Friday, August 03, 2007

Church in the World; church and the world 2

Again I'm quoting and paraphrasing some of my earlier blogs.

What does local, secular culture mean for evangelism, outreach, mission, justice, liturgy and advocacy? For identity? Preaching in the context of public worship is not or should not be a "how to," but a declaration and proclamation of God's redemptive action in our lives, community and world, in history. The sacraments and the order of worship create a snapshot of redeemed, restored creation, bringing to life a hint of the eschaton, the new creation. Besides, sacraments are sensual, engaging us at every level, with visual symbols, music, and ritual actions that help us savor the texts and prayers in sensory ways; the narratives that recollect God's intervention and plain presence in the world and in creation make past events actually present.

A friend told me she attends two churches most Sundays; she said the Reformed Church tells her "what," while the Metaphysical church tells her "how." She also said, "Most women in their late 40's begin working on their spiritual life." Of course. In other words, she perceives Christianity as a self-improvement pursuit. A couple years ago when a group at church was sort of looking at or leafing through Purpose Driven Life, one of our best bible study leaders asked me about the meaning of the word "ecclesiology" and advised me to at least get a clue about the content of PDL (I have a copy I picked up for free, but never found time to crack open the cover), because we might be doing something serious with it later. I told her I got the impression if was more self-improvement than anything, and she remarked, "there's no grace whatseover in it!" That was an aside...

We who are the Church need to begin imagining new liturgical models, which still will focus on Word and Sacrament in a fully participatory manner—full participation as audacious counterpoint to the entertainment worship that's becoming prevalent in the more politically and socially conservative fundamentalist world and sneaking into mainline Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Some congregations deliberately quest to become like those other churches across the street, down the boulevard, or in geographically near, but more visibly and ostentatiously affluent areas. Although I hesitate to write "evangelical," that was the Reformer's word for Protestantism in general and evangelical remains the word for "Protestant" in non-English speaking countries. Nonetheless, my readers know what I'm trying to say! To quote Krister Stendahl, "I hope we all are evangelical!" And I trust we all speak and walk the Gospel Good News, evangelion!

Prayer and hymn singing in the vernacular is one of Luther's Marks of the True Church; "Evangelism in the vernacular" also needs to happen for the Church, as the Body of the Risen Christ, to be true to its call, as Jesus always met people more than half-way: Jesus met people as who they were and where they were. The churches I've been visiting and the protestant mainline I identify with all have been trying to meet people where they are and speak in a language they'll understand. But did God ever call the People of God to live in ways congruent with their local cultures" Or in a radically culturally incongruent, actually counter-cultural manner? How about prophetic liturgy and prophetic living?

Toward the beginning of worship someone says something to the gathered congregation like, "I woke up this mornin' and was feelin' kinda blue, so decided to hop in vehicle and truck on down to church, and man, was I happy I did! Along the way I saw (fill in with various items, such as trees, clouds, a rainbow, several people worse off than me who wouldn't be in church today...) and by the time I got here the Lord had changed my blues into clues!" I'd call that a type of vernacular, though definitely not prophetic and really not much of anything other than a conversation you might have with a neighbor or maybe upon arriving at weekday Bible Study. How can something like this mirror, reflect and realize the renewed, redeemed alternative world of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ?

Now let's try worship that opens with something like an Isaiah 6 blaze of the glory of God, follows by awareness of our sinfulness, then confession, absolution...I've already mentioned BCP Holy Communion Rite I opening with the 10 Commandments, and a lot of liturgical orders begin with awareness of God's holiness and sovereignty...you know! I don't need to include any more details.

Evangelism in the vernacular? Telling the Good News in the people's muttersprach, in their lingua franca, which, of course, means far more than the syntax, colloquialisms and grammar of their spoken and written language. Our language needs to reach all of their cultural sensibilities as well as their actual native idiom of every aspect of their everyday lives, reaching far into their values, hopes and dreams. What do they desire for themselves, their children, their community, and even for worlds beyond their immediate ones? What would they perceive as Good News; above all, what can we demonstrate to them that would make them willing to risk change?

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