Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Old Testament Worship

Here are some notes for a talk I gave tonight ... underlying these notes is the argument that the main features of worship in the Anglican Church today reflect the main features of worship in the Old Testament.

Cathedral Lenten Series 2008: Worship in the Old Testament,
Wed 27th February

Readings: Genesis 28:10-22, Isaiah 2:1-5

(Imagine a diagram in which "Formal" is in a box down one side of the following themes and "Informal" is down the other side of the themes.


Covenant and Commandment


Charismatic and Ceremonial


Confessional and Commemorative




Formal side of OT worship consists of ordered worship, with rules laid down for rituals and prescriptions for who performs these and descriptions of the location for worship.

Informal side of OT worship consists of the insistence that true worship comes from the heart and involves both the attitude (or ‘spirit’) of the worshipper and actions consistent with the justice and mercy of God. Classic texts are:

‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise’ (Psalm 51:17).

‘He has told you, O man, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6:8).

Covenant and commandment refers to the binding character of OT worship. Bound to God by covenant, the people of God are commanded to worship.

Charismatic and ceremonial refers on the one hand to the influence of the Holy Spirit on lively and spontaneous worship (e.g. Saul prophesying, 1 Samuel 10:6; David dancing before the Lord, 2 Samuel 6:12-23) and on the other hand to formal and prescribed actions such as the bringing and making of sacrifices according to laws laid down especially in Exodus and Leviticus.

Confessional and commemorative refers to the importance of what Israel understands about itself in relation to the God of Israel. Its great confession is the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41), which begins ‘Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might’ (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Its great commemoration is the Passover celebration (Exodus 12) but there are other commemorative celebrations and generally remembrance of God’s deeds in the past lies at the core of Israel’s worship of God (a superb example is Deuteronomy 8), and God, who is often ‘the God of’, is associated with Israel’s past, for example, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Adaptation: we can think under this heading of the changes which take place in OT worship. Enoch walks with God – seemingly without building an altar or sacrificing a pigeon (Genesis 5:22). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob know of sacrifices, altars, and memorial stones, but very little of priests (see exception Melchizedek) generally being both priests and patriarchs. In the dispensation of Moses worship involves a Tabernacle which is a precursor for the Temple, the former better suited to pilgrimage through the desert, the latter to settled conditions in the Promised Land. The exile leads to another adaptation: without a temple there is new interest in study of the Law.

Anticipation: as readers of the Old Testament we often find ourselves anticipating what we know is to come. Our reading from Genesis 28, for example, anticipates the later worship of Israel in special places. (A notable example is the so-called Binding of Isaac, Genesis 22, which occurs on the place which is later known as Zion). Our reading from Isaiah 2 anticipates a future time when a freer form of worship will be experienced on Zion, presumably because in a time when justice reigns sin will be no more and thus the sacrificial system will be redundant.

Apocalyptic: The Old Testament also knows of mystical experience in which heaven itself opens up to the prophet or priest and the presence of God is revealed (apocalypse means revelation or disclosure). We often associate this with Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Zechariah but in fact an early reference is Exodus 24:9-11: ‘Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.’


1. What speaks most to you from this description of Old Testament worship?

2. Try to find as many parallels with worship in the New Testament and in the church today ...

3. What is the importance of Prayer and Praise in Old Testament worship?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Learning from a sermon

Below I am posting the text of a sermon I preached at Nativity Church in Blenheim.
At its a conclusion are some suggested questions for small groups meeting during the week to study the passages from Scripture. Please feel free to use any of these material in your church.

What do you think of the text? If this were a seminar on preaching then this is what I would ask attendees to look for and underline:

- what are the points of transition ... between one Scripture passage and the next ... between ancient times and our time ... between the sermon and life in the world as we will live it in the week to come? How are these points of transition achieved?

- what are the specific connections made between the original context/culture/location of the Scripture passages and the context/culture/location we live in?

- is there any application to our lives which is made? How effectively is this application laid out in the text?

24/2/08 Encounters on the way Exodus 17:1-7 John 4:5-14 Peter Carrell

Later this year Anglican bishops, including our Bishop Richard, will gather at the Lambeth Conference to discuss many things. They will study the Bible together and the book they will work through is the Gospel of John. So Nativity Church is in good company this Lent as it works its way through John’s Gospel.

What an amazing book this gospel is. One of its most notable features is the quality of the stories within it. In today’s world where we seem to be so confused about the ethics of human relationships it is particularly pertinent that two stories in this Gospel – the one we have read from today, and one in chapter 8.1-11 – touch on difficulties in human relationships.

But in today’s story – a narrative of an encounter between two strangers, Jesus and a Samaritan woman – I want to think more about the theme of water than the domestic life of the woman.

Now water is something we take for granted until we are on the verge of running out of it, and then we get very passionate about it. Some of you will know about this as you fight for water rights and the like!

Our first reading – Exodus 17:1-7 - takes us to the heart of human anxiety when water runs out:
‘there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink”.’

But the story involves a much deeper quarrel than one between people. At the end of verse seven the narrator tells us that in the course of this incident the people had
‘tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
That’s often the way, is it not: behind any human quarrel lie deeper and more profound issues which are ultimately about God.

But this specific question, “Is the Lord among us or not?” is more than a little bit interesting.

Consider, for example, the recent explosion in sales of books promoting atheism. Reading such books you might think believers in God have never questioned the existence of God until now. But the fact is that lots of stuff happens in life which makes us wonder what God is up to, whether he really cares for us, and sometimes even whether God exists.

Perhaps that is our question today because of some hard circumstance in our life: Is the Lord among us or not?

And perhaps as we ask that question we yearn for a miracle. After all the Israelites got one – Moses whacked the rock and the water gushed out. If we got a miracle like that then we would definitely believe in God. All doubts washed away!

But let’s pause to open our eyes and take in a little more of Exodus. In the preceding chapter we read the story of the miraculous provision of food for Israel via the manna. So the Israelites have full bellies yet question whether God exists or not!

Perhaps God has worked out through painful experience with Israel that miracles do not lead to faithfulness and constancy. In fact miracles can lead to a dependency on miracles and not on God.

All this might just be relevant background to our story in the Gospel of John where water is at the centre of the story, but the human encounter involves genuine enquiry and curiosity and not quarrelling and complaining.

Water figures right from the start of the encounter. Jesus says to the woman, Give me a drink. And the woman does not give him a drink but engages with the message within the message. (Not unlike a lot of conversations between men and women – each wondering what the other is really saying).

“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”

The woman is blown away by the fact that this man, this enemy wants to talk to her.
She does not understand at this point that this is the gospel in action – the message of reconciliation between God and humanity and between humanity and humanity.

Then the conversation gets a little complicated as the woman is talking ordinary water and Jesus is talking about the living water.

But in this conversation is a pearl of a question when the woman says, ‘Are you greater than our father Jacob?’
She is beginning to understand.

But let’s think about this question for a moment. This is a very modern question. Except we might put it like this: ‘Is Jesus greater than Mohammed or Buddha or Krishna?’

The answer to this question is very, very important. Increasingly it’s a matter of literal life or death. And it lies at the heart of the future character of the world in the twenty-first century. Who will dominate? Followers of Jesus or followers of Mohammed?

So, what answer does Jesus give to the question ‘Are you greater than our father Jacob?’

Of course he gives a brilliant answer. Note the beginning, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water I will give him will never be thirsty again.’

Jesus connects directly with the woman’s level of understanding water as ordinary drinking water and makes a statement no one can deny, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again.’

But then he draws the woman into his own level of understanding of living water, ‘but whoever drinks of the water I will give him will never be thirsty again.’

But the brilliance of Jesus is not just in the connection; it’s also in the content.
Jesus is greater than Jacob because Jesus offers something Jacob does not offer (nor Mohammed nor Buddha nor Confucius nor Marx).

‘The water that I will give him will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’

Does God exist in our midst or not? The answer lies not in a series of miracles but on the life of God itself entering into our lives, filling us up with the love and power of God.

Is this our experience of God? Is God through Christ and the Spirit an ongoing, continuing, life-giving presence within us?

Do not look for the next miracle: invite Jesus to pour the water of eternal life into your life.

Do not worry about the latest diatribe from a smart atheist: live out the existence of God – be a living proof that God is alive and well.

When people encounter us on the road of life, who are they encountering? Is it merely John Brown or Mary Smith … or is it Christ alive within us?

We cannot conclude this study of God’s Word other than to make the prayer of the woman at the well our own prayer:
‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty’.

Questions for Study Groups

Read the passages for this week’s sermon

Think about an occasion in your life when you have seriously wondered whether God exists or not and/or asked why God has not responded to an important need expressed in prayer:

- what then happened?

Think about the many people you have encountered in your life. Among those people is there one who stands out as someone who made you feel as though you were in God’s presence or, put slightly differently, someone who shone with the light of Christ into your own life?

- try to find words to describe this encounter with others in the group.

What does the water of life mean to you?

Most of us will feel that as we journey through life we ‘leak’ – the living water of Christ seeps or even flows out of us. The tank is empty and we need refilling. How can the ‘spring of water welling up to eternal life’ be replenished?

From either or both passages for this week’s sermon is there anything that stands out for you which has not been mentioned in the sermon and which you feel worth drawing to the group’s attention?

If Jesus could do anything for you right now, what would you like to ask him to do?

Why not go ahead and ask Jesus to do just that!

It might be appropriate to spend some time together thanking God for encountering us through Christ and for blessing us with the living water of eternal life.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

What is the Bible?

Sitting on my laptop I have a draft of a book on the Bible. Its tentatively called 'Grace and Truth: Scripture and Evangelical Theology'. But its sitting there, rather than making progress, because I lack clarity about what its distinctive message is - that is, the message which is worth publishing in a world with lots of books on the Bible. Lately I have returned to thinking about this. One way forward is to orient the book more to answering the question in the title of this post, What is the Bible? I ask the question because I am often at odds with the kinds of answers I see Christians giving to the question. Its not - in my thinking - a text-book, a resource book, an historic book, an instruction manual or a book of inspiration. Yes, it includes elements of all those possibilities, but its not reducible to any one of them. I think what also troubles me is the emphasis on the Bible as a 'book' - for then it is easy to move to 'being a Christian is someone who studies this book'. But being a Christian is someone in relationship with God. The Bible is God in communication with us through writing. In this definition the emphasis falls on God who communicates with us; and we read the Bible in order to hear from God, not in order to be experts on a book (albeit the most important book of all) or to be conformed to the contents of a book.

In this line of thinking 'Scripture' is a better term than 'Bible' for it acknowledges that we hear from God who communicates with us through writing. The way is then paved for answering the question 'What is the Bible?' with (say) 'God's written Word' where 'Word' is the revelation or disclosure of the mind and will of God for humanity, supremely expressed in the life and death of Jesus Christ, the living Word of God. The Bible then is God's Holy Scripture or written Word by which I am enabled to enter into and be nurtured by the very life of Christ. To complete the trinitarian character of the answer, we also profess that Scripture records the words of the prophets and apostles as they spoke by the Holy Spirit and we understand the meaning of Scripture as the Holy Spirit illuminates these words for us as readers and hearers bound together and into the being of God through the indwelling Spirit of God.

What is the Bible? Technically it is a 'book' but it is also a door opening up heaven (Revelation 4:1), and a light shining God's truth on our lives (Psalm 119:105). It is in this sense of the Bible as a lively and living communication from God, written long ago, rewritten on my heart as I read it today, that I think I want to take up my book again in an attempt to make a point which I suspect is lost from some talk today.