The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Doug Ward's response to Dr. Edith Humphrey

Dr. Humphrey has done us a great service by reminding us if several key elements of our core theology. The terror of every pastor on Friday is Friday’s here and Sunday’s coming. Worship is relentless – it just keeps coming at us. It is hard work. And for all of us worshippers, it can be sheer drudgery if the final test of whether worship is successful is how I feel and if I was offended, impressed, overwhelmed, moved, or simply titillated intellectually with yet another impressively constructed sermon.

But you Dr. Humphrey have clearly shown that worship begins in the heart of God, is personal to every one of us, takes residence in physical things and our own stories, and is initiated and sustained and moved into our experience by an act of the Holy Spirit. For it is not God’s intention to impress anyone but to dwell with his people – as he did through his life with the disciples. For the Jesus that walked and talked and bled and died and rose again in the presence of his disciples is the same Jesus we experience today.

Worship is only hard work because it does what Dr. Humphrey says it does, it promises to change us, it changes us from within – the most dangerous of sources for altering behavior, and it points to something beyond itself. It therefore challenges our assumptions, our carnal motives, and gets to the very root of our sin. We have contracted a spiritual disease that only God can cure. God incarnates himself in the act of worship, moving us from simply being objects of his adoration, into walking and talking disciples who desire nothing else than to spend time in His presence.

Indeed I would say that the recent financial crisis that we are experiencing has allowed God a direct line into our souls. We have looked to the bankers and the moneylenders and the brilliant minds of CNN and we find their confusion and doubt and shallow answers and now, out of necessity, we look to God. God’s response – “where have you been my child – I have been speaking to you of your utter desolation without me since the day you gave your heart to me – continue to listen”.

Here’s the trick - how can I listen in an IPod, Iphone, fully apped - world. Last week while travelling, I sat in an airport lounge with 171 other people, waiting for a plane with a three-hour delay, where everyone in the place was listening to earphones, iPod’s or attached to a cell phone. It is simply a herculean effort to ask anyone to release themselves from their own controlled atmosphere and enter into dialogue with anyone, on any subject. For my part, I had my fully loaded Bose noise cancelling headphones in place because I was tired and wanted privacy. But that’s different, right.

Mid way through my journey I dropped into Banff to spend two days with my daughter and found there a culture dominated by twenty something’s, iPods, climbing and skiing gear, mountain bikes, cell phones and love for nature that gave credit to everything in life but God and has ignored the father of creation to their personal peril - Individualism on steroids.

We are in an uphill battle for the souls of people in a world of smug self-satisfaction and rampant immortality.

Joe Boot in his apologetic book Searching for Truth, tells the story of a Christian teacher in a secular school in one of England’s biggest cities. It was Christmastime; so he thought it appropriate in a school assembly to remind the kids about the most wonderful story ever told, the story of the birth of Christ. The pupils were all attentive and seemed to enjoy the account of the dramatic virgin birth. Afterwards a boy of about twelve came to say how much he had enjoyed the wonderful story. To the teachers shock he said that he has never heard the story before and had a question about it: “Why did Jesus parents give him the name of a swear word?”

Did you know that?

• The recently released American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) indicates that faith is going down across the board. The number of people who identify themselves as Christian has decreased by 11 percent in a generation.

• The single fastest-growing category when it comes to religious affiliation is "None," which grew from 8 percent to 15 percent since 1990.

• The "Nones" are the single biggest group in the state of Vermont, at 34 percent of the state's population. And "None" was the only religious category to grow in all 50 states. In Quebec we are already well there with BC not far behind.

• Barry Kosmin, who co-authored the survey, commented that more than ever before "people are just making up their own stories of who they are. They say, 'I'm everything. I'm nothing. I believe in myself.'" He said that faith is increasingly treated as a fashion statement that serves as a vehicle for self-expression rather than a transcendent commitment that demands costly devotion.

• One respondent to a version of the story in USA Today said: "None of my friends believe in God. When the subject of religion comes up around the table, we all just mock it. It's a source of ridicule." 27 percent of North Americans do not even expect a religious funeral at their death.

• That if the unchurched population in the US were its own nation, it would be the fifth most populated nation on the planet, after China, the former Soviet Union, India, and Brazil.

• That North Americans are expressing and experiencing their faith in a very dramatically different fashion. Their primary means of spiritual experience and expression used to be dominated by the local church – like St. Paul’s.

Local Church Alternative Faith Community Family Media, Arts, Culture
2000 70% 5% 5% 20%
2025 30-35% 30-35% 5% 30-35%

• “Our research shows that local churches have virtually no influence in our culture. The seven dominant influences are movies, music, television, books, the Internet, law and family. The second tier of influencers is comprised of entities such as schools, peers, newspapers, radio, and businesses. The local church appears among entities than have little or no influence on society.”

So culture has had a profound and deleterious effect on church, worship and worship expression. But do not be fooled, God is not nervous and the Kingdom is not rife with anxiety. The Kingdom of God has been doing very well, and will continue to flourish no matter the ebbs of flows from one century and continent to another.

As a missiologist - a fancy name for someone who still holds that God is alive and busting to meet his people – how do we respond to this challenge of preparing for God to move and speak?

If we listen to this message today – we have established that the encounter with Jesus in worship drives us deeper into Scripture, correlatively the fruit of the Spirit emerges, that God promises to grow in us, and stuff leaves and we are healed of our pride, worry and driveness. We must want this and expect this. We are to position our faith and our worship at the centre of God’s concerns. He sets the table, despite all the dire predictions of the world around us.

I would challenge you to read Isaiah 58, a passage that speaks about what true worship is and what it is not. It is about serving the poor, strengthening the weak, setting free the oppressed. Worship thrusts us into the deep end. God is concerned to transform us and change us utterly. We are to provide for the poor, we are to serve the unfortunate, we are to operate in places no one else will go, we are to give of ourselves sacrificially, we are to worship him in spirit and in truth, for the gospel is not an abstract principle or process, it is a person and that person gets under your skin in worship and will not let you rest until you have found rest in him.

Worship leans into us and transforms us utterly.

We have hope because we believe that:

• God is in the mix and all His considerable love and grace and character are leaning into people in any particular culture.

• The Gospel is immoveable, unshakeable and true for every culture and is the hope of the world for all of creation. The Gospel does not change; but how it engages culture, does.

• Our culture will always be in opposition to the integrity of the gospel and resistant to its advances, until Jesus comes again.

• God specializes in working in so-called God-forsaken places.

• All cultures can be penetrated with the gospel. If not so, people would have to change cultures to become Christians.

• God is allowing the forces of Postmodernity and culture to deconstruct the church for His greater glory in order to strip away any pretense that “God helps those who help themselves”. These tectonic forces are pushing people to the limits and causing massive tremors and the periodic tsunami.

• Christ’s salvific activity in bringing about the kingdom is already going on before our arrival in any given context.

God desires to meet us.

• We as God’s chosen people have a purpose in life.
• We reject a view of life that sees human experience as a random set of events with no direction or meaning.
• The driving force behind history is not just mere chance but God’s purposes. This common purpose means that our task is to share this with all of humanity.

Worship levels us and puts us face to face with God. All we are asked to do is to give him the glory and he will fill in the spaces. Give God a chance to confront us and change us.

God is not on view, He is not just an issue to be studied, He is not an interesting documentary, He is not a curiosity – He is incarnate in our lives – the great mystery become flesh.

Discouragement is not on God’s radar screen. Unfaith, unbelief, defiance, and rebellion are still unfortunately attainable human values that threaten the life and eternal nature of our friends, family and neighbors. We stay close to God and let him take the hindquarter.

There are days in my weakness where I question God and his stick ability and sustaining power. They are few but they are potent.

So I close with a brief story of encouragement.

Bishop Kenneth Ulmer is the pastor of a church that meets in Los Angeles at the Forum where the Lakers used to play basketball. He tells the story of two men in a museum who see the painting of a chess game. One character in the painting looked like a man, the other looked very much like the devil. The man was down to one last piece. The title of the painting was Checkmate.

One of the two men looking at the painting was an international chess champion. Something about the painting intrigued him. He began to study it. He grew so engrossed that the man with him got a little impatient and asked what he was doing.

The chess champion said, “Something about this painting bothers me. I want to study it for a while. You go ahead and wander around.”

When the friend came back after a while, the chess master said, “We must locate the man who painted this piece. We must tell him he must either change the picture or change the title. I have determined there is something wrong with this painting, and I am an international chess champion.”

His friend asked, “What’s wrong with the painting?”

The man replied, “It’s titled Checkmate, but the title is wrong. The king still has one more move.”