August 2011


“If we are to have any hope for the future, those who have lanterns must pass them on to others.” (Plato)

“If you join our pilgrimage, you will find a group of people who are just like you. We have hopes. We long that the world will be put to rights. We suffer. We get discouraged, and angry, and aren’t always nice. We get sick, lose our jobs, divorce, have rebellious children, aren’t always honest, and don’t always keep our promises. We also long for love, try to be kind, have dreams for our children, and hope we can pay this month’s bills and put aside a little for the future.

 We do believe that God is our Father, that Jesus died and rose again for us, and that the Holy Spirit has called us into a community of people called the church. We’ve been baptized to signify that our only hope is in death and resurrection with Jesus. We gather at his table to meet with him, hear his words, and receive food for our journey. We trust that God will put his world to rights one day and we long to be part of that.”   (Chaplain Mike, Internetmonk)

“Labor together with one another. Strive in company together. Run together; suffer together; sleep together; awake together, as the stewards, assessors, and servants of God.”  (Ignatius’ Sixth Letter to Polycarp, 110AD)

“It is in community that we come to see God in the other. It is in community that we see our own emptiness filled up. It is community that calls me beyond the pinched horizons of my own life, my own country, my own race, and gives me the gifts I do not have within me. ”  (Sister Joan Chittister)

“Since my youth, I think that I have never lost the intuition that community life could be a sign that God is love, and love alone. Gradually the conviction took shape in me that it was essential to create a community with men determined to give their whole life and who would always try to understand one another and be reconciled, a community where kindness of heart and simplicity would be at the centre of everything.” (Brother Roger, Taize)

“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.” (Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God)

“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each others’ lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other…” (Wendell Berry)

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love, and that love comes with community.” (Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness)

“It is not more bigness that should be our goal.  We must attempt, rather, to bring people back to…the warmth of community…of individuals working together as a community, to better their lives and their children’s future.”  (Robert F. Kennedy)

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)



I’m approaching the end of my series of posts on “The Ties that Bind”, doing the best  I can to define the things that hold us together as a community of believers.  For lack of better phrasing, I would say in my own cornbread style, that I’m sharing with you all the recipe for the glue that holds us all together;  the special sauce that separates us from the fast food, generic tastes of postmodern Evangelicalism, and makes us “The Church”.  Consider it this way:  Your local seeker-friendly institution is serving you a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese.  It tastes good, it’s cheap, and it will fill you up for a while.  What I’m attempting to do is give you something fresh off of the grill, cooked out in the backyard, made with lean beef,  marinated in mystery, with a slab of that cheese that is sold with the red waxy stuff on it!  It feels and tastes like home.  There’s nothing better!

Now I’m hungry.

The three elements that bind us together as a community known as “The Church” are as follows:

1)  We are a people of Baptism.

2)  We are a people of Communion.

And today’s topic…

3)  We are a people of Creed.

Growing up in the United Methodist Church, I probably knew the words to the Apostle’s Creed before I knew my ABC’s.  It was ingrained in me.  We were at church pretty much every time the doors were open, and sometimes when they weren’t.  My dad was a plumber, and the church had a basement fellowship hall that seemed to flood constantly.  I spent many Saturday mornings thumbing through hymnals, perusing the liturgy, the songs, and the Creed, while he worked to prevent certain apocalypse from occurring down in the bowels of the church building.

When I visited a Baptist church for the first time, I thought that it was just weird that they never said the Apostles’ Creed, recited the Lord’s Prayer, or did a responsive reading.  The worship was exciting, and the pastor was quite a rooster in the pulpit (and outside of it, too, as I would learn later on…a topic for another day).  Even early on, when I was beginning in ministry and was really impressed with this particular body’s way of “doing church”, I always knew that there was something missing.  I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

Today, I realize that what I missed and longed for was more participatory worship.  I had grown up doing more than just singing and praying at the altar as a member of the worshiping congregation.  As a child, I had joined with a community in common prayers, responsive readings, singing doxologies and glorias,  taking communion, and reciting the creed.  I was doing spiritual exercise, standing up and down, kneeling, learning things through repetition, and my heart longed for that type of discipline.

Instead of more cowbell, I needed more creed.  I got a fever, and the only cure is more Apostles’ Creed!

In J.I. Packer’s work, “Affirming the Apostles’ Creed”, he writes that in the earliest days of Christianity, Jews who converted needed only to believe that Jesus was the messiah, and that ritual sacrifice was no longer needed.  The Greeks, however,  needed to know a little bit more.  They didn’t care about Jewish superstitions and history.  The creed was developed as the essential teaching of the Apostles, the core beliefs of Christianity, so that the faith could be easily expressed and explained.  It was, essentially, the first evangelism tool:  ”This is what I believe…”

Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone ask me to come and witness to a friend, a family member, or a neighbor who didn’t know Jesus.  I’ve heard every reason in the book as to why they can’t go and talk to the person themselves, but most often, folks have expressed that they aren’t comfortable expressing their faith verbally.

“I really don’t know what to say to them.”

Over the years, my response became, “Why don’t you tell them what you believe?”

Too many Christians can’t adequately express what they have faith in.  Churches have done them no favors with their “statements of belief”, either, with phrases like “verbal plenary inspiration”, “inerrancy and infallibility”, and on and on.  I’ve done ministry for 11 years now, and I’m not sure that I even know what those things really mean! Early on in ministry, someone asked me to sum up my beliefs, and I said, “My beliefs are in the Apostles’ Creed.”  His response was, “Well, I believe in the Bible.”  The Creed was “too Catholic” to suit his tastes.

(Heavy sigh…)

I was fortunate to grow up in the system of belief my family adhered to.  We have a creed that we say time and time again, and in it are the essential beliefs of the Christian faith.  It was, and is, said every time the community that makes up that church body gathers together, not so we can participate in some “vain repetition”;  but instead, so that we’re equipped and prepared to share what we believe with a lost world, in the simplest terms possible.

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A few days back, I began a discussion of things that I believe bind us together as believers;  characteristics that define us as a community.  It’s a broad topic, with a lot of possibilities for subject matter, but I believe that the primary things that knit together are as follows:

1) We are a people of Baptism.

2) We are a people of Communion.

3) We are a people of Creed.

We’re continuing on in our discussion of “The Ties that Bind” today with a look at Holy Communion.  You may call it the Eucharist, Mass, or just the Table.  Regardless of the label, or whether you believe in transubstantiation or consubstantiation,  there is great power in communion when it is regarded as a sacrament.  The bread and wine, whether you subscribe to the idea that they  become the actual body and blood of Christ, that the Holy Spirit is present, or that they represent the essence of the flesh and blood of Christ, are  wonderfully divine mysteries that knit us together as believers.

It’s been said that if baptism is the starting line for our spiritual journey, then communion is the food for the journey.  It’s an intimate contact between ourselves and Jesus.  The sacramental view of the table hold that it is a means of grace,  nourishing us, so that we can better live out our faith in our daily lives.   The Spirit refreshes and restores us through communion, but it’s not only an intimate transaction between us and the Spirit.

It’s a family meal.

I Corinthians 10:17 says that “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread”.  As we perform the individual transaction of communion, we become a part of a bigger reality, The Body of Christ.  Martin Luther wrote that “The communion table is the only place where we can enjoy communion with God, and community with each other.” 

Most churches with sacramental traditions have liturgies that reflects the corporate nature of communion.  We confess our sins corporately; lift our hearts to God together; and we pray the Lord’s Prayer together (The language of the Prayer directly implies that it’s not only meant to be prayed individually, but also corporately…”Our father..give us today our daily bread…forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”).  Finally, we give thanks to Christ for the mystery of the communion table, together.

I love the show “Blue Bloods”.  My deepest prayer is that Tom Selleck might be plotting a comeback as Thomas Magnum, PI.  As a teenager, I was insanely jealous of his Ferrari, full mustache, and incomparable ability to have relatively innocent hook ups with exotic  women without even trying.  I’m pretty sure that has nothing to do with the topic, though, and likely indicates the depths of my depravity.   Magnum’s shorts were too short, by the way.  I’m just sayin’.

Anyway, back to Blue Bloods.  One of my favorite parts of the show is the inevitable scene where the family meets for Sunday night dinner.  The entire family comes together every week and enjoys a feast.  The meal is always prepared by their father, and it is never mundane.  No hot dogs or PB&J.  It’s sumptuous,  and my wife and I generally have to snack immediately after watching, to stop the salivation and fantasies about eating the meal we’ve just observed.  The people gathered at the table are different.  They have different ideologies, different philosophies and are at different stages in life.  They are different, but bound together by two things: 

1)  They are bound by blood.  They are a family.  They are different, but they have a common father, a like history.  The bond of blood is inescapable.  They may not always like each other, but the bond of blood requires that they love each other.  The table may be surrounded by people who bicker and fight and moan, but there is no doubt whatsoever that they would absolutely give their lives for one another.

2) They are bound by calling.  The Reagan family is a family of policemen and lawyers.  Their grandfather was a police officer, their father is a police officer, the sons are police officers, the daughter works in the district attorney’s officer, and even a young grand-daughter has aspirations of entering law enforcement one day.  They are unique individuals, with one common purpose, the enforcement and defense of the law.  They are passionate about what they do.

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