The Grace Given to Each of Us

 

My job is to make clear to everyone just what the secret plan is, the purpose that’s been hidden from the very beginning of the world in God who created all things. This is it: that God’s wisdom, in all its rich variety, was to be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places – through the church.” The Apostle Paul, Ephesian 3: 9 & 10

 

This weekend is our church’s 150th anniversary of the chapel. The church: St. Mark’s, named after the Evangelist.

St. Mark, the Evangelist

The Anniversary booklet states,

St. Mark’s origins go back to the earliest days of Geneva, around 1830, when Episcopal services were held in a log house belonging to Mrs. Charity Herrirngton, which stood at what is now State Street near River Lane. These were the first religious services held in Geneva [IL].

And this,

Early in 1868 plans were drawn and a contractor selected to erect a church in the Gothic style, built of local riverstone with limestone sills and hood moldings, to seat 250….

There is much more of St. Mark’s history to recount. But here, I’ll share my St. Mark’s experience and the photos I shot today after the 8:00 service.

 

I came to St. Mark’s after moving into the area. At the same time, I was moving away from attending Bible churches. Raised in Evangelical churches and then attending them for years as an adult, I became desirous of a higher church setting, one that honored the beauty of words, of music, of architecture and the sacred. The Bible churches and many others, it seemed to me, were becoming more and more like the surrounding culture in their desire to be relevant.

I like Anglicanism’s emphasis on the Word and Sacrament along with the informing elements of tradition (the practices of the historical church) and reason (involving the intellectual). I like how the liturgy (worship hymns, reading of Scripture, offering, sermon, confession, the Creed, the Peace) points to the apex of the service – the Eucharist. In the churches I attended previously the service is centered around Scripturally illiterate sermons.

The words of The Book of Common Prayer have a stately beauty and sacredness to them. The wording should be so. We are petitioning royalty. Who in turn, points me to the Eucharist — the REAL Presence of Jesus Christ offered to me each week. It is the main reason I attend St. Mark’s.

The church has been a tremendous blessing to me over the almost eleven years I have attended. And, that is why I also must mention the many good people of St. Marks. They have been generous with their grace towards me. What they have received they have passed on to me.

One last word. I have spent many a time alone in St. Mark’s Chapel. This occurs during the Good Friday night vigil. I sign up for an hour alone before the cross, keeping watch. As such, it is a sacred time at 4:00 am. It is my time to come away and meditate on the cross. I come away from the chapel with a gift of grace, given to me “according to the measure the king used when he was distributing gifts. That’s why it says…

When he went up on high

He led bondage itself into bondage

And he gave gifts to people.

(Ephesians 4:7 & 8)

 

St. Marks’ is a gift of grace to me. Rulers and authorities would be wise to take note.

Pentecost mural by Louis Frederick Grell (1919)

Burning Bush

 

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Imagine 150 years of marriages and baptisms and confirmations and funerals and friendships and giving, and the Eucharist, and witness for Christ to the community. Imagine the Kingdom Continuum.

“We’re On A Mission From God”

Lent may be a good time for this discourse…

“If you live today, you breath in nihilism … it’s the gas you breathe. If I hadn’t had the Church to fight it with or to tell me the necessity of fighting it, I would be the stinkingest logical positivist you ever saw right now.”
― Flannery O’Connor

I have not read Dr. Thomas Howard’s book “Evangelical is not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament.” A Goodreads description about the book piqued my interest.

After reading the brief synopsis and a thread of comments about the book, I would have to say that I have perhaps made a similar journey away from formal Evangelicalism. My reasons may be similar to Howard’s, but, as mentioned, I haven’t read his book.

My own journey began with seeking wisdom and authentic Christianity. In my thirties I would find a wellspring of wisdom and a dose of ‘real’ Christianity from reading the works of Saint Teresa of Avila and some of the church fathers.

In 1984 I came across “A Life of Prayer” by St. Teresa of Avila. The book, the abridged edition out of Multnomah Press copyright 1983, was one in a series of “Classics of Faith and Devotion.”

The preface, written by Dr. James Houston a University Lecturer at Oxford University and later Chancellor of Regent College, notes that “The goal for the reader of these books is not to seek information. Instead, these volumes teach one about living wisely…Nor are these books “how-to” kits or texts…They guide us to “be” authentic, and not necessarily help us to promote more professional activities.” But I am ahead of myself.

“You have to quit confusing a madness with a mission.”
― Flannery O’Connor

I would like to share some of my journey, a condensed version, from formal Evangelicalism to Anglicanism with you. Where to begin? I’ll start like many of those who commented on Howard’s book: I was born and raised in an Evangelical Christian home.

While my parents were attending Moody Bible Institute as married students I was born. Voilà! Orbiting in such a universe my life rotated around daily Scripture reading, teaching and preaching. The ‘Word’ was heard it everywhere in my world – our small apartments.

The Word resounded from a tiny Zenith radio tuned to MBI’s flagship station WMBI. My mother had the radio tuned in and turned on every day while she worked around the house, prepared meals and changed you know who.

My earliest remembrances of the WMBI were of Aunt Theresa Worman and the KYB club (Know Your Bible Club). Through this and many other radio programs I would became bathed in Sola Scriptura at a very early age.

Later, along with my younger siblings, all of us sitting around the dinner table, my mother would read a chapter out of the book of Proverbs after each meal. And, often a missionary story as well. I also memorized tons of Scripture for Sunday School memorization contests.

With such an influx of spiritual truth each of us kids would become instilled with a desire to become missionaries or pastors or ministry involved from our earliest ages. For me, as I would later surmise, seeking wisdom, knowledge and a good understanding would be my life’s journey. I had to have the Truth – REALITY – and the discernment to know the Truth when I found it. I prayed for wisdom, knowledge and a good understanding every day.

Like my parents before me I attended Moody Bible Institute, in the ‘70s. I mainly studied Christian Education, music (I play the trumpet), Old and New Testament Scriptures and Koine (New Testament) Greek.

In my required first Personal Evangelism course I was taught that Catholicism was a cult just as Jehovah’s Witness and Mormonism are cults. It would be years before I eradicated that thinking from my head. In the mean time, though, I felt pretty proud of myself being an in the ‘know’ “Protestant.” I found out later that this smugness was a two-way street.

“Smugness is the Great Catholic Sin.”
― Flannery O’Connor

Now, after all of the jumbled background I’ve laid out here, let’s get back to the reason I ‘switched’ turf. Reading would play an important role in my ‘change.’

St. Teresa, a Catholic, wrote mainly about prayer and the inner life with God. Her work is filled with imagery, primarily three images:

There is the Journey or Pilgrimage of the soul: the coming home to the Truth, to the Presence.

There is the image of the Castle representing the wholeness of the soul where “His Majesty” dwells. As James M. Houston’s Editor’s Note points out: “For it is God’s presence within the soul of man that gives it such spaciousness and delight. How contrastive is Kafka’s Castle with its fearful absence of the landlord depicting not only the absence of the earthly father of the novelist, but also Kafka’s alienation from God.”
The soul St. Teresa depicts “is the domicile of His majesty.”

Water is the third image. Here Teresa refers to prayer. She will talk about water’s scarcity during the journey and water from a deep well of meditation, water as a conduit or viaduct poured into us as joy or as fresh rain, replenishing the parched soul.

Another image, one that I use often in prayer, is the garden of the soul. I’ll talk about this more in another post.

To put it mildly, back in the day, I wasn’t hearing anything like the above from the preachers or from the ‘Christian’ radio or from…Christians. What I was hearing, every single Sunday in E-Free (The Evangelical Free church) was that if you wanted to trust Jesus as your Savior or if you wanted to rededicate your life for the umptee-umph time to the Lord then raise your hand, walk down the aisle and kneel.

It seemed to me that people just wanted to relive their rebirth experience, perhaps vicariously through someone else. But, please don’t ask those in attendance to drink or eat anything but milk. The meat of the word was left on the side. After many years of this diet I hungered for more solid food.

And what I hungered for was the Eucharist. Not all the parading up and down the aisles.

The Evangelical Free church (E-Free Church) I attended would ‘celebrate’ communion once a month, like an after thought, like something you put on the calendar and can’t forget to do. Saving souls, replaying the salvation message tape over and over again every Sunday, selling hell fire insurance and eternal life real estate was the bottom line. That, and making ever bigger buildings to house wider aisles to accommodate the walking recycled.

Am I being polemical? Absolutely, as my Lord would be.

“I am not afraid that the book will be controversial, I’m afraid it will not be controversial.”
― Flannery O’Connor

Now, there are churches called “Seeker Churches!” What in the world?

When I was involved in the Jesus People Movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s we would hold Jesus Rallies at public high school auditoriums. This was evangelization.

There would be worship music and Street-wise Preachers. We’d invite our high school friends. Many would come to belief in Christ. We would immediately baptize them in a pond nearby. One of them was my best friend Carl.

Today churches are trying to play culture catch-up and it’s a fool’s errand.

Three point sermons? Nope. Sermons as centerpiece of Sunday morning ‘service’. Nope

The church, the ekklesia, the called out ones, are to be fed, ministered to and to minister to one another: gifts, giving, koinonia, and NOT “let’s watch a Jesus flick this morning” or “let’s listen to a raging sermon that really tells someone off” or “You really need my homiletics to get you through the next week.” No.

The church is to gather to worship as One Body the Triune God. The church universal, with those in prison, with those hurting and alone, comes together to feed on HIM. THEN, the church, fed, recharged, goes out into the world to seek the lost. Evangelization is life after Eucharist.

I chose to go to an Anglican church because the Lord had placed in my heart, since day one, the need to receive His REAL Presence through the sacrament. Yes, I have the Holy Spirit dwelling within me. He is the one saying “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.” I wanted the Wisdom of God dwelling in me. I need this bread and drink every week, at the very least. Come Lord Jesus.

Yes, I need the liturgy. I am a Romantic-Rationalist. I need to hear the Common Book prayers read aloud and the scriptures read aloud. I need the formal hymns AND the folk songs of the church (I listen to David Crowder at home). I need the formality, the ritual, the pomp and circumstance, the expectation of His Presence leading up to the Eucharist.

Everything that happens within the liturgy points to the Eucharist – The Great Thanksgiving. That is exactly why I attend an Anglican church – exalting His Majestic REAL Presence with us.

There is beauty in the liturgical season colors, the stained glass windows. There is beauty in the spoken prayers and Scripture. There is beauty in the truth of the hymns.

I need beauty wherever and whenever I can find it. We all do. Beauty reveals the Godhead. Beauty reveals the love of God towards us.

And yet, even though most of my spiritual needs (of gift and giver) are met at the Anglican Church, the Body of Christ can be so much more than this. The corporate church has become the church corporate – worldly configured and less Christ-centric dynamism. Think personally involved house-to-house koinonia-laying–on-of-hands-prayer and not sit-back-and-let government (or church) do “social justice.”

I have started several threads in this post. I can’t follow all of them here. Read Saint Teresa’s “A Life of Prayer.” Read the church fathers. Read Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood. Read N.T. Wright’s “How God Became King”. Read Dr. Luke’s The Acts of the Apostles.  Become His Church as Followers of the Way. Feed on Him in your hearts by faith and with Thanksgiving.

“You don’t serve God by saying: the Church is ineffective, I’ll have none of it. Your pain at its lack of effectiveness is a sign of your nearness to God. We help overcome this lack of effectiveness simply by suffering on account of it. ”
― Flannery O’Connor

***
Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the ‘most portable’ person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, ‘Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.’ That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”

Flannery O’Connor on the Eucharist and Church History

 

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Ping Revelation

Over the years my position on what I consider some major life issues has changed. This is one of those issues:

Born into an Evangelical/Baptist home I soon came to understand that communion, as it is called in the Bible Church, is to be celebrated about once a month. I was told that the church didn’t want to wear out its meaning by having the Lord’s Supper every week.  Later, I would understand this to mean that the Free Churches wanted to be different from Catholic churches.

As a student at the Moody Bible Institute, my Personal Evangelism teacher, Mr. Winslett, taught us that Catholicism is a cult much like Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, Seventh Day Adventism and even demonism. I remember the teacher telling us that Mary, iconic Mary, was an idol. So, like many of my Free Church brethren, I became rather smug when it came to Catholics. They were beneath our Free Church ways. Besides, the Catholic Church had too much going on and the Free Church, striped of any vestige of symbol and ceremony was “Free” (and sterile) of all the trappings of Roman rigamarole. There is, of course, more history to the reformation than what I am describing here. One can read Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses for more information. But, indulge me, please, (and not as Johann Tetzel would) for the moment.

At the Bible Church I had attended you could come and get your spiritual fodder for the week. A sermon or two and a banquet here and there would deem to hold you over. Forget liturgy, we were free to stand up for a hymn, sit down for the announcements, listen to the organ during offering, stand up again for another pre-sermon hymn, sit down for the sermon and then walk the aisle – to the pulpit or out the door. Voilà, church. And, for me, church for fifty years. Throw in the opposing Continental and Analytic worldviews in modern thinking and I became sans joie d’vivre. My Sola fide needed not only to hear the Word of God, it needed to intuit God’s presence with me. And, this wasn’t happening for me at this church despite all of the contemporary emotive songs invoking God’s presence.

After this half-century of spiritual famine I came to realize that this poor diet – the Diet of Words – wasn’t sufficient for my life. And, the abundantly stocked shelves of Abundant Life Christian self-help books were of no help to me. I needed substance. Substance. Substance and Symbol.

At age fifty I began attending an Anglican church. Now, I regularly eat the Real Food and Drink of Life – the Eucharist. And, hearing the spoken Word of God, praying from The Book of Common Prayer, reciting the Nicene Creed, seeing the symbol of the cross and participating in the liturgy which points to the Great Feast of Thanksgiving (and not the sermon), my spirit has revived. I meet the Lord at this Well of Sychar where deep springs of Living Water come to the surface.

Phyllis Melanchthon (aka, Sally  Paradise)

http://anglicansonline.org/basics/thirty-nine_articles.html

“When Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being “in Christ” or of Christ being “in them” this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them: that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts –that we are His fingers and muscles, the cells of His body. And perhaps that explains one or two things. It explains why this new life is spread not only by purely mental acts like belief, but by the bodily acts like baptism and Holy Communion…There is no good in trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.” C. S. Lewis