What is Man?

Or what does it mean to be “human”?  The Psalmist posed the question like this:

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?

He goes on to answer his own question in reference to Creation.  Man is just a little lower than the angels, or heavenly beings, or God Himself. The Hebrew word and context are tricky here, hence the variety of translations.  Literally it is something like “lacking a little of divinity.”  The key word is “little.”  Man stands in an amazingly exalted position under God’s authority.  In short, it is a glorious thing to be human!

For You have made him a little lower than the “angels”
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.

There is great glory and honor to be under God as steward and care-taker of creation.

You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth!

We see ourselves in these words defined in two dimensions–our relationship to God and our relationship to Creation.  This is our context, the world in which we live and move and discover and realize our true destiny.

Yet, these two relationships barely exist in the consciousness of modern man.  How much time do we spend interacting meaningfully with either God or Creation? We spend our lives with man-made things.  Here my God-made body sits, in a man-made metal and plastic chair, writing these blips of electricity on a laptop, to be posted on a website, to be read on a screen.  I am in a comfortable climate-controlled environment, drinking coffee that I did not pick or roast. I’m thinking about God, but at the moment I am having no real interaction with Him or His world.

I say all this to make a simple proposition: the greatest question of our time is the one posed by the Psalmist, “What is man?”  “What is a human being?”  As Christians we spend a lot of time talking about God, who He is, what He’s like, what He wants.  Rightly so. And if we do that work well we will be led to both questions and answers about who we are in the world and in relation to God.

But we tend to stop short. We are more comfortable talking about God than asking ourselves the questions we need to consider about us.  It is possible to be very knowledgeable about God and His plan of “salvation” but completely lost in our humanity, that is, in our relationships with God and Creation, and the bodies were were given with which to “interface” with both. (Note little computer lingo there.)

I think we are dangerously lost. As more and more of our time and attention and activity is mediated through screens, large and small, what will be the effect on our humanity?  Look up, look round.  The answer is already evident. More of the same will yield more of the same.

In the great western mini-series “Lonesome Dove” there is this profound exchange between Gus and Captain Call.  It takes place in a beautiful grove of live oaks beside a river.

Gus- When was you the happiest, Call?

Woodrow- Happiest about what?

Gus- About just being a live human being, free on the earth?

I’m afraid we are losing our capacity for that delight. And it is not a small thing. I wonder how much longer recovery will remain an option.

 

 

Thoughts on Halloween

I grew up participating in Halloween enthusiastically.  My mom was creative in our costumes–none of the store-bought stuff for us.  Of course she did not allow anything “evil.”  As close as I got to anything dark was a bat.  Another year I was a monkey.  Minimal costume needed for that.

I was an adult before I met anyone who felt Halloween was off-limits for Christians.  I know may sincere folks who hold this view.  Even so, we at St Peter’s will be on hand to give treats and hot chocolate and smiles to the hordes who will invade south Frankfort.

Here is a newsletter that recently came to me.  It was written by conservative Christian homeschooling father and blogger.  Here is his site.

Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, reportedly said, “I’m glad Christian parents let their children worship the devil at least one night out of the year.” He was speaking, of course, about Halloween night.

I don’t know what’s more troublesome: the fact that LaVey wanted people to worship Satan or the fact that so many Christians got worked up about what he said.

Christians aren’t supposed to base their views about worship on the whimsical statements made by Satanists. (Cult leaders don’t tend to make good Bible interpreters.)

Rather, Christians take their cues from the Word of God—God is the one who defines what real worship is.

Worship is the act of ascribing worth to something or someone—in both our hearts and in our actions. We can, of course, worship an idol (after all, the human heart is a factory of idols). Or we can worship the one true God.

It’s true: our outward activities on Halloween night may be an indication of who or what we worship, but “Satan” is just one possibility in a list of millions.

– Yes, a slim few neo-pagans will gather worship the Devil on Halloween night (as I’m sure they do on other nights).
– Others will worship at the altar of hedonism and sex as they put on seductive costumes, looking to allure others.
– Others will worship their stomachs as they seek to gorge themselves on candy.
– Others will worship at the altar of greed as they seek to outdo their neighbors on decorations.

But you and I can be different. We can choose to worship the true God on Halloween night.

– We can attend our harvest festivals with a spirit of thankfulness to God.
– We can teach our kids (just like medieval Christians taught) that Halloween ought to be a mockery of the Devil, not a celebration of darkness.
– We can honor God by showing love to our neighbors, making our front porches, our homes, and our bonfires into welcoming places.

Jeff Harshbarger, a former Satanist who came out of the occult, gives this advice to Christians on Halloween:

“Enjoy Halloween! How? By being free! I know that the theme of death surrounds the celebration of Halloween. I know that the activities of Halloween had pagan beginnings. I know that there are even criminally minded occultists that do very evil things on Halloween. But that doesn’t nullify the reality that we are not to be dominated by all of this. We can celebrate life instead of death. We can participate in activities without compromising our Christian faith.”

The end of October doesn’t just have to be about Halloween and trick or treating — celebrate Reformation Day or throw an All Saint’s Eve party! Learn more about how Christians can approach this time of year and celebrate in the festivities: A Christian’s Guide to Halloween Activities & Events

Blessings,
Luke

 

Going to Church? Start with “Why?”

This is a slightly edited version of what I sent out in the weekly email on Monday.

I have been wrestling with the deeper meaning of Holy Communion since I became an Anglican.  In actual practice the Eucharist frequently felt like an awkward, anti-climactic add-on. It was often rushed, something to get through quickly.  Often the liturgy would be abbreviated if the sermon happened to go a bit long.

Well, I need not have pondered so long.  The essential meaning of the Service was right there in the Book of Common Prayer.

Consider the two offerings that we make in the Eucharist as described in the second post-communion prayer, “The Prayer of Oblation,” and notice particularly how we are reminded to regard these offerings as a privilege we are unworthy to perform. This prayer recaps with gratitude what we should have been doing all the way through the whole service:

O LORD and heavenly Father, we thy humble servants earnestly desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving [Hebrews 13:15]; most humbly beseeching thee to grant, that by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we and all thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion. And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee [Romans 12:1-2], humbly beseeching thee, that we, and all partakers of the Holy Communion, may be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and be made one body with him, that he may dwell in us and we in him. And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service [Luke 17:10]; not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord; by whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. Amen.

With these “sacrifices” as our top priorities, and bathed in a profound sense of grateful unworthiness, we have an advantage over those who go to church seeking to be entertained or even fed. We will come to church to worship, to give thanks, to give ourselves afresh to Christ in gratitude for our great salvation (“and all other benefits of His passion”). We will seldom be disappointed, and if so, mostly with ourselves.

This is not just for the laity.  Performance anxiety can be an exhausting problem for those who lead, preach and officiate on Sunday.  But when I come primarily to offer grateful worship, and to give myself afresh to our Lord, even if I am up front my performance fades to almost nothing in significance.  It’s not about me! What a relief! Worship is a much “easier yoke and lighter burden” than pleasing the people — or myself.

Even the sincerest Christians will find this counter-cultural. We are programmed in everything to ask first: “What am I getting out of this?” The church has sadly adopted a marketing approach to evangelism and everything else. “Come to our church. We have all these things to offer YOU.” Dallas Willard characterized most ministry today as “providing religious goods and services” for the market. This is not only tacky, it is deadly.  It keeps us in the center, which is the cause of all our problems in the first place.

True worship is 180 degrees different. We come to give not to get. We come also to encourage our brothers and sisters — another great privilege and joy. What could be more fulfilling than to bring joy to our Heavenly Father, in spite of our many imperfections, and encouragement a sibling in Christ? Our Anglican way is perfectly designed for just this.

If grateful giving is our primary joy in life, we Communicants should be the happiest, most contagious, people on earth–and look forward to Sunday most of all. Wouldn’t this transform our outlook on Sunday mornings, and our children’s attitude toward church? I wish I had been raised this way, and raised our kids this way. On the way home the primary question would not be what did I get out of church today, or what didn’t particularly suit me, but what was I able to give?

(Note: I haven’t said a word about that other offering — money! When we understand worship, money takes care of itself.)