Rest in Christ Reverend Stott – you have been a means of grace for many!
The season of Epiphany, when the Church explicitly remembers how Jesus is revealed as God in the Gospels is now coming to a end. In this season we have followed the Magi, remembered Christ’s baptism, and witnessed the Kingdom of God. Yet before we look too far down the path of Epiphany, to the palms of Sunday and the ashes of Wednesday, let us consider Jesus’ revelation as God in Worship.
The synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) all mention the account of Jesus teaching at the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. In the Luke account we find that during this Sabbath worship service it was Jesus’ turn to read the scroll, which happened to have been from the Prophet Isaiah. SO as was the custom, Jesus takes the scroll of Isaiah, stands up and gives the reading:
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This verse is drawn from Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6. What was Jesus’ interpretation of these verses from the Prophet for those in attendance? ”Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk4:21). There was amazement at the grace of his words and then the questions and challenges came, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Jesus then begins to unpack his amplified interpretation of these verses from Isaiah in Luke 4:24-30 as the hearers with rage try to lay hands on him. To think that God would extend his grace and blessing outside of “clean & chosen” Israel to lepers, widows, the poor, and Gentiles!
The people of Nazareth missed Jesus as God in the reading and failed to glorify God, acknowledging him for who he is. Today I sometimes wonder if the church fails in this respect to acknowledge God for who he is in worship. Three benchmarks for worship as a response to God’s glory (that I have adapted from Simon Chan’s Liturgical Theology) are:
- Worship is not something we do for God - “Praise” does not bring down the glory of God. “Waiting” does not bring down the glory of God. “Playing Louder Music” does not bring down the glory of God. The glory of God is a self-giving gift and thus, everything we are and have to offer is a gift from God.
- Worship is its own end. In the pragmatic context in which we find ourselves in history, everything including worship has to have and end or purpose (mostly for us). What do you mean Jesus this reading is fulfilled in our hearing? Aren’t you Joseph’s boy? What’s in it for us? As William Willimon writes, “Worship loses is integrity when it is regarded instrumentally as a means of something else-even as a means of achieving the most noble of human purposes”
- Worship is a response to God’s total character. True worship must reflect the reality of who the triune God is. I agree with John Wesley’s observation of the verse that Jesus reads above, “The Spirit of Lord is upon me” as a reference to the Holy Trinity. Do we worship a triune God today in American Christianity?
I came across Donald Miller’s latest blog post, Are People Basically Good? It was a good read, and he takes you on a journey that unpacks what is meant by the often loaded term, “Total Depravity.” He makes some good distinctions and critiques. I posted my response below.
Thanks for talking about this Donald, I liked your injection of humor and the journey this entry takes you on. You’re right on about total depravity. The way some of my “Calvinist/Reformed” friends frame the term, is that humans are nothing but dirty, grimy, unmoral, sinners until they say the sinner’s prayer. Recently a class I’ve been taking, has got me thinking about what this loaded term, “total depravity” really means…I’ve come to understand it as “there is not a part of who I am personally (or humanity in general) that is not effected by sin.” Total depravity is stating that there are parts of who I am that are still held in darkness, but the Lord desires them to be brought into his glorious light. So it’s not so much: “All non Christians are unmoral or evil”; but “the good that is in their morals and ethics are not enough for salvation.”
Just think… in a paradoxical way, the more we know Christ, the more we are freed to be more whole, creative, and unequivocally ourselves! (as well as His) “Only those who lay down their lives will find life.” (Mt. 10:39/16:25)… If we are in Christ we are a new creation! (2 Cor 5:17)… This is the great mystery: Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:26).
Furthermore, total depravity is not the starting point… If you are going to talk about sin, make sure you start at the beginning of the story with the Triune God being so filled with love that out of that overflow, creation is spoken into existence and we were created wholly good, in fact very good. It really sets the context of the entire story. Christians, if you’re going to tell our story, tell it well.. and start in the beginning!
What do you think? Join the conversation.
Recently I was at conference at a local Church where the speaker was talking about the Holy Spirit. He made the comment that people treat the Holy Spirit as, “the crazy uncle of the trinity.” This observation struck me as hilarious, but very keen. Perhaps such an observation of the western Church is due to people not being able to differentiate between the human responses to the Holy Spirit and the divine person. Perhaps also the lack of embrace of the Holy Spirit in the western Churches is because of our recent “ontological hangover” caused by two hundred years of getting drunk on Enlightenment philosophy. I say all this to highlight that an adequate Doctrine of the Holy Spirit is not based human responses any more than a Doctrine of Jesus Christ or YHWH are. Also, an adequate Doctrine of the Holy Spirit shouldn’t be limited to an anthropocentric (interpreting reality based on human values, experiences ) view of reality. The Holy Spirit, being of the same essence with the Son and Father (homoousios), deserves as much attention in our Theology and Worship as the other members of the trinity. The following is a simple (and incomplete) Creed on the third person of the Trinity taken from the saga of Scripture.
“We Believe in the Holy Spirit.”
We believe the Old Testament proclaims… that before anything was created, the Spirit of God swept over the formless and dark void that was to become the universe (Gen 1:2). Pharaoh testified to his servants that Joseph, the interpreter of dreams was “one with the Spirit of God in him.”(Gen 41:38) Joshua was set apart and led Israel because he had the “Spirit in him” (Num 27:18). The Spirit of the Lord gave Samson great strength and power to defeat the Philistines during the time of the Judges (Judges 13:25,14:6,14:19,15:14,15:19). When Samuel the prophet anointed the shepherd David with oil, the Spirit of the Lord forevermore dwelt with David the future King of Israel (1 Sam 16:13). The Psalmist cries out to God for the Holy Spirit not to be taken from Him (Ps 51:10). Elijah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Jonah, Habakkuk, Haggai, Amos, and all the prophets, prophesied in the Spirit of the Lord. The Prophet Isaiah wrote concerning Christ that the Spirit of the Lord shall rest on Him (Isaiah 11:2; Lk 4:18).
We believe the New Testament proclaims… that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Mat 1:18,1:20; Lk 1:35,), was filled with the Holy Spirit (Lk 4:1;) cast out demons, healed, and performed miracles in the power of the Spirit (Mt12:28; Acts 10:38), and baptized people with/sent forth the Holy Spirit on believers (Mat 3:11; Lk 3:16; Jn1:33,Acts 1:15). After Christ’s ascension to the right hand of the Father, the Apostles were instructed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:2), received power from the Holy Spirit to be witness (Acts 1:8), preached boldly in the Spirit (Acts 4:8; Acts 6:10), remained faithful in martyrdom (Acts 6:5;), and performed healing, deliverance, and other miracles with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4; Acts 5:13-15). After Paul’s eyes were opened by the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17), he was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:9).
We believe in the fruits and the gifts of the Holy Spirit today as it was recorded in the New and Old Testaments. The gifts of the Spirit are: prophesy, tongues, interpretation of tongues, healing, assistance, leadership, and discernment of spirits (1 Cor 12, 14). The fruits of the Holy Spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit (Gal 5:25).