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Isaiah warned us and Jesus repeated it - it's hypocritical to honour the Lord with your lips while your heart is far from Him (Isaiah 29:13; Mark 15:8).  It's something I pray about every Sunday, "As I preach or pray or sing, may my lips and my heart be set on the Lord Jesus."

But there's another danger.  We can react the other way and disdain anything 'external'.  We say to the world: "I reject 'works', I'm all about the inward life."  And so we're constantly taking our spiritual temperatures.  We neglect ritual (as though it always leads to ritualism).  And we start to think of faith as a thing - the one really meritorious work!

The faith-works polarity becomes, in our thinking, an internal-external polarity.  Internal - good.  External - bad.  We start to imagine that mental acts are good old grace while physical acts are nasty old law.

But that's not how it is.  There can be a crippling legalism of the heart (ever felt it?) and there can be a wonderful liberation in gospel rituals (ever experienced that?).

Take communion.

Please.

No but seriously, take it.   Because here is a gospel ritual which, because it is external, brings home the grace of Jesus all the stronger.

We are not (or at least we should not be!) memorialists. Jesus has not left us a mental duty with the bread and wine as mere thought prompters.  We have been left a meal.  To chew.  And to gulp down.  There are motions to go through.  And they are the same motions we performed last week.  And the week before that.

But here's the thing - these motions are means of God's grace and not in spite of their externalism but because they are external.  Here is a gift that comes to you from outside yourself.  And it comes apart from your internal state.  But nonetheless it is for you - sinner that you are.

So take it regardless of whether your heart is white-hot with religious zeal.  Take it regardless of whether you are really, really mindful of the gravity of it all.  And as the minister prays the prayer of consecration and your mind wanders... oh well.  Don't ask him to start again.  Go through the motions I say.  Your heart is meant to catch up with the motions.  That's why the motions were given.  Because our hearts are weak and not to be trusted.

So allow the Word to come to you from beyond.  Allow Him to love you first. Don't disdain 'going through the motions.'  For many on a Sunday -  those grieving or sick or gripped by depression - they need to be carried along by these motions.  And for all of us - if we're going to be people of grace, we need these externals.

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Jesus at table

This table is God’s soup kitchen. This table is where God feeds the hungry, the outcast, the disabled, the orphaned, the abused, the neglected, the lonely, and the lost. And this means at least two things: First, this table is not for people who are fine thank you very much. This food is not for the well-fed, those who get along pretty well on their own, the fit, or the popular. This table is not for people are basically good but screw up every once in a while. This table is for the messed up. It’s for people who are failures. It’s for parents who have failed their children. It’s for children who have failed their parents. It’s for spouses who have failed one another. This table is for the needy, the broken, and the weak. It is for those who are starving for God’s grace and mercy, and they will die if they do not have it. If you know your need, if you know that you are weak, that you are lonely, that you are failure on your own, and that you need your faithful Father’s love and care, then come. This meal is for you. This is grace and mercy for you...

The whole thing is great.  Read here.

Thanks to Tim.

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Jesus at table

This table is God’s soup kitchen. This table is where God feeds the hungry, the outcast, the disabled, the orphaned, the abused, the neglected, the lonely, and the lost. And this means at least two things: First, this table is not for people who are fine thank you very much. This food is not for the well-fed, those who get along pretty well on their own, the fit, or the popular. This table is not for people are basically good but screw up every once in a while. This table is for the messed up. It’s for people who are failures. It’s for parents who have failed their children. It’s for children who have failed their parents. It’s for spouses who have failed one another. This table is for the needy, the broken, and the weak. It is for those who are starving for God’s grace and mercy, and they will die if they do not have it. If you know your need, if you know that you are weak, that you are lonely, that you are failure on your own, and that you need your faithful Father’s love and care, then come. This meal is for you. This is grace and mercy for you...

The whole thing is great.  Read here.

Thanks to Tim.

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Given discussion about Lutheran influence on the UK, here's a Thawsday repost...

John Richardson (whose excellent blog is here) adds his voice to this discussion on Stand Firm in Faith.  He writes about the place of repentance in the communion service.  It chimes with a lot of what I wrote here

I have long felt Anglicanism (specifically Thomas Cranmer) to be good at driving us to our knees in repentance, but not so good at letting us get up again.

In regard to this, I would point out the contrast between what the Book of Common Prayer says about our preparation to receive Holy Communion and what Luther said. The Exhortation in the BCP says in effect that if we are to receive Communion worthily we must first put ourselves right with God.

Contrast this with Luther. First, he says, “There must be faith to make the reception worthy and acceptable before God, otherwise it is nothing but sham and a mere external show.”

And what is this faith? It is “a firm trust that Christ, the Son of God, stands in our place and has taken all our sins upon his shoulders and that he is the eternal satisfaction for our sin and reconciles us with God the Father.”

But what does this mean for our ‘worthiness’? “This food demands a hungering and longing man, for it delights to enter a hungry soul, which is constantly battling with its sins and eager to be rid of them.”

Therefore those with the right faith are those, “who suffer tribulation, physical or spiritual ... spiritually through despair of conscience, outwardly or inwardly, when the devil causes your heart to be weak, timid, and discouraged, so that you do not know how you stand with God, and when he casts your sins into your face.” (emphasis added)

I don’t think the BCP reflects this. Rather, the BCP urges communicants first: “search and examine your own consciences ... that ye may come holy and clean to such a heavenly Feast, in the marriage-garment required by God in holy Scripture, and be received as worthy partakers of that holy Table” and so, “examine your lives and conversations by the rule of God’s commandments; and whereinsoever ye shall perceive yourselves to have offended, either by will, word, or deed, there to bewail your own sinfulness, and to confess yourselves to Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life” (emphasis added).

The Anglican way is ‘be cleansed, then come’. The Lutheran way is ‘come and be cleansed’.

Here's a 'come and be cleansed' type sermon I preached called Eating with Jesus (listen here).

 

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Given discussion about Lutheran influence on the UK, here's a Thawsday repost...

John Richardson (whose excellent blog is here) adds his voice to this discussion on Stand Firm in Faith.  He writes about the place of repentance in the communion service.  It chimes with a lot of what I wrote here

I have long felt Anglicanism (specifically Thomas Cranmer) to be good at driving us to our knees in repentance, but not so good at letting us get up again.

In regard to this, I would point out the contrast between what the Book of Common Prayer says about our preparation to receive Holy Communion and what Luther said. The Exhortation in the BCP says in effect that if we are to receive Communion worthily we must first put ourselves right with God.

Contrast this with Luther. First, he says, “There must be faith to make the reception worthy and acceptable before God, otherwise it is nothing but sham and a mere external show.”

And what is this faith? It is “a firm trust that Christ, the Son of God, stands in our place and has taken all our sins upon his shoulders and that he is the eternal satisfaction for our sin and reconciles us with God the Father.”

But what does this mean for our ‘worthiness’? “This food demands a hungering and longing man, for it delights to enter a hungry soul, which is constantly battling with its sins and eager to be rid of them.”

Therefore those with the right faith are those, “who suffer tribulation, physical or spiritual ... spiritually through despair of conscience, outwardly or inwardly, when the devil causes your heart to be weak, timid, and discouraged, so that you do not know how you stand with God, and when he casts your sins into your face.” (emphasis added)

I don’t think the BCP reflects this. Rather, the BCP urges communicants first: “search and examine your own consciences ... that ye may come holy and clean to such a heavenly Feast, in the marriage-garment required by God in holy Scripture, and be received as worthy partakers of that holy Table” and so, “examine your lives and conversations by the rule of God’s commandments; and whereinsoever ye shall perceive yourselves to have offended, either by will, word, or deed, there to bewail your own sinfulness, and to confess yourselves to Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life” (emphasis added).

The Anglican way is ‘be cleansed, then come’. The Lutheran way is ‘come and be cleansed’.

Here's a 'come and be cleansed' type sermon I preached called Eating with Jesus (listen here).

 

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Enquirers into Christianity often have difficulty with the concept of appropriating grace.  And given how we often present it, that's understandable.  Often we tell the enquirer simply to receive grace as a free gift. They, naturally, wonder what on earth that looks like. So we reply with greater vigour 'Just receive the free forgiveness and trust that you have been forgiven.'  When that draws a blank we revert to a series of cliches, each more abstract than the last - "The door has been opened, walk through the door... You've got the cheque marked 'forgiveness' - cash the cheque." 

But this is not the way the Bible presents it. In John 3:16 - the gift we are to receive is Jesus. Grace is not basically a concept or property.  He is a Person. Doesn't this (literally) put flesh and bones on the concept of receiving grace as a free gift. We're really asking the non-Christian to receive Jesus - the gift of His Father.

Rev 3:20 - There's not a 'free gift' standing at the door, waiting to be unwrapped.  There's not a gift certificate to be opened saying "IOU 1 eternal life". There is Jesus standing at the door.  And when you let Him in He doesn't just hover in your lobby assuring you of your forgiven status, He eats with you in intimate fellowship. THAT is what saving faith looks like. That is how a person becomes a Christian - not by assenting to a concept of forgiveness or vicarious atonement but by receiving the Person in Whom forgiveness, atonement and life is offered.

The same point is made in Colossians 1:13, 14. It is the Son in Whom redemption is offered - which is the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness is redemption - the transference of a person (who is still a sinner!) from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Christ. This deliverance is offered IN Jesus. We must be introducing people to the person of Jesus not the concept of change (or even of redemption or deliverance). We don't believe in redemption per se - we believe in the Redeemer.

Three implications:

First, in the Lord's Supper we ought to find some way of taking 'This is my body' seriously.  Transubstantiation is not the answer but neither is memorialism - we don't simply receive tokens of good stuff.  We receive Christ in the supper.  He Himself is the Bread of life who nourishes, not remembrances of grace. 

Second, in personal chats let's talk about Jesus.  Not just our spirits, not just our blessings or struggles but Jesus.  How it fortifies the heart to hear His name on another's lips!  He is received by us again and again as we hold out His word to one another.

Third, in preaching, we can be bold to offer a free salvation to sinners because we're not offering a blank cheque but marriage to a Bridegroom. This will help us with the issue we thought about in my last post - I reckon we ought to hold out salvation to people who are hardened sinners, people who still love darkness and who don't actually have a resolve to 'Go God's way'.  Because, of course, without Christ how could they??  But then people object and say, 'This will promote licence.  You can't offer forgiveness to people who don't show signs of repentance.'  Here's the thing though - we're not holding out a 'Get out of Jail Free' card.  We're holding out Christ Himself to sinners.  If we simply preached an abstract 'forgiveness' then licence is a distinct possibility.  If we preach Christ it's out of the question. 

 

  

 

Ok, so the bible is not God.  But then, what is the relationship between God and the written word?

I'll devote quite a big proportion of next week to that question as I blog about preaching.  But for now let me explore an analogy with the sacraments.  Marc can shoot me down - he's doing a lot of work on this subject.  But let me have a go anyway.

Here's my thought - we tend to veer between two mistakes: a Catholic and a Zwinglian view of the bible.

The Catholic view is to see my bible reading working ex opere operato (by doing it, it's done).  I advance the book mark and it is has worked.  The words go in (sort of), my reading plan gets ticked off - job done.

My response?  Disengaged duty.

The Zwinglian view is to see my bible reading as memorialist.  Christ is essentially absent from these words, but they're a jolly good reminder of Him.  And if I employ my imagination and proper meditative techniques, if I think these words into moral, pastoral and theological categories then my thoughts will carry me to Christ. 

My response?  Pietistic duty.

On the first understanding, I don't need to do anything but go through the motions.  The second understanding is a reaction to the first in which I take the spiritual task into my own hands. 

But what if Christ is really and already present through the words of Scripture.  The words aren't Christ Himself.  But neither are they separate such that I must bridge the gap.  Instead, the words are carrying me to Christ who they constantly proclaim (John 5:39).

It's not just reading comprehension.  But neither is it my job to make an otherwise dead letter living and active.  Instead the bible is already a living and lively word ever proceeding from the mouth of God and ever offering to me the Bread of life. 

The bible works on me.  Not apart from faith.  But not by my works either. It is His work - His spiritual work - that is ever offered to me.

Here's what I say to people from the Book of Common  Prayer as I give them communion:

The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for you preserve your body and soul to everlasting life.  Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on Him in your heart by faith, with thanksgiving.

And you say - typical Anglicans, straddling all the positions!  Well - Jesus does say 'This is my body.'  And He does say 'Do this in remembrance of me.'  It's just that this is not the centre of communion.  Feeding on Him in our hearts by faith as we feed on the bread between our teeth - this is. 

So as we read our bibles we acknowledge, this IS the word of God.  And we acknowledge that this reading will cause us many subsequent thoughts that bring us to Jesus in manifold ways.  But essentially as we read the Scriptures we are being fed spiritually there and then with the Bread of life.  

My response?  Believing expectancy. 

 

Does that work as an analogy?

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Eating with Jesus.  What a privilege!  And what danger!  There need to be warnings.

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I preached this sermon at a service of Holy Communion in another church. 

It was essentially an extended warning to all would-be communicants: If you eat with Jesus you are confessing to Him and the world that you are a sinner.  Jesus eats with sinners.  Only with sinners - He has not come for the righteous.  The righteous must go hungry. Only the needy, the sick, the outsiders, the unclean, the powerless, the guilty will find Bread.  You are qualified by your unworthiness.  Entirely unfit and therefore welcome. 

So come.  And let your coming be your contrition, let it be your confession, let it be your repentance and your faith.  Come and eat with Jesus.

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It's the kind of sermon I want to be preaching until I die.  Listen here - the text is Mark 1:40-2:17.

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Just watched The Tudors (episode 4, series 2).  Baby Elizabeth was baptized.

Now here's my question.  The triune name was pronounced over the child and it got wet.  Was that baby (the 'actor' not the historical figure) baptized?  I'm not hugely up on sacramental theology.  What would the Roman Catholic Church say?  Luther?  Calvin?  What about a covenant objectivist FV type position?

Just wondering.

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