Lord’s Day 34 (Q/A 92-95): WHERE IS YOUR HEART?

92   Q.  What is God’s law?

A.   God spoke all these words:

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT

“I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of slavery;
you shall have no other gods before me.”

THE SECOND COMMANDMENT

“You shall not make for yourself an idol,
whether in form of anything that is in heaven above,
or that is on the earth beneath,
or that is in the water under the earth.
You shall not bow down to them or worship them;
for I the Lord your God am a jealous God,
punishing children for the iniquity of parents,
to the third and fourth generation
of those who reject me,
but showing love to the thousandth generation of those
who love me and keep my commandments.”

THE THIRD COMMANDMENT

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God,
for the Lord will not acquit anyone
who misuses his name.”

THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT

“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work.
But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God;
you shall not do any work—
you, your son or your daughter,
your male or female slave,
your livestock,
or the alien resident in your towns.
For in six days the Lord made
the heaven and earth, the sea,
and all that is in them,
but rested the seventh day;
therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day
and consecrated it.”

THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT

“Honor your father and your mother,
so that your days may be long
in the land that the Lord your God is giving to you.”

THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT

“You shall not murder.”

THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT

“You shall not commit adultery.”

THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT

“You shall not steal.”

THE NINTH COMMANDMENT

“You shall not bear false witness
against your neighbor.”

THE TENTH COMMANDMENT

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house;
you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,
or male or female slave,
or ox, or donkey,
or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”^1

^1 Exod. 20[:1-17]; Deut. 5[:6-21]

93   Q.  How are these commandments divided?

A.   Into two tables.^1
The first has four commandments,
teaching us how we ought to live in relation to God.
The second has six commandments,
teaching us what we owe our neighbor.^2

^1 Exod. 34:28; Deut. 4:13; 10:3-4
^2 Matt. 22:37-39

94   Q.  What does the Lord require
in the first commandment?

A.   That I, not wanting to endanger my own salvation,
avoid and shun
all idolatry,^1 sorcery, superstitious rites,^2
and prayer to saints or to other creatures.^3

That I rightly know the only true God,^4
trust him alone,^5
and look to God for every good thing^6
humbly^7 and patiently,^8
and love,^9 fear,^10 and honor^11 God
with all my heart.

In short,
that I give up anything
rather than go against God’s will in any way.^12

^1 1 Cor. 6:9-10;10:7,14
^2 Lev. 19:31; Deut. 18:11
^3 Matt. 4:10; Rev. 19:10; 22:[8]-9
^4 John 17:3
^5 Jer. 17:5
^6 Ps. 104: 27-30; Isa. 45:7; James 1:17
^7 1 Pet. 5:5-6
^8 Heb. 10:36; Col. 1:11; Rom. 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 10:10; Phil. 2:14
^9 Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37
^10 Deut. 6:2; Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10; Matt. 10:28
^11 Matt. 4:10; Deut. 10:20
^12 Matt. 5:29-30; 10:37; Acts 5:29

95   Q.  What is idolatry?

A.   Idolatry is
having or inventing something in which one trusts
in place of or alongside of the only true God,
who has revealed himself in the Word.^1

^1 Eph. 5:5; 1 Chron. 16:26; Phil. 3:19; Gal. 4:8; Eph. 2:12; 1 John 2:23; 2 John 9; John 5:23


 

LORD’S DAY 34 (Q/A 92-95)
“Where is your heart?”

The ancient church prepared catechumens (candidates for baptism) by traditioning them (yes, the verb of “tradition”). From the Latin “traditio” meaning to pass on or pass to, traditioning exhibited dynamic, living faith. The opposite is traditionalism – stagnant, unreflective state of being and doing for the sake of itself.

Traditioning involved the elements of belonging, behavior, belief. (see Alan Kreider’s The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom).  The sequencing of those elements showed the theological emphasis of a particular community. Those who placed belief first placed doctrinal apprehension as a primary criteria for whether you belonged. Placing belonging first expressed to baptismal candidates that they already belonged to the community, and that the process of preparation was a way to learn doctrine and live it out in your life (behavior).

In any case, whatever sequence there was, there was overlapping of each and all. One can never carefully delineate when one has moved from one stage to the next. Is behavior learned as baptismal candidates observe worship, participate in it, and serve alongside community members in mission? And/or does theological discourse and learning shape behavior and critique behavior.

What framed the traditioning process was the so-called “rule of faith” (Latin regula fidei). The rule of faith, like the measuring rod of a ruler, provided the basic foundation for what is traditioned. The rule of faith was composed of:

-The Apostles’ Creed

-The Ten Commandments

-The Lord’s Prayer

Each of these were to be memorized. The community took care to teach the meaning of these articles of the faith. Culminating on Holy Saturday at the Great Prayer Vigil of Easter, regarded as the holiest day in the liturgical calendar, baptismal candidates would “return” (Latin redditio) the faith by reciting the Apostles’ Creed, essentially giving back what they had received.

The Apostles’ Creed as we’ve seen in prior sections of the Catechism is a summary of the Gospel. The Creed is about the triune God, it’s a very brief biography of what the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – has revealed and given to us as attested to by the Scriptures. The Gospel is the Good News that the triune God has self-given and self-revealed as the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.

The Lord’s Prayer is love language – we are apprenticed to pray with the Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself continually joins with us and who intercedes for us, “Our Father…”

The Lord’s Prayer, too, is Gospel. Jesus Christ teaches His disciples to commune with the heavenly Father, with words that He Himself prays. The Lord’s Prayer brings us into the community of the triune God.

The Ten Commandments express the ethics of the kingdom, the way of being in the family of God and in the community of believers. The Ten Commandments show what matters, both in the positive and negative aspects. In living out both the prescriptions and proscriptions of the Ten Commandments, we express the new life we have been given in Christ. Note that the Ten Commandments are in the section on gratitude in the Catechism. In some worship liturgies in the Reformed traditions, the gathered worshipping assembly recites the Ten Commandments as a means to be drawn to the realization that we are  unable and unwilling to follow the Ten Commandments, that we break them all the time, leading the gathered people to a time of prayer of confession, receiving the assurance that in Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we have been forgiven and set free to love and serve. In these instances, the Ten Commandments act as a “tutor” or “schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:24), showing our inability to follow God’s desires and God’s will, and needing Christ to set us free to live and to love.

But the Ten Commandments are also the Good News, but put into statutes and ordinances, at first glance, appearing as legislative language.  I can hear my parents and grandparents say adamantly in my youthful days of being hard-headed and stubborn, “I’m telling you because I love you.”

That’s what the Ten Commandments are – they are God’s words as Q/A 92 says.

Q/A 93 speaks of the double commandments of loving God and loving neighbor, the so-called vertical and horizontal relationships; to love God necessarily means one must love neighbor, and loving neighbor is an expression of loving God. Q/A 94 and 95 says what it’s all about – it’s about regarding God above all else; note, it’s not putting God first, as if God were some primus inter pares (first among equals), or at the top of the list, or first-seed.  God is par excellence, there is no one and nothing else but God and God alone. God has the preeminent place…or at least God ought to.

This means in every aspect and facet of our lives, in every part of our decision-making, our relationships…on the micro- and macro- levels.

The Ten Commandments are the Good News in that they come from the very heart of God. The Ten Commandments are direct expressions of God’s own character: God’s truthfulness, trustworthiness, passionate love for us and the world, seeking wholeness in our relating to God and to one another where far too often they are fraught with brokenness, hurt and woundedness.

God spoke them to and through ancient prophets and communities. That almighty God would care to speak to us, would impart His heart, His desire to us…that’s the self-revealing and self-giving of God.

No wonder, then, that the biggest chapter in the Scriptures is Psalm 119 – the sung poetry of 176 verses praising the Lord God Almighty for His statutes, ordinances, testimonies, commandments and law.

As we are traditioned and traditioning, offer and receive the Ten Commandments.

In it, receive God’s own heart as the Holy Spirit causes the Commandments to metabolize into your heart and soul, and where your life pulsates after the very heart of God.

Lord’s Day 33 (Q/A 88-91): BEING APPRENTICED

88   Q.    What is involved
                in genuine repentance or conversion?

A.    Two things:
the dying-away of the old self,^1
and the rising-to-life of the new.

^1 Rom. 6:4-6; Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:5-10; 1 Cor. 5:7

89   Q.    What is the dying-away of the old self?

A.    To be genuinely sorry for sin
and more and more to hate
and run away from it.^1

^1 Rom. 8:13; Joel 2:13

90   Q.    What is the rising-to-life of the new self?

A.    Wholehearted joy in God through Christ^1
and a love and delight to live
according to the will of God
by doing every kind of good work.^2

^1 Rom. 5:1; 14:17; Isa. 57:15
^2 Rom. 6:10-11; Gal. 2:20

91   Q.    What are good works?

A.    Only those which
are done out of true faith,^1
conform to God’s law,^2
and are done for God’s glory;^3
and not those based
on our own opinion
or human tradition.^4

^1 Rom. 14:23
^2 1 Sam. 11; 1 Sam. [15]:22; Eph. 2:10
^3 1 Cor. 10:31
^4 Deut. 12:32; Ezek. 20:18-19;Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:9


 

LORD’S DAY 33 (Q/A 88-91):
“Being Apprenticed” 

Eleven years ago when I first moved to the East Coast United States from California, I had to quickly learn the seasonal rhythms of life. The approach of winter means stocking up on bags of rock salt, and when snow comes, it means shoveling within 24 hours after the snow stops so that the snow doesn’t freeze as a giant glacier on your driveway, sidewalk and walkways.  Spring  meant stocking upon on antihistamines for seasonal allergies, changing the air filters in the vents, prepping the pool, aerating the soil and planting seeds. Summer meant stocking up on propane gas for the barbecue, keeping the pool filter on, and pulling out the patio furniture from storage. Autumn meant closing the pool, raking the beautiful and plentiful leaves, and stocking up the pantry with chicken stock.

As a Pacific, West Coast guy, it took several years of being apprenticed into my new environment. It wasn’t California living. It required adjustment, being re-orientated to the new. It required learning, being apprenticed by my father in-law, neighbors, church members – those who had more experience, those who tried and failed in the past and who could impart those lessons to me.

To live a life continually marked and pulsing with gratitude towards God in Christ requires spiritual apprenticeship.  The Holy Spirit apprentices us by what the Protestant Reformers called the dual work of mortification (dying to self) and vivification (revitalized living).

Q/A 88-90 is about the emerging life that is being unlocked, like the spring bud that is latent underground, awaiting for the winter snow to thaw so that it can emerge as a beautiful tulip. Q/A 88 describes the new life that emerges as “rising-to-life.”

Do you want to be fully alive, alive for God in Christ?

This is not something we could conjure up or muster with our strength, strategies, and savvy. Spiritual apprenticeship requires the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, through the difficult but necessary work of “genuine repentance” and “conversion.”

When my wife and I were preparing for marriage, our premarital counselor, who then officiated our wedding, exhorted us how important it is to learn how to say sorry to each other, to mean it when we say it, and to forgive each other. I still remember when on our wedding day he held our wedding rings, and pointing to it, he said how these perfectly round, polished rings will get nicks and scratches over the years, but they will remain beautiful. So it is with living into marriage – the nicks and scratches will be through the rough and tumble, the joys and the struggles of living deeper into our married life.

Our new life in Christ that is “rising-to-life” is our living into the marriage that we have with our Lord Jesus Christ, so to speak. Our relationship with Him is a real one, and, as with any real relationship, there’s a butting of heads. When we butt heads with Christ, it’s in every single moment of our life when we are confronted with our sin by Christ’s Spirit, when our hearts try to fend off what the Spirit tells us through His Word, when we argue with God, when we insist on our way. Then the Spirit of Jesus Christ prods our hearts to prayer, intrudes on our pride, uses the Scriptures to transform our mind, uses a fellow believer to speak to us…all the many ways that the Spirit of Christ brings death to our old self, causing our new life, our “rising-to-life” to emerge, living into resurrection life and power.

Q/A 91 prompts us to good works, underscoring what is good.  The proof-text in footnote 2 is problematic at first and second glance, the passage from 1 Samuel 15. Samuel the prophet confronts king Saul because Saul didn’t follow God’s commandments exactly. God commanded that Saul kill all the Amalekites, including all their animals.  Saul and his army save Agag and the best of the livestock, thinking that by saving them, he can then offer the best sacrifices.

This is not a proof-text about God approving the killing of Amalekites.

The prophet Samuel’s conversation with the Lord Almighty showed the thrust of this passage. The Lord regretted calling Saul as Israel’s king as Saul’s heart and actions showed he was not so much interested in following God, nor listening to Samuel.

Even Saul’s attempt to offer the best sacrifice to God was tainted with self-interest at its best even though the outcome was a sacrifice being done.

When we can only see the outcome, we don’t realize what is underneath the outcome and the process that precedes it.  I’m not a handy Home Depot guy. Home improvements don’t come easy for me, but I can hold my own…eventually.  Several years ago, one of our neighbors renovated our bathroom, and in the process of that, he found some other trouble spots. Changing a toilet in the renovated bathroom, led to him showing me how to change the toilet in the master bathroom and the guest bathroom.  By the time we worked on the third bathroom, I had become a pro at unbolting the toilet, removing the old wax ring, checking the flange, that when, a few years later, one of the toilets had a leak, I single-handedly diagnosed the problem and fixed it. I thank Jeff for taking me under his wing, his patience, his instruction, the numerous runs to Home Depot, his encouragement, and, at times, taking the tools from my hand to show me how to do the job so I can do it on the next toilet.

The outcome and process are both key.  Saul was more interested in the outcome.  He thought that the offering of sacrifices was the worship God desired. While that outcome was important, that gradual, heart-rending, hard process of unfastening our hands from the driver’s wheel and doing things God’s way – that’s the hard part, but that’s the essential part of our apprenticeship.

Living our lives God’s way, making decisions that are pleasing to God, caring about what God cares about — herein lies our lifelong marriage relationship with God. Thanks be to God, that God gives Himself in the Holy Spirit to apprentice us all our lives long.

Lord’s Day 32 (Q/A 86-87): SIGNED, SEALED, AND BEING DELIVERED

86   Q.   Since we have been delivered
                from our misery
                by grace through Christ
                without any merit of our own,
                why then should we do good works?

A.    Because Christ, having redeemed us by his blood,
is also restoring us by his Spirit into his image,
so that with our whole lives
we may show that we are thankful to God
for his benefits,^1
so that he may be praised through us,^2
so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits,^3
and so that by our godly living
our neighbors may be won over to Christ.^4

^1 Rom. 6:13; 12:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:5-10; 1 Cor. 6:20
^2 Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12
^3 1 Pet. 1:[6-]10; Matt. 7:17; Gal. 5:6, 22
^4 1 Pet. 3:1-2; Rom. 14:19

87   Q.    Can those be saved
                who do not turn to God
                from their ungrateful
                and unrepentant ways?

A.    By no means.
Scripture tells us that
no unchaste person,
no idolater, adulterer, thief,
no covetous person,
no drunkard, slanderer, robber,
or the like
will inherit the kingdom of God.^1

^1 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Eph. 5:5-6; 1 John 3:14


 

LORD’S DAY 32 (Q/A 86-87)
“Signed, Sealed, and Being Delivered” 

The ancient office of herald (Greek “kerux”) had the exclusive responsibility of serving the Sovereign. His role was to run from the battlefield to the awaiting city to proclaim that their Sovereign had been victorious. As a witness of the battle, the herald was to tell a faithful account of what he had seen and heard, of what the Sovereign had done in battle to secure the freedom of the city.  That was good news for the citizens of the kingdom: their Sovereign protected them, was for them. As a result, they are free citizens of the kingdom and as citizens, they are to live lives worthy of the calling, worthy of the freedom won and secured. They are to live and comport themselves in such a way that exhibits this citizenship.

The Good News of God is that our Sovereign, King Jesus, the Prince of Peace, has decisively freed us from the captivity of sin, death, and evil. By his incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension, salvation has been secured.  For us, we receive it as a covenant of grace.. a gift.  For Jesus Christ, it was and is a covenant of works. He works, so that what we receive is gift.

Such amazing grace, such awesome grace is deserving and worthy of our whole lives.

Q/A 86-87 begins the third part of the Catechism called “gratitude.” We do good works not to gain more favor from God, or to prove that we are worth being citizens of the kingdom. There is nothing to prove, nothing we can add to what God has done, nothing to prove to anyone nor to ourselves.

To love God and to love neighbor in the myriad of ways that that takes shape has a four-fold purpose described by Q/A 86:

-to express our thanksgiving to God for the benefits we receive from Christ’s work;

-so that God would be praised through our lives;

-so that good works as fruits of faith can assure us of the gift of faith, proof of faith;

-as outward witness so that others may be drawn to Christ

The main thrust of good works is God – that God would be praised, that God would be thanked, that others would be drawn to Christ; even works as a means to assure us of faith is anchored in God’s own work through us (see Galatians 5:22 as a proof-text in footnote 3).  Even as we respond to God’s work in Christ with our own good works, the aim of the work is God, and the power and enabler of all good things is God. This is not to say we are robots. What has become of our old spirit in the new life in Christ is that our wills have been unleashed to live for God, freed to see what honors the triune God and what doesn’t, and the will to seek God, to pray to God.

Does this mean that we will always follow God in our lives? No. We are not consistent. Even with our best intentions, we know our motives are never perfect, always tainted with some self-congratulatory, self-aggrandizement, or a prideful eye for acceptance and acknowledgment by others; that’s who we are.  Here’s the paradox that is a significant confession of the 16th century Protestant Reformation: simul iustus et peccator  – simultaneously righteous and sinful.  We affirm that and live it every single day – as we respond with gratitude to God’s work in Christ, we are fully redeemed, while being fully sinful.

Here’s the key: the answer to Q. 86 says that Christ, who not only redeemed us by his blood, is “restoring us by his Spirit into his image.”  Christ’s work continues through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s signature on our heart, sealing the sure promises of God in Christ, and delivering the benefits of God’s work in our lives.

And that’s how we understand Q/A 87.  Are we thieves? Are we adulterers? Do we covet?  Yes. Yes. Yes.  James 2:10 humbles us – when we stumble in one part of the law, we break them all. Think of the Ten Commandments. Break any one of them, you knock off all others like a domino. Covet your neighbor’s nicely furnished, decorated house, you replace the truth of God’s sufficient provision for the lie of being content with what  your neighbor has. When you fall into temptation of coveting, you dishonor your parents, or do something that would dishonor them. Coveting in the heart can breed a form of hate, which is a form of murder. Finding discontent with what you already have means that you have forgotten your Creator God, the God of the Sabbath. You, as a child of God, dishonor God’s own name by coveting. Your covetous heart has made your selfish desire, the object of our heart, your neighbor’s house as an idol.

And on and on it goes. We find this spiraling cycle in our lives every single day.

Q/A 87 points us to hearts that are “ungrateful” and “unrepentant.” It’s not saying that no one who is unchaste, or an adulterer , etc. will not inherit the kingdom of God; otherwise, no one would be inheritors – we all fall short of the glory of God; you break one part of the law, you break them all.

This section is about gratitude. Q/A 86 was about Christ who works by the Holy Spirit to conform us to his image throughout our lives. We find an increasing and more frequent desire to seek and do the will of God in Christ as we mature in faith.  As the triune God causes us to delight in Him, those works, motives, deeds, works which we do that does not delight God and which blurs the image of Christ in our lives, will be revealed to us for what they are. The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives illuminates those spaces and places of our lives that don’t honor God and which God does not delight in. The Holy Spirit prompts us to recognize it as such, to seek God, to confess, and to repent.  How can it be otherwise? As freed citizens in God’s kingdom, we want to delight in God, offering our lives of gratitude for what He has done in Christ.

Q/A 87 is not so much a section about saying who’s in or who’s out; connected to Q/A 86 and this section of the Catechism on gratitude, it’s to direct us to holiness and righteousness.  In reviewing the three proof-texts of answer 87 – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5-6, 1 John 3:14 – those verses in their chapter contexts prompt the community to live more in love with God and with one another; the apostolic exhortations in each of those sections is calling the community to rid themselves of immoral living, to live lives of godliness; it’s not questioning their salvation – that’s already been given in Christ.  Each of those letters, as like a sovereign herald, is calling the community to live lives worthy of their calling.

And so it is with us. Let us examine our lives – personally and communally. Let us seek the ways of Jesus Christ. If there be any way in us and among us that God does not delight in…let’s pray that the Spirit of Jesus Christ remove it from us, cleanse our hearts, turn our will and our ways toward God, enabling us to live the way of Christ. And may the Spirit of Christ grant us peace, who signs, seals, and delivers the work of God in Christ for us.

 

Lord’s Day 31 (Q/A 83-85): CLOSE, OPEN, CLOSE, OPEN

83   Q.   What are the keys of the kingdom?

A.    The preaching of the holy gospel
and Christian discipline toward repentance.
Both of them
open the kingdom of heaven to believers
and close it to unbelievers.

84   Q.   How does preaching the holy gospel
                open and close the kingdom of heaven?

A. According to the command of Christ:

The kingdom of heaven is opened
by proclaiming and publicly declaring
to all believers, each and every one, that,
as often as they accept the gospel promise in true faith,
God, because of Christ’s merit,
truly forgives all their sins.

The kingdom of heaven is closed, however,
by proclaiming and publicly declaring
to unbelievers and hypocrites that,
as long as they do not repent,
the wrath of God and eternal condemnation
rest on them.^1

God’s judgment, both in this life and in the life to come,
is based on this gospel testimony.

^1 John 20:21-23; Matt. 16:19

85   Q.   How is the kingdom of heaven
               closed and opened by Christian discipline?

A.    According to the command of Christ:

Those who, though called Christians,
profess unchristian teachings or live unchristian lives,
and who after repeated personal and loving admonitions,
refuse to abandon their errors and evil ways,
and who after being reported to the church, that is,
to those ordained by the church for that purpose,
fail to respond also to the church’s admonitions—
such persons the church excludes
from the Christian community
by withholding the sacraments from them,
and God also excludes them from the kingdom of Christ.

Such persons,
when promising and demonstrating genuine reform,
are received again
as members of Christ
and of his church. ^1

^1 Matt. 18:15-18; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; John 2[:13-22]; 2 John 10-11


 

LORD’S DAY 31 (Q/A 83-85)
“Close, Open, Close, Open”

I can still hear their voices. My grandmothers and mother telling me to close the refrigerator after opening it. My wife occasionally tells me that too when I stand in front of the fridge, with both side doors wide open, wondering, pondering, scanning the shelves of what strikes my fancy. I can hear their collective voices as I follow their lead in urging our own boys to close the front door lest the mosquitoes and flies come in.  Exhortations, warnings, urgings to close the door when the door is swung open.

But I have another memory of close, open, close, open. My grandmothers and mother using their hands to cover their eyes for my baby cousins, and my little sister (12 years my junior). After cooing, a simple game of peek-a-boo always made any infant smile and laugh. Each succeeding “close, open, close, open” revealed the momentary hidden face of the grown-up, and when the hands were removed, revealed either a smiley face, a goofy face, or some other expression that made any baby clap their little hands in approval. I followed suit in caring for my kid sister, and with our two boys.

Q/A 83-85 is about what Craig Barnes nicely describes as the custodial work of the Holy Spirit, like the church custodian at his former congregation who held a ring of keys making sure room doors were either opened or close. The keys of God’s kingdom are the proclamation of the Gospel and Christian discipline.  Barnes reminds us that the responsibility of drawing people to God and to God’s community is the act of the Holy Spirit; the responsibility of the Church is to testify of the Good News and to live it out in its common life.

Preaching and teaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, and living that out in our common life are acts of “close, open, close, open.”  These twin actions, like the parental peek-a-boo, momentarily hides the face of God, but then reveals the smiling approval and embracing love of God.  Our lives daily pulsate for resonances of God’s presence, of God’s voice, of God’s direction.  Being on the giving end of the Good News, or on the receiving end of the Good News sometimes brings the palpable, convicting power of God. Sometimes.

Most of the time, it takes time for that clarity of peace and presence to be evident.

Likewise, the wise counsel of fellow believers, the corrective exhortation of a sister in Christ, the encouraging hug or prayer of a brother in Christ may be what brings us back to the straight and narrow – giving tangible embodiment of God’s love.

The power of preaching, teaching, and discipline comes from the Holy Spirit. It’s these raw materials which the Spirit uses to “close, open, close, open” that which we strain to know.

Wouldn’t we really want to know God’s presence every single moment, a constant “open”?  Think of Moses being given the slight view of God’s nape; the holiness of God’s presence and power was overwhelming.  Think of Isaiah’s “Woe is me” refrain when confronted with the vision of the heavenly creatures in a perpetual Sanctus.  That would be like a child who is constantly exposed to the face of their parent or caregiver; every single moment, every single time.

But the opposite is also true. We don’t want a constant “closing” either? We’d feel abandoned, bereft, forsaken.

The Church doesn’t consistently get the preaching, teaching, and disciplining right all the time. And when we do, the Holy Spirit doesn’t show the effects immediately. In those gaps in time, between consistency and inconsistency, between faithfully and unfaithfully using and turning the keys…the Holy Spirit is acting, in ways seen and unseen.

It’s that mystery of not knowing how and when the face of God is being opened or being closed, that we are reminded to place our trust in the certainty that the Holy Spirit is acting, drawing us to God’s self; and with that dynamic, simultaneous relationship of mystery-certainty, or “close, open, close, open,” is the face of God disclosed for us.

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make His face to shine upon you
And be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you
And give you peace.  (Numbers 6:24-26, New International Version)
Amen.

Lord’s Day 30 (Q/A 80-82): CATHOLIC

80* Q.   How does the Lord’s Supper
               differ from the Roman Catholic Mass?

A.    The Lord’s Supper declares to us
that all our sins are completely forgiven
through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ,
which he himself accomplished on the cross once for all.^1
It also declares to us
that the Holy Spirit grafts us into Christ,^2
who with his true body
is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father^3
where he wants us to worship him.^4

But the Mass teaches
that the living and the dead
do not have their sins forgiven
through the suffering of Christ
unless Christ is still offered for them daily by the priests.
It also teaches
that Christ is bodily present
under the form of bread and wine
where Christ is therefore to be worshiped.
Thus the Mass is basically
nothing but a denial
of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ
and a condemnable idolatry.

^1 Heb. 7:27; 9:12, 26-28; 10:10, 12-14; John 19:30; Matt. 26:28; Luke 22:19-20
^2 1 Cor. 6:17; 10:16; 12:13
^3 Heb. 1:3; 8:1
^4 John 4:21-23; 20:17; Luke 24:52; Acts 7:55-56; Col. 3:1; Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 1:10

*Question and Answer 80 reflects the polemical debates of the Reformation and was added in the second German edition of 1563.  The second and fourth sentences of the Answer, as well as the concluding phrase, were added in the third German edition of 1563.  After the fourth sentence, the third German and Latin texts have a note to the section on consecration in the Canon of the Mass.

As detailed in the preface to the Book of Confessions, these condemnations and characterizations of the Catholic Church are not the position of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and are not applicable to current relationships between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Catholic Church.

 

81   Q.   Who should come
               to the Lord’s table?

A.    Those who are displeased with themselves
because of their sins,
but who nevertheless trust
that their sins are pardoned
and that their remaining weakness is covered
by the suffering and death of Christ,
and who also desire more and more
to strengthen their faith
and to lead a better life.

Hypocrites and those who are unrepentant, however,
eat and drink judgment on themselves.^1

^1 1 Cor. 10:21; 11:28[-29]

 

82   Q.   Should those be admitted
               to the Lord’s Supper
               who show by what they profess and how they live
               that they are unbelieving and ungodly?

A.    No, that would dishonor God’s covenant
and bring down God’s wrath upon the entire congregation.^1
Therefore, according to the instruction of Christ
and his apostles,
the Christian church is duty-bound to exclude such people,
by the official use of the keys of the kingdom,
until they reform their lives.

^1 1 Cor. 11:20, 34; Isa. 1:11; 66:3; Jer. 7:21[-26]; Ps. 50:16



LORD’S DAY 30 (Q/A 80-82)
“Catholic”

For autobiographical disclosure, I was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church. Exact location? The Black Construction Camp Chapel in the city of Harmon on the island of Guam. The date? October 3, in the year of my birth (you’ll have to guess my age).  My father’s family is Roman Catholic, my mother’s family is from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). Both of my grandmothers were passionate about the particular faith traditions and emphases: my paternal grandmother had her statue of Mary the Mother of Jesus, her rosary beads and candles; my maternal grandmother had her Bible, notepad and pen, jotting down insights for next Sunday’s older adult Bible study class and to record prayer concerns for family and friends.

It wasn’t until later in college I became Presbyterian. And it wasn’t until I prepared for the ordained ministry that I encountered the various strands of the Reformed faith, Presbyterianism, and beyond that, the various kinds of Protestantism, the variety of worship practices, and the Eastern Orthodox side of the Christian community. Graduate studies in liturgical theology and ecumenical theology, combined with worldwide travel further expanded my encounter with and appreciation for being “catholic.”

When I became pastor of Middlesex Presbyterian Church in central New Jersey, were it not for the lawn sign that indicated this community of faith belonged to the part of the body of Christ called the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), this congregation would have been non-denominational. It was no wonder, then, that when we moved to weekly celebration of the Lord’s Table, some in the congregation called it “becoming Catholic.” When we started to use the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, this was called “Catholic.” And when the term “Eucharist” was used, that was seen, by a few, as “too Catholic.” As a compromise, the worship bulletins described the sacrament as “The Lord’s Table-Eucharist-Communion;” note the em-dash. This descriptor was a way to include all those meanings, education and appreciation by expansion.

Seven years later, the same objectors now look forward to our weekly celebration. The word “Eucharist” is used interchangeably with “Communion.”  The children of the congregation, including our own, are accustomed to the Sursum Corda (The Lord be with you/And also with you/Lift up your hearts…) as well as the pattern and words of the Great Prayer.

That’s being “catholic.”  Note the upper-case and lower-case “c.”

When we confess the Creed every week, and say “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church,” that statement hinges on the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

The expansiveness of the Church of Jesus Christ, with all its diversity, its variety, is expressive of the expansive ministry of the triune God through the Holy Spirit, who transcends time and space.

Part of the wonder of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is this dynamic relationship between local-global, particular-universal, unique-catholic.

Q/A 80-82 speaks to our Reformed tradition’s grappling with what is being done, what is being expressed, what is being effected at the Lord’s Table-Eucharist-Communion.

Theologian George Hunsinger in his book, Eucharist and Ecumenism (Cambridge University Press, 2008), states that the enduring theological arguments about the Table have been centered on the twin issues of the real presence of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Where is Christ? How is Christ’s presence known? How is Christ’s work on the cross efficacious? How does the Church receive the benefits of the cross?

Being “catholic” in faith necessarily means expansiveness, comprehensiveness, but tethered to particular communities, tethered to certain practices. It is humanly impossible to fully understand as we are fully known by God.

Q/A 80 highlights the cross and the one, efficacious, decisive death of Christ. But even then, that’s not the whole story. For our dying to our lives of sin and our living into the new life in Christ are not just accomplished on the cross. The cross was connected to Christ’s ministry of 30 years, which was connected to his taking on flesh and blood (incarnation). The cross presumed the resurrection three days later, which presumed his ascending to heaven, and through him the Holy Spirit would be sent; which presumed his return.  Our salvation, our reconciliation, our deliverance by God through Christ in the Holy Spirit – the expansiveness and comprehensiveness of it all – is effected in:

incarnation-Christ’s 30 year ministry-death-resurrection-ascension-return

Note the em-dash. We need the em-dash because otherwise God could have parachuted Jesus Christ directly to the cross, accomplish our forgiveness in nine hours, and be done with it. The expansiveness and comprehensiveness of God’s work of salvation are not isolated to one event, even as the event of the cross is decisive, radical, essential and constitutive to the overall work of salvation and reconciliation.

Which is why when we approach Q/A 81 and 82, the sections that ask “Who should come?” and what about the “unbelieving and the ungodly?”, the same principle applies.  The comprehensiveness and expansiveness of the person and work of the Holy Spirit are beyond what we comprehend.  The responsibility of the Church has been, is, and always will be to proclaim the Gospel, to testify of the Good News, trusting that the Holy Spirit will work in the lives of a whole cast of characters within and outside the Church catholic.

So, yes, I am “catholic.” We all are. Not in the sense that we belong to the once-undivided Church, if there ever was one. We are catholic because in the comprehensiveness and expansiveness of our wrestling, of our grappling with what it means to be people of God, followers of Jesus Christ…there, here, accompanying us, beneath us, above us, inside us, beyond us, among us…is the person of the triune God, who, in His Son, through the Holy Spirit, numbers us among the entire human community, and calls us, and calls so many others, too numerous to count, too large to fathom, and makes us worthy to feast at the Table which the Lord has prepared.

Lord’s Day 29 (Q&A 78-79): MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

78   Q.   Do the bread and wine become
the real body and blood of Christ?

A.     No.
Just as the water of baptism
is not changed into Christ’s blood
and does not itself wash away sins
but is simply a divine sign and assurance of these things, ^1
so too the holy bread of the Lord’s Supper
does not become the actual body of Christ,^2
even though it is called the body of Christ
in keeping with the nature and language of sacraments.^3

^1 Matt. 26:[28-]29; Mark 14:24
^2 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 11:26-28
^3 Gen. 17:10, 14-19; Exod. 12:27, 43-48; 13:9; 24:8; 29:36; Acts 7:8; 22:16; Lev. 16:10; 17:11; Isa. 6:6-7;  Titus 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:21; 1 Cor. 10:1-4

79   Q.   Why then does Christ call
               the bread his body
               and the cup his blood,
                   or the new covenant in his blood,
               and Paul use the words,
               a participation in Christ’s body and blood?

A.    Christ has good reason for these words.
He wants to teach us that
just as bread and wine nourish the temporal life,
so too his crucified body and poured-out blood
are the true food and drink of our souls for eternal life.^1
But more important,
he wants to assure us, by this visible sign and pledge,
that we, through the Holy Spirit’s work,
share in his true body and blood
as surely as our mouths
receive these holy signs in his remembrance,^2
and that all of his suffering and obedience
are as definitely ours
as if we personally
had suffered and made satisfaction for our sins.

^1 John 6:51, 55
^2 1 Cor. 10:16-17


 

Lord’s Day 29 (Q&A 78-79)
“MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE”

In a recent group discussion on the church’s liturgy and a gathered assembly’s participation in worship, there was a distinction made between “meaningfulness” and “meaning-making.”

Here’s the hypothetical scenario. A baptized child walks up to receive the bread and the cup and then tugs on his mother’s leg, “I get it! This is the body of Jesus.”  The astounded parent and equally astonished communion servers and congregants in the queue think to themselves, “The Lord’s Table is meaningful. Worship is meaningful.”  Unspoken in these thoughts might be accompanying sentiments of affirmation: “Our church gets it right. We must be doing something right with our worship, that even a child comes to faith here and realizes what’s happening.”

Take a second, far too common scenario.  A baptized child walks up to receive the bread and the cup, but no vocal recognition of its significance. The child does this with her parent maybe quarterly, or first Sunday of every month, or maybe even more frequently. This goes on for years, with still no vocal recognition of its significance.  Was this less meaningful than the first scenario.

Compound either scenario with:

 -increasing, dwindling, or stagnant numbers of worship attendees

 -increasing, dwindling or stagnant numbers of candidates for baptism

 -increasing, dwindling or stagnant financial giving

 -an aging congregation

 -a more youthful congregation

Was worship and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper less or more meaningful with any one of these scenarios and complexifying metrics?

“Meaningfulness” is a value judgment. It comports well with our human desire for results, amplified by an American spirit for progress. Connected to efforts and strategies to evoke, provoke, or invoke “meaningfulness” from our experiences is the related anxiety of “relevance.”  An over-anxious spirit that wants the metrics to correspond directly with and confirm/affirm “meaningfulness” will attend to things that are “relevant.”  Meaningfulness speaks to our aesthetic sensibilities, to an inward impatience, to our interior threshold capacity for repetition and what appears as mundane and unimportant or insignificant. The value judgment of meaningfulness seeks a sense of satisfaction, attainment, that a certain gap or deficit in us has been met or will be fulfilled.

This means that absent any sense of meaningfulness and apparent purposefulness, I will withdraw, not attend, not participate, or, at least, watch, wait and see.

“Meaning-making” is an altogether different enterprise. “Meaning-making” is formational, is enduring, is durable, and requires patiently waiting. Meaningfulness may occur and be realized as like a sudden epiphany.

In the first scenario above, the child comes to realize the significance of the communion table because of formation that has occurred. Perhaps she was taught at home some Bible stories. Her friendships with other kids as they ate at pre-school tables, or the singing of songs, or praying before bed — all of these were places and events where God was shaping a heart, carving a soul, and renewing a mind.

Meaning-making involves God’s initiative, God acting upon us, and we being the recipients, sometimes the respondent, more times the recipient of God’s action. This dynamic relationship occurs throughout our lives. It’s slow going as we plod through crests and valleys of the everyday.

What God does is free us to choose to not be bound by our preoccupation with instant gratification and desire for fulfillment and meaningfulness, and rather to choose the long, narrow, but fruitful road of following the Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself by the Holy Spirit, accompanies us, enables us, prays for us and with us, perseveres with us, and preserves us.

One primary way the Lord offers this assurance/this pledge is the visible action of the Lord’s Table.  Eberhard Busch observed that at the Table “Christ keeps fellowship with us sinners and brings us sinners into fellowship with him.” (Eberhard Busch, Drawn to Freedom: Christian Faith Today in Conversation with the Heidelberg Catechism.  Trans. William H. Rader. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2010; p. 251).

Lurking under Q/A 78 and 79 is the expected anxiety of meaningfulness, of truth in advertising. The answer that is given is a No and a Yes.

No, the bread and cup do not become the real body and blood of Christ.

Anxiety, then, emerges: well, if the bread and cup do not become the real body and blood of Christ, then how can what we partake be effective, efficacious, and, therefore, meaningful?  Q/A 78 anchors its response to “assurance.”  It’s a “trust me” kind of an answer. It’s a “there is more than meets the eye” activity going on.

Q/A 79 gives the clincher, consistent with prior sections of the Catechism.  The Holy Spirit is the key to the assurance.  The eating of the bread and drinking of the cup are not empty activities, they are not meaningless; in fact, on the contrary.  What appears like a routine activity is actually quite meaningful, very significant, having cosmic importance, otherwise, our Lord would not have given it to us as a gift of God for the people of God.  The Holy Spirit assures us that by the event of eating and of drinking, we are joined to the very body and blood of Christ, a mysterious union with Christ that is unassailable, undefeatable, indivisible, and final. And with that union comes the assurance of forgiveness of sins, freedom to live for God, freedom from our anxieties and preoccupation, freedom to love and serve the world.

The Lord’s Table becomes meaningful in the meaning-making that is occurring in every moment of our lives, in our worship, our singing, our praying, our confessing the Creed, in fellowshipping, in serving, in studying, in reading, in meditating.

Meaning-making, and the sense of meaningfulness that emanates from that, are not contrived or something that human beings can manage or control.  We can try to make a prayer meeting or a worship service as relevant as possible, but what is relevant to you may not be to another. If the aim is to evoke and create meaningfulness, then we will be disappointed, frustrated, and anxious at every turn. If, on the other hand, we attend to meaning-making, then it becomes more about participating, partaking, and doing.

This means (no pun intended!) confessing the Creed, even if we don’t understand it or don’t get it.

This means praying the Lord’s Prayer even when our spirits are downcast.

This means eating the bread and drinking the cup of our Lord even if we don’t fully understand the mystery of the how (as if we will every fully know and understand).

There is more than meets the eye, precisely because God is the one who is at work. It’s always been that way. A word to Noah to build an ark, a word to Moses to undertake a grand adventure, a promise to a shepherd-boy-king David, a word to child-barren Hannah, a word to a frightened pregnant Mary, the manger, the cross, the tomb, the upper Room.

Because the Holy Spirit abides and transcends time and space, we are joined to the triune God and to one another, and to the activity of the God who acts and has acted in Jesus Christ.

What the Lord has us embarking on since our birth is an adventure of discerning the Lord’s work, the Lord’s Good News in the midst of it all, all the while, the Holy Spirit apprenticing us with the trifecta gifts of faith, hope and love.

So, whenever you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. There is more than meets the eye.

 

Lord’s Day 28 (Q/A 75-77): THE MATTER OF THE TABLE AND WHY IT MATTERS

75   Q.    How does the holy supper
                remind and assure you
                that you share in
                Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross
                and in all his benefits?

A.    In this way:
Christ has commanded me and all believers|
to eat this broken bread and to drink this cup
in remembrance of him.
With this command come these promises:

First,
as surely as I see with my eyes
the bread of the Lord broken for me
and the cup shared with me,
so surely
his body was offered and broken for me
and his blood poured out for me
on the cross.

Second,
as surely as
I receive from the hand of the one who serves,
and taste with my mouth
the bread and cup of the Lord,
given me as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood,
so surely
he nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life
with his crucified body and poured-out blood.

76   Q.    What does it mean
                to eat the crucified body of Christ
                and to drink his poured-out blood?

A.    It means
to accept with a believing heart
the entire suffering and death of Christ
and thereby
to receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life.^1

But it means more.
Through the Holy Spirit, who lives both in Christ and in us,
we are united more and more to Christ’s blessed body.^2
And so, although he is in heaven^3 and we are on earth,
we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone.^4
And we forever live on and are governed by one Spirit,
as the members of our body are by one soul.^5

^1 John 6:35, 40, 47-48, 50-54
^2 John 6:55-56
^3 Acts 1:9; 3:21; 1 Cor. 11:26
^4 Eph. 3:17; 5:29-32; 1 Cor. 6:15, 17-19; 1 John 3:24; 4:13; John 14:23
^5 John 6:56-58; 15:1-6; Eph. 4:15-16

77   Q.    Where does Christ promise
                to nourish and refresh believers
                with his body and blood
                as surely as
                they eat this broken bread
                and drink this cup?

A.    In the institution of the Lord’s Supper:^1
“The Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed,
took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks,
he broke it and said,
‘This is my body that is [broken]* for you.’

In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying,
‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood;^2
do this, as often as you drink it,
in remembrance of me.’^3

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the Lord’s death
until he comes.”

This promise is repeated by Paul in these words:

“The cup of blessing that we bless,
is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break,
is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?
Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body,
for we all partake of the one bread.”^4

^1 1 Cor. 11:23[-26]; Matt. 26:26[-29]; Mark 14:22[-25]; Luke 22:17[-20]
^2 Exod. 24:8; Heb. 9:20
^3 Exod. 13:9
^4 1 Cor. 10:16-17

*The word “broken” does not appear in the NRSV text, but it was present in the original German of the Heidelberg Catechism.


 

LORD’S DAY 28 (Q/A 75-77)
“The Matter of the Table and Why it Matters”

The congregation I serve in New Jersey for almost 11 years combined its two Sunday worship services six years ago and with that merged service came the discussion of whether and how to celebrate the Lord’s Table every Sunday. The earlier service celebrated weekly; the second service celebrated the first Sunday of the month. It became clear in discussions and reflection that we would go the way of weekly celebration. The matter now turned to what to call it.  There was a current in the congregation that naming it “Eucharist” sounded too “Catholic” for some.  More on that later.

This was a teaching opportunity. So I put in the worship bulletin the following:

“Lord’s Supper-Eucharist-Communion”

The dashes, I explained, captured in some way the multiplicity of meaning and significance of what is enacted at the Table.

The Table is the Lord’s Supper: it is the Lord’s, not ours. The Lord Jesus Christ has prepared it, invited us; He is the One who is promised by the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. He is the both the content of the action, and the One who is given to us “for the life of the world” as the late Orthodox liturgy scholar Alexander Schmemann described.   It’s a Supper because we are fed, we are nourished; it is a feast. What is provided is “bread from heaven,” Jesus Christ who is the manna from heaven, in whom everlasting life is provided, fullness of life, that truly in Him, “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  Methodist liturgy scholar Don Saliers describes it as “foretaste of glory divine,” a description that bears the subtitle of one of his seminal works on liturgical theology.  It’s a foretaste because what is displayed and enacted at the Table is akin to the heavenly, marriage banquet described in Revelation 19:9 or the gathering of all nations to sit at Table described in Luke 13:29. We gather at the Table to live into the already accomplished vision, that there is more than meets the eye, a “fourth dimension” reality as the in-breaking of the kingdom reality and God-vision expresses itself among us and in us.

Then there’s the matter of Communion. As with baptism’s counter-cultural claim of us as individuals being joined by the triune God to be in a binding community with one another, the Table is Communion: communion with the triune God, communion with God’s people in all times and in all places. The Holy Spirit uses the ordinary elements of bread and cup for extraordinary means: joining us to the very life of God in Jesus Christ, a binding union into His risen and ascended life that we can say truly and really, that we are eating of His body and of His blood; in other words, we have truly and really become one with our Lord, a full-proof unity. Such unity, accomplished and made efficacious by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, appropriates the fullness of God’s love for us, but we are joined to Christ’s own agenda: to delight in the Father’s will and to do the will of God, which is the reconciliation of the world.  We are brought into the life of God, and are anchored in God’s own heart, and, thereupon, take up what Jesus Christ cares about, take up who Jesus Christ cares about.

The Table, and the prayers offered at the Table, goes by several other names:

-Canon of the Mass: canon, because it is lawful to do so; it is a rule of faith (think, measuring rule or rod).

-Mass: the English derivation of the Latin “Missa” – the final benediction a priest would proclaim “Ite missa est” (Go now or You are dismissed) – emphasizing the sending of the gathered assembly to go out into the world to testify of what you have seen, tasted, received the Good News of God in Jesus Christ

-Anaphora: in Eastern Christianity – the prayers of the Table, depicting offering up to God, the bread and cup, the body and blood of Christ, our lives

-The Liturgy – from the Greek leitourgia meaning public work; what the gathered assembly does at the Table is a public act of service – serving God, serving one another; God’s act in Jesus Christ was the grand Liturgy – Christ work of salvation was a public act.

What captures the fullness of what are displayed and enacted at the Table is Eucharist. Far from being too “Catholic” sounding for many Presbyterian/Reformed sensitivities, Eucharistia is the Greek word for “thanksgiving,” used at least 15 times in the New Testament.  Earl Palmer, senior pastor emeritus of the University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, unlocked for me the depth of that term in this way:

-Eucharistia is composed of two parts: the prefix eu- (epsilon/upsilon) and –charist

-Charist shares the etymological root of chara, which is the Greek word for “joy”

-Joy is a surprise

-The Greek word for grace is charis, sharing the root for joy. Grace is a surprising gift of joy.

-Charismata, from which we get the word “charisma” is the word for “spiritual gifts” as 1 Corinthians 12

-The prefix eu- means “good.”  For example “eu+logos” or eulogy, a good word.

-Eucharistia is a good, surprising gift of joy.

Eucharistia is “thanksgiving” for God’s good, surprising gift of joy, Jesus the Christ.

Q/A 75 speaks vividly of the promises of Christ’s body and blood given for us. Christ has given Himself to us; that is God’s promise.

Q/A 76 speaks powerfully of not only forgiveness of sins and being joined to Christ’s own suffering, “but it means more” – the communion aspect because of the Holy Spirit, being joined to Christ.

Q/A 77 speaks communally to our being joined one to another, sharing in Christ’s body (His risen and ascended body) and His body, the Church, the fellowship of believers in every time and place.

As a Filipino American, Pacific Islander, born on the island of Guam, my family enjoys parties, dancing, singing, and food. We make a distinction between eating, dining, and feasting. Eating is the mere function of putting food in your mouth. Dining is eating, but with etiquette and protocols, white tablecloths and utensils properly placed. Feasting, which is what we do, is bringing your whole self to the party, eating with utensils but more often with your hands, bringing the messiness and beauty of your life, family, and faith to the community, allowing the gathered community, the party attendees to hear you, embrace you, laugh with you, cry with you and with one another.

The Table is the Eucharistic feast. We bring our whole selves, even as God as the Lord Jesus Christ has given Himself fully to us. God did not withhold anything of Himself to us. God’s love is poured out, given, offered, shared, at the risk of being rejected, ignored, taken for granted. Love is risky business.

This, and so much more, is why we give thanks to God for Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.

Eucharistia. Thanksgiving. For as often as you eat the bread and drink the cup.

That’s why the Table matters.

 

Lord’s Day 27 (Q/A 72-74): THE MATTER OF BAPTISM AND WHY IT MATTERS

72   Q.    Does this outward washing with water
                itself wash away sins?

A.    No, ^1 only Jesus Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit|
cleanse us from all sins.^2

^1 Matt. 3:11; 1 Pet. 3:21; Eph. 5:26
^2 1 John 1:7; 1 Cor. 6:11

73   Q.    Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism
                the water of rebirth and
                the washing away of sins?

A.    God has good reason for these words.
To begin with, God wants to teach us that
the blood and Spirit of Christ take away our sins
just as water removes dirt from the body.^1

But more important,
God wants to assure us, by this divine pledge and sign,
that we are as truly washed of our sins spiritually
as our bodies are washed with water physically.^2

^1 Rev. 1:5; 7:14; 1 Cor. 6:11
^2 Mark 16:16; Gal. 3:[2]7

74   Q.    Should infants also be baptized?

A.    Yes.
Infants as well as adults
are included in God’s covenant and people,^1
and they, no less than adults, are promised
deliverance from sin through Christ’s blood^2
and the Holy Spirit who produces faith.^3

Therefore, by baptism, the sign of the covenant,
they too should be incorporated into the Christian church
and distinguished from the children
of unbelievers.^4
This was done in the Old Testament by circumcision,^5
which was replaced in the New Testament by baptism.^6

^1 Gen. 17:7
^2 Matt. 19:14
^3 Luke 1:15, [4]4; Ps. 22:[9-]11; Isa. 46:1-5; Acts 2:39
^4 Acts 10:47
^5 Gen. 17:[9-]14
^6 Col. 2:11-13


 

LORD’S DAY 27 (Q/A 72-74)
“The Matter of Baptism and Why it Matters”

 

The South African idea of Ubuntu (meaning “human-ness” or denoting our bond as human beings) is summarized with the principle, “I am because we are.”  A distinctly Christian way of expressing that is, “I am, because we are, because God is.”

Individualism, personal freedoms, and privacy are ingrained in our sense of being American, so much so that our nation’s charter documents – the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution – enshrine the principles; the former declares the “inalienable rights” we have to “live, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” while the latter’s first ten amendments are a “Bill of Rights.”

Certainly, governmental intrusion – whether a pure democracy (as with ancient Athens), a democratic republic (as is the United States), a monarchy, or whatever might be the case—upon individuals is to be limited, and, in its oppressive forms, is to be prevented.

Baptism matters because God as Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit desires that we belong to community: the community of God’s people in all times and in all places, and, more importantly, the community of the triunity of God.  The community of believers, whom the Apostles’ Creed in the third article on the Holy Spirit describes as “the communion of saints,” comes into fruition and is strengthened because of the community of the triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

We in the Reformed tradition hold to the notion that baptism is not merely an ordinance – something to be done because Christ said so; although that is reason enough to do anything! (If the Lord says to do something, or not to do something, faithfulness requires obedience and allegiance to our Lord’s direction, no matter how uncomfortable, inconvenient, or incomprehensive such instruction may be).

We in the Reformed tradition do baptism first and foremost because Jesus Himself was baptized. He submitted Himself to the waters of the Jordan – being baptized into death, and baptized into the righteousness of new life, receiving the declaration from all eternity that He was and is God’s beloved Son; His baptism initiates all other subsequent baptisms – giving our baptisms their power, meaningfulness, and purposefulness because He is the very meaning and purpose of baptism.  Jesus Christ is baptized into the vocation, the holy calling of living out the triune God’s commitment that He be the anointed Savior, Jesus Christ is, in Karl Barth’s description, the elected One, in whom all His followers are elected in Him.

I have officiated many baptisms – mostly infants,  several young adults, and a few adults; I have also received several anonymous phone calls from adults who request: “Would you do my baby?” Upon further inquiry, this is code language for: we and our family will pay you to splash water on our baby, say the baptismal formula (“N., I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”), smile, give the baptismal certificate, and be done in 5 minutes, never to see us again.

In the words of worship scholar Lawrence Stookey in a book he authored by the same name, “Baptism: Christ’s Act in the Church.”

That’s what baptism does. God uses the element that covers more than 80% of the earth, and constitutes most of our body. What for a chemist is merely two hydrogen atoms connected to one oxygen atom by a covalent bond, God uses water to impart His promise: the Good News that in Jesus Christ, we are daughters and sons of God – not by our will, nor by our might or plans or merit – but by God’s sheer and certain love.  You and I belong to each other, because, in the words of the ancient covenantal formula, “I am the Lord your God, and you will be My people.”

We need baptism. We need God. The Holy Spirit binds us and bonds us with Jesus Christ, with the triune God, and with all of God’s people. And when we are tied to God, united to God, God’s goodness, God’s righteousness covers us, sets us free, frees us to take on our Christ-given vocation: to be disciples of Jesus Christ and witnesses of God’s promise in Christ. We need baptism as it calls us into community – as both gift and as call.

For all of the pride we have to secure our individualism, baptism critiques that individualism and says, it’s not possible, nor faithful, nor tenable to live as an individual; baptism is the sacramental crowbar that loosens your grip on your precious individualism.

As 21st century Christians, the significance of water as binding and bonding us together becomes all the more important and urgent. Renewing and re-receiving our baptismal calling to God and to one another, on a planet of 7 billion people. Half of my congregation is from Cameroon, and we have shared many congregational prayers about their families back home who have suffered and died from a cholera epidemic. The still unresolved rupture of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan that has poisoned the soil and from which millions of gallons of radioactive water has spilled into the Pacific Ocean.

Water, which brought death to Pharaoh’s armies when the Red Sea was parted, also brought life in allowing the fleeing Israelites to flee Pharaoh.

Baptized people of God – you have died with Christ, as you now live with and in Christ.

Lord’s Day 26 (Q/A 69-71): HOLY MOVEMENT, WHOLLY MOVES

69   Q.    How does baptism
                remind and assure you
                that Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross
                benefits you personally?

A.    In this way:
Christ instituted this outward washing
and with it promised that,
as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body,
so certainly his blood and his Spirit
wash away my soul’s impurity,
that is, all my sins.^1

^1 Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3

70   Q.    What does it mean
                to be washed with Christ’s blood and Spirit?

A.    To be washed with Christ’s blood means
that God, by grace, has forgiven our sins
because of Christ’s blood
poured out for us in his sacrifice on the cross.^1
To be washed with Christ’s Spirit means
that the Holy Spirit has renewed
and sanctified us to be members of Christ,
so that more and more
we become dead to sin
and live holy and blameless lives.^2

^1 Heb. 12:24; 1 Pet. 1:2; Rev. 1:5;22:14; Zech. 13:1; Ezek. 36:25
^ 2 John 1:33; 3:5; 1 Cor. 6:11; 12:13; Rom. 6.4; Col. 2:12

71   Q.    Where does Christ promise
                that we are washed with his blood and Spirit
                as surely as we are washed
                with the water of baptism?

A.    In the institution of baptism, where he says:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.”^1

“The one who believes and is baptized will be saved;
but the one who does not believe will be condemned.”^2

This promise is repeated when Scripture calls baptism
“the water of rebirth”^3 and
the washing away of sins.^4

^1 Matt. 28:19
^2 Mark 16:16
^3 Titus 3:5
^4 Acts 22:16


 

 LORD’S DAY 26 (Q/A 69-71)
“Holy Movement, Wholly Moves”

The late Lutheran scholar of liturgy, S. Anita Stauffer, specialized in the study of baptism, specifically baptismal fonts. In contrast to many of the baptismal fonts we have in our sanctuaries that look like ash-trays or bird-baths on a pedestal, many ancient fonts were pools, in-ground pools. They came in circular shapes (symbolizing the fullness of God’s love, the community), octagonal (symbolizing that Christ’s rising occurred on the eighth day, which is also the first day of the week, thereby meaning that that day was both creation and new creation), and cross-shaped.

The cross-shaped fonts had steps on the transepts. In one scenario of certain Christian communities, the ones being baptized would descend one set of steps to the bottom of the font where the bishop/priest/pastor would be to meet them. The water would be up to the waist, and they would be submerged or effused with copious amounts of water, being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, receiving the name and identity of a child of God redeemed in Jesus Christ. They, then, ascended the opposite steps where awaiting elders and deacons would cover them with aromatic oil, anointing them with the Holy Spirit, a new scent to marinate the baptized and the gathered community to the new reality that had been sealed, and then the baptized would be clothed with a white garment signifying being clothed in and with Christ.

What we see in such a ritual act is both mortification and vivification – dying and living; descending into the waters into Christ’s death, rising from the waters into Christ’s resurrection life.

The 16th century Reformers described that the Lord Jesus Christ’s work in his life, death, and resurrection (the Good News) resulted in the so-called duplex beneficium, the two or double benefits: namely justification and sanctification.  This means that by the triune God’s work in the agency of Jesus Christ’s unique, distinct, and radical life, in his decisive and final death, and in the power and revolutionary resurrection, we have been embraced by God and set on a path to live a life worthy of the calling we have been given – to live as ones redeemed by Christ through His Spirit.

Our family live in our first home. It was exciting to purchase our first home; it was even greater to move in and make it our own, decorating it the way we like, having parts renovated,  and learning the difficult craft of maintaining it. I can tell you of many trips to Home Depot, mowing the lawn, raking leaves, cleaning the pool, shoveling snow. The title deed of the house is in our name. We pay the mortgage, we pay the taxes. Yet, the bank holds the title until we fully pay off the mortgage. It’s both a done deal, and it’s not yet.

Baptism by water tells us it’s a done deal; the mortgage of life-death-new life is done. Christ did it. Finished. Nothing more you need to do. It’s all Him. It’s God. God moved. God moves. The Holy Spirit has been given as the guarantor, the seal, the One who convicts and convinces you your identity of being owned by God is done. Own it, move in, you are welcome, live into your new life.

At the same time, there’s some renovating to do, there’s a whole lot of fixing, of beautifying.  There’s living into, there’s movement.

Our new life – in Christ, for Christ, with Christ—moves because the Holy Spirit moves. What the Holy Spirit does is enables us to move by washing us, continually renewing us by renovating our lives. It’s the already and the not yet, fully owned and living into the ownership. Or to put it in the classical dictum of the Reformation in describing the reality of our lives: we are at the same time just/righteous and sinful (Latin: simul iustus et peccator).  And because of that, we live and move and have our being in the triune God.

Lord’s Day 25 (Q/A 65-68): PROOFS, PLEDGES, PROMISE: DIVINE-HUMAN ENGAGEMENT

65   Q.    It is through faith alone
                that we share in Christ and all his benefits:
                where then does that faith come from?

A.    The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts^1
by the preaching of the holy gospel,
and confirms it
by the use of the holy sacraments.^2

^1 Eph. 2:8; John 3:5
^2 Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Pet. 1:22-23

66   Q.    What are sacraments?

A.    Sacraments are visible, holy signs and seals.
They were instituted by God so that
by our use of them
he might make us understand more clearly
the promise of the gospel,
and seal that promise.

And this is God’s gospel promise:
to grant us forgiveness of sins and eternal life
by grace
because of Christ’s one sacrifice
accomplished on the cross.^1

^1 Gen. 17:11; Rom. 4:11; Deut. 30:6; Lev. 6:25; Heb. 9:8-9, [11-]24; Ezek. 20:12; 1 Sam. 17:36[-37]; Isa. 6:6-7

67   Q.    Are both the word and the sacraments then
                intended to focus our faith
                on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross
                as the only ground of our salvation?

A.    Yes!
In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us
and by the holy sacraments confirms
that our entire salvation
rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.^1

^1 Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27

68   Q.    How many sacraments
                did Christ institute in the New Testament?

        A.    Two: holy baptism and the holy supper.


 

LORD’S DAY 25 (Q/A 65-68)
“PROOFS, PLEDGES, PROMISE: DIVINE-HUMAN ENGAGEMENT” 

Freddy and Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” have this famed dialogue:

Freddy:
“Speak and the world is full of singing,
And I’m winging Higher than the birds.
Touch and my heart begins to crumble,
The heaven’s tumble, Darling, and I’m… “

Eliza:
“Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you! Is that all you blighters can do?
Don’t talk of stars Burning above; If you’re in love,
Show me! Tell me no dreams
Filled with desire. If you’re on fire,
Show me! Here we are together in the middle of the night!
Don’t talk of spring! Just hold me tight!
Anyone who’s ever been in love’ll tell you that
This is no time for a chat! Haven’t your lips
Longed for my touch? Don’t say how much,
Show me! Show me! Don’t talk of love lasting through time.
Make me no undying vow. Show me now!
Sing me no song! Read me no rhyme!
Don’t waste my time, Show me!
Don’t talk of June, Don’t talk of fall!
Don’t talk at all! Show me!
Never do I ever want to hear another word.
There isn’t one I haven’t heard.
Here we are together in what ought to be a dream;
Say one more word and I’ll scream!
Haven’t your arms Hungered for mine?
Please don’t “expl’ine,” Show me! Show me!
Don’t wait until wrinkles and lines
Pop out all over my brow,
Show me now!”

You can view it on YouTube beginning at 0:34 at this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8zyF0ZOy3k

As 21st century people, we are a people of words, multiplication of words, no longer merely in written form, but in a TGIF world as Leonard Sweet describes it, i.e. a Twitter, Google, iPad, Facebook world. The exponential growth of words are beyond human comprehension.

With words come the ways we relate, engage one another, communication to purvey information, communication to make promises and pledges. Yet, we experience so many times, as with the number of words that make up those pledges, promises that are broken again and again. Countries that pledge aid relief in the midst of natural disasters, but are forgotten a few months or a year after the fact. Banks and investment firms that promised secure investment and sound mortgages, but then as millions found in 2008, billions in exposed mortgage securities, leaving many homeowners and investors out in the cold. On a micro- level, broken relationships, marriages that struggle. Or we grab hold of what sounds like a healing balm of comforting words from well-meaning family and friends who assure in the midst of trial, “Things will be okay.” We take it as promise. But then, the prayer concern turns awry, and rather than resulting in healing for the terminally-ill loved one, death comes knocking.

God knows our hearts, God knows our limitations, God knows what we desire; after all the triune God is the Creator of us all and knows us better than we know ourselves.

What distinguishes the one, living and true God, the God of Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Ruth, and Esther, revealed fully and finally in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is that God is not mute, God speaks, God acts (see Isaiah 44:9-22).

God speaks words, God spoke the first word (Genesis 1:3), and God is the Word (John 1:1), the Speaker, the Word Spoken, and the Breath of God, to borrow a famed analogy used by Orthodox theologians.

Eliza Doolittle expresses what we need as human beings: proofs of the pledges of the promise. We are sentient beings, and, therefore, we need to engage all senses for words to be internalized. Our cognition is enhanced, for instance, when studying for a test, if you memorize facts by writing it down on flash cards, saying what you’re writing, looking at what you’re writing, hearing yourself say the words. If it be possible to eat each flashcard with a distinctive flavor as like the prophet Daniel eating the scrolls, and allow the facts to metabolize, that would enhance our test-taking abilities!

But you get the point. And that’s what God provides in the sacraments – gifts of God for the people of God.  The promise proclaimed in the Gospel – Jesus Christ came, lived, died, and rose again to redeem and reconcile humanity to God’s self in the power of the Holy Spirit—comes to us through words spoken, read, digitized, incensed, poured, splashed, baked, eaten, fermented, drank.

Several years ago, I lost a dear friend to a sudden heart attack. God worked faith in his life at an older age, and in the eight years that Roland Romero and I served together, he was passionate about teaching from the Scriptures, lucidly articulating the doctrines of the Christian faith in ways that made anyone go, “Thanks be to God.” In one Bible study as he was discussing God’s work of election in our lives, he explained:

Imagine that you are a hungry man. But you don’t realize that the refrigerator in the kitchen has food for you to eat and that food has been provided for you. Not only don’t you realize it but you don’t have the will to go to the refrigerator because of your ignorance of that source of nourishment, and because your will is turned towards other sources that don’t nourish at all. What the Holy Spirit does in this situation is to transform your understanding so that it is illuminated upon your mind and heart that the refrigerator has food and that food is for your benefit. But the clear understanding is only one critical element. You also need the will and the strength to walk to that refrigerator, having now recognized it as source for nourishment, and to open that refrigerator, obtain the food that has been given, eat the food, receive nourishment, delight in the food and the giver of the food, and, then tell others of what you have seen and heard and tasted.

That’s what the Holy Spirit does. The Holy Spirit renovates our lives again and again. Faith is not a quantifiable entity that the Holy Spirit gives. It’s not a soothing balm to anyone to say in the midst of suffering or to pray, “You need more faith”; that was the error of Job’s three friends in accusing him of not having enough faith or a weak faith.

Faith is the work of the Holy Spirit, the One who illuminates our understanding, who gives us wisdom to what is God-given and salutary for our lives, who unleashes our wills to follow the ways of God, who strengthens us when we are too weak, who directs our course to delight in the giver of every good and perfect gift. (James 1:17)

Q/A 65-68 describes God’s provision of the gifts that our human minds and hearts need. The promise given in the Gospel are embodied by tangible elements: water, bread, cup. While God is supremely and distinctly sovereign, our human responsibility is to be in the hearing, receiving, and tasting of the means by which the Gospel promise is communicated clearly to our lives: in preaching and in the sacraments.

The word sacrament comes from the Latin sacramentum, which the third century theologian Tertullian translated from the Greek word mysterion (from which we get the word “mystery”).  Sacramentum was a pledge or oath that a soldier gave to a Roman  army commander, and more so, to the Roman emperor, who was regarded as a deity. Tertullian appropriated that term as the pledge that assembled Christians make in placing allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even as we pledge our allegiance to the Lord Christ, the triune God is pledging a unilateral promise to us in the sacraments: to be with us, to be for us, to be in us. The proof? As the Gospel attests and to which the Scriptures testify, and of which water, bread and cup seal for us: God’s’ self-giving of Himself in Jesus Christ is the proof-positive of that promise.

So, whenever you come in the hearing and receiving of the Scriptures, of preaching and teaching, and whenever and wherever you see one being baptized, or when you touch or splash holy water, and the next time you receive bread (or a wafer or a cracker) at the Table, and the next time you drink from the communion cup, or intinct the bread in the cup, receive the promise of God.  Receive God’s promise – Jesus the Christ. The mystery has been revealed , the mystery has been given.