Andrew Jones: 'Mighty to Save' and other worship songs that annoy me

From Tall Skinny Kiwi:

The line that bugs me is this one:

“Saviour, he can move the mountains”

It’s not that the statement is untrue because actually, God can do whatever he wants, including the relocation of mountains. It’s just that the particular idea of moving mountains, which occurs most strongly in Isaiah, the minor prophets and later in the Gospels, is almost exclusively in relation to people moving mountains and not God. Jesus told his disciples that they could move mountains. The Isaiah passage [Remember Godspell’s “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord”], as Jesus enlightens us, was in reference to John the Baptist who would level the mountains and fill the valleys. 

Mountain moving is the job of God’s people!

Yes, our Saviour could move the mountains if he wanted to, but he has commissioned us to move them so let’s get on with it, not in our own might or by human power, but by God’s Spirit (Zech 4:6-7)

The idea behind this lyric, in my opinion, is the same lazy “let go and let God” philosophy that inoculates the people of God from doing anything practical or hands-on because we assume if we just sit back and sing some more songs then God, who is somehow energized by our inaction, will stand up, bare his almighty arm and get things done.

The Bible’s Hymnal

ELW PsalmsThe Psalms are often overlooked and neglected. They have historically been an essential component in the liturgy of the people of God across the Testaments. I recently decided to reinstate the chanting of the Psalms in our assembly with the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is a very appropriate time to commit to the Psalms, especially because the content of the assigned Psalms captures the mood of the season so well. There are many good reasons for including the Psalms in our liturgy, and I’ll start with three.

The Psalms are the Bible’s hymnal. Literally, the Psalms are a collection of 150 poems that are intended for singing. These poems were written and compiled across the centuries before Jesus was born. The Psalms are the hymns of Israel. They are the songs of faith that have sustained God’s people for thousands of years. The use of Psalms in worship can be traced all the way back to the dedication of the first Temple in Jerusalem (957 BC, 2 Chronicles 7:3). Even earlier, Moses’ song of praise at the deliverance of Israel in Exodus 15 is the archetype for the Psalms. Typically the Psalms are used in Christian worship as a response after the first reading from the Old Testament. When we sing the Psalms we are connecting our voice to millions of ancestors in the faith. They sang the very same words to God that we do.

There is a healthy spectrum of human emotion expressed to God in the Psalms. The Psalms teach us that God is big and loving enough to handle any human emotion that can be thrown God’s way. The Psalms contain some of the highest praises as well as some of the darkest emotions. The Psalms demonstrate to us that we can laugh, scream, and sob our prayers to God – and God finds them all acceptable. Psalm 136:1 declares with gladness, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever.” By the next chapter, Psalm 137:1 despairingly states, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.” Each Psalm can be divided into different categories: Royal Psalms (songs from the king, who idealizes himself as the entire nation of Israel), Songs of Thanksgiving (individual or national thanksgivings for God’s deeds), Laments (individual or corporate cries of lament), and Didactic Psalms (that teach or try to influence people).

Jesus sang the Psalms. The practice of singing in Christian worship is deeply influenced by the singing of Psalms by the Hebrew people. Paul encouraged the faithful to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God” (Colossians 3:16). Jesus, as a person shaped by the Jewish faith, would have relied on the Psalms in his own prayer life. We have a record of this in Matthew 27:46, at the time of Jesus’ death. From the cross Jesus cried out the words of Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The words of Psalm 22 were the heart response of Jesus in his moment of sacrifice. But Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 22 was also a prophetic fulfillment of God’s redemption made available through Jesus: “future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn—for he has done it” (Psalm 22:30-31).

Worship Through the Bible

I started a new learning group at church this last Sunday. I called it “Worship Through the Bible.” It is a combination of biblical survey and worship study. I want to dig into the bible and discuss how it informs and shapes our worship, both personally and corporately as the church.

I opened the first class by writing “WORSHIP” on the board and inviting everyone to say what comes to mind when they hear the word. Here was the result of that discussion:

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It was great dialogue and you can see some of the direction it went. I took several diversions into instructing on ideas raised (such as the fourfold model and liturgical space). I might try to record next weeks class and post it as a podcast for anyone interested.

Isaiah 6 for Kids

Every week I get to sing songs and tell Bible stories with the kids at Faith Lutheran Day School for their chapel service. It is a highlight of my week. Here is a story I did on Isaiah 6, retold so that preschoolers can understand:

Today we are going to learn about a person from the Bible. His name was Isaiah!

Isaiah lived a long time ago, even before Jesus was born. Isaiah was a prophet. A prophet is someone who is sent by God to tell God’s people where they need to listen to God.

God had a special plan for Isaiah – he wanted to use Isaiah to tell God’s people an important message. God met Isaiah in a very special way to give him the message.


111113_cavalliniIsaiah saw God sitting up very high on a throne. God had a robe that filled up the room. Isaiah saw angels flying over God. These angels had six wings. Two of the wings covered their faces (cover faces) – two of the wings covered their feet (cover feet) – two of the wings were flapping as they flew in the air (flap wings).

The angels were talking to each other! They said – “Holy, holy, holy is God! The whole world is filled up with his glory!”

Then Isaiah heard thunder and saw smoke. Isaiah became afraid! He thought he was goner. Isaiah said, “I am not good enough to see God, but I can see him here, the King of the heavens!”

While Isaiah was still trembling in fear, one of the angels came down to talk to him. The angel had a hot piece of fire in his hands, holding it with tongs. The angel took the fire and touched Isaiah’s mouth with it. The angel said to Isaiah, “You don’t have to be afraid anymore, your sin is taken away.”

Then God spoke. God said, “I need someone to go tell my people a very important message. Who will go for me?” And Isaiah shouted, “Me! Me! Me! Here I am! Send me!” And Isaiah went and told God’s people the important message.

God wants to use us just like he used Isaiah. God has a special message that he wants everyone to hear. God wants everyone to know that Jesus loves them. And you and I can go tell people that Jesus loves them. Can you tell people that Jesus loves them? Good – lets pray:

Dear God, thank you for Isaiah, thank you for your angels, thank you for your love. Help me share, the love of Jesus, with everyone I see. Amen.

Worship Does God's Story

(from the August 2011 Mountain Mover Newsletter at Faith Lutheran Church)

Every time the church gathers together for worship it does God’s story. God’s story is that epic narrative that we can see unfolding throughout the Bible. When we step back and look at the big picture that the total Bible paints we can see a three-part story unfold. The three parts are creation, incarnation, and re-creation. Every time we gather for worship at Faith we do God’s story.

The story of God begins at the story of creation. God, existing as a Triune community, created human beings to participate in the community of God. Unfortunately the idyllic community didn’t last forever and corruption and evil entered the picture. But God sets in motion the plan to redeem and fix everything that went wrong. Out of the desolation of the desert the line of Abraham is established to begin the process of bringing back the peace once found in the Garden. God kick-starts the plan of redemption.

The incarnation of God is witnessed in the person of Jesus. Jesus was God’s response after centuries of being nothing more to us than what we thought God should be: angry, insecure, and the vengeance-seeking tyrant we would be if we were God. In Jesus, God’s loving desire to really be known overflowed the heavens and was made manifest among us. Jesus’ humble mission was to become the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. God comes to us and accomplishes for us what we cannot do ourselves: salvation.

Re-creation is what the Holy Spirit brings about through the work of Jesus. Re-creation is the work of salvation healing all the broken areas of our lives. Re-creation is the new life we find as people born of water and the Spirit. Re-creation is the Jesus-garment that we put on when we become new creatures. Re-creation is the power of God to redeem everyone and everything. Re-creation is a new heaven and a new earth, where sorrows find their end and Jesus is the only light we need. Re-creation is the Garden restored.

The story of God is the story that our worship does. How? Every time we lift our corporate prayers we acknowledge God as the Creator of every good and perfect gift. Every time we invoke the name of the Holy Trinity we recognize that God was before creation came to be. When we bring our gifts and offerings to God we realize that as the Creator, everything is already God’s. That is how our worship remembers creation. Every time the Word of God is read and the Gospel of peace is proclaimed we hear Jesus. Every time the bread and wine are shared at the Table God’s love is experienced anew in the community of his Body. That is how our worship remembers and experiences incarnation. Every time we prepare for the meal and hear the words “until he comes again” we anticipate the feast to come. When we share the peace we experience the reconciliation that comes from being new creatures. Every time we celebrate at the baptismal font we are connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus that brings us new life. That is how our worship experiences and anticipates re-creation. When you step through the doors on Sunday remember that we are doing God’s story!

Recap from "Exploring the Future Church" Session 4

Several of us had a great time reflecting on the question,“What does it mean to be a church community?” on Wednesday night. You can download the handout that guided our discussion so you can follow along: Session 4 Handout

Big Takeaway from Session 4: We dove into some biblical and theological explanations of what the “church” is. The church is the creation of the Holy Spirit. No one really decides for themselves to become a part of the church. The Spirit of God is always drawing people into community first. The church’s model for community comes from the Trinity. The Trinity is our model for a relational, organic community of interconnected, mutually submissive relationships. The mission of the church is wrapped up in the narrative story of a Three-in-One (communal) God that is re-creating everything into a new and perfect community.
We also completed a comparison of how three different churches handle their membership practices. Several values and practices are beginning to emerge in defining how Theophilus might help people belong to our community:
  1. It might be helpful for new Grace Groups to be created around new “members.”
  2. A process for discerning whether “membership” is where God is leading someone might be a helpful thing to offer (but without a specific time frame expected for completion).
  3. If a process for discernment is suggested, it would be helpful if the steps are easy to understand and communicated well.
  4. It seems that regardless of people’s “membership” status, everyone should feel welcomed and encouraged to participate (with no guilt attached for not becoming a “member”).

 

Message from 5/22/11 (Stoning of St. Stephen)

Here is the video from Sunday’s message at Theophilus. Marcus and I had a great time “tag-teaming” the message.

We each had enough material to preach our own individual messages, so I left a couple of points out due to lack of time. Here they are:

  • If you’re going to follow Jesus, you might have to follow Jesus (even to death). Is it possible that I could be killed for my faith? Or one of you? I don’t know. The point is this: If we claim to be followers of a Savior who was crucified, should we expect any different? The question is, will we allow our own crosses and our own martyrdoms to be an opportunity to imitate Jesus, his compassion and mercy?
  • (Hat-Tip to Peter Rollins for this point, taken from his blog post)
    Anecdote – “One evening a guy is driving home after a long and tiring day at work and gets a call from his concerned wife, “Dear, be careful on the way home as I just heard on the news that some crazy guy has been spotted going full speed the wrong way up the freeway” The husband says, “Sorry honey, can’t talk right now… there isn’t just one crazy guy, there are hundreds of them!!!”

    This is funny, but this is the situation the Jewish mob that murders Stephen find themselves in. They don’t even consider that they may be wrong. This situation is sadly all too common. Now look at this story in your own life – put yourself in the shoes of the angry mob. How do we encounter people with different political, religious, and cultural values to our own? When we’re confronted with someone who thinks differently than us, how do we respond? Most people respond in 1 of 2 ways: (A) Consumption – attempting to neutralize the difference by changing them to our way of thinking (making them like us), or (B) Rejection – rejecting them from our group as a foreign agent that must be expelled (protecting the integrity of our group).

    But there is a better option. The better option is Communion. Communion can be described as eating with the other who thinks differently. Here the community seeks to sit down with the other and seek out places of convergence. Communion is saying there are places where we are both right, lets see where those places are, and move forward together.

    To be in Communion with someone means we put ourselves in the other’s shoes, we look at the situation through their eyes. This is an alternative type of encounter with people who are different than us. And it’s what Jesus came to show us. Jesus came to show us that there is a different way to treat people. We don’t have to change them and we don’t have to reject them. God can save us as we are, whether right or wrong.

What if God is not who we thought?

Excerpt from Easter sermon by Nadia Bolz-Weber:

Once upon a time, the God of the Universe was basically fed up with being on the receiving end of all our human projections, tired of being nothing more to us than what we thought God should be: angry, show-offy, defensive, insecure, in short, the vengeance-seeking tyrant we would be if we were God. So, at that time, over 2,000 years ago, God’s Loving Desire to really be Known overflowed the heavens and was made manifest in the rapidly dividing cells within the womb of an insignificant peasant girl named Mary. And when the time came for her to give birth to God, there was no room in our expectations – no room in any impressive or spiffy or safe place. So this God was born in straw and dirt. He grew up, this Jesus of Nazareth, lefthis home, and found some, let’s be honest,  rather unimpressive characters to follow him.  Fishermen, Tax collectors, prostitutes, homeless women with no teeth, people from Commerce City, Ann Coulter and Charlie Sheen.  If you think I’m kidding…read it for yourselves.  These people were questionable. So, with his little band of misfits Jesus went about the countryside turning water to wine, eating with all the wrong people, angering the religious establishment and insisting that in him the kingdom of God had come near, that through him the world according to God was coming right to us.  He touched the unclean and used spit and dirt to heal the blind and said crazy destabilizing things like the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and sell all you have and give it to the poor.

And the thing that really cooked people’s noodles wasn’t the question “is Jesus like God” it was “what if God is like Jesus”.  What if God is not who we thought?  What if the most reliable way to know God is not through religion, not through a sin and punishment program, but through a person. What if the most reliable way to know God is to look at how God chose to reveal God’s self in Jesus?

 

Holy Week 2011 – Maundy Thursday

The texts assigned in the Revised Common Lectionary for Maundy Thursday of Holy Week are Exodus 12:1-14 (instructions for observing Passover), Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 (I will lift up the cup of salvation), 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (Jesus on the night betrayed took bread…cup….), and John 13:1-17, 21b-35 (Jesus eats the Passover with the disciples).

Traditionally, Maundy Thursday liturgies contain a ceremony where congregants wash each others feet, just like Jesus did at the last supper. And so,

A Summative Theology of Feet

  • Genesis 18:4 – Abraham encounters the Lord in the form of a trinitarian/angelic appearance at the oaks of Mamre. Abraham bids them to stop and, “Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet.”
  • Exodus 3:5 – Moses encounters the Lord in a burning bush. Moses is told by God, “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.” The experience of God was transmitted through the toes.
  • Psalm 119:105“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.”
  • Luke 7:38 – Jesus is encountered by a questionable woman while eating dinner. She proceeds to caress his feet with a mixture of her own desperate tears, expensive perfume, her own hair, and the saliva from her kisses. A cultural no-no? You better believe it. Jesus uses the opportunity to teach them about forgiveness. He ends by saying to her, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
  • John 13:4-5 – Jesus wishes to demonstrate a sacrificial relationship to his disciples. He wants them to get a mental image of the upside-down character of the economy of God’s Kingdom. He serves his followers by washing their feet.
  • John 19:18 – After Jesus was sentenced to death, “they nailed him to the cross.” Tapered spikes were hammered through his feet, piercing skin, tendons, and bone through to the rough wood of the cross.
  • Matthew 28:9 – On the first Easter Sunday, after the women were visited by an angel that told them what happened to Jesus, they take off running to find the other disciples. They are greeted by Jesus, alive and well. It says that the women, “ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him.”
  • Romans 10:15/Isaiah 52:7“How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” The proclamation of God’s Kingdom is so good that even the dirty feet that bring it are exquisite.