Prologue Blessed be the Holy Trinity, God of relational connectedness: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen. This is a way to live on mission for God. It is designed for those who have discerned both an inward and outward call to serve God in rostered ministry. It may be useful to others as well.
Chapter 1 – Start with Why God’s mission is our mission. We are created anew in our baptism and are born into a new mission. Being joined to God in baptism, we are called to help others be joined to God (2 Cor 5:17-21). In reality, all people are already joined to God, even though they may not realize it. Even in small, unnoticeable ways, all people bear the image of their Creator (Gen 1:26). Our mission becomes to help people wake up to their preexistent connection to a God that loves them (Rom 8:38-39). Every thought and action should start with a purpose or mission. Every thought and action should find its origin in God’s mission. God’s mission and purpose is best observed in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.
Chapter 2 – Word and Sacrament
The words that we share with all people are rooted in the Word, Jesus Christ (John 1:1-2). The message that we preach to people is Jesus, the Living Word. The actions that accompany this message are baptism and Eucharist, the means of grace. These are the tangible signs of God’s proximity to all people. In baptism and Eucharist, we enter into the pattern of Jesus’ life (Mark 1:9-11, 14:22-25). Word and Sacrament are the center of our assembling together. They are the elements necessary to make us church.
Chapter 3 – Neighbor Ethic Because we are Christian, following Christ in word and deed, living out our baptismal vocations as citizens under God’s reign (Eph 2:19-20), we are bound by a neighbor ethic. That neighbor ethic says that we should always seek that which is best for our neighbor, just like Jesus taught and did (John 13:34-35). We show our love for God by loving our neighbors (Matt 22:37-40). “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). This ethic is the central concern of all missional living. Other ideologies like consumerism, colonialism, nationalism, sexism, and racism run counter to this ethic. To have a neighbor ethic is to genuinely wants the best for your neighbor. Either Jesus is King, and what’s best for our neighbor matters. Or the Emperor is King, and what’s best for yourself is all that matters. All people are our neighbor, especially those whom we might find most offensive (Luke 10:25-37). You can’t force anyone into having a relationship with God.
Chapter 4 – Your Wellbeing You will not get rich off of living a missional life. Nor should you endeavor to try to get rich by serving God’s mission. However, you should look out for your own wellbeing. Try to live a simple life, not acquiring an endless amount of possessions. Stay away from debt and predatory lenders. Advocate for a comfortable salary, benefits, and retirement. Be generous with your income, sharing with those who have need. Invest some of your income for the future. Try to maintain healthy boundaries in your ministry. Do not sacrifice the wellbeing of you or your family for the purpose of ministry. Your life does not belong to the church, or other people. It belongs to God and God wants you to be well.
Chapter 5 – Conclusion and Blessing “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:1-2). Living a missional life is above all about living in love. Love is the highest ideal and who God is (1 John 4:8). Glory to the Triune God, who was, is, and is to come. Amen.
One of my seminary professors recently asked this question. What a fertile question. It gives us a chance to consider the needs of the world. What is the status of our world these days? Where are there hatred, violence, and chaos? Where are there famine, disease, and scarcity? Where are there hopelessness, illiteracy, and neglect?
Our world is filled with these things. Some of them are right under our local noses. Surprisingly you don’t have to drive far to encounter some of these needs. So what kind of church is needed to face the needs of our world?
I think you could say lots of things. You could go lots of different directions and still answer this question in a satisfactory way.
The world needs a church that is loving, so loving that it sees every living thing as part of God’s holistic creation and takes every chance to embody God’s love for the cosmos.
The world needs a church that is adaptive, ready to abandon the old, tired ways of organizational thinking for new ways that bring life and vitality.
The world needs a church that is Christ-centered, focused on the words and ministry of Jesus and how they can bring transformation to our world today.
The world needs a church that is compassionate, never using our status or position in the world to bring harm, but only to bring healing to those who are over-looked.
The world needs a church that is self-sacrificing, willing to give away property, buildings, and money so that others can be better off than they were before.
The list goes on and on. I hope you have your own way of answering the question, because it is an important one. Because really, the question is not about the church, the question is about you and I. What kind of person does this world need? How do I live my life more faithfully for the sake of the world?
My heart always goes back to the sacraments and the assembly. So my answer would be: “The world needs a church that continually gathers around God’s story and table, and then embodies that story and food for the life of the world.” I think telling a better story and sharing food is what the world needs from us the most.
Vacation – Kate and I traveled to Calgary in Alberta, Canada during the month of June. We had a really wonderful trip. It was the perfect vacation for us. It had a really careful balance of hiking and getting lots of exercise, watching lots of TV, trying out the local food, and seeing the incomparable Banff National Park. There is not another place on earth like this. The weather was cool and we kept our jackets on most of the trip. One of the things that make a vacation complete for me is disconnecting from email. I was able to unplug my brain from all the normal things that grab my focus on a day to day basis.
Seminary – I completed my first year of school at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, IA. I am pursuing a Master of Divinity degree and am in candidacy for rostered Word and Sacrament ministry in the ELCA. I am not taking classes over the summer, which creates a nice break. My second year of school begins in September. This fall I’ll be taking courses in Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), Lutheran Confessions, 21st century leadership, and youth and family. One of the things that I am making a plan for is CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). This requirement gives me about 400 hours of education and clinical work as a chaplain providing spiritual care for those in need. With my current trajectory, I should enter the internship phase of my training in February 2019. One of the brilliant things about the Collaborative Learning program that Wartburg offers is that I will be able to fulfill my internship right where I am at Faith in Bellaire.
Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great:
He was revealed in flesh,
vindicated in spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed in throughout the world,
taken up in glory.
This short, hymnic verse comes from the Pastoral Epistles. “Since antiquity, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus have been understood as a unit, because their vocabulary, writing style, and concerns are so similar.” These letters were likely written in the late first century, not by Paul, but by authors who respected Paul as an authoritative figure in church doctrine.
The third chapter of 1 Timothy also includes instructions on the qualification of church leaders. Specifically, bishops and deacons are mentioned as needing to be strong in faith and devoted to their families. “The emphasis on virtues rather than duties for leaders no doubt proved valuable to generations of church leaders who followed in different contexts and circumstances.”
The Pastoral Epistles were written to church communities under duress. Persecution was spreading as the Roman Empire cracked down on the spreading religion. This was “an inevitable consequence of adopting a faith that is at odds with the ways of the world.” Another threat to the growing Christian movement was false teaching and harmful doctrine. The Pastoral Epistles ring the notes of holding to the one true faith.
Perhaps that is the origin of this short, hymnic verse. It has an almost creedal tone as it defines the movements of Christ’s incarnation:
God was revealed in human flesh as Jesus (John 1:1)
Jesus was justified by the Spirit (another way of translating that phrase); the Holy Spirit was present in Jesus’ ministry, most notably alighting on Jesus at his baptism (Mark 1:10, Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:22, John 1:33)
Jesus was seen by angels; perhaps a reference to the temptation (Mark 1:13), or the resurrection (Mark 16:5, Matthew 28:2), or his ascension into heaven (Acts 1:9-11)
The good news of Jesus was shared not only with the people of Israel, but with the whole world (Acts 2:1-47)
The message continued to spread ever wider, and was taken up in glory; this could refer to Jesus’ ascension, or Jesus’ glorification at the crucifixion (John 12:32-33), or could be relating to the suffering of the Christian community amidst persecution (following Jesus in the same manner of death)
If this verse is a hymn or creed fragment, perhaps it was used in the catechetical instruction of new believers. The term mystagogy is used to describe the final period of training that catechumens receive in their preparation for baptism. Indeed, the mystery of our faith is still being unveiled even as we sing and pray today.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
This hymn to Christ paints a vivid portrait of the divine nature of Jesus. The first half of the hymn (vs. 15-17) recounts Christ’s role in creation. Jesus is with God the Father before creation began. Although he is the firstborn of all creation, Jesus is more than a mere creature. Jesus’ activity in the creation of the world is in equal part with the Father’s activity. All other creatures come into existence through Jesus. Jesus is the divine substance holding all creation in union, keeping the cosmos from tipping out of balance toward destruction.
The second half of the hymn (vs. 18-20) describes Christ’s role in redemption. Jesus is the head of the church. He is not only the firstborn of all creation, but in the resurrection Jesus becomes the firstborn of the dead. The fullness of who God is dwells in Jesus. The last phrase echoes the words of 2 Corinthians 5:19, “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them….”
The origins of this hymn are unclear. One commentator suggests that the hymn original was broken up into different strophes, perhaps something like this:
who is the image of the invisible God
the firstborn of all creation,
for in him were created all things
in heaven and on earth
things visible and invisible
[whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers]—addition (i)
Transitional Strophe II
all things were created through him and for him
and he himself is before all things
and all things hold together in him
and he himself is the head of the body [the church]—addition (ii)
who is the beginning
the firstborn from the dead
[so that he himself might have preeminence in all things]—addition (iii)
for in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace through him
[through the blood of his cross]—addition (iv) after “making peace”
whether things on earth or things in heaven
This possible configuration of the hymn makes the case that there were additions made to the original material. These additions elaborated ideas that the author of the letter wanted to emphasize and gave it the Christological identity that it has.
Several possible sources for the hymn have been suggested. One suggestion is that it is a composition produced from the Gnostic community, in light of the fact that if the additional statements are removed there is no reference to any Christian content. Another suggestion is that it is a reference to Jewish interpretation of Genesis 1:1. A third suggestion is that is comes from the Wisdom tradition in Hellenistic Judaism, using the personification of Wisdom found in Proverbs 8 as the model for Jesus’ role in creation.
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This passage, known as the “Christ Hymn,” is one of the most well-known parts of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It casts a vision of the fullness of Jesus’ identity. We hear the juxtaposition of Jesus’ humanity and deity. This hymn calls us to imagine the heights of his glory and the depths that he stooped down to in the incarnation.
An introduction to the book and structure of the letter to the Philippians:
It is significant that these are not just words, but lyrics. Paul was quoting an artistic representation of the person and work of the crucified and risen Christ. The use of hymns was not uncommon in early Christian worship, or in the surround culture.
“That the early Christians sang hymns is no surprise, for in addition to sharing a common meal and offering sacrifices, libations, and prayers to a deity, singing a hymn to honor and worship that particular god was common practice for ancient Mediterranean religious groups. To sing a hymn to a god or to a supremely powerful king or ruler was considered an act of worship, a way of bestowing respect and benefactions upon one whose powerful acts were worthy of divine honors.”
It is possible the text of the Christ Hymn was used in another way in worship, perhaps as a creedal statement or responsorial reading. The origin of the lyrics is also unknown. Paul could have written it. It could have been previously composed by another author and already widely disseminated amongst the early Christian communities. Or perhaps it was not well known and Paul was attempting to promote the hymn and advocate for its adoption in the church’s assemblies.
The text for the hymn makes several major theological points. First, it testifies to the preexistence of Christ (vs. 6 “he was in the form of God”). This idea is affirmed in the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ…of one Being with the Father.” Jesus, the eternal Word of the Father, “was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). This theological concept has Jewish roots in the preexistent figure of divine Wisdom found in Proverbs 1:20-33, 8-9, Wisdom 7:22-10:21, and Sirach 24.
Second, the hymn points to a contrast between the first and second Adam’s choices. The first Adam was created in the image of God but desired to be higher through eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In turn he was brought lower, forced to work the soil for survival, and banished from the garden (Genesis 2:15-3:24). The second Adam (Jesus, Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49) was created in the form of God yet willingly went lower into a human form that was subjected to suffering and death. In turn he became exalted to the highest place through his humility.
Third, Christ’s humility to the point of death reframes another Jewish source, the suffering servant found in the prophet Isaiah (53:12). The bending of knees and the confession of tongues at the exaltation of Jesus is also a quotation from Isaiah (45:22-23). This hymn would have been a word exhortation to the community at Philippi. “If the one in the ‘form of God’ could humbly abdicate the dignity of his original status so as to suffer in order to show love for humankind, can the Philippians refrain from following his conduct?”
“Let the Same Mind Be In You” is a musical setting of this passage that I wrote/recorded:
The church has always been a singing church. Song was tied to the life of the church from the very beginning. This is largely because of the rich heritage of our Jewish ancestors. Since the time of David music has been inextricably linked to worship. In his time he wedded the use of instruments and singing to the temple’s worship offerings (1 Chronicles 25:1-8).
The singing tradition of Judaism was carried forward when the disciples gathered for Passover. Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, joined his disciples for a meal and concluded with singing (Mark 14:26, Matthew 26:30).
The writer of Luke’s gospel chose song as the vehicle for Mary (Luke 1:46-55), Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79), Simeon (Luke 2:29-32), and the angels (Luke 2:14) to express their exuberance at the incarnation.
Paul and Silas lifted their voices in song and were miraculously liberated from their prison (Acts 16:25-34).
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God” (Colossians 3:16). Song was a sign of thanksgiving. The church was encouraged to continue the use of the Psalter from the Old Testament, as well as sing new hymns composed to the crucified and risen Lord. “Spiritual songs” are believed to be short, repetitive, spontaneously composed pieces of music that flowed out of dwelling in the Lord’s presence.
Some of the lyrics to the hymns of the early church have survived. How do we know they were hymns? “Most biblical scholars use the method of form criticism—looking for clues that suggest a biblical passage had an earlier use than its current literary location—to locate hymns that have found their way into the New Testament compositions. These include: parallel statements, vocabulary that is distinctive to the author, the frequent use of pronouns, and elevated prose. If one uses these critical criteria, one will likely conclude that such passages as Phil 2:5-11, Col 1:15-20, 1Tim 3:16, Heb 1:1-3, and 1Pet 2:21-25 may very well have had earlier literary lives as actual hymns sung by early Christian communities.” Much similar to today, these hymns strengthened the faith of believers, provided instruction, and helped to unite the hearts of all those gathered.
It is significant that we only have the lyrics to these hymns and not the musical notation. Similarly, the music that accompanied the Psalms has not survived. I believe that is by divine design. I can imagine that if ancient musical notation had survived, it would be a divisive issue among churches (not that we struggle in creating divisions around music). Churches would be labeled as those that use the correct music and those that do not. The notation would be idolized and placed on a pedestal. Churches and their musicians would continually reference backward to the original music, making sure they were in line with the performance practice and style of the original.
Instead we have freedom. The church has wide-open spaces to explore the creativity that God has endowed us with. The church is freed to translate music into the sounds of the surrounding culture. The church sings a million different songs in a million different contexts. In this God frees us to not be confined to the past, but to express our hearts in the way that is best suited for when and where we are.
To begin, here is a brief refresher on the narrative of the first 12 chapters of the book of Acts:
The Christian movement began as a sect of Judaism. The first disciples were Jews. There was not a neat, clean break between the Jewish faith and the new thing God was doing among first century Jesus followers. The laws and rituals that guided the Jewish faith were expressions of holiness, intended to set Israel apart for God’s purposes, to be different from the rest of the world. As the church slowly branched off from its Judaic origins all of these preexisting conceptions of God and spiritual practice had to be reckoned with.
One of these conceptions was dietary law. Leviticus 11, “establishes dietary laws for the Israelites, specifying which animals can be eaten by them and which cannot be eaten. It is difficult to discern the reasoning behind the distinctions. For instance, clean land animals are those that have divided hoofs, chew the cud, and are cleft-footed. Any animal that meets only two of these three criteria is unclean (11:1-8). Scholars speculate that in the priestly mind-set, animals of each distinct group (land animals, fish, birds, insects) must exhibit certain characteristics emblematic of that group. For instance, a fish must have fins and scales in order to be ‘clean.’ Those water animals that do not have fins and scales (like crustaceans) are ‘unclean’ (that is, they do not fit within their category) and are therefore unlawful to be eaten (11:9-12)” (Enter the Bible, http://www.enterthebible.org/oldtestament.aspx?rid=23).
In Acts 10, Peter has an episode that causes him to throw out the window all of his preconceived ideas about the dietary laws found in Leviticus 11. Here is a dramatized version of the story:
The work of new creation begins with transformed minds. God sets into the recreation of all things after the resurrection by changing Peter’s mind about what is clean and what is not. The restrictions and condemnation that had been handed down through the people of Israel from ages before were being lifted. Only the Creator can declare what is unclean, and God was telling Peter that things are different now.
How is God doing both a new thing and continuing an old thing in the meeting of Peter and Cornelius from Acts 10? My interpretation has to do with a small detail from the story: three visitors arrive for Peter (Acts 10:7, 19). This harkens back to an old story that contained a promise that was made. In Genesis 18, three visitors who predict the birth of a son visit Abraham and Sarah in their old age. That son would be the realization of the covenant God made with Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation…so that you will be a blessing…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).
The narrative of Acts tells of the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham. Through Jesus, centuries later, all the families of the earth are finally able to be welcomed as brothers and sisters into the people of God. The veil of who was clean and who was unclean was also being lifted. The inclusivity of God’s love was breaking free from the laws that restricted it to one nation.