith in the Creed. You can challenge people to recite the Creed and really think about it, really mean it, and really use it as a prayer of conversion and belief in the Triune God.
  • After every sermon, we have prayers of the people. Have you ever thought about re-writing the prayers of the people to aim them toward a personal conversion, and a meditation upon what was just preached? Have you ever thought about adding in times of silence during the prayers for meditation and deeper conversion?
  • After every sermon, we literally have an "altar call" at Eucharist. Every Sunday, our people come up to receive Jesus in their hands. Encourage them to receive Him in their hearts and minds as well.
  • After every sermon, we are blessed and sent out to do God's work in the world. This could easily be adapted and expanded to be a concrete act of conversion for your congregants.
Now, I would never do more than one of these "adaptations" in a given week. And I would not use an "adaptation" of the Liturgy every Sunday (although I probably do something along these lines 2 out of 3 Sundays). But, I would try and aim EVERY SERMON to be evangelistic in the sense that EVERY SERMON should challenge our people to a deeper conversion to Christ. It may be a first conversion, or the five hundredth, but everyone has some part of their lives that needs to be personally transformed by the power of the Risen Lord Christ. Amen.

2008-04-06

PRACTICING CHRIST WITH THE EARLY CHURCH


A Sermon For Year A, Third Easter
Copyright © 2008 Nathan L. Bostian

Based on Acts 2:14a,36-47; John 21:1-14

MY FAVORITE RANDOM FACTOID: Tonight we heard in the Gospel one of my favorite random factoids in Scripture.

Did you catch it?

Nope. It wasn't the fact that St. Peter liked fishing naked. I mean, that is an INCREDIBLY interesting factoid. And the next time you get into a conversation with a Roman Catholic friend about the origin of the Church, I think you should mention that the first Pope liked casting his nets in the buff.

But it isn't my favorite factoid.

And while I love the factoid that Jesus actually cooked breakfast for his disciples, it is not my favorite either. Don't get me wrong. I love that Jesus not only comes back from the grave, but he cooks for his friends. Now THAT is full service resurrection:

"Pardon me, but would you like two eggs over easy with your victory over the grave?"

Yet, my FAVORITE random factoid is 153 fish: "Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them."

153 fish. How INCREDIBLY RANDOM is that?

Through the ages many great sages have tried to fathom the mystery of WHY St. John chose to include random factoid of 153 fish. Here are some ideas they came up with:

Some sages once said that there were only 153 species of fish in the sea, and therefore this symbolically means that Christ has sent his disciples as "fishers of humanity" to "catch" every type of human on Earth.

Other sages have said that this refers to all of Noah's progeny through his sons Ham, Shem, and Japheth. One refers to Shem's race, three refers to Ham's race, and five refers to Japheth's race. Again, it supposed to mean that Christ sent His disciples out to reach every race.

Yet others have said that 153 is the number of people Jesus ministers to in the Gospel of John.

Still others say that Jesus lived for 12,240 days which equals 80 x 153; And Jesus ministered for 918 days which equals 6 x 153. Apparently, St. John must have kept a backup copy of Jesus' daytimer to keep up with all the statistics.

And these are just the reasonably sane theories. There are mystical theories that 153 is symbolic language for deep spiritual secrets. And there are geometric theories that 153 is the surface area of shapes that give us deep insight into God's nature.

I don't know about you, but all of these theories strike me as bending over backwards to explain away the obvious. It's not as if St. John was sitting up late one night, with his graphing calculator, to figure out a way to insert an inane secret message into his version of the Jesus Story.

In fact, in the verse before this Story, John says: "These [things] are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name."

I think all of the speculation simply misses the point. I think the point is that the person who authored this Story was THERE, present AT the actual event. And since they were THERE, they wrote little details that showed they were there: Little details that no one would have thought of, if they were just making this stuff up.

Little details like the fact that St. Peter was a nudist fisherman, Jesus cooks a mean breakfast, and there were, in fact, one hundred fifty three fish in the net. They all lead me to believe that this isn't fiction. Jesus is actually alive.

WHAT THEY DID NOT DO ABOUT IT: So, Jesus is alive. Death has been put to death. The captivity of sin has been held captive. In the face of the Risen Lord Jesus we see the Love stronger than death.

So, what did the early disciples do about it?

When we look at our reading from Acts, we see a snapshot of the Church within the first months after the Risen Christ cooked breakfast for his naked friends.

What do we see the Church DOING about this momentous event? What was their REACTION to Christ's resurrection?

Well, let me tell you some things their reaction was NOT:

First, their reaction was not that of the ivory tower academic. They did not spend their time debating over the precise meaning of the resurrection. They did not commission a lecture series, write a thesis, or start and new academic journal, to discuss the ramification of 153 fish.

But, their reaction was also not that of a mystical guru. They did not merely sit and meditate on the resurrection, while chanting "OOOM". They did not go hide out in caves and become hermits, hiding out from the world. Instead, the early Church chose to be active IN the world.

Yet, their reaction was not that of the left-wing social activist, or the right-wing fundamentalist. Have you ever noticed how- even though they are frequently on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum- they often pursue their goals in the same way, and have the same type of personality?

Both the left-wing activist and the right-wing fundamentalist seeks to impose their Truth on everybody through the use of politics and propaganda. But, this isn’t what the early Church did.

In fact, the early Church's reaction is ALSO completely different than the reaction of God's people in the Old Testament. When God brought Israel out of Egypt, what was their reaction? They created Laws and a political system to insure everyone did EXACTLY what the priestly authorities thought they needed to do to stay in God's good graces.

But the early Church was different from the high priests of Israel's past, as well as the political high priests of America's present. The early Church was completely uninterested in making all of society follow Jesus by using legal and political coercion.

The Church, in fact, reacted in a way completely different from the modern academic, the spiritual guru, and the social activist. This is because the Church had a different model to follow: Jesus Christ.

Christ never reacted in the way the world expected, because Christ was someone that the world couldn’t comprehend. And it makes sense that the Church would mimic Christ, because we ARE His Body. We are his hands and feet. He is OUR head.

So, it is no wonder that the Church would practice Christ, and not fit into the social models that the world provides. Should we expect anything less from a Risen Lord who gives us 153 fish?

WHAT THEY DID DO ABOUT IT: So, when we look at the reaction of the early Church to the resurrection, we notice the following characteristics:

First, we notice that they were passionate about Christ and serious about connecting with Him. Our text said they "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching". They devoted themselves. They drank it up. They immersed themselves in it. They took it seriously.

They knew the Apostles had been with the Risen Christ, and they knew that they had things to learn about Christ from them. They believed that God worked in their life through their teaching.

This means that the Early Church did what we would call "Bible Study". The main difference, of course, was that their Bible was primarily spoken from the lips of the Apostles themselves, while our Bible is a handed down book compiled from their teachings.

When was the last time you read the Bible expecting God to speak to you through the text? When was the last time you really listened to those life-changing teachings that are found in Scripture? When is the last time you let the Bible READ YOU and tell you things about your life?

And when is the last time you discussed all of that with people who are trying to grow in God as well? Let me challenge you: If you are not currently in a group of people who discuss the Apostle's teaching in Scripture, then find such a group.

It may be a Canterbury Bible Study, but even if it isn't: Find a group of people who read Scripture, and seriously discuss what it says, expecting God to change and transform them through the interaction.

We also notice that the early Church "devoted themselves... to the breaking of bread". They connected with the Risen Christ regularly in worship and sacrament.

They realized that this meal we do- this meal where we break bread and drink wine- they realized that this meal is more than just a fun get-together, or a sentimental symbol.

They realized that the Risen Christ is somehow present IN this meal. That He is really Present. That this bread IS His Body, and this wine IS His Blood. They realized that as they ate and drank this food to nourish their body, that the Real Presence of Christ in the meal also nourished their soul.

They didn't just come to break bread out of some vague religious guilt that if they didn't do it, they were a bad person. NO! They came to break bread in JOY that they were going to encounter their Risen Lord IN the meal.

They didn't know HOW Christ is present any more than we do. It's a mystery. But, the important thing is not HOW Christ is present, but THAT He is present.

When is the last time you came to eat this bread and drink this cup, EXPECTING to encounter the Risen Lord Christ? I encourage you to join the early Church and come with JOY and EXPECTATION to break bread with Christ tonight.

We also see that the early Church connected to Christ by "devot[ing] themselves to... the prayers". The early Church was a praying people. The early Church believed that by praying, they connected with Christ, and were changed and transformed into His image.

Furthermore, they believed that prayer was powerful. Through prayer, God DOES THINGS in the world. Now, I do not know exactly how this works any more than I know exactly how Jesus is present in the Communion meal.

All I know is THAT prayer works.

Prayer changes us. Prayer changes the world. Prayer opens doors that were closed. Prayer closes doors that God doesn't want open.

Through prayer, God gently guides us to His will. This involves God saying "NO" to many of our requests. But it also involves Him saying "YES" in ways we cannot predict.

Prayer is a mystery that draws us up into the life of the Risen Christ, and opens a conduit for His Spirit to work through us.

When is the last time you really prayed? When is the last time you really opened yourself to the presence and power of Christ's Spirit flowing through you? How often do you open yourself in prayer to God's will for your life?

I invite you tonight: Pray. Set aside time every day to open yourself to Christ's life flowing through you.

So, we see how the early Church reacted to Christ's resurrection by connecting with Him in the Apostle's teaching, in the Communion Meal, and in regular prayer.

But this is not the only way the Church reacted.

The Church also reacted by connecting with each other. Our Story tonight tells us they devoted themselves to "fellowship". Yet, fellowship is a term much-abused in our culture today.

Fellowship brings up images of happy, smiley people enjoying each other's company. Fellowship describes parties and laughter and excitement. And, that is definitely part of what fellowship meant for the early Church.

Our Story tells us: "They spent much time together... they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts". So, one side of fellowship is the fun side.

But that's not all. The word fellowship in Greek could probably better be translated by "Deep, interwoven, sharing". Fellowship means that they not only shared the good times, but the hard times as well.

Notice that they not only had fun together, but they sold their goods and sacrificed for each other, so that everyone would have what they needed.

Perhaps the most incredible reaction to the Resurrection was that it created a community of people who sacrificially loved each other, and shared in each other's life.

And, our Story says this was a day-in, day-out thing. "Day by Day" they were there for each other. "Day by Day" they shared joy and pain with each other. "Day by Day..."

Are you devoted to daily fellowship- deep, interwoven sharing- with people who are seeking to follow Christ? Do you make daily time for those relationships which will help you grow to be more like Jesus, more filled with Jesus?

I invite us all to form here at Canterbury the type of fellowship- the type of deep, interwoven sharing- that will enable us all to grow into the image of Christ.

The final thing I want you to notice about the early Church's reaction to the Risen Christ was how they dealt with the world outside of the Church. They impacted the world around them, but not through politics, propaganda, or legal coercion.

Instead, they self-sacrificially shared what they had. They prayed, and miracles happened. People were healed. They preached the Good News of Christ's resurrection. People were saved and transformed.

In short, they loved. They Loved the Lord Jesus first and foremost, through teaching, sacrament, and prayer. They Loved each other in a deep interconnected fellowship. And they Loved the world around them, and shared the power of the Risen Christ through their preaching and service to that world.

Another way to say this is to say that their reaction to Christ's resurrection was to FULFILL HIS GREAT COMMANDMENTS: They Loved Him above all, and they Loved their neighbors, as they Loved each other.

This Love was not an abstract concept, or a sentimental feeling, or a political program. This Love was practiced in specific acts of Love, such as worship, sacrament, discussion, prayer, service, fellowship, preaching, and healing.

Ultimately, we become like Christ by practicing Christ: By living how He lived and doing what He did. What we practice is what we become. It was true for them, then. It is true for us, now.

What you practice is what you become. I invite you tonight to practice Christ with me. Amen+

2008-04-03

My Belief-O-Matic Results


Well, well, well. Beliefnet now has a QUIZ to determine what kind of religious faith you are. In a handy-dandy 20 questions, you can find the religion you always wanted to be, but didn't know it!

Based on your answers to 20 questions, you can find out which of 27 different religions fits you best. I think you should name yourself based on your top five matches. Apparently, I am a Quake-aventa-prot-edoxo-catholic Christian! Here are my matches:

1. Orthodox Quaker (100%)

2. Seventh Day Adventist (91%)

3. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (88%)

4. Eastern Orthodox (86%)

5. Roman Catholic (86%)

6. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (85%)

7. Liberal Quakers (77%)

8. Unitarian Universalism (68%)

9. Hinduism (66%)

10. Sikhism (56%)

11. Orthodox Judaism (52%)

12. Reform Judaism (52%)

13. Bahá'í Faith (51%)

14. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (48%)

15. Theravada Buddhism (47%)

16. Mahayana Buddhism (46%)

17. Neo-Pagan (43%)

18. Islam (43%)

19. Jainism (43%)

20. Jehovah's Witness (40%)

21. Taoism (36%)

22. New Age (34%)

23. Secular Humanism (27%)

24. New Thought (24%)

25. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (22%)

26. Scientology (22%)

27. Nontheist (14%)

Look like fun? Click on the QUIZ and report back what YOUR results were!

A Proposal for a Chalcedonian view of the Eucharist


This last week I have been blessed with a wonderful debate about the Eucharist which included two generous Catholics and another brother from the Church of Christ.

In it, we tried to hash out in detail (often nitpicky and scholastic detail) what exactly is going on the Eucharist. Everyone confused each other (and probably ourselves too). And I am not entirely sure that we fully heard or understood each other. But, we were generous and kind, which is a lot better than most blog debates.

In the debate, we bumped up against the genius and the limits of Thomas Aquinas several times. We also talked at length about what types of errors must be avoided in understanding the Eucharist.

I would like to put forward a proposal about understanding both the Eucharist itself, and the understanding St. Thomas' role in helping us understand the Eucharist:

1. Following Anglican Theologian Francis Hall, I would like to take the whole catalogue of Christological errors and apply them to the Eucharist. I believe they are helpful guides to steer us toward a "Chalcedonian Eucharistic Doctrine".

Following Chalcedon's definition to protect the Mystery of the Incarnation, I would PROPOSE the following "Chalcedonian Eucharistic Definition" to protect the boundaries of the Eucharistic Mystery on four "sides":
1. Eucharist is really, truly, and fully the Presence of Christ: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
2. Eucharist is really, truly, and fully the created elements of Bread and Wine.
3. These two Realities are truly joined, through the consecration, so that as long as the Bread and Wine last they cannot be separated.
4. These two Realities cannot be mixed, or confused, or subsumed into each other.

The first boundary protects us from "Eucharistic Arianism", where the Divine Christ is not really present in the sacrament, but it is merely a sign pointing to Christ. This is, of course, a protection from mere Memorialism.

The second boundary protects us from "Eucharistic Docetism" where the bread and wine merely appear to be real (even to the deepest levels of observation), but are not real. It also protects us from "Eucharistic Apollinarianism" where some part of the Reality of the Bread and Wine is destroyed and replaced by the Divine.

The third boundary protects us from both "Eucharistic Nestorianism" (where the two natures exist side by side, but are really separate at a deep level) and "Eucharistic Adoptionism" (where God comes to be present in the host, but not in a permanent, truly participatory type of way).

The fourth boundary protects us from "Eucharistic Monophysitism" (or Eutychianism) where the Divine nature of the Eucharist subsumes the created nature and obliterates it (another error that Transubstantiation could creep into). It also protects the Eucharist from becoming some type of mixed substance- a tertium quid- that is really neither creation nor Creator. It finally protects us from a crude magicalism by reminding us that the "sign" aspect has not been obliterated, so that the meal must simultaneously be treated as the sign (bread and wine) and that which it signifies and inheres with (the Divine Christ).

This is my version of a "fully sufficient" definition to protect the Mystery of the Eucharist. I do not, however, have a metaphysical theory of HOW this is so. But even if I do write a theory about HOW it works some day, it would still be inferior in quality and necessity to the definition above. It would still be a mere hunch at HOW this is so. The important thing, however, is THAT it is so.

The important thing is THAT Eucharist IS a real means of grace through which the Risen Christ REALLY becomes present and nourishes us with His grace so that we grow into all the fullness of Christ. And, it is this LAST POINT THAT WE AGREE ON- ALL OF US. We may disagree on HOW it is so, and what terminology is sufficient to describe the Mystery. But we AGREE on what is most important.

2. Regarding St. Thomas: I wonder- in light of our debate- if it was not a coincidence that St. Thomas Aquinas quit writing after a mystical experience at the Eucharist, after which he said "All I have written in but straw". A lot of people use this to dismiss Thomas completely (Well, he realized his work was worthless- don't you???). But, I see it as precisely the opposite.

Thomas- using his incredible off-the-scales genius, and the finest education, science, and philosophy available- took us to the absolute limits of human understanding and rational coherence. He took us to the VERY TOP of the mountain of transfiguration and dropped us off up there. Up there, we could see the stars. We could see the world far below, in all its created glory. St. Thomas is the BEST of tour guides.

But, there is one thing that Thomas can't do: He can't deliver to us the Shenkiniah Glory of the Transfigured Christ, robed in Glory and Majesty, with a beauty that outshines the Sun. He can take us to the top of the mountain, but we still have to WAIT on God's glory to descend. Thomas saw the glory, a glory that far eclipsed all of his work as a "tour guide", but also fulfilled his work as a "tour guide".

His efforts to bring us to the top of the mountain are JUST AS WORTHWHILE as the work of Peter and John to climb with Jesus to the top of the mount of transfiguration. Worthwhile in the same way, for the same reason. Worthwhile, and indispensible. Because, just as God made man to climb with his muscles, He also made man to climb with His mind, with His heart, and with His soul (cf. "Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength" Mat 22.37-40). Without striving with all our human effort, we are not ready to appreciate the fullness of God's grace and glory.

Without Thomas' striving and work, he would not have been in the place to fully appreciate the glory revealed to Him. And, for those of us wired like St. Thomas, we need to mentally exert ourselves to the full extent to be ready for the Mystical glory of God.

As I have pointed out before, I think the Eucharist in particular slammed Thomas up against the wall of His metaphysical system and pushed His concepts to the breaking point. But, it was only at that point that He was ready for the Glory. And, I believe, it is no mistake that the Glory occurred in the context of Eucharist.

May we all be slammed with the Glory like St. Thomas was!

St. Thomas, pray for all of us who feel called to strive hard to understand the deep things of the Risen Christ. Pray that the Lord would pour out His Spirit of wisdom upon our feeble minds, that we would understand in such a way as to unite Christ's Divided Body, and spur us on to complete His Mission in the world. And pray that at the completion of our striving, we would be slammed with all the fullness of Glory of the Risen Christ, just as you were, that we may know, love, and follow Jesus, just as you do. Amen+

[Random thought: If Thomas wrote a blog, I wonder what the title would be?]

2008-04-01

On Scholastic Argument


Scholastic Theological Arguments give me a nervous tick.

They are sometimes necessary, just like cleaning a clogged toilet.

But, prolonged practice of both is dangerous for precisely the same reason.
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.