Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of the Blogroll: 2009

I like to close out the old year by celebrating the best post(s) of the year from various blogs on my blogroll. Welcome to the Best of the blogroll, 2009 edition:

I'd also like to bid a fond farewell to Aardvark Alley, who has gone inactive this year. Best wishes, whatever your endeavors, and thank you for the many years of blogging!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Knowing God

Much of human history can be summed up as the desire to know God, to serve God, to bring about the kingdom of God. Every idol carved out of a rock or tree-stump and every systematic theology shows our thoughts about God. And we've often found ourselves looking at projections of our own minds: many of the systematic theologians have built paper idols not so much better grounded than the idolaters of old. The net effect of the modern approach to idolatry has been to enthrone our ideas or ideologies in our religions, denominations, or sects.

How do we escape the trap of mistaking our thoughts about God for the realities of God? How do we come to a true knowledge of God? Where do we look to see God as he really is?

On this day, we proclaim that the answer is, "In a trough." Not any trough in general; a trough where one particular baby was sleeping for lack of a more comfortable or expected place.

I think, of all the modern religions, only Islam shows signs of really grasping what we are saying. "Do you mean to tell me that God, the mighty and merciful, is that baby? Are you saying that the eternal creator of heaven and earth is a day-old infant?" They can't quite figure whether we're lunatics or blasphemers; most have decided on blasphemers.


Unless God wants us to know him. Unless God loves his people more than our misguided ideas would have ever imagined. Unless God's splendor and majesty and sovereignty mean nothing to him, and he would gladly lay them aside to show himself to his people in a way we could understand. Unless God decided to live among us as one of us so that we could see his character as he really is. Unless God himself is humble. Unless he calls our ideas of greatness the real idols. Unless God wants to be with us. Unless God reveals himself not as God the Ideology, or even as God the Unknowable, but as God With Us.

"In him, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in bodily form." (Col 2:9) This was written by a Jew in roughly the year 60 A.D., while the memory of Jesus' time with us was still very much alive in those who had known him in person.

So in a trough begins the story of how God is not found in the comfortable or expected place.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Notes on the Liturgy of the Gospel of Matthew

In compiling this order of service, I kept the liturgical format because it sticks so close to Scripture and makes a conscious effort to encompass all of the Bible in its readings, all of Jesus' life and ministry in its scope, all the world in its prayers and outreach. Still, I wanted this liturgy to have not just its words but also its structure -- its table of contents, as it were -- shaped by how Matthew shows us Jesus. With that in mind:
  • Because Matthew's gospel starts with John the Baptist then Jesus baptizing and calling to repentance, the order of service starts with the invocation from the baptismal words and the call to repentance.
  • The prayer for enemies is a separate section in its own right and follows the thanksgiving for our own forgiveness, like the Lord's prayer and Jesus' comments on it, or the parable of the unmerciful servant. Jesus' call to pray for our enemies shapes the liturgy.
  • The preparation for the offering includes Jesus' call to reconcile first with those we have wronged, as Jesus taught us.
  • The seasonal sentences acknowledge the practice of thanking God especially for certain blessings commemorated at certain times of the year.
  • The confession of faith -- the Nicene Creed -- is included both as the church's historic confession and because of how it is itself framed on Scripture.
  • As Matthew's gospel ends with Jesus sending forth his people to make disciples, this order of service ends the same way. Jesus' concluding promise to be with us is the final word of Jesus in Matthew's gospel, and is here the final proclamation of the minister to the people.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Liturgy of the Gospel of Matthew, with Scripture citations

This summer I mentioned a long-term project of mine: liturgies in which every word closely tracks Scripture. Here is the first real milestone; the text to this liturgy is now usable. Most of the key texts here are from the Gospel of Matthew. I suppose I'm more of an arranger than anything else in this, since the words are none of them originally mine except in the arrangement. I've made this as creative commons (CC-NC-SA). Other notes will follow in an upcoming post. If anyone uses this as a worship service, please mention anything that may need smoothing to flow smoothly in a worship service. This version includes the Scripture citations, but I expect to post one that is either without the citations or formatted so they're more inobtrusive. I will make a better-formatted version available (MSWord or pdf) as time permits.

P: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (Matt 28:19)
C: Amen

P: Our Lord Jesus calls us to repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near (Matt 3:2, 4:17). He has said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matt 9:12-13)

C: Lord, I confess that my heart is unclean. (Matt 12:35). Out of it come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander. (15:19). I have spoken careless words (12:36). I have loved the place of honor and importance (23:6). I have neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness (23:23). Yet you have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. (Matt 9:13). Lord, forgive us our sins. (Matt 6:12).

* Kyrie or other penitential song may be sung here

P: The Lord desires mercy, not sacrifice. (Matt 9:13) Our Savior has taught us, "The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. Take heart; your sins are forgiven." (Matt 9:6, 2).


* This or another song of thanksgiving for God’s mercy may be sung

Praise the LORD, O my soul;
All my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Praise the LORD, O my soul,
And forget not all his benefits.

Who forgives all your sins
And heals all your diseases

Who redeems your life from the pit
And crowns you with love and compassion

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse,
Nor will he harbor his anger forever;

He does not treat us as our sins deserve
Or repay us according to our trespasses.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is his love for those who fear him;

As far as the east is from the west,
So far has he removed our transgressions from us.

(Psalm 103:1-12)

Prayers for our enemies

P: The Lord has also taught us to pray for our enemies. Being thankful for his forgiveness, let us pray: (Matt 5:44)

P: Lord, we praise you and give thanks to you, for you are good. (Ps 106:1)
C: Your mercy endures forever. (Ps 106:1)

P: While we were yet your enemies (Romans 5:8-10)
C: You died for us (Romans 5:8-10)

P: The righteous for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18)
C: To bring us back to you. (1 Peter 3:18)

P: Lord, have mercy on us. (Luke 18:3)
C: Have mercy on us sinners. (Luke 18:3)

P: Lord, if you kept record of our sins (Psalm 130:3)
C: Who could stand before you? (Psalm 130:3)

P: Do not bring your servant into judgment, (Ps 143:2)
C: For no one living is righteous before you. (Ps 143:2)

P: When I hid my faults (Psalm 32:3)
C: I wasted away. (Psalm 32:3)

P: When I confessed my transgression (Psalm 32:5)
C: You forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32:5)

P: You oppose the proud (1 Peter 5:5)
C: But give grace to the humble. (1 Peter 5:5)

P. You, O Christ, came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim 1:15)
C: Of whom I am the chief. (1 Tim 1:15)

P: You have taught us to pray: Forgive us our sins (Matt 6:12)
C: As we forgive those who sin against us. (Matt 6:12)

P: Let mercy be the measure we use for others; (Matt 5:7, 7:2)
C: May their cups overflow with blessing. (Ps 23:5)

P: We remember before you all our enemies: (Matt 5:44)
C: May knowing you bring peace. (2 Peter 1:2)

P: We remember before you all who have wronged others. (Matt 5:44)
C: May your mercy turn hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)

P: We remember before you all who hide secret guilt: (Ps 19:12)
C: Create clean hearts, O Lord, and renew a right spirit. (Ps 51:10)

P: Let the sinners turn back to you: (Ps 51:13)
C: No one will be condemned who takes refuge in you. (Ps 34:22)

P: Let us proclaim your righteousness in the great assembly (Ps 40:9)
C: Let us not seal our lips or hide your righteousness (Ps 40:9-10)

P: Let us speak of your faithfulness and salvation (Ps 40:10)
C: Let us not conceal your love and your truth. (Ps 40:10)

P: Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven. (Psalm 32:1)
C: Whose sin is covered (Psalm 32:1)

P: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; (Psalm 106:1)
C: His mercy endures forever. (Psalm 106:1)

Scripture Readings

P: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Matt 4:4)

Old Testament Reading


Epistle Reading

The leader may choose the introduction most fitting for the gospel text of the day.
P: God has proclaimed, “This is my Son, whom I love. With him I am well pleased. Listen to him.” (Matt 17:5)


P: Jesus has called us, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt 11:28-29).

Gospel Reading

The leader may choose the conclusion most fitting for the gospel text of the day.

For readings containing commands or exhortation
P: Whoever hears the sayings of the Lord and does them is like a wise man who built his house upon a rock. When the storm came that house did not fall. (Matt 7:24).

For readings containing miracles, promises, or blessings
P: May the whole earth know the Scriptures and the power of God. (Matt 22:29)

For readings containing proclamations or other teachings
P: What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the rooftops. (Matt 10:27)

Hymn of the day

* A hymn or other song may be sung


Preparation for Offering

If we have a gift to bring to the Lord and remember that our brother has anything against us, we should leave our gift at the altar and first go and be reconciled to our brother. After we reconcile, then we may offer our gift. (Matt 5:23-24).

Silence for self-examination


In keeping with our Lord’s calling, let us help the poor (Matthew 19:21), and give unto God that which is God’s (Matthew 22:21).


Jesus invites us to ask, to seek, to knock, to come before God expecting good from him (Matt 7:7, 11). For our Father knows what we need before we ask him. (Matt 6:8)

Lord, wherever you traveled among the people, you were sought out by the sick, by their friends and family, by those for whom they worked. We, too, come to you on behalf of our loved ones. (Matt 8:1-17; 9:1-8, 18-24; 17:14-23).

Special prayers and intercessions may follow

Seasonal sentences

Let us praise the Lord and hallow his name ... (Matt 6:9)

Advent: who blessed Mary with a son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to save his people from their sins. (Matt 1:21)

Christmas: for it was fulfilled what the Lord spoke by the prophet: They shall call his name Emmanuel, which means God With Us. (Matt 1:22-23)

Epiphany: whose Christ was sought and worshiped by the wise men. (Matt 2:11)

Lent: for Jesus taught that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things, and be killed, and be raised again on the third day. (Matt 16:21)

Resurrection: for on this blessed and glorious day, the angel first proclaimed the joyous news at the grave: “He is not here. He is risen!" (Matt 28:5-6)
Congregation: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Pentecost: who sent John the Baptist to baptize with water, and sent one greater to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Matt 3:11)

Sundays after Pentecost: who has promised that wherever two or three are gathered together in his name, he is here with us. (Matt 18:20)

End Times (Troubled times): who compared the kingdom of heaven to a wedding banquet for the king’s son, and has invited us to come to the wedding banquet. (Matt 22:2, 4)

End Times (Untroubled times): who has urged us to watch, for we do not know at what hour our Lord will come. (Matt 24:42)

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven
Hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come
Your will be done on earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgiven those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one. (Matt 6:9-13)

Confession of Faith

Nicene Creed (ancient ecumenical form)

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, (Hebrews 1:2)
of all that is, seen and unseen. (Col 1:16)

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, (John 1:14, 1:18)
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light, true God from true God, (Col 1:19, Heb 1:3)
begotten, not made, (John 3:16, 3:18)
of one being with the Father; (John 10:30)
Through him all things were made, (John 1:3, Col 1:16, Heb 1:2)
For us, and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, (Phil 2:7)
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, (Matt 1:21, Luke 1:34-35)
and was made man. (Matt 1:25)
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures. (Matt 27:11-28:10 and parallels)
He ascended into heaven (Luke 24:50-51, Acts 1:9)
and is seated at the right hand of the Father. (Mt 22:44, 26:64; Mk 14:62, Lk 20:42, 22:69, Acts 2:33, Heb 1:3)
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, (Acts 1:11)
and his kingdom will have no end. (Luke 1:33)

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life, (John 6:63; Rom 8:2, 8:10; Gal 6:8)
who proceeds from the Father, (Luke 15:26)
who in unity with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified; (Mt 28:19, 2 Cor 13:14)
who has spoken through the prophets. (Acts 1:16, 1 Peter 1:10-11, 2 Peter 1:21)
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. (Eph 4:3-5; Matt 10:2 and parallels; Acts 1:2-4)
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. (Acts 2:38)
We look for the resurrection of the dead (Matt 22:29-31, 1 Thess 4:16)
and the life of the world to come. (1 Thess 4:17)

The Lord’s Supper

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “Take and eat. This is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks, and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matt 26:26-28)

* The Agnus Dei may be sung, or other song that proclaims Christ as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world


* During the distribution, hymns or other songs may be sung

Sending Forth

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything the Lord has commanded us. And surely the Lord is with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matt 28:19-20)

* A hymn or other song may be sung

Sunday, December 13, 2009

God's singing and music

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26)
If we view God through Jesus, if Jesus can do nothing apart from the Father as he says, then here we see an occasion on which God was singing.

After considering God's joyfulness recently, this week's lectionary reading from the prophets seemed well-timed:
The LORD your God is with you,
  he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
  he will quiet you with his love,
  he will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
Here we see that not only does God take delight and rejoice; he also sings. I wonder if someone trying to defend God's honor will rush to say this is a figure of speech or some such. But if we say that God "spoke" and speak of his "word" in a meaningful sense, then by the same path we can just as meaningfully consider his song.

Depending on how you view the Bible, you may even consider it telling that the word of God contains a couple of books of poetry. At least one book (Psalms) contains poems that were meant to be sung. If these songs of the Bible are God-breathed in any sense, then God may be more conscious of music than we have allowed ourselves to seriously consider.

Our human leaning toward music and song may be another way in which we are in the image of God.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Question for readers: Adding to the blogroll

Hi all

I've noticed that some of the blogs on my blogroll have gone inactive. Usually in December I clean out the blogroll and usually add some new ones to replace the ones I remove.

Does anyone have a suggestion -- a blog that you like, that I might consider adding to my blogroll? Let me know if you have a favorite, & I can go see if it's the type of thing I want to read regularly.

Take care & God bless

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The joyful God

Previous in this series: The humility of God
Another attribute of God that we often miss is his joyfulness. When we take Jesus' words to heart, "He who has seen me has seen the father," that opens us up to different ways of understanding the mind of God.

When the Bible shows us Jesus, we usually see him in the company of his friends. Time and time again, the Bible portrays him joining in festive occasions such as dinners where guests are invited. He surprised his disciples by taking small children into his arms. When he was asked why his disciples did not fast, Jesus invoked the Jewish custom of not fasting during times of celebration; he said that being with him was like being with the bridegroom at a wedding. Being with him was a festive occasion. Jesus describes the kingdom of God as being like a wedding feast. And he performed his first public miracle by providing wine for a wedding feast. Jesus was joyful, time and again he was joyful. If seeing Jesus is seeing God, then we might need to rethink how we see God.

In the parable of the prodigal son, he portrays a father - that is, God - celebrating gladly when his lost son came home.

So a sour, dour approach to life is actually ungodly. The God who has called us and welcomes us home is a joyful God.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Why I like giving gifts for Christmas

I know I'm deviating from the Expected Christmas Routine by writing this. Denouncing the commercialism of Christmas is supposed to be a Christmas tradition, right up there with drinking eggnog, hanging tinsel, and singing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." So it's true confession time: I like giving gifts for Christmas. I have a personal rule: no gift cards for the people on my gift list. I like spending some time pondering each person in my family, turning over all the different things they like to do, maybe even learning something new about them. I like to hunt for a gift that will fit with their interests but still be a surprise. It starts at Thanksgiving with some sleuthing. For each person, "What have you been up to? Any big plans?" And something will make their eyes light up with enthusiasm. And I start scheming how I can give a gift that will become a part of that, a part of what makes this life good for them. And I do it in the name of Jesus. I hope even the non-Christian relatives have some happy memories of Christmas.

Are the merchants taking advantage? Oh, no doubt. But I have a bigger problem with the low quality and predictable nature of the merchandise than with the fact that they're trying to make a sale. It doesn't have to be a decadent spending frenzy; nobody is making me spend any particular amount. And the gifts don't have to upstage the reason for the celebration. I'm glad for a license to reconnect with the people in my family.

So I like giving gifts for Christmas. I expect I'm not alone.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Jesus in the Roman tax/census archives

It was several years ago that Dr. P. made a reference to an interesting thing: early Christian writers appealed to the Roman tax and census archives when discussing the birth of Christ. As the type of person who likes to see the source, I tracked down the early references.

Justin Martyr, attempting to persuade the Roman government to stop persecuting Christians, refers the Romans to their own tax registers to verify Jesus’ birth. After mentioning the prophecy of the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem he continues:
Now there is a village in the land of the Jews, thirty-five stadia from Jerusalem, in which Jesus Christ was born, as you can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing made under Cyrenius, your first procurator in Jud├Ža.- Justin Martyr, First Apology XXXIV (circa 150-155 A.D.)
Tertullian, emphasizing Jesus’ true humanity and actual birth against the Gnostics, makes the same type of appeal to the Roman imperial archives.
His enrollment in the census of Augustus — that most faithful witness of the Lord’s nativity, kept in the archives of Rome – Tertullian, Against Marcion 4:7 (circa 210 A.D.)
Often, early evidence supporting Christianity is written off as a forgery made by Christians. To be sure, we don't have the archives in hand to examine ourselves; Rome has been sacked since then. But the dates here are very early for a charge of Christians rewriting the history books. Christians weren’t in any sort of power at the time; their enemies held the upper hand in government and therefore would have controlled the archives. That is the very thing that makes Justin Martyr’s appeal so powerful: that he can appeal to his persecutors’ records in demonstrating a part of his case as to why the persecution against Christians is unjust.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The humility of God

"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." -- Jesus (Matt 11:28)
God has revealed himself in Christ; whoever sees Jesus sees the Father. As the Father is, so Jesus is, accurately reflecting the image of God. When the Word of God poured himself out and became man, God's own nature and self were revealed. Since that day when the Word of God took on human flesh, God is no longer an unknown God. We live in a world where we have seen God, where we have known God -- and he was not what we expected.

He has often shown how he values humility. He chose Abraham as an old man to become a father and Sarah to become a mother. He chose David the shepherd-boy, youngest of his brothers, to become king. He chose Mary the peasant girl to bring the Messiah into the world. He has asked us to be humble; he has proclaimed blessings on the meek. And for the mother of Christ,
He has regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden; from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. -- Mary (Luke 1:48)
When we know God through Christ, we see that God's desire for us to be humble is not because he wishes to exalt himself. It is because God himself is humble. When we take up humility, we do not separate ourselves from God, but join him. When we look at Christ and understand that we are seeing the character of God, we understand about God: He is "humble in heart", or "lowly in heart" (AV), giving rest to our souls. It is mind-boggling to me, but we see it in Christ: God is humble.