Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On visiting a graveyard

At the weekend I had the chance to be in Wanganui which was the home of my paternal grandfather before he married my Christchurch grandmother and lived the rest of his life with her in Christchurch. I was able to visit two graveyards - the Heads Rd 'Old Wanganui Cemetary' and the Aramoho Cemetary - between which his parents and grandparents, and various uncles are buried.

For me that visitation was very moving. I felt reconnected with the past of my family. The gravestones, albeit a little battered and bruised by the elements, stand as they stood at the time of their erection, presumably not long after the actual burial of my ancestors. Their inscriptions reach out across time and say on behalf of the deceased, 'we are here, your past is not separated by time, or by space.' Through such knowledge of our past we gain security in our personal identity: from death comes life!

Since none of our family live in Wanganui I guess the visits by family to these graves are few and far between. (It may be 26 or so years since I visited the Aramoho grave, and its about 14 years since I visited the other graves). So for long periods of time these graves simple stand there, making no connections.

But I am grateful that they are there for the rare visit. Part of that gratitude goes to the Wanganui City Council for the care they take of their cemetaries. And I am reminded, since many churches have graveyards, that while graveyards may look lifeless, even sterile, and in this day and age offer all the 'wrong' images for the business of offering life to people ... and thus from time to time tempt us to think about whether there is a point to continuing to have graves surrounding our churches ... in fact they contain within them, let the reader understand, messages of life.

And all this reflection leads into this week's sermon on All Saints ...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Brilliant timing, excellent preaching

The RCL lectionary offered brilliant timing yesterday, with both NZ and USA elections close at hand: Matthew 22:15-22, To Whom Should Taxes be Paid?

Praise God I heard a preacher on the gospel passage respond excellently to the opportunity.

Two brief 'memorable moments' in the sermon:

(i) an audience hook: the introduction built up to the point where the preacher solemnly informed us that therefore he would now proceed to tell us how to vote, but there was a glint in his voice, so we all chuckled; and he knew, in fact told us, that he now had all our attention!

(ii) a provocative, take-home idea: why is it in our country that we have immense protection for our native (endangered) species of birds, but none for the 18 000 babies aborted each year?

Incidentally, there was no Powerpoint, DVD, post-modernist paraphanalia - which can be useful aids (as flannel graphs were in another age) - but are not necessary when a sermon is delivered with certain verbal skills rather than others.

Again, I would make the point that it is possible through preaching to achieve what I felt was achieved within me yesterday: nurture, challenge, encouragement, education, inspiration, and renewed appreciation for the power of Scripture.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Some thoughtful words on confession and absolution

From the Archbishop of Sydney's recent presidential address to his synod:

"Last year we asked the Doctrine Commission for a report on the nature of congregational assemblies. I thank them for the report and look forward to discussing it. With its help we can certainly ask whether what we do in church sufficiently reflects the gospel. Take the confession of our sins and the declaration of forgiveness for example. In a church I was in recently, we had confession and forgiveness. The clergyman invented his own list of sins for us to confess; they sounded exactly what the uneasy conscience of a modern middle class person may dredge to the surface, if pressed hard to say where they had failed in the last little while. The declaration that we were all assuredly forgiven of these mainly imaginary sins was, if I remember correctly, perfunctory, but certain enough to make us all feel a lot better. Apparently God was pleased with us after all.

But this business of coming into the presence of the Lord is no light thing. And the business of assuring people that their sins are forgiven, is no light thing. These are the keys of heaven and hell, administered with great solemnity by the appointed preachers of God’s word. Woe to the one who casually assures us in the name of God that we are forgiven when we are not! By what right is this done? I have been invited to confess my sins in such a way that my sins are never identified and my repentance is never required. I was not aware that forgiveness was so cheaply offered; we would take more pains to mollify a fellow motorist than we give to thinking about our relationship with the living God.

In this Diocese, we claim to be Cranmerians - that is, the protestant Reformation has come down to us via Archbishop Cranmer, his thirty nine articles and the Book of Common Prayer.
Let us study and incorporate what he taught us about our approach to God. In his great confession of sin, he identifies our sins not according to the standards of the middle-class conscience, but by the Law of God: ‘We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have offended against thy holy laws…there is no health in us…’ He does not pretend that a mere outward confession is what is required, but ‘He pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel.’ And he gets us to pray for the gift of ‘true repentance and his Holy Spirit that those things may please him which we do at this present and that the rest of our life may be pure and holy…’

It is all very well for us to smugly criticise others, but if we fail to manifest the fruit of repentance and godly living we are hypocrites. How long is it since you have examined your own life, starting with the devices and desires of your heart? How many sins flourish there, secretly watered by you and never dealt with, never put to death, to use the violent and painful image of the New Testament? Greed, lust, covetousness, malice, jealousy, anger, hatred - these are some of the inward sins which need to be dealt with if we are to walk in the light. I think that they are present within us because I see them break out into ungodly displays often enough. But they start in the heart. Remember the great text that R.B.S.Hammond stood for: “Not everyone that saith unto Me, ‘Lord, Lord’, shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven.”"

Monday, October 13, 2008

A tiny note on preaching

I preached yesterday. The first time for a month or so. Some aspects of delivery - not as smooth as I would have liked - remind me that some regularity in preaching is important. Preaching involves a skill factor which is maintained at a high level by actual preaching practice!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Saving wax

There is an old saying, re candles and the like in church worship, that we are saved by grace not by grease. Of course the 'grease' reminds us that it is the Light of the World who saves us and not we ourselves! Anyway, to the point: here is a tip for saving grease, or not having to buy large candles. The other day at a baptism I observed that the Paschal Candle had been brought out for the occasion. But when the priest went to light the candle he reached to the top and pulled off a tiny 'tealight' candle. Having lit the little candle and replaced it, for all the world it looked like the large candle was alight. Neat trick - simpler to light and no wastage on the large, expensive candle!

The baptism, incidentally, was lovely, and the priest made the loving and lovely point that in baptism we acknowledge that our children do not belong to us but to God.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

With vision, the people live - here is a cracker

Worshipping the God of the Gospel
a dream for evangelical worship

by Chris Cocksworth

An address given at the Evangelical Worship Consultation, Ridley Hall, Cambridge organised by the Liturgical Commission, 15th September 2008

I would like to begin my dreaming further back – with the actual identity Anglican Evangelicalism, not simply its worship.
My dream is that Anglican evangelicalism will:

· realize its potential
· fulfill its calling
· inhabit its character
· (to put it more theologically) that it will receive all that God has for it in Christ through the Spirit.
I happen to believe that this shape of Christian faith that has been given to Anglican evangelicalism is a deeply true, authentic and satisfying way of living the faith. Moreover, I am convinced that it is deeply attractive and could, if configured properly, capture the imagination of the people of our age, and win their hearts.

I have tried to write up that dream in a book, Holding Together: Gospel, Church and Spirit (London, Canterbury Press, 2008). Its title is my longing for Anglican evangelicalism: that here, in this form of Christian Faith, Gospel, Church and Spirit will be held together.
Or, to put it another way, my conviction about Anglican evangelicalism is that it is ideally, perhaps uniquely, poised to be a meeting point for the creative connection between the deep themes of Christian faith, the fundamental gifts of God to his people, each of which has been emphasized by one of the classic traditions of the Church.

· One: Gospel – by definition the great virtue of evangelicalism: the defining feature of evangelicalism: the euangelion, the gospel of God’s abundant grace in Jesus Christ and, consequentially, the dynamic spiritual authority of scripture as the testimony of the gospel, the word through which Jesus, the word of God’s grace, is made known.

· Two: Church – by definition the great virtue of the catholic tradition because catholic - kata holos- means according to the whole, an existence lived with and accountable to others. Fellowship is of the gospel. It is the work of God in creation and in redemption: it is not good to be alone, God formed a people, Jesus gathered disciples, Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi, my relationship with Jesus brings me into relationship with you.

· Three: Spirit – by definition the great virtue of the charismatic tradition. The Spirit is the gift – the charismaton – giver. The Spirit is the one in whom and by whom the word of the gospel comes to us: God breathes his Word and creation comes into being, God overshadows Mary and Jesus is made flesh, by the Spirit we come to know Jesus as Lord, through the Spirit gifts of ministry and worship and mission equip the church.
Anglican evangelicalism is a tradition that traces itself back to the gospel reform of the church according to scripture that took place in the C16 within the English Church. The tool for the reform of the Church’s life was the liturgy of the Church, its life of worship.

Anglican evangelicalism, therefore, is not a new form of the church. It is a reform of the church that can be traced back to the first flowering of the gospel in these lands. The tradition of worship that Anglican evangelicalism inherits is an ancient tradition, that has been passed on, sometimes faithfully and sometimes less faithfully, sometimes losing its shape and needing to be reformed, but still an ancient, historically rooted tradition that is held in common with Christians today and yesterday (and, hopefully, tomorrow). It is common prayer.

Anglican evangelicalism is placed by God in a living tradition of the Holy Spirit, an ongoing work of the Spirit, that can be tangibly traced to the origins of the Spirit’s work in England and is continually and creatively responding to the changing features of English life with the abiding realities of God’s good news in Jesus Christ.

In summary, I am saying that Anglican evangelicalism is wonderfully placed – perhaps, as I have said, uniquely placed - to not only know Jesus as the truth (the gospel of God, according to the scriptures) but also to live in his way through living and moving and our having our being in his body the Church; and in so doing to be enlivened, inspired, enthused by his life through the breath of his Spirit in his body.

And no where more so than its worship.

Well what does this mean in terms of practice?

It means attending to three dimensions.

A. Evangelical worship is called to make the gospel known

It is to be a demonstration and celebration of the gospel; an enactment and experience of the gospel.

It is to tell the gospel so that the gospel can be heard and believed.

It is to show the gospel so that it can be seen and felt.

And this hearing and believing, this seeing and feeling of the gospel through worship is to lead to following and living – to the faithful life of the missionary disciple, the member of the messianic community of Jesus.

Clearly the telling of the gospel involves good preaching and effective public reading of scripture. Both of those are indisputable in scripture and non-negotiable in Anglican worship. We should be able to take it for granted that they will be at their most excellent in evangelical worship. Unfortunately that is not always the case in my experience at least. Particularly when it comes to the reading of scripture in worship I am regularly shamed by the attention it is given in other traditions compared with evangelicalism. And although evangelicals do generally have a commendably high regard for preaching, the predilection for attractive themes and relevant topics, can reduce evangelical preaching to a talk on a subject supported by scriptural texts, rather than the exposition of scripture itself.

Much more could be said but I want to take a lead from Colossians 3.16-17 and widen out the reference to telling the gospel. The Colossians are exhorted to let the word of Christ dwell in them richly, by teaching each other in all wisdom, and with gratitude in their hearts, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God.

The implication here is that the word of Christ takes deep and rich hold of us as we gather together and do what Christians do together. That includes singing, of course. One of the purposes of sung worship is so that the word of Christ, the word of grace, the word of the gospel can dwell in us richly. (More of that later.) But there are other ways as well. Some are verbal and some are non-verbal.

· We pray scriptures through psalms and other liturgical texts.
· We proclaim the scriptural faith through the church’s creeds.
· We use scriptural texts given for worship – eg the grace and blessings.
· We share the scriptural experience through testimony.
· We spread out the scriptural story through the church’s calendar and we focus on particular stages of the story in particular seasons.
· We enact the salvation of which scripture speaks through the actions and sacraments that Jesus gave to us.
· We see the scriptural faith in the scripturally given symbols of the faith.
This is my dream for evangelical worship: that we will take all these gifts that God has given us to tell the scriptural story so that people will begin to live in that story (inhabit it), and tell that story to others.

B. Evangelical worship is called to tell and show the gospel in and through the life of the church.

This gospel is the ‘faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints’ (Jude 3). I’d like to make three points in this connection.

(1) Continuity

For few years now I have had a flirtation with the Syrian Orthodox Church. This began when I visited Damascus and joined with the Syrian Church on Palm Sunday. It was a powerful experience being where Ananias and Paul worshipped and hearing the Lord’s Prayer sung in Syrian, a dialect of Aramaic, Jesus’ own tongue.

Christians now worship all over the world, of course, and in many languages, but this faith once entrusted to the saints is passed on in part by texts that were once for all entrusted to the saints: the Lord’s Prayer, the Grace, Songs in Revelation; and it goes back further, into the faith inherited by the apostles – the psalms, the Holy, Holy, Holy, the Aaronic blessing and so on.

My dream for evangelical worship is that our wonderfully gifted song writers will provide contemporary expressions and settings of these Spirit-given texts in charismatic voice.

(2) Commonality

One of the most moving experiences of the Lambeth Conference for me was attending a Eucharist each day prepared by a different Province. There were common shapes to the liturgy, and common meaning to the words, even if in many cases the actual language – Korean, Swahili, Portuguese etc - was beyond me, and there were common actions. It was wide and deep experience of catholicity – of being with other members of the one body of Christ.

My dream for evangelical worship is that our song writers will write more songs that can be used in the common shapes of worship, and that planners of worship will use songs of worship in the ebb and flow of a service rather than just as a block.

(3) Celebration of the actions of the gospel in the life of the church

I could talk till Christmas on this theme. I simply want to say at this point that if we neglect the actions of Christ in baptism and the Lord’s Supper we are disobedient to Jesus and unfaithful to the bible, and we betray the gospel.

Baptism is the Spirit-given sign of coming to faith in Christ and the means of entering fully into the life of his people. The Lord’s Supper is the Spirit-given sign and means of growing into the full stature of Christ.

My dream for evangelical worship is that we will use them and love them because Jesus uses them and loves us through them. And my dream is for song writers to write songs that relate to the sacraments and can be used when they are celebrated.

C. Evangelical worship is called to tell and show the gospel in the life of the church through the powerful working of the Spirit.

Beyond underlining the need for our worship to be enlivened and inspired by the Spirit – a calling that requires a continual invocation and expectation of the Spirit, I want to make three points briefly.

1 Worship is to be responsive and open to the movement of the Spirit.

A positive approach to the use of liturgy does not mean being bound by the book, it does not mean being straitjacketed by liturgy. The deep evangelical instinct for room to manoeuvre in worship is a godly thing. Since C17 evangelicalism has brought varying degrees of pressure on the Church of England to loosen up its worship. In the latter part of C20 this joined forces with shifts in liturgical scholarship and major cultural changes. The result is an official approach to liturgy – embodied in Common Worship – that is a wonderful gift to evangelicals, especially to evangelical charismatics.

My dream for evangelical worship is that it will grasp this opportunity – that it will take hold of this freedom in the liturgical freedom or, better, that it will take hold of this liturgical tradition as a framework for freedom.

2 Worship that will embrace the use of spiritual gifts

Properly used, there is nothing un-Anglican about the use of spiritual gifts in worship. They are part of the ancient apostolic liturgical tradition which has been passed on to us.

My dream for evangelical worship is that we will see these gifts being used in the normal course of worship in a culturally appropriate form.

3 Worship – this sort of worship – will require Spirit-inspired leaders of worship
My dream for evangelical worship is that this ministry will not just be devolved to the leader of musical worship, but that there will be inspired presiders of worship who can work creatively with musicians and every other ministry to respond to the movement of the Spirit in the planning and leading of worship.