Posts Tagged ‘worship’

What is the litmus test of “Worship”?

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Just in a week’s time we have faced here at NCL as a community needs ranging from families in crisis, addiction, to catastrophic loss and health crises.   Throw in new small groups launching, a wedding, and a two baptisms and one can sense the richness, the dark and light of church.  And worship is not detached from those events, those needs.

Emanuel Swedenborg wrote that “essential divine worship in heaven does not consist in going to church regularly .. but in a life of love, thoughtfulness, and faith in keeping with the doctrines.” Formal worship is “worth doing” but essentially sterile if it remains detached from life. (Heaven and Hell, 222)  So life informs church and church informs life.  As such,worship focuses on life as its end, not on faith apart from life.

So what is that litmus test of worship in its expanded form?  What keeps worship connected to life and life connected to worship?

  1. Is it loving?
  2. Is it thoughtful?
  3. Is it in keeping with what God asks of us?
  4. Does it place the incarnation, Christ, the embodiment of God, at the core?

We don’t find that space playing by any of the rules we have played by before.  The rules shift.   Old ways, which served us well, will not get us there.  And the crazy part … expect language to fail more and more as we draw closer and closer to what matters.


Death of the Religious Instinct

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Christ never commands us to worship Him.  His command, “Follow Me.”  That is frankly a crazy truth we have long since left behind.  The implications of those first two sentences remain immense.

Imagine this.  Here is the oft-told story of the rich young men.  Having done everything right, he asks Christ, essentially, what more do I need to do.  Christ’s reply – Sell it all. Give the proceeds to the poor.  Follow me.  In churches what would our response have been?  In Catholic churches – “Do these sacraments.”  In Protestant churches – “Take this class, get baptized, read this creed.”  Among agnostics – “Do what feels right.”   Can we see how revolutionary an answer Christ’s really was, an answer that said “Get Rid Of, Give, Follow?”

So easy to neuter that message, sterilizing it into simple dogmatic pronouncements.  It is easier to battle over being right than it is to get off our behinds and follow.  The need to be right is largely the death of the religious/ spiritual instinct even though it may appear deeply “religious!”  It is our death, amen.


Bonhoeffer’s words strike right at the practical side of that “death.”  ”On the ministry of listening: The first service that one owes to others in community consists in listening to them. Just as love for God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives His Word but also lends us His ear. …Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and, in the end, there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words.”

In closing, New Church theology, for me, is a reminder to “Get Rid Of, Give, Follow.”   This church is about those roots, not approached with a spirit of righteous certitude, but with a spirit of shared love and connection. Emanuel Swedenborg saw it – was given to see it so vividly that he put down the tools of science, picked up a pen, and gave his later years to repositioning the Christian message away from the hierarchical, judgmental, “head” church so embedded in Western culture.  The movement was to an engaged church, focused on useful service of God and others, the message underlying that mission found the poetic beauty of the Word.

The highest form of worship then, in not so many words, is following Christ’s model.





Find A Way Out

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Idolatry traps us – often very subtly.

Emanuel Swedenborg conjectured … “There are three forms of idolatry.  This first is love of ourselves, the second is love of worldly advantages, and the third is sensual pleasure.” In other words we can choose to worship ourselves, our stuff, or our pleasures. And that is why the experience of God, on the other hand, can be so deeply freeing.

See worship of God lacks a possessive “urge” to it.  God does not endeavor to “own” humanity.  He is not feverishly clutching for souls.  He endeavors, passionately but with the utmost deference to our free will, to liberate humanity.  Not a closed hand but an open hand.  Restated, the three forms of idolatry listed above pull us more and more down the rabbit hole of narcissism.  God pulls us more and more out of the rabbit hole and into the expansive path of connectedness.  Worship of God then, rightly held, opens us more to the wonder surrounding us. Not a place devoid of suffering, but a place where even that suffering in part forms a matrix from which we grow.

How do we join in ministry?

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Joining in ministry and “going to church” are not necessarily the same.  Joining in ministry is a deep form of practiced, lived faith, one shared by clergy and laity. As such, it raises the “bar” so to speak.  And as I write, I have to smile, because I think a certain part of us – admittedly buried deep – wants that bar raised!

Ministry, if it is to take on the import intended, needs to cast aside the often meaningless shlock that passes for a life of faith.  It is, in a word, “More.”  As Emanuel Swedenborg noted, “the essential divine worship in heaven does not consist in going to church regularly and listening to sermons but of a life of love, thoughtfulness, and faith in keeping with doctrine.  Sermons in church serve only as means of instruction in terms of how to live…. All the doctrines that govern preaching focus on life as their end, not of faith apart from life.” (Heaven and Hell, pp. 199, 201)  A pretty strong argument for relevance, for a call to the “More”!  Sunday worship then informs and inspires ministry; worship as a supporting means to an end but not the whole game.

I love the words of  Walter Brueggemann in this regard.  He spoke to four key elements of prophetic ministry.  Read these words and hear them as spoken to you about your “ministry.”

  1. The task  of prophetic ministry is to evoke an alternative community that knows it is about different things in different ways.
  2. The practice of prophetic ministry is not some special things two days a week.  Rather it is done with, in, and under all the acts of ministry – as much in counseling as in preaching, as much in liturgy as in education.
  3. Prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate the numbness in order to face the body of death in which we are caught.
  4. Prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate the despair so that new new features can be believed in and embraced by us.

Ministry then is about a dismantling and an energizing, in grieving a loss as well as living in a hope.  It pierces numbness and despair, calling us to imagine a future of the Kingdom on earth and heaven and then forward that imagination into the very living of our lives.  Now there is a real call.  This is not about pressing ministry into set political agendas. Christ was way beyond that, preferring the “Third Way” to easy political divides.  It is about raising the bar.  About “More.”

Getting Ready For Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

This morning in getting ready for Church, I am sitting in my office thinking about what does it really take to get ready for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving, in this denomination, is the very core of worship.  Why is that?  I think the process is two fold – a first step – awareness of what we have – followed by a second step – awareness of what we have to give.  That is something to come open to.  What is that you have …. to give.

Because we all do, we all harbor this “thing” that was the point of God creating us.  Often largely unknown, ignored, or unlived in this life it still stirs.   When we take moments to worship in the spirit of thanks and gratitude for the blessing, we can feel its gentle presence.  Why?  As Emanuel Swedenborg phrased it, “Because the divine nature intimately affects everything with good and with blessedness.”  (Heaven and Hell)

Last night I was able to witness one of those moments.  I was privileged to preside at a 50th Wedding Anniversary/ Renewal of vows. To watch Mary Ellen and Paul socializing after the service, “working the crowd” with obvious joy and gratitude for the gold that was their life, was to watch a prayer of Thanksgiving literally unfold on a beautiful night at Pen Ryn.  They are living in what they have and in what they have to give – to each other, to their family, to their community.

So getting ready this morning is about clarity – clarity about a very simple, very profound message.  What we have is nice.  What we have to give is the point.

Christian Evolution

Friday, September 24th, 2010

New Church theology posits that the growth of faith, historically, moved through several “churches” – groups who had a deep understanding of God and His Word.  Some of that was specific to a given church body.  Other elements were far more broad, more shared as it were, constituting a church of the heart, a universal church that crossed denominational boundaries.

Each phase was inaugurated within God’s plan to uniquely serve humanity at that time.  Within the Christian tradition, that means the Old Testament was to serve humanity at that time as was the New Testament and as is New Church theology for this time.   Each builds and adds on to what went before, adding its own unique layer of meaning to what preceded.  As each sows itself together, married with experience, it constitutes for a Word for now.

The author Parker Palmer wrote: “All of our propositions and practices are earthen vessels. All of them are made by human beings of common clay to hold whatever we think we’ve found in our soul-deep quest for the sacred or in its quest for us. If our containers prove too crimped and cramped to hold the treasure well, if they domesticate the sacred and keep us from having a live encounter with it—or if they prove so twisted and deformed that they defile rather than honor the treasure they were intended to hold—then our containers must be smashed and discarded so we can create a larger and more life-giving vessel in which to hold the treasure.”

At a certain point we do outgrow the older forms he references. losing touch with the treasure within.  We then need to find “a more life-giving vessel.”  That does not change the sacredness of revelation.  It does however call us to be aware of the “pots” we place it in, including worship and Christian community.

Just as revelation “moves”, so much churches.    The trouble  is “when any religion insists that the treasure cannot be carried except in their earthen vessels ….”

I want to see God but I can’t

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Many people want to “see” God, experience God.  But the “seeing”, the experience, eludes them.  How then do we see God when our best efforts seem to leave us “without”, searching within what appears to b a vacuum?

To start, God simply “is.”  That means that God is something we awaken to vs. journey to.  We can often fall into the belief that certain actions will inevitably lead us to the experience of God.  I have not found that to be true.  My understanding is that we do those “actions’ – be they prayer, reading, meditation, service, worship – so that we are awake when God shows up. They do not create the experience.  They do however ensure that we are awake enough to know when the experience arrives.

Secondly, God’s presence is most often not of the “clouds parting” “trumpet blaring” variety.  The experiences tend to be far more gentle.  One author compared God’s voice to being as quiet as the beating of our own heart  (Try listening to your heart beating to get an idea of what that means).  While some individuals do experience the granduer of God in dramatic fashion – i.e. Martin Luther, Emanuel Swedenborg, Bill Wilson – most of us experience God in more muted yet not any less powerful ways.  That is why perhaps Jesus spoke of the presence of the Divine as the spirit, a word that can be translated “wind.”

One author’s point is one I have been thinking a great deal about recently.  Her perspective grew out of a endless prayers for the experience of Divine.  What she came to realize was that God’s answer to her longing was her longing.  It was that love, that compassion, that “pull” in her heart that bore great fruit in her life, a “pull” that might have moved her more in her life than any dramatic presentation of God.

If the pull to experience God is moving you forward in your life, that might just be the whole point.  That might just be the mercy and compassion of God at work in your life. Stay awake.  Keep doing the work.  God will show Himself in the ways He knows to be most important in light of goals that are eternal, not temporal.  Those are not often the most dramatic but they are the most transformative.