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.)

An Unforgiving Age

Rabbi Sacks is one of my favorite preachers.

This is one of the greatest sermons — perhaps THE greatest — you will ever hear on forgiveness.

Please do not miss this.  And please pass it on to everyone you love.

GAFCON and the Anglican Communion

People often ask about the relationship between the Anglican Churches worldwide that have joined GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference) and the Anglican Communion.  This essay by Dr. Stephen Noll is an excellent place to start.  He includes the text of the Jerusalem Statement from GAFCON’s founding meeting in Jerusalem in 2009 and a brief commentary on each clause.

Here is a quote:

The Gafcon fellowship, to be sure, is not a church but a communion of churches that God raised up when the official Communion abdicated its authority to maintain doctrine and discipline in central matters of Christian faith and life.

Dopamine Detox

Three-weeks ago I decided to make some radical adjustments to my online consumption.

Week 1: I committed to no YouTube, and only looking at the headlines — the “front page” of my usual news sources. No clicking.

Week 2: I renewed my YouTube “fast” and upped the ante on the news: I committed to not even opening my news websites at all.

Week 3: Renewed my Youtube “fast” except for the C.S. Lewis prep for Adult Ed.  Continued the news black out.

This is Week 4: Last week my nephew sent me a link to the video below.  I told him I would have to wait till today to watch it.  I’m still on news blackout.

Turns out the video confirms what I am starting to do.  I can already feel the difference.  So far I think the American political soap opera has not felt my absence, and I have certainly not missed the “characters.” I find them boring.

WARNING: This YouTube contains some “honest” language and deals with some adult struggles.  I doubt the creator is a Christian.  But the insights are valuable.

This week I am allowing myself one hour of non-church related YouTube, in case you are wondering.  I’ve already used 30 minutes.

A Prayer From the Heart

This hymn was the anthem of the great Welsh Revival.  I hope it blesses you as much as it has me.  I’m particularly moved to hear it sung by young voices.

I’d love for us to learn and sing it regularly at St. Peter’s.  Could it become our anthem too?

The lyrics are in Welsh.  See English below.

 

1 I seek not life’s ease and pleasures,
Earthly riches, pearls, nor gold;
Give to me a heart made happy,
Clean and honest to unfold.

Chorus:
A clean heart o’erflown with goodness,
Fairer than the lilies bright;
A clean heart for ever singing,
Singing thro’ the day and night.

2 If I cherish earthly treasures,
Swift they flee and all is vain;
A clean heart enriched with virtues
Brings to me eternal gain. [Chorus]

3 Morn and evening my petition
Wings its flight to heaven in song;
In the name of my Redeemer,
Make my heart clean, pure, and strong. [Chorus]