I am blind, be thou my light,
ignorant, be thou my wisdom,
self-willed, be thou my mind.
Open my ear to grasp quickly thy Spirit’s voice,
and delightfully run after his beckoning hand;
Melt my conscience that no hardness remain,
make it alive to evil’s slightest touch;
When Satan approaches may I flee to thy wounds,
and there cease to tremble at all alarms.
Be my good shepherd to lead me into the green pastures of thy Word,
and cause me to lie down beside the rivers of its comforts.
Fill me with peace, that no disquieting worldly gales
may ruffle the calm surface of my soul.
Thy cross was upraised to be my refuge,
Thy blood streamed forth to wash me clean,
Thy death occurred to give me a surety,
Thy name is my property to save me,
By thee all heaven is poured into my heart,
but it is too narrow to comprehend thy love.
I was a stranger, an outcast, a slave, a rebel,
but thy cross has brought me near,
has softened my heart,
has made me thy Father’s child,
has admitted me to thy family,has made me joint-heir with thyself.
O that I may love thee as thou lovest me,
that I may walk worthy of thee, my Lord,
that I may reflect the image of heaven’s first-born.
May I always see thy beauty with the clear eye of faith,
and feel the power of thy Spirit in my heart,
for unless he move mightily in me
no inward fire will be kindled.
Dear Lord, I don’t want to write a prayer for you today, not when you’re technically responsible for PMS. I don’t want to pray when praying feels like falling down a deep pit with no bottom in sight and no way to turn back. Maybe, really, I just don’t want to pray at all. Words, words, words. I’m tired of talking when talking doesn’t seem to do any good.
They say You’re in the silence, Lord. Today I need to believe that. I need to believe that silence isn’t an absence of You, but Your presence magnified to the point where speaking or hearing isn’t necessary, but arbitrary, like comparing dim long-distance phone calls to companionably sitting together on a couch as the sun sets. I need to believe, again, still, always, in the reality of You. It’s such a beginner lesson, Lord, but I keep failing this class. For the love of You, help me.
Help me to have faith, and love, and mercy, and above all hope that You are even a speck of who You say You are. Surely that speck is bigger than the visible cosmos.
I won’t lie, despite being a Presbyterian, historical Reformation stuff doesn’t exactly set my very soul on fire, and I don’t feel I know enough to write a big old post about it. But I did have a thought – just the one, and just as well! It’s not particularly novel. It’s simply this: today’s Christian religion is as much in need of Reformation as the church in the sixteenth century.
I know, I know, I write about this a lot; it’s the whole point of departure for my Looking Lectionary series. I believe the church is called to better the world, to be Christ’s hands, feet and heart, and that’s a hard feat to accomplish when we’re generally so compromised on the institutional level. We sell our indulgences as freely and happily as the Catholic church in Luther’s day did, trading our support, approval and censure for power, influence and wealth. Sure, the evangelicals who supported Trump are the easiest example to cite, and I often do! But all of us bear some responsibility in some way. If there’s a problem in the institutional and ecumenical church, it’s because we – the folks in the pews, or not in the pews – have accepted, cultured or allowed it.
We often talk about needing a revival, but I sometimes wonder just what it is we want to revive. The general trend of Westen Christianity the last few decades has been down, not up, and that’s rooted in its own subset of symptoms. Luther didn’t set out to reform; he set out to revive and considered himself in line with Catholic church polity. But you can’t revive something so troubled, and his beliefs and teachings eventually led to a schism: a reformation for both Protestants and Catholics.
I’m reminded of a scene in one of the first few episodes of Preacher. Jesse, imbued with unnatural power, commands a brain-dead girl to open her eyes. She does so, but there’s no life in them, and she’s as vegetative as ever. I think we’re a lot like Jesse in this sense. We try to “revive” our churches, which is really just a way to try to attract new people to old traditions we’re reluctant to part with. The idea of revival is closely tied to the idea of resurrection, but resurrection and revival are not the same things. Jesus wasn’t revived as human/Son of God, he was resurrected to the Son ascendent. Perhaps the reason revival has been so thin on the ground in most places is exactly because we don’t need revival, but reformation and resurrection.
I couldn’t say what this would look like on an ecumenical level, but maybe we can think about some ways to do it on the personal level. My first thought is that we’ve become much too church-centred. We still see “church” as the building we go to, and we separate it from fellowship and the rest of our lives. We know on some level that believers are Christ’s church. Trying to figure out how to live this should be a priority. I can’t help but think that recognising God’s grace as Luther did on an individual level will reform how we think of grace in a communal sense. If we find ourselves in God’s grace, we’ll be emboldened to live that grace out wherever we go. That is church.
It’s only once we centre the locus of control on God and his grace that we’ll be able to reform the institutional church. How could we possibly reform the institutional church when we use it to anchor our faith, rather than building a personal relationship with Jesus and living that relationship relationally with others? Church used in this way becomes a golden calf we’re willing to compromise for and to defend even when it breaks from the heart of grace.
My second thought is that, counterintuitive as all this may seem, it’s only once we’ve claimed back responsibility and agency and individual faith that we’ll be able to reform our churches. Reformation begins with Jesus: who he is and what he has done. Reformation then asks us what we believe about Jesus, how we relate to the Godhead and how that relationship changes us and the world. It begins with our own resurrected/reformed lives. Believers preceded the institutional church by decades, but especially lately there’s been an antagonism towards individualistic faith. The fear is probably that left to our devices and without doctrinal standards and bodies of authority to castigate us, we’ll run amok. But it’d be foolish not to recognise that much of this kind of attitude could also be construed as the institutional church trying desperately to remain relevant and powerful, rather than the more benign motives usually attributed.
I believe we have a very real responsibility to take back “church” from the institutional church. It’s what Luther did in his day, and his task remains: as long as there’s an institutional element to the Christian religion, it will be in need of reformation. We love to say that “church is a hospital for sick people”. By virtue of what it is, the church is most susceptible to “catch” the disease of sin. We need Luthers who through love for the Lord, dedication to a relationship with him and neighbour have faith lives strong enough to diagnose and withstand those diseases when they pop up in the power structures around our churches.
As I wrote earlier, reformation begins with Jesus, and it continues when we become active participants in responding to his call to resurrection and reformation. This is not an easy journey or a short one. It’s the day-to-day faithfulness of individual believers that leads to the 500th anniversary of an event that changed the world, the church and all believers forever, and for the better.
Thank You for another morning, another day, another chance.
Why I should get it when so many people all around the world haven’t, I don’t know. I can’t offer any justifications or explanations other than “the world is a broken place”, and we are all broken people.
Thank You for trying to fix that. Thank You for believing it can be fixed. For paying the price for our world’s restoration.
Help me this week to do as much as I can to make the world a little bit better. Where I’m busy with work, with family or friends, where I’m doing laundry or the dishes or sending emails or checking Facebook… Where I am, You are; where You are; I am. Help me to remember that. To live it.
1 Praise the Lord.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
2 Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord
or fully declare his praise?
3 Blessed are those who act justly,
who always do what is right.
4 Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people,
come to my aid when you save them,
5 that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may share in the joy of your nation
and join your inheritance in giving praise.
4 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
We are grateful to come before you on this spring day to meet with You. We set this time aside to bring glory to You, to remember Your transcendent presence in our day-to-day lives, and to refresh our souls for the week to come.
None of us come to You with clean slates, Lord, but to be known by You is to be loved by You, healed by You, forgiven by You and cleansed by You. Thank You for the grace of Your mercy and lovingkindness. Thank You for the immense privilege of serving You.
Help us this week to rely on Your grace in everything we do and say, and to extend it to others as freely as You extend it to us. Help this Sabbath to awaken us anew to the presence, power and guidance of Your Holy Spirit alive within us. Speak to us, Lord: we are listening.