Tag Archives: lent

Why I observe the Christian Calendar [God’s heart for the holidays, part 4]

8 Nov

Does your church follow the Christian calendar?  Just as God instituted feasts for the people of Israel to follow, ancient Christians created feasts as well.  That Christian calendar, while not commanded by God in his New Covenant with the church, is designed to help Christians remember and re-enact the story of Jesus, very much like God’s feasts for the Jews were to help them remember and re-enact the story of his faithfulness and salvation in their nation.  In the previous three posts in this series we looked at three Jewish feasts mentioned in Deuteronomy 16, seeking to learn God’s heart for the holidays.  Now we attempt to apply God’s heart to the Christian church.  To do that, let’s see if those ancient Christians who created Christian holy days (holidays!) were faithful to God’s heart.

There are many variations of the Christian calendar, depending on what Christian tradition you are from.  My guess is that the vast majority of Christians observe at least some of the holidays in the Christian calendar: Christmas and Easter.  But there are many others.  I’m going to describe what we practice at Faith Church, and this would be true for most churches in our denomination, the Evangelical Congregational Church.

In just a few weeks the calendar resets with the season of Advent.  Advent means “the arrival,” and thus points to a period of four weeks of spiritual preparation before Christmas, when we celebrate the arrival of or birth of Jesus, our savior.  We gather on Christmas Eve to rejoice in God’s love for us in sending his son.

The feast of Christmas lasts until January 6th, which is the day of Epiphany, a word meaning “revealing,” referring to the revealing of Jesus to the world.  Epiphany is a season marked by growth in Christ, and it lasts until Lent.

Each spring, there are 7 Sundays of Lent.  Lent is an Old English word for “length,” referring to the lengthening days of spring.  Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, and like Advent, Lent is another period of spiritual preparation, marked by fasting, including the final Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday, when many churches re-enact Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Palm Sunday kicks off Holy Week, during which we have a few other special days.  There is Maundy Thursday, remembering the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples, when he washed their feet and gave them the practice of communion.  That Last Supper Jesus ate with his disciples was the Passover Seder is the first of two times the Jewish feasts intersect with Christian holidays.  The next special day of Holy Week is Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus’ crucifixion and death.

Then on Sunday we gather together with great joy to celebrate Jesus’ victory over sin, death and the devil through his resurrection!  Easter is the high point of the Christian calendar.  The feast of Easter, then, lasts for a few more weeks, until the Sundays of Jesus’ Ascension, remembering his return to his father, and of Pentecost, remembering the giving of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the church.  This is another place Jewish and Christian holidays intersect, as the Church began on the same day as one of the Jewish feasts, the Feast of Weeks.

From there the Christian calendar enters into the long period of growth called Ordinary Time.   Look at the calendar above, and you’ll notice that there are colors for each of the Christian seasons.  Ordinary Time, for example, is green.  At Faith Church we display those colors on our communion table up front, as well as on the back of our weekly bulletin.

The Christian calendar can be a helpful method for us, the church, to remember and re-enact the story of Jesus, just as God wanted Israel to do the same with the story of their Exodus to the Promised Land.  The church I grew up in observed Christmas and Easter, so when I was hired at Faith Church the Christian calendar was new.  But in 16 years I have come to deeply appreciate its rhythm of helping the church enter into the story of Jesus.  Many of us live overly-busy lives, distracted from the mission of the Kingdom of God.  The Christian calendar helps refocus us on that mission, and thus I commend it to you.  No, it is not a biblical practice that is commanded by God, but it does flow from his heart for the holidays!

Tomorrow, in our fifth and final post in this series on the Jewish feasts of Deuteronomy 16, we continue examining God’s heart for the holidays with two more themes that Christians can apply to our lives.

Fasting for Freedom – The Monday Messy Office report…on Tuesday…again – March 11, 2014

11 Mar

Truth be told, my office didn’t get very messy over the weekend.  I have to admit that I was a bit bummed about that because I like being surprised when I when in here on Monday mornings.  And I’ve enjoyed telling you about what I find.

But this week there were no surprises.  Just the regular stuff, like the reports and mail.

The one exception to that is my copies of the 2014 Lenten Compact devotions.  Each year for the past five years Faith Church has joined with our brothers and sisters at Kimball Avenue Church in Chicago for a Compact.  What is a compact?  Here is a brief description from this year’s edition:

A compact is a covenantal agreement among a group of people. Those who voluntarily enter a compact bind themselves to a set of guidelines and standards for the purpose of accomplishing personal and corporate goals.

Lent is time of fasting, so during Lent we agree together to fast for a purpose, and it is Isaiah 58 where we learn about one of God’s main purposes for calling his people to a fast:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

I would encourage you to take a look at the entire compact and consider joining us. This year we are specifically learning about what it means to loose the chains of injustice for the millions who are incarcerated in our nation’s prisons.  We are talking about a distinctly Christian response to unjust incarceration, mercy for prisoners, hoping to open our eyes to their plight.  But if you do the crime, you should do the time, right?  Perhaps there is a lot more to it than what it might seem.  For instance, have you heard about Kids for Cash, a scandal that happened right here in Pennsylvania where a corrupt judge unlawfully sent 3000 kids to jail. Interestingly the judge was paid millions for this. Sadly there are many more instances of corruption in our justice system.

Will you join us in learning more?  If Jesus said that he came to set the prisoners free, we would do well to give time for serious consideration of the issues.

Also, anyone can participate in the online discussion of the compact’s daily devotions at the Lenten Compact blog site. We’ve been having a wonderful time hearing from one another.  May this Lent be a very meaningful time for you of learning about God’s heart for the oppressed and what we can do to help set them free.

I am preaching the same sermon four times in a row…thank you Lectionary very much.

16 Mar

I don’t know a whole lot about the history of the Lectionary.  I guess I could at least do a basic search on Wikipedia, but not right now.  Clearly, someone put a lot of time and thought into the selection of passages because they fit well with the Christian calendar.

For example, it’s Lent right now.  A seven week period leading up to Easter.  This year for Lent I decided to follow the Lectionary Gospel readings which happen to all be from Luke.  Not having done a ton of digging into each passage ahead of time, I surmised that the readings would help the disciple of Jesus look inward, be penitent for sin, and seek to eradicate sin in advance of the grand celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter.

But each week what we have found is a thread around the idea of movement.  In every single reading, there is a clear emphasis on the idea of movement in our lives away from sin and toward Jesus..

Much to the glee of some in our church family, at the end of each sermon, I have called for people to make an outward physical move symbolizing what is hopefully an inward spiritual reality.

One week it was the traditional “come forward to kneel at the altar.”  We have strong revivalist roots in our tradition, and I praise God for the response.

The next week I asked people to write on the Scribble cards we have in the hymnal racks on each of our pews.  They could write a sin they were struggling with, or anything they wanted to talk about, and give it to me or another person with whom they could talk further.  Again, it was wonderful to see the response.

Last week during Silent Sunday, one of youth leaders had a great idea that we used.  We handed each person, upon entering the sanctuary, a “Hello my name is…” sticker badge, but we instructed them to wait to write on it until they received instructions in the sermon.  Being Silent Sunday the sermon was on-screen.  Just as the Prodigal Son (a wonderful story of movement) did not feel worthy to be called “son”, but instead felt he was only worthy to be called “servant,” we asked people to write a false name on the badge.  Perhaps it was a name they were called by someone, a name that hurt.  Or maybe it was a name they call themselves in the quietness of their own minds, but still a name that is not true.  They were then to peel off the badge, place it on their shirt, and walk to the front of the sanctuary where we had placed the large cross we use for our Good Friday Cross Walk.  People could then remove the badge, place it on the cross, symbolizing the new life that Jesus makes possible for us through his death and resurrection.  Then at the foot of the cross there were baskets with pre-printed badges that said “Hello my name is Son of the King” or “Daughter of the King.”  They could then take a badge that has their true name, and place it on their shirt.  This received the biggest response of all.

So here I am again, on the eve of preaching yet another sermon about movement.  Many people call this week’s passage “The Parable of the Tenants” (Luke 20:9-19).  It is better titled “The Killer Tenants.”  I’ll be honest.  There is part of me that is thinking “Enough already…people are going to get sick of what is essentially the same sermon four Sundays in a row.”  If you read the parable, you’ll see why I’m saying this.  Don’t get me wrong. These are four different passages, and I have studied and written four brand new sermons each week.  And yet I wonder if people are going to start feeling tired of it.

Before I get too far down that road, I go back to the genius of the Lectionary.  Some of you might not be aware of what the Lectionary is.  To keep it simple, it is a plan for pastors to select biblical passages to preach on each week.  Each week there are four passages, one each from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Gospels and the New Testament. In many churches that follow the Lectionary, each of the passages are read aloud during the worship service.  The sermon might focus on one, or if the pastor is particularly creative they will weave together all four.  In three years, if you follow the Lectionary, you will have covered a wide swath of the Bible.  It is an ancient plan that has been revised over the years, and it is amazing.

As I think about the selection of these passages from Luke for Lent, I realize that they come from the life and ministry of Jesus.  People who watched him, followed him and listened to him must have thought he sounded like a broken record.  Let’s face it, he repeats himself quite a bit.  Though the Lectionary selections in Luke for Lent are purposefully chosen to emphasize the need to remove sin and commit fully to Jesus, I suppose it wouldn’t have been all that hard to come up with the instances in Luke where Jesus himself is talking about these themes.  He speaks about them all the time.  So may that be instructive to us.  Just when we’re feeling sick of being harped on for being sinful and needing to commit more fully to Jesus, he says it again.

But here’s the kicker.  Why would he do that?  To make us feel guilty?  Not at all! Instead he speaks this truth to us because he loves us and wants to show us the abundant life that only he can offer.  He sees us captivated by lesser things.  And doesn’t American culture promise us the good life, only to re-neg on that promise by giving us much less than what we thought?  It reminds of me playing all those games at our local LaserTag establishment.  Skee-ball, basketball shots, the game where you roll a token down a slot and try to get it in the bull’s-eye, or the game where you try to push the button when a light is flying around a circle and your button-push stops the light on a numbered circle, and you’re hoping to get the jackpot?  Then you get tickets for winning these games.  You turn your tickets into the ticket-eater and it pops out a receipt.  You’re all excited from winning pocket-fulls of tickets, and it feels great to load them into the ticket-eater.  You take your receipts for 368 points to the prize counter, only to be slapped in the face with the reality that you’re thousands of the points short of the iPod.  You walk away with gummy bracelets.  Jesus says I have an iPod waiting for you and your are gorging yourself on gummy bracelets.

Do you know anyone who bought into our culture’s idea of happiness and fulfillment only to be severely disappointed and disillusioned?  Maybe it was you.

We need movement.